The only thing better than us looking stupid is you laughing at us looking stupid. With that in mind, it’s our annual season predictions. West Ham to win the title, you say? Storey asked the questions, for those of you who care…
The traditional starter: Who will win the league?
Sarah Winterburn: Chelsea. A group of largely world-class players under an impressive manager, away from the circus in Manchester.
Daniel Storey: Manchester United. I thought City for so long, but United have made a bigger ‘statement’ this summer than any other club in the world. They did only finish five points or fewer behind their typical title rivals last season.
Matt Stead: Manchester City. With a better manager it would have been theirs to lose last season. And there are few better managers than the one they have now.
John Nicholson: I am, at heart, a romantic and I refuse to buy into the idea that the most money spent will always win. I want to believe that’s old-fashioned, now that Leicester City has happened. So this season I’m going with a ridiculous outside bet of West Ham United to win the league. It seems insane, but so did Leicester. They’ve got Mr D Payet, and a great manager. No-one knows anything. Football is chaos. It could happen.
Nick Miller: Manchester City. They badly underachieved last season and with the new lot, and Guardiola in charge, I reckon they’ll do it.
Rest of the top four, in order please.
SW: Man United, Man City and then Arsenal.
DS: Man City, Arsenal, Chelsea. Just enough for Arsene Wenger to get a new deal.
MS: Manchester United, Chelsea and Arsenal.
JN: Manchester United, Chelsea, Liverpool.
NM: Manchester United, Tottenham, Liverpool. This is the year that Arsenal drop out (possibly) and I’ve got a sneaky suspicion that Conte could be rubbish at Chelsea. Although I’m not sure quite why.
Which three clubs are going down, down, down, down, down, down, down (wooh!)?
SW: Hull are going down with about 18 points, Burnley with 35 and then Watford on the final day. It’s very difficult to end a season badly and then recover.
DS: Hull, Burnley and Watford.
MS: Swansea, Watford and Hull.
JN: Hull City – haven’t they been relegated already? Swansea City. Burnley – expect a season-long exercise in the media as to why this makes Sean Dyche brilliant.
NM: Hull, Burnley and Swansea. The first two are obvious, having achieved the impressive feat of being weaker than they were in the Championship last season, while I think Swansea have been riding their luck for a season or two.
And the most difficult of all, where will Leicester finish?
SW: Yikes. Going for ninth.
DS: God, who set these questions? Oh, I see. Eleventh.
MS: Just behind Tottenham and Liverpool in seventh.
JN: Sixth. This whole ‘they’ve been found out’ business is obviously silly, and only a footballer could postulate the idea that it might have taken a season of in-depth study to discover what on earth was going on with the fast lad up front and meat mountains at the back. I still think their tactics will work and work well. It’s hard to play against.
NM: The perfect season would be for them to win the Champions League and get relegated, but you can’t have everything. 10th.
Which club will do surprisingly lovely things?
SW: I think Middlesbrough will be very, very comfortable. And I have an inkling that Everton could break up what looks on paper like a top six.
DS: I almost picked Liverpool for a top-four place, so have to go them. No European football will surely help.
MS: Inspired by Phil Jagielka, Steven Pienaar, Marouane Fellaini, Leon Osman and Tony Hibbert, David Moyes’ Everton tribute act at Sunderland will finish comfortably mid-table. Is that surprisingly lovely? Who knows.
JN: Given I’m tipping West Ham, I think we’ll see a lovely season-long parade of well-spanked free kicks. Middlesbrough, of course, is always the loveliest of things but I see us doing well this season playing with a mixture of flair and directness. We definitely had the best transfer window in terms of value for money.
NM: Do Liverpool count? Think they will be pretty good now Klopp has the right players, and I think Divock Origi will have a good season.
DS: *Prepares for incoming banter* Well, you can get 12/1 on Romelu Lukaku, with one bookmaker offering six places. That’s buying money.
MS: Wayne Rooney. No, wait. Sergio Aguero. Yeah, him.
JN: It has to be Zlatan, doesn’t it? He never has an anonymous season and given the players around him, as long as you-know-who is quickly dispensed with, he shouldn’t be short of ammunition.
NM: Sergio Aguero, assuming he stays fit. Obviously.
Who will be the best signing?
SW: Henrikh Mkhitaryan will look like a bargain but N’Golo Kante will help win Chelsea the league. I also think Alvaro Negredo will get 15 goals for Boro.
DS: Always get excited by this question. I think Viktor Fischer could be good at ‘Boro, and Nathan Redmond at Southampton too. But the one I’m looking forward to watching is Henrikh Mkhitaryan. He can make this kitty purr.
MS: One Merseyside boy each: Idrissa Gueye or Joel Matip. I also think Southampton have had an excellent low-key summer in terms of additions.
JN: Best is a hard concept to quantify, but I’m opting for Alvaro Negredo. He will spearhead Middlesbrough’s challenge for a European place and will be our top scorer since the glories days of Mark Viduka, but will take much less feeding.
NM: N’Golo Kante should be great at Chelsea, and Pogba will do some remarkable things but we’ll all be weighed down by the bullsh*t about whether he’s worth the money. I think the most interesting one might be Andros Townsend: I’ve always thought he’s 10% good, 90% useless, but despite being around for ages this is the first season he’ll (probably) be a first-choice starter from the start of the season. His chance to prove me wrong, which will obviously be a big motivating factor for him.
And which big-money buy will stink the place out?
SW: Does Nampalys Mendy count as a big signing? Elsewhere, John Stones will not magically be brilliant because he is being coached by Pep Guardiola.
DS: Granit Xhaka as the third most expensive central midfielder ever just doesn’t sit right, sorry. Bring on the Arsenal hate.
MS: Who will be brave/stupid enough to say Paul Pogba? Let’s go for Marten de Roon, based on the fact I keep forgetting he is a thing, and Yannick Bolasie on the basis of £30m.
JN: It’s fairly obvious that Paul Pogba’s fee will give everyone a chance to say every performance that doesn’t include two goals, two assists and escaping from a straitjacket whilst being dangled upside down in a tank of water, is poor value for money. But Sadio Mane will be a big hit or a big miss and I’m going with the latter.
NM: You worry about Manchester City spending £20-odd million on an injured Ilkay Gundogan. I’m also not having Michy Batshuayi as a £33million player, if things like transfer fees matter in the slightest anymore.
Who will be this season’s Marcus Rashford, the kid who comes out of nowhere (nobody said this would be easy)?
SW: Bloody hell. You don’t want much do you? Tom Davies at Everton. Never seen him play but he has good hair.
DS: It looks like Ola Aina might start the season for Chelsea, which puts him above all their other kids. Also, Steve Cook will have been called up by England by the end of the season. He’s only 24, so a mere child to me.
MS: Sake. Erm, Tosin Adarabioyo? Pep will probably turn him into a striker, mind.
JN: Given Ronnie Koeman’s ability to spot and develop a player, the 19-year-old Everton defender Mason Holgate looks like just the sort of player he’d bring the best out of and be unafraid to play regularly, now that John Stones has taken his agricultural haircut and disco-dancing defending to City. See also: Reece Oxford at West Ham United.
NM: Can I slightly change the premise of the question? I can? Cool. It’s not ‘from nowhere’, but one of the things Southampton fans seemed miffed about under Ronald Koeman was that he didn’t use any of their kids, so hopefully that will change under Puel and if it does, I reckon James Ward-Prowse will have a breakthrough season.
First manager to leave their job (not necessarily sacked)?
SW: Tony Pulis will walk unless West Brom spend.
DS: Francesco Guidolin, perhaps. Although I think Walter Mazzarri could go south pretty quickly at Watford.
MS: Following in the quite brilliant footsteps of Tim Sherwood and Dick Advocaat, Francesco Guidolin will prove beyond doubt that inexperienced mid-season appointments at relegation-threatened clubs should not necessarily be rewarded with a full campaign.
JN: Chunky Pards has a 14-game run without winning most seasons, so he’s got to be likely candidate for whacking if this season’s barren spell happens early enough. Also have a weird feeling that David Moyes won’t do very well at all, and that we’ll all feel really sorry for him, the way we feel sorry for a dog that’s waiting in the rain to be let into its house.
NM: Tony Pulis. I can’t see West Brom’s new owners standing for that turgid sh*te for long.
Finally, who would you most like to see fail, and why?
SW: Jose, Jose and Jose. Pretty please.
DS: I love Arsenal, but feel like Arsene Wenger needs to be taught a lesson for this transfer market inertia.
MS: Zlatan. Mourinho, too. God, isn’t it lovely to hate Manchester United again?
JN: Both Manchester clubs and for the same reason. A cult of personality mixed with lavishly spent, infinite money is a very unattractive combination. The degree of media fawning over both managers is somewhere between nauseating and insane. And, as I’ve said before, I want the “spend big, win big” culture to be corrupted. Quite why I don’t feel this way about Liverpool, I don’t know.
NM: Jose Mourinho. Although I’d also be delighted to see him succeed. Confusing old world, football.