The Report

Our 2019-20 Premier League Predictions

The relegations, signings and rule changes that will upset your dad as the new football season kicks off

  • Messrs Jamie Carragher, Louis Saha, Graeme Souness and David Jones at the Cardiff City vs Liverpool match, 21 April 2019. Photograph by Mr Marc Atkins/Offside/Getty Images

It’s been 27 years since Sky Sports invented “a whole new ball game”, and with the Premier League now well on its way to middle age – in football terms, at least – is there anything left to truly surprise us? Yet again, we trudge into August with an almost instinctive level of optimism, born of years of hometown grooming and haggard fandom. Kids sporting new kits, sunshine on green grass and a summer squad clear-out still get us going, we’ll admit it.

Even the surprises have become formulaic. There are certain things that, on one level or another of our football consciousness, we know are inevitable in the self-styled Best League In The World™. One, of course, is our own sneering at the idea that the Premier League is the Best League In The World™. But there are others – regular as rain – that you can bet your mortgage on (not really, don’t do that). Here are our predictions.

01. The cult of Mr Mike Dean will finally jump the shark

  • Mr Mike Dean shows Mr Lewis Dunk his second yellow card, AFC Bournemouth vs Brighton & Hove Albion, 22 December 2018. Photograph by Mr Mark Enfield/Shutterstock

Surely it’s time. Surely this is the season where he goes too far, even for the die-hards. 

There is an entrenched, general discomfort with Premier League referees being recognised as human beings with actual personalities. Human beings can’t really decide a penalty, after all. Earlier this summer, photos of Messrs Martin Atkinson, Kevin Friend and Andre Marriner, all wearing their best holiday clothes and having a bit too nice a time in Indonesia, sparked a brief tabloid frenzy. It was a bit like seeing a teacher at the weekend. Uncomfortable and weird.

One man, Mr Michael Dean Of The Wirral, to give him his full title, operates outside this tense bubble. In recent years, he has cultivated a niche celebrity status based on some minor refereeing idiosyncrasies – emphatic pointing, nonchalant card brandishing, the charmingly informal “off you pop” to Mr Lewis Dunk – while somehow still keeping his job.

But will the bubble burst? You fear that Mr Dean is one late-night text to Mr Paul Pogba away from his undoing. Every cultural phenomenon has its backlash.

02. Who will score the obligatory Unexpected Premier League Wonder Goal?

  • Messrs James Tomkins and Son Heung-min, Tottenham Hotspur vs Crystal Palace, 3 April 2019. Photograph by Mr Andrew Couldridge/Action Images

Messrs Fabian Schär, Charlie Daniels, Emre Can, Cuco Martina, Phil Jagielka. A most underwhelming five-a-side team, certainly, but they have all been surprisingly shortlisted for the Premier League Goal Of The Season award over the past five years.

That four of those goal scorers are defenders is not a coincidence. Free of the emotional baggage that comes with being a misfiring striker, they epitomise the hope in hit-and-hope. They advance with the ball, 30 yards out, and the opposition back off almost sarcastically – “All right, go on then” – only to discover, too late, that a defender is capable of one moment of long-range perfection after all.

At some point this season, an unheralded defensive monolith is going to be presented with such a chance. The ball will bounce just right for Mr James Tomkins, or Mr Steve Cook will spot the goalkeeper off his line, or maybe Mr Paul Dummett will simply close his eyes and swing his boot. Suddenly everything we thought we understood about a great goal will mean nothing.

03. Most underwhelming foreign import

  • Agent Mr Mino Raiola speaks to journalists at the Allianz Riviera stadium, 2 September 2016. Photograph by Mr Bruno Berbert/Shutterstock

The Premier League began with just 13 foreign players back in 1992, before the conveyor belt of fascinating imports cranked into gear just shy of the millennium. We now find ourselves thoroughly desensitised to signings from abroad. That’s partly due to the Premier League Years’ archive brilliance of Mr Thierry Henry through to Mr Eden Hazard, but also thanks to some low-key, ill-advised, fish-out-of-water failures.

Still, though, clubs look to Europe for some under-the-radar value, safe in the knowledge that a trade agreement with Turkey means that Fenerbahçe or Antalyaspor will happily come in with an 18-month loan deal if it all goes quietly wrong.

A speculative search for this season’s Foreign Flop raises several possibilities, but the one that screams “a solitary goal in the Carabao Cup against Shrewsbury” most loudly is Aston Villa’s £22m, 6ft 4in Brazilian striker Mr Wesley Moraes. Either that, or Chelsea will be bidding £82m for him next summer.

04. Manager most likely to go nuclear during a post-match interview

  • Mr Pep Guardiola, Manchester City vs Chelsea, 10 February 2019. Photograph by Mr Phil Noble/Action Images

While being interrogated about tactics by Sky Sports’ Mr Geoff Shreeves on Super Sunday, 19 of the 20 Premier League managers fall into five broad categories. There are the earnest football speak experts (Messrs Eddie Howe, Marco Silva, Brendan Rodgers, Ole Gunnar Solskjær, Frank Lampard, Graham Potter, Dean Smith), who will calmly use words such as “process” and “the group”. Then there are the affable continentals (Messrs Daniel Farke, Ralph Hasenhüttl, Javi Gracia), who specialise in just looking quite happy to be here. A sprinkling of slightly jaded, wistful old-timers (Messrs Roy Hodgson, Manuel Pellegrini, Steve Bruce) will have the job of refusing to be surprised by anything in football any more, while the self-aware wisecrackers (Messrs Sean Dyche, Jürgen Klopp) will provide the pre-watershed soundbites.

Of the other managers, Messrs Nuno Espírito Santo, Unai Emery, Chris Wilder and Mauricio Pochettino all give the sense that they may explode about an offside decision sometime between now and May. One man remains an island.

Mr Pep Guardiola. A man who can barely disguise his contempt at being asked, “Three at the back today, what’s the thinking there?” and responds to “How important is it to win today?” with the single most insincere little snort of laughter in recorded human history.

05. There will be a broadcasting gimmick

  • Messrs Glenn Hoddle, Graeme Souness and Ed Chamberlain discuss Chelsea vs Hull City, 18 August 2013. Photograph by Mr Ben Radford/Corbis via Getty Images

Football broadcasting innovation ranges from simply moving the score and time to a different corner of the screen (are we ready for bottom right? I’m not sure we are) to all kinds of other surface-level gimmickry. At the tail end of last season, for example, we saw the debut of Matrix-style, 360-degree replays that allowed us to swing round a frozen penalty area as Mr Sergio Agüero let fly from 10 yards.

We wait to see what poses the players will be coerced into for the starting line-up graphics this season (yes, their midfield looks like a boyband, again), but we fear a dystopian scenario in which Mr Graeme Souness, a man so absorbed by his back-in-my-dayness that he thinks grass is overrated, shorts are still too long and that smiling after a goal should be a bookable offence, openly seethes as he’s immersed in Sky Sports’ new augmented reality tool, tasked with deciding from six virtual inches away if Fernandinho got a touch on the ball or not before clattering into Mr Scott McTominay.

06. Who will finish mid-table?

  • West Ham United’s stadium, London. Photograph by Mr Yui Mok/Press Association Images

Enough energy to power a small city is expended every mid-summer predicting both who will win the Premier League (Manchester City again, sorry) and who will be relegated (Burnley, Brighton and Norwich, apologies), but the thinking man’s crystal ball is all about who will languish – and they always languish – in precisely 11th place.

The vital ingredients of mid-table mediocrity are: a) inconsistency at an almost DNA level; b) perennial administrative chaos; and c) a mildly deluded fanbase. One should never underestimate the sheer hard work that goes into maintaining these without either accidentally breaking into the top 10 or plummeting into the relegation lava.

With that in mind, only one club – with its massive, newish and yet terrible stadium, its cartoonish owners and its impenetrable transfer strategy – stands out. West Ham United Football Club.

07. Law change that will most infuriate your dad

  • Mr Lee Mason prepares to do a drop ball, West Bromwich Albion vs Stoke City, 2 January 2016. Photograph by Mr David Davies/Press Association Images

Despite happening only about three times a season, the official demise of the contested drop ball may well be another nail in the game’s coffin for the Proper Football Man, aka your dad. Admittedly, the sight of two self-appointed drop-ball contestants eyeing up each other’s shins as the referee dangles the ball between them is a life-affirming few seconds, especially when Messrs Roy Keane or Wayne Rooney are involved (see YouTube), but not hugely vital to the spectacle of the Premier League.

Assuming he doesn’t actually notice that development, what might well finish your dad off before the end of August is the law tweak that means goal kicks no longer have to leave the penalty area for the ball to be in play. The sheer rage of watching the ball being tapped about in front of the goal line instead of being semi-aimlessly hoofed upfield has been predicted to be the biggest health threat to men between the ages of 40 and 65.

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