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13th Aug 2021

FootballJOE writers’ 21/22 Premier League predictions


Football is back, baby

Predicting what is going to happen in a football match, or across a season, is often a completely futile task. A game dependent on thousands of factors that embraces randomness like no other consistently makes mugs of all of us who try to predict the future. But it’s a fun exercise, and allows us to measure exactly how wrong we were come the season’s end. And so, without further ado, here are the FootballJOE team’s 21/22 season predictions for the Premier League, based on nothing but hunches.

Reuben Pinder

Premier League winners: Manchester City

Despite their slow start last season, they ran away with the league after finding an extra gear after the new year. Since then, they’ve improved by signing one of the best creative midfielders in the league in Jack Grealish and remain determined to bring in Harry Kane to complete their attack. If they don’t manage to finalise a deal, they’ll probably still win the league. If they do sign him, we might as well hand them the title there and then.

Top four: Chelsea, Manchester United, Liverpool

Chelsea managed to finish fourth last season despite their top goalscorer being Jorginho, with seven penalties. With the addition of Romelu Lukaku, and without the burden of being managed by Frank Lampard for half a season, they will be City’s closest contenders. United have strengthened in key areas, and Liverpool have their best two defenders back. Leicester will make another push for Champions League football but it’s hard to envisage them breaking into the top four.

Golden boot: Romelu Lukaku

Usually I would back Harry Kane to win the golden boot, because he normally does win it. But given the uncertainty surrounding his future, I can’t fully commit to backing him to win it again. If he does eventually move to Manchester City, I will probably change my mind, but right now I’m backing Chelsea’s Romelu Lukaku to rack up enough goals to take home the golden boot. He is a different player to the one who left Manchester United, and will be getting some of the best service in the league from the likes of Mason Mount and Kai Havertz.

Relegated: Southampton, Newcastle, Norwich

Saints were one of the most bipolar teams in the league last season, and without Danny Ings’ goals, they look destined for a dogfight.

Newcastle were probably the least entertaining team in the league this season, and have done nothing in the transfer window to improve on last season’s squad. Steve Bruce is still their manager. This should be the year they finally go down.

Norwich are Norwich. They’re not allowed to stay up. Those are the rules.

First manager to go: Xisco

Watford have had more managers than Elton John has had hot dinners and that will not change any time soon. Whichever unknown coach takes over at Vicarage Road will probably keep them up, and depart at the start of the following season, such are the rules of nature.

Surprise package (team): Aston Villa

Losing Grealish will take some adjustment, but their team has all the makings of a Europa League outfit. With Ings and Watkins being supplied by Leon Bailey and Emi Buendia, they will cause a lot of teams problems in attack.

Surprise package (player): Conor Gallagher

A year after making the mistake of loaning Michy Batshuayi instead of Conor Gallagher, Crystal Palace finally have their man. Gallagher will add some much needed dynamism to Palace’s midfield, where he will have more freedom to express himself under Patrick Vieira than he did under Sam Allardyce at West Brom.

Wayne Farry

Premier League winners: Manchester City

Manchester City were far and away the best team in the league last season. Yes, Liverpool suffered a truly horrific time with injuries – most notably that of handsome ol’ Virgil – but bar a period of shakiness early on, City looked really, really good.

If I were a City fan this season, I’d be very confident. John Stones and Ruben Dias have a (very encouraging) first season of playing together under their belt, and the acquisition of Jack Grealish gives them more options in transition (read: he can dribble better than anyone they have) and also, quite simply, gives the league’s best squad the addition of one of the league’s best players.

A very good team has got better.

Top four: Manchester United, Chelsea, Liverpool

No disrespect to Liverpool but for me, second place is a toss-up between Manchester United and Chelsea. Thomas Tuchel’s (and first, Frank Lampard’s) side scored the third-fewest goals in the top half last season, after Everton and Arsenal, and the addition of Romelu Lukaku will likely add at least 20 more to that number.

While United scored the second most goals last season (73 to City’s 83), they also struggled to break teams down, leading to them drawing 11 games, the third-highest in the league last season. Jadon Sancho will no doubt help unlock the door against tired opposition, while the presence of Raphael Varane alongside Harry Maguire should ensure that many of those tight, frustrating draws are turned into narrow wins.

Liverpool will be a much stronger group this season, one suspects. Virgil Van Dijk is fit, Ibrahima Konate will be alongside him, while players like Curtis Jones and Harvey Elliot will likely feature more heavily after yet another season’s experience under their belts.

After last season, though, and given how rivals have strengthened, fourth place seems their most likely spot for me (Feel free to screenshot this segment and tweet me at various times throughout the season when I’m proved wrong).

Golden boot: Romelu Lukaku

Romelu Lukaku is a really great footballer, and proved as much during his sensational spell at Inter Milan. With all of the attacking talent that Chelsea have, from an intelligent strike partner in Timo Werner to talented attacking midfield options like Havertz, Mount, Ziyech and Pulisic, it would be hugely surprising if Lukaku didn’t top the scoring charts.

Like Reuben, I probably would’ve gone for Kane were it not for the speculation surrounding his Spurs future.

Relegated: Watford, Southampton, Norwich

Watford and Norwich, being the perennial yo-yo clubs that they are, will be automatic favourites to go down. The Hornets have brought in a raft of new players – including some with Premier League experience like Danny Rose and Josh King – but it is hard to see them having anywhere near enough quality to stay up.

Norwich, too, have made some interesting additions to their side. Billy Gilmour will do well for them, but their other signings, the two most high-profile of which were Milot Rashica and Josh Sargent from Werder Bremen, are risks at best. Both players have quality, but whether they’ll be good enough for a lower-league Premier League side remains to be seen.

Southampton finished 15 points clear of the relegation zone last season, but that felt more down to the lack of quality among Fulham, West Brom and Sheffield United than any note of quality from the Saints. Selling Danny Ings and replacing him with Adam Armstrong makes sense, but the former Blackburn Rovers striker will need to start scoring early on if he’s to help them stay up. Even if he does, it might not be enough.

First manager to go: Xisco

He is Watford’s manager, therefore he will be the first manager sacked this season. I suspect he will be sacked during the first international break.

Surprise package (team): Crystal Palace

For the first time in a long time, Crystal Palace fans are entering a season with a feeling of uncertainty. The stable if increasingly boring years of Roy Hodgson are now consigned to the past, and the Patrick Vieira era has begun. How long it actually lasts remains to be seen, but Palace have made smart moves during the transfer window.

The signings of Marc Guehi and Joachim Andersen look to be clever, particularly if the former Chelsea defender settles in quickly. The same goes for new midfielder Michael Olise, and much of Palace’s hypothetical success this season will depend on how fast their new players can bed in alongside their more experienced teammates. If they get some points under their belt early, it could be a good season for Palace.

Surprise package (player): Ben White

‘Surprise package’ seems an odd label for a player who cost £50 million, and it is, but Ben White has been subject to a lot of collateral slagging due to his transfer fee, particularly in comparison the sum Manchester United are believed to be spending on Raphael Varane.

White is really good, though, and I believe he’ll be a really good player for Arsenal from the off. They have been a mess for a very long time, and one man is not enough to fix those problems, but he has the attributes needed to alleviate at least a few of them.

Si Lloyd

Premier League winners: Manchester City

I hate to be boring here but it’s hard to see beyond City again. They won it comfortably last season and, even though a couple of the teams below them have strengthened, the addition of Jack Grealish and possibly Harry Kane means they’re likely to have more than enough to defend their crown. They coped pretty well without a striker for the duration of last season but give them one who guarantees 30 goals-a-season – along with the added creativity of Grealish – and it feels like a formality. Even if Kane stays put, you’d fancy them to have enough.

Top four: Manchester United, Chelsea, Liverpool

Of last season’s top four, United have had the best summer so far. In Jadon Sancho and Raphael Varane they’ve addressed two long-term issues in their squad. The addition of a defensive midfielder would take them even further, but the added creativity of Sancho and added pace and composure of Varane next to Harry Maguire at the other end of the pitch should see United make further improvements. It won’t be enough for them to get ahead of City, but I’d fancy them to get slightly closer.

Chelsea finished seven points behind United last season. This season, I’d expect the two of them to be a lot closer. Defensively solid for most of last season, Thomas Tuchel’s arrival brought even more organisation to the team and was a significant factor in them becoming European Champions. There’s a perfect blend of creativity and steel in midfield and, in Romelu Lukaku, they’ve guaranteed goals where Timo Werner couldn’t last season.

With Virgil van Dijk back from injury and new signing Ibrahima Konate expected to join him in the heart of defence, Liverpool appear to be stronger at the back following the nightmarish injury troubles that blighted their title defence last season. Konate, however, remains Liverpool’s only major acquisition in a summer where they have lost Georginio Wijnaldum. Though they showed flickers of their old selves towards the end of last season, it feels like the squad still needs one or two new faces. Whether they arrive or not, they should – assuming everyone stays fit – have enough to seal a top four berth once again.

Golden boot: Harry Kane

I understand the logic behind Wayne and Reuben going for Lukaku on this – I also believe he’ll score for fun – but I can’t see past Kane. If he stays, Spurs are never going to bench him (at least not after the City game) and he’ll still be their penalty taker no matter how many training session he goes on to miss. Lukaku probably won’t be at Chelsea. If Kane goes to City, which I suspect will still happen, he’ll be on the end of even more goal scoring opportunities than he is now. Stay or go, he’ll still win it.

Relegated: Newcastle, Southampton, Watford

I should kick this off by saying I have a knack of calling relegation candidates wrong every single season. With that in mind, congratulations on beating the drop, Newcastle, Watford and Southampton!

But seriously.

Newcastle, as Reuben says, didn’t exactly wow anyone last season but did finish a comfortable 17 points clear of the drop. Instead of building on this with new signings, Mike Ashley has yet again failed to do any meaningful business. They begin the season weaker than they did the last, with an unpopular manager in charge. Should things not start well, it could get ugly quite quickly.

Watford’s promotion last year was built on a solid backline. Their defence will come under even more strain in the Premier League, however, and despite their bloated squad, there doesn’t appear to be much in the way of goal threat at the other end of the field to make up for it. Short of cash, this isn’t likely to change before the close of the window, either. Xisco Munoz will probably lose his job this side of Christmas. Managerial sackings are what Watford do.

There was a time in the middle of last season where Southampton seemed in real trouble, failing to win nine games in a row. Their form improved last season, but the loss of Danny Ings feels significant. For a side that has finished in the bottom half of the table for three seasons on the spin, losing a man who has scored over 40 goals for them in that time feels significant. Perhaps Adam Armstrong will fill those shoes, but what if he doesn’t?

Surprise package (team): Brentford

It’s all too easy to write Brentford off. Many will look at their name, see that they’ve not been a top flight club in nearly 80 years and instantly assume they’re relegation fodder. Under Thomas Frank, though, they play exciting, front-foot football and will be a fun addition to the Premier League. In Ivan Toney they have a player who couldn’t stop scoring last season. This may well be a new experience for them all, but they won’t be fazed in the slightest. Don’t be surprised if they finish comfortably above the drop zone.

Surprise package (player): Emi Buendía

So much of the talk about Aston Villa’s summer has been dominated by their unsuccessful attempts to keep Jack Grealish. Replacing him will be impossible, but in Emi Buendia, they have a player who will add some of the creativity and zest lost by their former captain. Villa did well to get him ahead of Arsenal and I sense he will prove to be another shrewd signing in the months to come.

First manager to go; Xisco

Reasons explained above.

We look forward to reflecting on how wildly inaccurate these predictions were when Aston Villa surge to a shock Premier League title win and Arsenal are dragged into the bottom three. Enjoy the season, everyone.