Man City – Same frailties or a big response to a ‘pathetic’ title defence?

This is the fifth season running where City have featured in everyone’s forecasted top four. It’s also the third successive year where no-one thinks they will finish below second.

Micah Richards: When you look at Liverpool’s best XI, their balance and the cohesion between their players is better – and they still have three magicians up front. But I look at City’s whole squad and think they will win the title.

Chris Sutton: City are the only team since 2009 to win the Premier League in back-to-back seasons but their title defence last season was pathetic. They will be hurting from that and they be desperate to respond.

Jermaine Jenas: City battered a lot of teams during the restart and played some unbelievable football but at the same time we still saw the same frailties at the back which had affected them all season. I don’t think much has changed.

Of course they have got a chance, but they are relying on Liverpool dropping off. They are not as good as the City team that won the title with a record points tally in 2018.

Leon Osman: City have strengthened at the back but whether that will be enough depends on the fitness of Aymeric Laporte. He is still their top defender – and if he gets injured again, then they are back in trouble.

Snapshot showing top of the Premier League: 1st Liverpool, 2nd Man City, 3rd Man Utd, 4th Chelsea, 5th Leicester, 6th Tottenham
Liverpool finished 18 points clear of second-placed City last season, and 33 points ahead of Manchester United and Chelsea

Joleon Lescott: Liverpool are favourites – they have to be because of last season – but City’s circumstances played a part in that. Now Pep Guardiola has got more depth at the back after signing Nathan Ake, who might play left-back more than centre-half. He is a good buy – versatile and as consistent as you get in the Premier League. Someone steady is what City need.

Michael Brown: City made a slow start last season, which let Liverpool build a big lead early on. That added pressure in games when it was 0-0 after an hour and City would feel they had to force it, and ended up being open to counter-attacks. Every mistake seemed to cost them too. When they click, though, they are an exceptional team and they edge Liverpool. With a bit more luck in terms of injuries, we might see a more consistent City this time, and they will be hard to stop.

Chelsea – A different challenge for Frank Lampard

Last season, 75% of the BBC pundits thought Chelsea would miss out on the top four – but they finished fourth. This time, 96% are predicting they will make the Champions League places and 19 out of 25 think they will make the top three.

Ruud Gullit: It’s clear Chelsea are trying to break into the top two. They have made some good signings but that doesn’t mean anything yet. You never know how they will blend in. It’s the Premier League, a different league – different pace, different everything. It’s not easy.

Stephen Warnock: Frank Lampard has assembled a fantastic squad but now he has a different challenge to last year, which is to keep everyone happy.

Chelsea's Hakim Ziyech, Kai Havertz, Ben Chilwell and Thiago Silva
Chelsea agreed a deal with Hakim Ziyech in February and have continued their spending with Kai Havertz, Ben Chilwell and Thiago Silva, splashing out a total of around £200m on six major signings during this transfer window

Chris Sutton: They have spent big and that changes expectation. They have to win something or there is pressure on Frank.

Rob Green: What Chelsea have been missing is consistency and that relentlessness that Liverpool have. This is the season where they need to find those ways of winning games when things don’t go their way.

Matt Upson: They have added some amazing attacking options but I think Lampard has learned a lot too from his first season as a Premier League manager. There were games where they dropped points when they probably looked back and felt they should have won them. He will be wiser for that.

Pat Nevin: You have got the top two and Chelsea will be nipping at their heels. It is not just the fact they have spent money, it is the way they have done it – having Timo Werner and Kai Havertz to go with Christian Pulisic is kind of scary, but probably more for the next three or four seasons as opposed to this one because they will need to settle in.

So, they are looking good. Everyone knows their problem has been defensively, and the centre-back position might still be one. A lot of people say goalkeeper is as well – and it may be – but I don’t think it is the reason they conceded so many goals last season; that was a wider defensive issue. I have a feeling they may concede just as many this season, but will score a hell of a lot more.

Man Utd – Set to spring a big surprise or still missing something?

This is the first season since 2017-18 that anyone has tipped Manchester United to be champions. Last year only one of 24 pundits thought they would make the top three and only 29% thought they would make the top four – they finished third. This time, 96% think they will make the top four although 17 of the 24 votes they received placed them in fourth.

Chris Waddle: There are a lot of games jammed into this season and I am looking at the teams with the biggest squads as the ones who will do well. I don’t think Liverpool will cope. City will, of course, but I just have a sneaky feeling United will spring a surprise. They already have a lot of quality on their books, and they might sign a couple more. Can Man Utd sign Jadon Sancho & Jack Grealish this summer?

Danny Murphy: United have progressed tremendously well. They look a side full of confidence now and they have got loads of creativity. Donny van de Beek is a great signing and it is going to be interesting to see how they fit him into their team.

Jermaine Jenas: I know Bruno Fernandes came in and lifted them and they are playing lovely stuff but that effect can disappear really quickly. An injury here or there could really hurt them – it is going to be a weird season where teams are going to have to use a lot of their squad, and United will need to add to theirs to be sure of making the top four. need to be ‘much better’ before Cantona comparisons – Fernandes

Sue Smith: I was really impressed with United after the season’s restart – you could see Ole Gunnar Solskjaer’s strongest XI and he was able to break teams down, not just hit them on the counter. As well as Fernandes, Mason Greenwood was excellent – add in a fully fit Paul Pogba and new signing Van de Beek and they have a top quality midfield. If they get Sancho, another defender and a centre forward, they are title challengers.

Joleon Lescott: I’ve heard the argument they don’t need Sancho – but, really, who doesn’t need him? Every Premier League club would take him if they could, including Liverpool. He would impact the United team in a big way.

Karen Carney: United have been building and building. Their defence is better than those of Arsenal and Tottenham and that will be the difference in terms of them in getting a top-four spot. The key thing for me in the top six is who has the best defence, as they have all got that one player they still need apart from Liverpool, who have Virgil van Dijk. If they can sort that issue out, United would be right up there.

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