WE are just days away from another Premier League season kicking off. A Manchester Derby atop the table, Arsenal’s redemption tour, the middle of the pack trying to climb the standings and the newly promoted squads hoping their stay in England’s top comp isn’t brief are a handful of stories that dictate the conversations on the eve of season 2017/18. A full club-by-club analysis and the table prediction await.
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Talking Point – EVEN though they won more games than in the previous two seasons, Arsenal missed out of the top four a year ago for the first time in over two decades. Arsene Wenger survived the axe, but the club might not be so forgiving if they fail to return to their rightful place amongst Champions League action. The signing of Alexandre Lacazette from Lyon should equate to instant goals, but they need their quality midfielders to produce at the level they are capable of.
Who To Watch: Alexis Sanchez – SUCCESS this season for Arsenal hinges on the future of midfielder Alexis Sanchez. After 103 games (and 53 goals) in three seasons for the Gunners, his presence in the midfield will be crucial for their top four chances. Sanchez has been linked to a number of clubs this offseason and without him, it’s unlikely that they challenge for the title.
Bottom Line – WITH very little turnover from a season ago, Wenger’s men will be looking to rebound from a disappointing campaign in 2016-17. Given the growth of other title threats and Arsenal’s lack of signings though I think they’ll remain outside the top four. Alexis Sanchez’s future could very well dictate this team’s level of success.
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Talking Point – 67 goals were the most conceded by a top ten team last season, with Bournemouth giving up 16 more than any other team ranked first through tenth. In fact, they allowed their opponents to score the fifth most goals in England’s top league, yet they managed to score more goals than Manchester United (55-54). Their high-risk/high-reward style of play saw them finish ninth last year, but they will need to shore up their defensive play to guarantee another single digit placing.
Who To Watch: Joshua King – THEIR top scoring forward from a season ago, King put away 16 goals good to finish inside the top ten scorers in the Prem. It’s worth mentioning though that over his other 123 career games, he only managed to score 12 goals in total. Has King turned the corner? Or will he fall back to his underwhelming output in 2017-18?
Bottom Line – A season ago the Cherries caused plenty of headaches against top flight teams which equated to their highest ever finish in English football competition. It will be a tough task to replicate, but Bournemouth has shown they belong in the Premier League. With a handful of solid transfers in, they should hang around mid table.
Brighton & Hove Albion
Talking Point – MAKING a maiden appearance in the Premier League, Brighton opted to back in their players who earned the promotion instead of signing top class replacements across the board. While it makes for a difficult upcoming campaign it could bode well for the future of the club. A difficult run home could spell doom for the Seagulls, but they could set themselves up to avoid relegation with a strong start to the 2018 year.
Who To Watch: Matthew Ryan – AFTER serving as Valencia’s back-up for a few seasons, Australian international Matthew Ryan is now coming to test his talents against some of the best strikers in the world at Brighton. The goal keeper will certainly have his work cut out for him in the Premier League, but if he can manage to tread water and hold his own, he could help Brighton hold their heads high in 2017-18.
Bottom Line – THERE is no denying that this year is going to be tough for Brighton & Hove Albion. Especially considering they haven’t splashed out and signed other big names or flashy players to help keep them in the top flight competition. A trip back down to the Championship seems inevitable, but it’s all part of the big picture plan.
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Talking Point – MAINTAINING their place in the Premier League is an annual mission at Burnley and this season is no different. If they are to do that though they must find a way to win away from Turf Moor. A season ago they claimed a measly seven points in away games, a trend that can’t continue if they are to avoid relegation for the second straight season.
Who To Watch: Andre Gray – NO certainty to remain in a Burnley kit, Gray was the second top scorer for this team a season ago. His nine goals in 32 games would be hard to replace and replicate this late into the transfer window and a similar output might not even guarantee success for the club. Long story short, if Gray walks Burnley book their place down a grade.
Bottom Line – THE sky looks bleak for Burnley this year. Many expected them to fall last season and they defied the odds to return to the Premier League for their first consecutive experiences since the 70’s. The loss ofMichael Keane will be a glaring one, you’ll see.
Talking Point – NO one has defended their title since Manchester United almost 10 years ago. It is a daunting and tough task to see the Blue Devils replicating the heroics of the Manchester rivals considering they chalked up a club record 30 wins a season ago and they will also have to deal with European competition this year too. They still have talent on paper to potentially pull off the feat, but it is a huge ask.
Who To Watch: Alvaro Morata – CHELSEA are taking a huge gamble by bringing in Morata from Real Marid. There’s no denying the talent of the youngster, who scored 15 times last season in La Liga competition, but you can only play one of him or Diego Costa at a time. At the time of writing, Costa is still contracted to the club, despite Conte’s eagerness to deal him. Even then are we sure that it is the right decision to choose Morata ahead of Costa? Watch this space.
Bottom Line – THE added expectation that European competition provides will be the main reason Chelsea fails to repeat as title holders. I just can’t see them showing enough relentlessness and drive to successfully compete in both and dethrone the top two teams with more depth.
Talking Point – WITH risk comes reward and bringing a new manager to the helm Crystal Palace’s season could go one of two ways. The appointment of Frank de Boer could prove to be a masterstroke or backfire miserably and their away form will be interesting to monitor and should dictate their level of success in 2017.
Who To Watch: Jairo Riedewald – THE pressure will always be on the first signing a manager makes, but his first investment is one he is quite familiar with. Riedewald will have big shoes to fill after the stellar season from Mamadou Sakho a year ago in his first professional England season.
Bottom Line – SINCE ping ponging in and out of the top level of English football, Crystal Palace has shown they belong over the last four seasons. There is no doubt that they will take time to adjust to their new style of play, as well as it will take time for de Boer to adjust to English football. Both of these facts translate to them surviving relegation.
Talking Point – ONCE again Everton finished in no man’s land fitting in between the best of the league and the ones that can’t legitimately challenge for the title. While the name of Wayne Rooney coming in sounds big their other signings are just as important. With the new influx of talent the Toffees have a real chance to climb, can they grab it with both hands?
Who To Watch: Jordan Pickford – IF you want to be successful in the Premier League you need a good goalie and at the price of £30m ($49.45 AUD), Everton now own just that. Of course, if he doesn’t live up to expectation the hefty transfer fee can basically be flushed down the toilet.
Bottom Line – I’M of the firm belief that Romelu Lukaku’s exit will be detrimental for Everton this season. The star forward found the back of the net 25 times last season. Rooney’s last 25 goals have taken him three seasons to accumulate. He could (and probably should) hit double figures again this season, but it won’t enough to keep the Toffees from finishing in a familiar spot.
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Talking Point – TO celebrate making the top division Huddersfield went out and threw money at every man, woman and dog to prepare themselves for the trying challenge ahead. And make no mistakes it will be trying, but there is a glimmer of hope that they can finish in the coveted 17th spot.
Who To Watch: Tom Ince – AN active window means that there are plenty of fresh faces who could dominate or detonate for Huddersfield. Tom Ince has some Premier League experience under his belt, but barely enough to make a point of it. The pressure will be on to prove he can be a viable attacking option in a grade up.
Bottom Line – SOMEONE has to finish last and unfortunately that someone will be Wagner’s men. After earning a promotion via the playoffs and finishing 5th in the Championship last year, avoiding relegation doesn’t look like a realistic outcome for the Terriers. Enjoy it while it lasts fans.
Talking Point – THE great unknown. What will we get from Leister in 2017-18? Yo-yo seasons comprised of a 14th, 1st and 12th place finish leave us scratching our heads as to how the Foxes will fair.
Who To Watch: Kelechi Iheanacho – HIS days as a super sub for Man City are over, but Kelechi Iheanacho will still be required to find the scoresheet for the Foxes. It will be imperative that he learns to coexist alongside Jamie Vardy, and if he can it could see Leicester push their way up the ranks.
Bottom Line – LEICESTER wasn’t as bad as their 12th place finish suggested last season, with 8th place a measly two points out of reach. A more settled and prepared squad this time around, with some decent talent and names still on the park, should lead to a finish smack bang in the middle of the standings.
Talking Point – SWINGING for top talent in the transfer window half paid off and half failed this offseason. Liverpool landed the likes of Andrew Robertson and Mohamed Salah which are great gets but they failed to sign Naby Keita or Virgil van Dijk. Add one of those two and that could seem them finish in the top four.
Who To Watch: Philippe Coutinho – ALL signs point to the Brazilian filling in Neymar’s shoes at Barcelona with Camp Nou now loaded with funds necessary to pry him away from Liverpool. If he remains with the Reds though the chances are Coutinho will star in the midfield providing some highlights from outside the box along the way.
Bottom Line – I just can’t talk myself into Liverpool upseeding two Arsenal, Man City, Manu, Chelsea and Tottenham to claim a spot in the top bracket of the competition. Their depth raises some question marks as well and they find themselves slide into sixth.
Talking Point – INABILITY to keep a clean sheet was an early sign of the struggles that would plague Manchester City in both local and international competition last year. Even though they added 12 points to their tally it was seen as somewhat of a down year by Pep Guardiola, but there is no reason why they won’t be in line for their first league crown since 2013-14 with new signees and a hunger to redeem themselves.
Who To Watch: John Stones – SEASON No. 1 for Stones at City didn’t go well and as a result, he was met with a slew of criticism. After he himself mentioned that his 2016-17 was below his standards, him bouncing back to form could equate to a league title.
Bottom Line – ARMED with the players at his disposal that suit his style of management the title is well and truly up for grabs for City. It’s incredibly tough to split them and United, but I have them a smidge off the pace of the Red Devils. Splashing money on defenders addresses their biggest issue, but Vincent Kompany’s fitness issues and a slow start as the first XI gels means they settle for second.
Talking Point – TOO many draws to inferior competition and a lack of goals led to a fourth consecutive year of a finish no higher than fourth. This time around though Mourinho seems to have solved some of his issues by throwing money at a star striker and a defensive minded mid.
Who To Watch: Romelu Lukaku – MY god was he expensive, but my god is he worth it. Lukaku has a wealth of Premier League experience and has 85 goals to his name in his last five EPL campaigns. He can single handedly derail Manchester’s title hopes if he fails to fire, but then again his track record points to that being extremely unlikely.
Bottom Line – JOSE Mourinho delivers the title to United fans! Expect to see that headline doing the rounds when May rolls around. With the depth at each position, the star power necessary and the ambition to seek revenge after a bad season last time around all signs point to a high finish for Man U.
Talking Point – A season in the Championship later an Newcastle are back amongst the top flight of football competition. And while their stay is expected it’s not guaranteed by any means. They didn’t exactly destroy the lower division and will need to fire on all cylinders (especially in front of goal) to ensure they remain in the Prem.
Who To Watch: Jonjo Shelvey – WHEN a team goes down from the Premier League there are often players that look a cut above the rest. Jonjo Shelvey was one such player last year. He hasn’t showcased that same talent in the top flight though and all eyes will be closely watching the Englishmen.
Bottom Line – FOR a team still littered with Championship calibre players a middle table finish would be a success. However, I don’t have as high hopes for the Magpies, but by no means do I think they will face relegation again. Somewhere between the two is most likely.
Talking Point – WITH little transfers to be excited about from the perspective of a Saints fan a new boss will have to do. As they prepare for their fourth leader in five seasons Southampton seems poised for a slide from their eighth place finish last year, especially should their captain Virgil van Dijk exit. Regardless of his exit, they will need to trouble the scoreboard more than the 41 teams they did last year.
Who To Watch: Sofiane Boufal – IF they are going to find more goals attacking midfielder Boufal will be one to help. The record signing reeled off some highlight finishes, but they were too few and far between. Goals are the ultimate barometer and so far Boufal doesn’t have enough on his resume to hold his head high for Southampton.
Bottom Line – OWNERSHIP will be hoping the change of personnel atop the food chain equals a more unified and tight knit group. A dismal finish to last season was partially attributed to the loss of faith in their manager and if Mauricio Pellegrino can get his players to buy then they shouldn’t decline too far.
Talking Point – THE definition of consistency Stoke City have finished between 9th and 14th for the past nine seasons. So if something is broken don’t bother fixing it. Well, it may be a stretch to say they aren’t broken and with the loss of their best player Arnautovic, they are on notice.
Who To Watch: Bojan Krkic – FAILING to live up to the hype surrounding him in his days at Barcelona, Bojan Krkic needs to have a big season. 14 goals in 52 games is an ok return, but Stoke needs more out of the Spaniard. To get that ‘more’ out of him they need to play him consistently and prominently up front.
Bottom Line – 13 is considered an unlucky number by many unless you’re a Stoke fan. That spot may as well be put on layby for the Potters. There is a chance they find themselves in relegation zone if they aren’t careful, but I think there are plenty of teams worse.
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Talking Point – PAUL Clement saved Swansea from relegation a season ago, reeling off an impressive nine wins over his last 19 games to keep them afloat in the Premier League. Their big name players are linked to moves away from the club, which is hardly ideal on the eve of kickoff and they may have to fight tooth and nail to avoid a Championship visit in 2018-19.
Who To Watch: Fernando Llorente – THERE’S no denying Llorente’s importance, especially should the wizardly Gylfi Sigurdsson exit. Turning in 15 goals in his first 33 games in England Llorente will once again be the focal point of their attack.
Bottom Line – REPLACING Sigurdsson, should he walk, would be a daunting task that equates to Swansea trying to avoid near certain relegation. Clement could work wonders and keep them afloat in the Prem and I’m tipping they narrowly avoid dropping off a cliff.
Talking Point – WINNING the transfer window is a real thing and that means that losing the transfer window is too. Therefore, with a lack of activity (like literally no additions) from a team who was oh so close to claiming an elusive title not so long ago, Tottenham have officially lost the transfer window.
Who To Watch: Erik Lamela – INJURIES and a change in formation sometimes left Lamela redundant on a lot of occasions. After a slow start to his Spurs career and with just eight goals to his name through four seasons he needs to pick up his game.
Bottom Line – AFTER bashing the Spurs earlier in the piece let me give them praise for retaining the likes of Harry Kane and Dele Alli. Keeping those key pieces and the rest of their Eriksen, Dembele, Vertonghen and Alderweireld and they stay healthy then they should finish in the top four.
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Talking Point – A side that had too many ‘off’ days a season ago will be whipped into shape by the likes of Marco Silva whipping Watford into shape. A decline in their performance after three seasons of trending upwards means they are teetering on the verge of relegation.
Who To Watch: Nathaniel Chalobah – BOUNCING around with a handful of different teams on loan, Chalobah is ready to lay claim to a regular spot in a Premier League squad. He could very well flounder and find himself loaned out again, or establish himself as a stalwart defensive minded mid.
Bottom Line – SURVING in the bottom third of the league isn’t ideal, but it’s still better than being relegated. A 17th place finish last year is just scraping through and I think that the Watford boys will be ending up around the same place.
West Bromwich Albion
Talking Point – NO matter what team you are claiming one point from your final eight matches is downright awful. West Brom looked the goods for the first portion of the season, sitting eighth for a lengthy amount of time, but they can’t start the season the same way they finished if their manager is to survive.
Who To Watch: James McClean – HAVING starred while in an Irish kit McClean hasn’t transferred that success over to his English endeavours yet. Way down the depth chart last season, a spike in performance could see him gain regular reps and more importantly more success for Watford.
Bottom Line – NO inspiration from their offseason splurges, the Baggies once again are aiming to retain a Premier League spot. A lack of spending could mean that they find themselves in a similar position as last season, a good start only to fall off in the back end of their campaign.
Talking Point – THE Hammers are showing progression as a club, moving up the table and bringing in names that fans are familiar with. There are still question marks and issues that wills top them from contending, but at the same time they are trending in the right direction.
Who To Watch: Javier Hernandez – STRIKERS haven’t exactly flourished for West Ham in recent times, but Hernandez could definitely be the solution to their issues. After a successful stint with Manchester United and then in Germany with Bayer Leverkusen, he should give them the option they were severely lacking.
Bottom Line – I like the looks of West Ham this season as they continue to progress as a club. With their attack shored up and Joe Hart donning the gloves for the upcoming season, the Hammers could really take another step in 2017-18.
Predicted Premier League Table
- Manchester City
- Manchester United
- West Ham
- Leicester City
- West Brom
- Stoke City
- Crystal Palace
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