Redbrick Sport give their predictions for 2018, discussing the top four and relegation battle as well as the FA Cup and Carabao Cup.
FA Cup Prediction:
Leanne: There’s been a good few twists and turns in the competition already, with Arsenal crashing out and Chelsea being held to a replay. While Conte’s side will probably come through unscathed, it’s another indication of the sub-par nature of their season and I can’t see that changing unless some serious business is done in January. That leaves United, City, Spurs and Liverpool as the big hitters in the competition. City will undoubtedly be the favourites and are head and shoulders above the pack. If they can maintain their current momentum, I think people will find it very hard to stop them from taking all the silverware this season. Liverpool and Spurs are my tip for their closest challengers.
Alex: With holders Arsenal out at the first hurdle following a humbling at Nottingham Forest, most of the big contenders for the trophy remain. Personally, I doubt the ability of any of the poorer sides in the Premier League to go the whole way in the competition. Both Spurs and Manchester United luckily find themselves facing League Two opposition in the fourth round, with Manchester City facing up to Cardiff. My hot tip for the FA cup this season, though, is Liverpool. Although the departure of Phillipe Coutinho may hamper the side, they have the ability up top to go the whole way. Although most would expect Manchester City to dominate this competition as well, I think they may well slip up whilst chasing an unbeaten title win.
Harry: Peterborough United.
This is not entirely a joke. Peterborough currently sit 9th in League One, playing out a pretty standard season for them. But in the third round of the FA Cup they deservedly beat Aston Villa 3-1, in a quite incredible display at Villa Park. They bossed possession in the times it mattered, created loads of chances, and were quite simply the better side on the day. Villa, admittedly, were playing in a 9unrecognisable starting 11 from the one they use in their league campaign, but it was a decent side nonetheless. Peterborough deserved to win, and 3-1 as a scoreline did not flatter them at all.
The London Road based side have drawn Fleetwood/Leicester in the next round, and I’m sure either tie will satisfy them. If its Fleetwood they will seriously fancy their chances against a side in the same league, and if its Leicester they will be fearless playing them on home turf. There’s always a few surprises in the FA cup, but for a League One side to lift the trophy would be the ultimate ‘magic of the FA cup’ moment. Stranger things have happened in football.
Olli: Jose knows how to win trophies, is experienced in the cup final atmosphere, and the squad have nothing to lose in the FA Cup so I would wager they will put their eggs in this basket. The squad has many of the same players who won it in 2016, and City can’t win everything can they.
Leanne: Bristol City performed admirably at The Etihad in mid-week, but with City coming back from behind to maintain their unbeaten run, it seems all too much for the League 1 outfit to turn the deficit over in the second leg. Arsenal and Chelsea have endured very mixed campaigns thus far and with worries about the future of Alexis Sanchez I can’t see Wenger’s side getting past Conte. Chelsea have enough quality in the final third to hurt City but they’ll have to be on top form defensively to stand a chance against Guardiola’s in-form side.
Alex: It’s down to the last 4 in this competition, with usual suspects Manchester City, Chelsea and Arsenal left in at this stage. The surprise package is Bristol City, who unfortunately lost their first leg against Man City after taking the lead. As for the Chelsea vs Arsenal game, you would have to be rather optimistic to think Arsenal can get through this tie. Therefore you would assume an interesting “El Cashico” final between Manchester City and Chelsea.
Olli: Even if they rest half of their squad for what is, on Pep’s terms, a minor competition, I still think they will win it. The other significant contenders, are Chelsea and Arsenal, with no disrespect to Bristol City, and they are battling it out in the other semi-final taking through a 0-0 draw from the leg at Stamford Bridge. Echoing Chelsea’s haul in the 2014/15 season I think City will falter in Europe but domestically they are easily capable of a double of some sort
Leanne: Man City are walking away with the league already and they’re head and shoulders above the rest of the teams in the league when it comes to quality. As for the rest of the pack, Liverpool stand a very good chance of coming in second despite currently being behind Spurs, Chelsea and United. Chelsea haven’t been anywhere near top form this season and their inconsistencies will give Klopp’s side a opportunity to pounce. Albeit without Coutinho, Liverpool still have plenty of firepower in the form of Salah, Mane and Firmino with the trio’s unpredictability proving a menace for defences this season. Should they keep all three fit and firing, they’re in with a great chance of a high finish.
As for United, we’ve seen some great goals scored at Old Trafford this season but I think Mourinho’s dull style of football will prove a real hindrance to their bid of coming second. That being said, I still think Chelsea and United will quite comfortably finish inside the top-four. Spurs are the closest challengers, with the attacking duo of Harry Kane and Dele Alli hitting good form at present to close the gap on their rivals. Arsenal however, look set to miss out on Champions League football for another year to add further pressure on Wenger’s shoulders.
Alex: First place obviously has to go Manchester City. This season they have proved an omnipotent force in the league, going unbeaten and set to break the points record after 22 games. Second place for me goes to Chelsea. Until the recent war of words between Antonio Conte and Jose Mourinho, Chelsea had remained largely out of the limelight, too good for a battle for fourth place but not quite consistent enough to challenge for second. At present they lie one point behind Manchester United.
The reason that I fancy Chelsea for second place is because of one thing. With United all but out of the title race, their hopes lie in the pipedream of a Champions League win. The pressure on Mourinho is certainly hotting up with many fans bored by the turgid style he employs. As a result, United will look to prioritise European competition rather than the league. For that all important fourth spot, there are three teams vying for the place.
Arsenal, Liverpool and Spurs are all realistically eyeing up the final Champions League place. Spurs have fallen off the horse slightly this season, and I do not expect them to make fourth spot despite the ongoing form of their talisman Harry Kane. Their North London rivals Arsenal, will also struggle to make top four in my opinion. This season has been another tumultuous one for the Gunners, with contract disputes over Alexis Sanchez and Mesut Ozil yet to be resolved.
If Sanchez leaves Arsenal (which looks likely), they should consider their top four hopes as good as over. That leaves Liverpool as my favourites for fourth place. Despite Coutinho leaving, Jurgen Klopp has strengthened his side where it needs solidity, at the back. Virgil Van Dijk promises to improve Liverpool’s side exponentially with his towering presence and long passing ability. This should provide Liverpool with the all important stimulus to clinch the last Champions League spot.
Harry: City & United for the top two.
I feel most people would predict Chelsea to finish third, which makes sense since they are probably the third best side in the league. After a pretty amazing season last year, it is understandable Chelsea have found it difficult to repeat such a feat. It almost feels though that this season has already gone a bit stale for them. With the title being 18 points away that is understandable too for a side that still reigns as Champions.
Between them, Liverpool and Arsenal, Spurs are marginally the best side. It’s true that Liverpool have the magic and flair up top with Salah and co (although recently weakened substantially with the outgoing of Coutinho), but Spurs have more of a balance between attack and defence, which should see them accumulate more points in the long run. Kane is now indisputably world-class, and on current form Mo Salah is as well. but who comes fourth will come down to much more than individuals, which is why I think Spurs will come out on top. There’s also the well documented matter than despite Liverpool’s addition of Van Dijk, their defence is critically lacking. Tottenham’s defence is far superior. Liverpool are currently fourth, but with the two teams still to meet next month, and the whole second half the season to go, I’m pretty confident Spurs will end up in that fourth spot.
Olli: At the time of writing, Manchester United and Chelsea are a point apart in 2nd and 3rd with the same number of wins and goals conceded. In the long run though, there is still a way to go until the end of the season, and given Chelsea’s recovery from the teething problems that created the initial gap, I think the Blues will come out on top. Neither will challenge for the title unless City suffer a catastrophe of biblical proportions.
They do not match City for quality, tactical substance, and now fear factor as well. City will win it because teams are now scared to play them in the league, and even if a team is holding on for a creditable draw as some have done so far, it is in the back of their minds that City have proven their worth at winning games in the final minutes, see Bristol City, Huddersfield, West Ham, and Southampton. As for fourth place and the final Champions League spot it is challenging- neither Tottenham Hotspur nor Liverpool are wonderfully consistent, nor streets ahead of the other- and I do not feel Arsenal will regain a place at the top table this season either, especially with Alexis Sanchez seemingly on the way out (again- at the time of writing he remains a Gooner).
Whether or not Philippe Coutinho’s high-profile departure to Barcelona for an eye-watering fee will have a dramatic impact on Liverpool’s season remains to be seen, but what can be said is that Spurs will face no such loss unless the likes of Kane or Eriksen get injured.
However what I will say is that Spurs are behind Liverpool with Kane firing on all cylinders, and Mohammed Salah hasn’t lost any of the sparkle that has, so far, taken the Premier League by storm, and by surprise following a grand total of 13 appearances and 2 goals on his previous outing in the Premier League with Chelsea.
Leanne: At the start of the season and up until a few months ago, West Ham would’ve been my favourites for relegation. They were so bereft of confidence in possession; Javier Hernandez was isolated up front and the defensive structure was in disarray. Yet, David Moyes has come in and really got things going for The Hammers, picking up 8 points in the last five games. They’re only two points from danger but with rumours of January signings to come in, the former-Everton manager should be able to move them clear of any trouble come the end of the season.
Bournemouth should survive too, despite being just one point clear from the danger zone. They don’t necessarily have the quality of the teams around them but their team cohesion and ability to all pull together makes them a stronger outfit. Eddie Howe’s done a fantastic job over the last few years and he should see them through.
Stoke, however, look a far more obvious bet for the drop, having really come undone under Mark Hughes. The hope will be that his recent sacking can spark some life back into a side with enough quality in the likes of Xherdan Shaqiri to escape relegation. However, their goal difference of -24 highlights the stark issues they’ve got in their own third of the pitch. Conceding 47 goals, the most of any team in the division, has to be a huge worry and without a manager to come in and steady the ship, The Potters are teetering right on the edge. I think they may just sink this time.
West Brom are in real trouble, having lost three of their last five games, drawing the other two and I can’t see where the goals are going to come from in their current side. 16 goals after 22 games is a worrying statistic despite their defence holding steadier than those around them and unless they can get the motor running soon, they may just find themselves in the Championship next season. Likewise, Swansea have failed to show any real attacking verve this season, with the worst goals tally in the league and their appointment of an unproven manager hardly screams of a good decision from the board.
Alex: There are plenty of sides in the running for relegation at this stage, with Swansea, West Brom, Stoke, Southampton, Bournemouth, West Ham and Crystal Palace all in an uncomfortable position at this point. However, I think there is a definite argument that two of the current bottom three (Swansea, West Brom, Stoke) will go down this season. All three sides have been solid Premier League outfits for considerable amounts of time, usually epitomising stability.
This season, though, the three have epitomised inconsistency and poor decision making throughout. All three have sacked the manager they started the season with. Both Swansea and West Brom have made very odd managerial choices, appointing untested Carlos Carvalhal and serial failure Alan Pardew respectively. Stoke are yet to appoint a manager after sacking Mark Hughes. There are other reasons besides managerial changes, such as lack of goals in the Swansea side, lack of inspiration at West Brom and the loss of the “Bet365 Stadium” as a fortress for Stoke. Therefore, these three are my choices to go down.
I honestly think that the current bottom three are the most likely to go down. Swansea have not got a good enough team, its as simple that. Fabianski is a top-rate ‘keeper, but he is probably the only player that I would strongly object to being Championship standard. Unless The Swans make some serious additions this January, they are in real trouble. Relying on players like Jordan Ayew is a dangerous gamut o play, no matter how much talent they ma possess. To succeed in the league it is all about consistency, and Swansea have no inkling of that at the moment.
West Brom have only won two games this season: the first two. Pulse’s reign has since ended and the Baggies were left with the unveil position of hiring Alan Pardew. Pardew’s, out of all the similar managerial appointments thus far (Moyes, Allardyce, Hodgson) has been the only one that hasn’t had an instant affect. Like Swansea, it is hard to see a talisman for West Brom to rally behind; they too have a lot of sub-standard players starting for them. However, if chinese owner Guochua Lai offers some pocket change of his alleged 2.8 billion fortune (Birmingham Mail), then maybe the Baggies can save themselves the embarrassment of going down whilst their rivals Wolves go up.
The last relegation spot is obviously very difficult to speculate on, since there are so many teams in contention as is the closeness of the table this year. Only 5 points separate 18th from 10th, (interestingly with the promoted sides sitting in 11th, 12th and 13th). Stoke just seem the most likely candidate to go down, however. Although they do have some quality players like Shaqiri, Butland and PETER CROUCH, they currently do not have a manager to mobilise them. Rumours are that former-Watford boss Chico Flores is in the running, which wouldn’t actually be bad appointment. I’m sure stoke fans would have rather had someone like him than Pardew. Overall though, it feels like Stoke will go down, but a lot can change in the coming months. For example, Bournemouth have a February that sees them play Stoke, Huddersfield and Newcastle. This is just an example, but the point is all it takes is a team like Bournemouth to have a disastrous month, and the tides can turn completely.