The Premier League returns on Friday with Manchester United and Leicester kicking off the 2018/19 campaign.
As the new season rears its head, our writers have the opportunity to get their crystal balls out for some Premier League predictions.
Alex Rea, Chris Bailey, Brendon Netto, Matt Jones and Aditya Devavrat put their heads together to decide on topics such as the champions and who will be the biggest flop.
AR: Liverpool – Bold? The Reds bet big in the market and whether he likes it or not, Jurgen Klopp has to show return on that investment. They have the style and squad to challenge Manchester City, now they just need the mentality to overtake them.
CB: Manchester City – They could do with a rival for Fernandinho but apart from that, City have almost bottomless depth. Bernardo is set to take a huge leap, Phil Foden is coming through, Benjamin Mendy is fit. The rich get richer.
BN: Manchester City – Quiet in the transfer window but apart from losing out on Jorginho, there’s little you’d change of this City side. Their convincing Community Shield victory points to another domineering campaign.
MJ: Manchester City – There was a 19-point gap to second last season and I can’t see that being made up by the rest. Liverpool are the next best team but City are special under Pep Guardiola.
AD: Manchester United – An unpopular pick given Man City’s pedigree and Liverpool’s transfer business – not to mention United’s turbulent summer. But the squad is packed with talented players. If Jose Mourinho can get the best out of Paul Pogba, the title will head back to Old Trafford.
AR: Liverpool, Man City, Arsenal, Man United – Unai Emery’s direct style should freshen an Arsenal team intact from the World Cup. City, although quiet in the market, are still miles ahead of the rest, particularly United who will just sneak in ahead of a Chelsea in transition and a spent Spurs.
CB: Manchester City, Liverpool, Manchester United, Arsenal – Liverpool’s recruitment would see them champions in any other year but they’re up against an incredible City. Unai Emery was installed early at Arsenal while Maurizio Sarri wasn’t at Chelsea, and has acquired reinforcements whereas Mauricio Pochettino’s Tottenham haven’t.
BN: Man City, Liverpool, Man United, Chelsea – The north London sides are capable of scoring freely but also likely to drop too many points. Expect more disjointed displays from United while Liverpool will push City. A lack of goals up front leaves Chelsea trailing.
MJ: Manchester City, Liverpool, Manchester United, Arsenal – Liverpool are City’s biggest threat but I still don’t think it’s their year. United will be hard to beat again but moody Mourinho lacks magic. Unai Emery will get Gunners firing.
AD: United, City, Liverpool, Spurs – Chelsea and Arsenal haven’t done enough to return to the top four. Even though Tottenham are yet to make a signing this summer, their squad remains better than that of their London rivals, while United, City, and Liverpool are far ahead.
AR: Huddersfield, Watford, Cardiff – The bottom will be more competitive than the top. Huddersfield haven’t solved their chronic issues in front of goal while Watford’s best player joined Everton. Cardiff were not even considered promotion challengers last season and are the league’s worst side.
CB: Watford, Huddersfield, Newcastle – Watford have left it too late to reinvest the Richarlison money, Huddersfield lack the seasoned campaigners to survive a second year, and not even Rafa Benitez can drag Newcastle out of their Ashley-induced nightmare this time.
BN: Southampton, Watford, Cardiff – Southampton narrowly escaped the drop last time and haven’t strengthened. Watford have been uninspiring under Javi Gracia and are seriously lacking quality while Cardiff are being led by serial Premier League failure Neil Warnock.
MJ: Cardiff, Huddersfield, Southampton – Cardiff will be gritty but completely lack quality, Southampton were lucky to stay up and have been unimpressive in the market while losing their best player. The Terriers lack bite.
AD: Brighton, Huddersfield, Cardiff City – Survival was a supreme achievement for Brighton and Huddersfield last season, but this year’s race will be even tougher given how strong newly-promoted Fulham and Wolves look. Cardiff’s failure to match those two will see them head straight back down.
AR: Jean Michael Seri – Fulham’s ambition is best epitomised in the signing of Seri. The 27-year-old moves the ball superbly and is a highly intelligent, dynamic midfielder. It’s the season of midfield maestros and Seri can be an instant hit.
CB: Lucas Torreira – For years and years Arsene Wenger neglected to add a blood-and-guts midfielder to his side. He won’t win awards for style but the 22-year-old’s tenacity may well bring substance back to the Emirates.
BN: Jorginho – In terms of influence, Jorginho is likely to offer the most. The Italian is poised to become the Premier League’s new pass master and usher in a new brand of football at Chelsea.
MJ: Naby Keita – Adds steel and energy to Liverpool and has an engine to rival N’Golo Kante. Will be a massive help to Jordan Henderson and knows where the goal is, bagging nine for Leipzig last year.
AD: Felipe Anderson – West Ham have made a habit of making a splash in the transfer market – often with little pay-off on the pitch. But Anderson is supremely talented, blessed with pace, technical ability, and vision. He should thrive under Manuel Pellegrini.
AR: Mohamed Salah – Liverpool have added to their armoury over the summer and with extra weapons pointed at them, teams will struggle even more to contain the Egyptian King. Expect Romelu Lukaku to run him close, though.
CB: Mohamed Salah – Given his form in pre-season he’s surely going to hit the ground at break-neck speed. With Lukaku and Harry Kane feeling the after-effects of a longer World Cup campaign, it’ll be difficult to play catch-up.
BN: Mohamed Salah – Last season may seem like a freak campaign for the Egyptian but over the summer, both at the World Cup and in pre-season, he’s continued to be a standout goal threat. Liverpool will play to his strengths.
MJ: Harry Kane – Hotshot Harry is a pure goal scorer. Salah was unbelievable last year but it’s impossible for him to hit the same heights plus Liverpool have other threats.
AD: Harry Kane – Losing out to Salah last season will have hurt. Coming off the back of winning the World Cup Golden Boot, however, Kane should keep going from strength to strength, holding everyone else off to regain his crown.
AR: Maurizio Sarri – The Italian is under enormous pressure at Chelsea. His style requires hours on the training pitch and his late arrival coupled with the World Cup and transfer chaos has sliced through his available time with the squad.
CB: Jack Wilshere – A lot of fanfare has surrounded West Ham’s transfer window, not least the free transfer of Irons-supporting Wilshere. But expectations are far too high and they are woefully short deeper in midfield. Besides, remember his Bournemouth stint?
BN: Dele Alli – He didn’t quite maintain his lofty standards last season and was guilty of inconsistency. Following a challenging World Cup campaign, the young midfielder may find it difficult to get going again.
MJ: Tottenham – Mauricio Pochettino did very little business last summer and none this year. Kane and Christian Eriksen can only do so much carrying. Rivals are improving as they stand still.
AD: Marco Silva – Everton have had another strange transfer window, and don’t look much stronger than before. Silva, whose reputation is based on flirting with survival at Hull City, making a quick start with Watford, and not much else, may struggle to improve the Toffees.
The Premier League is back, but not as we know it. The World Cup has decimated squads and Manchester United welcome Leicester City to Old Trafford for Friday’s curtain raiser without key stars on show.
United (11) and Leicester (10) are two of the sides hurt deeply by their players’ exertions in Russia.
Similarly, bosses Claude Puel and Jose Mourinho are perhaps two of the most under-pressure managers heading into the new campaign and so both their chances of starting on the right foot have been trodden on.
TALKING POINT – THE PLAYERS WHO AREN’T THERE
With the window shut for English clubs when kick-off arrives, eyes will switch from Twitter timelines to the pitch. However, this fixture is likely to be more about those who aren’t in action, than those who are.
Paul Pogba’s obvious disgruntlement is unlikely to go away after the Frenchman’s failure to push through a move to Barcelona. Whether his motivation for leaving was stronger because of Barca’s appeal or simply to get away from Mourinho remains to be seen but his absence after an extended break casts a large shadow on this fixture.
He was superb during France’s World Cup triumph and the question now is whether he can replicate that this season.
Speaking of large, they do not come much bigger than Harry Maguire and the 25-year-old, who was incessantly linked with United all summer, is also missing from Puel’s starting XI.
Find someone who looks at you the way Harry Maguire looks at Jamie Vardy 😍 pic.twitter.com/RoyueeHHkJ— Leicester City (@LCFC) August 6, 2018
His England team-mate Jamie Vardy will join him on the bench but the picture is far bleaker for Mourinho with 11 senior players missing through injury or doubtful after returning late from Russia.
So, what of the players who are available? Andreas Pereira was deeply impressive in pre-season and is expected to start in midfield alongside Ander Herrera and new signing Fred.
Marcus Rashford, with his freshly pressed No10 shirt, will be the spearhead in Romelu Lukaku’s absence while Alexis Sanchez should be in position to make a flying start having been afforded a first full summer off in nine years.
For the Foxes, James Maddison, the 21-year-old summer signing from Norwich, will make his debut and is one to watch this season as Puel’s string-puller in midfield. And a familiar face for United will be in the heart of Leicester’s defence with Jonny Evans also in line for his first competitive start since switching from relegated West Brom.
KEY BATTLE – RASHFORD V IHEANACHO
In keeping with the theme of absences, two players who are in position to profit most for this clash form an intriguing key battle.
Indeed, Rashford (20) and Kelechi Iheanacho (21) will be given the stage to prove their credentials as the leading men for their sides with Lukaku and Vardy out for United and Leicester respectively.
This is a big season for the talented pair. Iheanacho needs to begin delivering on his potential having at times looked sharp last term but lacking the type of dynamism Puel’s 4-2-3-1 requires.
Ingenuity is certainly one of Rashford’s virtues but consistency has been a vice. He’s taken on the No10 shirt and following in the footsteps of legends like Wayne Rooney should give him all the motivation he needs to produce the goods.
WHAT THE MANAGERS SAY
“I think a team that is working for six weeks minimum, with all the players except one central defender (Maguire) and one striker (Vardy) that can join in the last week and probably be available, I think that is clear, a much better situation for them.”
“For me it’s good for Leicester to keep a valuable player (Maguire), and it’s important to show good ambition for the next season. I can understand some speculation about our player because he has good attributes, but I am happy to keep him and hopefully start a great season.”
WHAT WE THINK – MANCHESTER UNITED 2-0 LEICESTER CITY
We’ve felt the full force of a moody Mourinho this season but look for him to use that energy to propel his side into the driving seat. Leicester limped through the final stages of last season and it’s hard to see Puel changing that feeling.
Clarence Seedorf may have retired from the beautiful game in January 2014 but the Dutch legend, who is the only player in history to have won Champions League medals with three different clubs (Ajax, Real Madrid and AC Milan), is still in peak physical condition at the age of 42.
The mercurial No10 posted a picture via Instagram, stating that he is training hard despite his playing days being long over.
Seedorf is still involved in the game and on Saturday was announced as the new manager of Cameroon, where fellow cult hero Patrick Kluivert will be his assistant.
It is not his first spell in the dugout and follows quickly off the back of a disappointing stint with La Liga side Deportivo La Coruna, in which he could not prevent the Riazor club from being relegated last season.
This is the time of the year where players train hard and get ready to be able to perform at a high level during the season. Not playing anymore is not an excuse to skip training and even if it’s not always easy to find the motivation, I never stop practicing sport to maintain my physical, mental wellness and fitness. #CS10