Looking back at our pre-season predictions

It's always fun to look back at what we wrote at the the start of the season and see what we got right, and what we got horribly wrong.

(Housekeeping note: I’m getting married this weekend and then going on a little honeymoon next week so there won’t be any Kwest Thoughts next week. Then maybe we’ll do something for the Euros when I come back. In exchange, I’m pushing out a bonus second newsletter this week. Let’s get to it!)

One of my least favorite things about internet punditry is how easy it is to hide. There’s just so much content out there that anything you say immediately gets buried and unless someone really wants to take the time to dig up your old work, it quickly gets forgotten. These days everyone has a take on something and everyone tries to shout it louder than the last guy just to be heard. The more outrageous your take, the more likely it is to be heard.

That’s all well and good. Everyone has a right to their own wrong opinion. What bothers me is when people are wrong about something and either delete their tweet/article or just pretend like nothing happened. Fuck that. If you’re wrong about something own it.1

Since that’s what I believe in it’s time to put my money where my mouth is. At the start of the season I wrote what is now my second annual “Manchester United are going to be all right” preview. It was born out of a frustration with the fan base who seemed to think United were doomed every season because of who they weren’t signing rather than everything else. The point wasn’t so much, United are knocking things out of the park, but while United have flaws, so do all their rivals. Perhaps United’s flaws aren’t as bad.

And viola, an article of predictions was written. Let’s see how I did.

Let’s call this one about 65 percent right. United were in fact not competing with City or Liverpool. Though with the latter, it wasn’t a matter of Liverpool being so far ahead of United, but rather they were so far behind.

As was expected Liverpool came back to earth this year after over-achieving on their underlying numbers by such an extreme margin last year but I didn’t expect the dropoff to be this steep. They also ran out of injury luck with their two most important players picking up big injuries. Those injuries didn’t cost them 30 points though. They hurt, but it was a combination of moving players around along with the grueling condensed schedule that did them in. Liverpool’s front three is getting up there in age, and they were running on fumes as the season progressed, unable to carry the team the way used to.

Leicester

Expected points had Leicester as the sixth best team in the league last season and this season they were… sixth in expected points again (behind Brighton!).2 Leicester were never great this year, merely consistent. Whereas last year by early February I thought United had a more realistic shot at catching Leicester than Chelsea (they were 14 points back at the time!) I did not see a collapse coming this season until much much later on.

I really thought they’d get it done this year. Trust the numbers I guess - unless you’re Brighton.

It’s hard to remember this but at the start of the season people were reallllly high on Mikel Arteta and Arsenal - especially United fans. Why? I wasn’t sure then and I’m still not sure now. Because he had like ‘a style’ or some shit? Turns out that style was awfully similar to Louis van Gaal’s possession based style and equally as boring.

How did it go? Well, when Arteta took over for Unai Emery Arsenal’s underlying numbers - especially in attack got worse. This year, they just kept going down!

Arsenal outperformed their metrics early on in Arteta’s reign thanks to a run of great finishing from Pierre Emerick Aubameyang. Here’s what I wrote at the start of the season.

The signing of Gabriel from Lille is a good signing and he’ll help Arsenal playing out from the back, but as for the rest of Arteta’s style what is it? If it’s still just relying on another good run of finishing from the aging/declining Pierre Emerick Aubameyang then they’re in for a rude awakening.

Arsenal didn’t get any more creative this season and as for Aubameyang…

Who could have seen that coming??

Safe to say I nailed this one.

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Tottenham

In terms of “I don’t see Tottenham as a threat to United” I was right. But I never really took a stance on this one to actually be really right or wrong.

I actually really liked Pierre Emile Hjojberg and thought he had a fantastic season for Tottenham. But did he make their midfield any less mediocre? Tough to say. Harry Kane managed to stay fit and posted a monster season putting up a 0.96 npG+A per 90 - the second best of his career.

Tottenham were in fact a weird club this year. They went top of the league for justttt long enough for people to actually think “can they mount a title challenge?” And then, almost as quickly as they got there, the inevitable collapse came. Maybe it wasn’t a complete collapse because they salvaged a European spot in the Europa Conference League but a collapse nonetheless.

Chelsea

Chelsea won the summer transfer window last year after spending over £200 million to bring in eight players. As everyone knows, by rule, if you win the transfer window you are automatically given the Premier League and Champions League titles. The past two weeks have been all about Chelsea collecting their various cups and trophies.

Wait, you’re telling me that Chelsea did everything they could to not qualify for the Champions League and only got there because Tottenham won? But… they spent all that money!

Let’s see what I wrote about Chelsea

Let’s pump the brakes a bit. Read that paragraph at the top again, specifically this part “you’d think the title and Champions League places are decided based only on the names you signed.

Yes Chelsea have brought in a nice haul of players but are they all going gel as a team? Are they all going to be good?

Now, I really like Timo Werner and Kai Havertz, I think they’re generational talents who will thrive in the Premier League but we’ve seen talented players flop before. As for the other players, I’m not exactly sure Chelsea fully addressed their needs.

Ben Chilwell looks to be a nice signing but is he actually an upgrade over what they have at left back?

Let’s call a spade a spade here. Chelsea did not hit on all their signings. They didn’t all gel as a team. Put that in the win column for me.

On the flip side, I wasn’t too bullish on the Ben Chilwell and Thiago Silva signings. Didn’t think they’d be that much of an upgrade on what Chelsea already had and didn’t think they’d solve Chelsea’s problems. I was also lukewarm at best on Edouard Mendy - though it’s almost impossible to not be an upgrade on Kepa. Those were probably their three best signings.

On the other side, I was VERY high on Timo Werner and Kai Havertz. Big swing and a miss from me there.3

£200 million and they finished the season with one more point and came extremely close to not even qualifying for the Champions League. Their Carabao Cup campaign ended at the same stage and this year instead of losing the FA Cup Final to a mid-table club they lost to a Europa League club, so I guess that’s improvement. Ultimately they are in the Champions League final which is the ultimate goal so win that and literally everything I wrote in the last few paragraphs no longer matters. Is the Champions League worth spending £200 million on? I guess, but it’s also hard to see them repeating the feat next year.

There was one more thing I wrote about Chelsea at the start of the season.

#NailedIt

Manchester United

Oh right, the stars of the show. What did I say about them?

Big oof here.

United did naturally get better (we’ll get to that) but not so much these guys. Rashford and Martial went from combining for 34 Premier League goals to 15. Mason Greenwood certainly increased his minutes but his goal tally fell from 10 to 7.

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When it comes to jumping to the next level, Martial did not do that. He very much did not. Mason Greenwood took some big steps in his all around game and you can expect big things to come from him next year. As for Rashford… once again he did what Marcus Rashford does. The man is nothing if not consistent.

Wan-Bissaka went from four assists to two goals and four assists, a 50 percent increase in his G+A per 90 (0.12 to 0.18) and you should see the difference in his numbers from the first half of the season to the second - and again when Paul Pogba started playing on the left side. He’s still got plenty to improve upon but he’s improving. Baby steps.

For as “bad” as Dan James was last season his final league tally of three goals and six assists is a total you would have signed up for at the start of last season. He was overplayed due to injuries and that hurt his game. He was always supposed to be just a squad player and he’ll (hopefully) be able to have that role this year which should help continue to grow.

James’ G+A per 90 in all competitions rose from 0.30 in 2019-20 to 0.42 this season, and he played 1516 fewer minutes.4 Not bad. James was at his best this season when United were able to pick and choose where and when to use him, less so when they had to use him because of injuries. He’s a squad player, and that’s what you want from your squad players.

Oh right, United also only had Paul Pogba and Bruno Fernandes for one third of the season last year. We all know what Fernandes did, now imagine that over a full season.

Pogba only ended up playing 55 percent of the season. Missed on that.

I also made several references to Jadon Sancho’s ‘imminent arrival.’ Big L on that one. This wasn’t in the piece but early in the season I was also VERY outspoken on the idea of shifting Rashford to the right wing - whether it be to play Martial on the LW or for any other reason.

A front three of Martial-Cavani-Rashford still very much does not work but with anyone else on the left wing… yea, you already know my thoughts regarding Rashford on the right. Hand up, I was wrong there.

But here’s the capper.

United ultimately signed four players on deadline day - which everyone said was impossible. They got their business done but the board did completely fail Ole. They didn’t deliver his #1 transfer target and more importantly NEED. Nor did they deliver him much first team quality.

United’s signings combined to make just 27 Premier League starts last season - six of those starts came in dead rubbers over the final week of the season. Alex Telles didn’t start a meaningful league match after January and the fullback known for his attacking often had to be substituted when United were looking for a goal.

Edinson Cavani lead the way starting 13 Premier League matches. In other words, the most “first XI” signing United made last summer was a guy who started less than two out of every five matches.

And yet, despite the lack of reinforcements, the lack of goals from Rashford-Martial-Greenwood, the incredible lack of depth, the team finished with more points than last year. They’re in a European Cup final. They finished second in the table.

Yea, Manchester United did alright.

I’ll count that as an overall win.

1

Or maybe I’m writing this to gloat about all the things I was right about? Whatever, I’m getting married this weekend, it’s my week. I can gloat a bit if I want.

2

Per understat

3

I’m doubling down. I still think Timo Werner is going to come good - probably next season - and Kai Havertz will be sensational once Chelsea realize that he’s just a young Harry Kane and start using him that way. Please don’t read this Thomas Tuchel.

4

That’s 16. 84 matches