This weekend will see the 2019-20 Premier League season take flight, with Liverpool hosting Norwich City at Anfield on Friday evening in the opener.
With pre-season complete and the English transfer window shut—meaning squads are fully assembled—it's the perfect time to produce a predicted 1-20 of the Premier League table. It's a task that's both fun and thankless in equal measure.
It's also a ranking, of sorts, and we'll go in ascending order, starting with relegation, rising into midtable and ending with our top-four finishers and title winner. We've also included a best XI for each side, giving you an idea of their collective strength—though in building those we've left out long-term injured players, such Ruben Loftus-Cheek (ruptured Achilles) and David Brooks (ankle surgery).
Sam was away for the latest episode of the B/R Football Ranks podcast where they predicted a much different Top 20. Listen below and also subscribe here.
20. Norwich City
2018-19 finish: 1st in Championship
Theoretically, the Championship winners should stand the strongest chance of surviving relegation in the Premier League in the following season.
But as they often are, the Canaries have been cautious and conservative in their summer business, and that's left them in a quality deficit in comparison to the clubs they'll battle with.
Strongest XI (4-2-3-1): Fahrmann; Aarons, Godfrey, Zimmermann, Lewis; Amadou, Vrancic; Buendia, Stiepermann, Roberts; Pukki
19. Newcastle United
2018-19 finish: 13th (-6)
Fan unrest, Rafa Benitez's departure and the loss of both Salomon Rondon and Ayoze Perez—who accounted for more than 50 percent of their goals last season—put Newcastle squarely in the relegation crosshairs.
Joelinton is a very good player who goes some way toward replacing Salomon Rondon, and Miguel Almiron is a gem. But the quality in the squad overall and the new manager, Steve Bruce, inspire little faith.
Strongest XI (4-2-3-1): Dubravka; Krafth, Lascelles, Schar, Willems; Ki, Shelvey; Ritchie, Saint-Maximin, Almiron; Joelinton
2018-19 finish: 15th (-3)
Last season, we saw two very different Burnley teams: the terrible one that featured before Christmas, and the very good one that emerged afterward.
Fans should be alarmed that a key reason for the improvement in results—Tom Heaton and his return from a shoulder injury and subsequent superb play—has departed to a fellow Premier League side. Nick Pope is an able stand-in goalkeeper but has been plagued by fitness issues for a year.
If he can put together a full campaign, they could be OK—but it's an if.
Strongest XI (4-4-2): Pope; Lowton, Tarkowski, Mee, Taylor; Gudmundsson, Westwood, Cork, McNeil; Barnes, Wood
17. Sheffield United
2018-19 finish: 2nd in Championship
Many will have Sheffield United pegged to go down, as their squad (on paper) arguably looks the weakest in the division, but they're a quirky, canny side with curious tactics and clever set-piece routines.
It takes Premier League sides a bafflingly long time to acclimatise to teams with these features, and what the Blades do in the first half of the season might well be enough to keep them on track for survival.
Strongest XI (3-4-1-2): Henderson; Stevens, O'Connell, Jagielka, Egan, Baldock; Norwood, Fleck, Freeman; McBurnie, Robinson
2018-19 finish: 17th (-1)
Brighton are among the hardest sides to gauge, as there are important questions we can't answer yet.
Can new manager Graham Potter rejuvenate what was a horribly underachieving crop in 2018-19 (aside from a few individuals)? Will they and the new signings adapt to the new style? Are Leandro Trossard and Neal Maupay enough to boost a flagging attack that's lost the talismanic Anthony Knockaert?
They'll either just scrape clear, or just succumb.
Strongest XI (3-4-1-2): Ryan; Montoya, Webster, Duffy, Dunk, March; Mooy, Propper; Trossard, Maupay, Murray
15. Aston Villa
2018-19 finish: 5th in Championship
Spending big doesn't guarantee success—not by a long shot—but Aston Villa have bought good players and massively improved the mean quality running through the squad.
In Jack Grealish, John McGinn and Douglas Luiz, manager Dean Smith commands a midfield trio that could feasibly start for a top-half side, and the acquisition of goalkeeper Tom Heaton is a smart one.
Strongest XI (4-3-3): Heaton; Guilbert, Engels, Mings, Targett; Douglas Luiz, Grealish, McGinn; El Ghazi, Jota, Wesley
14. Crystal Palace
2018-19 finish: 12th (-2)
It's rare that one player can define a side's fortunes—it's a team game after all—but with Wilfried Zaha and Crystal Palace, that feels like the case.
So the fact that they held on to their prized attacking asset probably means they'll survive; without him, things would have looked far bleaker.
Strongest XI (4-4-2): Guaita; Ward, Cahill, Tomkins, Van Aanholt; Camarasa, Milivojevic, McArthur, Townsend; Zaha, Benteke
2018-19 finish: 14th (+1)
Smart business was the story of Bournemouth's summer.
They secured well-priced deals for a series of good players who won't drastically change the outlook of the side's Premier League campaign for the better, but the signings will help them stay afloat among a sea of spending.
Strongest XI (4-4-1-1): Begovic; Smith, Cook, Ake, Rico; Fraser, Lerma, Billing, Danjuma; King, Wilson
2018-19 finish: 16th (+4)
There will be no dangerous flirting with relegation for Southampton this season.
A sprinkling of good attacking additions this summer ahead of Ralph Hasenhuttl's first full season at the helm has them primed for easy survival and perhaps even a top-10 finish if things roll their way.
Strongest XI (3-5-2): Gunn; Valery, Bednarek, Yoshida, Vestergaard, Bertrand; Hojbjerg, Ward-Prowse, Redmond; Ings, Adams
2018-19 finish: 11th
Eleventh would probably disappoint Watford, but the quality of the pack filling out the top half of the table is quite something.
Much of their good work last term came at the start of the season, as they formed something of a surprise package, and that charm is unlikely to work twice. Ismaila Sarr is a brilliant addition, though, and could spur them on to bigger things.
Strongest XI (4-2-2-2): Foster; Kiko Femenia, Dawson, Cathcart, Holebas; Sarr, Doucoure, Capoue, Pereyra; Deulofeu, Deeney
10. West Ham
2018-19 finish: 10th
After West Ham recruited well this summer, it feels strange to place them in exactly the same position as last season, but there's an element of proving to be done from east London.
We saw exactly how good they can be in flickers last term, but we also saw how they can self-destruct with apparent ease. The quality of teams that are looking to crack the top six is so high that West Ham can't afford to do the latter, but can they be trusted not to?
Strongest XI (4-2-3-1): Fabianski; Fredericks, Balbuena, Diop, Cresswell; Rice, Wilshere; Lanzini, Fornals, Felipe Anderson; Haller
2018-19 finish: 7th (-2)
Wolves' 2018-19 campaign was sensational, enough to bring European football to Molineux for the first time since 1980, but how their resources will split across multiple competitions is a big question mark.
Playing Saturday-Thursday-Sunday is difficult, and their squad isn't terribly deep, with Nuno only picking up a few first-team players this summer and losing the same number on loan.
Strongest XI (3-5-2): Patricio; Doherty, Vallejo, Coady, Boly, Jonny; Neves, Moutinho, Dendoncker; Jota, Jimenez
2018-19 finish: 3rd (-5)
With Frank Lampard at the helm, anything could happen—and we mean that in both the good sense and the bad sense.
His first season in management with Derby County was promising but showed clear flaws. How quickly will they be ironed out?
So quality-wise, they simply don't stack up against the top sides in the league, and that plays into the pessimism here.
Strongest XI (4-3-3): Kepa; Azpilicueta, Rudiger, Christensen, Alonso; Kante, Jorginho, Kovacic; Pulisic, Willian, Giroud
2018-19 finish: 8th
As Nick Bright mentioned on B/R Football Ranks this week, Everton almost always come out of the summer having done good business, but rarely does that translate to the leap in performance we expect.
If the two finally tally up in 2019-20, it'd be perfect timing, as the top-six field looks severely susceptible to a side like Marco Silva's.
With a season under the manager in the bank (the latter part of which was excellent) and a strengthened squad at hand, this is a big opportunity, but the prediction is they will fall just shy.
Strongest XI (4-2-3-1): Pickford; Coleman, Mina, Keane, Digne; Gbamin, Gomes; Bernard, Sigurdsson, Richarlison; Kean
6. Manchester United
2018-19 finish: 6th
Some big-money signings have strengthened the defence, but there's still little reason to believe United can better their effort of sixth from last season.
Ole Gunnar Solskjaer's pedigree is under serious doubt, as is the commitment to the cause from some players, and it'd take something pretty magical to spur a top-four run.
Strongest XI (4-2-3-1): De Gea; Wan-Bissaka, Lindelof, Maguire, Shaw; Pogba, McTominay, Matic; Lingard, Martial, Rashford
5. Leicester City
2018-19 finish: 9th (+4)
Of the cluster of sides eyeing a top-six break-up party, Leicester City have the strongest case—and the prediction is they manage it.
They may have lost Harry Maguire to Manchester United, but in adding Ayoze Perez, Youri Tielemans (permanently) and James Justin to an already talented squad, they have the quality and depth to manage it.
Bagging Brendan Rodgers' services midway through last season gave them time to adapt to his style, and they should start fast, fuelling a great season.
Strongest XI (4-3-3): Schmeichel; Ricardo, Evans, Soyuncu, Chilwell; Ndidi, Tielemans, Maddison; Gray, Perez, Vardy
2018-19 finish: 5th (+1)
From a summer in which very little was expected, Arsenal secured the services of Dani Ceballos, William Saliba, Nicolas Pepe, Kieran Tierney and David Luiz. This constitutes incredible success given the budgetary constraints they were operating under.
How it all fits together, particularly up front, is anyone's guess. But it's a strong XI—stronger than last season's—and could easily deal enough damage to secure a top-four berth for the first time since 2016.
Strongest XI (4-2-3-1): Leno; Bellerin, Sokratis, Luiz, Tierney; Torreira, Ceballos; Pepe, Ozil, Aubameyang; Lacazette
3. Tottenham Hotspur
2018-19 finish: 4th (+1)
Even without the deadline-day acquisitions of Giovani Lo Celso and Ryan Sessegnon, Spurs looked a strong shout for third place in the Premier League this season.
Sealing both serves to cement that spot. The question then becomes whether they can truly enter the bracket Liverpool and Manchester City—arguably the two best sides in the world—operate in.
Strongest XI (4-2-3-1): Lloris; Aurier, Alderweireld, Vertonghen, Rose; Winks, Ndombele, Son, Eriksen, Alli; Kane
2018-19 finish: 2nd
It's too difficult to predict that Liverpool will go one better in the Premier League this season when they've spent the summer refusing to strengthen.
They lack the depth Manchester City do in most areas and look set to the roll the dice that the likes of Mohamed Salah and Sadio Mane will play every game (again) to keep up with the juggernaut to the east.
Strongest XI (4-3-3): Alisson; Alexander-Arnold, Gomez, Van Dijk, Robertson; Fabinho, Keita, Wijnaldum; Salah, Mane, Firmino
1. Manchester City
2018-19 finish: 1st
It's a three-peat for Man City, who, unlike Liverpool, have opted to strengthen their squad even after a phenomenal season. That's the difference between them.
The only two potential weak points they showed last season—at full-back (both sides) and at holding midfield when Fernandinho was injured—they've strengthened, buying Joao Cancelo, Rodri and Angelino.
As ever, though, the question for City and for Pep Guardiola won't be answered on the domestic front, but on the European one. Is this crop good enough to win the Champions League?
Strongest XI (4-3-3): Ederson; Cancelo, Stones, Laporte, Zinchenko; Fernandinho, Silva, De Bruyne; Bernardo, Sterling, Aguero
All statistics via WhoScored.com.