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Abu Dhabi, UAEWednesday 21 November 2018

Premier League 2018/19 predictions: Are Liverpool the biggest threat to Manchester City's title defence?

Ahead of kick-off for the new season, here are a series of predictions, including champions, top four, player of the season, and top goalscorer

Manchester City head into the 2018/9 Premier League season as defending champions and favourites for the title. Reuters
Manchester City head into the 2018/9 Premier League season as defending champions and favourites for the title. Reuters

The 2018/19 Premier League starts on Friday, but as usual with less than a week to go to kick off, there is plenty of intrigue as to what is ahead.

Can anyone stop Manchester City? Who is getting relegated? Who will surprise? Who will disappoint?

The National's staff have done their best to answer those, and more, questions as to what to look out for in the new campaign.

These are The National's staff members taking part:

Richard Jolly English Football Correspondent

Graham Caygill Sports Editor

Jon Turner Assistant Sports Editor

Dan Gledhill Deputy Editor

John McAuley Sports Reporter

Ian Hawkey European Football Correspondent

Paul Radley Sports Reporter

Kumar Shyam Sports Production Editor

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Read more:

Premier League 2018/19 preview: Team-by-team guide and predictions

Premier League transfer window: All the new signings for 2018/19 season

Exclusive with Andreas Pereira: On establishing himself at Manchester United

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Who will be the champions?

Richard Manchester City

City do not need to be as good as they were last season. They do not need another 106 goals or 32 wins or a goal difference of +79. Their 19-point winning margin shows the task for the rest. Pep Guardiola’s past shows a record of retaining titles. Plenty of players have sustained their standards under him and others have carried on improving so, while City have not had the most spectacular of summers in the transfer market, they should still be better than the rest.

Graham Liverpool

Jurgen Klopp has improved the side where it needed strengthening and there still should still be plenty of goals coming from Mohamed Salah, Roberto Firmino and Sadio Mane. Less goals conceded and the same amount or better scored will put them in the hunt for a first title since 1990, especially if City's level in their title defence even drops slightly.

Jon Manchester City

Last season's record-breaking feats will likely not be repeated, but the chasm between City and the rest was so vast that even if the gap is reduced, Guardiola's side are still far and away the league's best team. Back-to-back titles beckon.

Dan Liverpool

Klopp has strengthened in key areas: goalkeeper and midfield. The defence is already feeling the Virgil van Dijk effect. Naby Keita is a potentially thrilling addition. Sadio Mane ended last season like the player he was the year before. It’s just a matter of whether Salah can contribute another 30-plus goals. And whether City will be distracted by a Uefa Champions League run.

John Manchester City

City have no obvious weak areas, while in Guardiola they possess a manager who doesn’t settle for anything less than 100 per cent commitment. Won’t be the 19-point victory it was last season, but City are still too good for the rest.

Ian Manchester City

Nineteen points, the gap between first and second in last season’s final table, is not easily eroded, and though City’s flaws were found out by Liverpool more than once in 2018, Guardiola has command of improved resources this time around, and a set of confident players familiar with their roles and with one another.

Paul Manchester City

It is possible the rest of the field could catch up with City this season. David Silva’s influence might begin to wane. Kevin de Bruyne could be adversely affected by playing all the way to the final weekend of the World Cup, without the kick of actually winning it. Leroy Sane might suddenly start to believe Joachim Low, and forget he is actually really rather brilliant. Or Guardiola could push the holders on to even greater levels of excellence. Which seems more likely.

Kumar Manchester City

No reason for anything other than another season of success for City. What was a worrying sign last season about the uneasy rotation between Sergio Aguero and Gabriel Jesus looks ideal in hindsight now. Riyad Mahrez adding more firepower in a power-packed midfield only increases their strength.

Who finishes in the top four?

Jurgen Klopp and Liverpool look to build on last season's fourth-place finish. Reuters
Jurgen Klopp and Liverpool look to build on last season's fourth-place finish. Reuters

Richard Manchester City, Liverpool, Manchester United, Chelsea

Graham Liverpool, Manchester City, Manchester United, Tottenham Hotspur

Jon Manchester City, Liverpool, Chelsea, Tottenham Hotspur

Dan Liverpool, Manchester City, Chelsea, Manchester United

John Manchester City, Liverpool, Chelsea, Manchester United

Ian Manchester City, Liverpool, Manchester United, Chelsea

Paul Manchester City, Liverpool, Chelsea, Manchester United

Kumar Manchester City, Liverpool, Arsenal, Chelsea

Surprise package of the season?

The arrivals of Jack Wilshere and Felipe Anderson have raised expectations at West Ham United. Reuters
The arrivals of Jack Wilshere and Felipe Anderson have raised expectations at West Ham United. Reuters

Richard Wolverhampton Wanderers

Wolves played a brand of football last season to suggest that they are well suited to the elite. Some players, Ruben Navas in particular, were clearly too good for the Championship. Manager Nuno Espirito Santo’s recruitment of more of his compatriots, particularly the excellent goalkeeper Rui Patricio and midfielder Joao Moutinho, bodes well.

Graham West Ham United

The London club have underwhelmed the past two seasons but in Felipe Anderson and Andriy Yarmolenko they have recruited well. Manuel Pellegrini knows how to succeed in the Premier League and West Ham should be fun to watch again this year.

Jon Wolverhampton Wanderers

Billed as one of the best teams to ever be promoted to the Premier League, but this is still the club's first season in the top-flight since 2012. A comfortable mid-table finish will represent an impressive return to the big time.

Dan Newcastle United

Rafa Benitez is the key, a coach with the ability to squeeze the very most out of his players, especially those in defence. If he can get a winning formula at the business end of the pitch to match they may be knocking on the door of Europe.

John Ryan Sessegnon

The Fulham full-back-cum-winger arrives in the Premier League with a weighty reputation already, but he will showcase exactly why the country’s most prominent clubs want him. Sessegnon, 18, does not rely on his physical ability, but instead reads the game like someone much more experienced. A real gem.

Ian West Ham United

Granted, the club have their third different manager within a year, but Pellegrini is a worldly and vastly respected one. And he has been entrusted with a more generous hiring budget than his predecessors. Expect a considerable improvement on the 13th place of 2017-18.

Paul Ryan Sessegnon

Sessegnon’s talent is hardly a secret, evidenced by the fact he was nominated for the PFA Young Player of the Year award last season, despite still being a Championship player. He has opted to stay with Fulham, having played the central role in their promotion. It is a major boost for Slavisa Jokanovic’s side, as they bid to maintain their place back in the Premier League.

Kumar Brighton and Hove Albion

Chris Hughton has a good core to his side and has a good habit of recruiting well each summer, with Pascal Gross and goalkeeper Matt Ryan the examples last summer. Alireza Jahanbakhsh and Bernardo are this summer's recruits. Brighton have the potential to be the next Burnley and break into the top 10.

Biggest disappointment of the season?

Manchester United manager Jose Mourinho has cut a frustrated figure throughout pre-season. EPA
Manchester United manager Jose Mourinho has cut a frustrated figure throughout pre-season. EPA

Richard Claude Puel

After a fine start, Puel is already unpopular with some Leicester City fans. It surprised some that he survived the summer. In a more competitive middle class, with Everton and West Ham likely to improve and Fulham and Wolves ambitious arrivals in the division, he could be a reason why Leicester fail to achieve their goals.

Graham Cardiff City

Neil Warnock has done a great job getting the Welsh side promoted, but there feels like there has been minimal transfer business done so far and the squad feels too weak to get near the minimum 36 points usually needed for safety.

Jon Manchester United

All is not well at Old Trafford, with Jose Mourinho seemingly getting his excuses in early. Underwhelming transfer business and a pre-season filled with negative noise from the manager will ensure a rocky campaign and missing out on the top four.

Dan Wolverhampton Wanderers

A club effectively now run by the super-agent Jorge Mendes, whose transfers will always prioritise his interests above all others, is a worrying development for the game. It will be in football’s best interests that Wolves go straight back down. And with all that player turnover – the opposite of the settled strategy that has served Burnley so well – maybe they will.

John Jose Mourinho

Oh, Mourinho and his dreaded third season. The United manager is favourite to be the first managerial casualty this campaign, which underscores the current malaise enveloping him. And it all seems the Portuguese’s doing. Typically tetchy during pre-season and unhappy with the current state of his squad, it all points to one thing: departure before the season runs its course.

Ian England’s Generation Z

Never in the era of the Prem has an England side done as well at a World Cup as the semi-finalists of Russia 2018. But there’s a still a disconnect between the national team and its glamorous league. There is still a chronic lack of opportunities for young English players. English footballers born in the late 1990s - the so-called Generation Z - struggle to graduate from elite club academies to regular first-team places.

Paul Jose Mourinho

There once was a time when the Portuguese manager was one of the most captivating figures in the game, enthralling to listen to, and to watch operate. Now "The Special One" has become "The Droning One", sour-faced, whinging on about all the afflictions he suffers as the poor, put-upon manager of Manchester United. It is hard to believe he can restore United to their former greatness when he appears to loath going in to work so much.

Kumar Tottenham Hotspur

Tottenham may have a disjointed start to the season with important players returning from World Cup duty and a move into a new stadium. Son Hyueng-min will have his time divided with international duties, while Harry Kane cannot always single-handedly bear the goals burden. If either Dele Alli and Christian Eriksen have a poor run of form, Tottenham's slide could be a big one.

Who will be relegated?

Will Huddersfield Town and their manager David Wagner suffer second-season syndrome? Reuters
Will Huddersfield Town and their manager David Wagner suffer second-season syndrome? Reuters

Richard Cardiff City, Brighton & Hove Albion, Huddersfield Town

Neil Warnock did magnificently to get Cardiff up. Keeping them up will be a still greater feat and a Championship specialist has tended to find the Premier League a struggle. Brighton secured survival with few alarms last season and have spent heavily again, but may dip if some of their players do not overachieve again. Similarly, Huddersfield may need players to exceed expectations again simply to dodge the drop.

Graham Cardiff, Watford, Huddersfield Town

Cardiff lack Premier League quality and will go straight back down. Watford have not scored an away goal since January 2 and were on relegation form effectively in the second half of the season and those struggles may be hard to reverse. Huddersfield stayed up thanks to a good start and David Wagner's men will likely fall to second-season syndrome.

Jon Cardiff City, Watford, Brighton and Hove Albion

Cardiff are short of the class required to stay in the Premier League and will head straight back down, Watford were plummeting at the end of last season and have sold arguably their best player, while Brighton will suffer second-season syndrome.

Dan Wolves, Bournemouth, Cardiff

Wolves as discussed above. Bournemouth last season turned things round after a difficult start but the signs are that rivals such as Brighton and Huddersfield have equipped themselves better for the battle ahead. Cardiff simply do not have the strength of squad to be anything other than relegation candidates.

John Watford, Huddersfield, Cardiff

Cardiff’s fighting spirit brought them up last season, but a lack of real quality will force them back down at the first time of asking. Huddersfield have a fine manager and a commendable fortitude, although a lack of goals means they will be sucked into another relegation scrap. Watford’s managerial-merry-go-round model, meanwhile, will finally catch up with them.

Ian Bournemouth; Cardiff City; Huddersfield Town

Bournemouth have thrived on a realistic budget but their faltering spell in the second half of last season - one win in 10 matches - looked ominous. No club has less to spend than Huddersfield do, and that usually shows up in the end. Cardiff will doubtless be rugged at times, but probably not enough times to finish 17th or higher.

Paul Huddersfield Town, Fulham, Brighton & Hove Albion

Fulham might find it tough, but have talented players in Sessegnon, Andre Schurrle and Aleksandar Mitrovic. Huddersfield will need the same fast start as they had at the beginning of their debut Premier League campaign last time if they are to stay out of trouble. Brighton face a similar challenge of the difficult second season.

Kumar Southampton, Cardiff, Huddersfield

Though Southampton stayed up last season their summer transfer business, namely offloading offloaded Dusan Tadic and getting in Mohamed Elyounoussi, is not encouraging. With old school Warnock not much of an inspiring figure, it is difficult to see beyond relegation after one season in the top flight for Cardiff. Huddersfield have done limited work in the transfer market too, and given they had the second worst goal difference last season it is hard to be positive about their prospects.

Who will be player of the season?

Kevin De Bruyne narrowly missed out to Mohamed Salah in last season's PFA Player of the Year award. Getty Images
Kevin De Bruyne narrowly missed out to Mohamed Salah in last season's PFA Player of the Year award. Getty Images

Richard Kevin de Bruyne

De Bruyne would have been the player of most seasons last year; thanks to Mohamed Salah, he was not named the best of last year. This time around, building on a brilliant World Cup, he may get belated recognition at the end-of-year ceremonies for his efforts for Manchester City.

Graham Mohamed Salah

Hard to look beyond the Egyptian. Was exceptional for much of the Premier League last season. Even when he is not scoring he is creating chances and he will be key to Liverpool's title challenge.

Jon Leroy Sane

The German winger was frighteningly good last season and at 22 years old is only going to get better. Fully rested after inexplicably missing out on the World Cup, he will hit the ground running while those who did take part in Russia are still finding their way back.

Dan Leroy Sane

Along with Mesut Ozil, probably the most motivated player in the division after his exclusion from Germany’s World Cup squad. There will be pressure for the annual award to go to a member of the City team after Kevin de Bruyne was snubbed last time.

John Kevin de Bruyne

Should have arguably won the award last season, for his stellar contribution to Man City’s runaway title success. The league’s finest playmaker, able to orchestrate from deep in midfield, out wide or further forward. De Bruyne’s influence will increase this season again. A joy to watch.

Ian Kevin de Bruyne

The Belgian was a leading candidate for Player of the Year last season, and he is the main motor for Manchester City’s best football. Expect him to be the creative dynamo for City again, and to enjoy linking up with new City signing Mahrez.

Paul Riyad Mahrez

Despite the club-record £60 million (Dh289m) price-tag, the Algerian is not guaranteed a place in Manchester City’s best XI, given the depth of the squad. But if he does get a run and can reprise his best from Leicester’s title-winning campaign, he and City could be gorgeous to watch.

Kumar Pierre-Emerick Aubameyang

If Arsenal are looking at a top-four finish, Pierre-Emerick Aubameyang will be a major reason why. He impressed after joining from Borussia Dortmund in January. World Cup fatigue is also not a factor for the Gabonese and if he carries on his momentum from the end of last season he will be a force to be reckoned with.

Who will be the league's leading scorer?

Harry Kane will be aiming to reclaim the Golden Boot this season. AP Photo
Harry Kane will be aiming to reclaim the Golden Boot this season. AP Photo

Richard Harry Kane

As Kane has scored 105 goals in the last four Premier League campaigns, it is easy to envisage him chalking up another 30 this year, providing he stays fit. Do so, and it will be hard to stop him.

Graham Harry Kane

Liverpool may well share their goals around while Kane will remain Tottenham's constant and should, barring injury, be certain of a third season of 25 goals or more.

Jon Pierre-Emerick Aubameyang.

After moving to Arsenal mid-season, Aubameyang made an instant impact, scoring 10 goals in just 13 appearances. Another who will be fit and firing having not participated at the World Cup, the Gabon striker is sure to score a load of goals this season.

Dan Mohamed Salah

From one-season wonder to two-season wonder. With the arrival of Naby Keita and Xherdan Shaqiri and the return to form of Sadio Mane, Liverpool will if anything be less reliant on the Egyptian king, which should give him more space to equal or even better last season’s feats.

John Harry Kane

Top scorer in two of the previous three seasons, the Tottenham striker missed out last year because of injury at a crucial period – and Salah’s extraordinary form. Kane will seize back the Golden Boot, though, even if he continues his quirk of never finding the net in August.

Ian Pierre-Emerick Aubameyang

The Gabonese sprint-king started 12 Premier League matches for Arsenal after his winter-window transfer in January and adapted quickly. Unai Emery, the new Arsenal coach, will want play to Aubameyang’s counter-attacking strengths.

Paul Harry Kane

The Tottenham striker was lampooned for the lengths he went to to try to win the Golden Boot last season. Because aiming for the top is such a crime. It is clearly an award he covets. And, assuming he is emboldened rather than fatigued by his summer exploits with England, he could well leapfrog Salah and reclaim the top-goalscorer gong this term.

Kumar Pierre-Emerick Aubameyang

Proved lethal in front of goal in the second half of the season for Arsenal and there is no reason why he cannot carry that form on, as his goals in pre-season have already shown.