2019 St Leger Preview

Since I’ve started previewing British racing’s showcase meetings two years ago, the St Leger is the only Classic in which I have chosen the winner on both occasions. Even within such a small sample, there is a running theme: both were Aidan O’Brien’s first string and both were second favourites for much of the build-up (Capri eventually went off a narrow favourite).

This year, one horse fits the bill of both once again. However, with an unbeaten favourite and a stablemate on the up, selecting is not as simple as following trends. Here’s a dissection of all eight runners for the final Classic of the season.

  1. Dashing Willoughby: Last year’s winner Kew Gardens took the Group Two Queen’s Vase at Royal Ascot before triumphing at Doncaster three months on. Dashing Willoughby recorded a gutsy victory in that race back in June, but has been soundly beaten on both starts since, including when significantly further behind Stradivarius than Il Paradiso was a month after wards. He will probably stay better than most, but Sir Dragonet more than had his measure at Chester earlier in the season and a career record of 2/8 suggests his future won’t be spent in Group One company. 2/5
  2. Il Paradiso: Would never have been considered a Classic prospect this time last month and even more unusually, its taken a finishing position of third out of four for him to become the bookies’ third choice in this race. With the same weight allowance as the horse above, Il Paradiso forced the issue against Stradivarius and ran him to within a length-and-a-half. John Gosden’s immaculate stayer rarely does more than he requires, as evidenced today, but this Aidan O’Brien colt also finished alongside Dee Ex Bee, easily the second best stayer in Britain and Ireland this season. That is strong form and Padraig Beggy has proved himself a reliable man for the big occasion, judging the pace to perfection above Sovereign in this year’s Irish Derby. He may well move prominent again and look to expose any weakness in the favourite stamina-wise, a tactic both Capri and Kew Gardens’ jockeys used to perfection in the last two years. Very tempting. Too tempting. 5/5
  3. Logician: Unbeaten and doing all of the right things. Margin and comfort of the first three victories was what stood out as opposed to the quality of the contest, but he won likeably in the Great Voltigeur at York with Frankie not asking a lot at the end. There is a chance that the ease of that victory was exaggerated given his jockey’s semi-showboating in the final furlong. To me, it was more workmanlike than it may have been according to many reports. He still has star potential and there is no knowing the ceiling to the quality of his recent victory (runner-up Constantinople has since been sent to Australia). The St Leger has suited sure-fire stayers in recent renewals, however. Logician, for all his positives, might not be that. 4/5
  4. Nayef Road: Ran a rare howler when last of five in the Great Voltigeur. Before that, though, he had defeated Constantinople in brave fashion, sticking his neck out to win the Gordon Stakes. This trip is probably what he’s after in the long run and his third to Dashing Willoughby in his only attempt to date is good form. His price is not reflective of his best performances this season and he may be one for each-way multiples with class likely to run him out of victory. 3/5
  5. Sir Dragonet: The joint least inexperienced in the field with four runs. Wildly brilliant Chester Vase winner when scorching clear from off the pace on a slippery surface. Could not quite fulfil that promise in the Derby (though he was beaten less than a length that day), but his comeback was worryingly below par. An argument can be made that he needed the run, but he was more than effective on his racecourse debut, so fears remain that something else may be amiss. It could be that he needed further (that run was over 1m2f and he’s never faced shorter) and so the St Leger is a natural choice for this son of Camelot, a Leger runner-up. Nevertheless, enough doubts ensure that his stablemate is the more attractive O’Brien inmate. 3/5
  6. Sir Ron Priestley: The most progressive runner in the field and so it is impossible to rule out the necessary involvement to be a real player. Has won five times in 2019, seeing his mark go up 22lb with just a single blip coming at Royal Ascot in the middle. Took the step up to Group company in his stride at Goodwood three weeks ago albeit that race is nowhere near the quality that most of this field have contested in the past. Needs by far a career best and the transition from handicaps to genuine Group One company can provide a learning curve. Not the one for me today. 2/5
  7. Technician: Were it to rain, Martyn Meade’s charge could prove to be the forgotten grey in the line-up. Relished this new trip when defeating fellow soft-ground specialist Morando on such a surface in the Group Three Geoffrey Freer at Newbury last month. They pulled quite nicely clear of the remainder, although once more the quality has to be in serious doubt. The ground looks set to favour others before him, but rain would make Technician a similar each-way prospect to Nayef Road. 3/5
  8. Western Australia: Despite being the rank outsider, Western Australia is the only horse running this afternoon who boasts a place at the highest level. That came in last year’s Futurity Stakes as a juvenile at a massive price and he’ll need to replicate that level of surprise. He’s ultimately disappointed since being stepped up in trip, winning his first start beyond a mile-and-a-half in a Listed Navan race before finishing down the field in three latter outings. The level of his seventh to Twilight Payment at the Curragh is probably the most accurate to take in relation to his overall ability. That tells you all you need to know. 1/5

IL PARADISO’s form sets a standard given he may have genuinely tested Stradivarius’ resolve at Goodwood on his latest outing. His more certain stamina credentials highlight him as the danger to Logician and if setting sail with an advantage, he may prove too tough to reel in.

York Ebor: Day 4

The exceptional performance by Battaash was thoroughly clouded over by the loss of two recent greats earlier today. Roaring Lion succumbing to a second bout of colic was desperate given the promise of a long and healthy career at stud after his on-course exploits. As heartbreaking was the departure of Espoir D’Allen, the Champion Hurdler, who had so much ahead of him a the tender of age of five. The news itself is shocking, but we might not feel the full effects of either until well into the future.

The final day of the Ebor meeting will be run under somewhat of a gloom, though the handicap could throw up a couple of fairytale stories to brighten the mood. Furthermore, there is action at Goodwood, with the return of a promising three-year-old being a significant eyecatcher. Here are my day four choices.

Goodwood 2:05 – SKARDU

Both Duke of Hazzard and Beat Le Bon have improved for the milder weather recently, but Skardu’s form at Group One level is top drawer. Third and fourth in the British and Irish Guineas, he wasn’t beaten far in the St James’s Palace Stakes at Royal Ascot either when late rain may have hindered him more than the other principles. Given he’s only had five starts to date, he should have further progress in him and a layoff should pose no problems given he opened his season with a victory.

York 2:25 – EMINENCE

With Ryan Moore returning to a bit of form recently, Eminence looks the soundest bet in the three-year-olds’ Ebor equivalent. He has been far from disgraced in some top handicaps this summer and, in hindsight, has shaped as if a couple of extra furlongs will see him in an even better light. He is only up 1lb for a good third at Goodwood when not having the clearest of passages having travelled well and the likes of First In Line, Almania and Universal Order all have to prove their stamina upped from a mile-and-a-quarter.

York 3:40 – MUSTAJEER

I cant tip King’s Advice because I’ve already missed out on all of his victories to date and it’ll be the kiss of death if I do. Nevertheless, this could prove the bridge too far even with his penalty ensuring he’s 1lb in, as the Ebor is different gravy with only 8lb covering the field. Mustajeer was fourth in this off the same mark last year when quietly ridden and has since become a runaway Listed winner as well as having placed at Group level behind Master Of Reality over this trip. His recent fifth in a Curragh Group Two was far from a disgrace as he finished upsides the useful Southern France off the same weight. This year’s Ebor renewal has ceiling 3lb higher than last and so Mustajeer carries less weight than twelve months ago and now its more certain that he’ll relish the journey, a more aggressive ride could be in store, throwing him right into calculations.

Goodwood 3:50 – MANUELA DE VEGA

Though she’d have got nowhere near Enbihaar at Goodwood, Manuela De Vega was never the most handily placed in the Lillie Langtry at the beginning of the month. That she ran on for a clear second confirmed her stamina was not the issue that day. These are calmer waters she shares in this Group Three, with Sir Ron Priestley stepping out of handicap company, Promissory wildly unproven, Dal Horrisgle already defeated soundly at this level and Blue Gardenia surely not up to scratch. She would not be out of place in a St Leger field at this stage and her form in Group Ones should mean she’s the one to beat.

York Ebor: Day 3

Enable has been truly glorious and her departure from our racetracks is bittersweet. We won’t see too many mares as great as her in our lifetime.

The feeling of loss was counteracted by a more successful day yesterday and the momentum will hopefully enable us to build on day three of the Ebor meeting. Here are my Friday selections.

1:55 – CARADOC

This is a leap in class for Ed Walker’s charge and while both Eynhallow and Genetics are tempting, the continuation of Oisin Murphy in the saddle and the increase in distance could bring about the necessary improvement in this field. His 5lb penalty for a recent victory means he carries 1lb less than he should officially and he was strong through the line when winning most recently. He has had excuses for both his defeats this season and his breeding gives further confidence that he should be even better over a mile-and-a-half.

2:25 – DEE EX BEE

I’m sorry. I know Stradivarius always wins, but this might finally be the time he finds one too good. As the Lonsdale Cup is a Group Two as opposed to a Group One, Dee Ex Bee is in receipt of 3lb. He’s been found wanting for a turn-of-foot by Stradivarius the last twice, but he is one of the most formidable opponents John Gosden’s exquisite stayer has faced. Falcon Eight also presents a tempting alternative as he is unproven, but the weight swing gives Dee Ex Bee a fighting chance if Silvestre De Souza can make this a stern enough test of stamina. He was unable to lead latest and didn’t go fast enough at Royal Ascot, but with knowledge comes power. 4/1 is too appealing given how little there has been between them. It just depends how much Stradivarius still had in reserve. I’m chancing there was less than appeared.

3:35 – MABS CROSS

The billing of this year’s Nunthorpe as a two-horse clash between Battaash and Ten Sovereigns baffled me. The former has a strike rate of 1/6 at the top level and was easily disposed of in this last year, in spite of his talents while the latter surely wants a tough six furlongs rather than a speedy five. Mabs Cross may have only maintained her form rather than improving upon it this term, but she was beaten a hair’s breadth in this last year. Her defeat by Battaash at Ascot should not be cause for concern as that form is almost identical to last year’s King’s Stand which she reversed in fine style in this and she has become a Group One winner since. She has every chance of going mightily close.

4:50 – VITRALITE

The three horses chasing hat-tricks at the head of the market all have factors against them. Vitralite was most recently fourth despite conceding lumps of weight all-round in a novice event won by Mubtasimah (receiving 12lb from selection.). She has won since and was far from disgraced earlier today off a mark now 1lb higher than Karl Burke’s runner. Back at a mile, where he won so convincingly on his second start (he also won on debut), 94 is not the harshest mark for his handicap bow given the promise of those first two victories and he’s a sizeable price on what he’s shown to date.

York Ebor 2019: Day 2

Enable day has happened far more regularly in 2019 than 2018 and even though she runs only in a four-runner affair tomorrow, this particular outing for John Gosden’s wondermare should be savoured more than any to date. As she eyes a third successive triumph in the Prix de L’Arc de Triomphe in the autumn, this may prove Enable’s penultimate racecourse start.

She’ll face stern enough opposition from Magical, but the Yorkshire Oaks is a race best left alone from a punting point of view. A few others on the card are far too tempting, however. Here are day two’s selections.

1:55 – LIBERTY BEACH

John Quinn has trained a couple of fleet of foot fillies among the juvenile ranks in the last two years. Signora Cabello lit up the turf last season and Liberty Beach is matching her impressive footsteps this time around. There’s every chance she may surpass her stablemate as she’s been highly impressive the last twice and shaped with real promise regards stepping up in trip when taking Goodwood’s five-furlong Molecomb Stakes on her latest start. She’ll face stern competition from James Tate’s Under The Stars, who may have improvement in her, but so, at this stage, does Liberty Beach and she’s worth following while on this hot streak.

2:25 – RAYONG

Show Me Show Me certainly improved upon his previous form when running an excellent third at Goodwood last time, but Rayong has been given some heady assignments in his young career to date. He’s been thrown into pattern company the last thrice and not been disgraced on any of those starts, running on with credit at Sandown and, most recently, in a French Group One. As such, six furlongs could make him the one to beat and I’m surprised he’s not the favourite here given he receives weight from the two currently ahead of him in the market.

3:00 – BLESS HIM

Within the top five in the market are Kynren, Baltic Baron and Firmament, all of whom are far from prolific winners. Vale Of Kent is not off the kindest mark, whereas, Bless Him is. David Simcock’s gelding is another not particularly used to winning, but he is less experienced and he runs off 92, his lowest mark for over two years and the previous lowest he won off. There were excuses last time when he didn’t enjoy the step up to 1m2f, but back at a mile, where he was second on his last start off 1lb higher, he should go close even in a competitive race.

4:15 – SEARCH FOR A SONG

Dermot Weld’s filly is one who has been on my radar for a while. She was defeated by Trethias in a Group Three on just her second start, but easily overturned that running in the Irish Oaks, in which she finished a highly promising fourth. Both Frosty and Frankellina retain potential, but there is a chance that Search For A Song could take higher order than Listed company in the future. The trip is no issue and as long as inexperience is no barrier, she should be a class above.

The Tour Championship’s new format: Engaging or Enraging?

As a racing enthusiast, the PGA Tour’s new system for their series finale has encouraged me to take a closer look at the world of golf.

For those unfamiliar, the Tour Championship is now staggered to reward those who have performed to their best at crucial points during the season. The leader of the season-long FedEx Cup, which dishes out points depending on the strength and necessity of the tournament, starts at the top of the leaderboard while the chasing pack have to close over the course of the four days.

This ensures it is more transparent as to who has claimed victory. Last season, Tiger Woods, before his emotional Masters triumph, claimed the tournament win at East Lake to crown an incredible comeback. However, for those watching without guidance, he had not triumphed in the overall FedEx Cup. He had too many points to make up on eventual winner Justin Rose, who had finished in a share of fourth at this particular event.

The new format does away with confusion. If you are at the top of the East Lake leaderboard at the end of the week, you have won both the tournament and the FedEx Cup. No need for calculators to tally cumulative points and determine whether victory is enough given so-and-so is in fifth place.

As such, Justin Thomas, the FedEx Cup’s leader, begins the week at -10 and holds a two shot advantage from the off. The impetus on those behind is immediately to chase, which should, in theory make things more exciting. Second place begins at -8, third at -7, and so on until sixth position. Those between six and ten in the standings will start at -4, 11-15 at -3, 16-20 at -2, 21-25 at -1 and 26-30 at even par, just as they would an ordinary week. Only the top 30 qualify for a position in the field at East Lake and those who have snuck in must work even harder for the $15 million (yes, 15 million) prize money for the champion.

The format works like a handicap would in racing, which enthrals me immediately. It’s a slightly crooked handicap: for example, Brooks Koepka, the no.1 player in the world, starts in third with only three shots to make up, whereas, in a handicapper’s paradise, he’d be at the bottom of the pyramid having to forge his way up.

Koepka’s position in the standings raises two issues. The first being that the likes of Charles Howell III and Jason Kokrak, who just about qualified and must open their first rounds at level par, are almost out of the equation for victory from the beginning. With the greatest of respect, it is doubtful they can make up seven shots on the world’s current best, let alone any number of shots on 25 of the 30-strong field.

Psychologically, there is a negative impact on those who between 26th and 30th in the FedEx standings. Last year, though they would have been up against it to claim overall victory, the journey to do so would have felt less daunting, with a simple, overall triumph being all they could do to get close, or, with luck falling their way, win the Cup themselves. This year, the tax of closing ten shots may appear insurmountable from the very first tee.

The second problem with Koepka’s position is that he has been indisputably golf’s best player of the year and yet he is only third. He has won three times, twice on tour alongside his major triumph in the PGA. Thomas, atop the standings, has won just once, that being this weekend at the BMW Championship.

Once again, the uninitiated can only be baffled by this bizarre arrangement. The BMW is a prestigious tournament, but no major and it is the only title Thomas has claimed in the 2018/19 season. Yet, because it is a FedEx Cup playoff event, the points awarded are far greater than in a regular season event, or even a major title, in order to encourage competition for the final few spots in the field and to continue form throughout the year.

Nevertheless, there is an awkward skew and the likes of Matt Kuchar and Rory Mcilroy, who have played admirably and consistently since the beginning of the year, find themselves adrift of Patrick Reed, who has only won one event, like Thomas, in the playoffs, and Patrick Cantlay, whose runner-up finish to Thomas promoted him to second in the FedEx Cup. This is clearly unfair and the playoffs, at least, don’t seem necessary.

This alone does not diminish the Tour Championship’s format, however, although the aforementioned psychological effects are even more intriguing when it comes to scoring. Some players thrive upon protecting leads: Thomas, for instance, has won seven of the ten tournaments he has won when holding a lead going into the final round. Others, meanwhile, enjoy the thrill of the chase, hunting down those boasting a lead by playing aggressive golf.

If you are one of those at -1 or -2, say, you have to go out and attack pins, wherever they are positioned, from the outset in order to claw back the artificial deficit. If this does not suit your game, or if you make an early mistake, you can almost be ruled out from the very start, which potentially lowers the competition before it has even really begun.

Alternatively, those from -5 upwards may consider approaching the opening stages more conservatively in the knowledge that they have been blessed with an advantage. Again, this could work negatively for someone like Rory Mcilroy, who is at his best when asserting from the outset.

As long as Thomas does not get away too quickly, the handicap-esque format could prove a hugely exciting watch. It could, however, lead to a spread-eagled field and drama involving only a handful of players. It is a grand idea, though and I hope for the PGA’s sake that it is a success.

York Ebor 2019: Day 1

York has become something of a spiritual home for me having recently departed the resident university after three glorious years. Regrettably, the Ebor meeting’s summer time slot ensured I had always returned south to Surrey once it had arrived.

This year, I’m actually further north, enjoying some downtime on Loch Ness, but every opportunity to glimpse some of the action on the Knavesmire will be taken if one arrives. Here are my selections for the opening day.

1:55 – GUNMETAL

Dakota Gold seeks a quickfire double having won the Great St Wilfrid handicap at Ripon at the weekend. He thus carries a 5lb penalty so is worth passing over espite being on the upgrade. The grey Gunmetal appeals as he is 8lb better off with the veteran Duke Of Firenze for their clash here in May. The latter came out on top that day and might be well treated for this, though Gunmetal was beaten less than 2 lengths in fourth. The extra half furlong will be in his favour and he gave 6lb and a beating to the aforementioned favourite this time last year; he is in receipt of weight tomorrow. The other 10-year-old Caspian Prince is another to keep an eye on.

3:35 – CRYSTAL OCEAN or ELARQAM w/o favourite

Crystal Ocean has always had talent, but he has developed into a top-class performer this year. Over any middle distance trip, he has the measure of the three-year-olds in this line-up and any odds against price should be snapped up. King of Comedy is the most progressive of the Classic group, but as they have proven below par to date, Elarqam may be a good bet without the favourite after he scored in serene style in the York Stakes at Group Two level at the end of July. He is finally realising some of the potential which saw him talked of in regal esteem last year and is around 11/2 to be best of the rest – his course form and the fact he’s evidently still improving entitle him to significant respect on this front.

4:15 – MAKAWEE

At the time of writing there are four co-favourites which accurately reflects that all 17 have chances on some level. Makawee appeals as a result by having more to offer than most. Her recent seconds have both been over course and distance on opposing ground types while carrying more weight and need not be a concern as she’s returned to the winners enclosure multiple times already this season. This is a slight step up in class, but she carries only nine stone as a result and with the rest my fancies stalling on dubious recent performances or course records, she gets the nod to perform up to scratch once again with Danny Tudhope having a tremendous season and not poised to slow down soon.

Premier League 2019/20: The Season Preview

The time has come. This week Premier League football returns and though it made me utterly miserable for nine of its ten months last season, there remains nothing quite like it to fill the gap. In order from first to dreaded last, I’ll briefly predict and preview every side’s chances for the coming season.

Once again, there should be few surprises up top (indeed, I’ve gone for the same ten teams to be in the top half with a few shifts in order). However, the bottom half looks far tougher with a few of the decade’s recent mainstays potentially growing a little stale and all three of the promoted clubs having built solid foundations to avoid the drop within a year.

First off, here is my predicted Premier League table in full:

1. Manchester City
2. Liverpool
3. Tottenham
4. Arsenal
5. Manchester United
6. Chelsea
7. Wolves
8. Leicester
9. Everton
10. West Ham
11. Crystal Palace
12. Southampton
13. Watford
14. Aston Villa
15. Burnley
16. Norwich
17. Bournemouth
18. Newcastle
19. Sheffield United
20. Brighton

And now, here’s my overview of each club’s chances as we enter the first week of the 2019/20 Premier League season:

1. Manchester City (Last season: 1st)

There’s little Pep Guardiola can do to improve and yet so little margin for error either. That Liverpool got within a point and a couple of centimetres of the title last season was a surprise in itself, but there was little fluke about it. City’s side is now ageing and withering slightly, with captain Vincent Kompany semi-retiring to home club Anderlecht and David Silva and Fernandinho well into their thirties.

Guardiola appears to be keeping faith with John Stones as Kompany’s replacement as he hasn’t signed a centre-back this window while David’s namesake Bernardo is simply a livewire version of the Spaniard. Meanwhile, the one significant bit of cash-splashing activity at the Etihad has seen Rodri come in as holding midfield competition for Fernandinho with a full season now likely to stretch the limits of the Brazilian’s fitness.

Incomings, however, were always likely to have less of an impact than a fully fit Kevin De Bruyne. If he can stay away from the physio’s table for long enough, his consistent presence could even push City to newer and increasingly unbelievable heights.

2. Liverpool (Last season: 2nd)

Sunday’s Community Shield, though it was lost on penalties, would have given Reds fans renewed optimism that they can challenge the Sky Blue juggernaut to the very end once again. Without Sadio Mane to complete their famed attacking triumvirate, they more than matched City throughout the 90 minutes and were arguably unlucky not to walk away victorious.

There’s been even less transfer activity on Merseyside than in Manchester this Summer. Save a couple of youthful signings in Sepp Van Den Berg and Harvey Elliott, Liverpool’s roster remains untouched. The returns of both Alex Oxlade-Chamberlin and Adam Lallana to full fitness will provide competition and added depth though there’s still fewer obvious replacements for first-teamers than at City.

It ultimately boils down to whether Jurgen Klopp can keep his squad fit throughout the season again. He performed incomparable heroics on that front last season, but any six-week injury to one of key players Alisson, Van Dijk or Salah could derail them enough for City to pull away once more. Nevertheless, they’re well clear of the rest.

3. Tottenham (Last season: 4th)

The fact that Tottenham were in with a shout of the title for two-thirds of 2018/19 and reached a Champions League final without having signed a single player makes Mauricio Pochettino worthy of a statue. This year is different, with Daniel Levy parting with £62.5 million for Tanguy N’Dombele to join from Lyon.

As it stands, Christian Eriksen stays, having looked likelier to be wearing the white of Real Madrid than Spurs earlier in the summer. However, the biggest problem may not be keeping players at the club, but keeping them fit. Harry Kane’s record when returning from injury has been publicised of late, but he shouldn’t be getting so many knocks to start with while Dele Alli is already said to be missing the start of the season this weekend.

Their new stadium already feels more homely than Wembley and so maintaining a standard starting XI will be the key if they are to have any chance of improving upon the clear third they earned in May. Realistically, the top two continue to look too strong, but the rest of the big six still need to catch up.

4. Arsenal (Last season: 5th)

Now we’re onto the interesting stuff. None of Arsenal, Chelsea or Manchester United are good enough to finish fourth and yet all of them are simultaneously. Last season ended with a sort of Schroedinger’s Football problem in that none of the three were getting results, but all of them continued to battle for positions.

Arsenal might win this rather trivial argument this time around. All of these clubs should be challenging for titles, but none of them are remotely ready yet.

Arsenal’s defence will be shambolic at times when they least require it again this season, despite being solid enough when they’re 3-0 up. The signing of Nicolas Pepe up top will ensure they have a dependably dangerous front three instead of two and Iwobi or Welbeck.

There will be games when Arsenal look as capable as any side and others where you question how they’re not destined for relegation. Remarkably, in spite of that, they’re in a better overall position than Chelsea or United to return to the Champions League.

5. Manchester United (Last season: 6th)

This prediction may look horribly ambitious or pessimistic come the end of the season. For twenty years United were the most reliable club in Europe to compete at the top. Now they’re as two-faced as their owners.

If they can produce even 80% of the performance levels they achieved between December and February, United will cruise to the top four and could even finish third. If they begin where they left off at the end of the season, they’ll struggle to finish top half.

Aaron Wan-Bissaka and Harry Maguire are imperative signings to sure up the leakiest defence the Red Devils have ever had in the Premier League era while up front, though only Daniel James has been added to the Carrington collective, promising youngsters like Mason Greenwood and Jesse Lingard could produce as much firepower as any £100 million signing.

Ole Gunnar Solskjaer is a beloved character at Old Trafford, but he can’t rely purely on adoration to get him through the season. He needs results and fifth won’t be enough. Sadly, United’s dressing room isn’t ready to play 38 games to a steady level.

6. Chelsea (Last season: 3rd)

Frank Lampard may be a very talented manager now, let alone in time. His Derby County side were attractive to watch last season and were only two goals from returning to the Premier League for the first time in 11 years. That’s good going for a novice.

Chelsea are, of course, an entirely different prospect and it seems odd that the club would move to hire one of their legendary players in such difficult circumstances.

They’ve only been able to sign Mateo Kovacic this summer, which is hardly a new addition after his loan spell, and Eden Hazard and his atlas bearing shoulders have departed for the Galacticos.

They enter this season without a talismanic character, so perhaps that’s the reason for Lampard’s appointment. Furthermore, their squad, though more balanced all round than the previous two clubs, is the weakest overall, particularly upfront. Olivier Giroud is currently the main striker and he surely won’t score enough on his own.

It is time for youth and in Callum Hudson-Odoi, they have one of the league’s brightest hotshot wingers. He’s unlikely to drive them into the Champions League places, however.

7. Wolves (Last season: 7th)

Second season syndrome has seen many a promotion success story fall by the wayside, but Wolves looked of a different calibre for much of last season.

They achieved seventh with relative ease despite having a better overall record against the top six than the bottom six. Remarkably, they lost both games to Huddersfield. Complacency clearly affects this squad at times, which is why they could tumble down the league this season.

Nuno Espirito Santo is wise enough to know no squad is ever safe from a loss of form and moved quickly to sign former loanees Raul Jimenez, one of a multitude of star turns last season, and Leander Dendoncker. Moreover, Patrick Cutrone, fourth in the Golden Boy award celebrating the best young prospects in Europe, has joined for pennies relative to this transfer window (£16.2 million).

With no significant departures, Wolves look even stronger than last season and the top six would not be a forlorn hope for an immensely talented unit. For a side that has seen such an overhaul within the last two years, they are tight knit and confident in their abilities. Now they just need to beat the sides who get relegated.

8. Leicester (Last season: 9th)

Brendan Rogers’ side are in a transitional state, but sometimes that can be a good thing. Moving on from the drab football under Claude Puel saw some fine performances: drawing at Anfield, dismantling Arsenal etc. They’ve also signed Youri Tielemans which may yet prove a golden decision by the board such is his potential.

Losing Harry Maguire late on in the window has left them precious little time to replace him and their back four would appear the troublesome area. Caglar Soyuncu looks like he’ll be given the majority of the game time alongside Jonny Evans, but aside from them, club captain Wes Morgan is ageing and well below the form from their title winning season. Goals may be shipped too regularly for them to build up results.

Their successes in the past relied upon defensive strengths and counter-attacking blitzes, but their roster from the midfield forwards is too talented. Now, they must rely on having more possession and unpicking the weaker sides.

Ayoze Perez should provide the necessary back up to the evergreen Jamie Vardy. Goals will be scored and attractive ones at that, but they’ll likely be flying in the other end as well.

9. Everton (Last season: 8th)

Two years ago, Everton’s goal was to make the top six a sevenfold for the seasons to come. That didn’t materialise and until the end of last season, where Everton authoritatively beat both Arsenal and Manchester United, it looked like the Toffees were finding reverse gear.

However, Marco Silva has signalled an intent to return the forward momentum with the fascinating signing of Moise Kean from Juventus. At times, he tore up Serie A last season and his best football is yet to be played. He could prove the transfer of the year.

Idrissa Gueye was probably Everton’s best player of the last two years and his absence, after a move to PSG, will be felt. Jean-Phillipe Gbamin has been signed to be a replacement and has shown potential in Germany while Andre Gomes and Fabian Delph may also prove shrewd pieces of business in midfield.

Everton have their moments in most seasons where they look set for a groundbreaking move up the table, but much like those battling for the Champions League, have their toothless moments in spades. With Leicester and Wolves also upwardly mobile, the Europa League places may be the best they can hope for.

10. West Ham (Last season: 10th)

Manuel Pellegrini is finally being recognised in England for what he is: a manager with the correct football philosophies, able to deliver consistently with what is at his disposal. Last season, 10th was acceptable for West Ham. It might not be now.

For one, the talents of Felipe Anderson and Manuel Lanzini will now combine as the latter recovers from injury. Pablo Fornals and Sebastien Haller add further spice to an extremely promising front-line that no side will enjoy facing.

This is West Ham, however. They have endured as much off-field criticism as Newcastle in recent seasons despite the football gradually improving year on year. Their fanbase is perennially more demanding and top 8 will be seen as satisfactory rather than successful.

The London Stadium is entering its third season as West Ham’s home so there are no excuses for making it anything other than a fortress. Too often, this won’t be the case and while their squad is as talented as the three above them, they are the most fragile to peaks and troughs.

11. Crystal Palace (Last season: 12th)

For now, Wilfried Zaha stays. There has been no forcing of the issue by the winger desired by so many and the respect he has for the club means he may well remain in South London for the season to come.

If they hold onto the unofficial “best player outside the top six”, Roy Hodgson’s men look best poised to break into the top half. However, there are two results-based areas in which Palace must improve.

Firstly, they need to start in much better form than they have the last two seasons (remember Frank de Boer’s infamous four game spell?) If they do, their occasional spells of Europa League level form will enable them to forget about being surprise relegation candidates. This is a team that thrives upon freedom, both creatively and mentally, and the quicker they banish any needless niggles of demotion, the better placed they’ll be.

Secondly, Palace must win at home. Over the last two seasons, they’ve picked up more points on their travels than at Selhurst Park, a statistic that makes it so much more difficult to improve. Regardless, their squad is full of Premier League level talent and coasting to safety should be straightforward.

12. Southampton (Last season: 16th)

In hindsight, Ralph Hasenhuttl moving to a Southampton side engaged in the deepest crisis since returning to the Premier League was massive for the club and an immaculate decision for the board. All of his work in Germany pointed to a man capable of a sterling job and he duly delivered.

Now, the players at his disposal must step up and display the level of football he expects on a regular basis and challenge for the top half once again.

Transfer dealings have been sparse: Danny Ings’ move from Liverpool has been made permanent, but he didn’t fire on all cylinders last term and a more potent signing may be that of Che Adams, prolific for Birmingham last term.

There’s healthy competition throughout the pitch, most notably in goal, with three Premier League quality keepers as well as multiple full back options. They have work to do to catch up with the Leicesters and West Hams, but the strength in depth, combined with Hasenhuttl’s guile and craft, should ensure that underperforming is a thing of the past.

13. Watford (Last season: 11th)

For the first time since their current top level stint began, Watford have gained stability. Javi Gracia becomes their first manager to begin a season having been there for the entirety of the previous campaign and though they faded late on in the Premier League to finish 11th, their main focus come May was the FA Cup final.

Reaching Wembley was a terrific achievement (we won’t mention the score) and the scattergun approach to signings and loans that never truly gelled has ceased, with only Craig Dawson arriving at Vicarage Road in the off-season.

The champagne names have remained intact. Roberto Pereyra and Gerard Deulofeu would fit swiftly into a top six starting XI while Abdoulaye Doucoure is as sought after a midfielder as any in the league.

Yet, it feels as if something is missing. Their approach to the transfer market has matured, but one or two bigger names than Dawson would not have gone amiss. Their stuttering finish to last season showed that this side is capable of burnout and though the Europa League will still be the aim, it appears less achievable than a few months ago.

14. Aston Villa (Last season: 5th in the Championship)

It was an exceptional second half of the season that enabled Villa to dream of a Premier League return. Manager Dean Smith often avoided the headlines due to John Terry’s presence on the touchline, but his is the name that deserves all the credit.

Had Fulham not limped tamely to 19th last season, Villa’s transfer dealings would strike the casual observer as ambitious and exciting. Because of Fulham, fears reign that such new names will only cause disruption and turmoil.

Tyrone Mings and Wesley, the Brazilian forward signed from Club Brugge, have both surpassed the £20 million mark, but Villa’s signings look far more monitored than the Cottagers’. Anwar El Ghazi has re-signed permanently having scored in the Playoff final, while securing Tom Heaton’s signature could prove a masterful touch.

There will be disturbance and nervous tremors, but as Mings was with them in the Championship, the spine, including top division talents, John McGinn, Jack Grealish and James Chester, should provide a solid foundation for a true Premier League club to survive. At the very least, they look the most secure of the three teams to have come up.

15. Burnley (Last season: 15th)

So, which Burnley are we going to enjoy this season? The almighty 7th placed finishers of 2018 gave way alarmingly quickly to a side that was in desperate trouble come Christmas.

Sean Dyche’s side had been figured out. Grit, determination and stout defending can only get you so far and they needed a spark. Cue youngster Dwight McNeill’s break out into the side and a more dynamic Burnley emerged.

The confidence began to flow, rubbing off on the defence, who produced their sternest efforts in the second half of the season as Burnley drew away from the drop.

Up front, Ashley Barnes is the most Ashley Barnes player to have ever played the game while Chris Wood and his lumbering, clumsy frame will score goals. They’re to be aided again this season by Jay Rodriguez, returning to the club from West Brom.

However, Tom Heaton, arguably one of the league’s best stoppers, has left for fellow claret-and-blue’s Aston Vila, a painful loss. They will point to earning £8 million for a 33-year-old and replacing him with youngster Bailey Peacock-Farrell from Leeds for less as part of a long-term strategy, but short-term the loss of quality could stall them.

16. Norwich (Last season: 1st in the Championship)

Had Norwich not romped to success in the second division last season, this may be seen as a free hit at the Premier League. They weren’t expecting promotion, yet they finished 13 points clear of the playoffs and a steady 5 in front of runners-up Sheffield United.

Naturally, expectations have risen and surviving the Premier League will not simply be the aim, but the minimum requirement. This is in spite of spending little over £1 million to improve the squad, by far the smallest outlay of the 20 clubs.

There may be fears the club as a whole simply wasn’t ready for promotion at this time. There’s no doubt, however, that Daniel Farke, another who came through Borussia Dortmund’s immense coaching system, is prepared and has prepared meticulously.

If he can eke out similar levels of effort from his squad once more then survival is likely. Emi Buendia, Onel Hernandez and Teemu Pukki all produced beyond initial expectations last term. They need only to meet them this time around to satiate the fanbase.

17. Bournemouth (Last season: 14th)

I’m afraid this is the season. This is the season in which Bournemouth are finally involved in the relegation scrap predicted of them since they gained promotion in 2015.

Their incomings are, as ever, based around future gain. Lloyd Kelly and Jack Stacey have shown potential at Bristol City and Luton respectively while Philip Billing has outgrown Huddersfield.

However, Bournemouth’s transfers in the past have looked to obviously have improved the squad in certain positions. Kelly is the only necessary name on the previous list. Billing and Kelly add depth, and much needed, but improvement? I’m not so sure.

Ryan Fraser and David Brooks had breakout seasons last season and their attacking line-up remains sharp. Eddie Howe, meanwhile, is the longest serving coach in the league and garners the respect of clubs and journalists nationwide for his affluent manner and tactical nous.

This is the strongest the Premier League has been since they emerged as a genuine top-level side, though and there remain serious questions over the defence and in goal. They might be as leaky as ever and it could cost them.

18. Newcastle (Last season: 13th)

Though a club record signing has entered St James’s Park over the last month, transfers of players at Newcastle have paled in comparison to the possibilities of a change of manager and owner.

It is not just the £40 million Joelinton that would otherwise cause rejuvenated excitement, but exciting left-handed players Jetro Willems and Alain Saint-Maximin. However, instead of getting the opportunity to express themselves under Rafa Benitez, it will be Steve Bruce who leads them out on Sunday against Arsenal.

Bruce is less glamorous, decorated and has an awkward habit of being involved in Premier League relegation scraps. Even then, Newcastle fans would be at least cautiously optimistic had Mike Ashley finally relinquished his control of the club. Alas, he has not.

The unrest will only continue while he is in charge and if they get off to a slow start, Bruce and co may succumb to that sinking feeling before the new year. They have enough talent to at least make it a battle, but the club is in turmoil and a third Ashley relegation looks a decent bet at this stage.

19. Sheffield United (Last season: 2nd in the Championship)

It’s been a universal theme in pre-season to predict that Sheffield United will finish in 19th. They’re the most obvious candidates for relegation, having been promoted with a host of excellent Championship players with little Premier League experience and an inexperienced manager, despite the success stories on his CV.

However, they also play such weird and wonderful football and possess the steel fitting of their geographical base that you feel they must at least best one of these 20 teams, some of whom have far greater problems to face up to.

The Blades have taken chances on Swansea’s Oli McBurnie to score their goals after a club record move from the Championship, as well as left-field rogue Ravel Morrison and former youth product Phil Jagielka, now well into the autumn of his career. His presence alongside Chris Wilder could provide the sort of inspiration promoted clubs thrive upon.

At just £58 million, the squad’s transfer value is comfortably the lowest in the league, but Wilder has achieved beyond any Blades fan’s wildest dreams to date, and yet survival would arguably be his greatest achievement so far.

20. Brighton (Last season: 17th)

Football runs its own imperfect universe and Chris Hughton’s sacking appeared exemplary of its unjustified order. Brighton’s hierarchy will argue otherwise having flirted too overtly with relegation in the closing months of the season.

Brighton can only prove their board correct by staying up and doing do in style this time around. Leandro Trossard and Neal Maupay have been additions to an ageing and relatively tame roster, fit with a number of underachievers. Realistically, are they enough?

Probably not. And so Brighton’s best hope will be a union between the tough psychology of back-liners Shane Duffy and Lewis Dunk, linked with a £45 million to Leicester such were his performances last term, and new manager Graham Potter’s motivation and philosophies.

They’ll likely play better football compared to last season and, at last, they shouldn’t have to rely on Glenn Murray. He’ll be a brilliant backup option if necessary, but this is a flimsy squad. A repeat of last season’s travails will end with the inevitable result.