IT’S back! After 82 days of reflection, preparation and spending astronomical sums on money on new players, the Premier League returns.
Now for the next nine months, the most exciting league in football will keep fans across the world gripped by proceedings.
Expect drama, comedy, brilliance and countless talking points. And PREMIER LEAGUE WEEKLY will be here every Friday to dip into the talking points that surround the action. Enjoy!
BEFORE a ball has been kicked, it’s time for predictions. There are countless new players, six clubs with genuine title aspirations, three new managers and two clubs completely new to the Premier League but how is it all going to finish? PREMIER LEAGUE WEEKLY is counting down from 20 all the way to the team that will end up as Champions.
THE Seagulls are back in the top flight for the first time in 34 years and their first time ever in the Premier League, but it could be a short stay. They were solid if unspectacular in the Championship and have not done enough to improve for a season with the big boys.
IT’s hard to imagine how last season could have gone any better for Burnley as they defied the odds to stay up. But losing star centre-half Michael Keane and top scorer Andre Gray will make life very difficult for Sean Dyche
IT was an incredible effort by Swansea to stay up last year in a season in which they had three managers. Much of that was due to the quality of Gylfi Sigurdsson, who was involved in over half of the team’s goals. If and when he departs, the Icelander will leave a huge hole and it could be too big for Paul Clement and the Swans to fill.
LOGIC says that newcomers Huddersfield should go straight back down. But the Terriers have become used to upsetting the odds as they showed in coming through the play-offs to gain promotion. David Wagner was very quick with his summer recruitment and the German seems to be a man with a plan.
WATFORD were a mess by the end of last season and surgery was needed. Marco Silva carries on the list of foreign managers at Vicarage Road, but at least he has experienced Premier League football after his spell at Hull. Signings like Will Hughes, Nathaniel Chalobah and Andre Gray have already addressed a problem area, which was a lack of Englishness in the side.
IT’s a defining campaign for Mark Hughes. Momentum stalled last year as they had their lowest finish under the Welshman. Now they have lost their best player in Marko Arnautovic and key dressing room figures in Glenn Whelan and Jon Walters. Saido Berahino needs to find his shooting boots, but the return of Jack Butland in goal cannot be underestimated.
14. Crystal Palace
THE decision to replace Sam Allardyce with Frank De Boer is a real change in direction for Crystal Palace. As Allardyce proved once again, he is the master of survival, whereas De Boer is an unknown in a team not used to challenging at the top. But what is in the Dutchman’s favour is in Wilfried Zaha and Christian Benteke, he inherits two match-winners who can trouble any team in the league.
RAFA BENITEZ fulfilled his share of the bargain by winning the Championship and getting Newcastle back up at the first time of asking. But he hasn’t received the backing that everyone expected from owner Mike Ashley in the transfer market.
The team looks a bit short of real Premier League quality but with Rafa at the helm and 50,000 fans behind them, they should have enough to stay up.
12. West Brom
IT promises to be same-old, same-old at West Brom. Tony Pulis has signed a contract extension to carry on as manager and the squad is largely the same, with the addition of Jay Rodriguez up front. Expect defensive solidity, set-piece prowess and another finish just below halfway. And Pulis prowling the touchline in his faithful tracksuit and cap!
SO, an eighth place finish and reaching the League Cup final wasn’t good enough for Frenchman Claude Puel at Southampton. It was a perception of negativity that did for Puel in the end, but new man Mauricio Pellegrino will do well to better those efforts and those of Ronald Koeman and Mauricio Pochettino before, especially if star defender Virgil van Dijk leaves by August 31.
AFTER two good seasons, Bournemouth are becoming a credible Premier League outfit with Eddie Howe as a very good manager. He has addressed their defensive weakness by bringing in goalkeeper Asmir Begovic and Nathan Ake at centre-half.
While Jermain Defoe will enjoy playing in a team that creates chances for him, rather than feeding off scraps as he did at Sunderland. The Cherries’ positive approach will be rewarded with a top-half finish.
9. West Ham
THERE is an air of optimism around West Ham this season after some interesting additions. Joe Hart is a definite upgrade in goal and arrives with a point to prove for his England prospects, Javier Hernandez is a proven goalscorer and Marko Arnautovic offers that wildcard factor missing since Dmitri Payet’s departure.
Plus they should now be more accustomed to their surroundings at the London Stadium. Ninth place is usually a little dull but this is West Ham we’re talking about, so expect plenty of drama along the way.
CHAMPIONS or flirting with relegation – which is the real Leicester? The answer is somewhere in the middle and this season they should find that upper-middle ground. They still have enough players from the title-winning season like Kasper Schmeichel and Jamie Vardy to do well and have freshened it up with Harry Maguire and Kelechi Iheanacho.
There are no magical nights in the Champions League to distract them from league duties this campaign, and there is no reason why they should not target doing well in both cups.
RONALD KOEMAN has been very busy during the summer strengthening all areas of his Everton team. But the loss of centre forward Romelu Lukaku to Manchester United is a massive gap to fill. How are they going to replace his 25 goals?
Wayne Rooney’s return needs to be more practical than sentimental while a decent run in the Europa League could hamper any hopes of a concerted run at the top four.
ON their day last season, and especially early on, Jurgen Klopp’s Liverpool were sensational. But their squad was light and they were badly hit by injuries. Throw in the prospect of a Champions League campaign and the question is whether Liverpool are still a bit light on bodies to compete on all fronts.
Their busiest month last season – January – was by far their worst. And if star man Philippe Coutinho heads to Barcelona, he will be an almost impossible act to follow.
THE summer as Champions should be a great time to reflect on the success of the previous season, as well as prepare for the new one. Antonio Conte and Chelsea seem to have spent it in a state of panic, worried about ‘doing a Chelsea’, after what happened with Jose Mourinho two years ago when it all went so badly wrong.
They have ended up very short of numbers and ostracised top scorer Diego Costa from the squad, so new man Alvaro Morata has big shoes to fill. Of the three previous Italian managers to win the Premier League, all were out of a job 12 months later. Could that same fate befall Conte?
DROPPING into the Europa League for the first time in 20 years has disturbed the equilibrium at Arsenal, but possibly for the better. Alexandre Lacazette was brought in and he could be the A-list striker the Gunners have been craving since Robin van Persie left five years ago.
The future of Mesut Ozil and Alexis Sanchez remains up in the air, but Ozil at least is likely to stay. Arsene Wenger has no intentions of winning the Europa League, so total focus will be on the league and that should ensure a return to their customary top-four spot.
3. Manchester United
JOSE MOURINHO delivered in the cups last season for Manchester United. Now it’s time to restore United’s standing in the league. He has strengthened the spine of his team with additions at centre-half, central midfield and Romelu Lukaku as his new £75 million striker. Mourinho will want him to be a powerhouse forward in the mould that Didier Drogba did so brilliantly for him at Chelsea, so expect the Belgian to score goals.
United will be extremely hard to beat in the classic Mourinho manner and they have more options than anyone else, but the lack of a Paul Scholes-like figure in midfield will be their undoing.
2. Manchester City
IF you fail, spend, spend and spend some more. I’m sorry I don’t know that in Latin but it should be the modern-day motto for Manchester City. After the comparative disappointment of third place, Pep Guardiola was given more vast sums to spend on new players, including more than £150 million on new full-backs and a goalkeeper. Ederson should be an improvement on Claudio Bravo, but that tells us nothing, and he could still be no better than average.
City will score bags of goals and should see off most of the lesser teams comfortably. But the feeling persists that Pep is out of his comfort zone in England and City could come up short in the final reckoning.
CHAMPIONS – Tottenham
I am going against one of the great truisms of football here – Tottenham always let you down. But I am expecting the graph to read third, second, first for Spurs. They have been the most consistent team for the last two years and it’s now time to deliver in a whole season. The lack of transfer activity causes alarm bells to ring in this modern era but I like the approach of Mauricio Pochettino of making slight adjustments and improving and working with the players at their disposal. It’s a bit old-fashioned but it usually brings success with the right group.
The first XI is the best in the league and if they keep those players fit for most of the season, they will prosper. In Harry Kane and Dele Alli, they have arguably the best combination in the league and the best players in their position and those two can fire Spurs to glory. Wembley is a slight unknown as their home venue for a year, but if they start well and beat Chelsea there next Sunday, confidence should flow.
Stat of the Day
3 – ON three occasions (1992, 1995 and 2012), Manchester United began the Premier League season with an opening-day defeat, but ended it as Champions.
Friday and Saturday Scores:
Arsenal 2 Leicester 1 (Friday)
Watford 1 Liverpool 2
Chelsea 3 Burnley 1
Crystal Palace 1 Huddersfield 1
Everton 2 Stoke 0
Southampton 1 Swansea 1
West Brom 2 Bournemouth 1
Brighton 0 Manchester City 3