This afternoon, the Premier League returns to dominate our social lives, television screens and social media until next May – yes, until the 2017/18 exam season is upon us. Travis Walton is your guide to the twenty teams set to compete for the most-coveted league title in world football.
20th: Huddersfield Town
Poor Huddersfield. No sooner than they had achieved playoff penalty joy at Wembley, the world of football was already predicting an abysmal Premier League season ahead that could perhaps rival Derby County’s infamous low of 10 years ago. Whilst I don’t think it will be that bad, they are almost certainly nailed on for relegation, especially after being promoted with a negative goal difference. They have however made some smart signings, including Aaron Mooy on a permanent deal from Manchester City. Having been on loan last season, the Australian was talismanic in Huddersfield’s charge from the championship and surely will be again if they are to have any hope of surviving in the Premier League.
Following Huddersfield down to the championship will be Burnley. Despite having a solid coach in Sean Dyche, you feel that their away form will once again be a huge problem for them and it is hard to see them replicating the fantastic home form they displayed in the first half of last season. They look a bit light defensively following the sale of Michael Keane to Everton and will quickly need to reinvest those funds or face potentially dire consequences. One man who is likely to keep the calm at the back is goalkeeper Tom Heaton, whose form will again be crucial to helping Burnley fight for survival.
18th: Crystal Palace
Perhaps my boldest prediction of the lot given the quality in Palace’s side and their attacking threat. However, if the back end of last season is anything to go by, even after the sacking of Pardew, Palace could be in serious trouble. After flopping miserably at Inter, I am not convinced de Boer has the know how to get this Palace Side clicking. The team is also certainly vulnerable to frailties in numerous positions, with the lack of transfer activity over the summer leaving the ambitions for the side this season in serious doubt. Towards the end of last season, Wilfried Zaha began to look much better with a more consistent end product going forward, and will again be the key man for Palace’s ambitions.
17th: Brighton and Hove Albion
Equally bold is predicting Brighton to stay in the premier league, a team who many in the world of football have tipped to go straight back down. I think much like their south coast counterparts Bournemouth two years ago, Brighton could be the surprise package in the top flight this season. There is no doubt they will be embroiled in a relegation battle this season, and it will be interesting to see how manager Chris Hughton copes this time around after some very mixed seasons in the Premier league over recent years. A few more signings though and I think they could be ready for the challenge, and the form of championship player of the year Anthony Knockaert could once again prove central to Brighton in their fight against the drop.
16th: Swansea City
After a relegation scare last season, the Premier League’s welsh outpost will be prepared for perhaps a similar fight this season. The Swans had an extremely leaky defence last year, and that still needs addressing if they are to survive. I think they’ll pull through the fight again and keep their place in the top flight but much of that depends if they can hold onto midfield talisman and set piece specialist Gylfi Sigurdsson until the end of the transfer window. If they can’t, you feel they would struggle massively, and perhaps see their seven year stay in the top flight come to an end.
15th: Newcastle United
Doesn’t the North East just look so much better now that the black and white has returned to the top flight? regardless of any power shift in that region, Newcastle and Rafa will have a fight on their hands to stay here. They haven’t had a particularly inspired transfer window but the squad already had a considerable amount of Premier League quality even when they were in the championship, with Jonjo Shelvey retaining his place as the key man in the centre of the park for the Magpies. A lot of work needs to be done between now and the 31st of August, but Rafa Benitez is a top class manager who will steer them to safety, even if he’s not particularly used to fighting relegation battles.
After two fairly stable seasons in the Premier League, I expect much of the same from Watford, in spite of the fact that their manager position seems to be governed by a revolving door. Marco Silva is the new man this time around, and despite being relegated with Hull, being given a full season with Watford will give him a chance to play his exciting brand of football that has given him a good reputation in his short time in England. It is likely that Watford will once again be on the fringes of a relegation battle and still need more firepower up front to secure their safety. Captain Troy Deeney will again be leading from the front, and it is hard to think of a man more valuable to this Watford side and their battle to maintain Premier League survival again.
13th: Stoke City
I feel this is the year where Mark Hughes’ Stoke project will begin to unravel. Having peaked a couple of years ago, this team is on a downwards slope and it doesn’t appear that their summer business has done much to change that. They probably have too much quality to go down and 13th place wouldn’t be disastrous for them, but another finish outside of the top half would represent a disappointment, and they could yet slide lower than that. Jack Butland was a big miss for them between the sticks for the majority of last season, and his timely return will be massively beneficial to Stoke’s fortunes at the back.
After impressively finishing in ninth place last year despite being on the fringes of a relegation battle, this year should be somewhat smoother for the Cherries. Josh King may have the mark of a one season wonder, but Eddie Howe’s side have made smart signings all over the pitch to fit into the man’s entertaining style of football. The impressive attack has been reinforced and the defensive concerns have been somewhat addressed, although one more signing may be needed at the back to fully steady the ship. Junior Stanislas has become increasingly pivotal to the tempo of his team’s attack, and you can see his influence in the side growing this year as both he and the team continue to adapt to the top flight.
11th: West Ham United
After falling short last year and being on the fringes of a relegation battle, i am expecting slightly better from the hammers this time around. The position may not change an awful lot, but I’m sure the performances will be a lot more encouraging. The big worry is the defence, and though minor changes have been made to it this summer, it’ll be interesting to see if the backline holds up. The credibility of Slaven Bilic as a manager is still a topic of debate in the football community, but one move that cannot be questioned is the signing of Javier Hernandez. A classic goal poacher who knows the Premier League inside out, the Mexican should be one of the signings of the season and will no doubt add excitement to West Ham’s attack.
10th: West Bromwich Albion
It was a solid and resolute season for West Brom last year, securing survival by the end of February. They may not always possess bags of excitement, but remain in the safe hands of Tony Pulis and it is hard to see their position being threatened for as long as he remains in charge. They have a winnable first five games on paper, so don’t be surprised to see them racing out of the blocks early on. A few additions have been made to the already solid squad, and they should keep the team competitive in the face of an ever more difficult league. Matt Phillips shone brilliantly on the wing for the Baggies throughout the middle third of last season, and his sharp end product will again be key in the team’s attacking threat.
9th: Leicester City
Last season was the definition of a mixed bag of fortunes for Leicester city. A mediocre start, which then came close to a relegation scrap, and ended in the relative comfort of mid table. Craig Shakespeare did a brilliant job of guiding the Foxes to safety, but the big question is whether he can continue the work he has so well begun. Unlike last summer, the signings look both impressive and capable of fitting into the team’s lightning fast counter attacking style of football, and have been gathered with shrewd judgement. The most impressive signature of all though is that of young striker Kelechi Iheanacho, who is already being touted as both a bargain and one of the potential signings of the season. More importantly, he could finally be the suitable strike partner that a player like Jamie Vardy has been crying out for.
After a season filled with some impressive results and uninspired football, Southampton will be hoping that new manager Mauricio Pellegrino can bring back the exciting brand of football so excellently displayed by the likes of Pochettino and Koeman. The team’s strength lies in the back line, although if Virgil Van Dijk is to move elsewhere then they will need to find a ready made and suitable replacement, as well as add more power to their forward line. It should be another year of smooth sailing for the Saints so long as they can get the business right between now and August the 31st, and it should also be more exciting with the development of Nathan Redmond. The young winger certainly has talent but just needs to find greater consistency, and you feel that when he does, he will be capable of worrying any fullback in the league.
Its been a summer of massive rebuilding for Everton, with Ronald Koeman’s project seemingly accelerating. They were almost an island on their own last season; a country mile ahead of those immediately below them, but still considerably behind those immediately above them. Whilst I think the majority of the new signings will massively benefit the team and they will certainly worry the sides above them, I still think they’ll finish in the same position as last season. They will likely be a lot closer to the top six points wise, but its difficult to see them breaking the ever growing dominance of those teams. After a fantastic individual season last year, much attention will be paid to new goalkeeper Jordan Pickford after his big money move, and if he fixes Everton’s goalkeeping issue, he could well become an indispensable player to this XI.
It was a satisfactory season for Liverpool last time out as they returned to the top four and played some pretty exciting stuff under Klopp. However, the defence has been a concern for several years now and the Reds are vulnerable to severe unpredictability, regardless of the ever increasing firepower in their attack. This prediction is largely based on the assumption that Coutinho is on his way out and the defence won’t be significantly strengthened by August 31st, otherwise I would back them to finish higher. Should the Brazilian leave, it would appear likely that Sadio Mane will take over his spot as the main man, with his lightning pace, dribbling ability, and ever increasing goal threat.
After Arsene Wenger’s 20 year streak of taking Arsenal into the Champions League ended last year with a 5th placed finish, it will be interesting to see how the team responds to such a defining event. Some smart moves have been made in the market, and holding onto Alexis Sanchez could be the best of the lot, but the Gunners still look a bit frail in the middle of the park and a tad light defensively. This team still needs work before it can re-emerge in the top four, but there is no doubt Arsenal will be presented with opportunities to shunt their rivals out of a place in Europe’s elite competition. The attack is looking increasingly strong, but much attention will be paid to the increasing development of young centre back Rob Holding, who looked impressive towards the end of last year and could be pushing for a place in England’s world cup squad next summer.
4th: Tottenham Hotspur
After a brilliant and record breaking season for Spurs last year, the team will be looking to build on their position by launching a serious title challenge. There is certainly a suggestion they could win it, with a squad that is both young, deep in options, and improving week by week. Though as this team comes of age, the decision to stay quiet in the market this summer could be a hammer blow to the their ambitions. A lack of new faces to provide competition will lead to players becoming both comfortable and complacent, traits that almost guarantee failure in a quest for trophies. The team is so strong it is hard to see them finishing outside the top four, but I think they will drop somewhat this year by finishing in fourth place. Harry Kane is the undisputed star of this team following back to back golden boot wins, and at just 24, how good can he be for this side?
Chelsea indisputably had a dream season in the league last year under Antonio Conte, sweeping teams away and smashing records with their galloping wing-backs, smart midfielders and plucky 3-4-3 setup. However, consecutive league titles haven’t been achieved by any team in the Premier League since 2009, and whilst they have made some astute signings this summer, it is difficult to see them breaking that eight year curse. They will no doubt present a considerable title challenge and have the belief that they can beat anyone in the league, but it is a mountain of a challenge to repeat last year’s form, and I think the Blues will drop ever so slightly this season. Bakayoko was one of the more logical signings achieved this summer, and being similar to Kante in his style of play, Chelsea will have a wall in the middle of the park that will be difficult for even the best attackers to try and break down.
2nd/1st: Manchester United
Okay, I haven’t discreetly labelled my title winners because I think that this year will truly be the Manchester-oriented battle that last season was hyped up to be. Much has been said of Mourinho and his ‘second season’ magic, but nothing is set in stone and his side will have to improve massively from last year if they are to both return to the top four and mount a serious title challenge. The need to kill off games has been both recognised and addressed with huge signings this summer who many feel can propel the Red Devils to the next level and get them close to their former glory. With a fee of around £75 million paid, all eyes will be on frontman Romelu Lukaku. Generally a guarantee for goals and a player capable of worrying any centre back, is he just the man United needed to initiate a proper title challenge?
2nd/1st: Manchester City
The bookies favourites for the title, and of course the other party in this Manchester oriented battle. As a City fan myself, odds count for little and just because the team can win the league, it does not mean they will and nothing can be taken for granted. This contest is desperately close to call. However, after huge sums of money have been spent and the team is moulded into Pep’s image, you would at least expect a serious title challenge to take place on the blue half of Manchester. The fullback weakness has been addressed magnificently, with the only weaknesses now perhaps lying in the centre of defence and central midfield. The usual suspects will be tasked with pulling the strings and firing the goals going forward but watch out for new boy Benjamin Mendy down the left flank. Strong, fast, and hugely influential at both ends of the pitch, the French defender could well take the league by storm this year.