The Summer Transfer Window recently behind us, the top six, naturally, take the opening spotlight. Naturally, Manchester City take the favourites role after the tremendous success of last season. 100 points, 103 goals, a 19-point lead, they’ve got even stronger during the off-season. Riyad Mahrez, Leicester’s former talisman, could prove a shrewd acquisition, being more of a match-winner than Raheem Sterling and Bernardo Silva with enough flair to get fans off their seats. Let’s be honest, City didn’t need anyone and in spite of Liverpool’s impressive transfer business, it will take a monumental effort for anyone to catch them.
That said, the Premier League has become notoriously difficult to defend. The last three defending champions have finished tenth, twelfth and fifth, Manchester United being the last team to retain the title back in 2009. Liverpool look best placed to go close. Their goalkeeping issue has seemingly been sorted with Alisson having initially broken the world record fee for a goalkeeper, before Chelsea smashed it late on. Naby Keita, Fabinho and Xherdan Shaqiri will all improve the squad in their respective positions, however, they may just leak too many goals again to usurp City.
While Liverpool have fired their way into contention with their transfer dealings, the same cannot be said of Tottenham, who became the first team in the history of the Summer window, which started in 2003, to not sign a single player. That said, they’ve also kept key personnel. Harry Kane will fire again as he always does, and although Spurs don’t look like title winners, a top four berth has been under lock and key for the last few seasons, and may just be again.
The other spot in the top four is up for grabs. There could be a surprise in Unai Emery’s Arsenal. His managerial career has been at its most fruitful when in the underdog role, a position he finds himself in at the Emirates. With Pierre-Emerick Aubameyang preparing for his first full season, having scored ten in just thirteen opportunities in the second half of last season, Arsenal are well poised to leave the previous few “banter” seasons behind them.
Manchester United’s dire pre-season and humiliating deadline day could be signs of what is ahead. If they don’t start well, Mourinho’s third season syndrome could strike again, and he may be out the door by Christmas, continuing the post-Fergie blues.
I have nothing against Maurizio Sarri by the way, nor the fact that Eden Hazard has stayed and promising midfielders like Jorginho and Kovacic have been brought in. However, their record purchase, goalkeeper Kepa, is very young and will have to adapt to life in
England very quickly to be classed a successful buy. With a similar profile to David De Gea, a little caution and patience may go a long way. Sarri may rebuild Chelsea successfully, but the task may take longer than one season.
The rest of the division is fascinating to call. All of Everton, West Ham and Leicester have spent lavishly over the summer and find themselves in as competitive a race for Europe as ever. That has been aided by the promotion of Wolves and Fulham, whose business has been financially extraordinary, the latter having become the first promoted club to spend over £100 million. However, it is the former I’m backing to climb into the final European spot. Ruben Neves ispossibly the best player to ever grace the Championship, becoming known for his stunning long-range efforts last season, and should feel as at home in the Premier League now that countrymen Rui Patricio and Joao Moutinho have joined. Throw in experienced marksman Raul Jimenez on loan from Benfica and Wolves have quality from front to back.
West Ham and Everton were both subjects of fan protest last season and though eighth and ninth may not satiate their infamously demanding fanbases, the hierarchy at both clubs are off the naught step for now. Napoli’s Felipe Anderson and Barcelona’s Yerry Mina are the most intriguing incomings in London and on Merseyside respectively.
Fulham have not only spent big but kept hold of key players Ryan Sessegnon and Tom Cairney. They were arguably the best footballing side in the second tier after the turn of the year and the likes of Jean-Michel Seri and Andre Schurrle have the potential to be incredible signings. Their spot in the top half may be snatched away by Roy Hodgson’s Crystal Palace, however, who, after the worst start in Premier League history, showed form that would have taken them into Europe had it been shown across all 38 games. If Wilfried Zaha shines, his form will be key to their finishing position this year.
Leicester losing Mahrez might prove vital in important mid-table clashes and they may fall back into the bottom half. I predict a fall from grace for Burnley as if they remain in the Europa League, the balancing act will prove tough, and although Sean Dyche worked miracles with a goal-shy side last season, the added games and his lack of European experience may prove tough. They must remain robust at the back if they’re to avoid the dogfight. Southampton should have had too much quality to be in the trouble they were at the back end of last season, and new arrival Danny Ings may be the striker they need to fire them back up the table.
Mike Ashley’s purchase of House of Fraser has Newcastle fans wondering why the same cannot be spent on their club as football business was poor for yet another summer. Rafa Benitez can only do so much… Bournemouth will pull their usual jokers act, pretending at some point mid-season that they’re in danger of the drop before Eddie Howe and his men pull safely clear. Brighton were fortunate that so many opponents were poor last season as it meant they were safe much earlier than they otherwise might have been. I can’t see them avoiding a battle this season, but Watford may be in even greater trouble. Gerard Deulofeu is a great signing from Barcelona, but they’ve been stationary since Marco Silva’s departure and Javi Gracia is at a crossroads of comfortable safety and a relegation scrap.
Cardiff and Neil Warnock will entertain, even if their football doesn’t, but we might only have them for a season. Huddersfield and David Wagner have been enjoyable companions too, but their stay looks seriously endangered in a much strengthened Premier League ensemble.
None of this might happen, of course, that’s the charm of the Premier League. The unpredictability, the uncertainty. That’s why we’re so pleased to have it back.
My predicted final table looks as such:
1. Manchester City
3. Tottenham Hotspur
5. Manchester United
7. Wolverhampton Wanderers
8. West Ham United
10. Crystal Palace
12. Leicester City
14. Newcastle United
17. Brighton & Hove Albion
19. Cardiff City
20. Huddersfield Town