Probably a bit late, with about two and a half months left in the season, but we thought it was worth reflecting on how our well thought out, educated predictions from the start of the season were working out. And to be honest, there’s some real horror stories, particularly in the league we’re meant to know so well, the Championship. Let’s take a look, starting with the Premier League.
Runners Up: Manchester United
Champions League: Manchester City, Tottenham Hotspur
A good time to start, with Chelsea’s recent move to the top of the pile, and they’re in terrific form, with a win at the Etihad, and a convincing performance at home to Newcastle. Jose Mourinho has built a solid base, with the likes of John Terry and Gary Cahill in good form, Nemanja Matic returning to the club to sit deep, and the brilliance of Willian, Oscar and particularly Eden Hazard able to break at speed and with good end product. Though Manchester City will probably remain favourites simply because of the strength of their squad, make no mistake (and ignoring Mourinho’s talk to the contrary), Chelsea will be there or there abouts come May. City themselves seem to be going through a bit of a slow period, you would expect them to do better at the likes of Norwich for example, and they definitely miss Aguero up front and Fernandinho in midfield, and always look more vulnerable should Vincent Kompany ever miss a game, but they will recover and be part of the top three as a minimum.
City’s neighbours at United have had a torrid season, this weekend being held at home by bottom club Fulham. Our sources in the North suggest that all is not well at Old Trafford as a club, not just a First XI, and they look a team short not only of confidence, but also ideas and imagination. It’s difficult to see them even getting a European spot at the moment, let alone a Champions League place. Arsenal, although on the back of a thumping at Anfield, seem to be a stronger unit with a better mindset, and we still think they’ll be top three, but need the return of Aaron Ramsey to the side, and also the return of Mezut Ozil’s form which has been lacking of late. Liverpool seem to be getting better all the time, and we wouldn’t bet against them grabbing fourth spot, although their Merseyside rivals Everton and Spurs will push them all the way. Everton, despite their recent defeat at the North Londoners, look a stronger team, although the loss of Lukaku could be costly.
Relegation: Crystal Palace, Hull City, Sunderland
Those wanting to see Crystal Palace make an instant return to the Championship will have been devastated by the hiring of Tony ‘never been relegated’ Pulis as manager, plus a fairly decent transfer window in terms of incoming signings. The real difference Pulis has made has been to sort out a leaky defence, which since his arrival has seen an excellent record, notably holding a rampant Manchester City to a single goal at the Etihad. Hull City have managed to ignore their off the field issues, have been solid at home with the signing of Tom Huddlestone appearing to be a masterstroke, and the addition of Shane Long in the transfer window makes them a better proposition going forward. Sunderland have also picked up of late, with Gus Poyet seeming to find the best in match winners such as Adam Johnson. If he could get goals out of Jozy Altidore, he could almost guarantee safety.
As things stand, the whole bottom half are effectively in a relegation fight, so it’s a case of taking your pick. We’re not convinced Fulham have enough in their squad to survive, so in a revision of our predictions, we’re selecting them to drop in May. There are other teams that having changed managers, and need the change to start working soon, particularly Cardiff City, Swansea and West Bromwich Albion. But we think one of the others to go could come from this group, with Cardiff and West Brom probably the most likely. West Ham are certainly not out of it, and they certainly look a better side if Andy Carroll is available, but that’s a big if on this season’s record. Norwich City are horribly inconsistent, from looking a solid unit one week to a Championship team in waiting the other…and they also have the worst run in of all the bottom half teams, with games against Liverpool, Manchester United, Chelsea and Arsenal to finish their season. They would have to be in a pretty safe position after 34 games to stand a chance of survival. It’s a battle that will undoubtedly go down to the wire for most of the group, but you fear for the Canaries. Our tip? Cardiff, Norwich and Fulham to go.
If you thought our Premier League predictions were hopeless, then wait till you see these…
Champions: Bolton Wanderers
Runners Up: Watford
Play Offs: Wigan Athletic, Nottingham Forest, Ipswich Town, Reading
Relegated: Millwall, Blackpool, Yeovil
The Championship is a notoriously hard league to predict, however our tips for the top two, Bolton and Watford, sit closer to the relegation spots at present, with Bolton in 19th with 29 points, and Watford in 14th with 35. Both are probably wishing the end to this season to come sooner rather than later. Bolton have been struggling pretty much from the off, while Watford started ok, but then a horrible run of form before Christmas saw the end of Gianfranco Zola’s reign. Of the predicted play off teams, Wigan had an excellent start but now site in 11th but with games in hand, Nottingham Forest and Reading are in good recent form and sit in the top six, with Ipswich just outside in 7th. Two surprise packages have been Burnley and Derby. Burnley have been surprisingly consistent all season and thoroughly deserve their current success, while Derby have been in splendid form since the appointment of Steve McClaren. QPR were many people’s tips for the top, and while they are holding on to third spot currently, they haven’t been the dominant force many predicted. Meanwhile Leicester have put behind them previous seasons of disappointment and are in rampant form, and we think they’ll take one of the top spots, probably with QPR joining them in the automatic spots. We think for the play offs it will be Burnley, Derby, Forest and Wigan (yes we’re still backing them…).
At the other end, Blackpool got off to a flyer but awful recent form has seen them slump into the bottom half, and they’ve also now lost their star player in Tom Ince. It would take a monumental capitulation for them to be relegated, but in this division its not beyond the realms of possibility. Currently Yeovil and Barnsley look doomed, and although Charlton are the other team in the bottom three, but we think they’ll just about have enough to escape. Millwall have made an astute appointment in Ian Holloway, certainly better than bringing in an ex West Ham player who was never going to be taken to by the demanding New Den crowd, and it might be enough to save them from the drop as well. Realistically, any team in the bottom half could be sucked in, but Doncaster and Bolton look most as risk.
Ok things look a bit better down here, our predictions were….
Champions: Wolverhampton Wanderers
Runners Up: Brentford
Play Offs: MK Dons, Gillingham, Preston North End, Peterborough United
Relegated: Coventry City, Colchester United, Carlisle United, Swindon Town.
So we had them the other way round, but the top two are currently Brentford and Wolves. Despite losing their manager Uwe Rosler to Wigan, Brentford sensibly promoted from within and are looking strong, and not suffering a hangover from last season’s double last day/play off heartbreak. Kenny Jackett has a young side at Wolves having cleared out a lot of the established names, and there must be worries at the loss of top scorer Leigh Griffiths to Celtic. Along with surprise package Leyton Orient, these teams are five points clear of fourth place, and look good bets to battle it out for the two automatic promotion spots…a very similar tale to last season. Preston have had a good consistent season without really threatening the top three, but look safe candidates for the play offs. Peterborough have stuttered of late, but there should be enough quality in the squad for them to get at least a play off spot, with Rotherham looking good currently, but the likes of Walsall, Swindon and perennial near but not quite MK Dons on the chase.
At the bottom, Bristol City have had a horrible couple of years and must be hoping for Steve Cotterill to work some magic to continue their improved form and haul them out of danger, or the possibility of a Bristol derby in the bottom division will loom large. Sheffield United have plummeted from play off contenders to the real threat of relegation, and Nigel Clough will be hoping that their FA Cup success will prove a building block rather than a distraction. Fortunately for them, and the other current bottom four, Shrewsbury and Stevenage, there are just six points separating the bottom nine clubs. Of the other clubs, Crawley have suffered much from postponements, and they have plenty of games in hand on the clubs around them. The same can’t be said of Notts County, and they, along with Carlise, look most at threat from the resurgent clubs from Sheffield and Bristol. Depending on the next month, we’re going for a bottom four of Stevenage, Shrewsbury, Carlisle and Notts County.
Champions: Fleetwood Town
Promoted: Portsmouth, Burton Albion
Play Offs: Bristol Rovers, Plymouth Argyle, Scunthorpe United, Northampton Town
Relegated: Dagenham & Redbridge, Newport County
A real mixed bag here. Fleetwood are doing ok, part of a top seven that is well clear of the chasing pack (although eighth place Newport, yes the Newport we predicted for the drop) have at least three games in hand on the clubs above them. Chesterfield, Scunthorpe and Oxford have been leading the way for most of the campaign, and we think Paul Cook’s men will hold off the challenge and take the League Two title. Of the current play off positioned teams, we see Southend as the dark horses to sneak into the top three (so that will probably mean that Phil Brown’s men will finish tenth – sorry lads).
If we thought the Championship was a tricky league to call, there’s just ten points between Newport in 8th, and Torquay in the relegation spots in 23rd. So although we currently have a load of egg on our faces with Dagenham & Redbridge also sitting pretty in 9th, it will take only a bad run of form from either to see them slip very quickly. In reality, Northampton need a resurgence of titanic proportions after suffering the biggest hangover from last season’s play off final, and although Torquay are currently also in the dreaded bottom two, it’s not unrealistic to think that anyone in the bottom half is currently thinking about avoiding relegation rather than breaking into the top seven. It’s that tight, and that hard to call.
Over to you…how do you think your team will fare in the final few months?