Revisiting Jamie Carragher and Gary Neville’s start of season predictions

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Jamie Carragher and Gary Neville working for Sky Sports at the Etihad Stadium, January 2019

Jamie Carragher and Gary Neville have been box office viewing on Sky Sports for years and, at the start of each season, they try to predict what will happen in the upcoming Premier League campaign.

Neville has often been criticised for his punditry this campaign, with some viewers claiming that the former right-back is too biased when talking about Manchester United, for whom he made over 600 appearances as a one-club man.

The pair are often involved in lengthy debates, both on Super Sunday and Monday Night Football, as their passion and detailed analysis means their pre-match build-up is sometimes more interesting than the matches shown.

As the season prepared to kick off in August 2021, both pundits made their predictions for the campaign on a number of aspects, including which teams would over or underachieve, as well as players to look out for.

Looking back at the predictions with the season nearing completion, there are some shouts which look worse and worse each day, whilst some were scarily spot on. We’ve broken them down to see which pundit had the better vision.

Champions

The only one both agreed upon was the question of who would finish top of the pile, and both went for Manchester City.

For most of the season, this looked to be a fairly straightforward affair, but some poor results for Guardiola’s side has seen Liverpool come within touching distance of them, setting up a fiery title race to finish the season.

“You’ve got to go with Man City with what they’ve done the in the last few years. Chelsea and Manchester United have something to prove, Liverpool have to get back up to the level they were at,” Neville stated in August.

“City have been at the highest level, there’s a question of Aguero going and not being replaced. But they have lots of 10s, 15s, 17s that could contribute to getting goals.”

Top Four

Both pundits had the same teams within their Champions League places, but in a different order.

Carragher backed the current Champions League holders Chelsea for a second-place finish, with his beloved Liverpool in third and Manchester United fourth.

Neville also chose Chelsea as runners up, but picked Manchester United to finish above Liverpool for the second season in a row.

The club bias from the pair was on display, but Carragher has had the last laugh here. Chelsea and Liverpool are nailed on for a top-four finish, but Liverpool are significantly further ahead and will almost certainly finish in the top two.

“I didn’t expect Liverpool to go back to what they were two years ago,” Carragher stated at the halfway point in the season.

Manchester United, meanwhile, have had a dismal season, which saw manager Ole Gunnar Solsjkaer lose his job, and a top-four finish looks highly unlikely, with Arsenal and Tottenham Hotspur set to fight it out for that coveted spot.

Carragher changed his mind at the midway point, replacing Manchester United with Spurs in the Champions League spots.

Neville stood by his prediction halfway through the campaign, backing United to finish fourth despite their horrific start.

“I’ll stick with Manchester United, I think they’ll sort themselves out. Even though they’ve been poor in the last few games they’ve got seven points out of nine, they’re still picking up points against teams near the bottom,” Neville said in December.

“They’ve got a favourable month coming up, they need to pick up a lot of points in that month.”

They did not.

Overachievers

Two teams from outside the top six were chosen as overachievers, with Carragher picking Graham Potter’s Brighton, and Neville plumping for Rafael Benitez’s Everton.

For a while, Brighton looked to fit the bill perfectly. A strong start to the season saw them play some eye-catching football and the Seagulls won four of their first five league games.

However, a winless run saw them lose momentum, winning just three games since September, and early dreams of overachieving and finishing in the top half look all but over.

Carragher’s prediction still turned out far better than Neville’s in hindsight. Everton have had one of their worst ever seasons, and the club has been clouded in toxicity since the very start of the campaign.

The appointment of Liverpool legend Benitez was never going to go down well with the fans, and awful performances throughout the campaign has seen the Toffees land themselves in a relegation battle, and sacking Benitez to appoint Frank Lampard has not seen a significant upturn in results.

With Everton being as far away from overachieving as possible, Neville’s prediction has aged like milk.

READ: Comparing relegation fighting clubs’ run-ins & results in reverse fixtures

Underachievers

When asked what team would fall below expectations and underachieve relative to their ambitions, it was two top-six sides that were picked out.

Carragher went for Manchester United, much to Neville’s dismay, and despite predicting a top-four finish, Carragher argued that following a summer window where a lot of money was spent bringing Jadon Sancho and Rafael Varane to the club, United should be challenging for the title.

United underachieving is something of an understatement. Their title ambitions imploded almost immediately, and with so much chaos off the pitch with regard to the ownership, managerial position and dressing room divides, they look well short of competing with their city rivals.

Whilst Carragher was spot on, Neville’s was slightly more controversial, selecting Arsenal to underachieve.

Despite their nightmare start to the season, which saw the Gunners lose their opening three games and failing to score, Arsenal bounced back, and after a fantastic run of form, are in a good position to secure a first top-four finish since 2016.

However, Neville still remained sceptical despite Arsenal’s good form heading into the new year.

“To be honest with you, with Arsenal, you can flip a coin with them.” Neville said in December 2021.

“In three weeks, you could be talking about Arsenal but, at the moment, I would say they are doing as they should be, but they could still let you down in a few weeks. They are not someone you could trust wholly.”

With the youngest squad in the league, and the top four written off before a ball was kicked, Arsenal underachieving is another Neville prophecy that looks unlikely to be fulfilled.

Top Goalscorer

Carragher went for Liverpool’s superstar, Neville went for Chelsea’s £98million summer signing.

Yet again, it was Carragher who came out on top.

Salah is clear in the race for the golden boot, with 20 league goals heading into April, seven clear of Heung-Min Son and Diogo Jota in second.

Romelu Lukaku, Neville’s choice, was not an unjustified one at the time. Lukaku had just fired Inter Milan to the Serie A title and had evolved into a top-class striker before he rejoined Chelsea for a club-record fee.

His return to the club has been a disaster, with just five goals in 19 league games, Lukaku was even dropped from the squad after bizarre comments in an interview, where he stated that he would like to return to Inter just months after his departure.

“Last summer I didn’t think about going to Chelsea until they really came with an offer. Simone Inzaghi behaved very well with me,” Lukaku said in December.

“Can we say that if Inter had offered me a new contract I would have stayed? “Yes.”

“Lautaro Martinez coming here with me at Chelsea in the future? No… Lautaro, you can stay in Milan, I’ll be back there.”

With more controversial headlines than goals, Lukaku’s golden boot charge never got going.

Young talent

Carragher and Neville both picked good choices here, with Arsenal star Emile Smith-Rowe Carragher’s young talent, and Kai Havertz of Chelsea selected by Neville.

“I’m a massive fan, I’ve loved watching him, even though Arsenal made such a poor start,” Carragher said of the 21-year-old.

“He was arguably the best player on the pitch at Brentford and you can see some of his touches on Sunday, the way he moves with the ball. Not even the top players can receive the ball on the back foot on both sides. I’m a huge fan.”

Although Smith-Rowe has occasionally found himself on the bench in recent months, he is Arsenal’s top scorer in the league, with nine goals, and is one of many young stars shining in North London.

Havertz, fresh off the back of his winner in the Champions League final, is finally flourishing at Chelsea in a false nine role, and is starting to justify the £71million spent on him in the summer of 2020.

Two exceptional young talents.

One to watch

Two Manchester United summer signings were chosen here, with £73million Jadon Sancho the focus of Carragher’s attention, and Neville’s pick was Rafael Varane following his big move from Real Madrid.

Although Manchester United have had a poor season, both players have given decent(ish) accounts of themselves.

Sancho had a very slow start but is coming to life at Old Trafford, with goals against Manchester City and Chelsea in recent months, whilst Varane has had to adjust to partnering Harry Maguire instead of Sergio Ramos, and has been the more impressive of the pair.

Although neither have staked a claim for a place in the team of the season, neither have done badly enough to be called flops just yet, and neither prediction was outrageously wrong.


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