EPL KICK-OFF: Title, top four, relegation predictions plus Nigerian stars to watch

The 2022/2023 Premier League season takes off tonight when Crystal Palace welcome fellow Londoners Arsenal to Selhurst Park.

Palace spanked Arsenal 3-0 in this same fixture last season but Mikel Arteta’s side have undergone a radical transformation and nobody dare predict a similar outcome for tonight’s clash.

Like Arsenal, Palace and a bunch of other Premier League clubs have also strengthened ahead of the new campaign, with three weeks still left in the transfer window to further chop and change their squads.

The Gunners have bolstered their squad with some quality additions, including two players who had key roles in Manchester City’s success last season: Gabriel Jesus and Oleksandr Zinchenko.

While Zinchenko’s pre-season was a little under the radar, Jesus stole the spotlight, scoring seven goals in five matches, netting in the 4-0 win over Chelsea and bagging a hat-trick against Sevilla.

Still, the Gunners are not favourites to win their first Premier League title since the invincible season 18 years ago.

Champions Manchester City and runners-up Liverpool have not been as active in the transfer window as in previous years, but both sides still have the best squads in the league as well as the most successful managers in Pep Guardiola and Jurgen Klopp respectively.

It would take a brave man to look beyond these two for the top two positions, especially as they have added pure centre forwards to their attacks.

Despite losing Jesus to Arsenal, City would consider Erling Halaand an upgrade, while Liverpool would not miss Sadio Mane too much after his move to Bayern Munich as they will expect more goals from Darwin Nunez.

After losing 4-0 to Arsenal in their pre-season friendly in the United States of America, Chelsea were written off by their own fans and many pundits.

However, Thomas Tuchel is a wily tactician who won the UEFA Champions League in his first half-season with Chelsea, and he is building a world-class defence that could be the foundations for a title charge.

With Antonio Rudiger heading off to Real Madrid, Chelsea have added Senegal captain Kalidou Koulibaly from Napoli, one of the best centre-backs in Europe, and just acquired the excellent Marc Cucurella from Brighton.

The Blues also added a bit of bite upfront with Raheem Sterling from Manchester City and could still bring in a midfielder and striker.

Tottenham Hotspur, who finished fourth last season following a late surge, have the fiery Antonio Conte going into his first full campaign along with a plethora of new signings.

Conte, known for his no-nonsense attitude towards players and club owners alike, has strengthened his squad with several players, including Croatian veteran Ivan Perisic from Inter Milan, Brazil forward Richarlison from Everton, Mali midfielder Yves Bissouma from Brighton and centre-back Clement Lenglet from Barcelona.

With Manchester United floundering in the transfer market and having to deal with the Cristiano Ronaldo situation, it is hard to look beyond last season’s top four for this teem’s UEFA Champions League spots.

However, Arsenal, if how they played in pre-season is anything to go by, will be in the mix.

Away from the title and top four positions, the relegation places are the next most important issue in the Premier League.

Usually, the promoted sides are the favourites to go straight back down, but that trend has been bucked in recent years, with at least one of the three surviving.

For instance, Brentford finished 13th last season, although their fellow promoted sides Norwich and Watford went down.

This term, the newcomers are Nottingham Forest, Bournemouth and Fulham.

The latter two have recent Premier League experience while Forest are back in the top flight for the first time since 1999.

It is difficult to call which of the promoted sides will survive, but Forest have added 11 new players, including Dean Henderson from Manchester United and Super Eagles striker Taiwo Awoniyi from Union Berlin, and they look stronger on paper than the other two.

Awoniyi is one of several Nigeria internationals in the Premier League this season, although Watford’s relegation took away the likes of Emmanuel Dennis, William Troost-Ekong and Samuel Kalu.

Still, Alex Iwobi is expected to shine for Everton after finishing last season strong and impressing in pre-season, while Leicester City have Kelechi Iheanacho and Wilfred Ndidi.

Iheanacho is expected to get more playing time with Jamie Vardy getting on in years, and Ndidi is fresh for the new challenge after missing a chunk of last season due to injury.

PREDICTIONS

CHAMPIONS:
Manchester City

TOP FOUR
Manchester City
Liverpool
Tottenham Hotspur
Chelsea

TOP SIX
Manchester City
Liverpool
Tottenham Hotspur
Chelsea
Arsenal
Manchester United

NOTE:
It is expected to be another tight race for the title, with Liverpool pushing City all the way.
Liverpool laid down a marker with their brilliant 3-1 victory over City in the Community Shield on last Saturday, and Klopp’s side cannot be dismissed.
Arsenal have a huge chance of crashing the top four, while West Ham could push Manchester United out of the top six.

RELEGATION
Bournemouth
Leeds United
Fulham

NOTE:
Brentford could be drawn into the relegation battle after losing Christian Eriksen to Manchester United and not making major reinforcements.
Leeds United are a risky call, but they could struggle without Raphinha, who has joined Barcelona.

NIGERIAN STARS TO WATCH

Wilfred Ndidi (Leicester City)
Kelechi Iheanacho (Leicester City)
Alex Iwobi (Everton)
Taiwo Awoniyi (Nottingham Forest)
Frank Onyeka (Brentford)

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