Wilfried Zaha

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Just how wrong? Revisiting Premier League predictions

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Own it.

That’s how I look at Premier League predictions. When you’re right, be happy about your good fortune. When you’re wrong, raise your hand.

But there’s another level to it: Why was I right or wrong? Did a team let me down, or did I vastly overrate/underrate their potential?

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Twenty months ago I pegged Burnley to get relegated with an almost record-low amount of points. The Clarets qualified for the Europa League, and I ate my words (even if Sean Dyche‘s men seemingly out-performed every metric on Earth in spite of stats, like some old man claiming Man City wins because of “better chemistry, not talent”).

Cardiff City
Predicted finish: 20
Actual finish: 18

How wrong was I? Not. As much credit as the Bluebirds got for grinding every week, and as much of a difference as the late Emiliano Sala could’ve been to their fortunes, they completed passes at an almost absurdly-bad 63.9 percent rate while having just 39.1 percent of the ball. It was bad.

Huddersfield Town
Predicted finish: 19
Actual finish: 20

How wrong was I? Not. Huddersfield Town managed a league-worst .4 attempts per game from inside the six-yard box, and were one of only five teams to attempt less than six shots per game from inside the 18.

Watford
Predicted finish: 18
Actual finish: 11

How wrong was I? Pretty wrong. Javi Gracia‘s men were strong against bad teams — for the most part — but never sprung another real upset after beating Spurs to go 4-0 early in the season. Record against the Top Six? 1W-0D-11L.

Bournemouth
Predicted finish: 17
Actual finish: 14

How wrong was I? Eh. The Cherries were never really in trouble thanks to a 6-2-2 start, but man did they ride their luck.

Burnley
Predicted finish: 16
Actual finish: 15

How wrong was I? I’ve learned my lesson. Regardless of how much talent appears to be on a Sean Dyche roster, he’s a rich man’s Tony Pulis and should not be doubted.

The face Sean Dyche makes before he fist fights an entire village. Terrifying. (Photo by Gareth Copley/Getty Images)

Southampton
Predicted finish: 15
Actual finish: 16

How wrong was I? With respect to Mark Hughes, I thought Saints’ season would come down to when he was sacked and who they identified to replace him. Ralph Hasenhuttl‘s in a good place.

Brighton and Hove Albion
Predicted finish: 14
Actual finish: 17

How wrong was I? A bit wrong, and I pretty much blame Pascal Gross, who back slid from 7 goals and 8 assists in his Premier League debut to just three and three in Year No. 2. The Seagulls didn’t score a single goal from outside the 18.

Wolves
Predicted finish: 13
Actual finish: 7

How wrong was I? It’s not simply about buying players — see: Fulham — but about acquiring hungry players. Raul Jimenez, Diogo Jota, and several others had points to prove, and Jimenez especially made it well.

Newcastle United
Predicted finish: 12
Actual finish: 13

How wrong was I? To be honest, this went about as I expected given the brutal fixture list to start the season. Had I known Miguel Almiron would’ve transitioned so nicely from MLS to the PL, I might’ve had them 10th.

 (Photo by Michael Regan/Getty Images)

Fulham
Predicted finish: 11
Actual finish: 19

How wrong was I? Very, but to my defense so were most people. On paper, the Cottagers improved more than even Wolves.

Crystal Palace
Predicted finish: 10
Actual finish: 12

How wrong was I? The stats kinda back me up, and it may be worth noting for next season that the Palace’s results didn’t match its performances. Aaron Wan-Bissaka, Luka Milivojevic, and Wilfried Zaha gave them difference makers in all thirds of the field, and it’s surprising they didn’t push a bit higher on the table.

Leicester City
Predicted finish: 9
Actual finish: 9

How wrong was I? Not. The Foxes were pretty infuriating all year. Maybe Brendan Rodgers‘ ego and power will match the player power that’s run the club since they won the title. That said, the inconsistency and tumult shouldn’t be a surprise in a season the club had to deal with its owner dying on a match day.

West Ham United
Predicted finish: 8
Actual finish: 10

How wrong was I? Not really. I thought it would take Manuel Pellegrini some time to put his men together, but I didn’t predict the Irons would get a total of 37 appearances from Andriy Yarmolenko, Jack Wilshere, Manuel Lanzini, and Carlos Sanchez.

Everton
Predicted finish: 7
Actual finish: 8

How wrong was I? It took Marco Silva longer than expected to get his men humming, but think of this: If Jordan Pickford doesn’t give Divock Origi a derby winner, Everton is going to Europe. I know, I know… chaos theory. But still.

Richarlison (Photo by Gareth Copley/Getty Images)

Tottenham Hotspur
Predicted finish: 6
Actual finish: 4

How wrong was I? Like many, I was stunned that Spurs didn’t spend this summer and thought injuries would hurt them. They did, but only to the extent that Tottenham wasn’t able to sustain a title challenge. Spurs rarely gave the ball away, and the only teams that averaged fewer “times dispossessed” than Tottenham’s 9.2 per 90 were teams that never had the ball: Brighton, Cardiff, and Burnley.

Arsenal
Predicted finish: 5
Actual finish: 5

How wrong was I? Spot-on. It was going to take time for the Gunners to come together following a first managerial change in ages, but Arsenal had the offense to challenge for the Top Four. Surprisingly for Arsenal, they averaged just eight dribbles per game, 12th in the PL. Unai Emery had them more cautious than usual.

Chelsea
Predicted finish: 4
Actual finish: 3

How wrong was I? Not. Maurizio Sarri is not for everyone, but he knows how to get results. Granted Gonzalo Higuain was his guy, but he did it without a top striker.

Liverpool
Predicted finish: 3
Actual finish: 2

How wrong was I? Well, considering the Reds had one of the best runners-up finishes of all-time, quite wrong. Mostly, I didn’t expect Mohamed Salah to deliver again and he mostly did (save for a late winter slump).

Manchester United
Predicted finish: 2
Actual finish: 6

How wrong was I? Real wrong. Almost as wrong as United looks for canning Jose Mourinho. The manager needed to leave town, but there was a reason he was playing so packed-in. Ask yourself this: If Ed Woodward gave Mourinho the use of Toby Alderweireld, would Spurs and United be flipped?

Manchester City
Predicted finish: 1
Actual finish: 1

How wrong was I? On point. How good was City? For a club that ranked No. 1 in possession, they were only dispossessed 10.3 times per match. That was the 8th fewest total in the league.

Five players Man United should sign

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Manchester United need a massive rebuild this summer.

Everybody knows it.

Their manager Ole Gunnar Solskjaer and executive vice-chairman Ed Woodward have both spoken publicly about their desire to strengthen the squad, with Solskjaer aiming to bring in young, hungry players to the club. Something drastic has to change.

But which five players should United make their top targets this summer as they aim to push their way back into the top four of the Premier League?

Even though United have been through struggles in recent seasons, the allure of playing for one of the most popular clubs on the planet and dragging them back to the top of the game will attract plenty of players. So too will the fact that United’s finances allows them to pay top dollar.

Here’s a look at five players they have to sign this summer to complete the dramatic rebuild they need.


Joao Felix (Benfica, release clause of $133 million)
The 19-year-old attacking midfielder will provide goals and assists and he has shone in Portugal. The last time United were off the pace a little in the PL, they plucked a bright young talent from Portugal called Cristiano Ronaldo. That worked out pretty well. Felix may never reach Ronaldo’s heights, but the fact Man City and Real Madrid want to sign him says it all.


Toby Alderweireld (Tottenham, release clause of $32 million)
Doesn’t really fit into the “young and hungry” category, but the Belgian defender would add a steadying influence to United’s defense. At 30 years old Alderweireld is set for one big final pay day in his career and that is why he has such a small release clause in his contract after Spurs had to trigger a one-year extension. His displays for Spurs over the past few years have been consistency excellent.


Harry Maguire (Leicester, valued at $100 million)
At 26 years old Maguire is still to enter his prime. That is wild considering how well he has played for Leicester and England over the past two seasons. He almost joined United last summer but decided to stay at Leicester, and another great season has seen his value rise by $25 million. Maguire and Alderweireld at center back would be a great partnership, but it is likely only one of them will arrive. Maguire is more expensive but would be a long-term purchase to build United’s defense around.


Declan Rice (West Ham, valued at $60 million)
His meteoric rise has seen him become a star for West Ham and make his England debut. Shows so much poise in the holding midfield role and if Rice, still just 20 years old, arrived then it could help Paul Pogba out as he will win the ball back and feed the Frenchman in good areas. West Ham will reluctantly sell, and Rice should be a top priority to shield United’s shaky defense.


Aaron Wan-Bissaka (Crystal Palace, valued at $60 million)
Ashley Young has been handed a one-year extension and Antonio Valencia is leaving, so United are looking a little weak at right back. Wan-Bissaka, 21, has been sublime for Crystal Palace and is a solid defender as well as adding an attacking presence. Palace will be reluctant to sell both AWB and Wilfried Zaha in the same summer, which could be an issue. Right back is an area where United need to strengthen. Now.

Report: $100M Zaha tells Palace he’s ready to leave

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Wilfried Zaha feels he’s reached his potential at Crystal Palace, and has told the South London outfit he wants UEFA Champions League football.

Zaha, 26, has successfully rebuilt his reputation after failing to make an impact at Manchester United, and bagged a career-best 10 goals in Premier League play this season.

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According to The Daily Mail, he’s told Palace he’s ready to leave Selhurst Park. The Eagles’ reportedly have a $100 million price tag on the Ivorian.

Zaha was one of three stars for Palace this season, joining youngster Aaron Wan-Bissaka and center midfielder Luka Milivojevic in successfully moving the Eagles out of another relegation fight.

If Palace sells Zaha, it would make it even more difficult to allow the 21-year-old Wan-Bissaka to leave the club. Wan-Bissaka was sensational and would’ve been in many Best XIs were it not for Trent Alexander-Arnold‘s amazing campaign for runners-up Liverpool.

What’s next for the Ivorian? Man City and Liverpool don’t seem to fit the bill, but any of the other contenders could fit the bill. And if it needs to be the Champions League, maybe the long-mentioned links to Spurs or Chelsea become a reality.

Ranking top 10 Premier League players at each position

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There are 25 players in each Premier League squad, but who not only starred for their respective clubs but also elevated themselves to the upper echelons of the league this season?

[ VIDEO: Premier League highlights

We pondered that as we analyzed those who rose to the challenge best over the past nine months.

Below is a look at our complete list of the top 10 players in each position based on their play during the 2018-19 campaign.


Goalkeepers
1. Ederson
2. Alisson
3. David De Gea
4. Kepa
5. Ben Foster
6. Lukasz Fabianski
7. Hugo Lloris
8. Jordan Pickford
9. Rui Patricio
10. Martin Dubravka


Right backs
1. Trent Alexander-Arnold
2. Matt Doherty
3. Aaron Wan-Bissaka
4. Cesar Azpilicueta
5. Ricardo Perreira
6. Kyle Walker
7. Seamus Coleman
8. Kiko Femenia
9. Pablo Zabaleta
10. Yan Valery


Left backs
1. Andrew Robertson
2. Lucas Digne
3. Ben Chilwell
4. Luke Shaw
5. Jonny Otto
6. Patrick Van Aanholt
7. Ben Davies
8. Nacho Monreal
9. Jose Holebas
10. Emerson Palmeri


Center backs
1. Virgil Van Dijk
2. Aymeric Laporte
3. Toby Alderweireld
4. Jan Vertonghen
5. Vincent Kompany
6. Sokratis
7. Antonio Rudiger
8. Conor Coady
9. Michael Keane
10. Issa Diop


Central midfielders
1. Fernandinho
2. Joao Moutinho
3. Moussa Sissoko
4. David Silva
5. Jordan Henderson
6. Andre Gomes
7. Abdoulaye Doucoure
8. Fabinho
9. N'Golo Kante
10. Youri Tielemans


Attacking midfielders
1. Eden Hazard
2. Bernardo Silva
3. Kevin De Bruyne
4. Christian Eriksen
5. Gerard Deulofeu
6. Dele Alli
7. James Maddison
8. Gylfi Sigurdsson
9. Paul Pogba
10. Diogo Jota


Wingers
1. Raheem Sterling
2. Bernardo Silva
3. Sadio Mane
4. Mohamed Salah
5. Wilfried Zaha
6. Ryan Fraser
7. Pedro
8. Ryan Babel
9. David Brooks
10. Nathan Redmond


Strikers
1. Sergio Aguero
2. Pierre-Emerick Aubameyang
3. Harry Kane
4. Roberto Firmino
5. Alexandre Lacazette
6. Raul Jimenez
7. Heung-Min Son
8. Jamie Vardy
9. Marcus Rashford
10. Salomon Rondon


Season Review: Burnley, Bournemouth, Newcastle, Crystal Palace, Watford

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After looking over the bottom five finishers in the Premier League this season, we look through the next five teams, a smattering of clubs both happy to avoid the relegation scrap and looking to use this finish as a launching pad for the coming campaign.

[ REVIEW: Huddersfield, Fulham, Cardiff, Brighton, Saints ]

Managers in this group also could find themselves candidates for jobs down the road, and teams like Burnley, Bournemouth, and Watford may end up in a battle to keep one of their most prized possessions. How did these five teams perform this year?

Burnley

Finishing position/points total: 15 / 40pts
High point
: Eight straight unbeaten through January.
Low point
: Sitting 19th in early December with just 2 league wins

Our opinion: Burnley had a roller coaster ride this year, but Sean Dyche managed to pick the club up from 19th in early December to finish without worry over the last few months. Nailing the magic 40-point total on the nose, it’s hard to argue with where they finished given the rough first half.  
Star player
: Chris Wood
Most memorable goal
: Ashley Barnes‘ finish off an exquisite Johan Berg Gudmudsson delivery capped off an eight-match unbeaten run that defined Burnley’s season. They’d go on to lose their next four, but that stretch combined with a solid finish to the campaign gave them life and avoided a relegation battle.


Manager grade: Sean Dyche: B
Hopes for next season
: Keeping Burnley up will be the consistent goal until the club can build a financial base to challenge for a top half finish. Sean Dyche managed to meet the goal relatively comfortably this season after a rough start to the campaign, but how much longer can they keep hold of him?

Bournemouth

Finishing position/points total: 14 / 45pts
High point
: Sitting 6th in mid-October with 6 wins in the first 10 games
Low point
: A 7-game stretch through the holidays conceding 20 goals and earning just 4 points

Our opinion: It was a solid season for Bournemouth, although without the fabulous start to the season, things may have ended quite differently. After the first 11 games where lost just twice, the club picked up 25 points over a 27-match span, a relegation-type pace. Eddie Howe is a good manager who may end up at a bigger club sooner rather than later, but Bournemouth’s consistent inability to defend despite good back-line talent will give a potential suitor pause.
Star player
: Ryan Fraser
Most memorable goal
: This strike by David Brooks from outside the box helped Bournemouth to a big 2-0 win over Brighton when the Cherries were beginning to nosedive down the table.


Manager grade: Eddie Howe: C
Hopes for next season
: Bournemouth is about where they’re going to be, and survival is the perennial goal. They may be a candidate for the drop once again, but with as much firepower as they have, it shouldn’t be on the cards for them. An improvement at the back would be helpful over the summer.

Newcastle United

Finishing position/points total:
High point
: A 2-1 win over eventual champions Man City in late January, Pep Guardiola‘s final loss of the season.
Low point
: No wins in the first 10 matches of the season.

Our opinion: Rafa Benitez stumbled early after another summer of penny pinching from Mike Ashley, but he recovered enough to lift Newcastle out of the relegation battle, and convinced Ashley to splash the cash for Miguel Almiron in the winter, a move that proved positive until Almiron got hurt. Benitez is arguably the most valuable asset at the club and he did well to keep this squad out of the bottom three.
Star player
: Ayoze Perez is the team’s star goalscorer but Matt Ritchie is the man who makes the team tick.
Most memorable goal
: Matt Ritchie’s late penalty to beat Man City gave Newcastle its most famous win of the season, but Fabian Schar’s absolute howitzer to take the lead over Burnley in February is easily the stunner of the year for Newcastle. That win capped off a 6-match stretch that included four wins and just three goals conceded.


Manager grade: Rafa Benitez: A-
Hopes for next season
: If Benitez is to be believed, Newcastle has European potential, but it will take a few years to realize that potential. Should they keep Benitez around, Newcastle should be a top half contender if Ashley can be convinced to open the wallet this summer.

Crystal Palace

Finishing position/points total: 12 / 49pts
High point
: Five wins in seven to end the season, including a 3-2 win over Arsenal
Low point
: Eight games without a win through October and November

Our opinion: Aside from the brutal start to the year which saw Palace gain just nine points from their first 13 games, Crystal Palace had a very good campaign – it would have likely featured a top-half finish with a better start to the year. Ugly losses still dot the season occasionally (this is the Premier League, after all, nothing is guaranteed), but Hodgson has built this side into a consistent performer week in and week out.
Star player
: Wilfried Zaha
Most memorable goal
: Andros Townsend scored a ripper against Burnley (who seem to have been victimized plenty by great goals this season) but there is no question that his volley against Manchester City is Crystal Palace’s best of the campaign and maybe the entire Premier League this season.


Manager grade: Rod Hodgson: B-
Hopes for next season
: Crystal Palace always has the potential to end up sucked into the relegation scrap with a bad run of form, as the start to this season showed, so staying up should always be priority #1. However, with that in hand, the club should be challenging for top-half finishes if they would like to continue growing. 53 goals conceded is less than all but one club below them in the table, meaning the defense performed well, and if they can attack like they did during the run-in this season (11 goals scored against Arsenal, Cardiff, and Bournemouth) they’ll be poised to make that happen.

Watford

Finishing position/points total: 11 / 50pts
High point
: Beating Tottenham for its fourth straight win to start the season.
Low point
: Losing six of nine to finish the season.

Our opinion: At its best, Watford is a fantastic group that absorbs pressure and counters with vicious intent. At its worst, it gives up four goals to Bournemouth or West Ham. Overall, Watford did quite well this season, and while the four straight to start the season set lofty expectations that were unsustainable, finishing 11th in the Premier League is a laudable accomplishment even with the disappointing finish to the campaign.
Star player
: While Troy Deeney, Andre Gray, and Gerard Deulofeu shared the goalscoring this season, defender Craig Cathcart logged more minutes than anyone on the squad this season and bagged the winner against Tottenham early in the season.
Most memorable goal
: Watford bagged a host of good goals this season, but this brilliant solo run from Roberto Pereyra is the best of the bunch.


Manager grade: Javi Gracia: B+
Hopes for next season
: Somehow, Watford made finishing 11th appear disappointing, proof that they were strong for most of the long season. Watford even challenged for a spot in Europe before being outlasted by Wolves, so fans will hope that next season they can finish the deal and earn a top-7 spot.