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PREMIER LEAGUE 2018-19 season England-Predictions

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PREMIER LEAGUE

2018-19 season

England

Updated Nov. 28, 2018, at 5:00 p.m.

Upcoming matches
WINDRAW
11/30
Cardiff City
38%
30%
Wolverhampton
32%
WINDRAW
12/1
Newcastle
42%
29%
West Ham
29%
WINDRAW
12/1
Man. City
90%
8%
Bournemouth
2%
WINDRAW
12/1
Crystal Palace
54%
27%
Burnley
19%
12/1
Leicester City
47%
28%
Watford
26%
12/1
Huddersfield
44%
31%
Brighton
25%
12/1
Southampton
30%
26%
Man. United
44%
12/2
Chelsea
82%
13%
Fulham
5%
12/2
Arsenal
39%
25%
Tottenham
36%
12/2
Liverpool
80%
15%
Everton
5%
12/4
West Ham
53%
26%
Cardiff City
21%
12/4
Bournemouth
54%
27%
Huddersfield
19%
12/4
Brighton
36%
30%
Crystal Palace
34%
12/4
Watford
12%
18%
Man. City
70%
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Before you bet on the Premier League 21 – 22/10/2017

Newcastle Utd – Crystal Palace 21/10/2017 17:00

Newcastle Utd are unbeaten in 23 of their last 27 home all competitions games.
Newcastle Utd have kept a clean sheet in 4 of their last 5 home matches against Crystal Palace in all competitions.
Crystal Palace have lost all of their last 6 away matches in Premier League.
Crystal Palace have achieved just 1 win of their last 9 Premier League games.
Football predictions: Newcastle Utd @ 2.02

Southampton – West Bromwich 21/10/2017 19:30

There have been under 2.5 goals in 6 of West Bromwich’s last 8 Premier League games.
Under 2.5 goals have been seen in 8 of Southampton’s last 10 home games in all competition.
Southampton have managed to keep a clean sheet against West Bromwich in 6 of their last 8 league games.
Under 2.5 goals have been seen in 6 of Southampton’s last 8 games against West Bromwich in Premier League.
Football predictions: Under 2.5 goals @ 1.57

Huddersfield – Manchester United 21/10/2017 17:00

Manchester United have kept a clean sheet in 12 of their last 15 all competitions games.
Manchester United have kept a clean sheet in all of their last 4 league matches.
Huddersfield haven’t scored a single goal in 6 of their last 7 all competitions games.
There have been under 2.5 goals scored in 6 of Huddersfield’s last 7 league games.
Football predictions: Under 2.5 goals @ 1.91

Tottenham – Liverpool FC 22/10/2017 18:00

Liverpool FC haven’t lost in 16 of their last 18 matches in all competitions.
Tottenham are unbeaten in 19 of their last 20 home Premier League games.
Liverpool FC have drawn 5 of their last 8 all competitions games.
Tottenham have won only 1 of their last 12 encounters with Liverpool FC in all competitions.
Football predictions: Draw @ 3.50

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Stoke’s Eric Choupo-Moting hits double to hold Manchester United to draw

Manchester United conceded for the first time in the Premier League this season and dropped their first points against an impressive Stoke City who posed questions in a riveting contest.

José Mourinho’s side remain leaders due to a superior goal difference to Manchester City, who earlier trounced Liverpool 5-0. United had hoped to maintain their perfect record following three straight victories but again failed to leave this venue with three points, last winning in the league here four years ago.

Stoke began the better. Almost straight from kick-off Eric Maxim Choupo-Moting forced a corner along the right. Xherdan Shaqiri took this but overhit his effort.

Stoke then slipped up in midfield and Marcus Rashford was away. The 19-year-old flew along the inside-right channel and flicked a pass infield. The intended recipient was Romelu Lukaku but the ball eventually came towards Paul Pogba yet he tangled with Joe Allen and referee Neil Swarbrick blew for a foul.

The contest’s high pace continued. A long Jack Butland clearance went all the way to Jesé Rodríguez down the right. The Spaniard ran on and when taking aim beat David De Gea though not the goalkeeper’s righthand post. Next, Choupo-Moting claimed another corner down the same flank. This time Shaqiri’s delivery was not too strong but too straight and De Gea collected.

From here, United first slowed Stoke, then exerted some control. Mourinho had plumped for a 4-3-3 that allowed a holding midfielder, Ander Herrera, for an attacking one, Juan Mata, from the 2-0 win over Leicester City last time out.

The middle trident of Herrera, Nemanja Matic and Pogba were to the fore as United pinged passes into the frontline of Lukaku, Henrikh Mkhitaryan and Rashford. One break had Lukaku in down the right and from his cross Pogba back-heeled the ball at Butland. This won United’s opening corner but it yielded nothing.

As in the 1-0 victory over Arsenal in Stoke’s previous home league outing, Mark Hughes side showed an attractive fluency. Shaqiri floated in from his right-hand berth when fancy took him and one Stoke move ended in a shot from the Swiss forward that De Gea needed to watch carefully. A few moments later Shaqiri repeated the trick by appearing in a central area and taking aim again.

For the challenge of picking up where United left off before the international break Mourinho made three changes. Out went Daley Blind, Anthony Martial and Mata and in came Matteo Darmian, Rashford and Herrera. While the manager had an eye on Tuesday night’s visit of Basel in the Champions League, Mark Hughes gave Kevin Wimmer his Stoke debut, for the injured Ryan Shawcross, and Mame Biram Diouf replaced Bruno Martins Indi.

In a furious first-half finale, the lively Rashford forced Butland into a save from the left, Antonio Valencia’s radar was awry with a cross, and two goals in two minutes made the score 1-1 at the break.

Stoke sucker-punched United with a fine Choupo-Moting strike. Diouf crossed the ball in from the right after being released by a superb Darren Fletcher pass and the forward fired home from close range. Yet Hughes’ side then lost concentration as just moments later Matic flicked on a Mkhitaryan corner to the unmarked Pogba and his header beat Butland via a deflection off Rashford’s head.

The Stoke players protested about the equaliser, arguing Rashford was in an offside position. Hughes appeared unhappy and for the second half took off Geoff Cameron for Martins Indi.

United claimed this period’s first corner, again due to Rashford’s probing and though it amounted to nothing Mourinho could be pleased at this beginning. The Portuguese will have been less happy at the way Darmian headed out for a corner when De Gea could have collected the ball. From Shaqiri’s delivery another mix-up in the United defence followed which they were lucky to escape from.

The lead was about to be taken by United then lost in six minutes. Allen was pickpocketed by Darmian and he fed Mkhitaryan. The weight and direction of pass was sublime, removing Stoke’s defence and putting Lukaku clear. At the second attempt the Belgian scored his fourth league goal of the season.

Stoke’s equaliser came from a Shaqiri corner. Phil Jones lost his footing and Choupo-Moting again finished.

Eighteen minutes from time Mourinho made his move by introducing Martial and Mata for Rashford and Herrera. United might have grabbed a late triumph when Lukaku snatched at a close-range chance and Pogba hooked over.

At the close Mourinho seemed to show frustration by ignoring Hughes when shaking hands with some of the Stoke staff.

(Jamie Jackson)

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United’s Toughest Test at Stoke

You must go back to the 2012/13 season to find the last time Manchester United won the Premier League title.Since then, the Red Devils have found life tough in the Premier League and the club have never really recovered following the departure of Sir Alex Ferguson.

In the four seasons following his retirement, Manchester United have finished seventh, fourth, fifth and sixth.

Last season, under the guidance of Jose Mourinho, Manchester United were expected to challenge at the top of the Premier League table but a strong challenge failed to materialise. Instead they were forced to settle for sixth place and a Europa League win, which was enough to send them into the Champions League.

This season, Manchester United look like a team determined to do well in the Premier League and this match at Stoke City, will be a real test of their title credentials.

Stoke finished thirteenth last season, which was their worst Premier League finish in four years. The Potters are an established Premier League team and will be hoping to move back into the top half of the table this season.

They start this match in eleventh place having recorded an excellent 1-0 victory over Arsenal followed by a hard-earned point at West Bromwich Albion.

Trends show Stoke have won only three of their previous fourteen Premier League games and they must start picking up wins more regularly, if they are to avoid a potential battle in the bottom half of the Premier League table.

However, at home they can be tough to beat and Stoke have lost only three of their last fourteen home league games. They have failed to score in just one of their last twelve at the Bet365 Stadium.

Manchester United travel to Stoke having won all three of their Premier League games this season. Not only have they scored 10 goals in those three games, they are also yet to concede a goal.

Trends show Manchester United have managed to keep a clean sheet in their last five league games and have lost only two of their last thirty-two matches in the Premier League, making them extremely difficult to beat.

Away from home, there have been just two defeats in their last fifteen league games and those came at Arsenal and Tottenham Hotspur last season, when they were focusing more on the Europa League.

Looking at the potential team news and Stoke are likely to continue with Eric Choupo-Moting and Jese in attack, who have both done well since joining the club. Joe Allen and Darren Fletcher should start in central midfield.

Jose Mourinho will be reluctant to make many changes to his starting XI and the only position which is seemingly up for grabs is in attack. The Portuguese must choose between Anthony Martial and Marcus Rashford.

You must go back to 2013 to find the last time Manchester United won at Stoke in the Premier League but that could be about to change. This looks like a different Manchester United team to what we have seen in recent seasons and they could win this game by a narrow margin, keeping a clean sheet in the process.

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Premier League to close window before 2018-19 season starts

The Premier League has announced changes to the closure of its transfer window, which will shut at 17:00 on the Thursday before the 2018-19 season.

In recent years, deadline day has fallen on either the final day of August or the first day of September, by which point the campaign is two or three weeks old.

In a media conference on Thursday, Arsenal manager Arsene Wenger reiterated his stance that the window should close before the games get under way, in order to avoid key players becoming unsettled.

And in a statement released by the Premier League later on Thursday, it was announced the clubs had voted in favour of the changes.

Only clubs in England’s top flight are subject to the alteration and they will still be able to sell any players once the new deadline has passed.

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The Question: why are so many Premier League teams so bad in defence?

Even before the Premier League got round to the traditional kick-off time, 13 goals had been scored in two games. A total of 31 goals were scored over the opening weekend as the first three of last season’s top six to play all conceded three. Take that, Spain, with your Cristiano Ronaldo controversies!

Take that, Italy, with your resurgent Milan! Take that, Germany, with your finely tuned pressing structures! Take that, France, with your Neymar, your Bielsa and your Balotelli! For drama and giggling hilarity, the Premier League remains king.

It’s not king, obviously, if you want success in the Champions League. Nor is it king if you want to develop young players for the national side. And it’s certainly not king if you believe football clubs should have a pastoral role towards the communities they at least nominally represent. But for excitement and spectacle, for the sense that any daft thing could happen at any moment, it still rules.

That’s partly to do with the number of high-quality managers and players in the league, it’s partly to do with a general competitiveness and it’s a lot to do with the fact that a number of the top sides simply cannot defend. Arsenal, Liverpool and Chelsea all have major issues to resolve before a weekend in which they face Stoke, Crystal Palace and Tottenham, all sides who have troubled them in the recent past.

To an extent, the defensive chaos is the result of changes in the laws of the game. It’s harder to defend now than it was 20 or 30 years ago. Back lines cannot simply push up in the knowledge that any opposing player in behind them will be called offside. Shinji Okazaki’s goal against Arsenal, for instance, would not have counted under any but the most recent interpretation of the law: he was offside as the cross came in but not as Harry Maguire headed the ball back across goal. That means both that modern defenders have to be much more capable of reacting to specific circumstances and that they sit deeper, leaving more room in midfield for skilful players to create.

At the same time, cynical fouls are punished far more harshly now than ever before. It’s still possible for teams to break up games with rotational fouling around the halfway line, but it’s far harder than it used to be. There’s almost an expectation now with every foul that it will bring a booking. Intimidation has all but vanished from the game and it’s not possible for defenders to cover for a mistake by hauling down their opponent – or at least not more than once.

Both of those are, of course, hugely positive developments; for everything else that has gone wrong with the game’s governance over the past couple of decades, the law changes have been broadly positive, encouraging teams actually to play the game.

There are also wider tactical issues. Valeriy Lobanovskyi’s demand for the “universal player” and Pep Guardiola’s related comment that he dreams of a side of 11 midfielders may be the abstract concerns of the very elite, but the mentality has percolated the game. There’s not merely an expectation now that defenders should be able to pass, but a growing acceptance that if they can pass it may not matter too much if they aren’t especially good at more traditional defensive skills such as heading, marking and tackling.

The central defender as auxiliary playmaker is a core tenet of the Cruyffian line of thinking that has shaped the modern landscape, from Ronald Koeman and Frank Rijkaard to Javier Mascherano and David Alaba. It’s why the likes of John Stones and David Luiz are excused their lapses, and why Arsenal on Friday started with a back three featuring two left-backs.

Almost all full-backs these days, meanwhile, are in effect wing-backs. It’s a crude measure but, last weekend, players who started as full-backs or wing-backs in the Premier League made 83 tackles and put in 123 crosses; their job is increasingly to provide attacking width rather than simply to defend. That, inevitably, can create issues: Hoffenheim’s penalty against Liverpool on Tuesday night, for instance, came because Alberto Moreno closed down the goalkeeper, leaving a huge gap on the left side when the ball was played beyond him.

The recent preference for a back three is in part a reaction to the attacking nature of modern full-backs, but the mentality often seems to be that the extra body can hide defensive flaws – only for them then to be exposed by savvy opponents.

But it’s not a coincidence that the Premier League has become the global home of shambolic defending. That seems a natural consequence of the soap opera of the market, the endless lust for new signings. A lot of defending is about drilling, about the same players – not just defenders – doing the same thing over and over and over again until they learn the patterns of interaction that maintain a shape that is difficult to break down. If there is constant flux in a squad, it becomes almost impossible to build up any level of familiarity.

Virgil van Dijk is an excellent defender but if he joins Liverpool today, they won’t suddenly become a side with an excellent defence. There will have to be time spent familiarising himself with the pressing game Klopp favours, getting used to how the full-backs push forward, to how his fellow centre-backs like to play, how Liverpool’s midfield reacts to situations. Dejan Lovren, it may be recalled, also left Southampton with a fine reputation and Liverpool remain far from secure at the back.

But it’s not just Liverpool where that’s an issue. It’s as though English football exists in such a swirl of comings and goings that the idea of working things out on the training pitch doesn’t exist any more. The one manager who did do that last season, Antonio Conte, now has to handle a squad that appears weirdly fraught and demoralised, a situation exacerbated by his own clear dissatisfaction at a lack of signings.

That’s an internal political issue; for a number of others, though, now might be a good time to start addressing basic flaws of concentration and structure.

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Premier League 2017-18 fans’ previews, part 2: Manchester City to West Ham

Manchester City

This should be our year. Given the money Pep has spent and the overwhelming quality in our squad, anything other than a proper title challenge will be a failure. I’m optimistic, though: our summer transfer business has been excellent.

Key players The key signings are the full-backs: Walker, Danilo and Mendy. I know it’s only pre-season but they’ve already had a transformative effect on the way we play in terms of pressing, attacking play and defensive solidity. Ederson will be crucial too. In terms of a key player, I expect this will be the season De Bruyne announces himself as the best player in the league. The guy is a genius. Also keep an eye out for Phil Foden, a Stockport-born No10.

Weak links Central midfield is our problem. A lot will depend on Gündogan’s return, which is a massive risk given his injury record and the age of his replacements in Fernandinho (32) and Touré (34). But we can’t address every area of the squad in one window. Vincent Kompany’s fitness will be pivotal too.

Headline generator If his social media is anything to go by, Benjamin Mendy. Looks set for cult-hero status.

Favourite moment in 25 years of the Premier League Agüero’s goal – an unbeatable feeling. But I also can’t not mention Mario Balotelli: the man who agreed to be the face of Manchester’s fire safety campaign having set fire to his house with those fireworks just a few days before.

• Predictions – we will finish: 1st. Top four: 1. Manchester City; 2. Liverpool; 3. Chelsea; 4. Manchester United. The bottom three: 18. Huddersfield; 19. Burnley; 20. Brighton; First manager sacked: Mark Hughes (Stoke). Who will be promoted? Middlesbrough, Fulham and Aston Villa.

Manchester United

We’ll definitely challenge – we may fall short but José knows this is a steady restoration job, not a quick fix. He has signed established top-flight experience in Matic and Lukaku, and they’ll help with the key challenge of breaking down sides that come to Old Trafford and park the bus. He’ll get it right but I’m afraid it won’t be with the swagger and panache of Ferguson’s teams.

Key players Matic will be pivotal: we lacked a natural defensive midfielder last season, and he should give us balance. And Axel Tuanzebe is one to watch: a strong, powerful, teenage defender.

Weak links We still haven’t solved the left-back position. Luke Shaw made only 11 league appearances last season and was criticised by both LVG and Mourinho for his attitude and lack of effort. He either needs to be shipped out or step up to the mark.

Headline generator Mourinho, of course. We can expect the war of words with Conte, Pep, Wenger and Klopp to be louder than ever due to the vast sums spent, with managers under more scrutiny than ever.

Favourite moment in 25 years of the Premier League Came in 2003 when we clawed back an eight-point gap to Arsenal, then went to Highbury in April level on points and drew 2-2. Fergie went on to the pitch to the United end with fists pumping, like he knew he had won the league that night.

• Predictions – we will finish: 2nd. Top four: 1. Chelsea; 2. Manchester United; 3. Tottenham; 4. Manchester City. The bottom three: 18. Burnley; 19. Huddersfield; 20. Brighton. First manager sacked: Craig Shakespeare (Leicester). Who will be promoted? Middlesbrough, Aston Villa and Wolves.

Newcastle

As long as the spectre of Mike Ashley hangs over NUFC it’s foolish to get too optimistic – we’re always wondering when we’ll be thrown the next curveball to knock us off our feet. But the Rafa effect will probably carry us through. Just.

Key players The signings so far haven’t been inspiring and we certainly aren’t competing at the top end of the market: the days of buying proven stars like Shearer, Woodgate, Parker and Owen seem a lifetime ago. But it’s early days: Rafa has the contacts and pulling power to lure players who may otherwise not have considered us. Keep an eye on young Jacob Murphy, though: he’s a Toon fan, rather than the usual carpetbagger-type, so that’s a good start at least. And it will be interesting to see if Rolando Aarons can make some progress this season.

Weak links Our midfield lacks steel and leadership – that was obvious in the Championship and we could easily be overrun as a result. A real worry.

Headline generator Mike Ashley, inevitably, and Jonjo Shelvey, who has a tendency to become riled. At least Rafa is a voice of reason: there’s a class about his public persona few can match.

Favourite moment in 25 years of the Premier League Alan Shearer versus Roy Keane in 2001. Keane saw red, Shearer was ice cool and it sealed a great 4-3 win at a time when we were riding high.

• Predictions – we will finish: 10th. Top four: 1. Chelsea; 2. Tottenham; 3. Manchester City; 4. Manchester United. The bottom three: 18. Stoke; 19. Watford; 20. Huddersfield. First manager sacked: Mark Hughes (Stoke). Who will be promoted? Fulham, Leeds and Middlesbrough.

Southampton

What to expect? Probably something similar to last season, in truth. There might be a slight increase in energy from the players under the new manager but the squad has barely changed, so more of the same is expected. Which, let’s face it, wouldn’t be a disaster.

Key players A big season for record-signing Sofiane Boufal, who has all the talent in the world but needs to know when to show off his skills and when to play it simple. Virgil van Dijk’s future remains up in the air, so Jack Stephens will start the season as first choice after impressing last term. And anyone who can put the ball in the net will catapult themselves into MVP territory.

Weak links While we’ve been strong defensively for a while now, Fraser Forster had a shocker of a season (which was oddly rewarded with a new contract), so I’d expect opponents to be advised to shoot on sight.

Headline generator Van Dijk has dominated proceedings thanks to the vast array of ex-Liverpool players happy to tell the press he should be allowed to leave (while remaining strangely silent on the subject of Coutinho). I’d expect that to continue into the autumn. They literally have no shame or self-awareness.

Favourite moment in 25 years of the Premier League The Man Utd invisible grey shirts game in 1996, where we were 3-0 up at half-time with Fergie blaming their kit. We proved that wasn’t the case when we then beat them 6-3 the following season.

• Predictions – we will finish: 8th. Top four: 1. Manchester City; 2. Chelsea; 3. Arsenal; 4. Tottenham. The bottom three: 18. Burnley; 19. Brighton; 20. Huddersfield. First manager sacked: Craig Shakespeare (Leicester). Who will be promoted? Middlesbrough, Hull and Norwich.

Stoke

I was dreading this season, expecting to be in the bottom three by October. But over the summer I’ve found some new optimism. Losing Arnautovic, Walters, Whelan, Martins Indi and Bardsley will have an impact of course but Stoke have always been at their best when people have written them off. So, bearing that in mind, we could surprise a few people.

Key players This could be the year where Shaqiri makes his mark, while Kurt Zouma could prove the signing of the season. And for the first time in a long time we have a crop of young players ready to step up: Ramadan, Verlinden, Edwards, Tymon and Ngoy.

Weak links The full-backs were a concern last season and we haven’t spent any substantial money to address that. And despite being pleased to see the back of Arnautovic , I’d like to see a replacement purchased.

Headline generator The new corner at the Bet 365 Stadium. The ground has undergone its biggest transformation in the 20 years since we’ve called it home: this could be the season where it comes to life again after a few quiet seasons.

Favourite moment in 25 years of the Premier League An ongoing one: the relationship between Arsène Wenger and Stoke fans. It started in our first season and has continued every season since. We just don’t get on, which normally makes for a great derby-type atmosphere.

• Predictions – we will finish: 13th. Top four: 1. Manchester City; 2. Manchester United; 3. Chelsea; 4. Tottenham. The bottom three: 18. Huddersfield; 19. Brighton; 20. Swansea. First manager sacked: Tony Pulis (West Brom). Who will be promoted? Aston Villa, Fulham and Norwich.

Swansea

I’m not as pessimistic as this time last year. We’ve a much better management team and our focus isn’t being distracted by the sale process. That said, Sigurdsson’s delayed move to Everton is frustrating: new signings depend on it and we’re still two or three players short. But so long as we strengthen before the end of August, we shouldn’t make such hard work of staying up as we did last season.

Key players Without Sigurdsson and with Llorente’s future up in the air, we need Tammy Abraham to hit goalscoring form quickly. Mesa and Carroll could form an excellent midfield unit in front of the defence – which will include Alfie Mawson, a 23-year-old who’s developing into an excellent centre-back.

Weak links Our defence hasn’t been strengthened despite conceding 70 goals and we’re desperately short of options if any of the back four are sidelined. Then there’s the Gylfi gap: Sigurdsson provided 13 assists last season and the next player had three.

Headline generator The board. I’m hopeful we’ll keep our manager for an entire year, at least.

Favourite moment in 25 years of the Premier League Watching Cardiff getting a 3-0 battering at the Liberty Stadium in 2014 was hard to beat.

• Predictions – we will finish: 14th. Top four: 1. Chelsea; 2. Manchester City; 3. Tottenham; 4. Manchester United. The bottom three: 18. Burnley; 19. Huddersfield; 20. Brighton. First manager sacked: Mark Hughes (Stoke). Who will be promoted? Fulham, Middlesbrough and Derby.

Tottenham

Optimism? Spurs fans live and breathe that stuff, but this season is a different beast altogether. One word; Wembley. If we can get to grips with playing there, then I reckon we’ll be in with a sniff. However, we do need to strengthen the squad. Last year’s FA Cup semi-final was a great example of the lack of creativity we have to call upon from the bench. Will Lamela be like a new signing this season? Will Jansen step up to the plate?

Key players There are lots of key players but only one for me that is a crucial part of the team, and that’s Dembélé. When he plays, things seem right. In terms of emerging youngsters, I would say our one to watch is Josh Onomah. His loan spell to Villa is a good move for him and the club in general – he needs more game time. Other than that, there aren’t many realistically knocking on the door of first-team football. Right-back will be an interesting position to watch this season, though, especially if we don’t sign another player. If that remains the case, it looks like Poch is putting his faith in Walker-Peters as our back up for Trippier. If the former Burnley man’s injury against Juventus was a bad one, Walker-Peters is set for some deep end treatment. Fill your boots, son, and all that.

Weak links The Liverpool game last season is a good example of where Spurs were exploited. Ben Davies played at left-back and it was painful to watch. Mané – who we should have strongly pursued – tore him apart. I do rate him but he’s no Danny Rose. That said, it wasn’t all his fault. Poch didn’t deal with the situation quick enough and Son was guilty of pushing too far up the field.

Headline generator No one. Is it a bad thing that the most controversial tomfoolery the players find themselves in the thick of is a cringe handshake? Where’s Gazza when you need him?

Favourite moment in 25 years of the Premier League Every time I watch that Ledley King v Arjen Robben tackle from 2006 I can’t help but grin. He’s only got one knee. He’s better than John Terry. But I don’t have to tell you that, now do I?

• Predictions – we will finish: Top three. That’s all you’re getting from me. Top four: OK, go on then. 1. Chelsea; 2. Tottenham; 3. Manchester City; 4. Arsenal. The bottom three: 18. Brighton; 19. Watford; 20. Huddersfield. First manager sacked: Arsène Wenger. Who will be promoted? Aston Villa, Fulham and Sheffield Wednesday.

Watford

I’m more optimistic than our nosedive at the end of last season ought to warrant. Marco Silva unified Hull and we could do with a bit of that after Mazzarri’s rather detached reign. We’re one of a number of sides that could struggle if the wind blows the wrong way but that happened last season and we stayed up anyway.

Key players Our signings have been understated but impressive. Nathaniel Chalobah’s arrival drew attention for how it reflected on Chelsea’s youth development but it’s great we persuaded him to come. Will Hughes looks a lot of fun. And it looks likely we’ll break our transfer record for a Brazilian forward who we’d not heard of a week ago. What’s not to like? Also important will be the return of key players whose injuries stuffed us last season, not least Roberto Pereyra, out since December.

Weak links Hard to say with the transfer market so constipated: like many we’re expecting a number of comings and goings before the end of the month. At the moment you’d worry about the full-back positions, but there’s time …

Headline generator For one of the more unusual and interesting stories in the Premier League we’ve become quite adept at not attracting attention. We’re the side you’ll forget when trying to name the teams in the top flight. Our owner is too smart to court headlines.

Favourite moment in 25 years of the Premier League Mugging Liverpool at Anfield in 1999. It was the only trip I missed, being at a Liverpool fan’s wedding. More generally, some solace can be taken from the fact that despite the protectionist, conservative intent of the Premier League’s formation, more than half of the 92 have played in it since 1992.

• Predictions – we will finish: 14th. Top four: 1. Manchester City; 2. Chelsea; 3. Manchester United; 4. Tottenham. The bottom three: 18. Stoke; 19. Brighton; 20. Huddersfield. First manager sacked: Mark Hughes (Stoke). Who will be promoted? Middlesbrough, Aston Villa and Fulham.

West Brom

As the squad stands at the moment, it’s hard to see anything but a hard season and potential trouble. Once again we’re leaving things very late in the window and there are huge holes in the squad to be filled. If we can fill those gaps it’ll give the fans some belief but, as it is, belief is missing now as much as at any time in the last few years. The natives are restless and the knives are out for the new owners and the manager.

Key players Jay Rodriguez has settled well in the friendlies and if he can get back to the fitness he once had, he could be key. Retaining Jonny Evans has been the most important move of the summer, while Sam Field, Jonathan Leko and Kane Wilson are all excellent kids who have the ability to play at this level.

Weak links Losing Darren Fletcher was a blow. He was the leader on the pitch and we lack that right now. Up front, despite Rodriguez, we look light as Rondon continues to look half the player he was in the first half of last season. Robson-Kanu is not up to this level. And the seven-year search for a left-back goes on.

Headline generator The return of Lord Gary Megson has stolen the headlines around these parts. It will be interesting to see how the dynamic works with Pulis. Double headlocks all round!

Favourite moment in 25 years of the Premier League The 2005 Great Escape under Bryan Robson. An incredible day that will always stay in my memory.

• Predictions – we will finish: 17th. If we strengthen, 13th. Top four: 1. Manchester United; 2. Chelsea; 3. Manchester City; 4. Liverpool. The bottom three: 18. Swansea; 19. Huddersfield; 20. Burnley. First manager sacked: Paul Clement (Swansea). Who will be promoted? Middlesbrough, Hull and Derby.

West Ham

A much better transfer window this time, with four proven Premier League performers in Hernández, Arnautovic, Zabaleta and Hart, and some decent money in for squad players. All the new players are a little on the old side but short term they should ensure a decent season and a winning mentality. It’s a big season for Bilic who has to provide better fare than the last one.

Key players We’ve long lacked a fit goalscorer so hopes are high for Hernández. And “Little Pea” as a nickname makes a change from the likes of Nobes and Ginge. Hart and Zabaleta will be crucial, and Antonio should shine again. And promising striker Toni Martinez may well get some games.

Weak links If Lanzini is injured we look short of creativity, while the backline lacks pace. Arnautovic has lots of talent but might drift out of games to judge by his Stoke days. And some things never change: Andy Carroll will miss the start of the season with injury.

Headline generator Good news: there won’t be endless media coverage of the new stadium issues this time. But expect co-chairman David Sullivan and his sons to cause a few social media spats.

Favourite moment in 25 years of the Premier League Paolo Di Canio trying to substitute himself against Bradford in 2000, being persuaded to stay on by Harry Redknapp, then wrestling with Frank Lampard for the ball to take a penalty and ultimately inspiring a 5-4 win.

• Predictions – we will finish: 8th. Top four: 1. Man United; 2. Man City; 3. Chelsea; 4. Tottenham. The bottom three: 18. Brighton; 19. Burnley; 20. Huddersfield. First manager sacked: Mauricio Pellegrino (Southampton). Who will be promoted? Aston Villa, Middlesbrough, Sheffield Wednesday.

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Premier League clubs set to break 1.2 billion pound record spend

LONDON – Premier League clubs have spent more than 850 million pounds in this summer’s transfer window and are on course to break their record, data released by website Sporting Intelligence showed on Monday.

With more than a month remaining before the close of transfer business on Aug. 31, English clubs are again proving to be Europe’s heaviest spenders and will likely top the 1.165 billion pounds they lavished on new players last summer.

Manchester City have spent the most, 188 million pounds on six new players, with Monaco’s Bernard Mendy becoming the latest to join on Monday. City did not publish a fee, but British media reported it to be around 49 million pounds.

City have received 34.2 million pounds from selling five players, leaving a net spend of more than 150 million pounds.

Champions Chelsea are the next biggest spenders on 130.4 million pounds, followed by Manchester United on 105.8 million pounds, although Jose Mourinho’s club say they will make a further two signings during this transfer window.

Meanwhile, Everton who have spent 93.4 million pounds, have recouped it all, mainly by selling Romelu Lukaku to Manchester United. Arsenal, whose manager Arsene Wenger has been under pressure to bring in new players after a disappointing season, have so far spent 52.7 million pounds.

Three clubs, Tottenham Hotspur, Stoke City and Crystal Palace have yet to spend anything, with Spurs currently 74.3 million pounds in credit on all deals.

All three teams promoted to the Premier League have invested, with Huddersfield’s 36.4 million pounds just topping Newcastle United‘s 31.2 milllion pound, while Brighton and Hove Albion have spent just 13.3 million pounds.

The figures reflect the huge riches being pumped into the world’s most lucrative league, with clubs receiving 8.3 billion pounds in TV rights alone for the current three-year cycle.

Such riches mean Premier League clubs are paying a premium in the market. West Bromwich Albion manager Tony Pulis became the latest to question the current trend of hyperinflation.

“At the moment the market out there has gone crazy,” he said last week. At 19.8 million pounds, Albion have been one of the league’s most modest spenders.

The new Premier League seasons on Aug. 11.

(Reporting by Neil Robinson; editing by Alexander Smith)

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Guardiola insists Aguero will not leave Man City

The former Barcelona boss has played down reports the Argentine is set to join Chelsea while also insisting Claudio Bravo will remain at the Etihad

Manchester City boss Pep Guardiola has reiterated his stance that Sergio Aguero will not be allowed to leave the Premier League club this summer.

The Argentina international has been linked with a move to Chelsea despite the Blues having agreed a fee for Real Madrid’s Alvaro Morata.

But Guardiola has hit out at such reports, claiming he has never thought of selling the former Atletico Madrid man while also playing down reports of a deal for Arsenal’s Alexis Sanchez

“Alexis plays for Arsenal, so Arsene said that [Sanchez will stay]. He knows more than me,” the Catalan told a press conference.

“We have two really good strikers in Sergio and Gabriel [Jesus] so, in those terms, we are good. It’s not about a striker.

“The problem was, last season, Gabriel was out for a long time and we would like to see both of them together.”

“You know my opinion about Sergio. I said many times last season and I have not changed a word of what I said.

“He is our player and he will remain here.”

Alexis’s international colleague Claudio Bravo appeared to face a less certain future following an error-strewn debut campaign in Manchester.

He was the penalty shoot-out hero in his country’s Confederations Cup semi-final triumph over Portugal last month but is set to begin the season as second choice behind new recruit Ederson at City.

Nevertheless, Guardiola is keen for the 34-year-old former Barcelona man to compete with Ederson and dismissed suggestions City were in the market for experienced Napoli keeper Pepe Reina.

“No, no – we will go with Ederson, Claudio and the young players [goalkeepers],” Guardiola

(Dom Farrell)