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Revisiting my predictions for 2022
Let's see how right or wrong I was.
Well, it’s that time of year again. I made a series of predictions in January 2022 and, if I’m honest, I didn’t do great. Let’s take a look at them. This is for all readers, and tomorrow I will run my 2023 predictions for paid subscribers.
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1. Manchester City will win the Premier League – RIGHT
This felt like a slam dunk call at the time.
FiveThirtyEight have City at 85% to win the title. The bookies are even more confident, putting the implied probability at around 90-95%. The Christmas period saw them really consolidate that spot as Liverpool and Chelsea both stumbled.
It’s going to happen, barring a huge calamity.
It nearly didn’t happen! When we’re talking about an 85% chance of something happening, that range includes scenarios where it just barely works out, along with outcomes where it’s a landslide. It took City until the final day to win the Premier League, beating out Liverpool by only a point. The prediction worked out in the end, but we were probably all a little too confident at the start of 2022 on this one. Liverpool’s recent form, however, suggests why we weren’t so confident they could put together that sort of run.
2. Real Madrid will win La Liga – RIGHT
This one was also an easy call, but it happened without too much drama.
Again, this feels like a safe bet. FiveThirtyEight have it at 80%, while the bookies are at 86-92%. To be honest, I’m not sure how good they actually are. They’re third-best by xG difference in La Liga, getting results through excellent finishing from Karim Benzema and Vinícius Júnior (and a little bit on the defensive side). They currently have a goal difference of +24 and an xG difference of +10.7. Real Madrid have beaten their xG in all of the last four seasons, but this really is a lot.
3. Inter will win Serie A – WRONG
Nope! I think my reasoning was sound on this, as Inter were top of the table with the best underlying metrics. But sometimes football doesn’t work that way. Congrats to Milan.
4. Bayern will win the Bundesliga – RIGHT
Not exactly the hardest call I had to make.
5. Paris Saint-Germain will win Ligue 1 – RIGHT
Shocking stuff, here.
6. Kylian Mbappé will join Real Madrid – WRONG
Remind me not to trust the Madrid press again.
Everyone is acting as though it’s done, so I think we have to assume it’s pretty much done. Not since Luís Figo has a player quite ticked all the boxes for Florentino Pérez like Mbappé does. He’s one of the two obvious galacticos of tomorrow, and probably the more exciting one. Real Madrid’s position as the “biggest club in the world” looks a little shaky, and he’s the perfect statement signing to tell the world that, hey, we’re still Real fucking Madrid. But maybe most importantly, new money PSG have become the ideological foe for Europe’s “legacy clubs”, and Nasser Al-Khelaifi was key in spoiling Pérez’ Super League plans. Taking Mbappé is a chance for revenge.
Mbappé himself seems to have his heart set on the move. This is what he wants. This is what the club wants. They’ve moved a lot of money around to make sure it’s happening.
It was not pretty much done! I’ll try to save face here by saying my gut always thought he’d stay at PSG, but the reporting was so confident that I figured I was wrong. Everyone has a price, and PSG found the money to make it happen eventually. I understand the prestige and history attached to Real Madrid, but I think we undersold the significance of the chance to rewrite the story of his home town club and build something new. That’s the story you can tell if you don’t want to believe he only cared about the money.
7. But Real won’t fix the defence – Err, what?
Ok, this is pretty hard to defend. Let’s see what my logic was at the time.
By xG conceded, Real Madrid have the tenth best defence in La Liga. It hasn’t played out that way on the pitch, because La Liga has become so weird and unmoored from expected goals. But this side won’t have the defensive spine to win the Champions League titles they crave without reinforcements. Mbappé alone does not turn Real Madrid back into the best team in Europe.
In the calendar year 2022, Real Madrid conceded 29 goals in 34 La Liga games. That does not seem like a defence that needs fixing to me. Those came from 38.6 expected goals, which isn’t as good, but should hardly register as a crisis. Real legitimately tightened up in 2022. I stand well and truly corrected.
8. PSG will do some retail therapy – WRONG
This is simple. They didn’t lose Mbappé, so they didn’t need to break the bank on stupid vanity signings. They weren’t exactly stingy, but they didn’t do anything obviously stupid.
9. Erling Haaland will move to England – RIGHT
Though my reasoning needs parsing out a bit.
Barcelona have less than no money, despite Joan Laporta’s recent noises. When Xavi made his pitch to Ferran Torres, he reportedly promised that the Spaniard would be Barca’s “franchise player”. If the club bring in Haaland, that’s just a flat out lie.
PSG are surely going to try. They’ll be badly bruised by losing Mbappé, and Haaland represents the next best thing. Is that what he wants? I don’t know. It doesn’t feel right. I could be wrong, but I think he’ll want a club with a clearer structure and somewhere that really can build the side around him to win major titles.
Real Madrid, I’m sure, would love Haaland. But they’re already going to make Mbappé their highest-paid player, and Haaland would demand a comparable salary. I know it’s Real Madrid, but from the perspective of any normal club, this makes no sense. Yes, he’s suggested he’d like to play in Spain. But I just don’t know how Pérez makes the sums work on this. They’ve been saving up for Mbappé. They haven’t been saving up for Haaland.
That leaves the Premier League. Haaland was born in England. His dad played the majority of his career in England. He speaks good English. Premier League clubs have a much stronger financial position than their European counterparts bar PSG. It makes sense.
I think the fact that Mbappé made his decision so late in the day influenced this move. If Real Madrid had known earlier that they weren’t getting their first choice target, they might have moved for Haaland more aggressively, with some in Spain suggesting that would’ve been his preference (though, again, the Madrid press did not have a great year here).
Barcelona decided to pretend they weren’t in a massive pile of debt, but I still don’t think they were ever likely to match Manchester City’s financial offer. PSG had no need for another attacker once Mbappé decided to stay.
So everything worked out nicely for City to make their move.
10. Guardiola will stumble in the Champions League again – RIGHT
This is just pure probability. It’s not really his fault. FiveThirtyEight have City at 24% to win the Champions League. Even the most generous pro-City reading couldn’t put the number at above 50%. And if he doesn’t win it, you can be sure that the same narratives will kick in again. Maybe they’ll be right and maybe they’ll be wrong, but they’ll come regardless until he wins the thing again.
11. Mauricio Pochettino will join Manchester United – WRONG
They certainly thought about it, but Erik ten Hag is their man.
12. Newcastle will go down – WRONG
I actually disagree with the bookies here, who think Newcastle are slightly favoured to stay up. But FiveThirtyEight has the Magpies at 75% to get relegated. Ben Torvaney, analyst at [unnamed big European club], ran the numbers and found that for Newcastle to have a decent chance of staying up, they would have to improve to the level of Aston Villa or Wolves immediately. Yes, they’re going to spend, but with a lack of structure and clear targets, I’m betting against them.
Well, who saw their incredible run in 2022 coming? I certainly did not.
13. Chelsea will buy either Fikayo Tomori or Marc Guéhi – WRONG
But maybe they should have?
Thiago Silva just renewed but, as it stands, Chelsea are still looking at Antonio Rudiger, Andreas Christensen and potentially even César Azpilicueta out of contract this summer. Even if some renew, they will need to sign a centre back.
If we were simply listing the sorts of players they might target, both Fikayo Tomori and Marc Guéhi would merit consideration. Of course, Chelsea sold both of these players for £25 million and £18 million. Getting them back will cost more, but it’s not clear to me there are too many better options, especially considering they will definitely settle without issue. Chelsea have spent on bringing back former players in the past, with one recent example not working out. I’d bet on them doing it again.
They signed Kalidou Koulibaly instead, and I don’t think he’s been better than either Tomori or Guéhi would have been. He’s also significantly older than either of them. I don’t know if this story is over.
14. Thomas Tuchel will come under pressure – RIGHT
And then some!
Winning the Champions League gets you plenty of money in the bank, but that never lasts forever at Chelsea. This was the season when many hoped they would push on and potentially win the Premier League title. I don’t think Tuchel is doing a bad job by any means, but since this isn’t happening, surely some voices will start to ask if he’s the right person for the job.
If Tuchel is still at Stamford Bridge this time next year, he’ll have been around for as long as Antonio Conte. Six months more than that and he’ll match José Mourinho’s second spell. This season will make it five years without winning the league, the longest run since Roman Abramovich bought the club. Obviously, the Champions League win sweetens the deal, but the pressure will come.
I obviously didn’t see Russia’s invasion of Ukraine forcing Abramovich to sell the club to Todd Boehly et al coming. But the cycle was coming to an end for Tuchel. I think he would’ve gone anyway had Abramovich still been in charge.
15. Harry Kane will score again – RIGHT
You forgot he was struggling in the first half of last season, didn’t you? 26 Premier League goals in 2022 is much more of a typical Harry Kane year.
16. Christian Pulisic will leave Chelsea – WRONG
I think perhaps Chelsea and Pulisic should’ve listened to me on this one.
Yes, I had this listed before he started and scored a screamer against Liverpool, but I’m sticking with it. Bar occasional wing-back appearances he doesn’t seem to like too much, he’s competing for a place in Chelsea’s front three. Mason Mount seems to be number one in the pecking order, followed by Kai Havertz. So that leaves Pulisic often competing with Lukaku, Callum Hudson-Odoi, Hakim Ziyech and Timo Werner for one spot. Conor Gallagher is probably going to be added to that group next season, and I would never rule out Chelsea signing another expensive attacker.
Chelsea like to get good value selling in the transfer market. Lukaku is probably locked in for now with his wages. So, of those who aren’t nailed on to play, who has the largest resale value? Who would offer the biggest commercial boost to a buying club? It’s Pulisic with his appeal in America. If he’s not going to play regularly, there’s value for Chelsea in cashing out.
Obviously, there might be some off-field value for Chelsea’s American owners, but it’s time to move on, isn’t it?
17. Football will see more crypto and weird finance stuff no one understands – WRONG(ish)
2022 was a bad year for crypto in ways that have nothing to do with football. It hasn’t entirely gone away, but the bubble is bursting. We’re not going to see another John Terry situation.
18. Neymar will miss his last chance at the Ballon d’Or – RIGHT
There are only two ways left that Neymar can realistically seal a Ballon d’Or:
PSG win the Champions League in a way where everyone agrees Neymar outshone Messi and Mbappé
Brazil win the World Cup with Neymar playing a starring role.
I’m not putting my money on either of those outcomes. Neymar is destined to retire with a slightly disappointing career.
19. Qatar’s World Cup sportswashing will work – RIGHT(ish)
In the buildup to the 2018 World Cup, there was a lot of discussion about the geopolitics of Russia, though not to the same extent as Qatar. It was clear many people felt uncomfortable about the tournament taking place there, and expressed their views as such.
Then the football started, everyone completely forgot about that, and all who went out there told us what a nice country Russia is.
Don’t get me wrong, I’ve no doubt the people of Russia are lovely, as are the people of Qatar and pretty much everywhere. The issue with regimes is not the people living under them. I expect a lot of talk in Qatar about what a nice show they put on. I think that will drown out the complaints in the end.
There was definitely more critical coverage of Qatar than Russia. I don’t think this went without a hitch, and figures around the Qatari state were visibly irritated by Western criticism. But the football did the talking in the end, and it’s hard to call the tournament a failure for Qatar. The fact that they want to bid for the Olympics suggests they see the World Cup as a huge success.
20. The World Cup will be won by the team that pulls it together quickly – RIGHT (I think)
I don’t know if it’s sunk in how quickly the World Cup will come for the teams competing in it. Players finish with their clubs and then the tournament kicks off a week later. If any managers wanted to tactically drill a certain system then they’re out of luck.
So I think the advantage will go to the teams that need minimal prep. Those who can go straight in and know what to do already. Many of the past winners have started out playing one way then switched to something else during the tournament. We like to imagine those great teams as perfect, but they were often making it up on the fly. I think that will be harder this time. I think the team that has it right before they even meet up in Qatar will be at a real advantage. I don’t know which country that will be, but it’s my gut feeling. I wouldn’t want to be experimenting in autumn 2022.
Argentina, a country that had been on an excellent winning run beforehand, won the World Cup. I guess that means I was right? They obviously lost their first game, but I think they played pretty well in that one. I would have been very wrong if France had won that shootout, so let’s call this prediction a draw.
Thanks for reading!