Who will be Premier League champions?

12 Aug

You can follow the new season on Match of the Day, Final Score, Football Focus, Radio 5 live and Match of the Day 2

The Premier League starts again on Saturday, with surprise champions Leicester City defending the title they won by 10 points last season.

Who will win it this time, and how will the Foxes fare? We asked 32 BBC TV and radio pundits, presenters, journalists and commentators – and one super-computer for their one-two-three-four and an explanation of their selection.

The predictions were made on the basis of how each squad shaped up on Friday 12 August, before the opening weekend and with more than a fortnight to go before the transfer window shuts.

Seven teams feature in the forecasted top fours, compared to only four clubs in 29 of the 30 BBC predictions last season. Apart from Gullit and Wright, and then Keown and Nevin, everyone’s combination is unique.

Nobody is backing Leicester to repeat their title success – their average expected position is seventh – and it is Manchester City who are favourites, with 18 votes. Manchester United get 11 votes, Chelsea three and Tottenham one.

Will Leicester be one-season wonders?

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Leicester City’s comic book season

None of our experts picked Leicester to be champions last year, and none of them think they will defend their title. All 33 put them in the top 10, but only one, Dean Saunders, thinks they will finish in the top four.

Dean Saunders: Leicester have got some excellent players, plus they work hard and have got a formula that works, so they will not just disappear. They have only lost three out of 38 league games under Ranieri so they will carry that on, especially because they have kept Riyad Mahrez and Jamie Vardy. They are going to challenge for the title again.

Danny Murphy: This season Leicester will want to maintain a high level but they are in the Champions League too. If they finish in the top eight again and have a decent run in Europe, then their fans are still in dreamland.

Manish Bhasin: Eighth would be a minor miracle – but frankly after last season, who cares?! Seriously though, as long as we don’t let Champions League commitments derail us (still sounds absurdly beautiful) I once again expect the sheer pace in the squad to cause opponents all sorts of problems.

Foxes fan Manish presents the first MOTD2 of the season at 22:30 BST on Sunday, featuring highlights of Bournemouth v Manchester United and Arsenal v Liverpool.

Pat Nevin: I would applaud them to the heavens if they make the top half again. The Champions League changes everything – they have got more games, and less rest – they will not be able to play the same team every time like they did last season. Also, when you take one player out of a unit like that then it makes one heck of a difference, especially if that player is N’Golo Kante.

Danny Mills: The Champions League is going to affect them mentally as well as physically – getting up for for big games in Europe is easy, but to then come back to a Premier League game is tough and hard to get used to. Yes they have made signings but they still don’t have strength in depth, they will miss Kante and are heavily reliant on Mahrez and Vardy.

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Highlights: Leicester City 1-2 Manchester United

Match of the Day commentator Alistair Bruce-Ball: Leicester showed in the Community Shield that they are still a very good side despite seeing Kante go to Chelsea, but will they be as lucky with injuries as they were last time?

Jermaine Jenas: If you look at the other contenders, they are all looking a lot stronger than they were so it is going to be harder for Leicester. If Claudio Ranieri can get them back in the Champions League again then it would be another amazing achievement – but I don’t see it.

Former Liverpool Ladies and Everton Ladies goalkeeper and Women’s Football Show pundit Rachel Brown-Finnis: I would not be surprised if they end up in the top four. You don’t win a title on luck, you win the league based on something solid and consistent, which is what they had last season, and I think they will have it this season too.

BBC Radio 5 live sports reporter Juliette Ferrington: This season will be a huge test for their squad but a top-10 finish would not be too shabby.

You can listen to Ferrington – and all the Premier League goals as they go in around the grounds – every Saturday afternoon on BBC Radio 5 live.

Why do so many people fancy Man City?

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Superstar managers set to do battle in Premier League

City are the only team to feature in everyone’s forecasted top four for this season. In fact, no-one we asked thinks Pep Guardiola’s side will finish lower than third.

Jermaine Jenas: When I look at everyone’s squad and the transfer business that has been done, I cannot see City not winning it. People might say John Stones is not a sure-bet defensively, but he is a brilliant player and he is going to thrive under Guardiola – that signing clinched it for me – I expect them to be champions.

Chris Sutton: First of all I think this this is probably the hardest Premier League to predict of all time but if I was picking anyone, I would pick City – Guardiola has come over for a reason and he does not really know what failure is. They were massive under-achievers last season in the league and this season I think he will get far more out of a talented group of players.

Guy Mowbray: It will be harder for Pep than it was at Barcelona or Bayern but he has the players and the financial clout behind him to win the title and all the signs from pre-season and in training are that he has settled into his new club straight away, and means business.

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Man City: Fabian Delph ‘amazed’ by ‘unbelievable’ Pep Guardiola

Trevor Sinclair: Guardiola is probably the best manager in the world and these are exciting times at the Etihad Stadium but I have gone for Chelsea to finish above City because not only have they got a lot of new players, their whole squad needs to get used to Pep’s system, and I just think it might take a bit of time to get used to his complex and pretty demanding style.

BBC Radio 5 live’s senior football reporter Ian Dennis: Pep talks about a “mix” of his squad adapting to his style and likewise him adapting to them. It can take time for everyone to adjust, which is why I am going for United instead.

Danny Mills: This season depends on how quickly they settle in but Pep will win the league with City at some point – it is a question of when, not if.

Will Manchester United be contenders?

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Paul Pogba: Is Man Utd midfielder world class?

Last season, only two BBC experts backed United to win the title but no-one thought they would finish lower than fourth – they ended up fifth. This time, 11 people think they will win the title but two think they will miss out on the Champions League again.

Jason Roberts: I think United will win the League as Jose Mourinho has adapted his squad quickly into his philosophy by bringing in an effective spine of quality acquisitions, much like he did at Chelsea previously. This time Eric Bailly, Paul Pogba and Zlatan Ibrahimovic will give Mourinho the quality and the physical presence his teams are known for.

Match of the Day commentator Conor McNamara: Jose has cleverly brought in some big egos in Ibrahimovic and Pogba. This will give United some of their old swagger back.

Mark Lawrenson: They have got a chance of the title because I think Mourinho is the type of manager who will not be bothered about the Europa League. With all those games to play, he will not let it get in the way.

John Hartson: They will certainly get a Champions League spot this time but I am not quite sure they will be as strong as City over 38 games.

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Mourinho is a fantastic manager – Rooney

Chelsea Ladies forward and BBC Sport columnist Eniola Aluko: I think the Premier league trophy will return to Manchester either way and United will have an edge over City primarily because Mourinho knows what it takes to win it (and did so recently) whereas Guardiola, despite his strong squad, will not have the experience of winning the Premier League. Away matches against awkward opposition like Stoke may be the difference in terms of Guardiola’s acclimatisation to the competitiveness of the league.

Pat Nevin: I have gone for City but it could just be goal-difference between the two Manchester clubs again like in 2012 when City won – I really do think it will be that close. City are the better team but United have got Mourinho’s nous of winning the title before which will help them a lot.

Danny Mills: Mourinho has not just been there, seen it and done it, he also has a point to prove after what happened to Chelsea last season.

Chris Waddle: He knows how to get results, but will United be as exciting as the fans want them to be? I don’t think he will care too much about that, because he is there to win things.

Final Score presenter Jason Mohammad: I’m going for United because I think they have made the perfect choice in Mourinho. The man loves winning trophies, and he has got one already after Sunday’s Community Shield.

Final Score is live online and on the red button from 14:30 BST on Saturday, and on BBC One from 16:00 BST.

How close will Chelsea come under Conte?

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Italy’s Conte ‘best coach in the world’ – Alessandro Costacurta

22 out of 30 BBC experts said they would retain their title last year – they finished 10th. This season, three people think they will win it, but 10 think they will miss out on a return to the top four.

Ruud Gullit: Chelsea will have ups and downs, they are in a transition – they have a new coach and a new philosophy.

Pat Nevin: I am not picking them in my top four now because they are a player or two short but if they get a left-back and some cover at left centre-back then I would say they definitely will be. I have watched every one of Chelsea’s pre-season games and I have already seen big improvements in really good players in a short space of time, and also the adaptability of Conte. He will try all sorts of different things and if you are capable of manipulating your players like that you have got a real chance of doing something special.

Chelsea Ladies forward and BBC Sport columnist Eniola Aluko: I don’t think Conte will tolerate under-performance and he will bring out the best in the top players like Eden Hazard but I think top four is the best Chelsea will get to without a reliable 20+ goals a season striker. Diego Costa is still the main striker but isn’t always prolific enough and is susceptible to disciplinary issues. If he doesn’t play, where will the goals for Chelsea come from?

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Chelsea belong in Champions League – Conte

Trevor Sinclair: From what I have seen of Italy under Conte they were very strong mentally and if he can give his Chelsea players the same they would be my choice. Also, Kante is an excellent signing and gives them what they missed in midfield last season.

Match of the Day commentator Steve Wilson: Conte is an intriguing addition to the fold. Chelsea have been relatively conservative in the transfer market so far, but I predict a spectacular return to form after their dire last campaign.

Why does no-one think it will be Arsenal’s year?

Arsenal manager Arsene Wenger<!–

Arsenal have not finished outside the top four in the Premier League since Wenger took charge in 1996

Four out of 30 BBC experts backed Arsenal to win the title last season, and everyone thought they would make the top four. This time, nobody is picking them to be champions, only three people are backing them to repeat their second-place from last season and 14 people think they will miss out on a Champions League place.

Ian Wright: Arsenal could not manage a title challenge in a season where Leicester won the league and this time it is going to be a lot harder for them. Chelsea are going to be back in the mix and with United’s outlay and City also spending big, all three of them are going to be strong under Conte, Mourinho and Guardiola. As things stand, with no significant signings since Granit Xhaka, no new striker and injuries to their top three centre-halves, the best I can hope for Arsenal is that they make the top four again.

Chris Waddle: If their top players stay fit for the season then they have got a great chance of winning it, no doubt about that. Their problems will come when they get a few injuries again, which we are seeing already. They don’t seem to have the same depth in their squad as the other leading sides.

Jermaine Jenas: As good as Arsenal are going forward, defensively I am very worried for them at the moment with all the injuries they have got. I don’t think they will be far away from the top four but it will be hard for them to recover if they make a bad start.

Chris Sutton: We know what a great side they are on their day, but they just don’t have the character or the ambition to win the league. Until Arsene Wenger goes, I don’t see Arsenal really pushing for the title.

Kevin Kilbane: The big clubs have all strengthened a lot, apart from Arsenal – how often do we say that? This might be the year they finally miss out on the top four and Arsene Wenger’s contract is up next summer. His future is up in the air and that would be a sad way for him to finish. Even if they win the league, as unlikely as that is, I still think he will go – it looks to me like this will be his last year.

John Hartson: They need another centre-half and striker but I picked Arsenal to finish second because I think they will add another couple of players before the window closes at the end of August – I think Wenger may surprise us there.

Tottenham boss Mauricio Pochettino<!–

Spurs finished fifth in Pochettino’s first season and third in his second campaign

Tough for Tottenham or can they challenge again?

Last season not one of the 30 BBC experts asked backed Tottenham to make the top four – they finished third. Only two people think they will improve on that showing this year, including Chris Waddle, who picks them to be champions, and only three think they can repeat it. In total, 21 of the 33 predictors say Spurs will finish lower than fourth.

Chris Waddle: A lot of people associate me with Spurs because I played there and will be thinking I am just favouring my old club but I think they will be stronger for what happened last season. They came very close and just blew up at the end but they have a lot of young players who will have learned a lot from that and will also be hungry to make amends, not just for missing out on the title but also finishing below Arsenal.

I know City have got Guardiola and United have got Mourinho but they are both at new clubs – at Spurs, Mauricio Pochettino has got a settled squad who have played under him for two seasons already.

Jermaine Jenas: What they have in their favour is that they will hit the ground running. Pochettino is not going to change the way he plays and everyone at the club buys into it and the players love playing that way.

Chris Sutton: They were a breath of fresh air last season but it is a big ask for them to repeat their success, mainly because of what the other top sides have done. I cannot see them finishing above City, United and Chelsea again, but I still put them in the top six – I have room for them there.

John Hartson: I might be doing them an injustice to put them fifth but there will be a lot more pressure on them this season and, along with having to cope with the Champions League, that will not help. You know what fans are like – they get a bit of success and expectancy level goes through the roof. It is the same with West Ham, who finished seventh last season – it will be very hard for them to repeat that, let alone improve on it.

Has Klopp lifted Liverpool back into the mix?

Liverpool manager Jurgen Klopp<!–

Liverpool finished eighth last season but reached the final of the Capital One Cup and the Europa League

Liverpool made it into just one top-four prediction last season. This year, 13 BBC experts think they can crack the Champions League places. One of them – John Motson – thinks they will finish as runners-up and three of them are tipping the Reds to finish third.

Jermaine Jenas: I went with them for my top four because I like what they have done in the transfer market so far and this is Jurgen Klopp’s team now. This is his first full season after his first pre-season working with the players – and that makes a huge difference.

Chris Sutton: With the momentum Klopp gathered this season, it would not surprise me if they make a flying start. I don’t think they are good enough to win it, but they will certainly be in the top four.

Trevor Sinclair: Sadio Mane is an excellent signing who can just ghost past defenders and he reminds me a little bit of Luis Suarez. Liverpool look like they mean business – they blew away some top teams under Klopp last season and he has had a bit more time with the players now to help them find some consistency.

Mark Lawrenson: I think they are looking at fifth or sixth unless they can make a couple more top-quality signings. They are desperate for a left-back, for starters. Having no European football will help Jurgen Klopp because he will have more time to prepare his players to play his pressing style, but I think a top-four place is 50-50 at best. If Daniel Sturridge has more injury problems then, as things stand, I don’t think he has another regular goalscorer without him.

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