The English Premier League season begins anew on Friday. To prepare for the kickoff of another year in English soccer, I've already looked at 15 players to watch. Now I'm predicting where all 20 clubs will finish this season. Let's get into it.
20. Huddersfield Town
Huddersfield is the biggest Premier League underdog since Blackpool's shock promotion in 2010, and the Terriers are likely to meet the same fate as the Tangerines: one season, then relegation. Expect a few momentous wins over mid-table sides that will get fans excited and be a blast to watch, but not much else.
Manager Sean Dyche did a fine job with Burnley last year. The club was never threatened by relegation on its way to 16th in the table. The problem is, 16th is the absolute peak for the Clarets, so a regression is about all you can expect. With Michael Keane, their best player last season, now with Everton, they might not have enough talent to fend off relegation this time around.
The club's full name is "Brighton & Hove Albion," which is up there with Crystal Palace among the most charming names in English soccer. The Seagulls finished runners-up to Newcastle in the Championship last fall, and now they prepare for their first ever Premier League season. They've moved aggressively in the transfer market to get the weapons they need to stay in the EPL for more than one season, but it might not be enough. Brighton will get a trial by fire, though. They play Manchester City in the first match.
17. Swansea City
The Swans rebounded from a disastrous first half of the 2016-17 season to finish 15th under Paul Clement. Right now, they have enough talent to avoid relegation again, but that could end with the sale of Gylfi Sigurdsson. A move to Everton has been rumored all summer for the creative midfielder. If it actually goes through before the window closes, I don't see how Swansea finds enough firepower to stay up.
The Hornets barely escaped relegation last season, an outcome they'll be happy with again this year. New manager's Marco Silva's lone objective is to once again avoid the drop. To do that, they've added some nice talent, bringing Tom Cleverly, Will Hughes and Nathan Chalobah. That should be enough quality to survive and stay in the Premier League for another year.
15. West Brom
West Brom is a Tony Pulis team, and there isn't a lot to say about Tony Pulis' teams. The Baggies will bully opponents, defend well, win 1-0 at home, and stay up for yet another season. They'll reach the heights of their 10th-place finish last season, but they won't sink into a relegation fight either. It won't be pretty, but it will work.
14. Crystal Palace
Frank de Boer, formerly of Ajax and Inter, is a fine manager who could take Crystal Palace to the top half of the table eventually. But his thoughtful Dutch approach is a world apart from the rugged counter-attack employed by Sam Allardyce and Alan Pardew the past few years. Between Christian Benteke, Wilfired Zaha and Ruben Loftus-Cheek, the Eagles have some of the most exciting players in England, players who could excel in de Boer's system. But they still appear at least a year away from finishing in the top half.
Welcome back to our old friends, Newcastle, who were promoted by winning the Championship last May. The Premier League is just better with Newcastle involved, which the Magpies should be for years to come. Rafa Benitez stabilized the club when he joined as manager last year, and made them look like a Premier League team playing in the Championship. In their first year back, Newcastle should forgo an relegation fight and move immediately to the mid-table picture.
12. Stoke City
Last season, Mark Hughes' Stoke dropped to 13th following three consecutive years of ninth-place finishes, so he's under a bit of pressure to perform in this campaign. The biggest hurdle will be replacing Marko Arnautovic, who jumped ship for Everton. Veteran midfielder Darren Fletcher will bring some leadership to the midfield, but the club hasn't done enough in the transfer market to improve its standing markedly. The Potters still have the potential to finish inside the top half of the table, but a finish in the low-teens seems more likely.
By keeping Bournemouth in the Premier League for consecutive seasons, Eddie Howe has proven himself to be one of the most competent managers in England. The Cherries finished ninth last season by springing a few upsets and always handling their business against clubs in the bottom half of the table. That'll be the recipe again this year, and Bournemouth should once again find itself mid-table come May.
10. West Ham
West Ham was considered a dark horse to compete for a spot in Europe last season, so its 11th-place finish was viewed as a failure by most fans. The club responded with a trio of major signings to get the team back toward the top of the table, bringing in Javier Hernandez and Marko Arnautovic to supplement their strike force, and Joe Hart to mind the posts. Manager Slaven Bilic is on a short leash, though. If the Hammers underperform in the fall, he could get sacked. And who knows where West Ham would go from there?
9. Leicester City
This has the makings of a rebound season for the Foxes. Their year-long title hangover should finally be over, and the players may feel the need to prove something once again. Kelechi Iheanacho joins the Leicester attack from Manchester City, and should forge a productive partnership with Jamie Vardy. I don't expect Leicester to challenge for a title again, but it should return to the top half of the table after finishing 12th in the last season.
Mauricio Pellegrino is Southampton's third manager in four years, but managerial transitions don't seem to have much effect on the Saints. Most summers, Southampton manages to lose many of its young stars to bigger clubs in the league. But the club managed to fend off Liverpool for Virgil Van Dijk, which will be a big boost for the defense. Add in the transfer of defenders Jan Bednarek from Lech Poznan and defensive mid Mario Lemina from Juventus, and Southampton's back should be stout enough to deflate smaller clubs and stay in the match with bigger clubs, leading to another relatively high finish.
Everton lost its best player over the summer, with Romelu Lukaku making the move to Manchester United. But Ronald Koeman also bolstered the Toffees with lots of good signings that have the potential to turn into great signings. Michael Keane from Burnley is an improvement at centerback, as is former Sunderland man Jordan Pickford in goal. Davy Klassen, formerly of Ajax, should lend a big hand in creating attacking moves from the midfield. And, of course, Wayne Rooney is back. The loss of Lukaku and gain of these of these other players will be a positive in the long run, but should be a net neutral this year, giving Everton consecutive seventh-place finishes.
At one point this summer, Liverpool had so much promise. Potential league-winning promise. But that's all gone down the drain in a flash. One will be the likely loss of Philippe Coutinho, who's reported to have agreed to terms with Barcelona. But Jurgen Klopp should be able to replace much of his attacking production split between Sadio Mane and Mohamed Salah. Their main issue, going on the third year in a row if not longer, is the defense. The club failed to sign defensive midfielder Naby Keita from RB Leipzig and central defender Virgil Van Dijk from Southampton. With those two, they might have had enough steel to challenge for a title. Without them, they'll be lucky if they finish in the top four again.
Tottenham's biggest issue is the fact that most of the teams around them have improved this offseason, and Spurs haven't. Mauricio Pochettino's side hasn't made any big signings, instead choosing to rely on the squad that's finished second in back-to-back seasons. That could pay off. There shouldn't be any learning curve or chemistry issues in the team. But stars such as Harry Kane and Dele Alli are reaching the age when Tottenham's best seek new pastures. Those rumors could throw a wrench in the chemistry. And playing a season at Wembley before moving to a new ground in 2018 won't help matters either. After a few brief years near the top, Spurs should fall back to their typical position.
Repeating as champions is extremely hard in the Premier League, and Chelsea lost its biggest advantage from last season: the element of surprise. Antonio Conte's tactics caught the league off guard a year ago. Now everyone is up to speed, with some managers even mimicking his style. A slate of Champions League fixtures also awaits, a privilege and burden that didn't befall the Blues last year. Seeing as how he came close but could never win it at Juventus, and already has a league title under his belt in England, I foresee Conte focusing heavily on the Champions League to the detriment of Chelsea's standing in the league.
It's going to be a strange year for Arsenal fans. The Gunners missed the Champions League for the first time in two decades, which should bring a renewed focus on the Premier League. With their contracts set to expire next summer, questions about the futures of Alexis Sanchez and Mesut Ozil will linger throughout the season. But the size their next deal -- whether it be with Arsenal or another club -- will depend on their performance this season. On top of that, new striker Alexandre Lacazette will provide a fresh dimension in attack. Defensively, the shift to three at the back revitalized the Gunners down the stretch toward the end of last season. Sead Kolasinac looks ready made for the Premier League at wingback, and will create a formidable pairing on the flanks with Hector Bellerin. The Gunners still lack midfield depth, though, which will be their ultimate undoing in their pursuit of a title.
2. Manchester United
Despite winning two trophies in his first campaign at Old Trafford, Jose Mourinho's inaugural United squad disappointed in the league, finishing sixth. But things are looking up in year two of the Mourinho Era. Paul Pogba no longer has to live up to the title of "World's Most Expensive Player" thanks to Neymar and should have more room to attack thanks to the addition of the defensive-minded Nemanja Matic. The defense should be just as strong as it was last year, but now Romelu Lukaku is on the team. His presence alone should help the Red Devils improve on the 54-goal mark it met last year. But even with the Belgian, I don't think there's enough goals in this squad to win the league
1. Manchester City
Pep Guardiola was expected to do better than he did in his first season and the Etihad, but improvement should come this season. He's spent the summer revamping City's once aging back line. The addition of fullbacks Kyle Walker and Benjamin Mendy will present major problems for opponents trying to attack them from the flanks, and 23-year-old keeper Ederson should be an improvement over Claudio Bravo. Add that to a solid midfield and one of the best attacking units in the game featuring Kevin De Bruyne, Leroy Sane, Raheem Sterling, David Silva, Sergio Aguero and Gabriel Jesus, and you've got a potential title-winning side.
Cy Brown writes about soccer and other stuff for Sports on Earth. Follow him on Twitter @CEPBrown.