THE PREMIER LEAGUE is back. Just 26 days after France were crowned World Champions in Russia, the compelling nine-month long, 38-game drama of domestic league football returns.
The transfer window is shut and ready or not, the 20 teams set off on a journey that will lead to glory, disaster or somewhere in-between.
PREMIER LEAGUE WEEKLY will be there every step of the way and for the first blog of the season, it’s time for predictions all the way from one to 20.
1. MANCHESTER CITY
NO team has won the Premier League in successive seasons since Manchester United won three in a row between 2007 and 2009. But Manchester City have Pep Guardiola at the helm and he won three successive titles at both Barcelona and Bayern Munich. Early signs are that Pep has the ability to re-motivate a super-talented squad who have all bought into his methods.
Riyad Mahrez has added to the creative talent pool, while Benjamin Mendy is effectively another addition at left-back having being out injured for so long. City won’t reach 100 points this time, but they should maintain the consistency that marks them out as the best team over 38 games once again.
AFTER 28 years, Jurgen Klopp is tasked with ending Liverpool’s anguished wait to be Champions of England. It’s not surprising after spending £170 million on the back of reaching the Champions League final.
Alisson is a big upgrade on Loris Karius in goal, Naby Keita and Fabinho look excellent additions in midfield and Xherdan Shaqiri is another option further forward. Klopp and Liverpool know how to win the big games at a super-charged Anfield.
Being ready to win against opposition from the lower reaches when not at their best is the key to the Reds mounting a genuine title charge.
3. MANCHESTER UNITED
THIS is Manchester United and Jose Mourinho we are talking about, so the doomsday scenarios some have talked about, are not going to happen. United did not have a great summer transfer window, but they will still continue to win plenty of matches and finish in the top four. Don’t expect a vast improvement in the style of football and without more of a desire to play on the front foot – in all matches – they won’t finish higher than third.
So, there is no more Arsene Wenger at Arsenal. In comes Unai Emery with fresh energy, new ideas and a new-look team. Question marks over goalkeeper, central defence and central midfield have been addressed, which Wenger continued to overlook. If Arsenal make slight improvement in those areas, Pierre-Emerick Aubameyang will score the goals at the other which could signal a top-four return.
IT’s all about the return to White Hart Lane. It has to be for Tottenham because there are new players to focus on. The worry is whether the horse has already bolted after three seasons of running other teams close, but coming up empty-handed. Harry Kane will continue to score goals, but is there outside the first XI to finish in the top four. I’m not sure there is.
IT’s one Italian for another at Stamford Bridge as Maurizio Sarri steps into Antonio Conte’s shoes, but he wants to introduce a radically different style of play. He’s had only a few weeks to install that and has only one outfield player to do that in Jorginho. Eden Hazard remains – for now – which is vital, but he can’t carry the team single-handedly.
7. WEST HAM
MANUEL PELLEGRINI returns to the Premier League two years after making way for Pep Guardiola at Manchester City. The Chilean is almost criminally under-rated in this league, but the jobs at Villarreal and Malaga should be a good indicator as to what he can do at West Ham. He has been supported in the market and players like Jack Wilshere and record signing Felipe Anderson should improve the team greatly.
A new start for Everton under Marco Silva after a season to forget with three managers at the helm. The likes of Yerry Mina and Bernard have arrived so late that it may be a couple of months before the team starts to find its feet. Cracking the top six is probably beyond them, but Everton fans would love a cup run, some stirring performances and a team they can identify with again.
RIYAD MAHREZ has now gone as the Champions of 2015/16 slowly dwindle in number, but Jamie Vardy remains to score the goals. Jonny Evans was a steal at centre-half and James Maddison is a very talented prospect from Norwich but you just wonder whether everyone at the King Power is fully behind manager Claude Puel.
IT’s hard to imagine how Burnley could possibly top last season’s seventh place finish. Sean Dyche knows that won’t happen, as he is focusing more on consolidation. How far they go in the Europa League could affect their league position, but the team is so well drilled that they should certainly remain competitive.
WOLVES were far too good for everyone else in the Championship, and thanks to some clever signings, they should more than hold their own moving up a level. The capture of Belgian midfielder Leander Dendoncker on deadline day was also an excellent piece of business. With super-agent Jorge Mendes pulling the strings at Molinuex, Wolves now boast real clout in the transfer market.
FULHAM have not spent over £100 million to make an immediate return to the Championship. And if half of their new players are successful like midfielder Jean Michael Seri and goalkeeper Sergio Rico, they should make a seamless transition back into the top flight.
SOUTHAMPTON must do better after their final-week escape act of last season. Mark Hughes has had the whole summer to mould the group more to his way of thinking and crucially has not had too much money to spend. Hughes usually works better with a vast chequebook behind him.
THE Cherries are gearing up for their fourth straight season in the top flight and it’s to their enormous credit they have never ended up in a desperate fight to avoid relegation. Eddie Howe’s side will continue to take a few heavy beatings, but as always, they will carry a goal threat to gain a few notable scalps and ensure another solid campaign.
15. CRYSTAL PALACE
THE biggest news for Crystal Palace is that Wilfried Zaha remains a Palace player. A talismanic figure, who is a threat to all opponents, the Eagles could not afford to lose him. The departure of Ruben Loftus-Cheek back to Chelsea is a blow, so they need German international Max Meyer to be a hit in South London.
BRIGHTON have had a quietly busy summer in the transfer market, bringing 12 new players into the squad from a variety of countries. The most interesting one is Iranian Alireza Jahanbakhsh, their club-record signing at £17 million, who was top scorer in the Dutch league for AZ Alkmaar last season.
NEWCASTLE’s prospects seem to stand or fall with one man – Rafa Benitez. If Rafa sticks around for the whole season, the Geordies should just about be OK. Without him, prospects would be very, very bleak. If Benitez was given proper backing in the transfer market, Newcastle would easily be a top-team. Without, the aim is solely on survival.
UNUSUALLY for the Watford way of doing things, there was no managerial change this summer. So Javi Gracia leads them into a new campaign, still looking for his first away goal from his team despite arriving in January. Richarlison’s departure is a blow and there have been no headline signings either. Perhaps this is the season when the Hornets’ Premier League adventure comes to an end.
The Terriers did brilliantly to stay up last season against the odds. David Wagner’s side made a great start and used that buffer to keep themselves away from trouble all season. But do they have enough genuine quality, and more especially enough goals in the team to remain at this level? I have my doubts.
NEIL WARNOCK was rightly lauded for the job he did in guiding Cardiff City to automatic promotion. But now he faces an even bigger challenge in keeping them. They have not spent anywhere near as much as Wolves and Fulham and their squad has a very British feel, with little experience at this level. Warnock will be as colourful as ever, but expect the Bluebirds to only be around for a season.
Stat of the Day
63.2 – The average amount of money spent in millions by the 20 Premier League clubs. Liverpool spent the most at £170 million.
Tottenham did not spend a single penny. At £72 million, Chelsea’s signing of goalkeeper Kepa Arrizabalaga from Athletic Bilbao was the most expensive deal.
Adam’s Friday and Saturday scores
Manchester United 2 Leicester 0 (Fri)
Newcastle 0 Tottenham 3
Bournemouth 3 Cardiff 1
Fulham 2 Crystal Palace 2
Huddersfield 0 Chelsea 2
Watford 1 Brighton 1
Wolves 2 Everton 1
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