Pre-season: it’s the most optimistic time of the year for football fans. A time when your greatest dreams seem more tangible, and your darkest fears more distant, than any other.
With slates wiped clean and ghosts of seasons past laid to rest, many supporters, naturally, have their rose-tinted glasses on even before a ball is kicked… for most, anyway.
In order to see how optimistic football fans are ahead of the new season, we asked one fan from every club in the Premier League to predict where they’ll finish in the 2019/20 season.
And the results were fascinating…
|2nd (Cham.)||Sheff Utd||14th|
|5th (Cham.)||Aston Villa||14th|
- Only one team thought they’d be relegated this season (Newcastle).
- All three newly-promoted teams thought they’d finish a comfortable 14th.
- Just four teams (20 per cent of the league) thought they’d finish lower than last season.
To put these findings into context, eight teams finished lower in 2018-19 than they did in the previous season, while two of the three teams to have been promoted were relegated straight back down.
These results really highlight the optimisim that pre-season brings.
The Title Race
It was a tantalising battle for top spot last season between Manchester City and Liverpool, with Pep Guardiola’s side’s 98-point haul proving just one superior to the Reds’.
This year, neither of our supporters from the top two see any change, with both predicting their teams will maintain their positions from last term.
Ger Deegan (Bitter and Blue) expects Guardiola to become the first manager since Sir Alex Ferguson in 2008-09 to win three consecutive league titles, saying: “After last season you couldn’t be anything but optimistic about our chances. I think we will win the league again because of the fact our squad is incredible and the style of play is very difficult to comprehend and defend against for a whole season.
“Things didn’t go all our own way last year and we were able to put an unthinkable good run together to win a league title.”
Reds fan Adam Clarke can’t see Jürgen Klopp’s side building on their Champions League glory by catching City in the league, either, admitting: “My heart wants me to say I believe we’ll win the league this year, but whilst we haven’t signed anyone I can’t see us overtaking City. Realistically, I’ll think we’ll finish second again this year.”
The Race For The Top Four
As for the rest of the so-called ‘big six’, Tottenham fan Dustin Menno (Cartilage Free Captain) can see his team taking a step forward in 2019-20.
Spurs made their first signings in 18 months this summer, and with that monkey off their back and the side settling into their new stadium well, Dustin believes Mauricio Pochettino will lead them up one spot to a third-placed finish:
“If they can keep Christian Eriksen and fit a couple more puzzle pieces in place, this Tottenham team could be very, very good.
“Manchester City and Liverpool are still the cream of the crop, so I think Spurs will finish third, but will narrow the gap between themselves and City and Liverpool significantly before it’s all said and done.”
Meanwhile, Manchester United, Chelsea and Arsenal all enter the season with a cloud of uncertainty still hanging over each of them.
With just two additions, United have not embarked on the sort of spending spree many expected them to, and after their alarming late-season slump, the jury remains out on manager Ole Gunnar Solskjær.
But Colin Damms (The Busby Babe) isn’t letting any of that dampen his mood, predicting the Red Devils will finish fourth and return to the Champions League after a one-year absence:
“I doubt United will mount a title challenge, but at the very least they’ll be more adventurous and, ideally, score more goals.
“I’ll say 4th right now. United have a lot they need to figure out in terms of overall strategy and squad identity, but this isn’t a team totally lacking in quality.”
Our Chelsea and Arsenal fans aren’t so optimistic though, with both predicting slides down the table for their teams.
Jimmy Funnell (We Ain’t Got No History) believes Chelsea, who have begun their two-window transfer ban and lost star man Eden Hazard to Real Madrid will fall from third to fifth this term in Frank Lampard’s first season in charge:
“Winning the league is out of the question due to Man City and Liverpool’s clearly superior squads, as well as the likes of Tottenham, Manchester United and Arsenal theoretically all being able to strengthen their team in the transfer market, something we aren’t able to do.
“A top 6 finish, a good run in one or two cup competitions (maybe even a final), and getting to the quarter-finals of the Champions League seems a reasonable aim.”
And despite being about to break their transfer record for Lille forward Nicolas Pépé, Gunners fan Paul DeBruler (The Short Fuse) isn’t too confident about their chances, either, in a summer which has seen few incomings, Aaron Ramsey’s departure, and captain Laurent Koscielny go on strike:
“Arsenal will be what Arsenal are – frustrating, occasionally decent, but not good enough to mount a serious challenge for anything other than maybe the Europa League title.
“Thanks to having the worst defence in the top five last year, a defence that allowed 51 goals, Arsenal struggled to finish fifth. If that trend continues, and as of this writing they have not added anyone to their defence [centre-back William Saliba was loaned back to Saint Etienne after signing for Arsenal] so it probably will, they’ll finish probably 7th.”
The Top Six Challengers
With a number of the league’s ‘big six’ in a state of flux going into the new season, this campaign could represent as good as opportunity as ever for the outsiders to gatecrash this seemingly exclusive party.
And that’s exactly what Evertonian Tom Mallows (Royal Blue Mersey) and Leicester City fan Dylan Durbin (Read Leicester) expect from their sides this year, with both predicting their teams to build on strong finishes to last seaosn and finish sixth.
The Toffees have made steady progress under boss Marco Silva, and while transfer activity has been fairly underwhelming, Tom is confident that, with the right additions, everything is in place for them to dislodge a top six member:
“With a full pre-season behind them and some astute new signings there’s no reason why they cannot maintain that momentum, challenge for the top six and, hopefully, go for one of the cups.
“With no Europe to distract them, either, and a level of stability they have lacked for several years, I believe Everton are more than capable of breaking into the top six.”
Likewise, in their first full season under Brendan Rodgers, and with smart additions, such as midfielder Youri Tielemans tied down permanently, Foxes fan Dylan believes Leicester can achieve sixth place, especially if they can keep hold of £80-million Man Utd target Harry Maguire:
“The squad just looks to have gotten stronger with the signings of Tielemans and Ayoze Pérez. Looking at starting line-ups, I would say ours can compete with the likes of United and Arsenal.
“I would be optimistic and say we can finish in sixth place. There are other sides who have the chance of making the top six, such as Everton or Wolves, but there is a positivity and excitement heading into this season from Leicester fans that I haven’t felt before.”
As for the side who came closest last season, Wolverhampton Wanderers, an increased number of games through their participation in the Europa League means Dave Azzopardi (Talking Wolves) sees a slight dip for Nuno Espírito Santo’s team this year:
“It’s going to be a really interesting season for Wolves. We’re in European competition for the first time in many years (which we are very excited about) but I’m sure the club will want to still build on last season’s fantastic seventh-placed finish.
“It’s tough to pin it down to one position but there will be increased competition for seventh place; any team will do well to break into that top seven next season. With the increased number of games in mind, I’m going for an eighth-placed finish.”
West Ham secured their first top-half finish in three years last season in Manuel Pellegrini’s first year in charge, and have spent big this summer on midfielder Pablo Fornals and Sébastien Haller.
And despite star man Marko Arnautović finally departing for China, Hammers fan Michael Oliver is expecting an improved if unspectacular season, also predicting eighth for his team :
“Breaking into the top six has never been so tangible as it is this year heading into a new Premier League campaign for West Ham.
“But concerns are there regarding the depth in certain areas of Pellegrini’s squad and whether they have what it takes to string together a 38-game campaign akin to the memorable 2015/16 season.”
Both Watford and Crystal Palace enjoyed comfortable 2018-19 seasons; the Hornets spent much of it in the top half, and while they never troubled the upper echelons of the league, the Eagles rarely looked in serious danger of relegation.
And both Watford supporter Sean Walker and Palace fan Jack Pierce (Five Year Plan) are expecting similar seasons for their sides this time around, with each anticipating their team will retain their respective 2018-19 positions of 11th and 12th.
“I think finishing last season eleventh after how well we’ve done shows the fine margins in the Premier League, and the difference between seventh and 12th really isn’t that much,” says Sean, whose side’s only major summer addition has been West Brom centre-back Craig Dawson.
“I’m going for a very confident 11th once more. Survival is the aim, but we have every right to fight for Europe this season. There’s much more expensive squads fighting with us, but Javi [Gracia] is the far superior coach.
As for Palace, while Jack is fairly confident of another solid season for the South Londoners, he admits there is an uncertainty about Palace from the way their summer has panned out.
They have already lost promising young right-back Aaron Wan-Bissaka to Man Utd for £50 million, and fan favourite Wilfried Zaha has constantly been linked with moves away, including to Arsenal, Chelsea and, most recently, Everton.
He accepts that the fate of their season could hinge on whether Zaha stays, as well as how Palace spend their money during the remainder of the transfer window:
“Having already lost our player of the Season from the last campaign [Wan-Bissaka] and constantly facing speculation linking a player some consider the greatest to wear the red and blue of Palace with a move away from Selhurst [Zaha], optimism isn’t in abundance right now.
“Provided Wilf stays, I think Palace will finish 12th. Currently, we’ve not added any quality to the squad and have lost Wan-Bissaka. It’s likely that additions will be added between now and 10 August and who they are will have a huge bearing on where Palace end up.”
As for two of the Premier League’s three South Coast clubs, Bournemouth and Southampton, fans of both of these clubs foresee a better season than last.
The Cherries enjoyed their best start to a Premier League season last term, and a 3-0 win at Fulham in late October took them to sixth, just one point of third place, but a miserable second half to last season saw them finish 14th.
Peter Bell (Cherry Chimes) believes that, after keeping their key players and signing the likes of Huddersfield’s Philip Billing, and promising young full-backs Lloyd Kelly and Jack Stacey, a slight move up the table could be on the cards for Eddie Howe’s men:
“My prediction is 12th, and that would be the best outcome I can see – it could be worse. Getting into the top ten will be more difficult than ever, and I just don’t see that Bournemouth have done enough to make that happen yet.
“By keeping hold of their best players though, Bournemouth should avoid a relegation scrap. The club needs two or three more leaders to really challenge for higher places. If the team accumulates more than 46 points though, most fans should be pleased with that.”
Nobody predicted a bigger rise up the table than our Southampton fan, Allen Gunn (St. Mary’s Musings), though, as he backed the Saints to continue their revival under Ralph Hasenhüttl and climb five places to 11th:
“Southampton ranked sixth in both fewest goals for and most goals against in the league last season, so if we can find the net consistently and defend our end of the pitch – the latter playing a huge role in the club’s MO when it has had success – then I like our chances under Ralph Hasenhüttl to at least contend for a top-half finish.
“I think Southampton will finish 11th this season, which is a huge improvement on the relegation battles we’ve faced in recent years.”
The Relegation Battle
After Sean Dyche led Burnley to seventh place and European football in 2017-18, it was much more arduous campaign for them last time out, as they spent most of it embroiled in a relegation battle.
In fact, considering they were three points adrift of safety on Boxing Day after a 5-1 hammering at home to Everton, finishing 15th was a relative success, and Clarets fan Jonny Bentley (Transfer News Central, Last Word On Football) predicts exactly the same finish for Dyche’s men this term:
“The signing of Jay Rodriguez gives a new dimension to the strike-force and Erik Pieters does provide some depth to the left-back position. A real plus from last season was the emergence of Dwight McNeil, a fearless young talent, who gives a fresh impetus to the flanks.
“Overall, Burnley should be on course for survival. They have a good group of players and have (so far) managed to keep hold of their best assets. This stability puts Sean Dyche”s men in a stronger position than some of their rivals.”
Meanwhile, Brighton & Hove Albion start their third successive top-flight campaign no longer with the man who led them there, Chris Hughton, who was sacked after a dreadful late run to last season saw them finish 17th.
Under Graham Potter, who earned plaudits for the style of play he imposed on a patchwork Swansea City squad, more attractive football should be on the cards, and Seagulls supporter Jeremy Smith (French Football Weekly) is tipping his side to end up one place better off this season:
“The last six months of last season were dire and we barely scraped survival, playing pretty bad football in the process. It was time for a change. Graham Potter is a really brave choice which could go either way but is at least bringing back a sense of excitement.
“My head says that we’re going to play some great football but struggle to stay up. But I’ll try to be more positive, go with my heart, and say 16th.”
Perhaps unsurprisingly, supporters of each of the three promoted clubs are all tipping their sides to carry their momentum from last season into this campaign and beat the drop; in fact, all of them tip their teams to finish in a highly respectable 14th.
Norwich City came up as Championship champions, earning promotion with a fair amount to spare in the end.
Manager Daniel Farke found the perfect blend of the club’s young stars, like defenders Ben Godfrey, Jamal Lewis and Max Aarons, with quality signings such as Teemu Pukki, the league’s 29-goal top scorer, and winger Emi Buendía.
Having added shrewdly, and kept the promotion-winning side’s core together, Alex Murray (Read Norwich) says there is a lot to be excited about at Carrow Road this year:
“During my time supporting Norwich I’ve seen us be promoted four times to the top flight and this is the most optimistic I’ve ever been about our chances.
“By keeping the spine of the team together and getting them on new deals I say we have a brilliant chance of avoiding the drop.
“Optimistically I’d like to say we finish 14th, just clear of the relegation spots and firmly in mid-table. I’m very ready to be wrong however and see us struggle a bit more, but I think that Norwich surprise a few who’ve already doubted us without a ball being kicked.”
Also returning to the top-flight are Sheffield United, who have not played Premier League football for 12 years and with a squad that is fairly inexperienced at this level, are arguably among the favourites to go down.
But with an enormous team spirit fostered, and Chris Wilder, who has led his boyhood club from League One to the Premier League in three years, at the helm, Blades fan Paul McDonald believes it would be foolish to write them off:
“It’s going to be difficult at times, of that there is no doubt, but anything is possible under Chris Wilder and I genuinely believe that the way this side plays and attacks games will win a few new friends in the next 10 months and surprise a lot of people who have lazily predicted inevitable relegation since the day we got promoted.”
“I’ll say [they will finish] 14th; this might seem delusional to lots of people who take one look at our squad and wouldn’t recognise any of them if they walked by them in the street but I’m used to this side proving people wrong.”
Aston Villa took the third and final place after beating Derby County 2-1 in the Championship play-off final, to complete a remarkable change in fortunes under Dean Smith, who took over a side in 13th in early October.
They have spent big; more than £100 million so far, in fact, but after Fulham suffered immediate relegation last season having adopted a similar approach, Phil Vogel (7500 to Holte) is sure that history won’t repeat itself:
“Villa will probably lose four or five in a row at one point – and go six or seven matches unbeaten. That’s the danger of a young and hungry side without much Premier League experience.
“But I think the quality is enough to see Villa safe through the season. And I really, really don’t want to go through another relegation campaign. That was terrible.”
Such was the level of optimism among our 20 fans, in fact, that only one predicted his team will be relegated this season.
That was Newcastle United supporter Graeme Bell (Coming Home Newcastle), who has seen his club endure a pretty wretched summer.
Despite breaking their transfer record for £40 million striker Joelinton, the Magpies have lost beloved manager Rafa Benitez, key players such as Ayoze Pérez and Salomón Rondon, while despised owner Mike Ashley remains at the helm.
Consequently, then, it should come as little surprise that the mood on Tyneside is currently much bleaker than elsewhere in the country, and Graeme believes the only way is down under new boss Steve Bruce:
“We have no chance this season; we’ve gone from a world-class manager to yet another ‘yes-man’; a gigantic backward step. Pérez, Rondón, Mo Diamé and Joselu have all left, leaving the squad down to the bare bones. Newcastle need to spend at least £100 million just be to competitive. History suggests that Ashley will not invest even close to that amount.
“Newcastle are in a complete mess, it’s probably the worst it’s been for many years. None of the fans wanted Steve Bruce to come in, he now has an impossible job on his hands. An impossible job and by far the toughest of Bruce’s managerial career.”
“With Benitez gone, unfortunately I can only see one thing for Newcastle and that’s relegation. I think we will finish 18th.”
Of course, though, not everyone’s dreams for their clubs will come true this season, and especially not this year, which promises to be one of the most competitive campaigns in the history of the Premier League.
Whether your team is fighting for the top honours, targeting European football or a top-half finish, or merely trying to avoid the drop, it should be compelling viewing from the first minute to the last.
How do you think your team will fare in the 2019-20 season? Let us know below.
|Special thanks to the following supporters who we polled for our survey.|
|Man City – Ger Deegan (Bitter and Blue)|
|Liverpool – Adam Clarke|
|Chelsea – Jimmy Funnell (We Ain’t Got No History)|
|Tottenham – Dustin Menno (Cartilage Free Captain)|
|Arsenal – Paul DeBruler (The Short Fuse)|
|Man United – Colin Damms (The Busby Babe)|
|Wolves – Dave Azzopardi (Talking Wolves)|
|Everton – Tom Mallows (Royal Blue Mersey)|
|Leicester – Dylan Durbin (Read Leicester)|
|West Ham – Michael Oliver (Read West Ham)|
|Watford – Sean Walker (SeanWalkerSport)|
|Crystal Palace – Jack Pierce (Five Year Plan)|
|Newcastle – Graeme Bell (Coming Home Newcastle)|
|Bournemouth – Peter Bell (Cherry Chimes)|
|Burnley – Jonny Bentley (Transfer News Central, LWOF)|
|Southampton – Allen Gunn (St. Mary’s Musings)|
|Brighton – Jeremy Smith (French Football Weekly)|
|Norwich – Alex Murray (Read Norwich)|
|Sheffield United – Paul McDonald|
|Aston Villa – Phil Vogel (7500 to Holte)|