Roy Curtis predicts the Premier League table from 20 to champions
If self-assurance could be converted into the gold standard currency of Premier League bullion, then Louis van Gaal’s armour-plated conceit would amount to a shatter-proof guarantee of glory.
Should a season ever be determined by a manager’s capacity to converse in fluent, Grade A gibberish, then Brendan Rodgers (below) might win it all and replace Bill Shankly as the most revered figure on the Spion Kop.
Were the capacity to peer into a mirror with a certainty that the image staring back amounted to a portrait of undiluted genius and which was the decisive factor in the imminent nine-month slog, then
Tim Sherwood could already prepare his throne-ascending speech.
But neither self-regard nor PR-waffle will conquer all foes and, sadly, for Manchester United, Liverpool and Aston Villa, neither shall they.
Money, however, often does. And so the fabulously resourced Manchester City, though they were a triumph of anarchy as recently as May, cannot be entirely erased from calculations.
Still though, even endless petrodollars will likely be insufficient to trigger the kind of tectonic shift required to alter the English football landscape.
London will remain the seat of empire: The only niggling doubt ahead of the imminent mardi gras is whether Arsenal might burgle Stamford Bridge and the champions’ pennant fluttering imperiously in the King’s Road breeze.
Here, in reverse order of placings, is how the season will unspool.
If you hunger for a slushy, romantic narrative, then invest in a chick-lit library rather than a Dean Court season ticket. Eddie Howe is an immensely impressive coach, and his team scored 25 more league goals than Chelsea last season, but the task with which he is now confronted can be compared to firefighting an oil refinery inferno armed only with a water pistol.
Four of the last six promoted clubs have barely had time for a Premier League housewarming before taking the return trip to oblivion. Even with Elton John’s finest grand piano parked alongside several Hertfordshire buses, the Hornets will haemorrhage goals.
If vaudeville rewarded escapology as callously as the Foxes’ Thai owner, then Harry Houdini might have emerged from a water chamber only to be greeted by an assassin’s bullet. Nigel Pearson performed a springtime miracle and was repaid with the sack. Claudio Ranieri is a nicer human being, but his litany of past failures hardly inspire confidence.
17 ASTON VILLA
Removing Christian Benteke from a team which scored just 31 league goals last season amounts to firing a torpedo into a frigate’s hull. Jack Grealish (below) will hardly trouble himself to check whether the lifeboat into which he leaps sports a George’s Cross or an Irish Tricolour.
Only sneaked in via the play-off backdoor, yet recent Premier League experience may assist. With Robbie Brady joining Wes Hoolahan, Martin O’Neill and Roy Keane could spend much of the season dining with Delia.
15 CRYSTAL PALACE
Overachievers in each of the past two seasons. They finished ahead of Everton last term in tenth. The suspicion is that gravity will have its revenge.
The bi-weekly gathering of the Masochist Society is poised to reconvene at St James’ Park with Mike Ashley sniggering over his prawn sandwiches. The Premier League’s longest-running soap opera will again teeter on the precipice, but somehow survive.
Jeremain Lens and Younes Kaboul – the latter a major threat to John O’Shea who endured a dismal 2014/15 – hardly amount to the talent transplant required to reinvigorate a club adrift in the doldrums.
12 WEST BROM
James McClean (below) won’t have to make any decisions of conscience about whether to turn away and bow his head when the Champions League anthem sounds. A season in lower mid-table beckons for the Derryman.
They simply cannot continue to shed their marquee players and prosper, can they? Morgan Schneiderlin and Nathanial Clyne are the latest to join the exodus. Replicating last season’s seventh place finish hardly represents a realistic aspiration.
10 SWANSEA CITY
A calm, well-run, reasonably resourced club. The hair-dryer is only called into use at the Liberty Stadium when Gary Monk needs to style his magnificent mane. Their reputation as a solid mid-table club is likely to be enhanced.
9 STOKE CITY
Mark Hughes may have been complimented for imposing a radical stylistic revolution at Stoke, but as Jon Walters freely admits, they still set out to bully opponents. That combination will extend their top-half leasehold.
8 WEST HAM
If Sam Allardyce is as magnificent as Sam Allardyce believes, then West Ham, in the post-Big Sam era, simply must finish below last season’s tenth position. Slaven Bilic may solve the great mystery — to Sam anyway — as to why Real Madrid or Barcelona never came knocking on Allardyce’s door.
A pivotal season for Seamus Coleman (below) and James McCarthy.
After a season in which they underachieved as their club stalled, both need to urgently find renewed momentum. To Irish fans, it seems inconceivable that Arsenal and Liverpool might be monitoring McCarthy. Perhaps he will rise above anonymity in green to perform like a £25m midfielder.
For the second straight summer Rodgers has invested heavily. Lucky to survive last season’s implosion, he requires an instant return from Benteke and Firmino or FSG will surely cast him adrift. A court case last week revealed he owns 102 properties, still, he may be homeless by Christmas.
Can Harry Kane avoid second season syndrome? His fearless brilliance carried Tottenham last season. By keeping him at White Hart Lane Mauricio Pochettino has achieved one of the best pieces of business of the summer.
4 MANCHESTER CITY
Though they finished nine points ahead of United last season, City creaked. Yaya Touré and Vincent Kompany — foundation stones of their title teams — appeared spent. Raheem Sterling injects much-needed pace but they are a mere Sergio Aguero tweak from disaster.
3 MANCHESTER UNITED
Significant bite, composure and security has been added to midfield. Pre-season is notoriously unreliable, but Memphis Depay looks primed to ignite. If David De Gea stays, if Van Gaal can land his striking “surprise” they might even have José looking over his shoulder.
Petr Cech’s acquisition represents the best piece of summer business by any manager. Arsenal’s array of attacking midfield riches is unrivalled. If Sanchez, Cazorla, Ramsey, Wilshere, Ozil, Walcott, Oxlade-Chamberlain, Giroud and Wellbeck all stay fit, they will not only remain in Chelsea’s slipstream they might even overtake their London nemesis.
Admittedly there are small clouds on the horizon: Can the legs of Chelsea’s best known pensioner, John Terry (below), carry him through another season?
Will we see the Radamel Falcao of Manchester United or Atletico Madrid? But Chelsea have a proven pedigree, depth, no evident weakness and — critically — by far the best manager.
It will be sufficient.