We're off...

Published: Tuesday, 08 August 2017

It was 1992, about September time, and I was following Ron Atkinson out of a studio. We'd just been recording another edition of the Footballers' Football Show. He was bubbling about the new Premier League era and still excited about football in general.

I say 'still' because as we walked I looked at him and thought 'Wow - even after all these years he's revved up by it all'. I went on to think 'will I retain an enthusiasm like that?' 

I'd known Ron since my time in Manchester. He's a great guy - deeply loyal, great fun and simply football mad. What he isn't, by the way, is a racist.

The reason I was having all those thoughts was because we'd just landed the Premier League contract at Sky and although I too was hugely excited by everything that was happening around me, I was wondering how long I'd retain an appetite for it all. I've got the answer now - so far, 26 years!

As we start again, what should we expect? Well, as Leicester proved, predicting is a mugs game. The year they won the title I had them down for relegation! Maybe it's time to get my own back - they will definitely NOT win the title this year and I'm 100 per cent certain of that!

So who will? With time yet for all the contenders to spend again, it's hard at this stage to make either bold or accurate predictions, but I'll share with you the way I'm thinking right now.

With Gareth Bale United win the title. Without him they are strong contenders, who could muscle their way back to the top, but they're not nailed on. It's a shame to be talking about a United team 'muscling' their way to success, but that's what they are now - big and strong. Mourinho once said you can't win a title with less than five players over 6'2" because you're always vulnerable at set-pieces. Well he's fixed that little problem hasn't he?

I fancied them strongly last season but the decay was worse than even I had been telling United punters - not that any of them ever listened. I repeat, Fergie got out at exactly the right time - and he knew it. He won the title in his last season, but the rot had already started. I said they needed eight to be competitive the following season and they've since spent £587m - I rest my case. Oh, David Moyes is with us on beINSports this weekend - I'll try and persuade him to tell us what his United would've looked like had they landed all his targets - it's fascinating.

So it's United for me - with Bale. If not, Guardiola just HAS to win it or he will have failed in English football. Never mind that he argues City are 10 years behind their rivals - that's nonsense. If it's not, they'll never catch up because the 'rivals' will always keep pulling away.

Last season was a shambles at City. I'm sure Guardiola arrived expecting to walk it, especially after the way they started, but it was never going to happen. He didn't have Xavi, Iniesta or Messi nor the fairly simple task of finishing above Madrid to win a title. He didn't have Robben, Lewandowski or Muller nor the relatively simple task of finishing above Dortmund to win in Germany. England isn't like that Pep. Having spent what he has this summer Guardiola HAS to win it. He just HAS to, but I'm not sure he will.

I might be alone in this, but I fancy Arsenal to go well. How long will it be though before we're all asking 'was Wenger right to stay?'  If he loses his opener the answer is '90 minutes'! I'm not sure there's a title bid in them, but top 4 is realistic.

My 4th placed finishers will surprise you - I'm going for Everton - not with a lot of conviction, but hope. I like Ronald Koeman and I think Everton's business this summer has been fantastic. If they get Sigurdsson they'll be a match for anyone. There's plenty left in Rooney's tank and they're a nice mixture of young and old.

Which means I've got Chelsea, Liverpool and Spurs outside the Champions League places! Before you start abusing me on Twitter, let me explain.

I enjoyed watching Spurs last season more than any other team, but without any significant signings they've gone backwards. You can't stand still. There's still time, but Ross Barkley wouldn't be a significant signing for me. I don't know what he does, but I do know that he doesn't score enough goals, doesn't break play up, doesn't win tackles and he gives the ball away too often and too easily.

The other big problem Spurs have is trying to win a title at Wembley. I just can't see it. A bit like West Ham found at their new home last season, every team going to Wembley will love it. They'll all raise their game and frustrate Spurs, who might just be more successful on the road, but it's 'home' form, or a lack of it, that will cost them for me.

Chelsea are short in numbers and they haven't got the luxury of just playing league games this time around. Conte knows it as well. I wouldn't be surprised to see him concentrate on the Champions League because the continentals still see that as a more prestigious competition than winning a domestic title. I don't think they've got enough to go well in both competitions.

Jurgen Klopp has simply GOT to win a trophy. Nothing else will do, but it won't be the title. I can't validate it, but I'm told his agent, Mark Kosicke, didn't want to send players to Anfield this summer. If not, why not? What does he know that we don't? I'm afraid if Klopp doesn't deliver this season he should be on his way at the end of it. Having spent £112m he's had both money and time.

As for the strugglers, I'm afraid the season will prove to be too tough for both Huddersfield and Brighton. Neither should worry about that. Both should use Burnley as the benchmark - up, relegated, up again and settle. Don't bankrupt your club going on a mad spending spree.

My third strugglers are Palace - IF de Boer softens them too much. Pardew tried that and look what happened. Palace haven't looked better in this league than they did under Pulis and Allardyce - big and strong and getting the ball forward quickly. It's a style of play in their DNA - remember Wright and Bright beating defenders up in Steve Coppell's teams? Oh - Steve will be with us week two on beINSports. He's great fun.

I repeat what I said when I started these few words - predicting isn't an exact science or I'd put a lot of money on the above and become very rich. I know I'll have upset s few of you - but they're just a few thoughts to throw around in the pub. Let me know what you think - but whatever else you do - enjoy your season. We're off......