- As ever, the Premier League feels as though is has clear stratifications this season. On the eve of the season, here's our prediction of how the league table will look next May.
As ever, the Premier League feels as though is has clear stratifications this season. There is an obvious top six, which is probably divided into a top one, a next two and a next three, then a small clutch if teams with Europa League aspirations hoping Arsenal may slip-up and allow one of them to sneak sixth, and then the rest, for all of who simply avoiding relegation would be a reasonable achievement, scaling down to the small handful of clubs for whom anything other than relegation would be a major achievement. On the eve of the season, here's our prediction of how the league table will look next May.
1. MANCHESTER CITY
It’s been a long time since an English season has begun with such an overwhelming favorite. City won the league by 19 points last season and having given a masterclass in squad-building—yes, a lot of money has been spent over the past year, but it appears to have been extraordinarily well-directed—it’s hard to see that being closed, certainly not by enough for there to be a real challenge. Pep Guardiola once again enters a season with a sense that it probably doesn’t really begin until March and the latter stage of the Champions League.
A new goalkeeper, two new midfielders and a new forward: Liverpool has spent big this summer and it has seemingly spent wisely. There’s a reason why Jose Mourinho has spent most of the summer when he has not been moaning about his board and a lack of transfers prodding at Liverpool; he seems to see the real battle as being for second place. His jibe that Liverpool has to win a trophy now is unfair—for City still has far greater resources—but there is some substance to it. This is a seriously impressive Liverpool squad.
3. MANCHESTER UNITED
Already the klaxon is blaring. This is Mourinho’s third season at United, and everybody knows what happens to Mourinho in his third season at a club, once his abrasiveness has eroded whatever goodwill he has built up. Already this feels like his final season at Chelsea redux, with poor results on a grumpy pre-season tour and moans about a lack of signings. In that regard, at least, he has a point: for United to land only the midfielder Fred is astonishing.
4. TOTTENHAM HOTSPUR
With a new stadium to move into and another Champions League campaign to look forward to, the mood at Spurs should be positive, but there is general bewilderment at the complete lack of signings. There is need of proper back up for Harry Kane, and also at full-back, and a serious danger that what should be an exciting season of new possibilities becomes something of an anti-climax.
Maurizio Sarri produced an excellent team on a relatively limited budget at Napoli, but the fear must be he is not given a chance at Chelsea. His football is far more idealistic than Antonio Conte’s and his attempt to shift from a back three to his favoured 4-3-3 would take time even if he were not having to deal with the shortest close season in half a century, players returning late after the World Cup and the desire of major stars to leave. Mateo Kovacic's temporary move to Stamford Bridge helps solidify the midfield while the well-respected, talented Kepa Arrizabalaga arrives with a record price tag, ready to fill the void left by Thibaut Courtois.
A new era begins at Arsenal and, as it does, there will be a new focus shone upon the club and its workings, free from the distraction of Arsene Wenger. Unai Emery has a fine record of working with upper second echelon clubs, but Arsenal aspire to more than that. The summer signings have been quietly sensible rather than eye-catching, and the arrival of Lucas Torreira may solve the perennial problem at the back of midfield.
Champions League Bound?
The team that seems destined always to finish seventh somehow failed last season, but even after a difficult season that saw Ronald Koeman sacked, David Unsworth’s awkward caretaker spell and Sam Allardyce’s unpopular reign it finished eighth. The arrival of Mauro Silva, who is still relatively untested in the Premier League despite his reputation, may offer much-needed stability, while Richarlison, Bernard, Lucas Digne, Yerry Mina and Andre Gomes on loan from Barcelona are intriguing arrivals.
Europa League Bound?
8. WEST HAM UNITED
Nobody ever got rich being optimistic about West Ham, but this summer does seem to have dragged the club in the right direction. Manuel Pellegrini is just the sort of dignified, silent figure to detoxify the atmosphere, and the summer business has been positive. Jack Wilshere and Andriy Yarmolenko may be classic West Ham signings, in being brought about four years after they last looked really promising, but landing Felipe Anderson is a serious coup. An unpopular new stadium and widespread fan dissatisfaction, though, lurk, ready to step forward again if results are poor.
9. LEICESTER CITY
The moment Leicester fans must both have dreaded and known was always likely at some stage has come with Riyad Mahrez departing, and just because Rachid Ghezzal is also an incisive Algerian winger does not mean he will necessarily be a replacement. Claude Puel is under pressure after an underwhelming end to last season, but this is still a well-balanced squad with a huge asset at either end of the pitch: Jamie Vardy scoring goals and Kasper Schmeichel keeping them out.
10. WOLVERHAMPTON WANDERERS
Usually, a promoted club making 10 signings would be seen as gamblers, throwing pieces together and hoping they stick in the hope of staying up and reaping the Premier League dividend for another season. But Wolves’ entire method is based in player throughput, aided by their close relationship with the super-agent Jorge Mendes. Joao Moutinho and Rui Patricio are the stand-out arrivals in an increasingly Lusophone squad.
It’s a mark of Eddie Howe’s achievement at Bournemouth that the south coast club’s presence in the Premier League doesn’t seem that odd any more. This will be a fourth season in the top flight and there is a growing sense that it is beginning to belong. It’s true it lost 10 of 12 games against the top six last season, but that just emphasises how well it did against the rest. The new left back, Diego Rico, joined from Leganes after Howe persuaded him to join Bournemouth rather than Borussia Dortmund, which says a lot.
Having thrillingly qualified for the Europa League last season, Burley now has to deal with the issue of actually playing in it. Sean Dyche’s method has always been rooted on a tight-knit squad playing aggressive, hard-working football, precisely the issues that can be the undoing of sides trying to compete on two fronts. A dearth of signings suggests he is not looking to change that, which may affect league form.
13. CRYSTAL PALACE
Palace began last season by failing to score in seven games, but ended up 11th, thanks to the impact of Roy Hodgson and his gift for organising teams. The good news is that Wilfried Zaha is still at the club; the bad news is that Yohan Cabaye and Ruben Loftus-Cheek have both gone. Cheikhou Kouyate should bolster the midfield, though, while Max Meyer could add creative guile.
Another summer of high turnover at Vicarage Road this summer, the most intriguing arrival perhaps Gerard Deulofeu, brought in from Barcelona after a successful loan spell last season. Javi Gracia is under a little pressure having won only four of 15 games last season, but changing managers mid-stream never seems to cause Watford too many issues.
Slavisa Jokanovic’s side played some of the most enterprising football in the Championship last season and the feeling is that it will have to make fewer adjustments in style that ether of the other promoted clubs to adapt. Jean-Michel Seri, Andre Schurrle and Alfie Mawson are a trio of exciting signings, and Fulham has managed to hold on to their extremely promising teenager Ryan Sessegnon. Late additions of Tim Fosu-Mensah (on loan from Man United) and Joe Bryan, who was arguably the best left-back in the Championship last season for Bristol City are all positive signs that this team can escape relegation.
16. NEWCASTLE UNITED
At some point, Mike Ashley will either no longer by owner of Newcastle or he will have accepted that cost-cutting and penny-pinching undermines his asset, but it is not yet, and so Newcastle follow the same weary old dance. Rafa Benitez has done an exceptional job at St James’, is loved by the fans and clearly has great affection for the club and the city, but if he is denied the resources to invest that are clearly needed, his patience may eventually wear thin.
17. BRIGHTON & HOVE ALBION
The home victory over Manchester United in the third last game of the season that secured survival for Brighton will go down in the club’s history, but it ended a run of almost two months without a win – and it’s final two fixtures were against Manchester City and Liverpool. Things could have been very different, and that perhaps explains Brighton’s decision to sign 11 players this summer. Some of those are clearly for the future and will go out on loan, but the Iran striker Alireza Jahanbakhsh could be key to easing the attacking burden on the 34-year-old Glenn Murray.
Southampton avoided relegation by the skin of its teeth last season, and the only reason to expect this season to be any different is that Mark Hughes sides tend to take time to adjust to him before finding form. Dusan Tadic has gone and Mohammed Elyounoussi and Jannik Vestergaard have arrived, but this has been a quiet summer given how disappointing the last campaign was. A loan move for Danny Ings from Liverpool could help, but is it enough?
19. HUDDERSFIELD TOWN
Staying up last season was a scarcely believable achievement for the side with the smallest budget in the Premier League, who battled hard and took advantage of the implosions at Stoke City and West Bromwich Albion and the sad decline of Swansea City under its hapless new owners. The areas that need improvement are clear: Huddersfield scored in only 17 of 38 games last season and in only six of 19 away matches. The arrival of the young wingers Ramadan Sobhi and Adama Diakhaby is at least an effort to resolve that, but this likely to be a season of struggle.
20. CARDIFF CITY
It was a miracle that Cardiff was promoted, and it will be an even bigger miracle if it stays up, even after spending a little under $40m this summer. Neil Warnock will turn 70 in December and has taken eight sides into the Premier League; he has had a rather harder job keeping them there. A relatively gentle start, though, does at least given the Bluebirds a chance to get some points on the board.