Liverpool were supposed to be champions with Arsenal in the top four, Fulham being relegated and Darwin Nunez beating Erling Haaland. Stupid experts.
Take a look at our pre-season predictions in full if you absolutely must.
As convention dictates, we start at the beginning. ‘Who will win the Premier League?‘ asked the anonymous MC, to which the 10 chosen correspondents offered only two answers. And curiously, neither was Arsenal. Matt Stead, Ian Watson, Will Ford, Dave Tickner, Jason Soutar and Lewis Oldham retain their reputations – rest assured each will leave them in tatters soon enough – while the rest have been drawn to Liverpool. Oh Sarah Winterburn, John Nicholson, Ian King and Joe Williams, you are idiots. They convinced each other by talking about adaptation, with Erling Haaland settling in and the Reds winning the Community Shield. Never trust the Community Shield.
Then came the impossible question: name the rest of the first four in order. For some strange reason no one had expected Newcastle to storm the Champions League stage and so the highest number of teams in the current top four was three. Johnny, Ford and Spurs nonce Tickner only managed to get Manchester City and Spurs as they were all drawn by a combination of Liverpool, Chelsea and Manchester United. Again, Winty, Stead, King, Watson, Williams, Soutar and Oldham emerge at least without ridicule. Big fan of that from the boss though, handing the Gunners fourth place: “But I’ve been burned before by Arsenal so I say that with almost no conviction.” Twice shy and all that.
And now at the other end of the table with relegation. Again, no pundits have indicated that all of the current bottom three were there (they might have been expected to be roughly, mind) at this point. In fact, six of the 10 picked none from Nottingham Forest, Southampton or Wolves, and the other four said just one. Winty was the only one who foresaw Forest’s fate; Both Stead and Ford knew Wolves were doomed – as the latter put it, ‘any club paying £20.5million for Nathan Collins absolutely deserves it’ – and Johnny stuck Southampton’s name there. Everyone except Tickner said Bournemouth. Everyone but Stead said Fulham. But it’s quite phenomenal work from King: “Fulham and Bournemouth, obviously, but beyond that it’s one in five or six or so.” I’ll stick with my previous prediction of Leicester for consistency’s sake, but it could just as easily be Brentford, Leeds, Everton or more. This “or more” does all the heavy lifting after naming six clubs, none of which are in the relegation zone.
the pleasant surprise is always fun, losing a concept as it is. Crystal Palace (11th) was a popular choice for King, Ford and Soutar. Leeds (15th) was an OK cry from Watson and Oldham. Johnny and Tickner, who should have stuck to their Manchester United guns “not being a hot brothel”, went to Forest (18th). Winty or Williams are likely to win with Brighton (7th) and Brentford (10th) respectively. But bow down, Matt Stead: “West Ham’s qualification for Europe again looks both pleasant and surprising. They will be the only club separating the Big Six. You idiot.
Then comes the golden boot which, looking at the current standings, really should have been a landslide. Right? Right?! Guys?!?! You know that’s not how it works. Tickner summed it up perfectly with his opening line: “Don’t say Erling Haaland, it’s too boring.” He, Winty, Soutar and Oldham opted for Sir Harold from Kane – and to be fair, he’s second, six goals behind and World Cup penalties will break him or turn him into another ruthless goalbot. Others who thought way too far out of the box were Stead (Raheem Sterling or Gabriel Jesus), Ford (Mo Salah) and chaos fetishist Williams (Darwin Nunez). Johnny and the two Ians went with Haaland’s boring old pick because they’re boring.
When it came to new signing with the biggest positive impact, legitimate winner Gabriel Jesus was the majority vote – although Tickner noted that “Arsenal can’t go that far because their manager thinks you can recreate Anfield with a few loudspeakers” – and Christian Eriksen got the green light from Johnny and King. Williams said Yves Bissouma and Stead opted for the only World Cup semi-finalist of all the players mentioned: Nayef Aguerd. Those who said Jesus are still fools because they all based that vote on him scoring real goals.
To reverse this, the massive flop section is always fun. No one is particularly embarrassed here. A few shoutouts each for Gianluca Scamacca and Richarlison. Fabio Vieira, Jesse Lingard, Luis Sinisterra and Diego Carlos are also mentioned. While choosing Aston Villa’s centre-half, Soutar threw shade at Taiwo Awoniyi by confidently stating he would ‘only score two league goals all season’. He is, of course, already on three. Fair play for Watson as he absolutely nailed troubled Kalidou Koulibaly ‘for reasons I can’t explain or understand’. He’s probably either a Chelsea player or that idiot Kalvin Phillips. Poor Tickner, though: “Balls on the block here, and the flop will be too strong a word, but Haaland doesn’t quite feel like a Guardiola player and could be a brilliant minor disturbance for a well-oiled machine.” Ah.
Let’s go to the best deal signing and Winty, Johnny, Watson, and Soutar get gold stars for tipping Eriksen. Again, a veritable assortment of random transfers here, from Bernd Leno (Stead) to Marc Roca (King), Aaron Hickey (Williams) and Bissouma (Ford and Tickner). Saving the best till last is Oldham with Nick Pope. I don’t know why everyone got really sane here.
In terms of PFA Player of the Year, the current favorites are Haaland, Kevin de Bruyne, Kane, Phil Foden and Jesus. Only two of those players were backed by our sad lot, with Johnny and Oldham predicting another win for De Bruyne and Tickner and Soutar expecting World Cup-inspired success for Kane. Hmm. The rest make curious reading: Jack Grealish (Watson) is 16th in the odds, Thiago (Winty) is 17th, Heung-min Son (Stead) is 23rd, Riyad Mahrez (Ford) is 34th, Trent Alexander-Arnold (King) is 53rd and Luis Diaz (Williams) is 54th.
Some points are recovered on the first Premier League manager to leave question. Four of us knew Ralph Hasenhuttl couldn’t keep hanging on any longer, as there were assorted cries for Bruno Lage, Thomas Tuchel and Steven Gerrard to walk or be pushed. Winterburn and Tickner both seemed to be on a good thing with Brendan Rodgers, but that seems to have died down; he is safer than nine other managers, including Nathan Jones, recently appointed Southampton head coach. Tip goes to Williams here: “Scott Parker. It would have been amazing if he hadn’t managed to get Bournemouth promoted last season, given the squad he had, and I’m not yet convinced he’s a top manager.
All but two of the predictions Champions League winners reached the knockout stages. While everyone was backing Manchester City, Paris Saint-Germain, Real Madrid or Liverpool, Soutar was slightly misled by blind faith in Rangers – “Rangers with Alfredo Morelos scoring 17 goals. In the final” – and Ford told us that “knockout football is silly”. But clearly not silly enough for Barcelona to get that far.
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