Premier League 2016-17: Who will finish where?
It is the most difficult task of the season - trying to predict who will finish where in the Premier League.
Last term I was only 19 places out with my prediction for champions Leicester City, although I suspect I was not on my own getting that one badly wrong.
After a summer of change in the top flight - with a whole host of new managers and top-quality players - it is a task that remains as painful as ever.
But with the new season starting on Saturday, here is how I think the season will look at the very end - with the caveat that what happens in the remainder of the transfer window could yet have a significant impact.
|Phil McNulty's predicted 2016-17 Premier League positions at a glance|
|Position||Club||Position (cont)||Club (cont)|
|1||Manchester City||11||Crystal Palace|
|4||Arsenal||14||West Bromwich Albion|
This season: Champions
Last season: 4th
The arrival of the world's most celebrated coach, Pep Guardiola, is the fulfilment of a long-held dream for Manchester City's owners - he is the man they have always wanted at the head of their football organisation. The Etihad house has been built waiting for him to move in.
City's run to the Champions League semi-final and a Capital One Cup final win barely covered up a campaign of Premier League under-achievement with Manuel Pellegrini in charge last season. They were left hanging on until the last game of the campaign to secure a Champions League place.
Guardiola is the perfect choice to get more out of a quality squad that has too often seemed short of inspiration and motivation. He is a fiercely driven perfectionist who will not let standards slip.
Midfielder Ilkay Gundogan will add guile when he is fit while winger Nolito is a shrewd capture from Celta Vigo.
Now that City have signed defender John Stones from Everton, responsibility will lie with him for curing the defensive ills caused by the poor form of Eliaquim Mangala and Nicolas Otamendi, as well as captain Vincent Kompany's injuries.
I'm backing a Guardiola-inspired City to reclaim the Premier League title.
Manager in: Pep Guardiola.
Players in: Ilkay Gundogan (Borussia Dortmund), Nolito (Celta Vigo), Oleksandr Zinchenko (FC Ufa), Leroy Sane (Schalke 04), Aaron Mooy (Melbourne City), Gabriel Jesus* (Palmeiras) *will join in January 2017, Marlos Moreno (Atletico Nacional), John Stones (Everton).
Manager out: Manuel Pellegrini.
Players out: Martin Demichelis (released), Seko Fofana (Udinese), Aaron Mooy (Huddersfield Town on loan), Marlos Moreno (Deportivo La Coruna on loan).
This season: 2nd
Last season: 5th
Manchester United are a club with something to prove - and they have appointed a brilliant, albeit highly-divisive manager who also has something to prove in Jose Mourinho after his sacking at Chelsea just seven months after his team won the title.
Dutchman Louis van Gaal may have won the FA Cup but his was a joyless reign and this superpower needed an X Factor on and off the pitch to renew their damaged status.
The Portuguese will provide it as manager and striker Zlatan Ibrahimovic will do the job on the pitch - although there is an element of "Hollywood" about signing a 34-year-old at the end of his career who has never played in the Premier League. Will it be more style than substance?
The shining symbol of United's new future is the return of Paul Pogba from Juventus for a world-record £89m - although this was the same player allowed to escape for about £1.5m four years ago.
The creative spark provided by former Borussia Dortmund midfielder Henrikh Mkhitaryan and Pogba will arguably be of greater long-term significance than Ibrahimovic's short-term sparkle.
There are, though, still questions to be answered.
Where will Wayne Rooney fit into Mourinho's grand plan? And what about United's defence? How will £30m Eric Bailly from Villarreal adapt to the Premier League?
Despite this, expect United to be back in the title shake-up.
Manager in: Jose Mourinho.
Players in: Eric Bailly (Villarreal), Zlatan Ibrahimovic (PSG), Henrikh Mkhitaryan (Borussia Dortmund), Paul Pogba (Juventus).
Manager out: Louis van Gaal.
Players out: Tyler Reid (Swansea City), Victor Valdes (Middlesbrough), Jimmy Dunne (Burnley), Nick Powell (Wigan Athletic), Joe Rothwell (Oxford United), Ashley Fletcher (West Ham United), Guillermo Varela (Eintracht Frankfurt), Paddy McNair (Sunderland), Donald Love (Sunderland).
This season: 3rd
Last season: 10th
Stamford Bridge's revolving door spins again and in steps Antonio Conte as manager.
The charismatic, combustible Italian created a huge impression at Euro 2016 in France as he guided his nation to wins over Belgium and Spain based on superb tactics and fierce organisation before they lost to Germany on penalties in the last eight.
Conte will need all of this at Chelsea as they recover from a desperate 10th-place finish last season following their implosion under Mourinho after winning the title the previous term.
The superb N'Golo Kante will provide the legs and energy needed in midfield after he played a huge part in Leicester City's title win while Conte will hope Belgium's Michy Batshuayi will provide goals - with the possibility of more firepower arriving before the deadline.
Everton's Romelu Lukaku remains a target but the Merseysiders are in no mood to sell the striker they brought from Stamford Bridge for £28m two years ago.
This squad and team was so much better than it showed last season. Expect Conte, who will not suffer fools or any political manoeuvring in the dressing room, to flourish.
Manager in: Antonio Conte.
Players in: Michy Batshuayi (Marseille), N'Golo Kante (Leicester City).
Players out: Lewis Baker (Vitesse Arnhem), Nathan Ake (AFC Bournemouth), Jeremie Boga (Granada), Tomas Kalas (Fulham), Kasey Palmer (Huddersfield Town), Alex Kiwomya (Crewe Alexandra), Mohamed Salah (Roma), Tammy Abraham (Bristol City).
This season: 4th
Last season: 2nd
How do you even start to work out Arsenal?
The temptation is to simply put them in the top four because they always finish there.
No chance of the title, but they always seem to win enough games to keep qualifying for the Champions League. Granit Xhaka's arrival from Borussia Moenchengladbach for a reported £35m will add steel to midfield.
Manager Arsene Wenger will need to reach for the chequebook to buy class in attack and in central defence. If he does, the outlook may be brighter. If he doesn't, expect more of the same - or even less.
And will be that be enough in the final year of his contract?
Fourth place prediction...but with doubts and with fingers crossed.
Players in: Granit Xhaka (Borussia Monchengladbach), Takuma Asano (Hiroshima Sanfrecce), Rob Holding (Bolton Wanderers)
Players out: Mikel Arteta (released), Tomas Rosicky (released), Mathieu Flamini (released), Isaac Hayden (undisclosed), Dan Crowley (Oxford United), Jon Toral (Granada), Wellington Silva (Fluminense), Wojciech Szczesny (Roma).
This season: 5th
Last season: 3rd
Tough call this one as Mauricio Pochettino's side were excellent last season and were right in the title shake-up for so long.
In reality, you could throw a blanket over the likes of Chelsea, Spurs, Liverpool and Arsenal in the battle for top-four places. But when you think about Spurs, will a hangover from England's Euro 2016 fiasco in France effect the likes of Harry Kane, Eric Dier and Dele Alli?
Midfielder Victor Wanyama will provide power and energy after his arrival from Southampton while striker Vincent Janssen, the powerful 22-year-old bought from AZ Alkmaar for £17m, will give Kane support.
At this stage fifth, but they will be a danger to everyone they play.
Players in: Victor Wanyama (Southampton), Vincent Janssen (AZ Alkmaar).
Players out: Filip Lesniak (Slovan Liberec), Grant Ward (Ipswich Town), Federico Fazio (Roma), Alex Pritchard (Norwich City).
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This season: 6th
Last season: 8th
This is Jurgen Klopp's first full season in charge and he has spent the summer putting his imprint - ostensibly tactical awareness and intense fitness demands - on a new-look squad.
Last season was mixed as Liverpool reached the Capital One Cup and Europa League finals but lost them both- now Klopp can attack on the domestic front without the extra pressure of European football.
Winger Sadio Mane and Gini Wijnaldum have been the biggest buys from Southampton and Newcastle United respectively with a total expenditure of about £50m, so there is plenty to be optimistic about. But will old frailties such as Simon Mignolet in goal and a vulnerable central defence let them down?
The biggest plus will be that Klopp now has the squad he wants.
The first title since 1990? No - but a good bet for a cup.
Players in: Joel Matip (Schalke), Loris Karius (FSV Mainz 05), Sadio Mane (Southampton), Ragnar Klavan (Augsburg), Alex Manninger (Augsburg), Georginio Wijnaldum (Newcastle).
Players out: Joao Carlos Teixeira (Porto), Jerome Sinclair (Watford), Kolo Toure (released), Lawrence Vigouroux (Swindon Town), Jordan Rossiter (Rangers), Danny Ward (Huddersfield Town), Jose Enrique (released), Samed Yesil (released), Sergi Canos (Norwich City), Martin Skrtel (Fenerbahce), Jordon Ibe (AFC Bournemouth), Adam Bogdan (Wigan Athletic), Joe Allen (Stoke City), Brad Smith (AFC Bournemouth), Jon Flanagan (Burnley).
This season: 7th
Last season: 7th
West Ham's biggest challenge may be settling into new surroundings at their new London Stadium. Yes, they will be watched by bigger crowds and the environment may be more luxurious, but Upton Park had an atmosphere that could win points. Can it be replicated at a new home?
The Hammers have shown plenty of ambition with striker Andre Ayew signing for £20m from Swansea City, to go along with additions such as former Valencia striker Toni Martinez, exciting winger Sofiane Feghouli from Valencia and Gokhan Tore from Besiktas.
Slaven Bilic has proved an inspired choice as manager and he will elevate his reputation even more if he can finish higher than last season's seventh. This a talented squad so watch out for a cup run.
Players in: Toni Martinez (Valencia), Havard Nordtveit (Borussia Moenchengladbach), Domingos Quina, Sofiane Feghouli (Valencia), Gokhan Tore (Besiktas), Ashley Fletcher (Manchester United), Arthur Masuaku (Olympiacos), Andre Ayew (Swansea City).
Players out: Joey O'Brien (released), Elliot Lee (released), James Tomkins (Crystal Palace).
This season: 8th
Last season: Champions
This prediction comes with a warning attached after forecasting relegation for the eventual champions last season - but it will be neither a title nor relegation for Claudio Ranieri's side this time around.
I do not expect another run at the Premier League title but there is good reason to believe the momentum and confidence gained from one of the greatest sporting stories ever told will lead to another very good campaign.
And what a prospect Champions League nights will be at The King Power Stadium.
The loss of N'Golo Kante to Chelsea is a real blow but keeper Kasper Schmeichel and 24-goal top scorer Jamie Vardy have signed new long-term contracts, the latter rejecting Arsenal in the process.
And no-one can accuse the champions of standing still, with Nigerian striker Ahmed Musa a potentially exciting addition from CSKA Moscow for a club-record £16m plus highly-rated former Nice midfielder Nampalys Mendy arriving as a £13m acquisition to strengthen midfield.
If the Foxes can fight off any late moves for Riyad Mahrez then top 10 is very attainable.
Players in: Ron-Robert Zieler (Hannover 96), Luis Hernandez (Sporting Gijon), Raul Uche Rubio (Valencia), Nampalys Mendy (Nice), Ahmed Musa (CSKA Moscow), Bartosz Kapustka (KS Cracovia).
Players out: Andrej Kramaric (Hoffenheim), Mark Schwarzer (released), Paul Konchesky (released), Ryan Watson (released), Dean Hammond (released), Harry Panayiotou (released), N'Golo Kante (Chelsea), Joe Dodoo (Rangers), Michael Cain (Blackpool), Hamza Choudhury (Burton Albion).
This season: 9th
Last season: 11th
Everton's new ambition under major shareholder Farhad Moshiri was proved when manager Ronald Koeman was lured away from Southampton after taking them into the Europa League last season. And Leicester's influential Steve Walsh was taken from the champions and appointed director of football.
It is yet to materialise on the pitch as the collection of expected big signings have yet to arrive. On this basis Everton will just make it into the top 10.
Koeman, however, is a shrewd and ruthless operator. It should also be remembered he inherited a debacle from his predecessor Roberto Martinez, with a squad that had clearly lost faith in its manager and almost unprecedented levels of discontent among supporters.
John Stones left for Manchester City for £47.5m, making him the world's second most expensive defender, while Wales captain Ashley Williams has arrived from Swansea for a reported £12m. But keeping Romelu Lukaku is essential. Who could Koeman buy to replace a virtual guarantee of 20 goals a season?
Manager in: Ronald Koeman.
Players in: Bassala Sambou (Coventry City), Chris Renshaw (Oldham Athletic), Maarten Stekelenburg (Fulham), Idrissa Gana Gueye (Aston Villa), Ashley Williams (Swansea City).
Manager out: Roberto Martinez (sacked on 12 May).
Players out: Steven Pienaar (released), Leon Osman (released), Tony Hibbert (released), Tim Howard (Colorado Rapids), John Stones (Manchester City).
This season: 10th
Last season: 9th
Manager Mark Hughes built on the work of Tony Pulis to make the Potters genuine top-10 material and it should be no different this time around.
Joe Allen was an excellent signing at £13.5m from Liverpool after an outstanding Euro 2016 for Wales and Marko Arnautovic has agreed a new contract to provide threat along with Xherdan Shaqiri.
Stoke are still in the market for West Bromwich Albion's Saido Berahino so Hughes is determined to have plenty of firepower.
The excellent Jack Butland will be back in goal after injury so I expect another very decent season for Stoke.
Players in: Ramadan Sobhi (Al Ahly), Joe Allen (Liverpool), Ryan Sweeney (AFC Wimbledon).
Players out: Peter Odemwingie (released), Steve Sidwell (Brighton & Hove Albion).
This season: 11th
Last season: 15th
Pretty much in keeping with the boom and bust nature of some of manager Alan Pardew's managerial career, expect a better season to follow a disappointing one last time out.
Palace have done some ambitious work in the transfer market, with highly-rated goalkeeper Steve Mandanda arriving from Marseille on a free transfer and Andros Townsend a £13m capture from Newcastle United.
Pardew has also spent £10m on central defender James Tomkins from West Ham United and has a long-standing interest in Liverpool's Christian Benteke, so Palace are looking in an upward direction.
Do not expect any relegation fears but a comfortable mid-table finish.
Players in: Andros Townsend (Newcastle United), Steve Mandanda (Marseille), James Tomkins (West Ham United).
Players out: Emmanuel Adebayor (released), Marouane Chamakh (released), Brede Hangeland (released), Adrian Mariappa (released), Patrick McCarthy (released), Dwight Gayle (Newcastle United), Jake Gray (Luton Town), Alex McCarthy (Southampton), Jerome Binnom-Williams (Peterborough United).
This season: 12th
Last season: 6th
It has been a groundhog summer for the Saints as their manager and various players left St Mary's.
They lost boss Ronald Koeman to Everton, having lost Mauricio Pochettino to Spurs before him in 2014, while striker Sadio Mane followed the path to Liverpool that was previously taken by Adam Lallana, Dejan Lovren, Rickie Lambert and Nathaniel Clyne.
Victor Wanyama also went to Spurs to continue the pattern that has characterised their recent history.
And yet Southampton have not simply survived but flourished despite key losses in recent years.
The experienced 54-year-old Claude Puel is now manager, having a reputation forged at Lyon, Nice, Lille and Monaco. Nathan Redmond is in from Norwich City and midfielder Pierre-Emile Hojbjerg, from Bayern Munich, brings real potential.
The question is how long can Southampton keep pulling off this same trick? Expect another solid season but not another top six.
Manager in: Claude Puel.
Players in: Nathan Redmond (Norwich City), Pierre-Emile Hojbjerg (Bayern Munich), Alex McCarthy (Crystal Palace), Jeremy Pied (Nice).
Manager out: Ronald Koeman
Players out: Gaston Ramirez (released), Kelvin Davis (retired), Juanmi (Real Sociedad), Victor Wanyama (Tottenham Hotspur), Sadio Mane (Liverpool), Jason McCarthy (Walsall), Graziano Pelle (Shandong Luneng), Paulo Gazzaniga (Rayo Vallecano).
This season: 13th
Last season: 17th
Sunderland's reward for Sam Allardyce guiding them to safety last season was to see their manager succeed Roy Hodgson with England after their Euro 2016 failure.
David Moyes seems to be the perfect fit as replacement, especially as he is on a mission to repair a reputation damaged by successive sackings at Manchester United and Real Sociedad.
Moyes will have the Black Cats well-drilled and hard to beat. The Scot will also feel at home at a club where a finish away from the relegation zone and in the comfort of mid-table would be regarded as success and greeted with gratitude. Expect this outcome.
Manager in: David Moyes.
Players in: Papy Djilobodji (Chelsea), Paddy McNair (Manchester United), Donald Love (Manchester United).
Manager out: Sam Allardyce.
Players out: Danny Graham (Blackburn Rovers), Steven Fletcher (Sheffield Wednesday), Wes Brown (released), Mikael Mandron (Eastleigh), Emanuele Giaccherini (Napoli), Santiago Vergini (Boca Juniors), Adam Matthews (Bristol City), Will Buckley (Sheffield Wednesday).
This season: 14th
Last season: 14th
Will the Chinese takeover bring new ambition or turbulent waters after the stability of the Jeremy Peace era?
If stability and Premier League status is what is required then expect Pulis to deliver again, but there was not much to excite at The Hawthorns last season.
Will more of the same be enough for the Baggies' new owners and their supporters?
Players in: Matt Phillips (Queens Park Rangers)
Players out: Victor Anichebe (released), Stephane Sessegnon (released), Anders Lindegaard (released).
This season: 15th
Last season: 12th
Swansea have confirmed Francesco Guidolin will remain as manager and an American consortium now has a controlling stake in the club - so this should ensure the Welsh club cement their reputation as a permanent member of the Premier League.
Whether this means they will improve on last season's 12th place remains to be seen.
Fernando Llorente will hope to enjoy an Indian summer to his career in South Wales after the 31-year-old Spain striker arrived from Sevilla, while Atletico Madrid's Borja Baston is the man lined up to replace Andre Ayew, who has moved to West Ham.
The loss of captain Ashley Williams to Everton is a serious blow but still expect a solid, if unspectacular, season from Swansea.
Players in: Leroy Fer (Queens Park Rangers), Mike van der Hoorn (Ajax), Tyler Reid (Manchester United), George Byers (Watford), Mark Birighetti (Newcaste Jets), Fernando Llorente (Sevilla).
Players out: Matthew Grimes (Leeds United), Eder (Lille), Alberto Paloschi (Atalanta), Kyle Bartley (Leeds United), Liam Shephard (Yeovil Town), Matt Grimes (Leeds United), Ryan Hedges (Yeovil Town), Bafetimbi Gomis (Marseille), Andre Ayew (West Ham United), Ashley Williams (Everton).
This season: 16th
Last season: 16th
Eddie Howe did brilliantly to ensure Premier League safety for the Cherries last season - now he will be looking to build on that.
The reality, however, is that Premier League status is success in itself for Bournemouth.
This has not stopped Howe making his summer moves. The £15m signing of Jordon Ibe from Liverpool is intriguing as the 20-year-old was regarded only last summer as good enough by some at Anfield to compensate for Raheem Sterling's £49m sale to Manchester City.
Lewis Cook from Leeds United is another good deal and if they can avoid the serious injuries that sidelined the likes of Tyrone Mings, Max Gradel and Callum Wilson last season, then they will be secure again.
Players in: Emerson Hyndman (Fulham), Nathan Ake (Chelsea), Lys Mousset (Le Havre), Mark Travers, Mikael Ndjoli (Millwall), Lewis Cook (Leeds), Jordon Ibe (Liverpool), Brad Smith (Liverpool).
Players out: Sylvain Distin (released), Tommy Elphick (Aston Villa), Matt Ritchie (Newcastle United), Stephane Zubar (released), Glenn Murray (Brighton & Hove Albion), Lee Tomlin (Bristol City), Harry Cornick (Leyton Orient).
This season: 17th
Last season: Promoted (Championship runners-up)
It is great to see Middlesbrough back in the top flight - reward for an outstanding supporter of his football team and town in chairman Steve Gibson.
Gibson is fiercely ambitious and loyal but this season will be about consolidation.
Manager Aitor Karanka has injected experience in the shape of former Barcelona keeper Victor Valdes and loan striker Alvaro Negredo, who flourished briefly in the Premier League while at Manchester City.
Karanka will hope Marten de Roon, the 25-year-old Dutch midfield man bought from Atalanta for £12m, will provide midfield solidity.
Players in: Viktor Fischer (Ajax), Bernardo Espinosa (Sporting Gijon), Marten de Roon (Atalanta), Jordan McGhee (Heart of Midlothian), Victor Valdes (Manchester United), Antonio Barragan (Valencia), Alvaro Negredo (Valencia), Gaston Ramirez (Southampton), Brad Guzan (Aston Villa).
Players out: Jonathan Woodgate (released), Damia Abella (released), Rhys Williams (Perth Glory), Connor Ripley (Oldham).
This season: 18th
Last season: 13th
Watford slumped badly in the second half of last season and will hope new manager Walter Mazzarri can re-ignite the optimism of the first part of the campaign after the departure of Quique Sanchez Flores.
The experienced Italian will lean heavily on the goals of captain Troy Deeney and his partnership with Odion Ighalo. Jerome Sinclair has arrived from Liverpool with a big reputation but is unproven.
Watford will also have high hopes for the wonderfully-named Isaac Success, the young Nigerian striker signed from Granada for a reported club record fee of £12.5m.
It will be a dogfight near the bottom. Can The Hornets survive? I'm not sure they can.
Manager in: Walter Mazzarri
Players in: Jerome Sinclair (Liverpool), Christian Kabasele (Genk), Isaac Success (Granada), Juan Camilo Zuniga (Napoli), Brice Dja Djedje (Marseille).
Players out: Joel Ekstrand (released), Gabriele Angella (Udinese), George Byers (Swansea City), Jose Manuel Jurado (Espanyol), Almen Abdi (Sheffield Wednesday), Daniel Pudil (Sheffield Wednesday), Steven Berghuis (Feyenoord).
This season: 19th
Last season: Promoted (Championship winners)
Burnley is another exemplary club that it is a pleasure to welcome back to the Premier League under the management of Sean Dyche.
This will not be the only place where their hopes of survival are written off and it is a prediction made in the hope it will be proved spectacularly wrong.
The Clarets' difficulty is competing in an increasingly fierce transfer market but they have struck a significant blow by so far rebuffing the interest of champions Leicester City in defender Michael Keane.
It will be a long hard season but perhaps, helped by the atmospheric surroundings of Turf Moor and the excellence of Dyche, Burnley can make this forecast go astray.
Players in: Jimmy Dunne, Johann Berg Gudmundsson (Charlton Athletic), Nick Pope (Charlton Athletic), Jon Flanagan (Liverpool).
Players out: Joey Barton (Rangers), Matt Gilks (Rangers), Matt Taylor (released), Michael Duff (retired), Josh Ginnelly (Walsall).
This season: Bottom
Last season: Promoted (Championship play-offs)
The loss of manager Steve Bruce and the instability around Hull City has robbed the club and its fervent supporters of the optimism that should surround their return to the Premier League.
Bruce has experienced relegation and promotion with the Tigers - and he was as well equipped as anyone to navigate this campaign. It is now hard to see them surviving in their current state after his disagreement with vice-chairman Ehab Allam.
There is still takeover talk and Hull fans are planning a protest against the running of the club at the opening Premier League game at home to Leicester City. Not the ideal start.
Long, hard season ahead and the signs do not look good.
Players in: Will Mannion (AFC Wimbledon).
Players out: Sone Aluko (released), Ryan Taylor (released), Mohamed Diame (Newcastle United).
All transfers sourced from the Premier League website. All transfers correct as of 10:00 BST on 10 August.
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