Women’s football needs a Kerry Packer. Unfortunately it won’t get one 

With women’s football it sometimes seems like a case of one step forward then one step back. Two months after a fantastic EURO 2017 two of the four Semi Finalists, England and Denmark are in turmoil. Both are involved in dreadful situations and neither countries FA comes out of it with credit. 

First England. Since EURO 2017 the English FA has been involved in a racism scandal. It started with dropped striker Eni Aluko accusing manager Mark Sampson of making racist comments to her. Two independent enquiries cleared Sampson yet Aluko was offered £80000 “hush money” to cover up the allegations.

Then last month the story got worse when another player – Chelsea’s mixed race Drew Spence – accused Sampson of racism – saying he had asked her how many times she had been arrested. Another enquiry was announced but in a bizzare twist Sampson got sacked for an unrelated story – that he behaved inappropriately with young players at his former club Bristol Academy. The ridiculous thing being that the FA had the report into Sampson’s conduct at Bristol Academy two years ago but they did not read it until someone encouraged the FA to do so. Why Sampson wasn’t fully investigated either when he was appointed in 2013 or when the report into his conduct at Bristol appeared two years ago only the FA will know. 

And then last week the affair got even worse when the FA revealed that Sampson had been found guilty of racist remarks to Aluko and Spence. Aluko was totally vindicated and FA Chairman Greg Clarke and Chief Executive Martin Glenn totally humiliated. Both men squirmed through an embarrassingly inept performance in front of the All Party Digital, Culture, Media and Sport Committee last Wednesday with Clarke claiming allegations of institutional racism at the FA were “fluff”. NOT the FA’s finest hour (to put it mildly). MPs – notably Ian Lucas and Jo Stevens – were not impressed and could you blame them? The FA came across as racist, sexist and determined to protect Sampson at all costs – not a good look. 

But the FA are not the only FA that is not having a good time with its women’s team. EURO 2017 finalists Denmark are also in turmoil. Their World Cup qualifer against Sweden on Friday was cancelled when the players boycotted the game and the second best team in Europe are in danger of being kicked out of the World Cup by FIFA. How did this happen? 

The problem in Denmark is more common in the women’s game than the racism in England – namely pay. The Danish FA and the players have been negotiating since November but with no success. A EURO 2017 Final rematch with Holland last month was cancelled but a temporary agreement allowed their first World Cup qualifer in Hungary to be played (and won 6-1). But negotiations broke down yet again and the game against Sweden was cancelled. Another temporary agreement has allowed tomorrow’s qualifer in Croatia to go ahead but Denmark are at the mercy of UEFA and FIFA. Sweden’s players (to their credit) want the game to be rearranged but shamefully the Swedish FA want to take the forfeit victory.

Denmark is not the first case of a women’s national football team being in dispute with its FA over pay and/or conditions. Australia, the US. Argentina, Scotland and the Republic of Ireland are other countries where this has happened. But none of them reached the stage of the team being in danger of being thrown out of the World Cup. But it is clear that women footballers more and more are getting fed up with low or non existent pay and poor or non existent facilities. The problem for the women players is that there is nowhere for them to go but competitions ran by UEFA and FIFA who have a monopoly on football. There is no alternative for them than to try and pressure sexist, intransigent FAs to change. 

Women’s football in 2017 increasingly reminds me of professional cricket in 1977. Again the players were in dispute with the authorities over pay and conditions. For example Dennis Lillee then the best fast bowler in the world earned more money from his window cleaning business than from playing cricket despite the Australian Cricket Board making hundreds of thousands of dollars in gate receipts from the team’s matches. 

The difference here is that the Australian (and world) cricketers had somewhere else to go. A rich entrapenuer Kerry Packer had fallen out with the Australian Cricket Board for totally different reasons (he wanted exclusive Test rights for his TV station Channel 9 which the board wouldn’t grant). He had the idea to stage his own Test matches and the money to lure discontented cricketers to play in his games. To cut a very long story short (I’ll be writing about the Packer Affair soon) the Australian Cricket Board without the country’s best players ended up drowning in red ink and had to capitulate both to Packer – giving him the TV rights he wanted – and to the Australian players – giving them the higher pay they wanted. Other cricket countries learning the lesson had to increase the pay of their players to protect against another Packer.

Women’s football could really do with its own Kerry Packer to give the players another option and drive pay up. The difference here is that there isn’t a Packer lurking in the background nor will they ever be. Because of ingrained sexism it is highly unlikely that an entrapenuer will be unhappy that his TV station is not covering women’s football and thus be willing to combine with the discontented female players to set up an alternative tournament like Packer did in cricket (nor tolerate the start up losses that Packer did because he knew he would – and did – make money long term). 

The fact is as Jean Williams has pointed out in her books “A Game For Rough Girls” and “A Beautiful Game” is that FIFA, UEFA and most national FAs do not care about women’s football and only run it to maintain their monopoly over the game. They will pay the women as little as they can get away with – just like the Australian Cricket Board in the 1970s. 

The courage of Eni Aluko, Pernille Harder and the rest of the Danish women’s team is admirable and change is happening and will continue to happen. But to speed it up women’s football really needs its own Kerry Packer to break the FIFA monopoly pay women players what they are worth and force the FAs to do likewise to get the players back. But since the media, TV and big business are as sexist towards women’s football as the football establishment women’s football won’t get its Kerry Packer. Which means that the progress towards fair treatment of female footballers will be a lot slower than it should be…

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Fact: sexism is still a problem

Yeah, I’m back on that hobby horse again. Feel free to roll your eyes and click away, but that doesn’t mean sexism is any less of a problem.

I’m writing this blog post now because of an incident at last night’s Fight Club Pro, where a female wrestler – a very young female wrestler – was invited to get her tits out.

The culprit has been boasting about it, arguing that this and similar calls (“get back to the kitchen”) are just “banter”.

“Banter” is a word I hate. It’s a term that’s come to mean “things that we know are unacceptable to say, but we wish they weren’t, because we like being grossly offensive to attempt to assert our power”.

It’s to FCP’s credit that they’ve told that fan he isn’t welcome back; and it’s entirely delightful to see Jimmy Havoc as the voice of reasonable people, with Chris…

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My squad to defend the Ashes

There is no doubt that Joe Root’s first summer as England’s Test captain was a succsess. Both touring teams were beaten in their respective Test series – South Africa 3-1 (England’s first home series win over that country since 1998) and West Indies 2-1. An overall record of 5-2 in Test matches in 2017 must be regarded as a successful summer. 

But no season is perfect and 2017 was no exception. The biggest disappointment was that the weak links in the batting order – Numbers 2,3 and 5 – are no nearer to being resolved than they were at the start of the season. Keaton Jennings, Mark Stoneman, Gary Ballance, Tom Westley and Dawid Malan have all been tried in these positions and none of them have established themselves as Test batsmen. This is still the Achilles heel of this team. Too often Alistair Cook and Joe Root have had to carry the burden of top order run scoring.

And it is definitely NOT going to get any easier for Root and England. For next on the Test team’s agenda is the toughest asingment in Test cricket – a five Test Ashes series in Australia where England will try to defend the urn down under for only the third time since 1979. So with that in mind who would I take to Australia for this toughest of all Test tours? Well I’ve come up with sixteen names that I would take to defend the urn. Most of them will definitely be on the plane to Australia some are marginal choices and one is an uncapped “bolter” that I don’t think the selectors will pick but I would. So without further ado here are the sixteen men that I would pick to try and defend the Ashes this winter. 

Joe Root (captain) – No surprise here. All he needs to do is convert more fifties into hundreds like his opposite number Steve Smith does. And hopefully he won’t have to come in at 30-2 every innings….

Ben Stokes (vice-captain) – Again no surprises. His career trajectory is on the up – his batting average is now above his bowling average a key statistic for an all rounder. Two worries. Will he stay fit and can he cope with Australian provocation? He is one demerit point away from a one game ban a fact that the Aussies will doubtless remind him of. A lot….

Moeen Ali – Incredibly even at the start of the season England were saying that Liam Dawson not Ali was England’s number 1 spinner. They got that wrong. He, Stokes and Jonny Bairstow are the engine room of England’s team. One request : He should not bat at Number 8. Someone with five Test centuries should not be batting that low as too often he has to bat with the tail and try to slog. He is very good at that but he is a proper batsman and his position in the order should reflect that reality. 

James Anderson – A national treasure who has now reached 500 Test wickets. On his last tour of Australia hopefully his bowling average is nearer that of 2010-11 (26.04) than 2006-7 (82.40) or 2013-14 (43.92).

Jonny Bairstow – The only English batsman who has improved since the last Ashes series in 2015. An improving wicket keeper too. Hopefully batting at No 7 he will remind the Australians of their own famous wicket keeper-batsman Adam Gilchrist. 

Stuart Broad – Another automatic pick who was not at his best this summer. Hopefully he can produce one of those devastating spells he is famous for. Like the Oval 2009, Lord’s and Durham 2013, Trent Bridge 2015, Johannesburg 2016….

Alistair Cook – Another automatic pick who needs to contribute for England to win. A repeat of his 2010-11 average of 127.66 is unrealistic but he needs to do better than his 2006-7 average (27.60) or his 2013-14 average (27.60).

Mason Crane – One of two uncapped players in my squad. I nearly went for Adil Rashid who was unlucky to be dropped after the India series last winter but Crane was picked last winter to play for New South Wales in the Sheffield Shield. And bad players do not get picked for the Sheffield Shield. Plus it gives him the advantage of local knowledge….

Ben Foakes – And here is my second uncapped player. I’m not picking Joss Buttler for this tour as I think he has lost his enthusiasm for red ball cricket. Foakes has been called the best wicket keeper in England by former player Alec Stewart and averages over 40 in first class cricket. That is good enough for me.

Alex Hales – I would recall Hales but not as an opener. I’ve always thought he is more suited to the middle order where he is now batting for Nottinghamshire. His aggression could be useful in the middle order and I have picked him as a back up batsman ahead of Gary Ballance who has already been recalled twice and failed twice. 

Haseed Hameed – The big “what if?” of English cricket. Had he not got injured during the winter tour of India he might have continued his promising start and booked his place in the England team. But he has struggled this season not scoring a century for Lancashire. But he has started to show better form and his ability to “bat long” could be vital for England. A risky selection but a risk I would be prepared to take. 

Dawid Malan – Has not established himself in the team during his five Tests but I would still have him on the Ashes tour – just ahead of Tom Westley. He would not be in my first Test XI but would be a useful reserve. 

Toby Roland-Jones – Made a sensational Test debut against South Africa albeit in helpful conditions. Whether or not he can emulate that performance in Australian conditions is debatable but he deserves the opportunity to try. 

Mark Stoneman – Like Malan he hasn’t proved himself in his three Tests but he has made a couple of good scores and I think he has something about him.

Chris Woakes – Missed most of the season with injury which at least has the advantage of being fresh for the Ashes. One of England’s most improved players he has a key role to play with both bat and ball. 

Mark Wood – In my opinion he is a vital part of England’s Ashes challenge. One weakness of England’s bowling attack is a lack of pace. Wood is the fastest bowler available to England. Unfortunately his fitness record is not good and he struggles with back to back Tests. England will hope to get two good Tests out of him while praying for more. 

And the XI I would pick for the first Test at Brisbane starting on November 23 : Cook, Hameed, Stoneman, Root, Ali, Stokes, Bairstow, Woakes, Broad, Wood and Anderson.

Are England good enough to defend the Ashes in Australia? Time will tell…

Wrestling should submit to regulation 

It is not very often Christmas Day trends on Twitter on the fourth of September but it happened this week. The reason was that WWE announced it would be running its flagship show Monday Night RAW live on Christmas Day this year (this year Christmas Day falls on a Monday). This will be the first time in the history of RAW – which started in 1993 – that a live episode of RAW will be broadcast on Christmas Day (on previous years when Christmas Day fell on a Monday RAW broadcast taped episodes).

Needless to say the news provoked strong responses. Most people thought that as the wrestlers work every week of the year they should at least have Christmas Day off. Others did say that the NBA in the States and the Premier League here play in the festive season so why shouldn’t WWE be live on Christmas Day? But a big difference of course is that both the NBA and the Premier League have off seasons. Of course some people will say that WWE is not a sport but scripted entertainment but that argument is not relevant because although scripted programmes like the popular UK soap operas Coronation Street and EastEnders are broadcast on Christmas Day they are not live – they are recorded so the actors get the festive season off and can watch themselves on TV! 

At first – given his company’s reputation for running its wrestlers into the ground – WWE chairman Vince McMahon was blamed for the decision to have RAW live on Christmas Day. But it later emerged that it was the USA Network – the TV channel that broadcasts RAW – wanted the live festive RAW. Quite why is a mystery since the ratings for RAW go down during American holidays like the 4th of July and Labor Day and the ratings for the festive RAW are expected to be low (this is a difference between the US and the UK. Historically some of the highest UK TV ratings have been recorded over the Christmas period – for example 30 million watched the Morecambe and Wise Christmas shows in 1976 and 1977 and in 1986 the same number watched a famous Christmas Day episode of EastEnders where Den gave wife Angie divorce papers. Ouch. Even today the BBC and ITV load the festive schedule with their most popular programmes).

But whatever one thinks of a live Christmas Day RAW the story exposes a major problem with the wrestling industry. It is neither regulated or unionised. That means Vince McMahon and the USA Network can do whatever they want as there is no regulation and no protection for wrestlers whatsoever. That is why McMahon can get away with forcing his wrestlers to work 300 days a year and be classified as “independent contractors” not “employees” which means that they are denied countless benefits to which they would otherwise be entitled.

But regulation would also benefit wrestling in other ways. A governing body would surely get rid of the abomination that is intergender wrestling. Mixed professional football for example is banned by the sports governing body FIFA. A governing body for wrestling would surely do the same. 

Plus regulation would allow wrestling to get rid of rotten eggs. An example of a rotten egg in wrestling is former Lucha Underground Champion Sexy Star -who ironically made her name in intergender wrestling (see above). A couple of weeks ago she legitimately injured fellow wrestler Rosemary dislocating her arm by doing an arm bar for real. This is a complete no no. Wrestlers work together to prevent injury so when a wrestler “goes into business for themselves” and turns it into a “shoot” (ie fights for real) it is serious. Sexy Star has quite rightly been heavily criticised in the wrestling industry but I suspect some immoral promotion – probably in her native Mexico – will employ her when the fuss dies down. In a regulated sport like boxing a governing body would revoke her licence for a certain amount of time – maybe forever.

In fact each wrestler having to get a licence to compete would really benefit the industry. If a wrestler had to get medically examined say every five years and had to pass a medical to retain his or her licence it could spot say concussions. If Chris Benoit had an examination every five years the state of his brain could have been spotted before the tragedy of 2007 when he killed his wife and child then killed himself. Plus it could stop wrestlers going on too long.  Also to get a licence wrestlers should have to pass minimum standards so that dangerously under qualified wrestlers like Eva Marie would not be allowed in the ring where they were a danger to others.

Vince McMahon won’t like it but wrestling would benefit from being regulated by a governing body. Wrestlers would get the same benefits as other employees, they would not be forced to do a live RAW on Christmas Day, they would not have to work 300 days a year, the abomination that is intergender wrestling would be banned, trash like Sexy Star would be banned and wrestlers would not be able to compete without a licence which could protect them from long term health damage. It is time. It is time for professional wrestling to submit to regulation. 

Girls are still being banned from sport – because they are girls 

I’ve mentioned in past posts the 1978 Theresa Bennett case in the UK – where a 12 year old girl wanted to play for a boy’s football team and the Football Association (FA) in its infinite (lack of) wisdom banned her from doing so. Theresa Bennett went to court for her right to play football and initially won. The FA would not give up, appealed the verdict and won because the Sex Discrimination Act of 1975 had a clause saying banning girls from competing with or against boys in sports where the average woman is at a disadvantage to the average man (this is still in UK law – in the 2010 Equality Act – today). Then Master of the Rolls Lord Denning actually said this in his judgement : 

Women have many qualities superior to those of men, but they have not got the strength or stamina to run, to kick or tackle, and so forth.

Oh dear, what would he have made of Euro 2017 if he had lived to see it? It was an absolutely terrible judgement which the current standard of women’s football has rendered ridiculous. But that was in 1978. A 2017 Theresa Bennett would be able to play in her boy’s team as the FA allow mixed football until the age of 18 (there should not be any restriction except on grounds of ability but that is a different issue). 

You would think that in 2017 no girl would be banned from a sporting event simply because she was a girl. And guess what? You would be wrong. I have just discovered a case that occurred last month where a girl had to go to court for her right to play in a male team – and she lost. In 2017. To make matters worse as there is no girls team it meant the girl in question could not play in the event at all. 

The sport is cricket and the event is the Maccabiah – colloquially known as the Jewish Olympics as it brings together Jewish athletes from all round the world. 14 year old girl Naomi Eytan was picked for the Israeli junior team at the Maccabiah – but the organisers of the event refused to let her play. Like Theresa Bennett 39 years earlier she had to go to court for her right to play and like Theresa Bennett 39 years ago she lost. A Tel Aviv District Court ruled that Eytan was ineligible for the Israeli team because of her gender. Therefore – and despite being selected for the team on merit – she was banned from the youth team and even worse she was unable to take part in the Maccabiah at all as there is no female cricket competition at the Maccabiah. 

Even more extraordinary the same arguments that stymied Theresa Bennett in 1978 were still being used 39 years later. The Maccabiah citied a passage in the International Cricket Council (ICC) Gender Recognition Policy that basically said that because of significant advantages in size, strength and power enjoyed (on average) by males over females from puberty onwards it is necessary to have separate competition categories for males and females in order to preserve the safety, fairness and integrity of the sport”. 

But the hole in this argument in regard to Eytan is – as I mentioned above – the Maccabiah did not provide a separate competition for girls and women. Surely in that case a girl like Eytan should have the right to try out and be selected for a boy’s team. The Maccabiah also used safety as an argument saying that people can be hit in the head in cricket therefore it would not be safe for Eytan to play. I always find it fascinating that the powers that be in sport so often have more concern for the safety of girls/women than boys/men. Boys and men can be hit in the head too. If the sport is too dangerous for girls and women it is too dangerous for boys and men. 

And here is the clincher. Israeli Cricket Association chairman Steve Leigh said that Eytan had been selected on merit and could stand up to it. “There was absolutely no worry on our part regarding Naomi’s safety – not in the slightest”. Surely that should have swayed the court. There is no sane team that would select someone who was not up to it. Teams want to win. Teams will not select players that are not up to the job as that would hinder their chances of winning. Plus the Maccabiah does not get much publicity outside Israel so there was no danger of Eytan’s selection being a publicity stunt. There was no reason to ban her and it is incredible that 39 years after the Theresa Bennett case cases like this can still happen. And the Maccabiah are hopelessly out of touch with the rest of the world. 

The photograph above shows how ridiculous the Maccabiah banning Eytan is. The little girl in the number 10 shirt is Jackie Groenen – one of the stars of Holland’s recent victory in the women’s Euro 2017 tournament. At the time that this was taken Groenen was twelve years old. The boys she was playing with and against were 14-15 years old. As can be seen from the photograph they were far bigger than Groenen but the Dutch allowed her to play. In fact according to her father – who took this photograph – she “embarrassed” the boys. The boys in the opposition team look absolutely terrified of her. Despite the age and size disadvantage Groenen faced no one seemed concerned about her safety despite the fact that there is physical contact in football (unlike cricket). Nor did the fact that the average man has a strength advantage over the average woman matter as it is clear that Groenen – as anyone who saw her at Euro 2017 knows – is anything but average when it comes to football. It was clear that she was in the team on merit and therefore deserved to be so. The Dutch – unlike the dinosaurs who run the Maccabiah – realised that.

Surely the first rule of sport is that it is a meritocracy – if you are good enough you should be in the team. Ten years ago with Jackie Groenen (who is now 22) the Dutch realised that. Today even the FA realise that. The organisers of the Maccabiah did not realise that. The ban on Naomi Eytan playing in the youth cricket tournament was a disgrace. To ban someone from playing the sport she loves because she is a girl is shameful. You would think that in 2017 this would not happen. But you would be wrong.  The organisers of the Maccabiah should be ashamed of themselves. 

Predicting Premier League finishing positions (10-1)

In my previous post I made my predictions on who would finish in the bottom half of the Premier League table (20-11). In this post I will predict who I think will finish in the top half of the Premier League table, who will qualify for the Champions League and most importantly who I think will win the Premier League title. So let’s start at 10th place and work our way upwards…

10. Southampton – It shows the progress that Southampton have made that another top ten finish plus a League Cup Final appearance which they were desperately unlucky to lose was not enough to save manager Claude Puel’s job. The main problem for Southampton was scoring goals especially at home where only rock bottom Sunderland scored fewer. But Manolo Gabbiadini started well and he and Charlie Austin – if he is fit – will solve that problem. They are probably fighting a losing battle to keep Virgil van Dijk but even without him new manager Mauricio Pellegrino should have enough to keep the Saints in the top ten. 

9. West Ham – West Ham had an unhappy season last time. The move to the Olympic Stadium had teething problems with crowd trouble and fans and players struggled to adapt. For a lot of the season it looked like they were going to be in a relegation struggle. This season should be better. The new signings – Pablo Zabaleta, Joe Hart, Marko Arnautovic and Javier Hernandez – look sensible and they will be more used to their new home. I expect West Ham to get their League position back down to single figures.

8. Leicester City – After four seasons where they won promotion, staged the great escape, won the Premier League title against all odds, then botched their title defence but reached the Champions League Quarter Finals Leicester fans might want a quiet life. I think they will get it. It helps that they will not be the target for scalp hunters that they were last season. They might lose Riyad Mahrez but he was not the force he was the season before last and it is significant that no one has bid for Jamie Vardy this summer. In 2015-16 Leicester over achieved in winning the title and last season they under achieved in finishing 12th. This season they will find their true level as a solid lower top ten team. 

7. Everton – Everton were in a League of their own last season eight points behind sixth but fifteen points ahead of eighth. While I think they will keep seventh place I suspect they will be further away from the top six and nearer the rest of the pack than they were last season. Losing Romelu Lukaku is a huge blow and I don’t think Wayne Rooney who is past his best is an ideal replacement. Jordan Pickford and Michael Keane are interesting signings and they might sell Ross Barkley and sign Gylfi Sigurdsson before the transfer window closes. Participation in the Europa League won’t help and seventh is probably the best they can do.

6. Liverpool – Jurgen Klopp managed to guide Liverpool back to the Champions League (well the qualifying round anyway) last season but the task will be harder this season. Liverpool had the advantage of not being in Europe last season and the squad does not appear to have the strength in depth to challenge on two fronts this season. Personally if Barcelona are offering £90 million for Philippe Coutinho I would take the money and sign four £20 million players to give the squad the depth it badly needs. They did not lose a League game to a fellow top six team last season but that is surely unsustainable and I suspect that Liverpool will finish in the Europa League zone this season.

5. Tottenham – Tottenham have been the best team in the Premier League over the last two seasons (though they did not win the title) but they might have to go backwards before they go forwards. The move to Wembley this season will seriously hinder them – their European form there last season was terrible – while as of this writing they have made zero signings in the close season and lost Kyle Walker. In football if you stand still you go backwards and that is what will happen with Tottenham. They still have Delie Alli and Harry Kane and will be in the race for a Champions League spot but I think they will just miss out. 

4. Arsenal – For the first time in 20 years Arsenal are not in the Champions League. That season (1997-98) they won the League and Cup double but I doubt that happens again. Alexander Lacazette is the star signing but free transfer Sead Kolasinsc is the more interesting signing judging by his substitute appearance in Sunday’s Community Shield. Two problems – the contract situation of Alexis Sanchez and Mesut Ozil and if they get off to a bad start the whole Arsene Wenger debate will resurface. Suspect they will regain their Champions League spot but still look a bit below the top three. 

3. Chelsea – All does not appear well at Stamford Bridge. Eden Hazard will miss the start of the season, Diego Costa looks like he is on his way out and manager Antonio Conte is grumbling about the depth (or lack of) in the squad and is talking about avoiding a “Mourinho season” – referring to Chelsea’s inept title defence of two seasons ago. I doubt Chelsea will sink as low this time but they don’t look like a title retaining team. They will have to cope with the rigours of a European campaign – unlike last season. It will be interesting to see how Alvaro Morata adapts to the Premier League but they look unlikely to defend the title.

2. Manchester City – Judging by the hype on his arrival Pep Guadiola was going to lead City to a Premier League/Champions League double without breaking a sweat. Of course nothing of the sort happened and they were no nearer the Champions last season than the season before – in both seasons they trailed the title winners by fifteen points and sometimes the defence was a source of comic entertainment. Guadiola has taken action by signing a new goalkeeper (Ederson) and three new defenders (Kyle Walker, Danilo and Benjamin Mendy). Are these the right players? Some grumbling City fans on Twitter were saying they would rather have England women’s right back Lucy Bronze than Walker. Suspect that they are joking but it does not show confidence in Walker. They need the new defence to bed in quickly, Vincent Kompany to stay fit and John Stones to cut out the errors. For them to win the title that might be too many needs. Watch out for Gabriel Jesus though. This player is a future star. 

1. Manchester United – Ironically last season United had the opposite problem to their neighbours. The defence was solid but the attack apart from Zlatan Ibrahimovic was toothless. They scored fewer League goals last season than Bournemouth – and fewer at home than relegated Hull. Enter £75 million striker Romelu Lukaku. Some people say that Lukaku is just a rabbit killer. I don’t agree but even if he is that is just what United need as they did not do much rabbit killing last season – especially at home. Bournemouth, Burnley, Hull. Stoke, Swansea, West Brom and West Ham all gained draws at Old Trafford last season mainly because United did not take their chances in games they dominated. With all due respect those are the bread and butter games that title challengers MUST win. If Lukaku can turn those draws into victories he repays his fee. Add to that the signing of Nemanja Matic from Chelsea – which Chelsea could live to regret – that Paul Pogba might have adapted to the Premier League, Marcus Rashford will keep improving and José Mourinho’s tradition of having a better second season in charge and you have my tips for the title – just. 

I suspect that the key to the season is will Lukaku improve United’s striking weakness or will City’s new defence solve their weakness in that department? My prediction is for Lukaku to have the impact on United that Robin van Pierse did in their last title winning season (2012-13) and bring the title back to Old Trafford.

Predicting Premier League finishing positions (20-11) 

So the greatest show on earth – well according to the Sky Sports hype machine anyway – is about to start. On the 25th anniversary of its formation back in 1992 another Premier League season starts – this time unusually on a Friday night with a match between Arsenal and Leicester City. As usual there are plenty of questions. Will Chelsea defend the title? Can José Mourinho or Pep Guadiola bring title glory back to Manchester? Will Tottenham maintain their progress? Can Arsene Wenger regain Arsenal’s Champions League place? Who will get relegated?.

I don’t know the answer…but I’ll have a go. In the next two posts I will be predicting the finishing prediction of every Premier League club…and in time honoured tradition I will do it in reverse order. In this post I will predict positions 20 to 11. 

20. Huddersfield – Huddersfield finished last season with a goal difference of minus two. They won their play off Semi Final and Final on penalties. Had a team been promoted to League One with that record I would say they faced a battle to stay up. In the Premier League they have no chance. Thirteen Championship teams scored more goals than Huddersfield eight conceded less. Their only asset is highly rated young manager David Wagner. I suspect Wagner has more chance of being in the Premier League next season than his team has. 

19. Burnley – It was a remarkable achievement for Sean Dyche to keep Burnley up last season but it will be harder this season. They stayed up exclusively on their home form and I suspect that form is unsustainable. Therefore they will have to improve their awful away form which I suspect will be beyond them especially with key players Michael Keane and Andre Gray gone. This time I don’t think they survive. 

18. Crystal Palace – Survival specialist Sam Allardyce managed to keep them up last season but he has left. Bolton, Blackburn and Sunderland were all relegated soon after Allardyce left and Palace could follow suit. Allardyce’s successor Frank de Boer is new to the Premier League and flopped at Inter Milan. Their home form is absolutely abysmal – they have lost ten or more home games in the last three seasons. If that does not improve Palace are in serious danger. 

17. Brighton – In all but three Premier League seasons one or two of the promoted clubs stay up. In most seasons one promoted team is a cert to go down (see Huddersfield) one promoted team is marginal and one promoted team stays up quite comfortably (I’ll get to the one I think will stay up OK this season later). Brighton are a toss up to stay up but the combination of home support and an experienced Premier League manager in Chris Hughton might – might – be enough to keep them up.

16. West Brom – Tony Pullis has never been relegated in his managerial career and he won’t be this season either. That said I see West Brom slipping down the table. They did not finish last season well, the fans are grumbling about the style of play, they struggle to score goals, have only made two new signings and have lost captain Darren Fletcher. All that equals a harder season than previously but I still think they will be OK. 

15. Newcastle – For the second time in seven years Newcastle bounced back from relegation at the first time of asking this time under experienced manager Rafael Benitez and they are the most likely of the promoted teams to have a comfortable season. That said their points tally of 94 was eight less than their Championship winning tally of 2009-10. They finished 12th in their first season back in the Premier League on that occasion and I don’t think they will finish that high this time. Still had they appointed Benitez earlier in 2015-16 they would probably have stayed up then and with him in charge for a full season they should accumulate enough points to stay up.

14. Watford – Watford finished last season abysmally with six defeats in a row but the appointment of Marco Silva should lead to improvement. He nearly kept a poor Hull team up last season – had he been at Hull all last season and maintained their points per game tally they would have finished 13th – and I suspect Watford will finish in that vacinity. It will be interesting to see how new signings Tom Cleverly and Will Hughes do but not only do I think Watford will stay up Silva might even survive for another season – a rarity for a Watford manager.

13. Swansea – At the start of this year Swansea were bottom of the table and after Bob Bradley’s shambolic reign looked doomed. But under the impressive Paul Clement Swansea gained 29 points from his 19 games in charge. If he did that over a full season they would probably be top ten. But star player Gylfi Sigurdsson looks highly likely to leave most likely to Everton. In predicting Swansea’s finishing position I have assumed that Sigurdsson will go. If he stays they could finish in the top half but even without him I expect them to be safe mid table. 

12. Stoke – Stoke are arguably the best run club in the Premier League but they appear to have plataued in mid table. They have sold Marko Arnautovic and their first three home games are hard –  Arsenal, Manchester United and Chelsea. But their toughness and determination should ensure Premier League safety for another season. 

11.  Bournemouth – The smallest club in the Premier League in terms of ground capacity but not ambition. The signing of Nathan Ake – who was on loan at the club last season – is a declaration of intent. Agmir Begovic is an experienced goalkeeper and Jermaine Defoe last season scored 15 goals for a Sunderland team that were by a long way the worst in the League. Bournemouth play a nice style of football and unless another Premier League club takes a punt on manager Eddie Howe they are in no danger of a relegation battle and might even crack the top ten again.

So that is part one of my predictions done – the bottom half. Tomorrow the fun starts when I predict the top half and who I think will win the title…