Premier League predictions 2021-22: BBC Sport pundits pick their top four

You can follow the new season on Match of the Day, Final Score, Football Focus, Radio 5 live and Match of the Day 2

Defending champions Manchester City have won the Premier League in three of the past four seasons – but can anyone stop them this time?

Manchester United were City’s nearest rivals last time out but finished 12 points back and have still not sustained a serious title bid since they were last champions in 2013.

Will United challenge for top spot until the end in 2021-22? How will Liverpool respond after their title defence imploded at the start of the year? Can Chelsea be contenders again domestically after conquering Europe? And will Leicester, Arsenal, Tottenham or anyone else break into the Champions League places?

We asked 20 BBC TV and radio pundits to pick their top four, with explanations for their selections.

Alan Shearer Chelsea Man City Man Utd Liverpool
Fara Williams Chelsea Man City Man Utd Liverpool
Sue Smith Chelsea Man City Man Utd Liverpool
Chris Sutton Chelsea Man City Liverpool Man Utd
Rachel Brown-Finnis Chelsea Man City Liverpool Man Utd
Matthew Upson Chelsea Man City Liverpool Man Utd
Rob Green Chelsea Liverpool Man City Man Utd
Martin Keown Man City Chelsea Liverpool Man Utd
Micah Richards Man City Chelsea Liverpool Man Utd
Stephen Warnock Man City Chelsea Liverpool Man Utd
Danny Murphy Man City Liverpool Chelsea Man Utd
Mark Lawrenson Man City Liverpool Chelsea Man Utd
Ashley Williams Man City Chelsea Man Utd Liverpool
Clinton Morrison Man City Chelsea Man Utd Liverpool
Michael Brown Man City Chelsea Man Utd Liverpool
Pat Nevin Man City Chelsea Man Utd Liverpool
Leon Osman Man City Chelsea Man Utd Liverpool
Nedum Onuoha Man City Man Utd Liverpool Chelsea
Lindsay Johnson Man City Man Utd Chelsea Liverpool
Jermaine Beckford Man City Chelsea Man Utd Leicester

Five teams feature in the forecasted top fours, but only City, United and Chelsea feature in all 20.

In terms of who will win it, City are favourites, with 13 votes. Chelsea get seven, while the highest anyone thinks United or Liverpool will finish is second. The overall predicted ranking gives a similar outcome.

1. Man City 2. Chelsea 3. Man Utd 4. Liverpool 5. Leicester
72 pts 62 pts 33 pts 32 pts 1 pt

(using system of 4 pts for a 1st place, 3 pts for 2nd, 2 pts for 3rd and 1 pt for 4th)

Which transfer would affect three pundits’ title predictions?

The predictions were made on Thursday, 12 August, with just under three weeks to go before the transfer window closes on Tuesday, 31 August.

Alan Shearer: Some major signings have already happened, but there are more to come that will affect the title race. I’m expecting it to be much tighter at the top than last time, with four teams in with a chance of being champions, not just City and Chelsea.

Alan Shearer joins Ian Wright and Gary Lineker on Match of the Day this Saturday at 22:20 BST on BBC One and the BBC Sport website for highlights of seven Premier League games.

Chris Sutton: If Harry Kane goes to Manchester City, then he is the perfect fit for them and I would fancy them. If he doesn’t, I think Chelsea will nick it, because they are getting Romelu Lukaku. I don’t think City will win the title without signing a centre-forward. I know they won it last season largely playing without one, which was remarkable. I don’t see it happening again.

Matthew Upson: As things stand, I’d back Chelsea. It looks as if Lukaku is definitely going there, while things are very different with City and Kane – who knows if that will happen? It’s a big ask for them to win the league again without a new striker but, if they do get Kane, that turns that problem position into a massive positive – and I’d change my prediction.

Sue Smith: Chelsea will have massive confidence from winning the Champions League but if City can get Kane, then I’d put them on top instead.

Pat Nevin: City have already added Jack Grealish, who is exactly the right player for them and there is the possibility of Kane, who is perfect too because he is so creative and adaptable. Arguably he’s the player that Pep tried to turn Sergio Aguero into, and I can’t think of many strikers so well suited to City’s style.

If they get him, they are big favourites. If they don’t, they are just marginal favourites.

Man City – ‘A team of Galacticos’

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

Micah Richards: It’s tougher than ever to call it this season but I am still going to say City, even if they don’t get Kane. John Stones has signed a new deal and, with him and Ruben Dias, the defence is sorted. When you look at their options in midfield and going forward, it’s just not fair on the other teams and, with the form that Raheem Sterling was in at the Euros, they still have to be favourites.

Micah Richards and Dion Dublin are the guests on Football Focus on BBC One and the BBC Sport website at 12:00 BST on Saturday.

Danny Murphy: My gut feeling is that City are going to be really difficult to knock off their perch. They and Liverpool will just about have the edge on everyone but not by much – the top four will be really tight.

Nedum Onuoha: I look at how good City were defensively last season and think they will be strong enough to win the title again. But I think this year will be the first time in a while where there will be more than two teams in with a shout at the very end. City have made an excellent signing in Grealish but their rivals have strengthened well too.

Jermaine Beckford: They are so powerful. Stones and Dias have formed a brilliant relationship and City don’t really have a weakness any more.

Michael Brown: My only doubt is if they don’t get Kane, or another striker.

Ashley Williams: City are the best team and squad in the league. They have added Grealish and if they get Kane then the title is done. Even without Kane, or another top-class striker, as a team they have got goals everywhere and their style of play doesn’t need a recognised centre-forward. I’m expecting a more productive season from Sterling too.

Martin Keown: What I am really excited about is seeing how Grealish will play under Guardiola, after seeing the effect Pep has had on Sterling and Phil Foden already. Now we have another talented English player in his hands, and Grealish has a team of Galacticos around him.

Chelsea – ‘The depth in their squad is scary’

Last season, no-one thought Chelsea would win the title and only two out of 25 pundits thought they would make the top two. This time, seven out of 20 pundits think they will be champions and 80% think they will make the top two.

Pat Nevin: I’ve been at all their pre-season games and have looked at the depth they have got in their squad and it is actually scary – and that’s before Lukaku has arrived. If you add him on top of Kai Havertz, who could be, certainly over the next few years, one of the great players in the world, and look all the way through their squad, then they have got so much quality.

Fara Williams: We saw the impact Thomas Tuchel made in the second half of last season and how hard Chelsea are to beat. Lukaku’s goals will turn a lot of draws into wins.

Rob Green: Their squad is stronger than everyone else’s, even City. Then you add Lukaku, who will bring the best out of everyone else.

Martin Keown: Lukaku is a player you have to keep hungry so I think this is the perfect move for him, going back to a club where he has something to prove.

Ashley Williams: Chelsea made big improvements last season and I think they will be better again. I played with Lukaku at Everton so I know him quite well – his goal record for us was incredible but having seen him play for Inter Milan and Belgium, he’s even better now. It’s as if he has recognised his own ability and strengths more than he did before, and he knows when and where to use them. I still speak to him a lot and he has worked hard on his game – it’s mentally where he has got stronger, because he has always been a beast physically.

Ashley Williams joins Dion Dublin and Jason Mohammad on Final Score on Saturday, from 14:30 BST on the red button and the BBC Sport website and from 16:00 on BBC One.

Chelsea boss Thomas Tuchel celebrates winning the Champions League with his family
Chelsea boss Thomas Tuchel celebrates winning the Champions League with his family

Stephen Warnock: Tactically, they are so well organised under Tuchel, and it looks a happy camp too. He has created the perfect environment of having the authority that means no-one steps out of line, but the players like him too.

Michael Brown: They have got the belief now too, which is massive. They have gone from wondering ‘where will we finish?’ to thinking ‘we’ve got every chance’. They will be right in the mix.

Rachel Brown-Finnis: Tuchel consolidated at first and made them difficult to break down, now he is adding more firepower as well. If Lukaku clicks with their creative players, they will just be awesome but I just feel they will have the edge because of how hard they have been to beat.

Chris Sutton: Tuchel has not just sorted them out defensively, he has added a really nice balance to their team. Timo Werner will benefit from his first year in England, and Havertz also came into form at the end of the season. If there was a criticism of Chelsea last time, it was that they possibly weren’t ruthless enough but with Lukaku they will have a guy in who is an absolute glutton for goals.

Sancho is poised to join an already fearsome United attacking line-up next season
Jadon Sancho joins an already fearsome United attacking line-up for the new season. Also in their squad are (left to right) Marcus Rashford, Anthony Martial, Mason Greenwood and Edinson Cavani

Man Utd – Will Sancho give them the ‘X-factor’?

Last season, 24 out of 25 pundits thought they would make the top four although 17 of the votes they received placed them in fourth. This time, 100% think they will finish in the top four and 11 out of 20 think they will finish third or higher, although only two people have backed them to finish second.

Chris Sutton: United missed a great opportunity to win the Europa League last season, which would have taken the pressure off Ole Gunnar Solskjaer by ending his wait for a trophy. They still had a good season but there is something missing – they have to show greater consistency and be able to take the game to the opposition. The other three top teams have a better balance about them but maybe Jadon Sancho will give them that X-factor.

Nedum Onuoha: If Sancho’s game can translate to the Premier League, then that is a huge coup for United. I can’t wait to see how he gets on.

Micah Richards: United have shown that they can beat anyone but they seem to have too many off-days over the course of the season and for me they are a couple of players short of being a title-winning side – including a centre-forward. Edinson Cavani is 34 and at the stage of his career where he needs looking after. He can’t play every week and they don’t have another striker like him.

Pat Nevin: It feels like Manchester United have been trying to sort out that centre-back position forever and, finally, by getting Raphael Varane in alongside Harry Maguire it looks right. I suspect it will turn out that way too, but let’s hold fire slightly to see – Varane was always lightning quick when he was younger but I have watched him a few times recently and wondered if he had lost half a yard of pace. I will only find out by watching him in the Premier League.

Matthew Upson: There is a lot of guesswork involved here until the season starts but Varane looks a really good signing, and one they needed to make. He and Harry Maguire are a world-class pairing at the back and that is going to make a huge difference for them.

Ashley Williams: You can’t ask for more from a centre-half partnership. My only question is whether Varane hits the ground running or does he need time to settle in. I’ve never played in La Liga so I am not saying there are easy games there but in the Premier League you are tested even by the poorer teams, and in different ways. Varane is vastly experienced but I’m not sure he will have come up against many teams like Burnley who have really physical strikers such as Chris Wood and Ashley Barnes. It doesn’t sound glamorous but they make your life difficult for 90 minutes. He has won everything there is to win, though, so I am sure he will cope with that.

Stephen Warnock: I see it as a four-horse race this year but the only difference between United and the other three is with their manager – I don’t think Solskjaer is the man to win the title. He’s done well tactically in some games but there have been times when something is not quite right and if you had given United’s squad to Jurgen Klopp, Guardiola or Tuchel last season, I think they all would have won the league. I am not sure he is the right man to take United to the next level.

Martin Keown: I have United down as finishing fourth but this title race is as open as it will ever be. They have made two brilliant signings, and they mean business. I am only picking this order because I have been asked to – and if they were to win it, I wouldn’t be surprised.

Liverpool defender Ibrahima Konate
Liverpool’s only signing so far this summer saw France centre-back Ibrahima Konate join for £36m from RB Leipzig

Liverpool – A strong team but how deep is their squad?

Last season, 52% of the BBC pundits thought Liverpool would defend their title, while 21 out of 25 thought they would finish in the top two. This season, no-one thinks they will be champions, and only three out of 20 think they will make the top two.

Mark Lawrenson: A big factor for Liverpool is hunger after what happened last season. Yes, they had a lot of injuries but by their high standards it was a poor campaign – so they have a point to prove, especially in front of their fans at Anfield where they had such a poor run at the start of the year.

Danny Murphy: It is hugely important that Liverpool get Jordan Henderson’s contract situation sorted out. They have already lost Georginio Wijnaldum, who has been under-rated for the past few years. I do expect Henderson to stay, because he has been so pivotal to their success, but they need to put those concerns to bed quickly. Losing both now would be unthinkable.

Danny Murphy joins Ashley Williams and Mark Chapman for MOTD2 this Sunday at 22:30 BST on BBC One and the BBC Sport website for highlights of Newcastle v West Ham and Tottenham v Manchester City.

Georginio Wijnaldum
Georginio Wijnaldum left Liverpool in June and signed for Paris St-Germain on a free transfer. “He is seriously under-rated,” says Danny Murphy. “He is brilliant defensively but great on the ball too and he doesn’t get enough credit for how good he is technically.”

Stephen Warnock: They are still a very strong team and I just think the style of football will be back to what it was a couple of years ago, with the team playing that high press again. Sadio Mane and Mohamed Salah look fresh after a break over the summer but it is a concern what happens when they both go to the Africa Cup of Nations in January.

Martin Keown: I know people are saying they haven’t really bought but there was nothing really wrong with Liverpool before their injury problems last season. I am backing Klopp to get back the perfection that was there in the two seasons before that, and they can challenge again, no doubt about it.

Pat Nevin: Liverpool still don’t look like they have a big enough squad to win the league, but then I’ve said that about them before. They have got Virgil van Dijk back now, which makes a massive difference, but I kind of think they need another serious striker.

Micah Richards: Diogo Jota did really well last season, and his injury came at a bad time for them. It might take a while for them to work out their best combination in attack, or what system to go with.

Chris Sutton: Ibrahima Konate looks like a decent defensive signing but the issue with Van Dijk is how fit is he? How has he been affected by being out for so long and the injury? We will find out.

Matthew Upson: It is hard to remember Liverpool at full throttle because they had such a disastrous time from the start of the year. Even though they have got Van Dijk fit, I had the same cruciate ligament injury and I’d say you are looking at several months from when he plays his first competitive game to him being back at his best. Joe Gomez is in the same boat really, and that’s the reason I have them down as third.

Rachel Brown-Finnis: I hope Van Dijk gets back to his best because he is such a wonderful player. They need him to perform individually but he also lifts the whole team. I don’t think it will happen for Liverpool without him, because of that knock-on effect. When they are in full swing, they are fantastic to watch.

Leicester – fighting it out with Arsenal, Tottenham and West Ham for the top six?

Last season, Arsenal were the only other team to feature in the picks – two out of 25 pundits thought they would finish fourth or higher. This time, Leicester get a mention – but only one pundit thinks they will finish in the Champions League places.

Jermaine Beckford: I am going with Leicester to finish fourth. They are a breath of fresh air in terms of how much they invest in their squad compared to the teams who finished above them last season. They still spend some money of course, but they spend it so well. Their recruitment is absolutely brilliant, and I am a huge fan of the way Foxes boss Brendan Rodgers sets up his teams and gets everyone working hard together.

Ashley Williams: It’s going to be tough for anyone else to crack the top four, and I don’t think Arsenal or Spurs can do it. If anyone can wriggle in there, it is Leicester. They are a really good team and can beat any of the leading teams on their day but as they have already found out after finishing fifth twice, it is tough for them to sustain those standards for the whole season.

Martin Keown: Leicester will push again and they will definitely have a say in who will win the title. Arsenal and Spurs can too, but it still feels more like they are both in transition at the moment. There will be some pressure on Arsenal early on, because they have got some very difficult early fixtures against Chelsea and City in the first couple of weeks. I just want to see some more convincing performances from them, because I think we can see the club has tumbled down the league, and there are other clubs with more resources than them now. They need to be more competitive in games to get up the table, and they also need Pierre-Emerick Aubameyang to have a smile back on his face.

Danny Murphy: If anyone might surprise a few people it’s Arsenal – they are not in Europe, and they have got some fantastic forward players. People forget that last season was the first in Aubameyang’s career where he didn’t score a bagful of goals, and nothing suggests to me that is going to continue. They have a tough start but their young players are going to keep getting better.

Pat Nevin: Just purely if you look at the finances and size and experience of squads, it is going to be very hard for anyone outside the top four to get up there again. After the top four, it is Arsenal, Spurs, Leicester, and maybe West Ham who will all basically be trying to be the best of the rest.

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