The kick off to the English Premier League is fast approaching, 8 days away, and it feels too premature to even begin to think about a preview article given that teams don’t even have set rosters at this point. The summer transfer window continues until Sept 1st and I’m sure the big championship caliber clubs aren’t done buying and selling just yet. Rumors continue to surface and they’ll drag on with little or no action. Hell we’re still awaiting the official announcement from Manchester United on their record signing of Paul Pogba from Juventus.
So with all of that being said, let’s jump into the 2016-2017 campaign and make some bold predictions that surely won’t come true and we can look back and say “WTF” were you thinking when you wrote this. We are all in agreement there will not be another Leicester City miracle (5,000 to 1 odds) this year. If we can get another down to the wire battle for the crown like in 2011-2012 I think that’s all any of us could ask for. If my Chelsea Blues can rebound and qualify for the Champions League again then even better. There has been a huge influx of talent into the Premier League this season so my expectations for a competitive year is high.
The biggest change in the Premier League landscape this season is actually who will be shouting directions from the touchline. To begin the year we have new managers at Chelsea (Antonio Conte), Man United (Jose Mourinho) and Man City (Pep Guardiola). It will also be Jurgen Klopp’s first full season as manager at Liverpool. The only constant that we have is of course Arsene Wegner at Arsenal who will never leave. For those of you salty United fans who have nightmares over the David Moyes era, he too is back in the EPL now taking over at Sunderland. Ronald Koeman has switched jobs from Southampton to Everton filling the vacancy from the sacked Roberto Martinez in Merseyside. Lastly Sam Allardyce has taken the English International managerial position and will no longer be at West Ham United, their new manager is Slaven Bilic.
Now that you are up to speed on the major coaching carousel changes let’s jump into the newest arrivals and departures in the EPL this summer. As you can see below it’s been a summer for Manchester. United have made the biggest splash signing marquee names who come with an extremely hefty price tag. Manchester City have been active as well signing good talent but not household names. It’s worth noting that neither team has sold one player so far on their already congested team sheets. At some point I have to believe the Juan Mata’s, Bastian Schweinsteiger’s of the world are going to be told to find new homes this season.
+ Paul Pogba – Juventus to Man United
+ Zlatan Ibrahimovic – PSG to Man United
+ Henrikh Mkhitaryan – BVB Dortmund to Man United
+ Eric Bailly – Villarreal to Man United
+ Ilkay Gundogan – BVB Dortmund to Man City
+ Leroy Sane – FC Schalke to Man City
+ Nolito – Celta Vigo to Man City
+ Michy Batshuayi – Marseille to Chelsea
+ Steve Mandanda – Marseille to Crystal Palace
+ Granit Xhaka – Borussia M’bach to Arsenal
+ Alvaro Negredo – Valencia to Middlesbrough
– Tim Howard – Everton to Colorado Rapids
– Martin Skrtel – Liverpool to Fenerbache
– Graziano Pelle – Southampton to China
All eyes are on Old Trafford this season as manager Jose Mourinho looks to lead United back to Championship glory just a year after his own sacking at the hands of Chelsea. The “Special One” will have a fully loaded artillery at his disposal and in my opinion they are the hands down favorites to win the league. From an offensive stand point there should be no one that can compete with the goals that United will bring. Last year United scored only 49 goals and that number should explode closer to 70+ (Man City lead the league with 71 last season). New arrival Zlatan Ibrahimovic is a goal scoring machine and has been across Europe. Ibra scored 50 goals in 51 games last season for Paris St. Germain. They also have last year’s break out scorer in Anthony Martial (11 EPL goals) and oh yeah this guy named Wayne Rooney.
In the midfield imagine a combination of Paul Pogba in the middle, Henrikh Mkhitaryan on the right and a slew of players who we’re awaiting to see if they make Mourinho’s cut. Chances are the midfield is where Mourinho will sell off some players, it’s already being reported that Bastian Schweinsteiger is being forced to train with the reserve squad. I don’t think that’s what he had in mind when he agreed to come over from Bayern Munich last year. Pogba will be the focal point, he’s going to be the main attraction in the midfield and for a record breaking transfer fee he has a ton of hype to live up to. Mkhitaryan to me is the most valuable piece given his assisting ability in recent years, his service to Ibrahimovic in the middle could be a thing of beauty to enjoy.
Where I question United is in their defense, it was their problem last year and based on what limited games I’ve seen this pre-season it’s still a big question mark. They signed youngster Eric Bailly from Villarreal who is a high upside center back and they are rumored to be searching for an additional defender as well. Currently a rotation of Marcus Rojo, Phil Jones, Chris Smalling and Luke Shaw doesn’t do it for me. De Gea is solid in net but I’d be a little worried about the reliability of the back four.
I’m still picking United to win the title despite their shaky defense because I think United will buy whoever it needs to either before September or during the winter window to get back to glory. With additions of Ibrahimovic and Pogba there is just too much talent not win compete. I think Mourinho is as determined as he’s ever been and I think he’ll be lifting the EPL trophy laced in United red when the season draws to an end.
It’s hard for a team who has won the EPL title twice since 2012 and a roster full of world class caliber talent to fly under the radar but that’s what looks like is happening with Manchester City. Other than ex-Bayern Munich and ex-FC Barcelona boss Pep Guardiola’s somewhat controversial arrival at the dismissal of Manuel Pelligrini when have we really talked about City this summer? They haven’t lost a single player and have only added to their depth with midfielder Iklay Gundogan from BVB Dortmund, Leroy Sane from Schalke and Nolito from Celta Viga. Last I checked they still have the top goal scorer in the league in Sergio Aguero who has averaged 25 league goals per season each of the last two.
Look at City’s roster they are absolutely loaded: Kevin De Bruyne, David Silva, Yaya Toure, Nicolas Otamendi and break out star Kelechi Iheanacho who every time he touches the ball he scores a goal. I don’t think City is being over looked from a lack of talent but a lack of motivation and injury prone key players. In recent seasons Vincent Kompany has not been able to stay healthy which has been a huge blow for City’s defense. It makes all the sense in the world that City are pushing Everton harder and harder to get a deal done for John Stones. From a motivational stand point there are games where you just question where some of their players’ heads are. Last year City was a dominant 12-5-2 (WDL) at the Etihad Stadium but a mediocre 7-7-5 on the road. Championship teams don’t drop that many points on the road hence their 4th place finish.
I’m very optimistic that Pep Guardiola’s style of play will translate to the Premier League. He had tremendous success at Barcelona and at Bayern Munich, there’s no reason to think his system won’t work at Manchester City. I think it will take one more year of him assessing talent and getting the right players in place before winning the title. I don’t think this is their year but I truly believe next year can be theirs given the right off season moves. I’m picking City to finish second and the first Manchester derby between Mo and Pep will be epic.
The 2014 season was a dream come true, Chelsea dominated from wire to wire and cruised to a championship. The 2015 season was an abject failure a nightmare of epic proportions. Loss after loss after loss mounted and eventually the results were so negative that Chelsea had to fire Jose Mourinho. The Championship hangover lasted all season long; from 1st to 10th place in the matter of one calendar year. From 87 points to 50 points, one of the most disappointing title defenses in the history of England. But all that is behind us, the slate is wiped clean and it’s up to Antonio Conte to turn things around.
On the bright side we have the same roster that won the 2014 title, on the down side we have the same roster who wet the bed last season. I’m not really sure which way this team will go. The talent is obviously there, we’ve seen what they can do but we’ve also seen what they can’t do.
♦ Diego Costa when fit and focused can score goals with the best of them (20 in 2014) but when he’s on tilt and more focused on yelling at referees and getting into scuffles with opposing defenders he’s a red card liability waiting to explode. There’s been recent rumors that Costa would welcome a return to Atletico Madrid but with no back up options for Chelsea available and Atletico Madrid just signing Kevin Gameiro I think those chances are dead.
♦ Cesc Fabregas went from leading the EPL in assists in 2014 with 18 to fading into the background of mediocrity with just 7 last season. We need back the good version of Cesc.
♦ Eden Hazard scored 14 goals in their championship season while winning the Premier League Player of the Year award. Last year Hazard only scored four times and was frequently left out of the Starting XI by Jose Mourinho. His first goal came in April think about that…
The list goes on and on of players that fell off last season (Oscar, Pedro, Cahill, Ivanovic) but there was one who really stepped up and shined above the rest. Willian was the lone bright spot in a season of darkness for Chelsea. The Brazlian winger contributed 5 league goals (5 UCL) and while that doesn’t seem like much his goals were spectacular. He was a free kick specialist who went on a tear during the beginning of the year scoring from free kicks in three straight EPL games. He just signed a big four year extension with the club and deservedly so. With Hazard attacking on the left and Willian attacking on the right that’s a pretty dynamic play making duo.
In terms of new additions the club has signed a back-up striker in Michy Batshuayi and a tenacious midfielder in N’golo Kante from champions Leicester City. I like both signings I think Kante will and should start in the midfield replacing Nemanja Matic who looked lost all season. Batshuayi is nice insurance for if Costa gets hurt or suspended and he’ll be 100x more likely to contribute than the combination of Falcao and Remy. I would like to see one or two more signings from Chelsea particularly on the defensive end. If they can manage to snag Kalidou Koulibaly (Napoli) or Leonardo Bonucci (Juventus) that would be wonderful.
There’s still a ton of questions left unanswered:
- Can Chelsea afford to start this season with Terry & Cahill as their two prime center backs?
- Is Kurt Zouma going to be healthy?
- Why is Branislav Ivanovic still given the right fullback starting job?
- Will Chelsea keep Juan Cuadrado or send him back on loan?
- Where is Ruben Loftus Cheek going to play this season?
- Why is Loic Remy still on the roster?
- Can Thibaut Courtois stay healthy? Begovic is a plus plus back up but Courtois was a difference maker in 2014.
- Is Diego Costa’s hamstring healthy? Will he score more goals than get yellow cards?
Based on my fan affiliation with Chelsea and they fact that this roster has proven to be title contending quality I’m going to pick Chelsea to finish 3rd. I definitely think they can get back to Champions League qualifications and quite frankly they have to, it’s Antonio Conte’s number one objective. I think their range is somewhere between #3 and #6 given this current roster in place.
Should someone tell Arsenal they are allowed to buy players in the transfer window? I wonder if they think they’re on some sort of FFP regulation that prohibits them from spending money and signing players to help them win their first title since 2004. It’s impossible to really tell how “hard” Arsenal is trying to acquire players because there are always rumors but never any action. They struck out on Jamie Vardy, they struck out on Gonzalo Higuain for what feels like the third straight year, they appeared to never have a chance with Riyad Mahrez and now the talks of acquiring Mauro Icardi seemed to have silenced as well. So another transfer window nearly gone and another wasted chance for Arsenal to grab a striker they so desperately need.
Their primary striker is Olivier Giroud who is more criticized than he probably should be for someone who scores 16 goals a season. It’s not great production but it’s not terrible production either. I think the biggest knock on Giroud are the amount of missed chances he fails to convert. He’s not the most accurate of goal scorers, he needs a volume of attempts. Really last season the goals were scored by two players: Giroud (16) and Alexis Sanchez (13). Sanchez is a staple on their attacking line and aside from Mesut Ozil and maybe Petr Cech he’s the team’s most valuable player but where is Option #2? Who is the goal scoring threat if someone picks up an injury?
It’s not Theo Walcott he’s proven he cannot be consistently relied upon. In each of the last three seasons he’s scored five goals in each campaign. His lone break out year was in 2012-2013 when he scored a career high 14 goals but Arsenal finished 4th. If you’re thinking that option is going to be Danny Welbeck then you’re holding out hope on someone who you think has more potential than his actual production. Welbeck has not scored more than 10 goals in an EPL season in his career, he had 9 twice with United, but only 8 so far in two injury shortened seasons at Arsenal. It could be 24 year old Joel Campbell who looks to be on the up and up but he’s got a ways to go.
Every year for Arsenal it’s about where are the goals going to come from and what have you done to improve and bolster your defense? So far neither have been addressed. Arsenal are in deep trouble right now with their two primary center backs stuck in the training room. Laurent Koscielny is a fine defender and he’s a lock to start when healthy but right now is still nursing his wounds from the 2016 Euros competition. Per Mertesacker is going to be on the shelf for “a few months” and quite frankly his lack of speed is a liability in a league that is acquiring more and more youthful players with exceptional speed. The only major move Arsenal has made this summer is acquiring yet another midfielder in Granit Xhaka, while I think he’s a good player he doesn’t fill an emergency void.
Arsenal seems to always be there in the end and I’m going to pick them to finish 4th ahead of Tottenham even though I might regret it. The Gunners needs to sack up and open their wallets to acquire a striker like Alexandre Lacazette who their initial bid was rejected by Lyon and a lock down defender. Spend the money, you have it, if you don’t then do us a favor and spare us the commentary that you should be competing with United and City.
Last season Tottenham played above their waterline finishing 3rd and earning the right to play in the Champions League this season. You can also look at last season as a disappointment given how close they were to an EPL crown. I think we all remember Leicester City’s reaction when Chelsea erased a two goal lead against Tottenham giving the Foxes their unthinkable title clinching points. The Spurs ended last year on a two game losing streak dropping behind local rival Arsenal in the standings.
The Spurs are rolling into this year with the exact same team as last season (Lloris, Vertonghen, Alderweireld, Eriksen) aside from the addition of defensive midfielder Victor Wanyama from Southampton. Other than his signing not one change to the line-up and if the Spurs can get similar production from Harry Kane that might be enough. Kane actually was the league leader in goals last season with 25 improving on his 21 from the season prior. In March he earned Player of the Month scoring five goals in four games. Kane is only 23 years old and should be the successor to the England International throne.
On a separate note, this will be the last season in which Tottenham plays at White Hart Lane. This year White Hart Lane will feature all the domestic matches for Totty but their Champions League affairs will be played at Wembley Stadium. The new stadium under the “Northumberland Development Project” will feature a 61,000 seat venue and it plans to open in 2018. For context White Hart Lane only holds 30,000 but has a very intimate and intense fan experience. It will be a shame to see the stadium go.
Even for Cinderella the clock struck midnight and everything turned back to the way it was. Nothing will ever change or undo what Leicester City was able to accomplish last season. It was captivating to the point where every day Americans knew about their underdog story and were rooting for them. SportsCenter lead their coverage with Leicester City, the ESPN resident business dufus Darren Rovell traveled to Leicester ‘Periscoping’ his way through the streets like an awkward country bumpkin in midtown Manhattan. But all of that was last season and I can’t see any way in which Leicester City duplicates their success. I know I’m selling them short and I could read these words a few months from know and think man was I stupid but it’s just what I see.
I can’t see Jamie Vardy (24 goals) or Riyad Mahrez (17 goals) duplicating their efforts from last season. Maybe Mahrez does, who seems to be more of a dual threat talent as opposed to Vardy who is a primary striker. But take nothing away from Vardy he found the net at a record pace last season. He broke the EPL mark for scoring a goal in 11 consecutive games breaking the record held by Ruud Van Nistelrooy. Leicester City lose a midfield presence in N’Golo Kante to Chelsea and have not signed anyone new to the squad. Even if Leicester City remains the same, as good as they were last season, I don’t see them at the top. I hope they continue their success and battle for the crown again as they are now 6,000 to 1 odds to win the title where as last season they were 5,000 to 1.
25 – Harry Kane, Tottenham
24 – Sergio Aguero, Man City
24 – Jamie Vardy, Leicester City
18 – Romelu Lukaku, Everton
17 – Riyad Mahrez, Leicester City
16 – Olivier Giroud, Arsenal
15 – Jermain Defoe, Sunderland
15 – Odio Ighalo, Watford
19 – Mesut Ozil, Arsenal
13 – Christian Eriksen, Tottenham
12 – Dusan Tadic, Southampton
12 – Dimitri Payet, West Ham
11 – David Silva, Man City
11 – Riyad Mahrez, Leicester City
11 – James Milner, Liverpool
GK – David De Gea, Man United
D – Cesar Azpilicueta, Chelsea
D – Toby Alderweireld, Tottenham
D – Nicolas Otamendi, Man City
D – Laurent Koscielny, Arsenal
M – Dimitri Payet, West Ham
M – Mesut Ozil, Arsenal
M – Riyad Mahrez, Leicester City
F – Sergio Aguero, Man City
F – Zlatan Ibrahimovic, Man United
F – Jamie Vardy, Leicester City
GK – Petr Cech, Arsenal
D – Jan Vertonghen, Tottenham
D – Wes Morgan, Leicester City
D – Chris Smalling, Man United
D – John Terry, Chelsea
M – Kevin De Bruyne, Man City
M – Paul Pogba, Man United
M – Eden Hazard, Chelsea
F – Alexis Sanchez, Arsenal
F – Harry Kane, Tottenham
F – Romelu Lukaku, Everton