Writing a season preview is always a tricky proposition because it’s a bit like playing a hand of poker whilst only looking at one of your cards, you have an idea of what your hand is like but your opinion on it could easily change once you see that second card, or in this case once the transfer window closes.
So as always the season preview should be taken with a pinch of salt but with that being said…here’s the Premier League season preview!
Premier League Champions
The current Premier League champions!!! And almost certainly soon to be former Premier League champions!!! Chelsea had one of those years last season where everything went their way, from not having European football to getting little to no injuries, it all fell perfectly into place. It isn’t fair to belittle Chelsea’s title win as it isn’t their fault that things fell into place for them, you can only beat what’s in front of you and take the breaks when they come. The problem Chelsea will have this season is that the chances of getting these breaks again are unlikely, add that to being in the Champions League and this Chelsea team aren’t good enough to win the league.
Chelsea’s behaviour since winning the league has been incredibly unusual, it’s as if they don’t want to win the league this season. It isn’t that the signings they have made so far have been poor, it’s more that they haven’t actually improved as a team. Morata isn’t better than Costa (who seems guaranteed to leave), Bakayoko isn’t better than Matic (even odder that they sold him to a rival who had a massive hole at the position) and Rudiger is better than Terry, Ake and Zouma but they’ve bought one player to replace three. I counted fifteen outfield players who are worth anything in this squad, that simply put isn’t enough for a full season where you want to be successful.
It should be noted the Premier League has only been retained by one team who isn’t Manchester United and that was the fantastic Chelsea team from from 05/06, this Chelsea team are nowhere near as good as that team. When you also consider that the last time the Premier League was retained was 08/09 the stats of defending champions really aren’t looking good. I’ll refrain from mentioning that the last three Premier League champions haven’t finished top four the next season… Chelsea have one of the best first elevens in the Premier League, the issue is that they’re basically a one ply piece of toilet paper, once you scratch the surface you’ve got shit on your fingers.
I really like this Spurs team, they’re young, exciting and have a top class system. After slumping to third the season before Spurs managed to make it one better last season and finish second! Yes Spurs keep sort of challenging for the league before not really challenging for the league and coming up short of the team who actually wins the league.
For two seasons in a row it’s been Spurs’ best chance to win the Premier League and on both occasions they have ultimately came up short. Spurs have a great young first eleven and it’s arguably the best first eleven in the league, yet I struggle to see this side winning the league. They have a chance because there are so many quality players in this team but the combination of a really weak squad and the fact they will be playing all their games at Wembley don’t add up to a successful season.
When you consider that Spurs have poor depth, have Champions League football, aren’t playing in a stadium which they are familiar with and haven’t actually won anything as a team, it doesn’t look good. When you then also consider that they have signed absolutely nobody so far it just starts to feel like incompetence from the club. They are so close to being a fantastic side, however a couple of mediocre transfer windows and selling their starting right back really isn’t the way towards success. The money is clearly there, they are just being tight and they will feel the ramifications of that this season.
This is a big season for City, they’ve spent a ridiculous amount of money the last two seasons and they have supposedly one of the greatest managers of all time, there really are no more excuses. It was funny to see people back track on City having won the league in August, yet excuses had to be made as to why Guardiola failed so drastically in his first season. It shouldn’t be forgotten that City were proclaimed to be the best first eleven and squad when Guardiola took over last season and since he took over he has spent over £400m, there really aren’t any excuses this season for anything but huge success.
City have been splashing the cash this season and to be fair they definitely needed it, finishing third with apparently the best manager in the world, after having spent that sort of money simply isn’t good enough. They’ve tried to fix their full back problem by signing Walker and Mendy, with Danilo as a back up, which totalled out at £125m…on three full backs…? It’s crazy money for a position where you can generally find bargains. To be fair Mendy and Walker should fit into what Guardiola wants them to do, I’m not a massive Walker fan and haven’t seen enough of Mendy to really comment, however at the money they are paying anything other than amazing will be a disappointment.
City also signed another new goalkeeper! Yes Claudio Bravo who was definitely awesome and not a disaster has got a new buddy in Ederson, who came in at the fine sum of £36m…that’s a hell of a lot of money on a goalkeeper. It’s the same problem the full backs are going to find, the amount of money which was spent he has to be a success because otherwise the media will be getting on his back exactly like they did with Bravo. It has to be noted that the English media is deluded about how good Joe Hart is and due to that seeing him displaced by a couple of Johnny foreigners will never go down well. Guaranteed if Ederson starts slow the Joe Hart brigade will be out telling us that City’s best keeper is at West Ham! Rabble rabble rabble!!!
So City also signed some exciting centre backs…wait…what’s that…? You’re telling me that City as things stand are going to go into the season with only three centre backs? Wait, and you’re telling me that one of those centre backs is Kompany, a player who gets injured peeling a banana (it is strenuous)? No instead of fixing the defence Guardiola decided it would be better to sign Bernardo Silva, to confuse people as to what player the commentators are talking about and add to an already stacked attacking line-up. I can’t quite comprehend why he felt the need to sign Silva when if there is one position which doesn’t need improved then it is City’s attacking spots. £45m is a lot of money to spend on a player you don’t really need.
City have the best attacking line-up in the league, it’s incredibly deadly and has amazing depth, they will undoubtedly score many goals this season and be a huge threat going forward, yet despite that the squad isn’t really looking good enough in my opinion. When you look at City’s central midfield it is weak and lacking talent and depth, when you look at their defence it gets even worse. Yes they’ve signed three full backs but they still lack depth in the position and would you honestly be pleased going into a season with Kompany, Stones and Otamendi as your centre back options? I wouldn’t, in fact it would scare the shit out of me.
Yes there are going to be many games where City will outscore their opponents with their spectacular attack, however they’re going to let in a lot of goals and against good teams or in games where it just isn’t their day they are going to be caught short. Guardiola has never shown himself as being capable of fixing or building a defence and once again he has failed to do so. All of this could of course change in the next few weeks, however as things stand City are top heavy.
It is really hard to predict how this season is going to go for City as so much will depend on what Guardiola learned from last season, it didn’t feel at any point he really found his footing, so the question is whether the time over the summer he has been able to adapt his style to the different type of play. My guess would be no because he is an incredibly stubborn man, who believes above all else that he is right. It’s why you see him signing attackers when in reality his midfield and defence desperately needs money invested to improve the players and depth. City are a glass cannon and after signing a whole bunch of new players who will need time to settle in a slow start could put them in a position which they will struggle to recover from.
I should start this by saying that I don’t think Arsenal will win the league but based on how the last two seasons have went (not anything they personally have done) feel that it would be unfair to leave them out. Arsenal managed to finish outside the top four last season for the first time in forever and despite failing last year (FA Cup win is not a success for a club of this size) Wenger still managed to cling onto his job.
I wrote last year that I felt that it could be the season which would break the back of Wenger and finally see him leave, yet we had the breaking of the back but no Wenger leaving. I can’t imagine the frustration which Arsenal fans must feel at the current state of their team, I’d be fuming. You would think that finishing outside the top four would be the shot in the arm to do something drastic, to change the course of the club and try and fix what has been thirteen season of under achievement, yet it feels like just another Arsenal season.
The easiest way to see that this season is setting up to be just another same old Arsenal season is to look at what they’ve done in the transfer window. Spending £50m on Lacazette is incredibly un-Arsenal and he’ll likely be a solid signing, although not a huge upgrade on what they already have. Kolasinac is a great pick up on a free and should act as a long term replacement for Monreal (who is getting up in age). So far so good…but that’s it, they’ve only signed two players and only paid for one of those. If this was a league challenging team you would say that you don’t want to add too much all at once, in reality this is a team which was nowhere near winning the league last season and hasn’t got any closer.
Arsenal have the fifth best squad in the league, their first eleven is ok but not amazing (at this level) and by far their best player is desperate to get away, it really doesn’t look too good for Arsenal this season. Yet I have them in the Premier League Champions race, well I imagine they won’t be bothering too much with the Europa League, which should allow them to concentrate more on the league which in theory should be worth a few extra points at least. There is also the point that it is hard to ignore that the last two league champions weren’t in European competition (Arsenal are but I’m assuming they aren’t taking it seriously) and I don’t think there are any teams in the league who are guaranteed to challenge, which means that Arsenal may find themselves in that unlikely position.
Don’t get me wrong, I don’t expect Arsenal to win the league, I don’t even think they’ll finish top four, but one again this is one of the best chances they have of actually winning the league and if they don’t take it I struggle to see them doing anything in the next five years.
To give a more generalised view on how Utd’s season is shaping up there are still issues with the squad. Utd feel like they are a couple of players away from being a good side, however those couple of players are often times the difference between success and failure. Last season Utd simply couldn’t score enough goals and at times got caught sitting a little too deep for their own good which led to the late sucker punch.
Utd went into the transfer window with many holes to fill, they needed a striker, a winger, two central midfielders, a centre back and a left back, so far they’ve managed to fill three of those. Lukaku is a good signing in a market which is struggling for good striking options, Lindelof adds depth but will need time to adapt to the step up in level and best of all is the Matic signing. I don’t know what Chelsea were thinking selling a direct rival one of their starters, worst than that they’ve sold Utd a player in a position which Utd are deeply struggling with. It’s been one of Utd’s biggest holes for a number of years and Chelsea just sold them one of the best holding midfielders in the league, it makes absolutely no sense from Chelsea’s perspective but is a great signing from Utd’s.
I would say that Utd have the best squad in the Premier League, however they don’t have the best first eleven. If you look at Utd’s team it is unbalanced in depth but also in quality. Utd’s defence has differing levels of good but not amazing players, the full back situation is a mess, they probably have the best midfield trio in the league (Pogba, Herrera & Matic) yet the back ups aren’t really up to the expected level, the wide players aren’t actually wingers but are strikers and attacking mids playing out of position and despite being a team full of massive bodies, Utd are terrible at delivering a ball and set pieces.
What Utd do have in their favour is Mourinho’s record in his second season is absolutely phenomenal. If Utd do go on and win the league Mourinho more than anything else will have been the reason for it. There is no doubt that this team is better than it was at this time last season, the signing of Matic in particular could be an absolute game changer. The question for Utd this season is can they take advantage of the chances the team creates for itself? If the answer is yes then they’ll be hard to beat, if it’s the same as last season then it will be another on of those years.
I have included five teams who could win the league, in reality I think it’s more like two. I don’t think Chelsea or Arsenal will be up to it this year and I feel the same about Spurs but they are very much the wild card in this bunch as their first eleven is certainly good enough but I think they will be let down by the squad and the new stadium. I think one of the Manchester clubs will win the league, they aren’t far enough away from the other clubs for me to be so confident that I don’t feel the need to put any other teams in there but I’d be very surprised to see someone not from Manchester win.
So which one is it? Well I think both Utd and City have massive problems and holes in their team which point to it not being them, however of the two I think Utd are more set to win the league than City. The big reason for that is that I think Utd have the better overall squad, City’s spine looks weak to me and most of all Utd have had much less upturn in the squad and I imagine City’s team will take some time to fully. Plus the Mourinho in the second season thingy!!!
Possible European Place
Often people talk about the difference between a team in Europe and a team not in Europe and the impact that has on how well they can do domestically, well Liverpool are the perfect example of that team. If it wasn’t for a lack of European and cup football Liverpool wouldn’t have finished top four, yet they achieved that goal and are now there. The problem Liverpool are going to have is that with at least eight European matches to come (and probably some Europa League games as well) they won’t have the benefit of a full week to prepare for their matches.
It’s a shame for Liverpool because they are a big club but you wouldn’t know because it would appear that any player worth anything doesn’t want to move there. It says everything that Liverpool have all this money to spend yet have only managed to sign Salah and Robertson (who came on the cheap). The question is why aren’t Liverpool able to get transfers over the line? Are they not offering enough money, are players uninterested (surely not) or are they just that shit at transfers? It’s hard to say but this team needed to strengthen the first eleven by quite a margin and the squad needed even more, they are no where near good enough to win the league and even top four is a bit of a pipe dream.
Of course things can change because a good number of signings could make the situation look an awful lot better, however with noise coming out the club that Coutinho (one of their best players) has handed in a transfer request, it doesn’t scream a team moving forwards. The question will be if Klopp will be able to survive a season where they finish well outside the top four because as things stand that is exactly where they’re going.
Everton have what certainly looks like the best transfer window of all the clubs in England. They’ve signed a number of players to add to the first eleven and squad, done it quickly, signed quality whilst they’re at it and best of all they’ve done it whilst also having a net gain from transfers.
Everton will have a good season, they had a solid year last season and the squad overall is definitely better. The one big issue they may have is that they haven’t replaced Lukaku, Rooney simply put is shit, so I struggle to see where their goals are going to come from. They will be relying heavily on their midfield (which looks great on paper) to produce a number of goals, when chances are it’s asking an awful lot of them.
I don’t know what Everton are expecting from this season, I highly doubt they will finish top four so their aim is surely to try and finish as high up the table they can and do well in the cups. It’s a wonder that teams the size of Everton don’t take things such as the Europa League seriously, because it would mean everything to the fans to win (or even get close) and it would potentially give you a place in the Champions League. It will be interesting to see where the season goes for Everton, they should do well.
Top Half Finish
This must have been one of the quietest summers Southampton’s transfer team have had since they made it back to the Premier League. They’ve not actually lost a player yet who they didn’t want to sell…well…yet. Undoubtedly Van Dijk will be leaving at some point and I do have to wonder why they are being so stubborn about it, it isn’t like they have a tradition of being tough over transfers. The fee of £50m which was rumoured was more than a fair price, so I don’t know what the hold up is, they’re only hurting themselves in the long run.
Southampton are one of the best teams in the league outwith the top seven, they have been a solid top half team for a number of seasons now and I very much expect them to continue on that path this season. If I were them I would be looking to try and strengthen the defence, especially with Van Dijk almost certainly leaving, but to be honest I don’t think Southampton can really expect much more than a solid top half finish. It does say a lot about the club that last season was a fairly poor year and they still finished 8th, this is the first season in a long time where they haven’t had massive upturn in the squad so I guess you never know what they could do.
West Ham United
Much like Everton, West Ham have had an absolutely fantastic summer transfer window. Hernandez for £16m is one of the best pieces of business of the window, Hart on a loan is a savvy signing and although they paid too much for Arnautovic, he will give them that little bit of something special which they were lacking last season.
Similar to many other teams it’s the question of what West Ham think they can do this season? I think they’re good enough to finish top half and they may even push a little higher, however due to the gap which has developed between the top seven and the rest I do struggle to see them getting into that unless they do really well or someone has a terrible season. The positives for West Ham is they’ve signed a player who will score goals, one who will do special things on occasion and another who is a massive upgrade in nets, it’s three big signings which have instantly made their first eleven much stronger and that is the sign of a really good summer, I guess you never really know, they are certainly a better side than they were this time last season.
I had Bournemouth kicking about relegation last season and they ended up finishing 9th, so I was pretty far off. This Bournemouth team hasn’t improved significantly from last season, they bought Ake officially but they overpaid and he was there most of last season and they brought in Begovic, who is an upgrade on Boruc but isn’t a significant improvement that you’d get excited about it. Defoe is supposed to be the big signing but I’m not sure he’s that good any more. If he is to be used in a limited role where he is allowed to keep himself fresh then he could be effective, however if he’s to be the main man then I don’t think he’s really up to it any more. I don’t think Bournemouth will probably be in danger, which for a club of this size is a great achievement, although I think a large part of that is the weakness of the lower end of the league. Regardless of all of that Bournemouth are a great success story
West Bromwich Albion
I don’t know what West Brom fans want in life, they have a team which isn’t going to be relegated from the Premier League but play what can only be called unenthusiastic football. To be fair to West Brom they did play some nice stuff for the first half of last season before reverting back to type to finish the year. They haven’t really signed anyone (Rodriguez apart) and they lost their captain and best player in Darren Fletcher, I don’t really understand what they’re trying to do. West Brom have a really old squad and there are a lot of poor players in there, why they aren’t investing in the team when they are in a fairly comfortable position I do not know. This team is the epitome of Pulis, old, not going anywhere but won’t be relegated. The problem West Brom will face is when Pulis packs it in they will likely be in trouble, until then they should be fine as the definition of midtable mediocrity.
Unsurprisingly Leicester managed to become the worst defending Premier League champions of all time (three seasons in a row now it’s happened…watch out Chelsea!). To be fair to Leicester where they finished last season is about where the team which won the league should actually have finished, they were never actually very good and last season very much showed that. I don’t expect anything from Leicester this season, they’re an average team that is now too good to be relegated but not good enough to crack the top ten. They’ve spent a lot of money again but I don’t think they’ve really got anything from it, which seems to be the trend coming from Leicester, so I expect something similar to last season from them but people will continue to talk about them as if they are better than they actually are.
Writing this makes me realise just how many average teams there are in the Premier League who aren’t going to do anything special but also aren’t going to get relegated and Stoke are another one of those. Stoke are a weird team, they have a lot of average British players which feels like a holdover from the Pulis days but then the club also seems to be a place to go for players whose careers are faltering. If I was a Stoke fan I’d be frustrated by the lack of quality signings over the last number of years, Pulis wasted a lot of money and to be honest Hughes isn’t much better. Their signings this summer have been pretty mediocre, although Fletcher is a solid pick up and will give them experience and quality in the midfield. They got good money for Arnautovic and cleared out some of that old worker deadwood like Walters and Whelan. I’m sure Stoke will be fine, there is some quality in there and enough experience from the other players to drag them through when things are getting tough. Incredibly enough this will be Stoke’s tenth consecutive season in the Premier League, quite the achievement when you think about it.
Palace struggled last season for some reason and I’m not quite sure why, they have a number of good players in their squad and shouldn’t really have been anywhere near relegation. On paper this is one of the best midtable teams in the league, guys like Zaha, Benteke and Townsend can all be match winners and this quality at the top end of the pitch is much better than a lot of the teams around them. If Palace can get these three guys clicking then there is no doubt in my mind that they could be on to a very good season, however the problem all three seem to have is with consistency. They’re a solid team and Allardyce has left them in good shape, it will just be a question of how De Boer adjusts to his new job that will determine how the team does, they should be ok.
Newcastle have the best quality in their squad of the promoted sides, they managed to keep a number of Premier League level players and signed some too after they were relegated. The Premier League without Newcastle doesn’t make sense, they’re one of the teams who should always be there, so it’s good to see them back. They can score goals and are solid enough in defence, with a manager who knows the league well they should probably be ok. Having said that it isn’t always the easiest transition to make from the Championship to the Premier League and I do wonder if this team was not named Newcastle if I would rate them as highly. I’m sure they’ll be fine.
Relegation Dog Fight
Swansea are an odd side, they have spent quite a bit of money bringing in players in the last few years but none of them have really worked out, which is probably why they’ve went from a solid midtable club to a team asking to be relegated, that and total mismanagement at the top end. I felt they got really lucky last season and Sigurdsson really pulled them out on more than one occasion. The issue for Swansea is that he is clearly unsettled and likely to leave and with that Swansea look in real trouble. If they get £50m for Sigurdsson then that’s great because £50m will go a long way to improving their squad, the issue is that to get another player of Sigurdsson’s quality will be incredibly difficult and just because you have money doesn’t mean you are going to be able to replace him. You only have to look at the Borja Baston transfer to know that money doesn’t solve problems. Swansea with Sigurdsson are relegation candidates, Swansea without him are in deep shit.
When you look at most Premier League squads you will see all the flags of the world with a handful from Britain and Ireland, if you look at Burnley’s squad it’s the total opposite, it is as if you have went back to the early nineties. I felt Burnley were one of the worst squads in the league last season and were set for relegation but they did a great job and kept themselves up, something Sean Dyche deserves tons of credit for. The sad thing for Burnley is that they have sold two of their best players (for good money) and haven’t replaced them at all, instead signing a bunch of mediocre talent. Of the teams competing in the Premier League this season Burnley scored the least amount of goals, that’s a massive issue and it isn’t something they’ve tackled at all. If Dyche managed to keep Burnley up again he will surely be looked at for bigger jobs because it really is quite the feat.
Watford as a team really stress me out, it is more or less a prototype for how not to run a football club well. They are constantly changing their manager and every season there seems to be a massive turnover of playing staff, it shouldn’t work but they seem to be plodding along well enough. Marco Silva is the new manager this season and he did reasonably well at Hull last season before ultimately getting them relegated (not his fault really), they’ve also spent a good chunk of cash bringing in a host of players who at least a couple will do well you’d imagine. Despite having a massive squad Watford have a team full of average players who offer very little more than their positional counterparts. This isn’t a good thing as it tends to lead to a manager constantly adjusting his team and never settling on a core eleven, which leads to bad chemistry, made worse because they have so many players and have such a high squad turnover and in the end they struggle.
Brighton & Hove Albion
It’s always nice to see different teams make it to the top division and Brighton are certainly a different team. I really like the set up they have and it feels like they have been threatening to be promoted for a number of seasons now and I think this is well deserved. Sadly I think they are going to really struggle this season and a big part of that is due to the squad not being good enough. Brighton also seem to play some nice stuff and I think that may catch them out once they take that step up, it doesn’t help that they don’t have the best experience in their team for this sort of level and what they do have isn’t very good. Maybe Brighton can be this years Bournemouth or Burnley, there is no doubt that a team which on paper isn’t very good can play better than the sum of its parts and I’m sure most people will be willing them on to do well, I just can’t see them staying up.
If Brighton are going to struggle, then I don’t know what Huddersfield are going to do… If they don’t get relegated I’d be absolutely amazed. The team which they had in the Championship wasn’t good enough for this level and the players they’ve signed so far really don’t get you excited, it’s a combination for disaster. It’s a shame that one of the better play-off teams didn’t come up because I don’t see Huddersfield faring well at all. They struggled to score in the Championship, it will be even worse in the Premier League. Best case scenario is they scrape safety, in reality they’d be doing well if they put up a fight before going down.
I’m leaning towards Man Utd winning the league, with City, Spurs and Arsenal finishing off the top four. I have Brighton, Huddersfield and Burnley for relegation. All of this could of course change with a signing or two and with a number of weeks left before the window closes anything could happen.
1st -Man Utd
2nd -Man City
8th -West Ham
I don’t think these predictions are worth very much because you don’t get the full picture of how each team is going to line up for the season. A big signing or two and a team could shoot up the league, selling a big player or a manager leaving could see the opposite effect. I was surprised how many really average teams there are in the Premier League, however outwith the top nine I don’t think there are any teams of real quality, I’d happily be proven wrong but at the moment I just don’t see it.
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