Sportsnet’s Premier League 2018-19 season predictions

Manchester City players lift the English Premier League trophy. (Rui Vieira/AP)

Sportsnet’s special panel of soccer commentators, writers and pundits offer their picks and predictions for the 2018-19 Premier League season.

JAMES SHARMAN

Top four: 1) Manchester City, 2) Liverpool, 3) Chelsea, 4) Manchester United
Relegated: Huddersfield Town, Newcastle United, Cardiff City
Top scorer: Gabriel Jesus, Manchester City
Player to watch: Alexis Sanchez, Manchester United
Newcomer to keep tabs on: Jorginho, Chelsea

Story to watch: The easy answer would be Jose Mourinho and Manchester United. Therefore, I will go with Arsenal and Unai Emery. It feels strange just typing that. In a career spanning two decades, I have never known Arsenal to be run by anyone other than Arsene Wenger. It will feel extremely weird, yet fresh to see a new man at the helm. Emery has yet to make his mark on the squad – he is taking a patient approach, and the fans will need to be patient, too. No Champions League football will allow the Spaniard to focus on the Premier League, but can he get the most out of Mesut Ozil and Henrikh Mkhitaryan? Can Alex Iwobi and Rob Holding improve under his watch?  Will newcomer Lucas Torreira provide the edge Arsenal has been lacking? A ton of questions.

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JEFF BLAIR

Top four: 1) Manchester City, 2) Liverpool, 3) Manchester United, 4) Tottenham
Relegated: Brighton & Hove Albion, Cardiff City, Huddersfield Town
Top scorer: Harry Kane, Tottenham
Player to watch: Roberto Firmino, Liverpool
Newcomer to keep tabs on: Alisson, Liverpool

Story to watch: Jose Mourinho’s last season at Manchester United? Could be. The club has done wholly unremarkable transfer business and there is a sense both sides are tiring of each other. The success Paul Pogba had in a French jersey and the joy with which he played for Didier Deschamps during the World Cup did not go unnoticed at Old Trafford. Is it a wonder those Zinedine Zidane rumours have started? Mourinho has run out of excuses and, possibly, time.

DONNOVAN BENNETT

Top four: 1) Manchester City, 2) Manchester United, 3) Liverpool, 4) Tottenham
Relegated: Huddersfield Town, Watford, Cardiff City
Top scorer: Harry Kane, Tottenham
Player to watch: Riyad Mahrez, Manchester City
Newcomer to keep tabs on: Jorginho, Chelsea

Story to watch: The top four race and what it means for the top managers. Manchester City, Manchester United, Chelsea, Liverpool, Arsenal, Tottenham (sorry Leicester City and Everton) all expect in their hearts to challenge for the league. If City runs away with it again, that will mean changes at the other top clubs who expect to be constantly adding to their trophy case. We’ve already seen it has caused Liverpool to spend more than they would under normal circumstances. That pressure also has caused Jose Mourinho to complain even more about Manchester United’s lack of signings. The arms race at the top and what it means for the clubs that fall short will be a constant conversation. Big name managers could be sacked, big name players could be dropped, all in the name of winning by any means necessary.

DAN RICCIO

Top four: 1) Tottenham, 2) Liverpool, 3) Manchester City, 4) West Ham United
Relegated: Huddersfield Town, Brighton & Hove Albion, Cardiff City
Top scorer: Harry Kane, Tottenham
Player to watch: Jorginho, Chelsea
Newcomer to keep tabs on: Felipe Anderson, West Ham United

Story to watch: The Premier League’s allure is its depth. While the other top leagues in Europe are dominated by one or two teams, the Premier League has not had a repeat champion since Manchester United’s three-peat in the late 2000s. The race for a top-four position has a list of contenders that could go eight or nine squads deep. I expect no different this year, and I believe Tottenham will end its 50-plus year title drought. One of the youngest sides in the league continues to mature, and without much help in the transfer market, Spurs is a team full of young stars building chemistry from within. That will help them claim their first title in the Premier league era.

GEOFF LOWE

Top four: 1) Liverpool, 2) Manchester City, 3) Tottenham, 4) Manchester United
Relegated: Cardiff City, Huddersfield Town, Newcastle United
Top scorer: Pierre-Emerick Aubameyang, Arsenal
Player to watch: Alisson, Liverpool
Newcomer to keep tabs on: Ryan Sessegnon, Fulham

Story to watch: A fascinating story to watch throughout this campaign will be the success of the promoted teams. Cardiff City is likely to have its fair share of problems, but Championship winners Wolverhampton and Fulham look like squads that could be sitting mid-table come next May. Both Wolves and Fulham – led by exciting youngsters Ruben Neves and Ryan Sessegnon, respectively – have made the types of significant additions in the off-season that already-solid Championship teams must make for survival in the Premier League. And given the struggles we saw from many of the teams in the bottom half of the table last season, it wouldn’t be all that surprising to see these two clubs turn some heads.

PETER GALINDO

Top four: 1) Manchester City, 2) Liverpool, 3) Tottenham, 4) Chelsea
Relegated: Cardiff City, Huddersfield Town, Bournemouth
Top scorer: Harry Kane, Tottenham
Player to watch: Alisson, Liverpool
Newcomer to keep tabs on: Jorginho, Chelsea

Story to watch: The “new manager bounce” at Chelsea and Arsenal. The race for the top four is going to be super competitive again this season after Liverpool, Chelsea and Arsenal made some marquee moves over the summer. However, Chelsea’s hiring of Maurizio Sarri and Arsenal signing Unai Emery could add more intrigue at the top of the Premier League. Will Sarri successfully implement his entertaining, one-touch, possession-based 4-3-3 system like he did at Napoli? Can Emery reinvigorate an underachieving Arsenal? On paper, it’s certainly looking that way, and that could be bad news for the rest of the “big six” this season.

BRENDAN DUNLOP

Top four: 1) Manchester City, 2) Liverpool, 3) Manchester United, 4) Arsenal
Relegated: Huddersfield Town, Brighton & Hove Albion, Bournemouth
Top scorer: Pierre-Emerick Aubameyang, Arsenal
Player to watch: Paul Pogba, Manchester United
Newcomer to keep tabs on: João Moutinho, Wolves

Story to watch: In Britain, London is perceived as the centre of the universe. And with Chelsea, Arsenal and West Ham employing new managers, Tottenham’s standout players at the World Cup, and Fulham returning to the top flight, the capital clubs will get plenty of attention. I don’t expect it to take long for Chelsea to regret hiring a new manager without any English experience. Maurizio Sarri worked wonders with Napoli and was fully deserving of a bigger job. But he will need time to mould his side in to a challenger. Filling Arsene Wenger’s shoes is an unenviable task, but Unai Emery has the pieces, and without the distraction of the Champions League, he will be inspired to return Arsenal to the “glory days of old.” Given their struggles balancing both competitions last season, I suspect Tottenham’s World Cup-battled players will feel fatigued midway through the winter, leaving everyone’s favourite pre-season dark horse selection on the outside looking in.

JOHN MOLINARO

Top four: 1) Manchester City, 2) Manchester United, 3) Tottenham, 4) Chelsea
Relegated: Brighton & Hove Albion, Cardiff City, Huddersfield Town
Top scorer: Harry Kane, Tottenham
Player to watch: Riyad Mahrez, Manchester City
Newcomer to keep tabs on: Jorginho, Chelsea

Story to watch: I’m always fascinated by how new players adapt to the Premier League – whether they’ll immediately fit right in, or if they’ll need time to adjust to the pace and physical nature of the league. There’s a talented crop of newcomers in the English topflight this season, including Lucas Torreira, who is coming off a strong World Cup for Uruguay and will try to bolster Arsenal’s midfield. But the man to watch is Italian international Jorginho. He starred for Napoli the past few years, and joined Chelsea in the off-season. It’ll be interesting to see how Italian manager Maurizio Sarri, who coached Jorginho at Napoli, deploys him – whether Sarri makes him the focal point of the attack, or uses him as a complimentary piece.

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