Premier League predictions: Title winners, top 4, and so much more

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With the new Premier League campaign kicking off Friday, we peer into our crystal ball to predict what will happen in the top flight of English football this season.

Title winners

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Daniel Rouse: Manchester City. Even without Harry Kane, it's hard to overlook Pep Guardiola's side for back-to-back titles. City impressed without a striker on their 2020-21 Champions League run and could've won the final if it wasn't for some classic overthinking from Guardiola. A false nine would be fine.

Gianluca Nesci: Manchester City. All the other legitimate title contenders have either strengthened heavily in the transfer market or had vital contributors recover from long-term injuries, but Guardiola still has the best squad at his disposal, and it could yet get even better. The gap at the very top remains significant.

Champions League places

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Rouse: Manchester City, Chelsea, Manchester United, Liverpool. No surprises here. Leicester City tumbled out of the Champions League places in the final weeks of the past two top-flight seasons, but the gap could grow while Patson Daka settles in and Wesley Fofana overcomes a serious injury.

Nesci: Ditto. The proverbial "Big Six" is dead. There's a clear gulf between the four aforementioned clubs and the likes of Leicester, Arsenal, and Tottenham Hotspur. The Foxes continue to grow and improve, but they're not at that level, while the north London pair are regressing.

Relegated clubs

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Rouse: Crystal Palace, Southampton, Watford. Palace's offseason business is encouraging and they have plenty of entertainers, but tough fixtures to begin the season and Patrick Vieira's questionable credentials could put them in trouble. Southampton, meanwhile, sold Danny Ings. That doesn't seem wise.

Nesci: Burnley, Norwich City, Watford. For the positive reasons my colleague outlined above, Palace will narrowly avoid the drop. In their stead is Burnley, who have somehow managed to continually fend off relegation despite a lack of investment and overall talent. Sean Dyche's magic touch has to wear off at some point, right? Norwich, meanwhile, will have a terribly difficult time without the inventiveness of Emi Buendia.

Full predicted table

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Be sure to bookmark this so you can ridicule us in May.

ROUSE POSITION NESCI
Manchester City 1 Manchester City
Chelsea 2 Chelsea
Manchester United 3 Liverpool
Liverpool 4 Manchester United
Leicester City 5 Leicester City
Arsenal 6 Arsenal
Tottenham Hotspur 7 Tottenham Hotspur
Everton 8 West Ham United
Aston Villa 9 Aston Villa
West Ham United 10 Everton
Leeds United 11 Leeds United
Newcastle United 12 Brighton & Hove Albion
Wolverhampton Wanderers 13 Wolverhampton Wanderers
Brighton & Hove Albion 14 Newcastle United
Brentford 15 Brentford
Burnley 16 Crystal Palace
Norwich City 17 Southampton
Southampton 18 Burnley
Crystal Palace 19 Norwich City
Watford 20 Watford

PFA Player of the Year

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Rouse: Riyad Mahrez. The Algerian was City's best attacking player last term and has looked sharp in preseason. His position on the right also doesn't have much competition while Raheem Sterling is deployed on the left and Bernardo Silva is regularly handed a battling midfield role.

Nesci: Phil Foden. Kevin De Bruyne, the two-time reigning award winner, feels like the obvious choice; the Belgian is the most dazzling player in the league and pulls the strings for the best team. But, primarily in the interest of freshness, Foden gets the nod. He's certainly talented enough and has Guardiola's trust, so he should get more opportunities to deliver eye-popping numbers this season. KDB voter fatigue could play a role here, too.

Golden Boot winner

Tottenham Hotspur FC / Tottenham Hotspur FC / Getty

Rouse: Harry Kane. He's won it three times out of the last eight years and could enjoy service from De Bruyne this season. And the supply lines at Tottenham - from the likes of Heung-Min Son through the middle or Sergio Reguilon out wide - aren't so bad if he stays in north London.

Nesci: Mohamed Salah. Were it not for Jorginho taking penalty opportunities away from Romelu Lukaku, the returning Chelsea star would have been the pick here. With that in mind, attention turns to Salah, a two-time winner of the accolade who will again act as the primary scoring threat for a Liverpool side that should be rejuvenated this season.

Best signing

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Rouse: Ibrahima Konate. He's an extremely dependable defender at just 22 and addresses a problem area for Liverpool, so he could prove a snip at £36 million. When it comes to true bargain buys, Michael Olise to Palace, Demarai Gray to Everton, and Tino Livramento to Southampton were all excellent value.

Nesci: There are so many to pick from! Jadon Sancho and Daka stand out, though. Maybe it's recency bias toward pricier deals for Jack Grealish and Lukaku, but it sure feels like everyone's forgotten just how dynamic the new Manchester United winger is. Even if the Red Devils aren't quite at the standard of their neighbors yet, the electrifying Sancho will be must-see viewing. Daka, meanwhile, was arguably the steal of the entire window.

Worst signing

Tony McArdle - Everton FC / Everton FC / Getty

Rouse: Asmir Begovic. He won't be the first-choice goalkeeper, but an injury to Jordan Pickford will leave Everton extremely vulnerable between the sticks. It will be entertaining for the neutrals, at least, as the 34-year-old Begovic is a reliable source of calamity and indiscipline.

Nesci: Milot Rashica. In a vacuum, the 25-year-old isn't a bad player, but that's not the only thing that determines whether a deal is successful; the context of the signing is key. In the wake of Buendia's departure, Norwich needed someone to help fill that huge creative void. They landed on the Kosovan winger, who put up pretty ordinary numbers, especially from a playmaking standpoint, with Werder Bremen. It's possible he takes a big step forward in his development this season, but the Canaries are banking a lot on that happening, even if the transfer fee was very modest.

Breakout star

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Rouse: Carney Chukwuemeka. There are plenty of youngsters who will seamlessly slot into senior setups this term - Leicester's Kiernan Dewsbury-Hall springs to mind - but in terms of explosiveness, Aston Villa's attack-minded, rangy midfielder, Chukwuemeka, is wonderful to watch.

Nesci: Marc Guehi. After spending two seasons honing his craft on loan with Swansea City, the 21-year-old Palace center-back gets a chance to showcase his talent to a Premier League audience after freeing himself from the Chelsea loan army. A leader at the back who's comfortable and skilled on the ball, the Ivorian-born youngster is a prototypical modern center-back.

Biggest surprise

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Rouse: Here's a ballsy prediction: This will be Sean Dyche's final season as Burnley boss. The club and manager have become synonymous over Dyche's near nine-year stint, but the spending money that the 50-year-old craved hasn't been forthcoming since ALK Capital's takeover in late 2000.

Nesci: English fans and media admitting they were wrong about Lukaku after he dominates at Stamford Bridge. The business practice of selling low and buying extremely high on the same player years later is highly questionable, but Lukaku is one of the game's elite strikers and will deliver tons of goals for Chelsea. The ridicule he faced in England was always misguided, but he returns a more complete player after running riot in Italy.

Most excited about ...

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Rouse: Thomas Frank annoying fellow managers. The Brentford boss once got into a touchline fracas with a Swansea City player, was warned for drawing up tactics on a whiteboard during a drinks break, and led a pre-match lap of honor to lift the crowd before a playoff semifinal. He'll be a fun addition.

Nesci: A (hopefully) "normal" football season, complete with fans, that doesn't feel like an absolute slog. That might be wishful thinking, especially considering we're starting back up again so soon after Euro 2020, but the prospect of a campaign not totally dictated by COVID-19 is an extremely welcome change after the last 18 months.

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Premier League predictions: Title winners, top 4, and so much more
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