It’s back! (Well yesterday it was) – the Premier League has returned after just the 3 months, and I can’t help but feel a little meh about it all. Don’t get me wrong, I love my football, it’s great to have the league back, but I can’t help but feel a little dismayed at the state of the sport. The needless being thrown into transfers, wages, and agent fees has reached a new ridiculous level: 190m for Neymar, possible 100 for Dembele, possibly 100 for Coutinho, City spending 120m on full backs!!
It’s easy to say that surely it will hit a peak and drop down again, but I’ve been saying that for a few years now – and so were fans 15/20 years ago. Another reason for my rather low levels of excitement has been my team’s summer – the losses of Ake, Zouma, Matic, and Chalobah very frustrating. So, I’ll start my Premier League preview with my own team, as we look to defend our title over the coming months.
As I mentioned the summer activity has been frustrating, as once again we let great youth prospects leave the club permanently or on loan whilst our first team squad looks at least 2 or 3 quality players short. The signings made look good, but having Ake, Zouma, and Chalobah as backups would have given us a strong squad to compete with in all competitions. Arguably our biggest title rivals, City, spent a bus load of money this summer, over 200 million in fact, and look like the team to beat. Their front line is scary, and their back line looks bolstered, but the main question for them, is can these personalities gel together quickly?
Another title seeking team is Manchester United, who have now gone 4 years without a title, and are under huge pressure to change that. So is Mourinho, who has never gone 3 seasons without a title, and has always won a title in his first two seasons at a new club. Again, Mourinho has bought quickly and shrewdly, bringing in Lukaku, Matic, and Lindelof, and they very much look the complete team. Their fate will likely be dependent on how well Lukaku settles, and whether they can turn those constant draws from last season into wins.
The other 3 clubs ‘in contention’, Tottenham, Arsenal, and Liverpool, will probably have slightly lower expectations but will want to push on from last season. Spurs have stood still throughout the summer, and now have issues at the back with Walker’s departure and Trippier’s injury. Playing at Wembley this season will also be tough for them, so it’s very hard to see them hitting the heights they did last season. It’s hard to see anything but much of the same from both Liverpool and Arsenal over the coming months, as neither team have really improved in the areas that needed drastic change. Both teams just don’t have natural leaders and a toughness at the back you need to win the title.
Outside of this bunch, other teams have also been investing record money into their squads. Everton the most notable spenders, albeit mainly from recruiting 75 million for Lukaku. Everton have bought a good range of players in key areas, but can this team push them on into the top 6? My first instinct is no, but it gives them a great foundation to push on from. Another team that has improved this summer and will want to recapture the magic from 2015/16 are Leicester, fresh from their disappointing defence of their title. They have bought well in the summer, and if they can keep hold of the likes of Mahrez and Gray this year, I can definitely see them pushing back into the top half.
Two other teams that I have been impressed with this summer are Bournemouth and West Ham, who come off very different seasons. Bournemouth will be ecstatic with their top half finish last season and will now feel like a settled top-flight team. They have bought in both youth (Ake), along with experience (Defoe, Begovic), and I can’t see them being involved in a relegation battle this season. West Ham have also brought in depths of Premier League experience over the summer (Hart, Zabaleta, Hernandez, Arnautovic), and if they can start to put away more of their chances, they will be in with a chance of a return to the top half of the league.
One set of supporters who I will imagine be much more upset with their summer’s business are Stoke’s, who have seen plenty of squad players let go this summer, with only Bruno Martins Indi and Zouma coming in throughout the offseason. After 3 consecutive top half finishes for Hughes and his team, last season was a disappointment, and it looks as though this season will be another struggle for them.
Now is where we reach the set of, what I call, unknowns. The teams where I wouldn’t be too overly shocked if they were to be in a relegation battle, and neither would I if they pushed on towards a safe mid table finish. With West Brom, you know what you get from a Pulis team. They will be tough to beat, tough to grind down, but with Chadli, Kanu, Rondon, and now Rodriguez, they are starting to offer more going forward. I can’t see them replicating their finish last season, but I also can’t see them being dragged into the mess around the bottom 3.
Another is Southampton, who have had a relatively quiet summer, and will hope to build on their solid dogged displays last season with some more flair and better finishing. What they desperately lack is a clinical striker, and I really think if they could get Charlie Austin more of a chance in the team, he would be a profitable striker for them. A team in a similar position is Burnley, who will be chuffed with their overall performance last year but have had a lukewarm summer. They’ve let go of Keane and Gray in big money moves, and are yet to reinvest that money in talent, but have brought in some decent Premier League experience with the likes of Jack Cork, Walters, and Bardsley.
Palace once again have another new manager at the helm with De Boer, and the fans will be hoping that he can bring some of his Ajax magic with him. It’s been a quiet summer at Selhurst Park with just the one permanent deal coming in, but holding onto their main players was key, and they will feel that they should be improving on last year’s position. Swansea are another team with not much to shout about transfer wise this summer, although it looks as though Sigurdsson will soon be on his way to Everton for a big money deal. As a Chelsea fan, I hope that Tammy Abraham will bang in the goals for them, but it looks as though they will be involved in another battle at the bottom of the table.
The final unknown team is Watford, who again find themselves with a new manager after only giving Walter Manzarri the one year in charge. Over the past two seasons Watford have felt more like a bunch of individuals rather than a team, but with the additions of Chalobah, Hughes, and Gray, they feel like a more solid team. However, I do feel they will be involved in the relegation tussle this season and will need to improve at the back to survive.
So, we come to the three promoted teams this season: Brighton, Newcastle, and Huddersfield. It’s clear that the gulf between the Premier League and Championship clubs is ever growing, so there is no doubt that all of these three teams will be involved in a long relegation battle. Newcastle are the strongest of the three teams, but will likely feel a bit dismayed at their summer business. A lack of signings will worry the fans, but I feel as though they probably have enough talent to survive. I just hope that the fans don’t expect too much, they need to remember they’re still just a promoted team. Both Huddersfield and Brighton have been splashing the cash, but I’m very surprised that both clubs haven’t focused more on bringing in players with heaps of Premier League experience.
So then, what are my predictions. As a Chelsea fan, obviously I would love to say we will defend our title, but unless we bring in a couple more players I just can’t see it happening. Personally, I see Manchester City lifting the trophy this season (they have to after what they’ve spent), United finishing second, us third, and Arsenal rounding off the top 4. I see Spurs, Liverpool, and Everton finishing in the Europa League spots, and I fancy West Ham and Leicester to have strong seasons. At the other end of the table, I definitely see Huddersfield and Brighton dropping back straight down, and I hope I’m wrong but unless they bring in one or two more players I see Burney joining them. Here’s to hopefully a cracker of a season!
Full Table Prediction
1st Man City
2nd Man United
8th West Ham
12th West Brom