By Manish Pandey.
It has been a typical summer for Arsenal. A promising signing in Granit Xhaka but relative inactivity which has fans tearing their hair out. Many are predicting Arsenal to be the team to falter this season, in the wake of the summer resurgences of Manchester United, Manchester City and Chelsea. Yet Arsenal always find a way. In statistical terms, they have improved league position season on season, finishing in 2nd last season despite never really being in the title race. A natural progression to 1st then?
Well, football does not work in such a way. Arsenal need to invest. A central defender is a must- it was essential even before the injuries to Per Mertesacker and Gabriel – it is even more crucial now. They most certainly need a striker. Arsene Wenger last season said Arsenal lacked goals. However, he is unwilling to invest big money in a big player. Money in a Lacazette or a Higuain or a Morata. Arsenal have eye-watering bank reserves of £159 million – what are they waiting for?
This is also Wenger’s last year of his 3 year contract, so it will be interesting to see how he copes with the inevitable questions about his future. They have a good team and a good squad and like seasons gone by, they are not far away. They have an excellent midfield, which will be reinforced with the midfield steel and guile of Xhaka, along with the in form Aaron Ramsey and the returning Santi Cazorla from injury.
The one thing in Arsenal’s favour is the stability they have. The other clubs that will be competing with them will need time to get used to new managers and new playing styles which could mean a slow start to the season. If Arsenal get it right at the start, they will be very dangerous.
Bournemouth not only survived, but they survived in some style, playing some of the most attractive football in the league. With style came hard work. They squashed the myth that technical players do not need to work hard and they put in tireless performances week after week. Tactically astute, this was a successful season for Eddie Howe.
In some ways, the second season for newly promoted teams can be tougher than the first season. No more the air of freshness, now they will have been figured out and will be presented with new challenges. They will need to come up with a Plan B – something they lacked last season. They have lost two key players in Tommy Elphick and Matt Ritchie. However, as is the way with Eddie Howe, he is relentless, obsessive and will not stay still.
Bournemouth have had an effective transfer window so far. Lys Mousset for £5.4m from Le Havre (the same club which nurtured Paul Pogba, Dimitri Payet and Riyad Mahrez) is a promising player. Brad Smith and Jordan Ibe from Liverpool and Lewis Cook all represent promising signings which will cause problems for opponents.
Callum Wilson will return from injury and Howe will hope that he can lead the line and stay fit. A problem for Bournemouth last season was the lack of organisation and solidity in the backline. For Bournemouth to improve on their 16th place finish last season, they will need to plug the hole in the leaky defence.
It is hard enough to survive in the Premier League with a strengthened squad from the Championship, but Burnley are currently weaker than they were last season. They have lost Joey Barton and Michael Duff among others, and have added very little.
They do not just need to spend money to improve, they need to spend money to survive. The last time they were in the Premier League, they spent little and were relegated with 2 games to spare. However, in Sean Dyche, they have a manager who is willing to drag his team to safety. He is called the ‘Ginger Mourinho’ for a reason.
Dyche’s 4-4-2 could either be boom or bust. 4-4-2 has made a comeback in football with many teams and defenders being unable to defend against 2 strikers. However, it is also quite easy to attack against a 4-4-2 if the defenders are not able to defend in 1v1 situations. This explains Burnley’s desire for Michael Keane.
Burnley should have more goals in this team than they did the last time around. Andre Gray and George Boyd should score enough goals between them to give Burnley a fighting chance of staying afloat.
They currently have a thin squad. There is still time to improve and add depth and quality to the current squad. In order to squeak to safety, Burnley will need to use the final few weeks of the transfer window wisely.
It was an extremely disappointing 2015-16 season for Chelsea. The worst ever defence of a title in history. It was a season which cost Jose Mourinho his job just 7 months after winning the title. Now, under Antonio Conte, they will seek to return to the levels they have been at in the years gone by.
Conte and Chelsea will be feeling quietly confident. They know that in Conte they have a master tactician and man manager who is on a high from the Euros and has a tremendous managerial record. The exploits of the two Manchester clubs in the summer also makes Chelsea the dark horses. The team that not many are focusing on. The lack of attention will suit Conte whilst he tries to convey and implement his ideas.
Conte will need to improve the performances of the under-performing players of last season – in particular Eden Hazard, Branislav Ivanovic and Nemanja Matic. Hazard looks to be sharp again and willing to perform. He is a manager who appreciates experience so will be keen to use John Terry. However, Terry no longer has the same mobility of old which makes the signing of N’Golo Kante a very good one. Kante was the best midfielder in the league last season.
Conte is an attacking manager who uses his defence as the first step of attack. He will likely deploy a 4-2-4 formation, with Matic/Fabregas and Kante holding, allowing the 4 attackers – including new £33 million signing Michy Batshuayi – to be set free. Playing with 2 strikers is something Conte favours, seen in his work at Italy and Juventus. This also explains why he is so keen to add another striker to his ranks, either Alvaro Morata or Romelu Lukaku.
Conte cannot take too long to make his mark, or he could find himself as a victim of Chelsea’s notorious managerial axe. Should he inspire and drive his team on like he did with Italy over the summer, Chelsea could be serious challengers.
Crystal Palace started last season in a promising manner. Yet come the back-end of the season, they were sliding down the table rapidly. They will now need to strengthen and Alan Pardew will need to come up with a formula to ensure a consistent season for Palace.
From Boxing Day 2015, they won only 2 games from 21. That is simply not good enough.
Injuries to Yannick Bolasie, Jason Puncheon, James McArthur and Connor Wickham last season derailed them, therefore the need to beef up the squad is evident. The enigma that is Bolasie seems to be on the way to Everton.
They have lacked goalscoring forwards in recent years, a problem they have recognised and tried to solve. They have more money to spend thanks to the new TV deal, with a club record transfer for Andros Townsend and a bid of over £30 million for Michy Batshuayi. They have attempted to sign Christian Benteke, Saido Berahino and Diafra Sakho. They need to act cleverly to ensure they find a solution to the striking woes and do not just place bids without substance.
The arrivals of Steven Mandanda and James Tomkins will help add experience to the squad.
Pardew has attempted to introduce a new system in pre-season with a 3-4-1-2. If Pardew can sign some good quality strikers such as Benteke or Sakho, they will go a long way to achieving a much improved finish this season.
Ronald Koeman has taken over from Roberto Martinez and this season promises to be an excellent season for Everton. The last week has seen tremendous progress on the transfer front for Everton.
Yannick Bolasie and Lamine Kone seem to be on the way to Merseyside to join Ashley Williams, Maarten Stekelenburg and Idrissa Gueye as known names in. John Stones has left for Manchester City and there is still a question mark over Romelu Lukaku’s future, yet everything seems to be calm at a club where chaos was the buzzword last season. The Koeman Effect.
In Koeman they have a manager with Premier League experience, tactical nous and an attractive playing style. He exudes calm and flourished at Southampton at a time when everybody was writing them off.
Gerard Deulofeu has been playing up front in pre-season, which suggests he has a key role to play this season. He has the talent, now he has to show his consistency at the highest level.
Huge credit should be given to new owner Farhad Moshiri. He has restructured the club and given them the intent to succeed. A new Director of Football was brought in- Steve Walsh from Leicester City – the same man who brought in Kante, Mahrez and Vardy.
Koeman will bring a new style to Goodison Park. They will be more direct, more pressing from the front, greater intensity all round and with more physical presence. All things missing under Martinez. It will take time, but with Koeman, Walsh and Moshiri, Everton are building something big.
Unless something drastically changes in the last few weeks of the transfer window, Hull City are a certainty to be relegated. They are a mess. They are weaker than they were in the Championship.
Inactivity in the transfer market has led to the resignation of Steve Bruce. The owner Assem Alam is seriously ill with his son falling out with Bruce. It has been a strange pre-season with Hull struggling to find enough players to field a full team.
They have no successor to Bruce. They have lost Chuba Akpom, Isaac Hayden, Mohamed Diame, Sone Aluko, and Ryan Taylor. Incomings have been scarce.
Hull City have concocted a perfect cocktail for relegation. Nobody will be surprised if they end up back in the Championship.
The reigning Premier League Champions. Words I never thought I would ever be writing when writing about Leicester City. They are the team to beat. They have looked good in pre-season and have made some clever signings to bolster a squad that also has the added joy of competing in the Champions League.
They have lost N’Golo Kante, but have crucially managed to retain Jamie Vardy and Riyad Mahrez so far. The core of the team remains the same.
The acquisitions of Ahmed Musa and Nampalys Mendy provides speed, power and energy – all traits of the successful Leicester side from last season. Mendy in particular looks like another Kante with his speed across the ground and robustness in tackling.
Leicester have a better squad than last season, with more depth thanks to the incomings. Things could be even better if the likes of Demarai Gray and Daniel Amartey progress at the expected level.
The big challenge will be defensively. Can Leicester repeat the defensive solidity of last season? Can Wes Morgan, Robert Huth, Christian Fuchs and Danny Simpson repeat the same disciplined performances as last season? The signing of Luis Hernandez is a shrewd one as he adds defensive cover but also has a long throw which can be used as an attacking option.
The big thing in Leicester’s favour is the stability they currently enjoy. They have not needed a huge makeover or transitional summer, unlike their rivals. They may not win the league again, but they will certainly provide a stiff challenge.
Liverpool are well placed under Jurgen Klopp in their transitional process. He is used to the tempo of the league and has had a good transfer window so far.
Klopp has managed to restore belief at the club and he has an aura about him. His charisma and work ethic is endearing to the players who look as though they are willing to run through walls for him.
The lack of European football will favour Liverpool this season because of the high energy, high intensity and high pressing game Klopp will employ. The extra time on the training field will allow them to understand the tactical detail behind the high energy system.
Liverpool do not have a world-class player in their squad, but under Klopp, this does not matter so much. It is more about the collective than the individual for him. They have added pace in Sadio Mane, calmness in Marko Grujic, defensive depth in Ragnar Klavan and Joël Matip and power in midfield through Georginio Wijnaldum. They still need to address the situation at left-back where there is no real quality presently.
Liverpool have a tough opening 5 fixtures in Arsenal, Tottenham Hotspur, Leicester City and Chelsea. They will need to be ready and switched on to avoid a bad start.
Whilst Liverpool do not have the same quality as their rivals, they can still make life difficult and a top 4 finish is very much on the cards.
They have long coveted Pep Guardiola. Now they have Pep Guardiola. The best coach in the world is in the Premier League and is at Manchester City.
There seems to be a long-term approach at City with the arrival of Guardiola. In order for City to gain success once more, Guardiola has a lot of work ahead of him and lots of changes to make.
City have a good group of players with some genuine world-class talent in Sergio Aguero, Kevin de Bruyne, David Silva and Vincent Kompany (when fit). The signings of Ilkay Gündogan, Leroy Sané and Nolito increase midfield and forward options, with the signing of John Stones bolstering the backline.
In Aguero, City are guaranteed goals. If he stays fit for the whole season, he will get over 30 goals. Big concerns however, remain over Joe Hart, Kompany’s fitness and Raheem Sterling’s form and confidence. These are key players for Guardiola so it will be interesting to see how Guardiola approaches these problems.
There have already been signs in pre-season that City have struggled with Guardiola’s possession philosophy of passing out from the back. It will be a challenge for Guardiola to cope with this new league, the pace of the league, the tempo and the physicality.
If the City players can learn quickly enough what Guardiola wants, they will be successful. However, big doubts remain over whether he can do that with this group.
They have had a 3 years to forget since Sir Alex Ferguson’s retirement. Now, with Jose Mourinho in the hotseat, there can be no excuses. He is an elite level coach. He won the title just 2 seasons ago. United have bought well in the summer transfer window too.
The signings of Zlatan Ibrahimovic and Paul Pogba give United personality and power. They have an aura about them. Some call it arrogance, but they call it confidence in their abilities. Proven players and proven winners. How they adapt to the Premier League will be their biggest test.
In Henrikh Mkhitaryan and Eric Bailly, they have creativity and defensive potential. Mkhitaryan was a star in the Bundesliga, recognised by his fellow professionals. Bailly has put in terrific performances in La Liga, against the likes of Cristiano Ronaldo and Lionel Messi.
The big conundrum is Wayne Rooney. What is his best position? Mourinho has indicated that he will be playing the No 10 position, just behind Ibrahimovic. Does he still have the legs to play such a role? By having both Rooney and Ibrahimovic central, United lack pace. There is a lot of pressure on Mkhitaryan and Anthony Martial to provide speed and creativity.
The return of Luke Shaw will provide United with balance on the left, as his speed can cover both going forward and backwards. United still lack a world-class centre half. Chris Smalling will again carry the burden of defensive discipline, so his fitness will be crucial.
They should compete for the title. They should win a trophy. Mourinho will get time and will have a honeymoon period. But he will know better than anyone, results matter and they will need to come fast.
In Aitor Karanka, Boro have a man who knows what he wants and he is not afraid to upset people. He had a furious row in March and was away from the club. Then he returned and they achieved promotion. His summer transfers have been exciting and give Boro a good chance of survival.
Marten de Roon represents a tough tackler from the Italian league. Victor Valdes provides undoubted class in goal. Alvaro Negredo is a proven goalscorer who will be looking to prove his doubters in England wrong. Fabio da Silva will provide energy and bravery.
Karanka will prefer a 4-4-2 formation, although in pre-season he has shown signs of flexibility, switching to a looser version in a 4-2-3-1 formation. The partnership of Gaston Ramirez behind Negredo will be interesting to watch. Both are highly skilled, but can they do it in the toughest league of all.
Boro’s strength last season was their defence. They will seek to keep the same solidity as last season, but will face a much tougher test facing the attacks of the Premier League. Boro will look to get Dani Ayala back to fitness as quickly as possible.
Middlesbrough will fight and with the investment of the summer, they should survive. However, it has been many years since they were last in the Premier League, so as a newly promoted team, they will find it tough.
They have been written off summer after summer because of summer after summer of upheaval. Could this finally be the season where they fall or will the arrival of Claude Puel be exactly what they need.
They have lost some very good and important players. Sadio Mane and Graziano Pelle in particular, along with Victor Wanyama will give a big loss to the Southampton ranks. The incomings of youngsters Pierre-Emile Hojbjerg from Bayern Munich and Nathan Redmond will refresh the midfield and forward line. There are high hopes in particular for Hojbjerg.
Southampton have always said, it is not the manager on whom the club is dependent on, it is the structures already put in place. The academy, transfer policy, scouting network and training facilities.
Puel has a reputation a process driven manager, who gives youth a chance and plays attractive football. He had a good spell with Nice, finishing in 4th place with few resources. He does not need to change much.
The structures are in place. They will likely play a 4-2-3-1 formation. They have a solid defensive line, with Ryan Bertrand an accomplished fullback, Fraser Forster solid in goal, Virgil van Dijk and Jose Fonte striking a good partnership at the back. More will be expected from Oriol Romeu and Jordy Clasie. Dusan Tadic is highly effective providing 7 goals and 12 assists.
Goalscoring could be a huge problem with the loss of Pelle and Mane. A lot of pressure will be on Shane Long and Charlie Austin to come up with the goods.
Southampton should finish in the top half of the table. They will need to cope with the added demands of the Europa League so will need to strengthen even further before the window closes. If Puel can follow his predecessors, Southampton are in for a good season.
Stoke are in very good shape to achieve something big. They have quality in the midfield and forward areas with genuine matchwinners in Marko Arnautovic, Xherdan Shaqiri and Bojan.
They have issues in the defensive areas but in Mark Hughes they have a manager who knows what to do. He has guided Stoke to 3 consecutive top 10 finishes, for the first time in history. He has done so playing attractive football with flair players.
They do need a top quality striker. For all the flair of the players above, they need someone to make use of the creativity and put the ball in the back of the net.
Joe Allen coming in should add some creativity and reinforce the midfield options and depth. Ramadan Sobhi will add flair to the attackers with a wide variety of tricks and creativity.
On paper, this team should be scoring goals. They need to add defensive solidity if they are to improve on the 9th placed finish of last season. Some investment in defensive areas should go a long way to improving Stoke.
They have the ingredients for success, but they have to show it on the pitch.
David Moyes is now in the hotseat at Sunderland. The 7th man to take that hotseat in 5 years. There is no stability at the club and they are one of the favourites to be relegated.
Moyes is an honest and sincere manager, who brings discipline and effectiveness. Yet he will need to splash the cash in the transfer market if he is to keep this side up. There is a serious lack of quality across the pitch.
Yann M’Vila and DeAndre Yedlin have returned to their clubs which means Moyes has a weaker squad than Sam Allardyce last season.
The signing of Adnan Januzaj on a season long loan is a boost in attacking areas, with more service for Jermaine Defoe. Defoe is the key. He scores goals for fun and if supplied correctly, he can keep Sunderland up.
Moyes will aim to be the first manager in a long time to stay the full season at Sunderland. If he can do that, it will have been a successful season for Sunderland. Looking at Moyes from his Everton days, a transformation of Sunderland will take time.
Swansea are not in a great state to improve on last season’s 12th place finish. The late sales of Andre Ayew and Ashley Williams could have a devastating effect.
However, they have signed world cup winner Fernando Llorente and Borja Bastón. This is a big move for Swansea. Two fowards with undoubted quality, especially in the air.
With Jefferson Montero, Wayne Routledge, Nathan Dyer and Modou Barrow on the wings, they will be expected to beat a man and cross the ball in for the new 6ft forwards in the box.
In Gylfi Sigurdsson they have a creative master who is also able to contribute with goals and assists. He is the key man for Swansea if they are to have any type of chance of competing this season. Leroy Fer will add energy in midfield, although there are question marks over Ki Sung-yueng after his military summer in South Korea.
Francesco Guidolin has yet to prove himself as manager. Many are attributing his success at keeping Swansea up last season down to luck. The atmosphere around Swansea does not seem the same as a few years ago. Guidolin has a lot to do to prove himself.
Mauricio Pochettino’s men were so close yet so far last season in their pursuit for the title. The way of playing and the preparation they put in for each match puts them in good stead for this season.
Pochettino is an obsessive and his decisions are driven by beliefs about football. He has long identified Victor Wanyama as a transfer target and he finally landed his man this summer. Wanyama will bring power and energy to the Tottenham team.
Vincent Janssen is an intelligent striker and gives Tottenham more depth up front. Harry Kane looked exhausted by the end of the season.
Pochettino has driven a serious work ethic into the team, putting to the front the idea of team work. There are no individual egoistic stars. It is all about the team. It is this mentality which will lead Tottenham into a position of success.
The team play with a very high intensity and aggression. They have a solid mentality and a never-say-die attitude, always believing they can come back in a match. That is the work of the manager.
The structure and foundations that Pochettino has built are there. They have to perform now to show they are real A Team players.
Quique Sanchez Flores has departed and Watford’s policy of managerial changes has continued. Walter Mazzarri has taken over and brought his unique style to Watford.
They have done well to hold on to strike duo Troy Deeney and Odion Ighalo. The two will be crucial to Mazzarri’s plans as he plans to switch to a 3-5-2 formation.
They have added many centre backs and wing backs in order to cope with the demands of playing 3-5-2. Christian Kabasele, Juan Camilo Zúñiga and Brice Dja Djédjé have arrived to bolster the backline.
Watford have an extremely hard list of fixtures to begin with. The first five league games include visits to Southampton and West Ham as well as home matches against Chelsea, Arsenal and Manchester United.
Watford have a changed manager and a changed squad. Therefore it will be difficult for them to survive this season. Many wrote them off last season and they proved doubters wrong. It will take a considerable amount of Mazzarri’s tactical nous to ensure safety for Watford.
West Bromwich Albion:
With a new owner comes a new set of expectations.
A positive for West Brom is that Tony Pulis stays. He has a great track record of keeping clubs up and his pragmatic style can work wonders. Will this be enough for the new owner?
They have a wonderful defensive record but a woeful goalscoring effort. With the Pulis style, this is not so surprising. They failed to score in 13 of their 38 games last season.
There is a lot of pressure on Salomón Rondón to perform consistently through the season. He will surely need some help to ease the goalscoring burden.
Pulis has spoken of needing at least 5 more players. The saga of Saido Berahino has continued and could leave Pulis without another striker if he finally completes a move away.
Jeffrey Schlupp is rumoured to be joining West Brom, he will add some much-needed pace and energy going forward.
If they can continue getting draws and the odd win, West Brom should meet the magic 40 points mark. Pulis has a wonderful record, he knows how to survive.
West Ham United:
New stadium. 60,000 fans each week. West Ham are on the way to big club status with some very savvy commercial deals and business acumen behind the scenes. It is on the pitch though, which will decide West Ham’s future.
They had a wonderful season last season. Slaven Bilic has instilled a winning mentality into the club. They no longer fear the bigger clubs. They beat the big clubs. They play fast, aggressive football. They are no longer a yoyo club.
Yet this season, they face challenges. Adapting to the new stadium, coping with the Europa League, coping with a slightly depleted squad in the early part of the season. All these things matter and how Bilic uses his squad will be key.
They have made some shrewd investments in the transfer market. Manuel Lanzini is now a permanent player, Sofiane Feghouli is a clever winger, Gokhan Tore is another winger who offers depth, Havard Nordtveit in midfield will add protection to the back 4 and Arthur Masuaku is a flying full back.
Keeping them fit and rotating will be vital for Bilic. Ultimately, the form and fitness of the spine of the team will determine how this season will go.
Adrian, Winston Reid, Mark Noble, Dimitri Payet and Andy Carroll are the key men. If they remain consistent through the season, West Ham should earn a top 8 finish.