With this years title race done and dusted, let us look ahead to the 2018/19 season, and see which team is most likely to be bringing home the title next May. Assuming no team “does a Leicester” the only feasible candidates are the traditional top six.
The 2017/18 winners, through both the individual skill of their players as well as the tactical genius that is Pep Guardiola. Though they won the Premier League with relative ease, they fared worse in other competitions, and showed vulnerability and weakness at times after their record-breaking win streak ended. The likes of Leroy Sane losing their form as the season comes to a close, the lack of a ‘real’ left-back, the recurring injuries of Sergio Aguero and Vincent Kompany, the ageing status of influential players like David Silva and Fernandinho, and their competitors improving over the course of the transfer window should all be concerns for Pep, but let’s take this in perspective. Manchester City have some of the deepest pockets in the game, and will be more than willing to splurge on anyone they need or want, and who would refuse Manchester City based on where they are now? Furthermore, Pep is possibly the greatest tactical manger in the world, and is constantly making changes in his tactics to adapt to their necessities, so they require brilliance from the opposition in order to beat them. All things considered, City’s greatest worries should be the strengthening of rivals and the recurring issue of Premier League champions in recent years: massive drop-offs in individual performances. If they spend wisely in the transfer window however, then neither one should be an sizable issue, and City could retain their title next season.
Now over to the red half of Manchester, where Mourinho is ending his second season in charge with nothing to show for it but Champions League football and possibly an FA Cup. For Mourinho, whose job may be in jeopardy, the most important things to do at this point are to spend wisely, and to get the best out of his players. Mourinho’s transfers have been very polar during his current tenure, with the likes of Romelu Lukaku, Paul Pogba, and Alexis Sanchez ranging from everywhere between brilliant and abysmal over the course of the season. If they are to win the title, Jose must invest wisely by addressing problem areas in the squad rather than simply throw money at players for their names and nothing more (as it seemed to be in the case of Sanchez). The other thing Jose needs to do is adapt his players to fit his system, or vice-versa. While David de Gea has been absolutely world-class over the last few years, United’s center-back options of Eric Bailly, Chris Smalling, Phil Jones, and Victor Lindelof (two of which have been brought in by Mourinho) are sub-par at best, and very coddled by the presence of the aforementioned de Gea. However, despite the use of two converted wingers (Antonio Valencia and Ashley Young) as full-backs and the lack of quality at center back, United have looked impressive defensively when they formed their game plan accordingly against better sides. Unfortunately, their defensive mindset not only doesn’t get maximum potential of their front 3-4 (Lukaku, Alexis, Lingard, and generally either Mata or Pogba), but often excludes entirely Marcus Rashford and Anthony Martial, two developing, young players. In games against weaker teams, United have seen a drop in form from their attacking players during the latter stages of the season, leading to the occasional inability to beat defensively built teams. If they are to win the title, Mourinho must change his beloved defensive tactics to be able to consistently avoid dropping points that they shouldn’t. All things considered, if they strengthen key areas, and play with the free-flowing style that utilised their skills and allowed them to coast through the early part of the season, then there’s no reason that Manchester United couldn’t win the title next season
Jurgen Klopp, finishing his second full season at Anfield, has gotten the team into the perfect position for next season. The uncertainty of defence seems to have stabilised due to the arrivals of Virgil Van Dijk and Andy Robertson, and the attack, despite Coutinho’s departure, could not be doing better, with the front three of Sadio Mane, Roberto Firmino, and Mohammad Salah having 55 goals between them in the PL so far. The long standing inability of Klopp to beat defensive teams has all but vanished since January, with few exceptions. There are question marks in midfield which need to be addressed however, with Emre Can likely on his way out and Adam Lallana being unreliable as a starter at this point in his career due to injuries. The most important thing that Liverpool need to challenge for the title next season is squad depth. Naby Keita will be a welcome addition to the midfield, but with Liverpool only having improvisational or mediocre backups at left back, center back, defensive midfield, striker, goalkeeper, and winger, it is essential that Liverpool spend this summer to get players into their team, because Klopp has shown before that he is willing to sacrifice points in the league, if he believes them to be unnecessary or less important than other competitions by rotating his match day squad. With sufficient depth, Liverpool could be consistently dominant and uncompromising, possibly resulting in their first Premier League title.
Tottenham are often on the receiving end of much criticism regarding their mentality and inability to win trophies, and much of it is merited considering their quality and failure to win a major trophy since 2008. In a single word, Spurs need consistency to challenge for the league. Harry Kane, the talismanic goal-scoring machine, is unstoppable on his day, and one of the best and most complete forwards in the world. Dele Alli, the exciting young attacker, hasn’t hit the heights of his previous campaign but is very good nonetheless. Hueng-Min Son, the South Korean, has pace and flair as well as goals and assists. Kieran Trippier, the English right-back, has flourished since the departure of the extremely influential Kyle Walker, racking up 7 assists in all competitions. This list could go on and on, but the point is that there is no lack of quality, the problem is getting it all to come together for 38 games over the course of the season. It can be argued that this season Spurs had to adapt to playing their home games at Wembley, but that took several months, and will happen again next season when they move into their new stadium. As good of a manager as Mauricio Pochettino is, and as good as his players are, next season doesn’t seem like it will be any different than the past few years for Tottenham, and it would qualify as a shock if they are able to edge out their competitors and win the title next year.
Now on to Chelsea, the 2016/17 Premier League champions. Antonio Conte seems to be hanging on to his job by his fingertips as their poor season comes to an end. Chelsea have had a drop off this season, with their attempted replacements of Tiemoué Bakayoko and Alvaro Morata not being able to fill the boots of Nemanja Matic and Diego Costa, leading them to drop out of the top 4 and with the FA cup as their last chance at silverware this season. Historically, Chelsea are a club that spends sums among those of richest clubs in the world, especially in dire situations such as they are in now, but due to the sub-standard performance of Conte’s signings this year, club owner Roman Abramovic may be unwilling to spend massive amounts of money unless Antonio Conte is not the man spending it. If Conte stays, it is unlikely that he will be able to top or even match the success and dominance of his first season in England. With Conte at the helm next season, it is possible that they will be able to get into the Champions League, whether that be by finishing in the top 4 or winning the Europa League, but unlikely that they’ll win their 6th PL title. However, if Antonio Conte is sacked, and a new man is brought in, is given sufficient funding, and is able to revitalize the uninspired, yet undeniably talented stars, then there is no reason that Chelsea can’t challenge for the title next season.
Arsene Wenger, Arsenal’s (mostly) beloved manager for over 20 years has finally announced his resignation, and not a minute too soon. Despite his recent lack of success, Wenger has done most things off the pitch this season very well. Wenger will have been happy with securing Mesut Ozil’s new contract, as well as signing Alexander Lacazette and Pierre-Emerick Aubameyang, in addition to the outgoing transfers of players who either offered too little to the squad, such as Francis Coquelin or Theo Walcott, people who just didn’t fit in, like Alex Oxlade-Chamberlain and possibly Olivier Giroud, or people who simply weren’t good for the club, like Alexis Sanchez and his poisonous ego which hindered them greatly. However optimistic this may seem, the squad is still unbalanced nonetheless. Based on their performances this season, it is pivotal that Arsenal get a manager that is not necessarily intent on spending, but improving the consistency of their midfield, comprising of Granit Xhaka, Jack Wilshere, and Aaron Ramsey, as well as the poor, yet somewhat talented, defensive unit, who has conceded more goals than any other top 7 team. While next season could be a rebuilding season for Arsenal as they find their feet under their new manager, no one knows how well they could do with their attack prowess if they get the right man in charge.