Caught up in an odd-numbered year without any football for a near three months, football fans lose the will to live without the beautiful game; but now it’s back, and better than ever before. The English Premier League season awaits us with all the drama ready to unfold once again. It will never ever get boring; no matter what your other half prays for, football will always be the essence of our lives. And long may it continue…
The only real thing that keeps us going during the summer months is the off-season bonanza of the transfer window. Gossip left, right and centre teases fans with excitement for the possible long-term prospects of their team. The rumours swirl around again and again, with or without any true or likelihood of it happening. Yet we all love it, right? Despite the money in football continuing to reach new dizzy heights, it’s all a part of the fun and importance of the game. We would all love to earn the money these players get nowadays, but cut it all out; it’s a business, and an occupation we’re obsessed with.
Setting out your club’s transfer budget in your mind, lining up the rumoured targets, dreaming of that new-look side. It never gets old but more fun every time. You might not have envisaged a £200 million pound transfer even last year, but they are the stakes in play in modern times. Neymar has set the tone with the future transfer market; his former club Barcelona are wasting no time in throwing about £100 million plus bids with their new cash. It will continue to rise and rise; it’s already stupendous, but as I said, we should love what it does to the game. It grows the sport across the world and develops a wider audience. The English Premier League is the main hub of football in this new commercial era; the most watched league in the world and the most watched sport in the world.
People from near and afar adorn the Premier League for what it has become; it truly is the place to be entertainment wise. Many will argue it isn’t quite the best league in the world in terms of overall quality, but that is an opinion – opinions are what makes football such an engaging sport globally. You could talk to somebody from China, Brazil, Australia (as I have in Berlin) about the Premier League and they will each have their own knowledgeable and interesting perspectives.
So we all have our obsession with the Premier League and our subsequent feelings and opinions. These are my views for the forthcoming season and how I envisage (guess) it will go. As we know, English football is a highly competitive and unpredictable game without many certainties nowadays. I’ll try to muster what could happen, anyway.
1st Manchester City
City are usually the biggest spenders in the league each year, but never more obvious than in this summer’s crazy window. Fresh from spending in excess of £200 million, Pep Guardiola looks to finally have the team he craved from the beginning. Without the right playing staff to immediately hit the ground running last year, the deadwood has been ousted from the club and a new injection of youth has arrived. Long gone is the spine which brought unfounded success over the past few years, with old age becoming a weakness to the high tempo game Pep wished to install. Yaya Toure and Vincent Kompany may remain at the club, but the likes of Joe Hart, Pablo Zabaleta, Bacary Sagna, Fernando, Alexsandar Kolarov and Gael Clichy have been replaced. Incoming are proper ball players Guardiola so craves. Bernardo Silva became the first big money signing of the transfer window for £43 million from AS Monaco. He will be seen as the long-term successor to his namesake David. Joining him was another new goalkeeper Ederson from Benfica for £35 million. After the disaster of Claudio Bravo last season, one priority may have been solved. Yet, the main weakness of City last season was their ageing full-backs who couldn’t offer the pace and guile Pep needs up from defence into attack. Kyle Walker, Danilo and Benjamin Mendy have all arrived for a combined £127.5 million, making it clear how desperate City were to solve this major issue. Considering the prowess of their midfield and attack, their defensive situation was perhaps the only thing needed to complete Pep’s team. Now he has his blueprint firmly implemented on his City squad, this year really should be the year he wins his first PL title. A manager of his world-class ilk would’ve surely learned the harsh nature of English football last year.
Key Player – Kevin de Bruyne
Promising Talent – Gabriel Jesus
Top Scorer – Sergio Aguero
One To Watch – Bernardo Silva
2nd – Manchester United
Like their city neighbours, Manchester United have spent big once again but in a more precise manner. Jose Mourinho has silently gone about his business in a similar fashion to last summer, signing three players across the nucleus of his side. An accusation against United has been their lack of creativity going forward. Despite losing star striker Zlatan Ibrahimovic, Romelu Lukaku as been brought in for a hefty £75 million. Goals should be expected in a side featuring either of those two, yet the issue lies with controlling the midfield to find these chances. Paul Pogba was signed last summer in a then world-record deal but was surprisingly pushed back into a defensive midfield position. This summer, Nemanja Matic has reunited with Mourinho from Chelsea for £40 million. Seemingly a defensive signing, it actually has the reverse effect; Matic will take up Pogba’s defensive role and give the Frenchman the lease to roam freely and attack. Considering the likes of Anthony Martial, Henrik Mkhitaryan and Marcus Rashford in their ranks, the protection Matic and Herrera give the back-four should allow United to be more fluid and dominant in attack. Benfica centre-back Victor Lindelof arrived in a £31 million deal, moving Jose’s side further away from the side he inherited under van Gaal. United should push City close on many fronts, but European football may take its toll on a side still in relative transition.
Key Player – Paul Pogba
Promising Talent – Marcus Rashford
Top Scorer – Romelu Lukaku
One To Watch – Henrik Mkhitaryan
Last season represented the lowest point and seemingly the last in Arsene Wenger’s two-decade long spell in charge of the Gunners; but a man of that high-level experience will know how to make it right again. It’s easy to say Arsenal haven’t strengthened nearly as well as the other clubs and will fall behind, but consider this; one of if not the league’s best player Alexis Sanchez looks likely to stay this season, Arsenal only fell short by a point last season of another top 4 finish, and Wenger will have a huge point to prove. I don’t believe Arsenal will entirely be bothered about the Europa League, leaving them to focus more on reaffirming themselves at the top again. Sead Kolasinac and Alexander Lacazette are two promising signings and if they add another central midfielder, will look formidable once again. The general assumption is Arsenal have fallen behind their rivals and it’s true, but I’m positive Wenger signed his two-year extension with the confidence to reverse that. Things will fall their way this year and without demoralising Champions League collapses 2/3s into the season, they can have a right go at the title.
Key Player – Alexis Sanchez
Promising Talent – Rob Holding
Top Scorer – Alexander Lacazette
One To Watch – Sead Kolasinac
4th – Chelsea
The season after winning the title is always a difficult one; the reigning champions may fall for an air of complacency or may in fact become unsure of how to do it all again any better. Chelsea have always been a club who can be dominant and successful one year, but fall away the next. There isn’t any long-term consistency or continuity as the manager usually tends to get the chop within a two to three year spell. This ruthless approach by owner Roman Abramovich may work well many times but surely the buck must stop eventually. A club as capable as Chelsea should be looking to build for the future with the same manager as well as potential players. The younger players they have and the subsequent branch of loans they have, is a consistent business model but ultimately not entirely rewarding in the end. Conte needs to be backed further if Chelsea want to defend their Premier League crown. European football will catch up with the squad, and they still fall short of quality numbers from the bench. Conte will try to strike a balance between the domestic and continental club competitions, but he needs more than the mere four players he has recruited. Willy Caballero from City is a replacement for outgoing goalkeeper Asmir Begovic, Tiemoue Bakayoko replaces Nemanja Matic and Alvaro Morata is only a direct swap for transfer listed Diego Costa. Matic and Costa are two key players to the title-winning side of last year. Other than the arrival of Antonio Rudiger from AS Roma for £34 million, no strength in depth has significantly been added. Players continue to leave on loan after returning originally and the squad is wearing thin. Phil Neville said this week he believed Chelsea selling Matic to direct rivals United weakens their position and empowers the Red Devils’. It’s hard to argue against that concept and Conte’s momentum will surely be dying out.
Key Player – Eden Hazard
Promising Talent – Charly Musonda
Top Scorer – Alvaro Morata
One To Watch – Tieumene Bakayoko
5th Tottenham Hotspur
13 years since Arsenal began the process of moving stadiums, changing the club and selling key first-team players, Spurs’ fierce North London rivals have greatly struggled. Unfortunately for Spurs, this is now part of their evolutionary process and it’s come at the worst time possible. After last season’s incredible campaign, you would usually back Spurs to go one better this year. Harry Kane, Christian Eriksen and Dele Alli are three of the best players in the world let alone the league at the minute. You can’t blame them for not adding any players just yet; their side has been immaculate the past two seasons. Last summer’s signings were poor because they couldn’t improve an already perfect team. But losing Kyle Walker is a massive blow and may be just the beginning of players leaving the club. Danny Rose’s comments this week have not helped the cause, but can Spurs really do any better than last year given their new circumstances? Champions League football may be their biggest focus this year to try and stamp their mark away from the domestic. As a result, they may suffer the same effects Arsenal had when they’ve gone far in Europe? I hope to be proved wrong, but playing at Wembley will be a huge challenge. White Hart Lane was a fortress and the sooner they move to a new home, the better. Also, every side playing Spurs at Wembley will treat it as a cup final day out at the national stadium. It will be like 38 away games for Tottenham; as wonderful a team as they are, these factors will unfortunately play against them.
Key Player – Christian Eriksen
Promising Talent – Georges-Kevin Nkoudou
Top Scorer – Harry Kane
One To Watch – Dele Alli
Fresh from the news that Phillippe Coutinho looks to be heading off to Barcelona, Liverpool suddenly look in a real mess. With a questionable side not used to the Champions League, the mid-week European nights may make the league form impossible to be consistent. Again, as much as I love the Liverpool team and the way they play, they won’t have the know-how and experience that Wenger, Mourinho etc. will have at juggling the two. Even if Coutinho stays, if Liverpool don’t land one of their major transfer targets in Virgil van Dijk or Naby Keita, this summer’s window has been a disaster. Mohammad Salah is a great signing, but Andrew Robertson is not somebody who knows his way around the big games, is he? Jurgen Klopp may find it difficult to stay positive, and much like Conte, may be a victim to his own success. Hopefully Liverpool can get themselves sorted with a stronger squad, because on their day they’re as dangerous as anybody. Scoring is not entirely the answer to success though. Get a backbone in that side. Van Dijk would be a start.
Key Player – Phillippe Coutinho
Promising Talent – Trent Alexander-Arnold
Top Scorer – Sadio Mane
One To Watch – Mo Salah