CHRIS SUTTON: Chelsea to WIN the Premier League, Manchester United can steal a top four spot under Ralf Rangnick, Rafa Benitez leads the sack race and Newcastle will be relegated (and rival fans will laugh!)

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  • I tipped Manchester City to win the Premier League early in the season
  • But now I think it will be a special season for Chelsea and Thomas Tuchel
  • I believe United are capable of sneaking into the Champions League places
  • Liverpool who will take the biggest hit from Africa Cup of Nations in 2022

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As the Premier League’s busy winter schedule draws to a close, everything is still to play out.

The title race is closer than ever, the managerial merry-go-round is in full swing and some surprising relegation candidates are looking nervously over their shoulders.

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sportsmailof Chris Sutton gives us his predictions about what this exciting season will be like…

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SportsMail’s Chris Sutton gives us his predictions for what this exciting season will be like

Who will win the title race?

At the start of the season, I was tipped to win the Premier League for Manchester City, but that came in with an asterisk. This was provided that he had completed the signing of Harry Kane, which seemed possible at the time.

Now that a third of the season has passed, I am turning to Chelsea, who signed Romelu Lukaku. But to be honest, anyone from Chelsea, City or Liverpool can win it.

All three of them are on another level to everyone else and I would be surprised if any of these horses dropped out of the race. For neutral people, the prospect of them making it to scrap to the bitter end is exciting.

City have been able to become champions even without the striker. His performance at Chelsea in September was in complete control. But I think it will be a special season for Thomas Tuchel and there will be a dark blue ribbon tied to that trophy in May.

I think it will be a special top-flight season for Thomas Tuchel and Chelsea

I think it will be a special top-flight season for Thomas Tuchel and Chelsea

Will the Africa Cup of Nations derail Liverpool?

It will hurt them, no doubt about it. How could Mohamed lose Salah and Sadio Mane for a month?

Salah is the best player in the Premier League. He is the leading scorer and deserves to win the 2021-22 goal of the single-strike season against Manchester City in October.

Africa Cup of Nations is starting from 9th January. Jurgen Klopp doesn’t know whether Salah and Mane will be due to face Chelsea a week earlier or whether they will leave with their respective countries for pre-FCON training camp.

Losing Mohamed Salah and Sadio Mane for a month or so can't hurt Liverpool?

Losing Mohamed Salah and Sadio Mane for a month or so can’t hurt Liverpool?

Worse, while away, they can pick up injuries or get caught up in the ever-changing COVID restrictions and need to be isolated upon return.

Other clubs will also lose players. For example, Chelsea will be without Edouard Mendy and Hakim Ziyech – and let’s not forget that they will have to rearrange some games to accommodate the Club World Cup in February.

But it is Liverpool who will take the biggest hit. Losing even a single point in this race for margin can prove to be costly.

Who else goes to Europe?

We’ve got a three-horse race and are bringing the rear, although they look like asses right now, I’m going to say Manchester United will be fourth.

The fact that Arsenal do not have Europe this season is a huge advantage for them. Mikel Arteta and his players have no excuse – not to hide behind Thursday night’s game in Baku. They are on the verge of having Arsene Wenger back at the club, and he knows a thing or two about a fourth-place finish.

But Ralph Rangnick is a super-manager, a visionary of the game, a godfather of gegenpressing, and I believe United have been able to sneak into Champions League places at the expense of fellow European hopefuls Arsenal and West Ham.

I believe Manchester United are capable of sneaking into the Champions League places

I believe Manchester United are capable of sneaking into the Champions League places

Will Rafa Benitez be fired the next boss?

I wouldn’t be surprised. Are you? Everton have found Liverpool next and if that game goes as expected at Goodison Park, Benitez will not be able to escape the wrath of fans.

Not like Sunday when he walked down the tunnel at Brentford Community Stadium instead of facing the music in front of the far end. It is the supporters who drive the managers out.

The boards listen as their thousands of ticket holders turn on the man in the dugout.

Rafael Benítez's Brand Of Football Is A Big Problem, His Game Hasn't Been Entertaining Enough

Rafael Benítez’s Brand Of Football Is A Big Problem, His Game Hasn’t Been Entertaining Enough

Benitez’s brand of football is a big problem. Everton have averaged around 40 per cent this season.

Maybe he could have gotten away from her in Newcastle while they were trying to survive. But at Everton, who have spent half a billion in transfer fees to be competitive, supporters want more.

However, right now, they are in very real danger of being dragged into an exile fight. The absence of Dominic Calvert-Lewin was always going to be a big loss, but even so, football just hasn’t been entertaining enough.

How does Antonio Conte fix spurs?

It was an utter disgrace to lose to NS Mura in the Europa Conference League – one of the worst defeats in Tottenham’s history.

This outlined the shape of Conte’s work. He is a winner who has walked into a club with a loser mindset and changing that will be his biggest challenge.

Write the names of the players on a piece of paper and you will think, ‘This is a good team, this is a team that can compete for trophies’. But they are so dissatisfied that it is downright sad.

There are characters out there who seem so meek. Conte has a job on hand if he wants to maintain his excellent record as a manager.

Changing Tottenham's lost mindset will be Antonio Conte's biggest challenge

Changing Tottenham’s lost mindset will be Antonio Conte’s biggest challenge

Are Newcastle headed for the championship?

I don’t think it’s too early to say that Newcastle is entering ‘must win’ territory. They may try to wait till the January window opens but that too will present its own problems.

They’ll get a rush of hires, because what big names are going to agree to join a club stuck at the bottom of the Premier League?

Right now, Newcastle have a championship back line with some talented forwards in Callum Wilson and Alan Saint-Maximin.

I don't think it's too early to say that Newcastle is already entering 'must win' territory in this term

I don’t think it’s too early to say that Newcastle is already entering ‘must win’ territory in this term

It’s nice to have all the money in the world, but if the XI you name on Saturday can’t make it to the show, you’re on a certain creek without a paddle.

Eddie Howe’s players will see tonight’s game against Norwich as a win, and the same goes for Burnley on Saturday.

They can’t get away from the fact that most fans across the country will be laughing if Newcastle goes down. This has increased the pressure on Howe.

Who else will join them?

The former Norwich striker says his old club will survive. Shock horror! But the hiring of Dean Smith gives him such an opportunity.

He is a great coach who is already doing well. With that in mind, I’d say they can get themselves out of trouble.

The three clubs I would say are going to go into the championship with pardon are Leeds, Newcastle and Brentford.

But it’s a very open race right now, both at the top and bottom of the Premier League. Anything can happen.

Hiring Dean Smith gives Norwich a chance and they can get out of trouble this season

Hiring Dean Smith gives Norwich a chance and they can get out of trouble this season

my estimated premier league table

1) Chelsea

2) man City

3) liverpool

4) man United

5) armory

6) West Ham

7) tottenham

8) Leicester

9) Aston Villa

10) Wolves

1 1) Brighton

12) diamond palace

13) southampton

14) watford

15) Everton

16) burnley

17) norwich

18) Leeds

19) brentford

20) Newcastle

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