The Future’s Uncertain and the End is Always Near

Defending EPL Champions Leicester City in blue. (Photo by Markus Unger)

Right now I am on the Paddy Power website and it is all I can do to keep from putting a fiver on seven teams who are a 1000 to one. Over on Skybet there are four teams at a 1000 to one. Nobody’s at 5000 to one which is what Leicester City were this time last year, but that didn’t stop the Foxes from winning the whole thing, so that means these teams are five times more likely to win than Leicester was. Right?

Oh sure, you think that’s idiot logic. Fine. But where were you last year? Were you one of the geniuses who told me that Chelsea was going to repeat because no side had improved enough to catch them? Were you the fella saying maybe, MAYBE, if Man City made a move for a midfielder they could maybe maybe challenge—but really, who were they gonna get? Or were you the guy telling me that Leicester City were gonna win it all, taking Spurs—SPURS!—to almost the final week of the season? Yeah, was that you? No? I didn’t think so.

Nobody saw that because nobody had a clue. Nobody ever has a clue. Season after season, year after year, pundits, pals and other punters get into fisticuffs over the predictions they make that we all hang our hopes—and our fantasy teams—on and which all come to naught. Or less than naught if we actually wagered money on any of it. It’s madness.

Which is why, of course, I’ve asked a random handful of friendly EPL watchers to do it—to make some bold predictions at this ridiculously early stage of the process (we began this in June). Who’ll finish in the top three, who’ll finish in the bottom three, what the biggest disappointment will be, and the corresponding biggest surprise.

But why, you ask? Because on the one hand, do you really think it will make any difference if we wait a week, or two, or three into the season? I don’t. And on the other hand, because this way everyone’s got an excuse for their idiocy—I mean predictions. It was too damn early. The summer transfer window was still open. The sun got in my eyes. Whatever. No harm no foul, no way you were serious, right? So let’s begin.

Our Panel of EPL Predictors

From Blue City Radio, the creator and host, Mike Anderer; from the University of Washington, Men’s Soccer Coach, Jamie Clark; from ESPN’s Caught Offside Podcast, Andrew Gundling; from TWC Deportes the Spanish voice of Aston Villa and FS1 soccer commentator, Francisco X. Rivera; from New York City Blues, Jon Sauerschell; from SkySports‪, IMG and talkSPORT, Commentator Gary Taphouse; and from SiriusXM’s WTF, former U.S. Men’s National Team member, Eric Wynalda.

Eephus-EPL-tables-topThat’s four of our seven experts, hanging light blue ribbons from the cup next spring. Francisco X Rivera explained his choice this way:

“Former NBA Coach Rudy Tomjanovich once said ‘You can never underestimate the heart of a champion’, so, you can’t bet against Pep Guardiola, who has won at least one major trophy in seven of eight seasons as a manager. His aggressive offensive style of quick, short passing in the edge of the box will work wonderfully with players he knows very well from Spain, such as Aguero, Navas, Silva and Nolito. Pep has said that Jose Mourinho brings out the best of him as a coach, so it’ll be a fun 1-2 race until the end, especially considering that Man United is much more dangerous with the addition of Ibra and Gundogan.”

Gary Taphouse concurs:

“Pep Guardiola will have been pondering how to return City to the top for some time. They will spend big. Add that to the fact that he is a proven winner and I make them champions.”

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So of our seven experts, each of them expects at least one of the promoted sides (Hull, Burnley, Middlesbrough) to go back to the Championship, with Eric Wynalda predicting that none of them will stay up, though he is uncharacteristically silent on why.

Clark and Gundling are sending Bournemouth down at season’s end, which Gundling defends this way:

“I love their manager and I love the fact that Callum Wilson just signed a new deal but I worry about the loss of Matt Ritchie to Newcastle and I worry about the potential form of so many key players coming off of significant injuries.”

And Gary Taphouse demotes Crystal Palace because they had a:

“Horrific second half of last season, masked a bit by the run to the Cup Final. Not convinced they’ll make it five seasons in a row in the Premier League.”

Also, for what it’s worth, Gundling and Rivera picked Sunderland before Moyes was named manager (“It’s gotta happen one of these years, right?”). Will that change things? Or rather, will that change things for the better? Either way, it certainly makes the Boxing Day fixture at Old Trafford more interesting…

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In spite of four of our experts expecting to see City hoist the cup in Watford on May 21st, Eric Wynalda thinks they and their vaunted manager will be the biggest disappointment of the season. “Pep will also forget to eat for a week straight in October” he predicts, “and almost whither away before our very eyes.”

Coach Clark, however, looks to a different part of Morrissey’s old home town, for the biggest disappointment, as does Jon Sauerschell explaining:

“The cult of Mourinho would have you believe he is the second coming but I’m no longer drinking that Kool-Aid.  We know his game and I think there are more innovative managers in the league. Combined with his hesitancy to play young players (the only fun thing about that roster) and the complete squad overhaul needed (again) means potential struggles.”

Again, to be fair, these predictions were made before either Zlatan or Pogba decided to set up housekeeping on Sir Matt Busby Way. Which one would think should have some impact.

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Curiously, even though three of our experts picked Burnley to go back the Championship next year, Gary Taphouse thinks they’ll be the big surprise. “They will be so much stronger this time around” he says “and I’m a huge admirer of Sean Dyche.” Does Gary have any money sitting at Skybet? No comment.

Similarly with Watford – Jon Sauerschell says they’re going down, but Francisco Rivera says:

“I really like what I saw from Watford last season, especially in the FA Cup. Quique Sanchez Flores is out, but former Inter boss Walter Mazzari should be able to continue what the Spaniard coach started. Owner Gino Pozzo also owns Udinese in Italy and Granada in Spain, which has helped the Hornets to acquire inexpensive but solid talent. I really like captain Troy Deeney, a powerful, physical forward who can hurt teams in different ways, and is always a team player. They should be able to reach the Top 10 this season.”

And while Sauerschell also thinks the big surprise will be Arsenal not making the top four (these Liverpool loyalties die hard), Coach Clark thinks the big surprise will be that they finally win it all.

Eric Wynalda, however, thinks there will be more surprises than that. Not content to limit himself to one he his confident that:

“Leicester City will not do well in Europe and Chelsea will come in fourth—also Conte will be dubbed “Jose part 3” for his defensive tactics, and he and Jose will have one pushing match. In a related story, Jose will also refuse to shake Arsene’s hand again.

Liverpool will be the story throughout the season with a late collapse but might be top of the BPL at some point.

Tottenham will sneak up at the end but have a dismal start thus putting them in a hole they can’t dig out of.

And West Ham will continue to win games they shouldn’t and lose games they should—screwing up the table on a weekly basis, and resulting in Bilic aging 25 years in the first 3 months of the season and ending up in a wheelchair before Christmas.”

And you may laugh at Eric’s predictions. Heck, you may laugh at all of them. But as Andrew Gundling reminds us “Go ahead, mock them… tear them apart… ridicule every word of it.  But just know this—Your predictions would be just as useless! You know why? Because no one knows anything!”

Except those guys at Paddy Power. I think they’re on to something.

(Special thanks to Mike Anderer, Jamie, Clark, Andrew Gundling, Francisco X. Rivera, Jon Sauerschell, Gary Taphouse, and Eric Wynalda for their time, patience, predictions, and sense of humor. You guys are all top of the table in my book).

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Martin Bihl was born in New York City the year William Faulkner died. He writes long sentences, reads old books, drinks rare whiskies, travels widely, listens to Bill Evans, and does not suffer fools, liars, or frauds. In addition to writing about sport, he creates advertising, teaches it at a variety of Universities, writes about it at the-agency-review.com, speaks on it at conferences, and consults with companies about doing it better than they are. Reach him at twitter.