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Worst signing? Top four? Our writers' Premier League predictions

Can Liverpool retain their title, plus which teams will get relegated?

The Premier League trophy (file pic).
The Premier League trophy (file pic).
Image: PA

Gavin Cooney

Who will be in the top 4 come the end of the season?

I’ll go with Manchester City, Liverpool, Manchester United, and Chelsea. 

Who will get relegated?

West Brom, Fulham and Aston Villa. 

Best and worst signing of the close season?

I’ll go with Donny van de Beek at Manchester United, just ahead of Kai Havertz. I don’t really have an opinion on worst signing, but the jury is firmly out on James Rodriguez, while I’m perhaps more surprised than I should be at Wolves breaking their transfer record on a Portuguese teenager represented by Jorge Mendes. 

Who will be this season’s surprise package?

Given their transfer business, I think Newcastle will be significantly better than they have been over the last few years, so they may shock us all and finish…ninth.

Which Irish player should we watch out for?

I think Aaron Connolly could get to double figures in terms of goals at Brighton, and Jayson Molumby might just break into the same team if he sticks around for the year. Jamie Bowden declaring for Ireland isn’t a sure thing, but he might find his way into the Spurs team, given their Europa League commitments. 

Which manager will be the first to leave their club?

I’ll be kind to David Moyes and go with Dean Smith at Villa. 

What are you most looking forward to this season and what are you dreading?

I cannot wait to see what the Premier League makes of Marcelo Bielsa, and I’m dreading any kind of Covid-19 interruption. Staging these games remains a pretty high-wire act. 

Gavan Casey

liverpool-quarantine-file-photo Liverpool were crowned Premier League champions last season. Source: PA

Who will be in the top 4 come the end of the season?

Same as last season in the same order.

Who will get relegated?

Aston Villa, West Brom, Fulham.

Best and worst signing of the close season?

Best signing: I think Rodrigo will make a massive impact at Leeds. I know people’s natural inclination will be to wonder, ‘How will he adapt to the Premier League’, but he adapted seamlessly as a teenager while on loan at Owen Coyle’s Bolton a decade ago and I’ve loosely kept tabs on his career ever since, wondering why nobody in England ever brought him back for a stint. He’s not the most technically adept finisher — if he scores 10 league goals he’ll be doing pretty well by his own standards — but he assisted nearly as many as he scored at Valencia and I think his overall contribution will go a long way towards keeping Leeds in the top flight.

Worst signing: Thiago Silva reminds me of a boxer primed to ‘turn old’ overnight in that he hasn’t physically deteriorated in any glaringly detectable way over the last few years but, at nearly 36, in a condensed season and in a league with an altogether more frenetic rhythm than his leisurely strolls through the fields of Lens and Reims, his ageing process might accelerate. He was a free transfer to Chelsea, obviously, and is merely an educated effort by Frank Lampard to paper over some of Chelsea’s cracks while investing heavily in his arsenal further up the pitch, but if Chelsea wind up putting all of their eggs in the Brazilian’s basket in their attempts to shore up their defence, I think Lampard will wind up with some on his face. 

Who will be this season’s surprise package?

Boringly, I don’t really think there will be a surprise package this time around, but I expect Liverpool to accrue somewhere in the region of 15 fewer points while still retaining their title. On an individual level, Southampton’s Che Adams will have a breakout season and become a must-have in fantasy football (£6m at the moment). 

Which Irish player should we watch out for?

Will Smallbone was crowned Southampton’s Young Player of the Season following a post-lockdown burst of form and, if he can pick up where he left off, he might become Stephen Kenny’s most well-rounded option in central midfield. So, what’s the story ‘allegiance-wise’, I hear you ask. English-born Smallbone has already represented at Ireland at underage level and was recently called up to the U21s training squad — all of which, as we know, means sweet feck-all. But his mother, Mary, is from Kilkenny and the 20-year-old has spoken to a local paper in Southampton about wanting to follow his club team-mates Shane Long and Michael Obafemi into the Ireland first-team setup so, as of now, it’s looking pretty good.

Which manager will be the first to leave their club?

I’m sorry to say again it’s Moyesy.

What are you most looking forward to this season and what are you dreading?

I follow Manchester United and I’m most looking forward to both United-v-Leeds fixtures — not for the games themselves but for the week’s build-up with Leeds-supporting friends with whom I haven’t been able to speak about English football in 16 years. 

I’m most dreading Will Smallbone citing ‘personal reasons’ as he turns down Stephen Kenny’s call-up to the Ireland senior squad to face Wales and Bulgaria in the Nations League in November, and the feeling of having been fooled again. 

Fintan O’Toole

spgermany-cologne-football-uefa-europa-league-manchester-vs-sevilla Man United will be hoping to build on last season's top-four finish. Source: Xinhua News Agency/PA Images

Who will be in the top 4 come the end of the season?

Chelsea, Liverpool, Man City and Man United — going in alphabetical order rather than placings for this fence-sitting response.

Who will get relegated?

Fulham, West Brom and Brighton

Best and worst signing of the close season?

Best – Kai Havertz. Back in the distant past when foreign travel and attending sports events were commonplace, this writer ticked the hipster box of attending a Bundesliga game. The two goals and general attacking wizardry displayed by Havertz made an impression in that Leverkusen defeat to Leipzig, and he looks a brilliant player even with that hefty price tag. Honourable mention for Donny van de Beek.

Worst – We’ll wait a few matches before writing anyone off but given the fee and hopes invested by their clubs, James Rodriguez and Ollie Watkins could do with hitting the ground running for Everton and Aston Villa.

Who will be this season’s surprise package?

After a chaotic summer, maybe Newcastle could do something. They have picked up some decent recruits in Jamal Lewis and Callum Wilson from last season’s relegated teams.

Which Irish player should we watch out for?

He’s not a bright young prospect but Matt Doherty’s transfer catches the eye and it’s going to be really interesting to how he fares at a big-name club.

Which manager will be the first to leave their club?

Scott Parker or else a familiar outcome for David Moyes.

What are you most looking forward to this season and what are you dreading?

Looking forward to the return of Leeds, have to be glad for all those fans (and those related to them) that have persevered through the many barren years. Bielsa a welcome addition to the sideline ranks as well.

Dreading the inevitable and plentiful debates about what decision VAR has arrived at.

Paul Fennessy

jose-mourinho-file-photo Jose Mourinho has brought Irish international Matt Doherty to Spurs. Source: John Walton

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Who will be in the top 4 come the end of the season?

1. Liverpool 2. Man City 3. Chelsea 4. Man United

The four richest clubs in the league finished in the top four last season, and from this position of strength, I expect it won’t be drastically different this time around.

Chelsea and both Manchester clubs have all made significant improvements to their squad, so it’s hard to imagine Liverpool winning as comfortably as they did last time out.

Who will get relegated?

18. Aston Villa 19. West Brom 20. Fulham

Aston Villa only avoided the drop on the final day last season and I expect they’ll struggle this year too. Of the promoted sides, I feel Leeds are best placed to ‘pull a Sheffield United’ by exceeding expectations. On the other hand, I’m not convinced either West Brom or Fulham have strong enough squads to retain their top-flight status. 

Best and worst signing of the close season?

Best: Donny van de Beek. Man United’s big-money transfers in recent years haven’t always worked out, but at £40 million, the Dutch international looks good value. Whenever I’ve watched him for Ajax, he’s looked a very impressive, intelligent creative player. It’ll be interesting to see how he fits into a Red Devils midfield that already has players of the calibre of Paul Pogba, Bruno Fernandes and Nemanja Matic available.

Worst: He could turn out to be a brilliant player and I might be proved wrong, and Wolves have made some astute purchases in recent times, but £35 million for Fábio Silva from Porto in the current climate seems quite a big gamble for an 18-year-old striker who has just scored one senior goal in 15 appearances. Clearly, there is potential there, but it’s still an eyebrow-raising fee for a kid untested in the Premier League.

James Rodriguez to Everton is another one that doesn’t look an especially seamless fit. It’s been a long time since the Colombia international has enjoyed an exceptional season, and at 29, if it doesn’t work out at Goodison, it could well be the beginning of the end for Rodriguez as a top-level footballer. He also won’t have the luxury of playing alongside several world-class players, as was the case at Real Madrid and Bayern Munich. 

Who will be this season’s surprise package?

It seems somewhat strange to be describing them as a surprise package, but I feel like Arsenal could have their best season in years.

Mikel Arteta has only been in the job since December, but already, there have been clear signs of progress, including an FA Cup triumph last season. If new signing Gabriel can shore up their defence as hoped and if star man Pierre-Emerick Aubameyang signs a new contract, as reports indicate he will, then the Gunners may well be the best-placed of the teams aiming to break up last season’s top four.

Which Irish player should we watch out for?

Matt Doherty at Spurs is an obvious one. I think it will work out. While he looked at little hamstrung within the confines of the right-back role for Ireland recently, Jose Mourinho effectively enabled Serge Aurier to be a winger at times last season given he was so far forward, so I expect the Dubliner will have plenty of freedom to emulate the excellent performances he frequently produced for Wolves.

I’ll also be really interested to see how Aaron Connolly gets on. With a season of senior football under his belt, the Galway native will be better equipped to handle the demands of the Premier League. From talking to him, it is clear the 20-year-old attacker is a confident lad who believes he should be getting more goals than the three he managed last season in the Premier League.

Which manager will be the first to leave their club?

Sean Dyche is the longest-serving manager in the top flight and third-longest out of all the clubs in England’s top four tiers currently, having been in charge at Burnley for nearly eight years. Yet the 49-year-old’s recent public utterances have suggested he is less than content at Turf Moor currently, given the pretty limited budget they are operating on. A difficult start, therefore, might prove the catalyst for a mutually agreed upon parting of ways.

What are you most looking forward to this season and what are you dreading?

Most looking forward to: Leeds and in particular, Marcelo Bielsa. People sometimes complain that there are a lack of genuine characters in modern football, but the idiosyncratic Bielsa is certainly an exception to that supposed rule.

Dreading: Those tedious mismatches where a top team plays a weaker side and they go 3-0 up in the first 20 minutes, rendering the rest of the game as dull as it is pointless. Unfortunately, these types of games have become increasingly prevalent in recent years given the immense riches of the top teams.

Ben Blake 

leeds-united-v-luton-town-sky-bet-championship-elland-road Leeds boss Marcelo Bielsa and his bucket. Source: Mike Egerton

Who will be in the top 4 come the end of the season?

Liverpool, Man City, Chelsea, Man United.

Who will get relegated?

Crystal Palace, West Brom, Fulham.

Best and worst signing of the close season?

With the transfer window to remain open until 5 October, you’d imagine there is still a fair bit of business to be done over the coming month.

However, Chelsea owner Roman Abramovich has certainly backed Frank Lampard in the market this summer, and Timo Werner looks to be a fabulous signing for just over €50m.

The 24-year-old German striker scored 34 goals and assisted 13 more in all competitions for RB Leipzig last year and if he can gel with his international team-mate Kai Havertz, fellow recent arrival Hakim Ziyech and last year’s Bundesliga import Christian Pulisic, they will be a force to be reckoned with — going forward, at least.

I won’t call it the worst signing, but Aston Villa have taken a gamble with their new €30m centre forward Ollie Watkins. Last summer saw them spend big on Belgian front man Wesley, and he only managed five Premier League goals as they narrowly avoided the drop.

Now Dean Smith has taken a punt on Watkins, the pair having worked together previously at Brentford. He was the second-highest goalscorer in the Championship last season and the Villa boss will be praying that his latest acquisition can make the step up and be the consistent finisher they need in the top flight.

Who will be this season’s surprise package?

Not exactly a surprise given the stature of the club and the profile of their manager, but Leeds United could claim a few scalps on their return to the Premier League.

Marcelo Bielsa’s meticulous attention to detail when preparing his teams is well-documented and it will be intriguing to watch their story unfold after a 16-year absence — beginning at Anfield this weekend.

Provided ‘El Loco’ doesn’t implode and walk out of the club midway through the season, they should comfortably stay up.

Which Irish player should we watch out for?

21-year-old Dara O’Shea didn’t start a game in the Championship last season until January, but then went on to make the right full-back position his own at West Brom.

Remarkably, he even won the club’s Young Player of the Year as the Baggies clinched automatic promotion. Manager Slaven Bilic is a big fan of the Dubliner, who was a regular for Ireland’s U21s under Stephen Kenny, and he will be hoping to get the opportunity to test himself against the big boys and force his way into the senior international squad.

Which manager will be the first to leave their club?

Scott Parker. The former England midfielder wasn’t in the job long as caretaker manager when Fulham were relegated to the Championship in 2019. He has succeeded in the difficult task of bringing the Cottagers straight back up — via the play-offs — but it’s hard to see him being able to keep them there.

As Slavisa Jokanovic and Claudio Ranieri both discovered last time out, owner Shadid Khan won’t hesitate to wield the axe if results aren’t up to scratch.

What are you most looking forward to this season and what are you dreading?

Looking forward to: Man United wearing that zebra-print kit for the first time, only to change at half-time after both sets of players complain that it’s causing migraines.

Dreading: Transfer sagas dragging on, and on, and on… before inevitably failing to materialise. 

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