Premier League Preview
There is little to doubt that the upcoming Premier League season has the potential to be the most explosive on record. The pulling power of the Premier League has a mighty magnetic force, one in which has attracted the biggest managers and players in the world.
Manchester United/Manchester City/Chelsea
Hollywood has arrived in the world’s most exciting league. The incomings of Jose Mourinho, Pep Guardiola, Antonio Conte and Jurgen Klopp are nothings short of spectacular. Personality, arrogance and exuberant antics will follow. Between the three they have won 17 league titles in five countries, methods used by each the enthesitis of their counterparts. Mourinho favours a strong spine, great width and a large counter attack; Guardiola looks to a solid foundation, a powerful youth set-up and consistent passing accuracy; Conte seeks a menacing defence, lung-busting stamina and team cohesion. All three methods contain their strengths and weaknesses, but which will prevail?
The obvious three favourites for the title are United, City and Chelsea. The Red Devils have spent £144.5m so far, The Sky Blues £153m and The Blues £65m. However, the London club’s net expenditure is likely to increase by around £30m on Napoli centre-back Kalidou Koulibaly. United’s blockbuster signings may see them return to the pinnacle of English football but whoever has the fittest defence will win the title.
What of the pretenders? The gap between Arsenal and Tottenham Hotspur keeps getting smaller. For the first time since 2006 (the lasagne affair) Spurs thought they would finish above Arsenal. But a 5-1 capitulation on the final day to an already relegated Newcastle United meant that Arsenal finished above their rivals again.
This season is different. If the Gunners can add a top quality striker then they can challenge for the title, provide injuries to key players don’t hamper the first 11. Shkodran Mustafi is a shrewd buy, while Alexandre Lacazette from Lyon has been courted by Arsene Wenger. But training methods, lacking change and differentiation due to Wenger’s rigorous principles, are hampering the club. Muscle injuries are synonymous with Arsenal. He decides when they train, how they train and how long they train. Far too often the Frenchman has risked players by playing them through ‘the red zone’ in an attempt to cover over a lack of quality squad depth. If Wenger can sort the problem out then finally Arsenal may have a shot at the title.
Tottenham will hit the ground running. Vincent Janssen and Victor Wanyama are not stand out signings but expect both to make significant contributions in terms of goals and assists. The fact that Spurs have not been under any pressure to sell their best young players emphasises that Daniel Levy’s tenacious negotiating style is working. Harry Kane will likely score over 15 goals this season, Delle Ali will continue to impress and Toby Alderweireld could turn into the Premier League’s best centre-back. The obvious problem for Spurs is that the opposition around them is improving. United’s signings of Paul Pogba, Eric Bailly, Zlatan Ibrahimovic and Henrik Mhkyitaryan provide a fear factor not seen at Old Trafford since 2009 while under Guardiola Leroy Sane and John Stones will provide top level consistency over the next five years. Expect Spurs to battle but fall short.
Klopp’s bamboozling persona will create an entertaining but mystical Liverpool approach. Their 4-0 pre-season win over Barcelona was a testament to the flair that is engrained within the club’s ethos. Phillipe Coutinho, Roberto Firmino and Saido Mane provide the flicks and tricks not seen at Anfield for a generation, but a severe lack of backbone highlights that Liverpool will be inconsistent. On one hand, they have the ability to beat City or United 4-0 at home but could lose to West Brom 2-1 away the following week. Klopp’s side will challenge for the top four but a lack of midfield and defensive authority means the title is probably beyond them.
The loss of Ngolo Kante for the league champions will be difficult to stomach but so was Esteban Cambiasso and look what happened a year later. The signings of Ahmed Musa from CSKA Moscow and Nampalys Mendy from OGC Nice look inspired. There is very little pressure on Claudio Ranieri’s side to win the title again, while the UEFA Champions League will be more of an adventure than a chance for a trophy. Leicester’s home form will most likely be one of the best in the country but their away form will lack consistency. A sheer shedload of games in multiple competitions will stretch the squad but it’s still good enough to reach at least the Europa League.
West Ham United
When I found out that Slaven Bilic was taking the reigns of West Ham two years ago I knew that the club’s level would rise. The fact that the Croat used to play for the Hammers is a huge bonus, because his extra passion for the supporters, backroom staff and volunteers shine through. Now in the Europa League and in the Olympic Stadium the club are experiencing a new environment and habitat. Balancing the fixtures will be difficult for a fairly thin squad, but an attacking three of Andre Ayew, Dimitri Payet and Manuel Lanzini will provide goals and drama consistently. The London side could beat every top side at home this season but like Leicester, the away form may let them down on a regular basis.
It’s very difficult to predict where Southampton will finish this season because of the drastic changes. The departure of Ronald Koeman, Saido Mane and Graziano Pelle will wound the Saints but they won’t be fatal. New manager Claude Puel is an unknown to many but his 17 years of experience in French football management will stabilise the South coast club, especially that he took Lyon to the Champions League semi-finals in 2010. Loyalty is a rarity in football nowadays so Puel’s 488 appearances for Monaco over a 17 year period was surely an indicator to the Southampton board that the long term option was the best. The signing of Pierre-Emile Höjbjerg is an incredible coup and he could turn out to be their player of the season.
Delirium consumed the Riverside Stadium in May. Middlesbrough were back and back with a bang. For so long in the Championship they had been the ‘nearly’ team, missing out on promotion by an inch for the last three seasons. But with Aitor Karanka they have reached the promised land, and so far their transfers indicate they will be present for a very long time. The arrival of Alvaro Negredo is a testament to Karanka’s reputation, whilst Victor Fischer and Victor Valdes will add flair and stability. A top half finish is very possible.
Mark Hughes’ reign as QPR boss filled Stoke fans will nervousness when the Englishmen took the managerial post two years ago. However, Hughes has added skills and tricks to a side with an already sturdy spine. Stoke won’t finish in the top four, neither is there any threat of relegation. Joe Allen’s arrival will bolster the midfield and expect Xherdan Shaqiri and Bojan Krkic to continue to entertain the Brittania.
Roberto Martinez’s reign at Everton last year was a complete catastrophe. Conceding 55 goals in a league season was a contrast to that of 2013/14 when the opposition managed to score just 39 goals past The Blues. Ronald Koeman’s incoming is a very good coup for Farhad Moshiri, likewise Ashley Williams for Swansea. The centre-back will provide stability at the back for a side which produced their worst ever home record last season. With the John Stones money Koeman will now sense there is an opportunity to improve the squad depth. Everton will be very inconsistent but improve in upcoming years.
There is a feeling at Crystal Palace that the FA Cup Final appearance saved Alan Pardew from the sack. Steve Parish denied that but Palace’s inconsistency is stark. They could win seven in a row and then lose the next seven. Having only won two games since the New Year most of their fans will hope that saying ‘Form is temporary, class is permanent’ applies to the club. Andros Townsend will replace Yannick Bolasie and if The Eagles managed to spend that on Christian Benteke then they will fancy a top half finish. The middle of the Premier League will be extremely tight.
Sunderland fans could not have wished for a better man to replace Sam Allardyce. David Moyes will solidify the North East club their Premier League status. For a side which has a 53,000 capacity stadium, they should be in the top half of the table. Flirting with relegation has been a trend for the North East clubs and now the two still in the Premier League may finally push towards a much higher finish in the league. Paddy McNair has the ability to be the centrepiece for Sunderland’s spine while Will Buckley is a welcome return to right back from Sheffield Wednesday. Sunderland will start slowly but by May they will still be a Premier League club with ease.
The bottom side of the mid-table. With Tony Pulis, there isn’t much chance of The Baggies getting relegated. West Brom’s season won’t be spectacular but they may occasionally claim a big scalp. Matt Phillips from QPR will add some urgency to an already powerful midfield. If Pulis managed to beat Palace to the signing of Benteke they may just flirt with the top half.
Watford will stay up but it won’t be pretty. Walter Mazzarri has absolutely no experience of Premier League football. Added to the fact that the Pozzo family have sacked eight managers in four years the Italian may be the first managerial departure. The most impressive victory for Mazzarri came in 2012 when his Napoli side crushed unbeaten Juventus to win the Coppa Italia Final. But the fact that Watford need two or three players is worrying. New signings need time to settle in, buy a house and embed themselves in the community. It may be that Watford are in the bottom three by Christmas, with goals from Odion Ighalo and Troy Deeney rescuing The Hornets.
Last season Francesco Guidolin proved his doubters wrong. The Italian is a very intellectual and shrewd operator but the loss of captain Ashley Williams and Andre Ayew may prove fatal. However, the imminent arrival of record signing Borja Baston is a sensational find from Guidolin. Swansea will leak goals and be incredibly entertaining. With Alan Curtis marshalling the bench The Swans have the steel to survive a heart-wrenching relegation tussle.
The rise of Bournemouth is like a Rocky movie, bouncing up from potential anguish. For Eddie Howe to keep the South Coast club up last season without their three protagonists- Benik Afobe, Tyrone Mings and Max Gradel- was nothing short of a miracle. Bournemouth’s boisterous style of football is entertaining but the fear is the opposition may have found out how to combat against it. Like Swansea, The Cherries will leak a large number of goals but score plenty. Beating United on Sunday would set out a message to their relegation rivals. Nevertheless, over the season they may just fall short.
Loyalty is rare in football so Barry Kilby deserves a lot of credit for keeping Sean Dyche. You know what to expect from Burnley. A traditional English squad, backroom staff and hierarchy signal granite stability even if the going gets tough. The major problem for The Clarets is that their squad is, in essence, full of Championship quality. The arrival of Johann Berg Gudmundsson is a great coup for Dyche given the Icelandic’s prominent role in Euro 2016, but the ‘Ginger Mourinho’ needs Premier League quality otherwise, Burnley will go down instantly again.
Steve Bruce’s departure is devastating for Hull and could be potentially fatal. An acid test awaits them on the opening day as The Tigers host champions Leicester, but it’s also a chance to prove that they will be a major test for the top clubs. Mike Phelan is likely to get the job and given his experience under Sir Alex Ferguson it would not be surprising to see them in the Premier League next season. However, even if they finish with 35 points they could finish bottom, such is the depth in the strength of most teams this year.
Top scorer- Sergio Aguero
Player of the season- Zlatan Ibrahimovic
Young player of the season- Dele Alli
Manager of the season- Aitor Karanka
The first manager to be sacked- Walter Mazzarri (Although I have no confidence in this given I said that Claudio Ranieri would be the first to be sacked last year)