Premier League preview: Title winners? Top-four shocks? Breakout stars? First sacking?

The Premier League is back. The new season begins on Friday evening as Arsenal travel to Crystal Palace before everyone else piles in over the weekend.

Before the big kick-off, our writers have got their heads together to answer some of the crucial questions while also bravely predicting the final league table…

Who will win the Premier League and why?

Dominic Fifield: Manchester City will probably edge out Liverpool, just. Possibly. It may all boil down to good fortune in terms of injuries and how key performers cope with the distraction of a mid-season World Cup. In truth, both those teams appear utterly outstanding on paper and will benefit from revitalised front lines, which hardly seems fair on the rest.

Carl Anka: The Premier League is Manchester City’s until proven otherwise. Pep Guardiola has done more than just buy Erling Haaland: he’s recalibrated his attacking options to get the most out of him. Expect big seasons for Jack Grealish and Phil Foden as they feed the big man.

Guardiola will be looking to get more out of Grealish this season (Photo: Chris Brunskill/Fantasista/Getty Images)

Maram AlBaharna: The Premier League title has to be Manchester City’s. It will not be easy, but adding Haaland might just do it.

Stuart James: Toss-of-a-coin territory here, because there is still so little to choose between City and Liverpool. Haaland is a fantastic addition and, on the face of it, has made City better. It’s hard to argue the same right now about Darwin Nunez and Liverpool, purely because Sadio Mane was so good. But I just have a feeling that Liverpool will be hurting with how last season ended and that will give them a psychological edge.

Sarah Shephard: Unimaginative, I know, but Manchester City. Yes, they have lost the player who scored their second-highest number of goals (13 in the Premier League) last season in Raheem Sterling, and sold Gabriel Jesus (eight goals) but bringing in Haaland and Kalvin Phillips means they should not be weakened by those departures. I’m not sure I can say the same for Liverpool (who will be their closest rivals once again), who I suspect will feel the loss of Mane this season.

Who else will qualify for the Champions League?

Dominic Fifield: Tottenham Hotspur feel like a team on the up once again, overseen by a ferociously competitive and driven head coach who, for once, should actually be satisfied with his club’s business in the market (though he probably won’t be). It is hard to judge Chelsea before the closure of the transfer window, but they have spent their summer playing catch-up post-takeover. Manchester United, too, are a mystery but may be coming from too far back to oust Thomas Tuchel’s side from the top four. More of a threat to Boehly-Clearlake could be Arsenal. But we’ve said that before and been left looking foolish.

Carl Anka: Let me not overthink things: Liverpool are coming second (but with a larger points gap than usual to City). Spurs are coming third. Chelsea look combustible and with a misfiring attack, but they should be able to fend off Manchester United and Arsenal to secure that final top-four slot.

Maram AlBaharna: My hot take of the season is Tottenham will find themselves in a title race they cannot edge, leaving them second. Liverpool, obviously, and then you have Arsenal, who are getting louder and louder each season.

Stuart James: The sort of question designed to trip me up, bearing in mind that I predicted, with about 10 games to go last season, that Arsenal would finish above Tottenham. Spurs seem in a better place than Chelsea right now, which means it’s a three-way fight between Tuchel’s team, Arsenal and Manchester United for that final place. Chelsea to get fourth, just.

Sarah Shephard: Liverpool, obviously. And then, well, I have a feeling Chelsea will do better than many are predicting this season and then it comes down to a shootout between Tottenham, Arsenal and Manchester United. Push me, and I’d have to give Spurs the nod. Just.

Who will be relegated and why?

Dominic Fifield: Bournemouth have been cautious in the market and may not be equipped for a top-flight campaign, particularly given the brutal nature of their opening run of fixtures. Recovering from that would be some feat. Fulham need to add more quality in what remains of the window, while the sheer level of upheaval at Nottingham Forest (even if it was required) brings with it considerable risk. That said, Southampton, who have also recruited heavily, will need to exorcise some of the miserable memories of the tail end of last season to avoid a decidedly difficult campaign.

Carl Anka: I’ve been burned twice by “Aleksandar Mitrovic — Premier League striker”, and even if he’s a more complete player now, Fulham’s squad isn’t much better than the one that got relegated in 2020-21. Bournemouth are a big shrug. Nottingham Forest’s squad looks “too weird to stay up” but I think they’ll make a late escape and doom Leeds to 18th place.

Maram AlBaharna: I have a feeling we’ll see a repeat of the Championship to Premier League to Championship seesaw for Fulham, Bournemouth and Nottingham Forest. Mitrovic has tricked me too many times into believing he can replicate his numbers in the top flight, Bournemouth look forgettable given their transfer activity (or lack thereof…) and Forest’s massive shopping spree will be too big to handle.

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Our writers feel Parker’s Bournemouth will struggle this season (Photo: Robin Jones – AFC Bournemouth/AFC Bournemouth via Getty Images)

Stuart James: Bournemouth — Scott Parker has pretty much admitted that’s on the cards. “This squad is much weaker than it was when we got promotion,” Bournemouth’s manager said. I can see Fulham, Parker’s former club, struggling too. As for the other member of the promoted trio, who knows what to expect from Forest given their transfer activity, but the fact they’ve been out of the Premier League for so long could work in their favour — the City Ground will be bouncing. If I had to pick a faller from the rest, I’d say Southampton.

Sarah Shephard: I fear for Bournemouth, looking at their lack of transfer activity and logic tells me Fulham are the yo-yo team who will never die. Nottingham Forest will have a tough season but just about survive. In the wake of losing their best player (Richarlison) and no true replacement yet arriving, I can see Everton sinking into the danger zone again.

Premier League preview Title winners Top four shocks Breakout stars First

Which manager is going to get sacked first?

Dominic Fifield: The disquiet at St Mary’s at the end of last season will make a decent start imperative for Ralph Hasenhuttl, though panic could set in quicker at Bournemouth, leaving Parker in peril. A slack opening for Wolves, too, might thrust some of the focus on Bruno Lage.

Carl Anka: (Jokingly) One of the smaller clubs that gets to Christmas and realises they need to course correct to stay up. (Serious) No, but Frank Lampard’s job is in real danger.

Maram AlBaharna: Yes, it’s Frank Lampard.

Stuart James: Narrowing this down to Marco Silva, Lampard, Jesse Marsch, Ralph Hasenhuttl and Lage — crikey, that’s a quarter of the Premier League managers… and maybe Parker should be in there too. Fulham’s opening fixtures — Liverpool, Arsenal, Spurs and Chelsea in the first seven games – don’t make for good reading, so it’s Silva on that basis.

Sarah Shephard: Given the above, Lampard could find that thinning head of hair becoming increasingly scarce.

Who will score the most goals? Rank from highest to lowest from Haaland, Nunez, Jesus, Richarlison, Sterling.

Dominic Fifield: 1, Haaland, 2, Sterling, 3, Jesus, 4, Nunez, 5, Richarlison

Carl Anka: 1, Haaland, 2, Jesus, 3, Nunez, 4, Sterling, 5, Richarlison

Maram AlBaharna: 1, Haaland, 2, Jesus, 3, Sterling, 4, Richarlison, 5, Nunez

Stuart James: 1, Haaland, 2, Jesus, 3, Nunez, 4, Sterling, 5, Richarlison

Sarah Shephard: 1, Haaland, 2, Jesus, 3,  Sterling, 4, Nunez, 5, Richarlison

Whose season will be helped most by the World Cup?

Dominic Fifield: A team who has hardly any players at the tournament. So, basically, plenty of those fighting relegation will have a month to lick their wounds before they go again.

Carl Anka: (Briefly looks at attacking players who won’t be travelling to the World Cup and sees Mohamed Salah and Haaland on the list, shakes head and remembers the true edge is found further down the table) I can see Aston Villa having a better time in the second half of the season.

Maram AlBaharna: Very tempted by the big names that will be left behind — Salah, Riyad Mahrez, Haaland — but something tells me it’s the teams cage-fighting at the bottom who would benefit from a ceasefire for a month to re-group.

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How much will Liverpool benefit from Salah not being at the World Cup? (Photo: Jan Kruger – The FA/The FA via Getty Images)

Stuart James: Easy to overthink this one. Individually, Haaland and Salah spring to mind immediately — they’ll have their feet up at home. Collectively, you’d have to think that bottom-half-of-the-table clubs will benefit because, by and large, they’ll have fewer players at the World Cup. Hang on, though, don’t the top clubs have bigger squads… see, I’m overthinking it.

Sarah Shephard: The promoted teams and clubs with fewer internationals who won’t have to deal with the aftermath of a mid-season major tournament. Also, any team who has a bad start to the season. The break will give them time to pause and reset — not something Premier League clubs often get an opportunity to do at that time of year.

And whose will be hindered most by it?

Dominic Fifield: There will inevitably be a sense of deflation — an emotional hangover — from the finals, experienced most by players whose nations consider themselves contenders. To that end, the potential for most of those competing at the top of the division to suffer in the aftermath is surely very real. To counter that, one suspects Haaland and Salah, absent from Qatar, may fancy reminding the watching world of their credentials post-tournament — which may mean defenders up and down the division are the ones to suffer the backlash.

Carl Anka: Antonio Conte has spent much of this summer making smart moves in the transfer market and beasting his players into top physical shape. You can see Spurs starting the season very well and provoking “Three-horse title race?” questions… only for Harry Kane and others to knacker themselves at the World Cup. (They should still finish in the top four at a canter.)

Maram AlBaharna: Kane coming back dead on his feet after an intense World Cup and slowing down Conte’s momentum in a title race.

Stuart James: The biggest danger is players who come back having done really well and domestic football is then viewed as an anti-climax. I remember speaking to some of the Wales players about that post-Euro 2016 — it was quite a hangover. “A massive, massive comedown,” Neil Taylor said. Anyway, I guess you need to know a team: Spurs.

Sarah Shephard: Tottenham are set to lose several key players, including Kane and Son Heung-min. Arsenal could also lose some, including Bukayo Saka, Granit Xhaka and the three Gabriels (Martinelli, Magalhaes and Jesus).

Whose upcoming season would you most like to be turned into a documentary?

Dominic Fifield: Chelsea and Boehly-Clearlake are a blockbuster in-waiting, learning about the treacherous nature of the football industry on the hoof. Watching how they fling themselves into transfer negotiations, as the deadline ticks ever closer and a level of panic sets in, would surely be compulsive viewing.

Carl Anka: I cannot stop thinking about Manchester United spending more than half of 2021-22 having tactical advice transmitted from Russia into a man’s earphones. Erik ten Hag could do without the extra scrutiny, but I want to see how he deals with the executive dysfunction of the world’s strangest superclub.

Maram AlBaharna: Manchester United. Chaos seems to pop up like whack-a-mole for this strange club, on and off the pitch.

Stuart James: Manchester United or Chelsea are the obvious candidates, given the turbulence behind the scenes. The bit that I always find most interesting in documentaries is what the manager has to say in the dressing room and on the training ground. I’d love to see Tuchel at work (unedited).

Sarah Shephard: Tottenham’s. Conte’s lack of filter plus ever-present television cameras is the perfect recipe for a second season.

Which tactical innovation should we look out for?

Dominic Fifield: It will be intriguing to see whether, as threatened, Thomas Tuchel ditches his back three. Or, indeed, Patrick Vieira takes up the tactic across the capital at Crystal Palace. Teams’ use of the five-substitute rule, the adoption of which still fills me with dismay (apologies to all the big clubs), will also be interesting. Will games become fractured late on amid a rush of changes? Will it be used as a time-wasting tactic? Will younger players really benefit somehow?

Carl Anka: Last time Conte had a good Premier League spell, many teams had a go at employing his 3-4-2-1 system. Not every team can play inverted full-backs like Guardiola, so I’m going to say this season will see a lot of managers try to ape Conte’s use of wing-backs.

Maram AlBaharna: The rise of the inverted full-back — we saw it with Joao Cancelo and Klopp operating Trent Alexander-Arnold infield — but with the introduction of Ten Hag, especially if new signing Tyrell Malacia plays regularly, we’re going to see the trend of wide wingers and tucked in full-backs more often.

Stuart James: In my mind, the five-substitutes rule increases the likelihood of a player being dragged off at half-time, not least because there is an additional opportunity to make a change at the interval on top of the three occasions during the game, and there are now nine subs to choose from, too. In other news, I’m intrigued to see how United set up on goal kicks (in possession) this season.

Sarah Shephard: The introduction of the five-sub rule opens up a host of possibilities in terms of tactical exploitation. As the season reaches make-or-break point next April/May, it will be interesting to see how many of those subs get made in the dying minutes of a game one team is desperately trying to close out.

Which player is going to have a breakout season?

Dominic Fifield: The rave reviews from France suggest Cheick Doucoure could take English football by storm at Palace, though it will be just as intriguing to see how Michael Olise and Malcolm Ebiowei fare at Selhurst Park this season. Everything about Vieira’s forward options is thrilling.

Cheick Doucoure

Expect a big season for Crystal Palace signing Cheick Doucoure (Photo: Crystal Palace)

Carl Anka: Doucoure is going to be a mainstay on best players outside of the top-six lists, along with Gianluca Scamacca. That both players will be at non-Champions League competing clubs in 2022-23 speaks to the financial strength of the Premier League. That’s simultaneously a good thing, and somewhat concerning.

Maram AlBaharna: The struggle is to pick one of Palace’s many talents but I have a feeling Doucoure will shock the Premier League. He has the ideal skill set to succeed (excellent anticipation, how to break the lines, dribble and defend) — he works in the shadows but he’ll be known.

Stuart James: I’d love to say Flynn Downes at West Ham, but that would be the heart and not the head talking — he’ll need time to adapt. Guess it depends on how we define “breakout”… Jesus has never started 25 Premier League games in a season — what can he do as a mandatory pick, as the go-to man to lead the line? Answer: score a lot of goals (probably).

Sarah Shephard: William Saliba is yet to play a competitive game for Arsenal but with Takehiro Tomiyasu out injured, he is likely to start the season at centre-half with Ben White filling in at right-back. If Saliba fulfils the potential he showed on loan at Marseille last season, he could become a fixture at the heart of Arsenal’s defence (and earn himself a place in France’s World Cup squad).

Which club will surprise everyone?

Dominic Fifield: Possibly Chelsea. Though not necessarily in a good way.

Carl Anka: Everton will be fine in the end.

Maram AlBaharna: Crystal Palace will challenge for a European spot.

Stuart James: Arsenal. Don’t ask me in what way. But just look at last season: calamitous start — written off. Impressive turnaround — top-four candidates. Then blowing it at the end.

Sarah Shephard: Brighton finished ninth last season and, such is my faith in Graham Potter, they could surprise everyone by finishing even higher this time around.

(Top photos: Getty Images)

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Premier League preview: Title winners? Top-four shocks? Breakout stars? First sacking?

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