Date: 29th August 2016 at 12:24am
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Alex Roberts is back, and this time he’s turned pundit and given his Premier League predictions for 2016/17.

During the European Championships this summer, Alex began his series of Rants for the Vital England site and this is No 3, but there’s very much a Premier League feel to it as he picks his title winners and those he believes will drop down to the Championship this season – so I’m opening it up for a wider audience.

No doubt an audience that will agree with some of his predictions, and clearly others will be tempted to ask what he was drinking when talking about their clubs, but opinions in football are almost still as important as the money – so read on!

Alex wrote this ahead of this weekend’s fixtures, so it doesn’t factor in the last results for sides.

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With Spurs, Manchester United, Manchester City, Chelsea, Arsenal, and Liverpool strengthening over the summer, this looks to be one of the most competitive Premier League seasons we`ve ever seen. It`s not just been serious upgrades to the squads that has caught the attention of fans, there`s also been a lot of changes in the managerial side of things. All this means that doing a Premier League Prediction is going to be that much more difficult, so I thought I`d give it a go.

Firstly let`s start with The Champions, and I`m going to stick my neck out and go with Chelsea here. I am by no means a Chelsea fan, but I just think that there are several factors that will make them big contenders this season. Firstly there`s the new manager, Antonio Conte, who proved during the Euros that he is a master tactician, who is able to motivate players and make them believe in his philosophy. The signing of N`Golo Kante from Leicester will add a lot of energy to the Chelsea midfield, allowing Cesc Fabregas to venture forward like he used to do for Arsenal. He will also provide a crucial shield to the Chelsea backline. Going forward Willian will once against be the focal point of Chelsea`s attacking equation, but the main reason I`ve gone for them is because I think that Eden Hazard will rediscover his electric form. Undoubtedly one of the best players in the division, his dribbling ability is magical and can open any defence in the world.

As for second it`s a toss-up between the two Manchester clubs. Both have dramatically improved their squads, and their managers. I`m going to say that City will just finish above United. They may have Champions League football to contend with, but I do think City have the stronger squad in terms of depth. United may have signed Zlatan Ibrahimovic, but he`s no Sergio Aguero. City have already proved that they are capable of blowing teams away, and will only continue to get stronger as Pep`s reign gains momentum. If United pick up a few defensive injuries then they will be in real trouble in that area of the pitch. They have also been very reliant on Zlatan`s goals so far, and it`s difficult to see where the goals will come from if he isn`t on the pitch. So, ultimately, I think United will finish behind City.

For fourth, I`m going to go with Arsenal because I just think they`ll end up finishing in the Champions League once again under Arsene Wenger. There may yet be more signings to come before the transfer window closes, but as of right now I am one of many that our underwhelmed by Arsenal`s dealings so far. Arsenal have once again failed to strengthen in the area they needed it most, centre forward. When you consider that Chelsea have Costa, United have Zlatan, City have Aguero, but Arsenal have Giroud, it is grim reading for Arsenal fans. The lack of a consistent goal scorer will once again hamper any chances of a real title challenge I feel. They`re also very lacking at the back, and when one of your starting centre backs is a teenager who spent last season in a side that got relegated from The Championship there`s definitely room for concern.

To round out the Top 6, it`s going to be Spurs then Liverpool for me. Liverpool have made some good additions over the summer, but the result against Burnley showed that J├╝rgen Klopp still hasn`t rectified the inconsistencies that plagued his side last season. When fully fit Daniel Sturridge may well be a better-rounded striker than Harry Kane, but it is highly unlikely that Sturridge will remain fit for the entire season and Kane has proven in the past two seasons that he can score goals consistently at the highest level. Liverpool`s defence is still very much unconvincing in my eyes also, whereas Spurs` backline is mainly solid and compact, and now has Victor Wanyama to shield it.

Like the top of the table, I think it is also going to be really close towards the bottom with many teams in serious danger. I think that Bournemouth, Crystal Palace, Hull, Burnley, Swansea, Sunderland, West Brom, and Watford will all struggle this season, but naturally I can only pick three of these teams to be relegated. Although Hull have won both of their games so far, I feel that their lack of players will have to catch up with them eventually. Once injuries start to kick in it will become even harder for Hull, and Mike Phelan`s motivation may no longer be enough to see them through. For these reasons, I think we`ll see them decline as the season progresses.

For my second relegated team I`m going to go for Bournemouth, who are already showing signs of second season syndrome. We saw Bournemouth decline as last season went on, and it is becoming more and more apparent that the other teams have figured out how to stop Bournemouth playing. Furthermore most of Bournemouth`s early season points last year came from the goals of Callum Wilson, who is still to regain his goal-scoring form after coming back from a serious injury. I also think that Eddie Howe will not be Bournemouth Manager at the end of the season. This is not because I think he will be sacked, but because I think he will be on many Premier League Clubs` lists if they were to sack their respective managers. Howe has already got a superb reputation as he is an extremely promising English manager. If, for example, Crystal Palace`s form doesn`t improve under Alan Pardew then I wouldn`t be surprised if Howe was top of their list to replace him.

My final team to be relegated is going to be Swansea, who have sold all of their best players really. Their source of goals last season was Andre Ayew who has of course gone to West Ham, but in truth Swansea have been lacking a clinical finisher for a number of seasons now. I do not think that Fernando Llorente is the answer to this conundrum, as he was never that consistent for previous clubs Sevilla and Juventus. I still can`t get my head around how easily Swansea let Captain Ashley Williams leave the club. For Swansea, Williams was one of the best examples of leadership in the Premier League. His passion and organisational abilities will definitely be missed, and this was evident by how easily Hull were able to break them down at The Liberty. Swansea may have new owners but their investment is yet to be seen. We may well see a number of panic buys from Swansea in January.

Some people may be reading this perplexed that I haven`t said that I think Burnley will be relegated, and that`s because I don`t. In Sam Vokes and Andre Grey, Burnley have a strike force that will enable them to score a lot of goals on the counter attack as they proved against Liverpool. Vokes is a tall physical presence that is able to hold up the ball for Grey. Grey is pacey, clever and clinical, so I think the two can make a very harmonious Premier League strike force. At the other end of the pitch they are full of heart, and are willing to put their bodies on line to protect their goal. In Sean Dyche, they have a manager who has definitely learned from his previous season in the Premier League. As a result, I think that Dyche now knows that each team has to be treated differently, and so his tactics cannot be the same on a week to week basis.

For the first manager to be sacked, I`m not going to go with a manger from any of the teams I think will be relegated. This is because I think that the club in question will replace him quickly and strongly enough for them to do enough to avoid relegation. The manager I`m referring to here is Alan Pardew, whose Crystal Palace side have only won two games this entire calendar year. It is becoming more and clearer by the match that Newcastle fans were right about Pardew all along. He has the short-term quality to be able to galvanise a team and grind out results, but lacks the long-term abilities of tactical know-how and transfer market knowledge. With the appointments of Pardew, Pulis, Warnock, and Holloway in recent years, it seems that Steve Parish is very much keen on having a British Manager. This is why I said earlier that I wouldn`t be surprised if they went after Howe. The reason Howe didn`t work out at Burnley was because he wanted to be nearer his family, London isn`t really that far from Bournemouth. Perhaps a little more realistic than Howe is Steve Bruce, who is of course out of work after leaving Hull. By getting Hull promoted last year Bruce showed that he is capable of managing in the Premier League again. I also wouldn`t be surprised if Tim Sherwood was on Parish`s shortlist, considering he was the last man to get the best out of Christian Benteke. Ultimately though, I think he`d only be a short term solution. Palace fans probably won`t like me for saying this, but I also think Roy Hodgson might be on Parish`s radar. Prior to the England job Roy enjoyed reasonable success with West Brom and Fulham, two very similar jobs to Palace. Would Parish`s radar go as far as Harry Redknapp, Martin O`Neil/Roy Keane, or Chris Coleman? Only time will tell.

Overall, I think we`re in for a very competitive and exciting Premier League Season. There are multiple teams that are capable of winning the league, and also a multitude of teams that may end up getting sucked into the relegation battle. As a result, every goal (for or against) is going to be so crucial to every team involved in the league.

Alex Roberts – @AMRoberts10
Contributor – Vital Wednesday

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