The Blog

Quarter Season Predictions 2016/17: The Premier League

Every year, hundreds of predictions are made about the football season ahead. Promotion and relegation candidates are pored over, and it's all a bit pointless because you have no idea what a team will perform like until they step onto the pitch.

Being a cautious type, I always refuse to predict future finishing positions until a quarter of the season has gone, because it is only by then that the lay of the footballing land becomes clearer. All this month, I will be running a series of predictive blogs for each of the top four football leagues, finishing with the Premier League.

With all the biggest, most moneyed guns in the league with various jams and faults in the early parts of the season, and the second tier of ambitious upstarts getting better all the time, it genuinely looks like it could be the tightest title race for a long time. There's no chance of a Leicester repeat - can there ever be? - but this season is set to be intriguing for different reasons.

For all they are wobbling - at the time of writing, they have not won for five games in all competitions - I am backing Manchester City to win the title.

I am a fan of Pep Guardiola, I will hold no truck with those baying for a change in his winning style after one defeat. I think he will have to make tweaks, but he adapted from Spanish football to the Bundesliga, and he can do the same in England.

Of the many runners and riders, I think Arsenal will push City the closest. In the past decade there has always been something stopping the Gunners - a poor goalkeeper, no firepower, substandard defenders, an unbalanced midfield - but this season it is something more simple; Manchester City simply have the better players (except in goal).

Stones is better than Mustafi. De Bruyne is better than Ozil. Aguero is better than Sanchez. Arsenal, in possibly Wenger's last year, will be runners-up again.

I may be accused of short-termism, but after their remarkable 4-0 thrashing of Manchester United, I say Chelsea will come third.

After a wobbly start, Conte has done what Ranieri did at Leicester last season - found a string counter attacking formation which suits players who might not have the quality otherwise, which other teams can't deal with. I still think the scars of last season run too deep and, similar to Arsenal, the squad quality is not strong enough, but a return to Champions League football is possible.

Which means one from three for fourth place - Spurs, Liverpool, or Manchester United - and I think Spurs have the best chance.

This is based mostly on the quality of defence - Tottenham have Hugo Lloris, Liverpool have two keepers who look like they would be at home in the Championship. Spurs have Alderweireld and Vertonghen, United have a group of strangers who seem disinclined to tackle the opponents or talk to each other. Spurs for fourth.

At the bottom, I think Sunderland's time is finally up. This is more than their usual early season malaise, this is permanent regression and a worrying return to the days when they got 15 points in a season. When the manager and senior players all acknowledge you have gone backwards this year, you know its a problem.

As for the other two relegation spots, I think it will be two from three of the promoted sides - Burnley, Boro and Hull look less well equipped than most promoted sides in recent years. Hull leak goals like the Titanic leaked icy water, and Burnley seem to lack players with experience, surprisingly given they were at this level two years ago.

Boro have problems, but their defence finally seems to be recovering its Championship form and they have a diamond in Adama Traore, so they will scrape to final day survival.