Joleon Lescott column: City and Reds set for two-horse race once again
I’m delighted to team up with LiveScore once again to deliver my views and predictions throughout what is set to be a thrilling season.
Although it has been a shorter summer than usual, it feels like this transfer window has been particularly busy and I can’t wait to see all the new recruits in action.
Last season was all about Manchester City and Liverpool — and I’m confident it’s going to be the same two sides tussling for the Premier League title once again.
You could argue that both enter the season a little bit weaker having lost Raheem Sterling and Sadio Mane, two proven forwards who have produced the goods season after season.
But the arrival of two of Europe’s most exciting attackers in Erling Haaland and Darwin Nunez should offset that. Having had a glimpse of both in the Community Shield, it’s going to be fascinating to see how they get on.
City’s new No9 missed a big chance in that game but I think the positions and opportunities he managed to take up will have really excited him.
Being realistic, he’s going to put the majority of those chances away and those natural instincts he possesses are unteachable — that’s what makes him so dangerous.
Nunez was impressive at the King Power Stadium but he may have to bide his time for opportunities due to Liverpool’s depth in forward areas.
Mohamed Salah is going to play as much as possible, while Luis Diaz really started to establish himself as a starter late last season.
Add in Diogo Jota, who continues to be a really reliable source of goals, and it means the new man may have to settle for a mixture of starts and cameos at first.
Spurs best of the rest
Away from the top two, Tottenham have impressed me with the way they've gone about their transfer business.
It’s all been so efficient. They’ve not been linked with multiple players or general positions like previous years, it’s just been a case of identifying a specific target and getting the deal done.
Antonio Conte is one of the best managers in the business tactically and I think they’ll be going for third alongside Chelsea.
For me, the Blues’ capture of Sterling is superb business as he’s a proven match-winner still at the peak of his powers — but I do have concerns about them defensively.
Of course, there’s still plenty of time to do business and I think they need to because a couple of injuries at the back will leave them short.
Arsenal may have made the smartest addition of all in Gabriel Jesus, who just looks like the perfect signing.
He brings goals, hunger and takes responsibility for winning games, which was something I felt their attack lacked last season despite possessing some really exciting young talent.
While they may have hopes of pushing the top four, Manchester United just need to concentrate on finding some consistency under new boss Erik ten Hag.
I think they'll have periods where they look as good as the likes of City and Liverpool but maintaining that over the course of a season is a big ask. I do expect them to improve a lot, though.
Time to take a closer look at the opening weekend action!
Joleon Lescott’s Premier League Matchday 1 predictions
Crystal Palace vs Arsenal (Friday, 8pm, Sky Sports)
Arsenal slipped up at Brentford on the opening game of last season but I’m not expecting them to do so at Palace.
They’ve had some rocky starts in the past but pre-season has gone really well for the Gunners and I always used to hate playing them early in the campaign when the sun was out!
As much as I’ll be rooting for my mate Patrick Vieira, I have to go for the visitors.
Prediction: Crystal Palace 1-2 Arsenal
Fulham vs Liverpool (Saturday, 12.30pm, BT Sport)
These are the kind of early season games where it can end up being very one-sided, with a hungry Liverpool turning up at full strength.
Again, I’ve got a few friends in the Fulham ranks and you’d hope this will be competitive but you can see someone like Salah running riot.
I’ve got to go for a convincing Liverpool victory.
Prediction: Fulham 0-3 Liverpool
Bournemouth vs Aston Villa (Saturday, 3pm)
This looks like a tough opener for both teams but I do think Villa’s top-flight experience could see them over the line in a close encounter.
It’s a big day for Bournemouth, back in the Premier League after their 2020 relegation, and the occasion could lead them to chase a result too hard.
It’ll be close but I think Steven Gerrard’s men can prevail.
Prediction: Bournemouth 1-2 Aston Villa
Leeds vs Wolves (Saturday, 3pm)
I think we’re going to see a very different Leeds this season under Jesse Marsch but they might still find themselves in a battle for survival.
Wolves are another team some pundits seem to have doubts over, though I actually feel confident my old club can steer well clear of trouble this season.
In terms of this opening clash, I think a draw probably suits both nicely.
Prediction: Leeds 1-1 Wolves
Newcastle vs Nottingham Forest (Saturday, 3pm)
St James' Park is going to be a place no side wants to go this season, though I do think talk of the Magpies challenging the top six is a little premature.
Nottingham Forest have made a lot of signings but that doesn’t always translate to results and they're still very much lacking Premier League experience.
I reckon Eddie Howe’s side get off to a good start in front of their own fans.
Prediction: Newcastle 2-0 Nottingham Forest
Tottenham vs Southampton (Saturday, 3pm)
If Spurs want to be taken seriously as contenders this season, they’ll need to win their home games and this one ideally needs to be a convincing victory.
Not necessarily in terms of the scoreline, but they need to take care of a Southampton side you would worry about causing them problems in recent seasons.
Ultimately, I expect the hosts to do a professional job.
Prediction: Tottenham 2-0 Southampton
Everton vs Chelsea (Saturday, 5.30pm, Sky Sports)
There’s a lot of negativity around Everton at the moment but I think Frank Lampard will improve them this term, with more time to develop his playing style throughout the campaign.
As mentioned, Chelsea still look short in a few key areas, but they should have enough quality on the pitch to grind out a result.
It’ll be a good atmosphere at Goodison Park and an entertaining watch.
Prediction: Everton 1-2 Chelsea
Leicester vs Brentford (Sunday, 2pm)
Leicester are a bit of a funny one. I was really surprised they let someone as influential as Kasper Schmeichel leave and it makes you wonder if Brendan Rodgers is viewing this as a transitional season.
Brentford did so well to survive last term but replacing Christian Eriksen is going to be tough, as it would be for any side in their position.
I’m slightly concerned about the Foxes but think they’ll edge this one.
Prediction: Leicester 1-0 Brentford
Manchester United vs Brighton (Sunday, 2pm, Sky Sports)
I’m expecting United to perform here.
Under Ten Hag, I think he’ll have them in a place this season where they get back to winning the games they're expected to.
Whether or not they’ll be ready to mix it with the top sides so early in his tenure is questionable. But at home, with a buzz around Old Trafford, they should have too much for Brighton.
Prediction: Manchester United 2-0 Brighton
West Ham vs Manchester City (Sunday, 4.30pm, Sky Sports)
The champions have been handed a tough opening trip but I expect them to win it with a degree of comfort.
Having watched City in pre-season, they look so in tune with the way they're being asked to play and I expect them to really hit the ground running this season.
I also wouldn’t be surprised if there’s a debut goal for Haaland — who would?!
Prediction: West Ham 1-3 Manchester City
Joleon Lescott was speaking to Matthew Hill