What will second half of BPL season bring?

Eden Hazard in action for Chelsea. (Kirsty Wigglesworth/AP)

Last summer, prior to the start of the 2015-16 Premier League season, Sportsnet’s special panel of soccer commentators, writers and pundits offered their picks and predictions.

Now that we’re at the halfway point, we thought it would be interesting to look back at those pre-season picks while asking the panel to offer their prognostications for the second half of the campaign.

JAMES SHARMAN, SPORTSNET
Pre-season prediction—Top four: 1) Arsenal, 2) Manchester United, 3) Chelsea and 4) Manchester City
Pre-season prediction—Relegated: Bournemouth, Leicester City and Watford
Pre-season prediction—Top scorer: Sergio Aguero
Pre-season prediction—Player to watch: Memphis Depay

Biggest surprise player of the first half of the season: Jamie Vardy
Biggest surprise team of the first half of the season: Leicester City
Biggest story of the first half of the season: Given that among the litany of mistakes I made in my predictions I had Leicester as being relegated, I will have to say the Foxes being a top four team. I didn’t see that coming.

Story to watch in second half of season: It still has to be Leicester. What they have done so far will become the stuff of legend, but can they maintain this? If the title is unrealistic, then how about a top four finish, and Champions League next season? As great as they are, Leicester still depends on Jamie Vardy and Riyad Mahrez, and they did look somewhat fatigued over Christmas, especially in attack. Vardy is now out after minor groin surgery—can he reach those heights again? I can’t wait to find out.
Prediction—Top four: 1) Arsenal, 2) Manchester City, 3) Tottenham and 4) Manchester United
Prediction—Relegated: Norwich City, Bournemouth and Aston Villa
Player to watch in second half of season: Wayne Rooney

Wayne Rooney

CRAIG FORREST, SPORTSNET
Pre-season prediction—Top four: 1) Chelsea, 2) Arsenal, 3) Manchester United and 4) Liverpool
Pre-season prediction—Relegated: Bournemouth, Norwich City and Sunderland
Pre-season prediction—Top scorer: Sergio Aguero
Pre-season prediction—Player to watch: Morgan Schneiderlin

Biggest surprise player of the first half of the season: Jamie Vardy
Biggest surprise team of the first half of the season: Leicester City
Biggest story of the first half of the season: It has to be Chelsea. How do you go from being so dominant in winning the league title last season to dropping out of form and sitting just above the relegation zone this season?

Story to watch in second half of season: Whether Leicester can finish in the top four. They’ve been fantastic to watch, and Jamie Vardy and Riyad Mahrez have been two of the best players in the league. I don’t think Claudio Ranieri gets enough credit—he’s done a very good job keeping this group of players very loose and taking the pressure off of them. I’ll be interested to see if he can keep doing that because that will be crucial for the Foxes if they’re going to finish in the top four.
Prediction—Top four: 1) Arsenal, 2) Manchester City, 3) Leicester City and 4) Tottenham
Prediction—Relegated: Sunderland, Bournemouth and Aston Villa
Player to watch in second half of season: Sergio Aguero

Sergio Aguero

GERRY DOBSON, SPORTSNET
Pre-season prediction—Top four: 1) Chelsea, 2) Arsenal, 3) Manchester City and 4) Manchester United
Pre-season prediction—Relegated: Bournemouth, Leicester City and Aston Villa
Pre-season prediction—Top scorer: Sergio Aguero
Pre-season prediction—Player to watch: Raheem Sterling

Biggest surprise player of the first half of the season: Jamie Vardy
Biggest surprise team of the first half of the season: Chelsea
Biggest story of the first half of the season: It’s almost a tie between Leicester and Chelsea, but the nod goes to Chelsea. Although we saw signs of life from Leicester late last season, Chelsea’s demise came out of the blue.

Story to watch in second half of season: Leicester will remain in and around the top four, while Chelsea will rumble along. But the Manchester United story will continue to gain legs. Will they make a splash in the transfer market? Will Louis van Gaal last the season? And will Wayne Rooney’s decline be halted or are we witnessing the beginning of the end for him at United?
Prediction—Top four: 1) Manchester City, 2) Arsenal, 3) Tottenham and 4) Leicester City
Prediction—Relegated: Aston Villa, Sunderland and Swansea City
Player to watch in second half of season: Odion Ighalo

odion ighalo; watford

JOHN MOLINARO, SPORTSNET.CA
Pre-season prediction—Top four: 1) Manchester United, 2) Chelsea, 3) Arsenal and 4) Manchester City
Pre-season prediction—Relegated: Norwich City, Aston Villa and Sunderland
Pre-season prediction—Top scorer: Alexis Sanchez
Pre-season prediction—Player to watch: Bastian Schweinsteiger

Biggest surprise player of the first half of the season: Eden Hazard
Biggest surprise team of the first half of the season: Chelsea
Biggest story of the first half of the season: Chelsea’s demise—including the firing of Jose Mourinho and the poor form of Hazard—was a massive surprise. It was hard to believe that the same team that comfortably cruised to the title during the second half of last season is currently sitting just a few points above the drop zone. I never saw that coming.

Story to watch in second half of season: All eyes will be on Leicester to see if they can finish in the top four. A lot of pundits are still questioning whether or not they’re for real. I believe they are, and I hope they prove me right by claiming a Champions League berth. Leicester have breathed some new life in the Premier League—let’s hope they can keep doing it.
Prediction—Top four: 1) Arsenal, 2) Manchester City, 3) Leicester City and 4) Tottenham
Prediction—Relegated: Aston Villa, Sunderland and Newcastle United
Player to watch in second half of season: Harry Kane

Harry Kane

DAN RICCIO, SPORTSNET 590 THE FAN
Pre-season prediction—Top four: 1) Manchester City, 2) Chelsea, 3) Manchester United and 4) Arsenal
Pre-season prediction—Relegated: Norwich City, Bournemouth and Leicester City
Pre-season prediction—Top scorer: Wayne Rooney
Pre-season prediction—Player to watch: Jordy Clasie and Callum Wilson

Biggest surprise player of the first half of the season: Eden Hazard
Biggest surprise team of the first half of the season: Chelsea
Biggest story of the first half of the season: Without a doubt it has to be Chelsea’s pathetic attempt at a title defence.

Story to watch in second half of season: I’m not buying all of the Arsenal hype. We’ve seen them in this position before—at or near the top for the halfway point. Do they have the staying power to win their first title since 2003-04? I think Manchester City will find form, and the Gunners will falter down the stretch as they have so many times before.
Prediction—Top four: 1) Manchester City, 2) Arsenal, 3) Manchester United and 4) Tottenham
Prediction—Relegated: Aston Villa, Sunderland and Bournemouth
Player to watch in second half of season: Memphis Depay

 Memphis Depay

THOMAS DOBBY, SPORTSNET
Pre-season prediction—Top four: 1) Chelsea, 2) Arsenal, 3) Manchester United and 4) Manchester City
Pre-season prediction—Relegated: Watford, Norwich City and Sunderland
Pre-season prediction—Top scorer: Harry Kane
Pre-season prediction—Player to watch: Raheem Sterling

Biggest surprise player of the first half of the season: Jamie Vardy
Biggest surprise team of the first half of the season: Leicester City
Biggest story of the first half of the season: The lesser lights shining: Leicester, Watford, Crystal Palace and West Ham United.

Story to watch in second half of season: Not since Arsenal in 2004 has a team other than Manchester City, Manchester United or Chelsea won the Premier League. Liverpool came close two years ago but this may be the best chance for an “outsider” to win it in a decade. Chelsea have no chance and Manchester United look like a team in transition. So that leaves Manchester City. They are the favourites, but barely. Can either Arsenal or Spurs play to their full potential and bring a fresh look to the league at the end of the season?
Prediction—Top four: 1) Manchester City, 2) Arsenal, 3) Tottenham and 4) Leicester City
Prediction—Relegated: Aston Villa, Norwich City and Swansea City
Player to watch in second half of season: Dele Alli

 Dele Alli

THOMAS MICHALAKOS, SPORTSNET.CA
Pre-season prediction—Top four: 1) Arsenal, 2) Chelsea, 3) Manchester United and 4) Liverpool
Pre-season prediction—Relegated: Norwich City, Sunderland and Leicester City
Pre-season prediction—Top scorer: Alexis Sanchez
Pre-season prediction—Player to watch: Memphis Depay

Biggest surprise player of the first half of the season: Jamie Vardy
Biggest surprise team of the first half of the season: Chelsea
Biggest story of the first half of the season: Let’s just say David has caught up with Goliath. Leicester City, West Ham United, Watford and Crystal Palace all settled in the top-half of the table at the halfway point. The competitive bar continues to rise in the Premier League.

Story to watch in second half of season: All the focus has been on slumping Chelsea and over-achievers Leicester City. However the consistency of Tottenham after 19 matches has been overlooked. Mauricio Pochettino is doing great things at White Hart Lane this season. The inconsistency of many other teams provides Tottenham with their best shot at cracking the top-four.
Prediction—Top four: 1) Arsenal, 2) Manchester City, 3) Tottenham and 4) Liverpool
Prediction—Relegated: Aston Villa, Sunderland and Swansea City
Player to watch in second half of season: Mesut Ozil

Mesut Ozil