Saturday, 14 July 2018

England's World Cup 2018

As Spurs, Man Utd, Liverpool, Chelsea and maybe a couple of others prepare to welcome home World Cup winners, runner's up and 3rd and 4th place medallists, it's time to really examine England's most successful world cup since 1990.

Except, without wishing to appear like I'm jumping on a negative bandwagon, I do think in the euphoria of a semi-final appearance, it's prevalent to examine some of the things that obviously do not make Gareth Southgate a winner, just yet.

Jordan Pickford stands out as one of the outstanding goalkeepers of the tournament; he had one or two moments, but he's young and he was fearless. He was let down by areas that he would not have been let down by with a different defence.

The Defence: Against Tunisia and Panama playing Kyle Walker - arguably the country's finest right wing back and one of the best in the world - as a centre back, when there were two perfectly excellent centre backs on the bench was excusable, but once the opposition started to be more wily, surely that was the time to stiffen it up? Except, England had Kieran Trippier in the right wing back position and he was arguably England's player of the tournament. It seems that Southgate's version of getting Scholes, Lampard and Gerrard in the same team is how to play the two best English right backs in the same team and make the surplus-to-requirements Liverpool teenager feel as though he's there for more than a holiday with his bigger mates?

The problem is, who do you drop? One is lightning fast and the other is one of the best crossers of a ball since Beckham. The problem is, Walker isn't a world class centre back by any stretch of the imagination. France arguably left an entire team of quality players at home (and still took Giroud), maybe part of being an England manager is having to make decisions that mean someone misses out?

John Stones was solid and dependable; I have no complaints about his inclusion and I'd also suggest that Harry Maguire had a tournament to remember and one that will only increase his value. The problem is that I'd also have to say that Ashley Young had a good tournament; he didn't particularly do anything wrong and having an older head on the pitch was a good thing; but we missed the natural left foot and speed of Danny Rose, who never made the impact coming on as sub as he can when he grows into a game naturally from the start.

Eric Dier is as good a centre back as he's a defensive midfielder (he can also play right back) and he's a better ball player (and defender) than Walker. He could also have been used in a revolving back 4/back 5 scenario. Walker and Trippier could have played as alternating wingers.

I also could not understand why Fabian Delph was taken and used in a position he would never play for Man City in. Delph has become a good converted wing back, like Victor Moses at Chelsea and Young at Man U, but he's picked, and played in his old position because there's an embarrassment of riches in the wing back department.

The Midfield: I wasn't the only person mystified by the inclusion of Delph as a central midfielder, but considering England took a grand total of 7 footballers who can, have and do play in right back positions for their clubs, I would have thought that a couple more midfielders wouldn't have gone amiss. I'm no fan of Jack Wilshere but I think he's a much better player than Fabian Delph and Jonjo Shelvey would have provided freakish distraction allowing Harry Kane to score even more goals. The thing is for an England football team to be light of a midfield is not a positive sign, especially when there appears to be few on the horizon, excepting the injured players, of course (but would the relatively inexperienced Harry Winks be ahead of someone like Ruben Loftus-Cheek?).

Jordan Henderson actually had a reasonably good tournament. He was better than I expected or even believed he could be, I simply don't think he offers England anything other than workmanlike from midfield. He tries hard, but so, as some people say, do fat girls. The same can pretty much be said of Jesse Lingard, who, despite excellent moments, never seems to achieve what you expect of him when you need it. Ruben Loftus-Cheek replaced Dele Alli for a couple of games and did okay, but it wasn't until he returned and scored that the Spurs man started to look up for the cup, but surely RL-C could have done Lingard's role, the way Dier could do Henderson's? Simply put, our midfield should have been more prominent. One of our tactics in the Croatia game seemed to be the back five passed it around a bit, played it back to Pickford who launched it up field - shades of Graham Taylor.

I believe Dele Alli plays well in central midfield, when he has his usual crowd around him; he's far more creative in a Spurs shirt than he was for England; the problem is - and this isn't bias - he's best as a #10 styled player and better in that position than both Sterling or Lingard.

The Forwards: Harry Kane didn't look fit. He hasn't looked fit since his injury back at the end of March. He's a player England have to play, but preferably when he's fit and up for it, not just the latter. Raheem Sterling does lots, sadly there's very little return in this team because they're not Man City. Sterling plays a specific way and doesn't read the game well, he's just tenacious enough to get consolation prizes for his greedy tendencies. Marcos Rashford displayed both naivety, nerves and flashes of brilliance; he warranted being on the field longer than Sterling. Vardy looked like he was at the beach. Welbeck might have well been - we could have brought at least another midfielder, even if it was just 'a potential' like Trent Alexander-Double-Barrelled-Liverpudlian-Lad?

England's Competition: Tunisia hit us back at the right time because that game was fizzling out and England needed a wake-up call. Panama could have happened to anyone half decent and Belgium was an almost pointless B-team game (as it will be on Saturday). By the time extra time arrived in the Last 16 match against Colombia, it was obvious that they had started to suss out our one routine from set pieces; the fact Sweden also sussed it but failed to do anything about it glossed over some glaring cracks hidden by how fortuitous we'd been with the draw. In the semi, Croatia really struggled with our set-pieces in the first half, but pretty much weathered the storm; by the time they'd collected themselves for the second half they dealt with set plays easily and started to play it around with some belief. Instead of being tired, they were fired up by their equaliser and anyone with half a footballing brain saw the best hope England had from that point on was actually penalties.

Southgate pretty much kept the same line-up, the same Plan A, throughout the entire World Cup. Look at a maligned manager, Roberto Martinez of Belgium; he changed things around against Brazil and Belgium breezed through that match with little to worry about. Belgium might not have beaten France in the other semi-final, but Martinez was at least shifting things around. My only criticism of Martinez was he didn't rotate his excellent squad enough and appeared to play some of his clearly less capable players at times - but what do I know? Some of those unfancied footballers won games for him!

When you look at how England got to the semis - Tunisia, Panama, Colombia and Sweden - you would be excused from believing it wasn't exactly hard (Albeit the performance against Sweden was largely excellent). Croatia - many positions lower than England is the laughable FIFA rankings - had experience and a couple of world class footballers and pretty much offered the young English lads their only real test. They reminded me so much of Spurs versus Juventus in last season's Champions League; the better team failed to capitalise and were then suckered and had no reply.

In general, this world cup was as full of surprises as the last European Championships. The early loss of Germany, Argentina and Spain opened it up and some teams performed considerably better than they should ever have been allowed to. No one is suggesting the competition was fixed, but Russia's penalty shoot-out defeat in the quarter-finals was possibly the most justified result in the entire competition. Russia should never have been given the cup; like Qatar in four years, this does nothing for the world game and loads to help line the pockets of oligarchs and sheikhs as well as shining a grubby spotlight on human rights abuses, which, of course, FIFA are blissfully ignorant of on an industrial scale.

The world cup is a bloated and unnecessarily large competition that stirs up unwanted jingoism from English twats (and others). It impinges on the far more important domestic football seasons and makes people think they're seeing stunning matches and a celebration of football; when in reality we'll lap up anything in a hot summer with no club football and Wimbledon. Equally, the same could be said for the European Champions League - which should be for Champions only and not an invitation for rich clubs to make more money (and that includes the exclusive club my own team is now entering). The World Cup should be smaller, maybe with just 16 nations, if this means the same 16 nations almost every four years, then FIFA needs to invest more of its banked billions on developing nations, on bigger youth tournaments (which allows these young talents more of a platform than academy or B team football), on ensuring smaller leagues are not only supported but encouraged to develop players from every country that wants to play football.

That isn't going to happen. I might as well argue with a brick wall because England got to a world cup semi-final! Just be thankful they didn't get through to the final or even win it.

Friday, 13 April 2018

The Arse End

With the season drawing to a far more exciting close than most would have expected three months ago, there are some burning issues still to be resolved...

Can Liverpool win the Champions League, again?
Which of the four remaining teams will lift the FA Cup? Will it be boring boring Man U or Chelski or can Spurs win their first FA Cup since the 1990s or Southampton their first since the 1970s - oh, Bobby Stokes.
Will the Premier League Champions elect continue to implode? And probably more pertinent, will any of the current other three teams in the Top four blow it, when all have reasonably easy run-ins?
Who will be joining WBA in the Championship next season?
And will Arsene Wenger still be in charge of Arsenal next season, even if they win the Europa League and therefore qualify for the Champions League?

The fact there are still things to talk about, some of which don't include Man Citeh, is further proof you should never expect anything in football.

Let's examine the questions in detail:
1. Can Liverpool win the Champions League again? Well, it's not beyond their capabilities; but just because they seem to have got the size of Man Citeh doesn't necessarily mean success. Liverpool have a theoretically easy run-in. They face Chelsea, who by then might have even less to play for or a cup final, either way it's not going to be as tough as facing them three months ago. Other than that they're more than capable of winning all their remaining matches, which if Spurs and Man U do the same would mean they finish fourth.
Here's where all kinds of fun comes into play: If they finish fourth, but win the Champions League, none of the top four would be required to qualify for next seasons Champions League and, neither would Arsenal if they won the Europa League - so Liverpool winning the European trophy would benefit everyone but only if they finish 4th.*

2. Who will win the FA Cup? Man U versus Spurs at Wembley one day and Southampton versus Chelsea the next. Two weeks ago I was rubbing my hands at that draw. We're better than Man U and on hindsight I would have preferred them in the final. However, while it seems a straight shoot out between the two top four sides to play Chelsea in the final, the south Londoners' are anything but unbeatable at the moment and while they have a great record at Wembley, the real fly in the ointment would be if Southampton won. Why? Because they'll win the cup. Spurs can beat anyone who play their way, which is why we've beaten Man U and Chelsea in recent months - home and away - Southampton represent the chaos which has a tendency to stymie Spurs, especially at 'home'. The winner of this competition should come from the first game but it will raise some awful questions for Spurs fans if they lose, again, in the semi-final.

3. Will Man Citeh continue to implode and is the current top four a done deal? If Citeh lose on Saturday night, to Spurs at Wembley, then I would put a large amount of money on the Londoners finishing in the top three (that's second or third), but will Citeh lose four games on the bounce? When was the last time champions elect were throwing away matches like marbles down a drain? *This is where it is key - if Spurs can beat Citeh then it'll be a straight race between Spurs and Liverpool for 3rd. Man U, who have probably the easiest run in now, will have to lose and draw in their remaining six matches for Spurs to catch them. The thing is Spurs are the form team in the league so you can't rule them catching Man U if the latter falters. The problem is you can feel a backlash coming from Guardiola's men and we haven't had a serious beating since they tore us apart in Manchester. As usual, while Champions League is all but guaranteed, but nothing is simple for the Spurs.

4. Who's going down? Who cares unless you support a team with less than 36 points at the moment? I wouldn't be surprised if either Stoke or Southampton manage to turn their form around in the remaining matches. It's still a lottery.

5. Will Wenger stay at the Arse? Honestly? I don't really care, but frankly he's taken Arsenal nowhere in years apart from all those cups they've won since Spurs last lifted one... From a comedy perspective it would be fantastic for them to win the Europa League to see the absolute dichotomy it will place the 50% or so of their fans who want the Frenchman gone. The ridiculous thing is, this year's Europa League would have Burnley salivating at their chances of lifting it; it's been low on quality and Everton provided everyone with comedy football. Only really Athletico Madrid stand in the Arse's way of regaining Champions League football for being mediocre at best.
What it would mean for spend-thrift Wenger, who only seems to buy strikers of any real quality? At the moment, Arsenal are where Spurs were five years ago, the problem here is that Spurs were going forward, while Arsenal have, apart from their ability to win cups, gone backwards and won't be challenging for the title again soon... Or will they? The situation with Arsenal isn't helped by the fact they're in a rich - no pressure - vein of form. There is no denying they are far too good to be lower than 6th, but not really good enough to be higher and arguably, the only way for them is back up. Whether he stays or goes, they will have to spend big in the summer to maintain it and even that isn't a given. Them winning the Europa League would be a slap in the face for all Spurs fans in more ways than one.

A bonus 6. England at the World Cup - what are the chances? Frankly, there's more chance of us boycotting it than there is of us winning it. It will be mainly won by Germany, with other teams finishing just behind them or by a distance. England have about as much chance as Denmark; it won't be embarrassing as it was last time, but TV won't feature that many live England games; five at best would be my guess. Out on penalties to Brighton.

Monday, 9 October 2017

England are Spurs (but worse)

I recently read a rant by a QPR fan that left no doubt about his (and other QPR fans) feelings towards Harry Redknapp. While discussing this rant with my friend, an Everton supporter, I came up with a theory about Redknapp that I'm now going to extrapolate on as a way of possibly explaining why the England football team's failure is probably John Terry's fault as well.

I have often cited John Terry as being the reason why Spurs completely-unexpected title challenge in 2012 withered on the vine and died spectacularly - within weeks of punters daring to suggest that Harry's team could possibly do it. Terry's racism caused Fabio Capello to leave the England job and while I don't think he was anywhere near the best man for the job, his leaving caused the widespread expectation that Harry Redknapp would replace him and do to England what he appeared to be doing at Tottenham.

Harry, as some fans and commentators claimed, was good until 'Daniel Levy fucked him over in January 2012' and Harry has always claimed - mainly off camera - that he asked for two players to help give Spurs a chance of winning the title (they were 2nd in January 2012 and even Paul Merson was talking about them being stalking horses) and he asked for Carlos Tevez and a top class defender. He got Ryan Nelson and Louis Saha, combined age about 170. Spurs ended up finishing 5th and I think, from memory, they took about 7 points between February and May - it was heartbreaking to watch and many Spurs fans conveniently forget that not so illustrious last few months of Harry's reign.

There were many other factors at work than listed above. There was family tragedy, a fraud case, some or unfortunate bad timing with contract talks and, of course, when Capello quit and the press installed him as the 'only' replacement, it obviously went to his head. The fact that the FA, in its infinite stupidity, chose Roy Hodgson probably put paid to Harry's career and ruined the national side's chances of being something other than one of the regular teams who make numbers up at competitions.

Roy's period in charge was a strange blend of unbeatable and unwinnable. In qualifications England were dull but imperious. At the World Cup and then the Euros - even without extra pressure from the media - they were woeful and reinforced the view that whenever England does something positive, it will follow it up with something worse than ludicrous. When an England manager decides that Harry Kane should be taking corners you know that he isn't the man who should be doing the job...

What if Harry Redknapp had got the job he wanted? My belief is when he failed to get the England job it kind of killed his desire. Spurs faded badly and he's done nothing of note since. In fact, his stock fell so badly at Birmingham that it's probably a good thing he's 70 and in need of retirement. When he was being touted as Fabio's replacement, Spurs were playing some stunning football - yes, they had Bale, Modric, Van der Vaart, an almost Ledley King and players who gelled well with the stars, but Harry had brought Spurs on from an upper mid-table team to genuine top 4 challengers and while his tactical management left a lot to be desired, his man-management brought the best out of mediocre players - the perfect man for an England job, surely?

Had Daniel Levy not been a plonker - he was pretty much solely responsible for Spurs failure to do anything but become a joke in 2012 - he could have got £250,000 from the FA, got shot of a man he didn't really like and got the same end result, but maybe a year earlier. But he didn't and Roy got the job and I don't think there was one England fan in the country who looked at his appointment and got a hard on for our future prospects.

I'm not going to attempt to presume the hypothetical, but I can't help thinking that playing for England would suddenly have become important again - like it might have if Brian Clough had ever seriously been considered in the 1970s, the last time England were really awful. Reading some autobiographies and historical reports, you got the impression that under Ron Greenwood and Bobby Robson, England felt like a team not a collection of individuals. Graham Taylor set us back when we should have gone forward, Venables took us forward and should never have been sacked. Hoddle might have become something special had the press not picked up on his 'eccentricities' and from that point on, we simply flattered to deceive. Apart from the 5-1 win in Germany (which was the catalyst they needed to reform their game), I can't see anything fond to look back on from Keegan onward.

I think you don't necessarily have to be a world class team to win a competition - Greece and Denmark have proved that - but you do need a coach who can look at what he's got and make them work together for the good of the team. I don't think we've had a coach since Venables who has done that. Obviously, Harry's reign would have had to have been done without wheeler-dealing; he couldn't just go and buy a journeyman Romanian to slot into left back in a crisis; but he might have taken a young English left back and slotted him into an existing set up smoothly; put an arm round his shoulders and told him that he wasn't going to be a jinx and he wouldn't have picked him if he didn't have faith... Who knows; Harry might have been worse than Roy? I doubt it, though. My mum wouldn't have been as bad as Roy and she's been dead 20 years! Sandra Redknapp would have been better than Roy and would have scored a few poacher's goals for us after picking herself over Darren Bent.

And now it's late 2017. We're less than nine months from the next World Cup finals, which we have qualified for, in stunningly dull fashion. The most positive thing you can say about the management is Southgate is honest enough to tell everyone we're shit before it's been proved, again. The thing is I don't actually think we are that bad, we just never pick the right man to manage us and while the incumbent is trying hard, he isn't that good.

Look at the class of 2017. I'm going to throw a few names at you, see if you can guess the link: Danny Rose (when fit), Harry Kane, Eric Dier, Kieran Trippier, Dele Alli, Kyle Walker, Harry Winks? With the exception of Walker, who is now at Man City, this is Spurs. This is an England squad with more Spurs players than I can ever remember. One newspaper columnist even suggested Southgate was trying to get England to play like Spurs, and wouldn't that be something worth staying in and watching games for?

Southgate's problem is his players who aren't playing for Spurs. If Mauricio Pochettino put Jordan Henderson into his team, Sissoko would look world class. If Oxtail-Chambermaid played ahead of Alli or Eriksen, Spurs would be rubbish. Poch plays the 4-2-3-1 formation that Southgate has used in his last half a dozen qualification games (discounting the final game) and frankly playing two defensive midfielders against Malta is only going to work if those players are capable of turning up and scoring the odd goal - like Dier, Wanyama and Dembele do at Spurs. Dier in an England shirt is a bit of an enigma; he comes and goes like a troublesome bout of the trots and I think this is down to whether or not England actually need two covering midfielders against opposition Germany can beat 8-0, but we struggle to get 1-0s against.

In fact, in many ways, England's biggest puzzle at the moment is Jordan Henderson. I simply cannot understand what he is doing in an England shirt. I've watched football for a long time, I like to think that, in general, my opinions gain more agreeable responses than angry ones and I can't understand why he's there in the same way I can't understand why Sissoko is so high up in the Spurs pecking order. I hear we have a dearth of decent midfielders and this might be true; England often have no left back for a generation and five vying for the same position in the next. Look at Paul Scholes, someone who should have got 150 caps, but you know... If midfielders were really the problem I could understand it, but I think this is just scapegoating before the event.

I've seen Dele Alli play in a far more defensive midfield role for Spurs. Early last season especially and whenever he got booked. Poch would bring him deeper, give him more responsibility and not only did we stay as solid, he created a lot from a deeper position and showed much more discipline. If continuous England bosses want to play all their favourites, even if that means there are five number 10s on the pitch, then you can play an attacking midfielder in a less attacking role, surely. Eriksen can do it, Dembele can and it looks like Harry Winks can also do it. I think Alli can do it, probably better than most.

If England could play the Spurs way, it would need a solid centre and two ball-playing central defenders - as far as I can see they can just about do this, but in many ways England doesn't have Vertonghen or Alderweireld because they're Belgian, both of them... But, there are some excellent central defenders playing in 2017, getting the right partnership is key but probably doable with this group of players.

The wing backs have to be Walker and Rose, if both fit and playing the way we know they can. Here is the most dynamic wing back pairing in world football from the same country and there's this myth growing about how good they are together, which gives England an unexpected psychological advantage (for a change).

England do not have Christian Eriksen, Mousa Dembele or Victor Wanyama - at the moment they have Jordan bloody Henderson... - but they do have Eric Dier, Harry Winks, Dele Alli, who all play together at club level. I think that's the midfield problem sorted. Up front, there is a burgeoning partnership in Kane and Rashford; they can both play off each other, drop into the number 10 position and could score goals for fun (if they had a progressive midfield behind them).

I don't care who's on the subs bench as long as they can slot into that system and they can play a high press, high tempo game easily. I would also take Jordan Henderson to one side and let him down, reasonably gently.


Friday, 20 January 2017

Pep's Most Difficult Job

I fancy tempting fate. Football fans hate to tempt fate, especially Spurs fans, because it will all go wrong and for some strange reason you will think it's your fault it all went tits up. The thing is I tempted fate with a massively proportioned sex doll at the start of the season by stating, quite emphatically, that Tottenham Hotspur would win the league and then in December, after the team suffered defeat against a poor Man Utd team, I started to think my forecast was going to go the same way as other bursts of optimism in the past.

Since then Spurs have strung seven straight wins - six in the league and a rare emphatic win in the FA Cup - and each game we win the better we look. At times last weekend, against one of my club's bogey teams, we played like Brazil circa 1970 with Dele Alli as Pele and Harry Kane as Jairzinho. At times the football we play makes Barcelona look, you know, a bit, okay but nothing special. On a couple of occasions on Saturday I felt like a child being subjected to some ultimate glee-inducing fun. At one point, after one stunning move resulted in a simply wondrous disallowed goal, I clapped my hands together like a child seeing Father Christmas for the first time. There is something remarkable about the feeling you get from watching your football team play with such confidence it's almost scary - it transcends sex and just condenses into an ecstatic joy that I can only imagine my friends, who support teams that have won things, have felt.

This Spurs team scares me as much as it delights me. There is almost an entire team of potential world class footballers on display. At this moment in time I'm struggling to see a weak link in the side when it's on the same wavelength. That alone is some kind of surreal reality matched only by the weird shit that is going on in the world, add to that the first manager we have had who looks both happy and determined to do better and is doing it in a way that must give Daniel Levy almost unbearable erections of joy. I'm struggling to find any other negative than we're going to end up being much richer than we are now when all of them and the manager are bought for £1billion by another 'bigger' team.

Remember the Harlem Globetrotters - a team who, legend has it, were so good they gave up competitive basketball and just played exhibition matches against top teams they then proceeded to demolish. That's my Spurs at the moment (maybe not in Europe, but certainly within these more isolated shores).

Yet, ironically, I find myself feeling slightly sorry for one of my team's rivals and opponents this coming Saturday. Frankly, I couldn't care less if Man City crash and burn and lose their Arab owners lots of money and I, on the surface, find it hilarious that the media-proclaimed 'best manager in the world' is struggling to turn his team of expensive class into a unit that will challenge for the title.

Any harsh critic of Pep Guardiola will point out that the two teams he has managed so far, both only really had one or two serious rivals and if you need evidence that anyone can win a league in a division of one just look at Brendan Rogers at Celtic. Most people who manage Celtic get to add trophies to their CVs and act like priapic porn stars because in their league there is no competition. What Pep possibly did realise is while the Premier League has four, maybe six, likely winners, he probably didn't think the other 14 pesky teams are more than capable of upsetting the odds and beating your side. Pep probably suffered some slightly embarrassing losses in his time at Barcelona and Bayern Munich, but English football has a tendency to throw up unexpected results and City's 4-0 thumping by 'average' Everton made me feel a little sorry for him.

It really isn't his fault he's been so successful at two of the world's richest and most successful clubs. His style of football isn't bad and he's proved that with world class footballers at his disposal he can do good things; but he's never really tried to manage at a slightly lower level, where you have to show your adaptability rather than just bring on a £50m player from the bench. This is why Mauricio Pochettino is likely to end up managing one of the world's richest clubs and why he might even get something others aren't often afforded - time. This is also why Spurs' visit to Man City this weekend is so significant. First off, it's a game neither side can afford to draw or lose because with Chelsea playing easier opposition the odds are they will pull even further ahead. Secondly, and more long game, is the stock of each manager. Mauricio looks happy, relaxed and his team are playing in a way that would make any manager happy (and secure). Pep on the other hand looks like a man who has been presented with his first real problem - plucky opposition - and he's not sure what to do. The pressure is really beginning to show on him and while I don't think his job is at risk, it would be if he, as I sometimes think he might, just resigns in the middle of press conference, storming out and never seen again outside of Spain.

The third and, at present, least important thing about the game will be how many of the Spurs side will the Sheikhs be eyeing up a transfer deal for? And from a personal position, the fourth thing is can we continue our current upper hand over City? I hope we can because even 7 points behind Chelsea is a big gap, but one I think we can overcome in the next five months; 10 points might be enough to put a dent in our chrome. The loss of Jan Vertonghen is a worry, but we have able cover and usually players who come in at the back retain the rhythm. We're the better side at the moment, the mark of true champions is whether they can overcome these kind of obstacles.

Friday, 16 September 2016

Leicester City - This Year's Conspiracy Theory

“It was like all the other teams let them win.”

I heard Spurs fans make this suggestion of Leicester as their own team’s title challenge petered out. As conspiracy theories go, the other Premier League clubs letting Leicester City win the league is about as far-fetched as fake moon landings and Piltdown man.

However, I’d like to make a case for why some Spurs fans would rather come up with an excuse than face the reality of why their team didn’t win and possibly make them feel better about being cast as the villain in what shouldn’t have been a two-horse race between footballing underdogs.

There is no denying that titles are not won in August, but they are almost certainly lost and Spurs fans need to look at the 3 points from a possible 12 at the start of the season as being far more important in the grand scheme of things than the woeful capitulation from the moment Chelsea got back into the game at WHL, precipitating a collapse and some of the most unfortunate scenes on a football pitch.

Leicester’s August was not title winning, but it was effectively guaranteeing them survival and while Ranieri kept banging on about 40 points, by November he must have thought the way he had the team playing that a mid-table finish was almost guaranteed. Yet, the inconsistencies of the big clubs meant Leicester never dropped out of the reckoning, instead it fuelled the team – obviously driven by confidence – and I believe the beginning of the key factor began to nestle into the heads of the other Premier League players for the other 19 teams – including Spurs – if we don’t win it, we don’t mind Leicester winning it.

I know, if you ran this theory past Mark Lawrenson or Danny Murphy, Alan Shearer or Dion Dublin they would laugh in your face and tell you that footballers aren’t that complex and they only play to win. Except, by late January the only two teams that looked like they had the desire to win were Leicester and Spurs – both went on fabulous unbeaten runs and with Chelsea long dead in the water, Man Utd flattering to deceive and Man City and Arsenal just not showing the right amount of consistency, the impossible started to become a reality; there was a good chance that one of the big four wouldn’t win the league.

If you look at the last six games of the Premier League season 2015/16 – at the point where pundits no longer believed anyone would catch Leicester – you would have been excused had you woken up in an alternative reality where the Foxes were the dominant team and there was a fading hope of someone else resting control from them. The amount of insipid performances against them; the seeming failure of coaches and squads coming to terms with what was essentially the same tactic week in week out; had it not been for those perennial ignorers of scripts West Ham, the East Midlands would have been celebrating long before Spurs implosion against the wind-up experts Chelsea.

Aggrieved fans will point out how West Brom produced arguably their best performance of the season to put a dent in Spurs’s title challenge, or how Chelsea, devoid of passion, found bags of it to deny Spurs. The closer the Londoners got to being a threat to Leicester, the harder their opponents seemed to try.

The simple truth is Mauricio Pochettino used less players in the closing 12 weeks of the season than 18 other Premier League sides; when it came down to the nitty-gritty, the manager did a Harry Redknapp and failed to trust much more than his preferred starting XI. I can see it even now – Poch sitting at home thinking, “If I play Ryan Mason or Tom Carroll or Nacer Chadli how am I going to live with myself if we screw up and lose the league by one point; I will be forever labelled as the man who lost the league because he played someone else instead of the knackered and under-performing Christian Eriksen...” Obviously Dele Alli and Mousa Dembele didn’t help matters and neither did the arguable lack of investment in something during the previous January when we needed something – even a short term loanee – the stir it up at the club and refocus the players.

But it’s much easier to say that 18 other Premier League sides gifted Leicester the title because it makes them feel better...


Fast forward less than six months and the top 7 of the Premier League looks more like how people expect the top of the league to look: the two Manchester clubs, three London clubs and, hello, the two Liverpool teams again. The seven largest clubs in the country occupy the top 7 spots and there’s the battle for the next eight months – three of them are going to miss out on prizes.

Wednesday, 27 July 2016

The 2016/17 Football Forecast

Every year my good, dear friend Roger and I become pundits and forecast the forthcoming football season and we put it up on our joint sports blog called Sports Discuss - which, in Internet terms, was as popular as someone's soiled underpants. Abandoning that idea, we're going to publish this jointly through our own blogs, for exposure more than anything else.

We were once known as The Wippo Brothers & Clive.

***

As is now well know, my predictions come from Missed It Meg, the most unreliable wizard in the universe, and a seer whose stygmatism inflicted second sight peers myopically through bottle-bottom thick glasses. Meg's predictions are to reliability what the Labour Party is to credible opposition politics, or, if I have to spell it out, a fucking shambles...so, here goes:
AFC Bournemouth
Will veer between 11th and 17th and could finish anywhere in that range. Already there have been seven unspectacular additions to the squad, replacing six leavers and this will mean they will remain the Premier League's yo-yo team, up and down like the Assyrian Empire. I predict they will beat Spurs at home.
Arsenal
As a Toffee it is always galling listening to the interminable moaning of Gooners, but I can grudgingly understand their grouching given the unspent zillions under Arsene's mattress. About time the craggy old Frenchy retired methinks, or is it Wenger's plan to peg it in the dug out?. They'll do enough to scrape 4th as ever, having at some point been top and looking unbeatable. Plus ca change...
Burnley
I know as much about Burnley than I do about lathe maintenance. Bottom, I reckon...which probably means Europa League qualification beckons. Will draw with Spurs at WHL.
Chelsea
Blimey, that Kunte Kante fella makes Jose look reserved, does he not? Have already spent over £60m of loose change on two new players, expect more to come, who with the gesticulating bloke should probably take a while to bed in. 2nd or 3rd.
Crystal Palace
A sort of classier version of Stoke, occasionally a bit mad, just like their manager. Will hover round the Useless League places.
Everton
I was going to hold off writing this prediction thing until we had actually bought someone, but given our track record that would mean the season would be a week old already. Even with Moshiri's wallet on board it seems we have been a bit slow off the mark, the only purchase so far being Leicester's director of football. An offer has been made for Witsel who is mulling over a £100K a week contract. ho-hum.
Koeman was the guy I wanted, but then so was Martinez, so who knows what will happen.
The obvious key to any improvement is keeping hold of Lukaku, and to a lesser extent, Barkley and Stones. Never a dull moment at The Old Lady since Moyes left, for sure. We can't do any worse than last season, so I'll go for 6th and a cup!
Hull
With no Barcodes to keep us entertained this season, 'Ull are making an early bid for the title of the Premier League Comedy Club. What an omnishables! Down, down deeper and down...
Leicester
My prediction for the Foxes last season, like most, was waaay off, but at least I didn't predict them to go down. Surely there's no way they can repeat last season's miracle? I reckon upper mid-table. Right, I'm off to put a tenner on them being Champions again...
Liverpool
Klippety is the first likeable manager the Shite have had since Houlier, and he's now forging them into his own team, with 13 (!) departures and 6 additions so far. With no Euro distractions, I'm rather scared they'll do a bit too well for my liking. Only thing stopping them is the new team bedding in. Top four likely. :(
Man City
The team who on paper should win it every year. The key word is "team", which they seldom resemble. Is "The World's Best Manager" the man who can get them playing like they recognise each other? Hands off Lukaku or Stones, ye over-monied entitled fuckers...
Man Utd
There was an early and strong rumour that The Special One would actually take up a proper challenge (my lot), but unsurprisingly he plumped for the bottomless loaned wealth of the red half of Manchester. Like their neighbours they have been very quiet in the transfer market so far, so...hands off Lukaku or Stones, ye over-monied entitled fuckers...
Middlesbrough
A similar amount of transfer activity to Bournemouth, but unlike The Cherries they do not have a year's experience behind them. Will hover around the drop zone all year, but may survive.
Southampton
They can't keep rebuilding and thriving each season, surely? Summat has to give. Another hard one to call. Mid table anonymity along with...
Stoke
...and
Sunderland
You can tell I've had enough of this, can't you?
Swansea
Just been bought by a Yank, apparently. Good track record, Yanks owning football clubs, eh? Will scrap it out with the other three teams beginning with S for 12th.
Tottenham Hotspur
A great name that sounds like it came out of a boys comic, and a team who veer between brilliant and scared of their own shadows. The loss to Bournemouth and the home draw against Burnley will be what ultimately costs them the title. At least they'll finish above Arsenal at last.

Watford
Goodbye, Vicarage Road... ;)
West Ham
A almost spanking new and virtually free new ground (the bastards), a good manager and a good squad. What could possibly go wrong? Everything, probably, knowing The Hammers.
West Brom
I thought I'd finished this thing then realised I hadn't mentioned The Baggies...in the mix with the "Esses".

The Table:
1. Citeh
2. Spurs
3. Liverpool
4. Arsenal
5. Man Utd
6. Chelsea
7. Everton
8. Leicester
9. Crystal Palace
10. West Ham
11. Southampton
12. Sunderland
13. Stoke
14. West Brom
15. Swansea
16. Bournemouth
17. Middlesbrough
18. Burnley
19. Watford
20. Hull
League Cup: Everton
FA Cup: Everton
Champions League: Not Everton
Useless League: Paraguay

****

And I, for once, am rather more measured (with a surreal caveat)...

I can't remember an impending football season with so much uncertainty about it, yet if you read the columns and listen to the early shots from the pundits you'd think it was already shaping up to be the same old same old. I don't think it will be as predictable as the experts think. For a start two new teams in the Champions League; Man Utd in the Europa Cup and a host of new managers, new players and new grounds.
Oh and for the first time since I've been doing this (must be 10 years now), you'll have to wait until the end to find out my positional predictions.

AFC Bournemouth: The problem for Eddie Howe's men is the other big problem that hounds the unexpected survivor of an almost certain relegation - Second Season Syndrome. The Cherries appear to have spent interestingly without really raising any eyebrows. The key to a second consecutive survival battle is not just who is worse but also how they improve on some excellent results last season. It's going to be tough. Animal Most Like - Possum

Arsenal: One thing you'd be silly to do is write off Arsenal as a serious top 4 contender, but if you hear some of the pre-season banter from Arsenal fans on the radio you'd think their season was over already. It would appear the lack of investment and new players has again mightily pissed off the fans, who argue, quite rightly at times, that if their team could only scrape into 2nd in a supposedly woefully inferior last season, surely some investment is needed to ensure they don't go backwards. I think they might start to go backwards, especially if injuries hit them hard early on. Animal Most Like - Wildebeest

Burnley: I really can't see this being a season with any real high points. They are not going to do a Leicester and might find themselves way off the pace from almost the word go. Will win friends and play some good football, but it just won't ever be enough. Animal Most Like - rabbit

Chelsea: With no European participation, a slew of new recruits (and more on the way) and a little more than just their pride at stake, I expect a faltering season from the former champions, but only because it will take Conte - the new man - a few months to get it right. The success of teams around them in Europe could dictate the final standings at the end of the season. Animal Most Like - Pike

Crystal Palace: Have been nothing but ambitious in transfers and targets and will fancy their chances if they hit a rich vein of form - which they are capable of, especially at home. Will be tough to beat this year and Pardew will have learnt from the second half of last season. Animal Most Like - Bald eagle

Everton: One of the real puzzles in this year's league battle. Ronald Koeman didn't so much transform Southampton as do what you'd expect a manager to do when he follows someone who has shown the team's vast improvement, he took it to the next level and Southampton sans some of arguably their best players were better without them. Koeman  also hasn't got big shoes to fill as Roberto Martinez's reign spluttered to a resounding end and a team with so much potential, in a season when they should have done so much better, was a flop. They don't appear to have signed anyone yet and despite having lots of money, this is a worry, especially if you're a Toffee's fan. Animal Most Like - Panda

Hull: A club in turmoil. Only 13 fit players in the squad. The manager has just quit and the club is essentially for sale. I'd have a fiver on them to win the league. I expect them to go down and badly but I said that about Leicester last season. Animal Most Like - Your crap dog

Leicester: And here they are, the Champions. Will they be champions in May. No. I'm positive of this. They will however begin the season like they finished last season and will remain tough to beat and difficult to play against unless you know how to close them down. A decent replacement for Kante is needed, but who was Kante last August? This is going to be as tough as old boots for them. Animal Most Like - Lupus Lupus

Liverpool: No Europe and we all remember what happened last time that happened? This time they have Jurgen Klopp, a lot of his style of players and definite signs at times towards the end of last season that a new ethos was taking shape at Anfield. This team, for the first time in years, worries me. Animal Most Like - Giraffe

Man City: The Premier League really is the Champions League of managers this season and few come bigger than Pep Guardiola. Had the other Special One not moved into Old Trafford you might have pretty much given the title to Citeh given the foregone conclusion-ness attached to them. For Guardiola, read Antonio Conte above, this won't be an easy ride, it will get better and all the signs will start to show that the future is scary, but maybe not this year. Animal Most Like - Gorilla

Man Utd: Determining factors - is Mourinho washed up? Will the Europa League hinder? Will they even bother with it? Will the weight of expectation become too high again? There's no denying the quality that's been brought in and that of those still being negotiated for. I just have a gut feeling that this could go horribly wrong and it's a real cheat to say it probably won't but I want to put it out there. Animal Most Like - Hyena

Middlesbrough: A dark horse for certain survival? There's something about them that suggests a resilience and staying in the Premier League isn't as difficult as it once seemed for newly promoted clubs. Have spent wisely and on some good players. Animal Most Like - Geordies

Southampton: my underdogs for the relegation zone. The new manager might yet be another brilliant pick and the academy still continues to churn out future stars; but it must be hard playing for a club with both a Europa League campaign and with the knowledge you play for a selling club. Unlikely to repeat last season and could struggle if things get tough. Animal Most Like - Seal

Stoke: I'm fed up with writing about Stoke and most years I write bugger all about them. Will frustrate and flatter to deceive. Mid-table as per. Animal Most Like - Shrew

Sunderland: David Moyes can turn Jermaine Defoe into a defensive midfielder. Surely a season of mediocrity but no real flirtation with relegation? Either this team will improve or no one will change their fortunes for a while. I think they'll bother neither end of the table. Animal Most Like - a very defensive minded sloth

Swansea: possibly the bottom has dropped out of Swansea a little and if Siggurdsson is prised away from them before the window slams shut then I fear for their future. Animal Most Like - lungfish

Watford: Who knows? What's the new manager like? How will the 30 new recruits slot into the team? Bizarre club. Animal Most Like - Cuckoo

West Ham: We all know Bilic is a top quality manager. How the Hammers settle into their new home is a huge uncertainty. Fortress or target? West Ham were the first team to win at the Emirates, I believe, expect Arsenal to return the favour. Europa League could hinder league progress a little, depending on how serious they treat it this year. Animal Most Like -  Peacock

West Brom: God, I so hope they go down. Animal Most Like - skunk

Tottenham: Optimism has never been in plentiful supply with me and my team and after a brilliant season, the team imploded to remind us all just how good they are at fucking up when Arsenal are sniffing at their arses. I expect nothing less than finishing above the Gooners and maybe we have the makings of doing more than that. The one key factor in Spurs failure to finish higher than 3rd was their failure to convert matches against obdurate opponents intent on a draw or nicking the win. The football they played, by and large, against the so-called big boys was irresistible at times and there's no reason why that shouldn't continue even with Champions League commitments. Sensible purchases, early on, and more brilliant raw talent being promoted from the youth coupled with something Spurs haven't had for a long time, continuity, means that I'm actually more than optimistic for them in a season with so many unknown factors at work. Animal Most Like - Vorlon

The Table:
1.  Tottenham
2.  Liverpool
3.  Man City
4.  Chelsea
5.  Man Utd
6.  Everton
7.  Arsenal
8.  West Ham
9.  Leicester
10. Stoke
11. Crystal Palace
12. Southampton
13. Watford
14. Middlesbrough
15. Sunderland
16. Bournemouth
17. WBA
18. Swansea
19. Burnley
20. Hull City

League Cup: Man City
FA Cup: Chelsea
Champions League: Bayern Munich
Europa League: Kazakhstan Korinthians

Saturday, 23 April 2016

And you thought this year was exciting...

The football season 2016/17 is so far away the 2015/16 one isn't even over, yet because of the abject failure of the Big Four to have much impact on the title, some pundits and journalists are already forecasting incredible things for next season.

Such is the belief of some journalists, by the ultimate week of next season there will be eight team all on 75 points, all with exactly the same goal difference and five more on 74 who could knick something if every result goes against what is needed. The other 8 teams will be vying for relegation. No one is suggesting that Middlesbrough, Burnley or Brighton could do a Leicester. In fact no one is suggesting Leicester can do a Leicester. If they do win it this year, no one is realistically even talking about them retaining it - not even the looniest Leicester City loons. This season is a one-off. Normal service will be resumed. Next season all the top teams will have the top people in place and, of course, next year, Rodney, we'll all be millionaires... Except, the poor joke is on me, next year all the Premier League clubs will almost be billionaires.

So, shifting focus away from my beloved Spurs, I thought I'd look at this coming August:

Arsenal - I know Arsenal fans who believe that Wenger will die in post. This is the one that's too close to call in because I think Wenger's time there depends on where they finish in the league this season. With two easy matches and a game against their rivals for 3rd, you would think Champions League football is guaranteed and therefore Arsene plays out the last year of his contract because he will have fulfilled the minimum requirements of said contract. I expect if that happens it won't get renewed and he'll be offered the chance to 'go upstairs'. That offer might come earlier if they find themselves in 5th, or even 4th, at the end of May, in a season where the top two were Leicester and fierce local rivals Spurs. Not good enough (huzzah).
Next season prediction: With Wenger and without serious investment a top five spot is unlikely; however, even with a new manager and a lot of money, there is no guarantee the returns will be instant, especially with so many clubs now having vast quantities of money. They blew it this season and without a change that will have psychological effects. Plus some of their stars are beginning to look nervously at the door...

Bournemouth - will not trouble the top half of the table and I say that with confidence and then I look at Leicester and 12 months ago you would probably have struggled to put a Rizla between Leicester's narrow-avoidance of relegation team and Bournemouth's Championship winning side. You can't say that now and who knows what investment Bournemouth might make even if their maximum ground capacity falls well short, or what standard of players they might be able to attract. The only drawback to all of that is the last few years have proven almost unequivocally that having a team is proving to be more consistent than having superstars. Eddie Howe is one of the best young managers in the country and he gets his team playing. Yet Bournemouth's success pretty much boils down to their ability to persuade people to go to the south coast, where lots of old people retire to.
Next season prediction: bottom half of the table.

Chelsea - there seems to be this belief in some quarters that Antonio Conte is going to have a kind of first-coming-of-Mourinho effect; in others is the belief that a huge amount of investment is needed. And then there's those who feel the club has more prospective excellence loaned out (40) it should look at itself rather than venture into the hit-and-miss world of hoping a great and mega-expensive footballer fits into your ways and methods. Some don't. Some world class footballers cannot adapt to some approaches. Plus, there really does seem to be something rotten at the heart of Stamford Bridge at the moment, like the fall out of the Eva Carneiro business had been brewing for months beforehand and we just saw the head of it and not all the pus stewing away below it. Has any defending champions ever looked so pallid and disinterested?
Next season: Hazard will go, so to could a few others. If Conte allows the youth to flourish and is given an entire season to oversee the repackaging of Chelsea (but has a couple of Galactico signings, so that Roman can feel all big in the trousers) then the season after next they might be worth a punt on finishing in the top four; but next season... top half only.

Crystal Palace - and repeat... I could pretty much say the same thing, but slightly different for every club, because the amount of money sloshing about in their banks come next season is going to make signing Messi a reality - in realistically metaphoric terms only - for some big named clubs, but is also going to mean some clubs picking up class acts who would normally not look at a club like Palace because if they want to play or want to sit on a bench or in the reserves of a 'top' club then they obviously are more interested in money than playing football. London is Palace's advantage.
Next season: we discover if everything people accuse Alan Pardew of is correct and whether Palace playing in Europe (A cup final spot against Man U would guarantee it) will really hinder the team or bring it forward. If the latter happens I see a struggle because of a lack of real depth - one that has been their undoing in the latter half of this season. Might struggle to make the top half.


Everton - I expect the Toffees will start next season with a new manager, but stranger things have happened at that club. Martinez should be fired for his failure to achieve anything in a season where LEICESTER won the title. At one point in January, the Merseyside club had the sixth best goal difference in the league and yet were 11th. This is a club with some real talent and yet they have the league table appearance of a 1990s Spurs side - high expectations and shit finishes. I liked their manager and I thought they got the better deal when my team got Andre Villas Boas...
Next season: Everton strike me as the kind of club with the right manager in place could hit the ground running. That said, they have to hope that this season of underachievement doesn't stimulate the likes of Barkley and Lukaku into wanting away, maybe to a club showing more ambition? Top half but need to keep their star players.

Leicester City - and here's the rub; Leicester will pocket a shed-load of cash from winning the league, but can they a) invest it wisely and b) keep the ethos of this team together? Can they compete in the Champions League and make a fist of defending the title? Could Jamie Vardy be a one-season-wonder? This season we have seen what the power of confidence can do and the power of a settled team - the top two in 2015/16 used less players than the 18 teams below them; next year the others will have a better chance of countering Leicester's style of play than Spurs' and I say that because history suggests that is what usually happens, while Spurs' style of play begins with them being as fit in the 90th minute as they were in the 1st - the only way to counter that is to match it.
Next season: I'm going to be optimistic. Leicester will scrape into the last 16 of the Champs League (but they enter the draw as a fourth seed given their absence from Europe for ever) and will finish 7th. Equally, they might get tonked in Europe and struggle against teams that mark Mahrez and Vardy out of games, but I think some of this year's momentum will see them all right.

Liverpool - the real threat, but there will be some changes and those changes could be crucial. I expect Klopp's Liverpool to be next season's Leicester or Spurs and that's because they are beginning to look like a well-drilled, organised and attractive GERMAN side. They could win the Europa League next month; they've already beaten a GERMAN team that humbled Spurs and having a fifth team in the Champions League would at least offset the worry that Leicester will bugger up our coefficients. They have started to look like an embryonic Spurs side - the one that started to look good at the back end of 2015, by next season they will have gained some consistency.
Next season: top 3

Manchester City - Pep Guardiola. I'll say it again, Pep Guardiola. So what? He's managed two of the greatest team ever in the same way that Andy Cole played up front for the best Man U side ever. Pep scores with stars. It would be nice to see what he'd do if he managed Orient or Fleetwood. Man City have fallen behind in many ways; they have some of the best players in the world in their side and I'm sure under the right coach they will prove this. But is Pep the right guy? Probably; but when you think about what Chelsea, Man U, Liverpool are likely to do in the transfer market, or the likely improvement in Spurs or the extensive rebuilding Pep has to do in certain areas, I no longer think this is a nailed on certainty. 
Next season will have expectations, but also a wee bit of patience. I don't think they'll win it, but they will finish top 3. They might be the only 'expected' team to place there.

Manchester United - with or without Van Gaal or Mourinho this is a team in transition and given history is likely to struggle to return to the position it believes it should be in. Van Gaal might win the FA Cup and finish 4th thus keeping his job for the final year of his contract. I kind of want this to happen because Man Utd are the new old Spurs - inconsistent but sometimes great. Yet, I don't believe Mourinho is actually that good, so him coming might be a great car crash. Equally, I refer you to comments about Pep Guardiola in the previous entry and ask if this possible manager could do it with no stars at his disposal and no budget?
Next season will probably be a massive disappointment yet like this season will have periods where they pick up plenty of points. The Man U era might be over, but they might still keep on the coat tails and sneak into 4th... Only
might though.

Southampton - if ever there was a collective side who could do a Leicester it's this team, but you just get the impression they don't know how to move up from where they have got. Keep Koeman and some of their outstanding players and you're looking at an outside top 6 club; lose him and it'll get no worse than mid-table. This is a progressive club that is almost single-handedly helping other teams rise above them by letting all their players and staff leave. That said I don't think of Southampton as being a 'new' Premier League side; I view them as a Premier League side who wandered off the plot for a few years (like Leeds, Bolton and the Sheffield clubs), so I'd be surprised if they allowed the club to slip out of the big time again.
Next season: probably won't seriously trouble the top or bottom six and in this era of billions that will probably be enough. Will have a big say in the outcome because on their day, at home, they are very tough to beat.

Stoke - I like Mark Hughes, but like Arsene Wenger, I don't think he's that cutting edge any more. He's been around too long now and seems capable of taking clubs to a certain level, but no higher. On paper Stoke look quite good; on the pitch on Monday night, Spurs literally took them apart and had fun with the pieces. There are some good (in Football Manager) players in the squad, but they seem to be reclaiming the 'thug' tag and also carry a lot of dead wood. Stoke aren't in any danger of doing anything remarkable, but they probably need a progressive manager to get the best out of their quality players and that manager also needs to develop youngsters while ridding the club of the likes of Crouch, Adam and Given.
Next season: nothing to see here, move along mid-table.

Swansea - the fact they're still here is testament to the way smaller clubs have adapted to the Premier League. However, this season while they never looked in danger of relegation, there were moments where they couldn't do anything right and Swansea and Palace both played themselves into a relegation race they should never have been in, considering their positions and points tally after Christmas. They were in danger because they don't seem to have come on and if they don't move up a few gears it will get worse.
Next season: bottom six, whether they will go depends on how bad three other teams end up.

Watford - who can say? Rumour has it that Flores is in danger of losing his job, despite Premier League safety by March and an FA Cup semi-final (maybe even Europa League football next season). An unlikely nomination to be the next Leicester, but as I've said, who would have thought of Leicester? They play nice counter-attacking football and have defied the odds and the pundits - this is a different Watford that has flirted with the top flight in the past.
Next season: mid table mediocrity and all the happier for it.

West Brom - this is an average side with an average manager and are likely to lose a couple of players in the summer. West Brom might think they're too good to go down, but as Villa, Newcastle and Sunderland can attest, reputations means dick. How does this club attract big players and play football that will make them more attractive? I have no idea, but they need something.
Next season: serious relegation candidates.

West Ham - we tend to forget because of Leicester and Spurs that the most common conversation when Slaven Bilic took over was whether he could prevent the Hammers from being relegated. Nine months later they have pushed for a Champions League place without ever looking like they were serious. This is a good side and I expect them to get better; however a new stadium could be a blessing or a curse. Moving to Stratford is one of the biggest 'unknown' factors in next season's league. If they take to it they could do better, if it doesn't fit then this is a team that sometimes fall quite spectacularly.
Next season: top 10, nailed on.

As you can see, I've left out Norwich, Sunderland, and Newcastle because we have no idea which one will still be in the top flight next year, however I think whoever it is will be challenging for the bottom 3 next season.

I expect two, possibly all three, of Burnley, Brighton and Middlesbrough up next season and with the new money fountain, I can't really forecast where these clubs are likely to finish - next year is an odd one because of the levelling of the monetary playing field - clubs will no longer need to sell players in contract, can afford to raise their wages bill and spend more money on better players - so I wouldn't fancy doing any predictions with any conviction until I know who they are and what they're doing.

That said...

It brings us to...

Tottenham Hotspur - I wouldn't have believed you if you'd told me what this current season would bring, because in many ways it was more ambitious than I've dreamt of. There hasn't been any speculation of any seriousness linking any of their players to 'bigger' clubs. Man U supposedly want Harry Kane, but that isn't going to happen - for a multitude of reasons. Could Dele Alli be tempted away with a £50million bid? I doubt it very much; I expect he will play for Liverpool one day - he is a fan - but I also expect him to be in his mid to late 20s when that happens. What about our brilliant defence or the likes of Eriksen, Lamela or Dier - couldn't they go if a Barca, Real or Bayern came calling? Yeah, but not next season - there's no need. Will Spurs keep Pochettino? Absolutely; his project is less than half complete and you see that look in his eye, the look of a man who knows this team is going forward and has no reason to go back, at all.
Next season: First. Top. Champions. Not only will they win it, they'll win it easily, with only two clubs giving them a run for their money. I say this based on the fact Spurs play the best football in the Premier League, have the best defence and next season the draws will become wins because they will have experience added to brilliant raw talent. They are a joy to watch sometimes.

My 'avin'a-larf table for May 2017

1. Spurs
2. Liverpool
3. Man City
4. Man Utd
5. West Ham
6. Arsenal
7. Leicester
8. Chelsea
9. Southampton
10. Everton
11. Stoke
12. Crystal Palace
13. Watford
14. Promoted #2
15. Promoted #1
16. Swansea
17. Bournemouth
18. West Brom
19. Norwich/Newcastle/Sunderland
20. Promoted #3