Fans’ notes on 2019-20 season

Joe Hurley, left, with Ian Bishop, who played with West Ham United from 1989 through 1998 and was club captain.

Joe Behan, Former NYU coach, Manchester United

It’s very rare that the bookmakers in the UK get things wrong pre-season. Most put United at 25/1 to win the EPL, odds that haven’t been seen for over 20 years. The bookies see this upcoming season as a two-horse race between Man. City and Liverpool.

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All of the great United teams have always had a backbone to build upon. Today’s central defensive team of Smalling/Jones are not up to previous standards to consolidate an effort to challenge for EPL honors. Luke Shaw has been unlucky and needs more time but has a long way to go to match the likes of Irwin or Neville for consistency. Harry McGuire is not the answer. Harry is prone to too many critical mistakes.

United have only signed two other players thus far, Daniel James, a winger from Swansea and Aaron Wan Bissaka, a defender from Crystal Palace, hardly household names but one never knows. At the same time, United have let go 15 players in their submission to the Premier League in June, only two of which most people have heard of Herrera and Valencia. It’s not looking good. Is it?

United’s aim for next season can only be at best a top-four finish which qualifies for CL and they have a chance of a domestic trophy, as every team does.

Joe Behan.

Stephen Boland, UPS worker in Manhattan, Liverpool

I’m definitely looking forward to it. It was great to win the Champions League last season. But what I want and what all Liverpool fans want is the Premiership title. We have the team for it. It’s still Manchester City and Liverpool. I don’t see anyone else challenging them. Chelsea, Tottenham, United, Arsenal and Manchester United will fight it out for the other two spots. I predict United will be 6th. I’d prefer if they were relegated, but 6th is more likely. Wolves, Newcastle and Watford should do well.

John Spinks, artist living in Brooklyn, Newcastle United

Another Geordie comes home. Steve Bruce, a Wallsend lad, is our “new” manager. Bruce’s parents were both lifelong fans of Newcastle United and harbored ambitions that Steve would one day manage the club. In spite of advice to the contrary from all sides, he took the job. How could he turn it down? As a player he was never in the Shearer, Waddlle, Beardsley caliber; he was more of a journeyman. As a manager his rating remains the same.

His title is “Head Coach”. He will have little or no say in recruitment. An example is new signing Joelinton, 36 million. It’s a distraction, the club’s idea of a marquee signing to placate the fans. Ashley’s policies neutralize the Club. Unless he leaves, prospects remain bleak.

Positives are these: We still have gifted, experienced players, Ritchie, Dummit, Almiron and the injured Yedlin. Add to this, further names to conjure with: Alain St. Maxim and Jetro Willems. The former, from Nice. The latter, on loan from Eintracht Frankfurt.

One home-grown player to watch is Sean Longstaff, a North Shields Geordie. Manchester United are already expressing interest. Hopefully, the B&W shirt has real meaning for him, he’s a real prospect.

I heard an interview with Matt Ritchie: he said he was looking forward to working with Steve Bruce. It made me think “Give the lad a chance.” Another lifelong supporter, Joe Liddane, expressed it well: “Expectations are low so he has a chance of exceeding them.”

John Spinks.

Adrian Rayward, retired Bronx resident, Chelsea

With a new go-ahead manager, Frank Lampard, and several new young players I expect Chelsea to be an improved team and to finish again in the top 4.

Scott Silver, Belfast Media Group, Arsenal

With the exception of signing Nicolas Pepe, the Gunners have been relatively quiet. Almost like Arsene Wenger is still holding onto the war chest. They will have to address a replacement for Laurent Koscielny (he could be gone by tonight) and more depth in the midfield. Sadly, even some new faces being brought in will not be enough to get Arsenal back into the top 4. They have treaded water while the other big clubs have all improved. I’m fearing a 7th or 8th place finish, and another new coach by next summer.

Colum McCann, novelist, Stoke City

For my sins (which are many and manifold), I'm a Stoke City fan. For some reason, this brings most people (even non-football fans) to their knees with laughter. It's a long and complicated story but I've been following Stoke closely since the age of 4. I was even a mascot when Stoke played a friendly against Thurles Town in the 1970s. Suffice to say that I've been at many games and suffered many fools not-so-gladly. Our 10 years in the Premiership were a joy -- beating Liverpool 6-1 will never be forgotten, even when, in the years to come, the Alzheimer’s sets in. But we're back down in the Championship now and last year was a gallop of folly. But I'm ready for this year with Nathan Jones in charge with his diamond system. We already lost Ryan Shawcross to a pre-season injury, but I think we'll have a good season and we will be fighting for a promotion spot. I'm going to say that Sam Vokes will score 20-plus, and James McClean will fit perfectly into his new role as a full-back. I also think we'll have a good run in one of the cups and bring me back to the glory days of 1972! Ah, nostalgia.

As for the Premiership, I'm shouting for Tottenham. I'm hoping they get Gareth Bale back. And that "we" crush everyone around us, especially Liverpool. And that we face Stoke once again a year from now. No harm in dreaming.

Colum McCann.

Jay Mwamba, Irish Echo sports writer, Manchester City

It’s an awfully familiar position for a Pep Guardiola team to be in at the start of the season, so no surprise that Manchester City should begin another campaign as the title favorites. They are simply the team to beat.

Pep still has the personnel to light up the league and with a healthier Kevin De Bruyne – plagued by chronic injury last year – may well repeat as treble champions.

What’s good to like about the “Citizens”? Their depth of skill in midfield and attack and Pep’s vaunted coaching acumen. The addition of the much-hyped young Spaniard Rodri, presumably solves the “aging” Fernandinho issue in arguably the deepest midfield in England. Look to him to make an impact playing alongside any combination of partners from De Bruyne to the two Silvas.

Upfront, Gabriel Jesus’ impressive Copa America with Brazil raised the youngster’s stock. And he may well force Pep to seriously contemplate a permanent Jesus-Aguero partnership upfront instead of having the Brazilian play second fiddle to the Argentine.

Does City have a potential Achilles Heel? Absolutely and it’s between the posts and in defense.

Joe Hurley, musician, West Ham United

Last season kicked off with four straight defeats. Inauspicious beginnings? Or a conniving bit of Pellegrini psychology to lull the coming opposition into a false sense of security? Whatever the reason, Pellegrini, calm and unwavering in his attacking principles, quickly turned it all around. Just ask Arsenal, Man. U., Chelsea. Finished 10th. Nowhere land. But hope reigned. Of course, as fellow hammer John Cleese says: “It’s the hope that kills you.”

The usual drama of roller-coaster results, embarrassing off-pitch headlines and arrogant Arnie's toxicity decimating team morale, killing off any chance for top six were all slightly offset by the rise of Declan Rice and the glorious football emerging from Brazilian wizard Felipe Anderson, that boded well for the future. That future is now here -- looking brighter than it has in many an East End year. With our Argentinian “Jewel” Lanzini (thrilling in pre-season ) and the visionary Jack Wilshere back from injury, for once we've an embarrassment of riches to draw from -- dynamic game-changing players, who will bring the flair and the unexpected. Add to that our two superb summer signings; 24-year-old Pablo Fornals, blessed with breathtaking skill, a rare unselfish forward who relishes defensive work, coupled with 6-foot-3 striker Sebastian Haller, our record-breaking signing and proven goal-scorer from Eintracht Frankfurt, and yes, the Bow Bells are chiming.

My pal Bish (former West Ham captain Ian Bishop) just rung me and sent these words: "Of all the seasons we talked about West Ham breaking into the top 6. I am convinced that this is the year. We have both argued this before and both have been off the mark. This is the time. Europa League at least.”