And just like that, it’s back.
Normally a new season brings excitement, but not this time. There’s been no hiatus from football to build anticipation. Between highly profitable summer overseas tours for top European clubs in North America and East Asia, international tournaments being held every summer, certain leagues finishing later than others and others starting weeks earlier, the football season now feels perpetual.
Throw in the mundane realities of life (working for a living) which are more important than this blog, and this piece feels even more rushed than usual. Also not helping – the truncated English transfer window closing the night before the first game of the season, meant I was faced with my own needlessly abbreviated window of sorts. Ahh, the joyous prospect of writing a column in the space of twenty-four hours, after a flurry of late deals, any of which could radically alter my opinion of the relevant team’s projected finishing order before the first game of the season on Friday night. Great. Now I understand why writers have a propensity to drink heavily.
(By relevant I mean the top six. I could use the ‘big six’ moniker, but that’s for spastic dickheads (who have failed evolution, or has it failed them and us?) who worship at the altar of Sky Sports’ tabloidization which cynically feeds and breeds fans’ impatience, who likely voted for Brexit because Farage reminded them of Baz’s uncle ‘cos he’s a bit of a character’ (when he should remind them of Jimmy Saville), find Love Island aspirational, and spend too much time on Twitter trying to be recognised with their crappy gif based banz. Oh the stereotypes, there must be more to life.)
Speaking of arrogant self-congratulating twats, my predictions from last season were decent. I got the order of the top three correct. Did I have money on this? Of course not.
Because nobody has the time or attention span to read anything, and I don’t want to become an alcoholic, I’ll keep this brief. The good news is that recent iterations of the Premier League have lacked volatility. Each clubs knows its purpose. Essentially each season comes down to three questions:
Can anyone else challenge the top six?
Unlikely. The top six clubs are either too well run, too wealthy, or both, that it would take an inordinate confluence of factors align to perfectly to break the hegemony (see Leicester City three years ago). Take Manchester United last season, they were a mess for the majority of it and still easily finished sixth. There was never any doubt that they would.
Reality has set in. The lack of transfers and transfer funds spent by the rest, relative to recent years, suggests they know that being the best of the rest is as good as it gets, for now. For the owners, providing they’re competent enough, there’s plenty of coin to be made by being a Premier League also-ran; just keep things ticking over, buy smart, sell high when a bigger club comes calling for one of your better players – see Leicester City selling Harry ‘Slabhead’ Maguire to Manchester United last week for £80m. Leicester bought Maguire for £12m two years ago. The optics of this are grim as is the ineffectiveness of the Premier League’s financial equality.
Who finishes in the top four?
City are a given, while Liverpool have been performing at an elite level for the last eighteen months, their progress now validated with the biggest trophy in club football.
Spurs are a safe pick for third, but I’m not expecting a title challenge. Their twenty defeats from last season and uncertainty over some key players contracts expiring is a concern. They should aim to close the points gap to the top and win a trophy, both are achievable.
What to make of Chelsea? They are again in flux. This hasn’t stopped them from being successful in the past, but they’re facing a specific set of obstacles which scream regression – the main one being Eden Hazard’s departure. Being banned from buying players until next summer means they won’t be able to fix their perpetual issue at the centre forward position. Then there’s Frank Lampard, he has one year of experience in management, so I have no clue about him and neither do you. But I’ll say this, if he can make it at Chelsea in these circumstances, he can make it anywhere. The good news for him and Chelsea is the squad’s still got considerable quality in most positions, they have some promising youngsters (though Pulisic is dangerously overhyped) and Arsenal and Manchester United are nothing special.
United and Arsenal were the busiest of the top six clubs this summer, but they needed to be. I (still) don’t trust Arsenal’s defence and is Solskjaer a competent manager? Incompetence tends to attract the like, and given the way United have been run since Alex Ferguson retired to bothering horses and living room recliners, I’m inclined to believe he may not be. So I’ll go Spurs third, Arsenal fourth. I’m sure I’ll regret this by late August. Thursday night wankerdom awaits for Chelsea and United. Though in this scenario by this time next year Ollie and Frank will have been freed to do it every night.
Can anyone finish above Manchester City?
Liverpool nearly did last season, and are clearly the best bet again. Last’s season’s title race saw both conjure late goals and grind out wins at will. City won an impressive fourteen games in row to finish the season. Liverpool managed eleven.
This question partly depends on whether the also-rans can better challenge the top two sides week to week, not meekly submit, defend deep, and hope for them to have an off day as they often do.
One doubt levied against City’s continued supremacy is motivation. I’ve always found this argument to be spurious. The league helps breed continuity and therefore consistency. Two things which Guardiola treasures, as well as a huge bankroll. By the way, City have spent over £200m on full backs since Guardiola arrived, that’s…rather a lot.
Over the last two seasons City have averaged ninety-nine points, which is also a lot. It would be foolish to say they can’t sustain this when they’ve done it for the last two years, but performing at that level can be draining and everything ends, eventually. Liverpool (and the rest) will hope it is so, but peculiarly Liverpool elected not to strengthen their squad this summer. There may be good reasons for this, however, it’ll be thirty years next May since the club last won the title (yikes). In said circumstances the lack of intent in the transfer market has to be a wee bit aggravating for the faithful.
Predictions mean nothing, but picking City until somebody usurps them (or Guardiola leaves) is rational. I would put money on City if all the bookies didn’t have them odds-on. May they and I be wrong. Let there be chaos.