And so it begins. Another Premier League season is only a matter of hours away, and following on from one of the most entertaining campaigns in Premier League history, and a busy summer for many sides, this promises to be the best season to date. As a Liverpool fan it is obviously disappointing to see Luis Suarez leave the club and indeed the league, but his move to Barcelona has allowed Liverpool to be the busiest club in the transfer market spending over £100m this summer. But what will these signings mean for Liverpool, and more importantly, what does the season have in store for the other 19 teams.
The battle for the Premier League title
Chelsea – winners
Chelsea and Man City are the early favourites with the bookmakers and it’s easy to see why. Jose Mourinho spent most of last season complaining about his squad and claiming that Chelsea simply weren’t good enough to win the league. He turned out to be right and the one area that seemed to cause him the most trouble last year was his strikers. Despite this, only Liverpool and Man City managed to score more goals last year, while Chelsea managed to have the meanest defence conceding only 27 goals. They may have lost Frank Lampard, Ashely Cole and the eccentric David Luiz but Mourinho has made 3 of the best signings this summer. Cesc Fabregas, Diego Costa and Filipe Luis have all come in from Spain and will all be part of the Chelsea starting XI. Add to this the return of Thibaut Courtois and Chelsea are beginning to look like the real deal.
Man City – runners up
Then there is last years champions Man City. City are blessed with perhaps the best squad in the league and have strengthened in central defence this summer with the recent signing of Eliaquim Mangala from Porto. The centre of their defence was probably the weakest area of the Man City side last year and Mangala could be the final piece of the jigsaw as they look to retain their title and also finally make inroads into the later stages of the Champions League. City certainly seem to have it all; great attacking options, a solid midfield, a mean defence and England’s number one. They are in a great shape to challenge once again and I’m expecting big things from Jovetic in particular this year. Unfortunately for City fans, I can see them coming up just short as I think the Mourinho factor and the 3 big signings will just take Chelsea over the edge, with Man City finishing in second place.
The race for the Champions League spots
Liverpool – third
Liverpool were the surprise package last year coming within a Steven Gerrard slip of potentially winning the league. They may have lost their starman during the summer but I think Brendan Rodgers has signed some quality players to soften the blow. I can’t see too many of these players immediately starting for Liverpool but these signings have added real depth to the squad and a quality that was lacking last season. Liverpool were the most exciting team in the league last year and finished 12 points clear of arch rivals Everton in the race for the Champions League.
I’m not so sure it will be as straight forward for Liverpool this year as they juggle European football, but they will certainly be in the mix come May. They may have lost the goals of Luis Suarez but if they can shore up their leaky defence with the signings of Lovren and Moreno, the loss of these goals may not be quite so bad.
Arsenal – fourth
Now we take a look at last years 4th place finishers Arsenal. Despite leading the league for longer than any other side last year, the Gunners ended up in a battle for 4th place with Everton over the final stages of the league season. As it was to be, they finished only 7 points behind Man City and thoughts of what might have been, had their results against the big teams been better. Arsenal only won one game against the other sides in the top 4 and that was a 2-0 win over Liverpool.
Arsene Wenger has been busy flashing the cash over the summer with the signings of Alexis Sanchez, Mathieu Debuchy, Calum Chambers and David Ospina giving Arsenal fans optimisium that this could be their year. While Sanchez is no doubt a quality signing, I can’t help but think Arsenal are a world class centre forward and top centre half away from being genuine title contenders. Sanchez is a quality player but I don’t think he will transform this team. The key to any title challenge for Arsenal will lie in keeping their young players like Ramsey, Wilshere and Oxlade Chamberlain fit. If injuries are kind to Arsenal this year, they will certainly be up there come May.
Man Utd – fifth (unless they sign more players)
It’s been another summer of transition at Old Trafford as Man Utd continue in their battle to move on from the retirement of Sir Alex Ferguson. They have lost some experienced players this summer, and although they may not have been regular starters had they stayed on this year, the loss of Vidic, Ferdinand and Evra will surely be felt around the training ground and dressing room on match day for United. Their squad seemed to lack any real quality in midfield last year and I look back to the 3-0 defeat by Liverpool at Old Trafford as a game that highlighted this lack of quality more so than any other. I think Ander Herrera and Luke Shaw are two great signings but I’m just not so sure that they can help turn this side into title challengers.
I would be worried about Man Utd playing 3 at the back with Jones, Smalling and Evans, although I do think the appointment of Rooney as captain will inspire him to be the catalyst in everything good that United do this year. There’s no doubt they have quality going forward, and Luis Van Gaal showed us at the World Cup that he is a master of getting the most from limited players – something Sir Alex Ferguson was the best at. No European football should help Man Utd this year, but failure to qualify for the Champions League for a second season in a row would be catastrophic! With the squad as it is, I think the best Man Utd can hope for is 4th place.
If they manage to add a couple of quality players like Vidal and Hummels, then I think they could potentially challenge for the title, but I just don’t see it happening.
Everton and Spurs – 6th and 7th respectively
The other sides that I can see potentially challenging for the top 4 this season are Everton and Tottenham Hotspurs. It’s refreshing for the league to have so many sides capable of qualifying for the top 4 and both Everton and Spurs will certainly fancy their chances this season.
Everton have been pretty busy this summer with Gareth Barry and Romelu Lukaku both signing long term deals at the club after successful loan deals last year. They have added to these players in recent days with Muhamed Besic and Christian Atsu both adding strength to the squad. Everton have also managed to hold onto the much sought after Seamus Coleman, John Stones and Ross Barkley, and if they can kick on from a record points haul last year then there is no reason why Everton can’t be up there again this season.
It’s a case of another year another manager for Spurs with Mauricio Pochettino arriving from Southampton in the summer. There is no doubting the talent within the Spurs ranks and now it’s a case of these talented players showing what they are all about. I’m expecting Pochettino to get big things from Erik Lamela this year and think he has got a real coup in the signing of Ben Davis from Swansea. They may be a centre back short of real quality at the back, but if Pochettino can get his players performing to the level of his Southampton squad then there is no reason why they can’t challenge for the top 4. This is a big ask though and I think Spurs will just come up short.
Top 4 predictions
I’m going to put my head on the block here and predict Liverpool to finish 3rd and Arsenal to finish 4th. I just think both teams have something about them and they with a little bit of luck, could even find themselves in the title hunt come May. I think Man Utd will finish in 5th place next season unless they add a few more players to their ranks, especially in defence, and I predict Everton to finish 6th and Tottenham 7th.
The best of the rest
Newcastle United – eighth
Newcastle have surprisingly been one of the busiest sides in the transfer market this season and I think Alan Pardew has signed some great players. Pardew has brought in 9 players, and I’m particularly looking forward to seeing Remy Cabella and Siem De Jong in action. Newcastle can be a tough side to defeat on their day and I can see them knocking on the doors for Europa League qualification. I think they will just fall short though by finishing in 8th place, but I wouldn’t be surprised if they go all the way to Wembley in one of the cup finals.
Stoke City – ninth
Mark Hughes had an unenviable task last year in replacing Tony Pulis and he did a fantastic job last year in doing this. He has changed Stoke’s style of play a little and the signings of Bojan and Victor Moses represent a real statement of intent from Hughes. I expect Stoke to be difficult to beat again this year and expect them to finish 9th once again.
Southampton – tenth
Despite losing so many key players, I think Ronald Koeman has bought well this summer, particularly Fraser Forster, Dusan Tadic and Shane Long. Koeman certainly has a rebuilding job on his hand and I can see him investing in a couple more players, especially in defence before the end of the transfer window. Despite losing their key players, I can still see Southampton finishing in the top half of the table. They still have some great young players and this year could see James Ward-Prowse becoming the next big name to grab the headlines from the south coast team.
The Relegation Battle
If I had of been writing this a few days ago I would have had Crystal Palace as certainties to stay up, but the resignation of Tony Pulis spells disaster for Palace I’m afraid. Their dogged, organised displays under Pulis last year was a feature in helping them to stay up relatively comfortably in the end. Unfortunately I can’t see history repeating itself and think Palace will struggle to stay up, so I’m going to tip them for the drop.
Joining Crystal Palace in the relegation battle this year for me will be Leicester City, Burnley. West Brom and Aston Villa. I just don’t think Burnley have enough quality to stay in the league, and although Hull and Palace both showed last year that organisation goes a long way, they also benefited from moments of magic from key players. This is something I think Burnley lack, and I expect to see them at the foot of the table come the end of the season.
Leicester were impressive in the Championship last year and I expect them to make a good impression this year in the Premier League. Both Aston Villa and West Brom have been busy this summer but I’m not sure they have bought too well. Alan Irvine and Paul Lambert will also be the two managers under the most pressure in my opinion and this could also influence how their sides perform. If I was to stick my neck out and pick one from these three for the drop, I’d go for Leicester City, but it will be tight.
The surprise package
I really think that QPR could be a team to watch out for this year. Harry Redknapp knows what it takes to do well in this league and he has made some impressive signings over the summer, particularly in defence with Steven Caulker, Rio Ferdinand and Mauricio Isla all arriving. If they can hold onto Loic Remy this summer, I can see QPR pushing for a top half finish. Harry being Harry, I’d expect to see one or two surprise signings to land into Loftus Road before the beginning of September.
Here’s my key predictions for this season
So, a quick recap on how I see the upcoming Premier League season panning out:
League winners – Chelsea
Runners up – Man City
Top 4 – Liverpool and Arsenal
Europa League (5th place) – Man Utd
Relegated – Burnley, Crystal Palace and Leicester City
League Cup – Man Utd
FA Cup – Liverpool
Player of the Year – Eden Hazard
Young Player of the Year – Raheem Sterling
Best Signing – Cesc Fabregas
Champions League – Barcelona
How do you think the season will go?
Images courtesy of skysports.com