PREMIER LEAGUE PREVIEW 17/18

Arsenal

After a disappointing 16/17 season, in which Arsenal did not manage to qualify for the Champions League for the first time in over 10 years, the club seemed to be on a downward spiral towards consistent under-performing. Talk of a North-London power shift between Arsenal and Tottenham was proven after a comfortable 3-0 win for Tottenham. Arsenal’s season was only made worse by constant arguments between fan groups, with the #WengerOut becoming an internet meme. Despite all these negatives, Arsenal do have some positive outlooks toward the coming season. The two new signings from this summer so far, Sead Kolisinac and Alexandre Lacazette are both steps in the right direction for the team. Also, with rumours of Alexis Sanchez’s departure now dying down, it looks like Arsenal will come out of this transfer window having improved their squad, especially if they can sign the heavily-linked wonderkid Thomas Lemar.

Looking at both signings, Kolisinac brings consistency and solidity to the left-back position, having out-performed Bayern star David Alaba in the Bundesliga last year (according to Squawka ratings). The fact his transfer is on a free represents fantastic value, especially in today’s inflated market and I tip Sead to become one of the signings of the summer. Lacazette brings a potential 25-goal-a-season striker, having scored 27 in Ligue 1 for Lyon last year and 30 in all competitions. However, 11 of these goals came from penalties, and in the Premier League referees constantly prove themselves as less strict than refs from other leagues, meaning Lacazette would never have as many penalty opportunities. Even if he did win as many penalties, he would not be Arsenal’s first choice penalty taker behind Sanchez and Mesut Ozil, meaning his goal count could suffer. This season for Arsenal will be disappointing again, with not enough squad power to be able to mount anything close to a title challenge. The fans of the club need to be patient with Wenger and allow him some seasons to rebuild the squad and get them back to Champions League football.

Key Player: Alexis Sanchez

Predicted Finish: 6th

 

Bournemouth

Bournemouth are a club on the up. They are about to enter their third season in the Premier League having avoided a bout of ‘second season syndrome’ last season. Goals from Josh King were enough to keep them up relatively comfortably and they put together some incredible performances, notably in their 3-3 home draw vs Arsenal, in which they were 3-0 up. Ryan Fraser represents an exciting young talent at Bournemouth, with his electric pace and tricky dribbling able to cause problems in even the best of premier league defences. Callum Wilson’s expected return from injury could add even more goals to an already goal filled side and the summer signing of Jermain Defoe brings another 15-goal-a-season striker to the club. This is a team with three strikers who could easily score 15 goals, alongside a solid defence and a goalkeeper with plenty of Premier League experience in Asmir Begovic. There is pace on the wing in the form of Jordan Ibe as well as the aforementioned Ryan Fraser. Some technically gifted midfielders in Harry Arter and Andrew Surman could provide good service to the gifted attacking players and this is a team which will score a lot of goals. On the defensive side, Bournemouth have completed the permanent deal for young, ex Chelsea defender Nathan Ake. This is a fantastic coup for the Cherries, who have secured a strong, naturally gifted centre back who is comfortable on the ball. The fans already adore Ake after his late winner against Liverpool in 16/17 and I believe him to be a key signing for Bournemouth. Ake has a lot of room for growth and if Bournemouth can enhance his growth then he could easily become a top Premier League defender.  I think there is a good season incoming for Bournemouth, they are not ready for a European challenge, and I predict a similar finish to last season, but Eddie Howe’s men should be able to put together a solid mid table season which they can build on into the future.

Key Player: Josh King

Predicted Finish: 9th

Brighton and Hove Albion

Brighton suffered final day heartbreak in the Championship, losing the title in the last minute to a goalkeeping mistake from David Stockdale. I thought this showed a lack of professionalism and determination in the squad and in the entire attitude of the club. Outside the ground the week before the final day, scarves were being sold with ‘Brighton: Championship Winners 16/17’ written on the front. Brighton then lost all three of their final games, all of them against mid table or worse teams in the championship. This showed a lack of concentration in the Brighton squad and this worries me ahead of their debut Premier League season.

Their signings have been few and far between. The highlight of which coming from Australian goalkeeper Matt Ryan from Valencia. At best, Brighton only really adding depth to their squad when what is really needed is some star quality. Brighton’s first choice striker remains as Glenn Murray, who was last in the Premier League as a regular starter for Crystal Palace. He lasted one season, scoring just 3 goals before dropping back down to the Football League. Glen Murray is 34, and when he was under 30 he did not score regularly at all in this league. Brighton do not need to add squad depth, they need players with Premier League experience who can grind out results. One bright spark in their squad is young ball-playing centre back Lewis Dunk. He is one player who I think is certainly ready to make the step up to the Premier League and impress. I think next summer he could make a big money move to a bigger club in the Premier League and he will prove valuable as the season progresses for Brighton.

Also, Anthony Knockaert’s trickery on the right for Brighton could spark some creativity. However, this is his first season in the Premier League and his inexperience will prove costly, stronger full backs will be able to minimise Knockaert’s impact and Brighton will struggle to enhance his creativity.  Brighton seem to be in for a long season at this stage of the transfer window, they need to make some impressive signings as soon as possible or relegation is inevitable.

Key Player: Anthony Knockaert

Predicted Finish: 20th

Burnley FC

Last season, Burnley were a completely different team depending on whether they were playing at home or away. At home, they were a force to be reckoned with, finish 9th in the home table for the league. However, away from home they were 19th, picking up just 7 points over 19 games away from Turf Moor. They were only one point better than Hull when playing away. This meant that Burnley were in danger of relegation come the end of the season. They got out of trouble, finishing six points clear of the drop, but they were not comfortable by any means. This summer, Burnley have lost key England international defender Michael Keane, who left for Everton for a bargain fee of £25 million. They have not replaced Keane directly yet, but they have used the money to buy Swansea defensive midfielder Jack Cork, and Stoke duo Jon Walters and Phil Bardsley.

Manager Sean Dyche needs to look for a centre back who can replace Keane, because goalkeeper Tom Heaton was usually busy anyway even with Keane in the side. Without a top centre back, Burnley could find themselves in trouble this season, especially if they cannot improve their away form. On the attacking side, Burnley do have numerous goal-threats, Andre Gray and Sam Vokes being the obvious too. Andre Gray’s pace to get in behind is always a threat, and if Steven Defour can play the right passes then Gray could be a threat. Vokes on the other hand, will be looking to get on the end of crosses coming in from technically gifted wide midfielders Scott Arfield and Johann Berg Gudmundsson. There does seem to be something missing from the Burnley set up however. A central midfielder who can pick out a pass or a centre back who can change defence into attack. Burnley are a rather two-dimensional side who can only really play balls over the top to Gray or crosses into Vokes. There is no creative spark for them to work with. If a defence was to drop deep against Burnley then they would be in trouble. This means Burnley are easy to play against, and I think relegation looms for the Clarets this coming season.

Key Player: Tom Heaton

Predicted Finish: 18th

Chelsea FC

Antonio Conte had a dream start to life in the Premier League last season. His Chelsea side found themselves as the only real title challenger not dealing with European football at the same time as the league, and they capitalised on this extra freshness throughout the season. They stayed relatively injury free, and rarely looked out of sorts. They comfortably won the league, with unlikely hero Michy Batshuayi scoring the league winning goal late on at West Brom. Before the season, fans were sceptical of Conte’s 3 at the back system which he operated in Italy and in international tournaments. Fans were also sceptical of Chelsea’s two first choice wing backs, Victor Moses and the relatively unheard-of Marcos Alonso, who had arrived from Fiorentina for £20 million. But Conte proved all sceptics wrong, with Alonso and Moses both proving themselves as solid wing-backs, and the 3-4-3 formation winning the league.

However, Chelsea need to prepare themselves for the challenge of European football next year, and they have had a disastrous summer transfer window. Chelsea’s squad lacks rotation options who can win Premier League games, which is obviously what is needed for a squad in the Champions League so that both competitions can be prioritised. Instead of realising this and bolstering the squad size, Antonio Conte has sold numerous rotation options to Premier League rivals, and blown what is likely all his budget on a forward, which is the only position where Chelsea actually have options beside the starters. Conte has given up Nemanja Matic to Manchester United, having just signed a player who would play as his back up to Tiemoue Bakayoko. Bakayoko is a fantastic young player, who shows signs of somebody with an extremely high ceiling if he can dictate play in the Premier League like he can in Ligue 1. However, Matic is a proven title winner and Bakayoko is relatively inexperienced. He has only played one starting season for Monaco and although he was a key player in their title winning campaign, the Premier League is a huge step up from Ligue 1. Conte has also sold Nathan Ake, who is another proven solid Premier League player at least. Ake is a huge young prospect and could easily do a job for Chelsea when the starting centre back options are tired from mid-week football. But it is not the Chelsea philosophy to play young players bought up from the youth team, and so Ake was sold.

Antonio Rudiger was bought in from Roma, and he is another good signing, however Chelsea only have three other viable options for centre back (David Luiz, Gary Cahill and Cesar Azpilicueta), and so when the time comes to rotate, Conte will find himself stuck for options. Juan Cuadrado has also been sold, meaning Chelsea lose yet another proven rotation option. Perhaps most shocking of all, Chelsea have sold central midfielder Nathaniel Chalobah to Watford for under £5 million pounds. This is an absolutely absurd sale. Chalobah is a young player with bags of potential. He is 22 years old and can already play in his element against the majority of Premier League sides. Chalobah is a completely valuable asset for any Premier League team, and Conte has practically given him away, especially in today’s market. The signing of Alvaro Morata is not much use for Chelsea either, they already have a star striker in Diego Costa, and signing a player for £70 million in the same position as the hot headed Spaniard will unsettle him and could lead to him leaving the club. This would mean the only first team standard striker at Chelsea is a man with just 40 goals in over 4 years of football for some of Europe’s greatest teams. Of course,

Chelsea will still have a huge amount of star quality. They have Eden Hazard on the wing, one of Europe’s best, and they have some hugely gifted defenders in David Luiz and Antonio Rudiger. Willian is fast improving, and Cesc Fabregas can still pick out some fantastic passes. Chelsea lack the squad depth to be able to repeat their title winning feat, they lack the options even to form a title challenge. But I think they will be able to scrape Champions League football again. Just.

Key Player: Eden Hazard

Predicted Finish: 4th

Crystal Palace

Over the last few years, Crystal Palace have done well to cement themselves as a Premier League team. However, last season I had high hopes for them under Alan Pardew, as they were coming off the back of an FA Cup semi-final and had completed the signing of Christian Benteke. But they were disappointing, finishing 14th, the Palace defence leaked goals at times and the attack sometimes lacked creativity. Benteke did his job, but nothing more. He scored 15 Premier League goals which was slightly less than what I expected at the start of the season. Benteke wants to be the main man in a team, that is when he thrives. This is why he was prolific at Aston Villa, but he became somewhat of a laughing stock at Liverpool, scoring just 10 goals in his entire time there. This was because the Liverpool team was not built around Christian Benteke. He needs to be the star player on his team to thrive. If Crystal Palace can execute this correctly and manage to feed Benteke goals, he could easily score 20-25 in a season, which would propel Crystal Palace into the top half in my opinion.

Crystal Palace have a new manager this season in ex Netherlands defender Frank de Boer. De Boer has an impressive management resume. He was the assistant manager in Holland’s run to the World Cup final, and he has won four successive Eredivisie titles with Ajax. It is a positive appointment from Palace, even though they missed out on Marco Silva, they have managed to find a manager who will make them a top half team, and he has already used his ties with Ajax to bring in fresh young talent. Jairo Riedewald is a huge signing for the Eagles. De Boer has managed to wear off interest from the biggest teams in Europe to sign the young centre back, and this is a player with limitless potential. Riedewald was a complete bargain at just £7.5 million, and I can see Palace making a huge profit on the player in a few years’ time.

Crystal Palace have also brought in Ruben Loftus-Cheek on loan from Chelsea. He will be another good option for Palace, and will give Yohan Cabaye more freedom in midfield to create chances for the quick wingers. Wilfried Zaha will be dangerous as always, with his tricky dribbling and natural pace and strength, he will see his end product improve as he matures as a player. Zaha will score and create more goals as he plays more football and no doubt will Palace be grateful for his contribution.

De Boer will set about improving Crystal Palace as a club in the right way. He will invest in young talent, develop them and then sell them for a profit to bigger teams and replacing them with better players for the club. This will slowly but surely improve Crystal Palace and should end up with them in European football in 5 or 10 years’ time. This season they will stay in the bottom half, but Palace fans should be patient with De Boer and give him time to work his philosophy and make Crystal Palace a force to be reckoned with in England and Europe.

Key Player: Christian Benteke

Predicted Finish: 12th

Everton

Before the 16/17 season had even ended, it was clear that Everton were going to lose Romelu Lukaku this summer, but they should be happy with the overall result of this transfer window. Lukaku was only pipped to the golden boot last year because Harry Kane managed an incredible seven goals in the last two games of the season, but even with this kind of Premier League resume, Everton should be happy with the fee they commanded for him. There is some confusion around the fee but it appears to be £72 million, not including add-ons. Everton have used this money in the right way, instead of looking the directly replace Lukaku with a star striker, they have bolstered the squad in areas of weakness. A goalkeeper was much-needed, and Everton have brought in Jordan Pickford from Sunderland for around £25 million. This is a big fee for a 23-year-old goalkeeper but Pickford was a rose amongst thorns in Sunderland’s nightmare season, and his performance attracted attention from big teams, Everton needed to offer a big fee in order to ensure the transfer. Pickford is a good signing who should definitely expect some starting appearances for England soon with cat-like reflexes and kicking as good as any other goal keeper in the Premier League. Pickford impressed at the 2017 U21 European Championships, just like another one of Everton’s signings, beaten finalist Sandro Ramirez.

Sandro graduated from Barcelona’s youth academy in mid-2016 before moving to Malaga for just under £5 million. The centre forward scored 16 goals in all competitions, an impressive figure for a 21-year-old striker, and in the summer, he was a member of a Spain U21 team which went all the way to the final of the Euro’s. Ramirez has a massive amount of potential and could score at least 10 goals for Everton this season, they will be able to nurture his talent and could make him into a Premier League star. Another goal scorer Everton have got their hands on is Wayne Rooney. Rooney is returning to his boyhood club on a free transfer which is fantastic for Everton and Rooney himself. For Everton, they have signed an experienced, proven Premier League striker who can tutor young players and score goals himself. For Rooney, he will have lost at least some of the enormous amounts of pressure on him at Manchester United. Rooney will be hungry to prove himself and ensure himself a spot on the plane to Russia come next summer. Everton have also improved their midfield by replacing the mediocre Tom Cleverley for young Dutch player Davy Klaasen.

Klaasen is a young player with room for growth but he is also a proven leader on the pitch having captained Ajax to the Europa League final last season. Everton have also used these funds to sign Burnley defender Michael Keane who impressed throughout last season. He is a solid ball playing defender who can change defence into attack and will help Everton to create goals in the absence of Lukaku. Of course, Everton will not be without their players from last season. Ross Barkley should continue to impress despite not having Lukaku to use to gain assists. Yannick Bolasie will return from injury and hopefully will bring another dimension of play for Everton using his athleticism and ball control. Everton are not ready to challenge for the fixated top six of the Premier League, however they will again finish as ‘the best of the rest’ and if they can continue to improve and bolster their squad, then they may be able to challenge for the top six in coming years.

Key Player: Wayne Rooney

Predicted Finish: 7th

Europa League Finish: Round of 16

Huddersfield Town

Last season was a dream for fans of Huddersfield Town. The board took a gamble on German manager David Wagner and it completely paid off. David Wagner had never managed in first team football. The friend of Jurgen Klopp had spent four years at Borussia Dortmund II, working with Klopp’s youngsters and reserves trying to implement Dortmund’s philosophy into them. Wagner left Dortmund to join Klopp at Liverpool in July 2015, but talks fell through, and in November, the charismatic German found himself as manager of bottom half championship side Huddersfield. All of a sudden Wagner had to develop his own philosophy. With constant advice from Klopp, Wagner set about doing this. Huddersfield began to play exciting, fast paced football. It took a while for this style of football to work at the John Smith’s Stadium. Huddersfield lost 5 of their first 7 games under Wagner, however their form steadily improved and Wagner managed to steer them well clear of relegation, with Huddersfield finishing in 19th. In the summer of 2016 Wagner completely remade his squad, signing players on permanent deals and loan deals, including Australian midfielder Aaron Mooy on loan from Manchester City. Mooy was a key player in Huddersfield’s promotion campaign. He brought balance to their midfield, with combative tackling and good defensive work combined with a talented attacking skill set. Mooy can pass the ball and this gives the rest of the Huddersfield midfielders freedom to move forward and play their attacking game. Izzy Brown could look for extremely talented attacking players such as Elias Kachunga and Nakhi Wells.

The defence was also strengthened hugely with the signings of Michael Hefele and Chris Lowe. Wagner had used his connections in Germany to bring in talent which Huddersfield would otherwise not have been able to buy. The talent worked, and Huddersfield went unbeaten in the league until September. Wagner’s passion ensured the fans were always in his corner and Huddersfield had a togetherness throughout the season which took the Championship by storm. They had fantastic results such as a win away and Newcastle and a historic 0-0 draw at home to Manchester City in the FA cup.

These results prove that Huddersfield are capable of competing in the Premier League this season. This summer, Wagner has strengthened the side even further, having completed three separate club record signings. Firstly, Aaron Mooy signing permanently shows his commitment to the club and Huddersfield fans should be delighted with this. Tom Ince is a different case however. Ince was signed for the same fee as Aaron Mooy and I for one am less sure about him. Paul’s son is a gifted player, but he has been expected to shine for numerous years in the Championship and he hasn’t stood out as much as he could have done. I for one am not sure he is ready for the step up to the Premier League. Finally, Steve Mounie is a striker from Montpellier who Wagner has signed for over £10 million. The Benin international was a prolific goal scorer in Ligue 1 last season and he should come up with some important goals this coming season. Also, Wagner has brought in impressive Fulham full back Scott Malone and completed the permanent deal of Elias Kachunga, a fan favourite at the club. Huddersfield have proven last season that they can get results against Premier League standard teams, and I think they will be one of the surprise packages of the season. The squad has been strengthened even further, and although I have not predicted one, I would not be surprised with a top half finish for the Terriers.

Key Player: Aaron Mooy

Predicted Finish: 14th

Leicester City

After Leicester City propelled themselves up to cloud nine in the 15/16 season, they came crashing straight back down to earth in 16/17. Threatened with relegation, they were forced to sack the man who masterminded the greatest sporting miracle of all time and replace him with his assistant: Craig Shakespeare. Shakespeare could not save Leicester from replacing Chelsea’s 14/15 season as the worst title defence ever, but he did save them from relegation and for this I think sacking Claudio Ranieri was the correct decision from the Leicester board. Shakespeare however has not done enough this transfer window to ensure Leicester have a better time next season.

Shakespeare has bought players in positions where they are not necessarily needed, especially compared to other positions. Leicester have signed veteran defensive midfielder Vincente Iborra. His strength definitely will not go to waste in the Premier League and his combative tackling will help Leicester to get the ball at their faster players’ feet. However, Leicester have just signed Wilfried Ndidi last January, and in my opinion, aside from experience, he is everything Iborra has plus maybe more. Ndidi will cover more ground than Iborra and he will do it faster. Ndidi is athletic, and is even more creative than Iborra. Iborra is a signing for a team which is short on physicality, but physicality is not something Leicester have in short supply. Players like Ndidi, Drinkwater, Mendy and even Amartey can all supply what Iborra is going to bring in. I think Iborra is a waste of money for Leicester, it just means younger players who can do with game time and development will not get enough of it, leaving Leicester in a tough situation.

Another questionable signing is the deal to sign Kelechi Iheanacho. Leicester already have two strikers who could score 20 goals in a Premier League season, and one who may be able to get ten. The decision to spend over £20 million pounds on another striker is beyond me. Iheanacho brings nothing which Leicester don’t already have. Jamie Vardy and Ahmed Musa have his pace and Islam Slimani has his finishing. The decision from Leicester to improve these two areas of the squad is beyond me. However, Leicester did make a positive signing in Harry Maguire. Maguire is one of the best young centre backs in the Premier League. He is strong, brave, and good on the ball. Also, Leicester really did need to improve their defence as they cannot start Rob Huth and Wes Morgan for yet another year.

In fact, in my opinion neither of them can start, once a centre back is over the age of 32 it is next to impossible for them to be fit enough to start every week for a Premier League side. Leicester also desperately need to improve their full back options. Ben Chilwell is not quite yet good enough to start, and Christian Fuchs is simply not good enough to play in the Premier League any more. Danny Simpson is Leicester’s only senior right back, and he is more suited to the Championship. Of course, Leicester do still have some very gifted players. Riyad Mahrez’s trickery and Demarai Gray’s pace will cause havoc amongst defences this season, and they will ensure Leicester are safe from relegation. Leicester seriously need to bolster their defence with some star quality or they are in for another poor season, I cannot see them getting relegated but I would not bet on Craig Shakespeare keeping his job this season. Leicester have had a poor window and I can see them being punished for this in the coming season.

Key Player: Riyad Mahrez

Predicted Finish: 13th

Liverpool

Last season, Liverpool accomplished what they needed to accomplish. They are back where they belong: In the Champions League. However, despite having the extra money from the qualification to bring in reinforcements to progress the squad where it REALLY needs to progress, Jurgen Klopp has not bought any centre backs. If Jurgen Klopp can buy two centre backs before the season starts, then Liverpool will have a squad capable of winning the league. Going forward the Reds are frightening. They have pace, skill, shooting ability and passing all in abundance. If they can hang on to Phillipe Coutinho, Liverpool will have the best team to counter attack with in the world. Imagine a counter attack started with a pass from Adam Lallana into Phillipe Coutinho, who drives into the heart of the defence and lays off to either Sadio Mane or Mohamad Salah. The winger then crosses to Roberto Firmino who finishes. Liverpool will replicate this goal time and time again throughout this season because the players that Jurgen Klopp has bought are all curated for the counter-attacking game that Klopp likes to play. However, Liverpool could struggle when they play lesser teams in the Premier League who are realistically looking for a draw. When they park the bus and sit deep, Liverpool could struggle to find penetration. They don’t have an outlet who they can use to pick up the ball with their back to goal and try to lay off to somebody in behind the defence. This means that Liverpool need full backs who can cross the ball, this is where new signing Andrew Robertson would come in. Robertson is just what Klopp is looking for, a pacey, left-footed, wing back who can deliver dangerous crosses throughout a whole game if he needs to. Nathaniel Clyne is fully capable of similar things on the other side of the pitch. However, in the league last season Andrew Robertson only contributed two assists in 33 appearances for Hull. It is a gamble from Klopp to sign Robertson, but I think he will deliver for Liverpool and ensure them Champions League qualification.

Liverpool also leak goals. Their set piece defending had not improved at all for several years before Joel Matip joined, and it is still not where it needs to be. Things looked good for Liverpool at the start of the window when it seemed they were going to sign Virgil Van Dijk, but the deal fell through and Liverpool were forced to release an embarrassing apology to Southampton for trying to offer Van Dijk gifts to get him to enter negotiations. Klopp still needs to sign top quality defenders, because Liverpool cannot enter the Champions League defending set pieces the way they do. Liverpool have also failed to sign Leipzig midfielder Naby Keita. They had entered a bid of £66 million, but it was rejected. Liverpool are lucky this bid was rejected. Keita is a midfielder who is completely new to the scene, he has had one good season in the Bundesliga and it not worth anything over £40 million. Liverpool have the same problem as Chelsea, they are entering the Champions League but their rotation options are sub-par. Particularly on the defensive side of things, the squad looks thin. Ragnar Klavan is their first rotation option, and he is certainly not good enough, whenever Klavan touches the ball it looks like something bad is going to happen. Liverpool desperately need to improve their defence if they want to be in with a shout of the title, but they should have enough talent in attack to make sure they secure another Champions League place next season. Actually playing in the Champions League, Liverpool are not good enough at the back to challenge Europe’s top teams, and they will disappoint, not reaching the knockout rounds.

Key Player: Phillipe Coutinho

Predicted Finish: 3rd

Champions League Finish: Group Stage

Manchester City

Manchester City have the most talented squad in the league. By far. No other squad has the same amount of star players, the same amount of young talent, the same amount of depth. Manchester City have two players who could easily play and hold their own in the Champions League for every position. Sure, they have spent a lot of money to be in this position, but the important thing is they are in this position. Pep Guardiola has directly addressed the issues that were apparent last season. Pep has signed two full backs, one for either side of the field. Benjamin Mendy, the ex-Monaco left back was one of the best full backs in the Champions League last season, a key member of surprise package Monaco team that went to the semi finals having beaten Borussia Dortmund in the quarters and Manchester City in the round of 16.

Kyle Walker is City’s new piece at right back. Walker’s pace will add a new, counter-attacking dimension to Man City’s repertoire. He will be able to drive attacks forward and will be able to bring more penetration into The Citizen’s attack when they are playing weaker teams who are looking for a draw. City signed Real Madrid right back Danilo as an intended backup for Walker, he should provide some good rotation for City, allowing Walker to play every Champions League game and still make sure they have a quality right back when Walker is too tired to play a league game. Manchester City have also completed the signing of Monaco wonder kid Bernardo Silva. Silva proved himself as the best young prospect in the world last season. His sparkling performance at the Etihad Stadium allowed Silva to announce himself to the world as a serious prospect and Silva will soon develop into one of the best players in the world and I would expect him to become a future Ballon D’or winner. As well as this, City have not dwelt too much on the disappointment of Claudio Bravo’s poor first season, splashing £35 million (a world record fee for a goalkeeper) on young, unproven Brazilian keeper, Ederson.

Ederson won the Portuguese league with Benfica last season. He is a proven title winner at least, however when playing in the Champions League, Ederson did not manage to impress. He conceded 3 or more goals on three separate occasions in the Champions League, and so I am not convinced that City have fixed their goalkeeper problem by signing Ederson. I think Joe Hart is a better option than both Ederson and Bravo. Hart is an experienced international and a fan favourite amongst the City faithful, sometimes I feel he is blamed unfairly for the goals he concedes and I would still rank him as England’s number one keeper. Apart from the goalkeeper position, City are completely set for a title winning season everywhere else. The midfield is going to be even stronger than last season’s, with Ilkay Gundogan’s imminent return from injury. Leroy Sane and Gabriel Jesus will continue to improve on the wings and I am confident Raheem Sterling’s end product will not continue to desert him. Sergio Aguero has the potential to score 30 goals as always, Kevin De Bruyne is one of the best midfielders in the world. If Vincent Kompany and Nicolas Otamendi can stay injury free then the defence is the best in the Premier League, and of course, Manchester City are managed by Pep Guardiola. The best manager in the world and he is certainly in the discussion to be considered as one of the top five managers of all time. I can seriously not see Manchester City losing more than 3 games throughout the season, their squad is too good not to win the league. Champions League wise, I don’t think they are quite ready for a final appearance yet, but that will come soon. They are easily capable of a semi-final finish.

Key Player: Kevin De Bruyne

Predicted Finish: 1st

Champions League Finish: Semi-Final

Manchester United

Manchester United are still quite a way off being as good as their ‘noisy neighbours’. However, their squad is improving and improving as the years go by and if Jose Mourinho can continue spending at the same rate then they it will not take too long for them to catch up. Mourinho has made three signings this summer, all of them necessary, all of them at okay (ish) value, and all of them most certainly useful. Of course, the main signing of the summer for Manchester United was the big money move for Romelu Lukaku. Reminiscent of last summer’s Paul Pogba debacle, United created huge media hype over the transfer, in order to create lots of attention and therefore shirt sales. This has worked again in United’s favour, as the money used to sign Lukaku has already been made back. Just in shirt sales. These media strategies are what a global brand like Man United can do when they have such enormous reach.

Money is not ever an issue for United when they are negotiating transfers because they know that eventually the money will be made back, and even if it isn’t, they can still afford a loss. If a player wants to come to United and United want the player then the chances are the deal will go through. This is what happened with Lukaku. Everton did not want to sell and so they set a huge asking price with the intention of warning clubs against bidding. United completely ignored this and signed Lukaku for £72 million. From the surface, Lukaku looks like a fantastic signing. He is essentially as close to guaranteed Premier League goals as you can get. However, Lukaku will not score as many goals for United as you may expect. Lukaku is used to being the main man on a team. When he was playing for Everton, the aim of the team was to get Lukaku goals. When Lukaku plays for United that will not be the case, he will have to share the pitch with other superstars including Paul Pogba. Lukaku has never really had to play in this kind of team and environment. The only real example which I can find where Lukaku was not playing as the best player on his team was when he was at Anderlecht, when he was very young. Lukaku was mediocre, scoring 30 goals in two years in all competitions. This is a risk that United have taken but I think it will pay off. Lukaku was young when he was playing for Anderlecht and he still scored 15 a season. Lukaku should manage to score his normal amount of goals for United, if he can adapt to a new style of play and environment quickly.

Manchester United have also signed Swedish centre back Victor Lindelof from Benfica for £30 million. It looks like he will be used as a starting partner for Eric Bailly. Lindelof is very good on the ball, he can play as a central midfielder if needs be. He will come in handy for United as they have a healthy amount of defensive options in the squad now. United’s third and what looks to be their final signing in Nemanja Matic from Chelsea. This is a fantastic signing for Mourinho, who has won a title with Matic before at Chelsea. Matic will also be huge for the United midfield to give Paul Pogba freedom. At United, Mourinho has liked to work with a middle three. Last season, Herrera and Pogba sat deeper with another player going further forward. Now Matic has been acquired, however, this gives Pogba the chance to roam forward whilst Matic and Herrera sit deep. This means that Manchester United’s main man can create and score goals which is what they brought him to do. United are the next best team after Manchester City. Their starting eleven is capable of a title, but I think City will pip them to it this year. City have much better rotation options and they will be able to keep the squad fresh throughout the year. Champions league wise, United will be able to make it out of their group stage and should be able to get through the first knockout round before they are forced to go up against a real top team, where they will be outclassed.

Key Player: Paul Pogba

Predicted Finish: 2nd

Champions League Finish: Quarter Final

Newcastle United

After just one season in the Championship, Newcastle find themselves back where they belong, and in a much better shape than before. Newcastle have used their season in the Championship well. They have picked themselves up, kept Rafa Benitez and changed the momentum of the club. Newcastle are now certainly a club who are moving forward instead of backwards. Rafa Benitez has done well in the transfer market, bringing the players Newcastle need for a good price. I think the deal to sign Atletico full back Javier Maquillo is particularly impressive, with the fee of £4 million a complete steal for such a promising player. Newcastle have also permanently signed Christian Atsu from Chelsea after a successful loan spell last season. I am unsure about Atsu, he has next to no top-flight football experience and he is 25 years old. I don’t think he will be able to perform against Premier League opposition and I think Newcastle would be better off trying Ayoze Perez out on the right wing. Perez is a natural striker, but is forced out of the team by Aleksander Mitrovic and Dwight Gayle. I think Perez would be useful for Newcastle out wide because of his natural pace, he can use it to get himself into positions and shoot or he can lay it off to some of Newcastle’s high standard finishers.

Newcastle do have a brilliant core squad for a team coming up from the Championship. Players like Matt Ritchie, Mitrovic and Gayle are all easily Premier League standard players and they will guide Newcastle to a comfortable, maybe even top half finish this season. Newcastle also have one of the best players in English football in Jonjo Shelvey. I know it is a bold opinion to voice, but Shelvey is definitely one of the best passers in the game right now. Newcastle use this to full effect as well. A huge amount of Newcastle chances came from the ball being laid off to Shelvey, who would then play a pinpoint long-range pass, often 40 or 50 yards. He will come in handy for Newcastle next season because of the service he provides for the attacking players. Newcastle also have two brilliant strikers in Dwight Gayle and Aleksander Mitrovic. Mitrovic bullies defenders and is a force to be reckoned with in the box. The way he can hold on to the ball and pick out his finish with composure shows his natural football talent. Gayle has Premier League experience and has scored goals in the Premier League previously. He has got his career back on track after a solid season in the Championship and I think he is absolutely ready for Premier League football once again. Newcastle also have Matt Ritchie, who’s left foot has already done big things in the Premier League with Bournemouth and Ritchie will be raring to have another crack at Premier League defences after a massive season in the Championship. Newcastle will surprise many people this season, their core squad is solid, and their big fan base and stadium will come in handy, The Magpies are never short of support and this will give them the basis for a strong return season in the Premier League. I have not predicted a top half finish but I would certainly not be surprised if Newcastle and Rafa Benitez manage to earn one.

Key Player: Jonjo Shelvey

Predicted Finish: 11th

Southampton

The Saints, after countless seasons of finding new talent, doing well with that talent, and then having the talent being bought off them, seem to finally be out of that cycle. The bad news is, they are worse off once they are out of it. After Mauricio Pochettino and Ronald Koeman were poached by Tottenham and Everton respectively, Claude Puel was appointed for the 16/17 season. Players wise, Victor Wanyama and Sadio Mane had left, so Puel was tasked with doing what Southampton had done successfully for several years: Replace players which had been poached and finish in the top 8. Puel tried to replace Mane and Wanyama. He made the club record signing of Sofiane Boufal and made the exciting signing of Pierre-Emile Hojbjerg, who was hailed as one of the signings of the summer. Nathan Redmond was also bought in. But Boufal flopped and Hojbjerg was disappointing. Redmond was a bright spark and the January signing of Manolo Gabbiadini helped, but the Saints, and crucially Puel were criticised for poor performances and a lack of home wins.

The Saints ended in 8th, but with a measly point tally of 46, their second worst ever in the Premier League. Puel was sacked and replaced quickly with Argentine manager Mauricio Pellegrino. Pellegrino has been hired off the back of a successful season with Spanish club Alaves, he kept the Spanish club up in their return season to La Liga, but more importantly he led Deportivo Alaves to their first Copa Del Rey final in their history. This is Pellegrino’s first job in English football, but I think he has the potential to be a good appointment. He has experience working with a low budget and over achieving (finishing 9th with Alaves last season) which is exactly was the Saints need. He has kept his signings to a minimum. Just one centre back, who has presumably brought in either to replace Jose Fonte who was sold by Puel, or to make sure he has a centre back in case Virgil Van Dijk departs. The centre back is the relatively unheard of Jan Bednarek, from Lech Poznan. He is just 21 years old and Southampton are his first club from outside of Poland. I am worried for Southampton due to this lack of signings. The current squad only managed to muster 46 points last season, a total which usually be seen in the bottom half of the table. I think they will be outside the top 8 this season because other teams have surpassed them through signing players. It is good that Mauricio Pellegrino trusts his squad, but I don’t think Southampton have enough firepower to demand a European challenge, so mid-table mediocracy it is.

Key Player: Manolo Gabbiadini

Predicted Finish: 10th

Stoke City

Frustration amongst Stoke City fans is building under Mark Hughes. The club seems to be very slowly on the decline. Having sold one of their two star men Marko Arnautovic, Stoke fans will be preparing themselves for another poor season. Of course, there are some bright sparks for Potters’ fans. Bojan is returning from his loan to Mainz, and Stoke fans will be praying that Mark Hughes gives him some game time. Bojan is an extremely technically gifted player and he is wasted on the bench, especially at Stoke. Also, Kurt Zouma has come in on loan to Stoke from Chelsea. Zouma is a top defender, someone who is criminally underrated. If his return from injury is smooth then he will shore up the Stoke defence very nicely and we will see much more control and strength in Stoke’s back four. As well as this, Xherdan Shaqiri will be ever-present on the right wing as always. Shaqiri is a magnificent player and if he can find some consistency he could single-handedly propel Stoke numerous places up the league. The problem is that Shaqiri is inconsistent. Some games he completely goes missing and he gives the ball away too easily. You feel like Shaqiri could easily have a torrent time this season, and Stoke would find themselves in a relegation dog fight. So much of Stoke’s season depends on how Xherdan Shaqiri performs that Mark Hughes is in a dangerous place. His job would be in great jeopardy if Shaqiri hits a bad patch of form. Stoke have no other options. Of course, they could play Peter Crouch, but how would they get crosses into the box for him without Shaqiri? Stoke do have some very underrated players despite my criticism. Ginaelli Imbula is the perfect defensive midfielder, with strength, shooting, dribbling, passing and tackling, Imbula is a force in the midfield for Stoke if Mark Hughes decides to play him. There is a poor season incoming for Stoke now they have lost Marko Arnautovic and not replaced him. I cannot see them getting relegated but I also cannot see Mark Hughes hanging on his job for much longer. Stoke will be threatened by relegation but in the end, they will escape, they are cemented as a Premier League club and will be in the Premier League for some time to come.

Key Player: Xherdan Shaqiri

Predicted Finish: 17th

Swansea City

Swansea City are in deep trouble. Having narrowly escaped relegation last year thanks to some important late results and Gylfi Sigurdsson’s heroics, they went into this summer needing almost a complete squad revamp to stay afloat in the Premier League this season. They have not done that, with only one piece of personnel changing. Jack Cork (one of Swansea’s best players) has left for Burnley and Swansea have replaced him with Roque Mesa, coming from UD Las Palmas in Spain. Mesa is a very ‘La Liga’ sort of player. He is small, very good at passing and set pieces, but not good at much else. Which is basically Gylfi Sigurdsson but without the height. Swansea have also acquired Tammy Abraham on loan from Chelsea. After scoring over 20 goals in the Championship last season with Bristol City, Tammy has more than earned his opportunity in the top flight. Abraham could maybe score 15 goals which would come in handy for Swansea. However, a lot of Abraham’s goals in the Championship came from tap-ins and penalties, and these are harder to come by in the Premier League. Abraham will struggle with the intensity of a Premier League game and he will not have the concentration to find so many tap-ins too early in the season, I don’t think Abraham will be prolific in the Premier League. So, Swansea have been poor in the market, losing out on physicality and potentially the ability to grind out results. Looking at the current squad, it lacks pace and strength. It is filled with players who can pass, but cannot win the ball or combat in midfield, the only player outside of the defence who I would describe as physical is Fernando Llorente, who is not at Premier League standard anymore. Llorente lacks the pace and reflexes to play in a fast-paced Premier League game. It will be very hard for Swansea to stay up this season, I wouldn’t rule it out however. They have a fierce home crowd who can spur the team on at times and this could win valuable points for Swansea in their bid to stay up. But I am going to predict Swansea to go down this season. The squad simply looks to have no ability to grind out results and they will struggle to bring together enough points to avoid the Championship.

Key Player: Gylfi Sigurdsson

Predicted Finish: 19th

Tottenham Hotspur

Tottenham are very close to being able to win the Premier League. Two seasons in a row they have chased the eventual title winners almost until the end, just falling short twice. Both times Tottenham fell short it was for the same reason, not enough squad rotation. Tottenham more or less have a fixed starting eleven, with a few players swapping in and out every now and again. This starting eleven is very good, good enough that it can chase the title for around 32-35 games per season. However, Tottenham always just fall short of the mark because as the end of the season draws near their players become fatigued. So, it seems clear what manager Mauricio Pochettino needs to do in the transfer window. He obviously needs to sign five or so players which he can swap into the first team to keep players fresh. But Pochettino has done the opposite. Tottenham are the only club in English professional football not to have signed a player. Not one player. Tottenham have also sold Kyle Walker, which means one of the only positions they were rotating is now not going to be rotated in the coming season. If Tottenham are to have title ambitions in the league and ambitions in the Champions League then they desperately need to bolster their squad before the rest of the top teams in the Premier League leave them behind. Tottenham do not even have good enough options to maintain high performance for a whole league season let alone adding European football into the mix as well. Some good news for Tottenham fans is that I am a believer in the fact that a North London power shift has taken place. Tottenham are currently in a much better place than their arch rivals on the other side of North London. Tottenham have got better, younger players, they’re about to move into a better stadium and their manager has the full backing of the fans. These are things which Arsenal cannot boast and they will soon become the second team in North London if that hasn’t happened already. Despite this good news for Tottenham, this coming season they are going to have to deal with the Wembley factor. Last season, Tottenham did not lose at White Hart Lane. Tottenham also played 5 ‘home’ games at Wembley (including the FA cup semi-final) and they lost four of them. The difference in results and the different grounds is due to the size of the pitch. The small, compact pitch at White Hart Lane suits Spurs’ style of play massively. Spurs can squeeze the play and dive into the heart of defences using overlapping full backs and quick passing. At Wembley, the pitch is more suited to a slow build up, keeping possession in the opposition final third which is not how Tottenham play. This will be a huge factor in the league next season. Also, for many players playing against Tottenham next season, this will be one of their only chances in their career to play at Wembley. This will mean that many players playing against Spurs will be hugely fired up and ready to take the game to Tottenham, which signals bad news. We can also look at West Ham’s unsuccessful stadium move last season and potentially transfer some of the negatives into Tottenham’s move to Wembley. However, once we are past the negatives and begin to look at Tottenham’s team we can see why they are still a threat to the title this season. Starting in goal, Hugo Lloris is the best goalkeeper in the league in my opinion. The defence is one of the best (if not THE best) in the league, with Toby Alderweireld commanding in the middle and the best crosser of the ball in the league Kieran Trippier on the right. Victor Wanyama and Moussa Dembele are both ridiculously good ball retainers who very rarely give the ball away. Dele Alli and Christian Eriksen’s natural flair and creativity will always be setting up Harry Kane, the best striker in the league and one of the best in world football. Tottenham have a fantastic starting 11 but with the challenge of Champions League football on top of a busy league schedule, and taking the Wembley factor into consideration, Tottenham will not qualify for the Champions League next season. However, they will go further in the Champions League than last season, because they now have experience in the Champions League and know what to expect as a team.

Key Player: Harry Kane

Predicted Finish: 5th

Watford

Watford were the team with the *other* Italian manager who plays with three at the back last season. Walter Mazzarri. Watford were poor last season, finishing up in 17th, just escaping relegation. Unfortunately for Mazzarri, he could not escape the axe, and he was sacked as Watford manager after the last game of the season. A race immediately began for ex-Hull manager, Marco Silva between Watford and Crystal Palace. Surprisingly, Watford won the race, and the man who almost worked a miracle at Hull was now Watford’s manager. Marco Silva wasted no time in the transfer market and has signed three central midfielders, all of which are very good signings at a very good price. First of the three is Tom Cleverley from Everton. A solid signing at just under £8 million. A player with plenty of experience under his belt and he will be useful for Watford as a box to box midfielder.

Second is Will Hughes. Hughes is an interesting signing. He was hailed as one of the biggest young prospects in the country, on the verge of a move to Manchester United or Chelsea as a 19-year-old, but then he broke his leg. It was a long road to recovery for Hughes but eventually he made it and played for Derby last season under Gary Rowett. He impressed but he didn’t attract the same interest from the big teams and Watford have pulled off a good signing for a tiny fee of £7 million. And then another central midfielder was signed in Nathaniel Chalobah. This is an unbelievable signing for Watford, especially since Marco Silva managed to pull off this coup for a stunningly small fee of £5 million. That’s £5 million for an athletic, naturally gifted, 22- year-old midfielder who is already at Premier League standard. Watford fans should be delighted with these three signings. Marco Silva will certainly guide Watford to at least safety I am sure of that. But their squad is simply too weak in other places to mount a good season. A squad with the main striker as Troy Deeney simply cannot push for a top half finish. If Silva was to place faith in Mauro Zarate then maybe it will be a different story, but if Deeney plays Watford will simply not be able to score enough goals to push for anything better than avoiding relegation. Watford’s defence is also simply not good enough. I am confident Watford will not get relegated simply because of the appointment of Marco Silva, but they will not have a good season I can definitely say that.

Key Player: Nathaniel Chalobah

Predicted Finish: 16th

West Bromwich Albion

West Brom are an example of a completely static club. They are not moving forward nor back, they are making no progress but they don’t look like getting worse. They are simply happy to drift along as deadwood in the Premier League, just surviving. They have some players who are entertaining to watch. Nacer Chadli’s physical ability is very good and his strength makes him a player worth watching. Same goes for Claudio Yacob, his strength and combative tackling make him a player worth sitting up and noticing. However, for the rest of the West Brom team there is not much to say or think about. Tony Pulis is normally appointed for one reason, to keep a club in the Premier League. And that is what he has done with West Brom, he has made sure they stay afloat for several years. West Brom have made one signing worth mentioning. They have taken a gamble on Jay Rodriguez, who’s story is upsetting to think about. Rodriguez was playing well for Southampton, scoring goals and creating them in a successful Saints team. He had made his first England appearance and was in with a shout for a place in England’s 2014 World Cup squad. Then Rodriguez ruptured his cruciate ligament and began a lengthy journey back to football. Since then he has been injury ridden, and having returned mid-way through last season his performances were poor, and now Southampton have given up on him. Rodriguez has signed for West Brom hoping for a new start and I really hope he can start playing to his full potential again. West Brom have a way of grinding out results and finding a mid-finish every season. Last season they finished 11th. I predict them to be slightly worse for wear this season and they will be unable to push for the top half.

Key Player: Nacer Chadli

Predicted Finish: 15th

West Ham United

West Ham had an underwhelming start to life in the Olympic Stadium. There was a lot of excitement around European Football at the Olympic Stadium, but West Ham lost in qualifying to Astra Giurgiu. There was excitement around watching Dmitri Payet at the Olympic Stadium, but Payet decided he wanted to leave in January. There was excitement around watching West Ham play good football and finish in an improved position in the Premier League, but West Ham finished 11th having finished 7th the season before. This led to unrest at the owners in West Ham’s fan base, but all of the anger has been eradicated by West Ham’s amazing transfer window this summer. West Ham have revamped their team and it has made them easily a top 8 team. Pablo Zabaleta was a good start, improving the defence and adding a leader to a side which needed a kick up the backside. Then Joe Hart did even more to help the leader issue, with his constant communication with defenders renowned, Hart is a huge signing for The Hammers due to not only his leadership but his experience. Marko Arnautovic also joined, providing a bit of swagger to the Irons’ attack. Finally, having tried and failed with tens of strikers over the last few seasons, West Ham finally signed a risk-free striker. Javier Hernandez. Hernandez has scored prolifically in the Premier League before with Manchester United and West Ham should expect the best from ‘The flea’. He is 100% capable of scoring 20 plus goals for West Ham this season and he should do enough along with the other signings to separate West Ham from the middle crowd in the Premier League table and add them to the top 7, making it a top 8. Once West Ham have adapted to life in the Olympic Stadium we can expect to see them push on as a club to bigger and better things. With a stadium like the Olympic, they can challenge for a Champions League place and more. West Ham are a club on the up, and this season we will see them separate themselves from the mid table.

Key Player: Javier ‘Chicharito’ Hernandez

Predicted Finish: 8th

 

 

 

 

Full Predicted Table

  1. Manchester City
  2. Manchester United
  3. Liverpool
  4. Chelsea
  5. Tottenham
  6. Arsenal
  7. Everton
  8. West Ham
  9. Bournemouth
  10. Southampton
  • Newcastle
  • Crystal Palace
  • Leicester
  • Huddersfield
  • West Brom
  • Watford
  • Stoke
  • Burnley
  • Swansea
  • Brighton

 

Predicted Team of the Season

(4-3-3)

Lloris, Valencia, Alderweireld, Kompany, Mendy

Kante, Pogba, De Bruyne

Hazard, Kane, Sanchez

Thank you very much for reading and I hope you enjoyed. Make sure to follow my Twitter @ollieharrris, and feel free to dm me to get into contact. Thanks again.