I was right. The first two predictions in my article of 13 September 2021, at the start of this English Premier League season, were totally correct. I predicted that Tottenham Hotspur (Spurs)would not be champions (they won’t) and that Arsenal would not be relegated (they won’t either). As for the rest of my forecasts, more than halfway through the season, some look more likely to come true than others.
My prediction that Chelsea would be English champions now looks unlikely. Chelsea are 16 points behind leaders Manchester City. Chelsea were early leaders but have faltered with only two wins in their last eight games in December 2021 and January 2022. Romelu Lukaku has struggled with form and injury after his 113 million euro return to Chelsea from Milan and has only scored five goals in 16 games. Chelsea will take some compensation from winning the 2022 World Club Championship and may still win the Champions’ League.
Instead, Manchester City look set to win their fourth Premier League in five years. City have won 13 matches and draw one since the beginning of November 2021. The only team that might catch Manchester City is Liverpool, who are nine points behind but have played one game less. If they win that game and then beat City when the teams meet on 9 April the gap would be just three points with six games left. But that is a big ‘if’. I love Liverpool but would not bet my mother-in-law’s house on them overtaking City, even with Salah and Mane back from the Africa Cup of Nations.
More interesting than title race is the question of who will finish fourth and so qualify for next season’s Champions’ League place. Four teams are in the race, Manchester United, West Ham, Arsenal and Spurs. In November 2021, Manchester United sacked manager Ole Gunnar Solskjaer after a poor run of results ended with a humiliating 4-1 defeat at Watford. United appointed football ‘guru’ Ralf Ragnick, whose tactics have influenced managers such as Thomas Tuchel (Chelsea), Jurgen Klopp (Liverpool) and Julian Nagelsmann (Bayern Munich). Ragnick wants to stay as United’s manager only until the end of the season, and then stay as a ‘consultant’. Under Ragnick, United remain inconsistent and fourth place is far from certain.
West Ham, after a bright start including a win over Liverpool in early November 2021, have struggled since then. Compared to the bigger clubs around them West Ham’s squad is small and is stretched further by their progress in the Europa League. Manager David Moyes did not strengthen his team in January. It will be an exceptional achievement for West Ham to finish fourth. Arsenal, after a poor start to the season, have moved steadily up the league table. Arsenal have talented young players, but their squad seems to lack the quality, depth and experience to finish fourth, especially as Pierre-Emerick Aubameyang left Arsenal to join Barcelona after an argument with manager Mikel Arteta. Failure to sign young Serbian international Dusan Vlahovic who left Fiorentina for Juventus, raises doubts about Arsenal’s ability to attract the best players.
After appointing Antonio Conte as manager in November 2021, Spurs are the most improved team in the Premier League. In January, Conte brought in midfielders Rodrigo Bentancur and Dejan Kulusevski from Juventus. Spurs will continue to improve but Conte’s team must still play away at Manchester City, Manchester United and Liverpool. Fourth place looks unlikely.
September 2021 prediction: 1. Chelsea 2. Manchester City 3. Liverpool 4. Manchester United
February 2022 prediction:1. Manchester City 2. Liverpool 3. Chelsea 4. Manchester United
In February, I predicted that Crystal Palace, Norwich and Watford would be relegated. As Meatloaf said, ‘Two outta three ain’t bad’
Worries that an unsettled team and inexperienced manager would be too much for Crystal Palace to survive proved unfounded. Manager Patrick Vieira has built an entertaining team that has beaten Manchester City and Spurs. The impressive form of Conor Gallagher, on loan from Chelsea, has also helped steer Palace to a comfortable mid-table position.
Norwich City have spent most of the season in the bottom three. Given that they still must play Chelsea and Manchester City at home, and Manchester United and Liverpool away, Norwich remain among the favourites to go down. At the start of this season, it was unclear if Watford manager Xisco Munoz knew his best team. He didn’t. Munoz was replaced in October 2021 by Claudio Ranieri. After only winning two out of 14 games Ranieri was fired in January. Watford have now called 74-year old former England manager Roy Hodgson out of retirement to keep them in the Premier League. It looks too late to save them.
In going down to the Championship (English football’s second tier), Norwich and Watford will probably be joined by either Burnley, Everton, or Newcastle United. Burnley are currently bottom of the Premier League and have only won once this season. Burnley have an experienced manager in Sean Dyche, but to have any chance of staying in staying in the Premier league, they must beat fellow strugglers Newcastle at home, and Norwich and Watford away and do well against the top English teams. It looks a difficult task.
After being bought, controversially, by Saudi Arabia, Newcastle United have enough money but not enough points. Eddie Howe replaced Steve Bruce as manager in November 2021 and in Januaryhe spent 100 million euro bringing Bruno Guimares from Lyon, Kieran Trippier from Atletico Madrid, Chris Wood from Burnley and Dan Burn from Brighton to Newcastle. It will probably be enough.
Everton, the blue half of the city of Liverpool, are struggling. Frank Lampard replaced Rafa Benitez as Everton manager in January 2022 and new players have joined the club, including Dele Alli from Spurs and, on loan from Manchester United, Donny van de Beek. The problem is that Everton’s confidence is very low. Everton’s last two games are against Liverpool and Chelsea. It is possible that a Liverpool win would send close neighbours Everton to the second tier of English football for the first time since 1954. It won’t happen…will it?
September 2021 prediction: 18. Crystal Palace 19. Norwich City 20. Watford
February 2022 prediction: 18. Burnley 19. Norwich City 20. Watford