After a summer of international tournaments immediately after last season, closely followed by pre-season, you’d think I’d be somewhat burned out; but on the contrary, I can’t wait for the Premier League season to get started.
I’m not really the biggest fan of pre-season and people getting over excited at matches that are mostly about building fitness and integrating new players. No matter how friendlies are dressed up as, be it International Cup, Community Shield, Emirates Cup or whatever, there’s nothing like the opening weekend of the Premier League season and the return of competitive games to get the juices flowing.
So, despite there being constant football on offer since the end of last season, I am eagerly anticipating the start of this campaign as it could potentially be the most competitive in years. Although the fairy-tale story of Leicester winning the Premier League was a fantastic one, it was a year of poor quality for the Premier League. With so many big name managers in charge of the league’s top clubs and some of the players signed, this should be a much improved Premier League with intriguing battles at both ends of the table.
With many changes in the league and many new star players it’s quite difficult to call who could with the league this year. Using 888sport you can get odds on the outright winner with Manchester City at 9/4, Manchester United at 13/4, Chelsea at 6/1 and Arsenal fourth favourites at 13/2
Pep Guardiola has really begun to turn over what was an ageing squad at Manchester City, bringing in the exciting German starlet Leroy Sane, as well as his compatriot Ilkay Gündogan, along with promising South American talent in the shape of Marlos Moreno and Gabriel Jesus to add to the more established Spain forward Nolito and most recently, defender John Stones from Everton. City will invariably start the season as favourites, but will be pushed all the way by Chelsea.
Their new manager Antonio Conte. He has shown how good he is at setting teams up and with an established squad at Stamford Bridge, will likely make them defensively strong again, although they look a little light in numbers in that department if injuries strike. The addition of N’Golo Kante and Michy Batshuayi certainly helps them in areas that were lacking enough depth in quality last year.
I do feel champions Leicester will have a tough campaign as defending a title can be very different to winning it, just ask Blackburn Rovers about that one. The loss of Kante and balancing Champions League football could be difficult for them.
Jose Mourinho has made an impact on the Manchester United squad since his arrival, the world record £89m, that could rise to £93m, has naturally grabbed all the headlines, as did the signing of Zlatan Ibrahimović. However, it could be the €42m (approx. £35.9m) purchase of Henrikh Mkhitaryan from Borussia Dortmund that could be the most influential, should he be used correctly. Winning the title may be a bridge too far this season, but top four should be assured and the same could be said of Arsenal, despite making a very good signing in Granit Xhaka. The Gunners still look short of a centre-back and striker, but I feel will have enough to hold off a strong looking Tottenham Hotspur and an improving Liverpool under Jürgen Klopp.
West Ham will likely lead the rest of the pack, as they impressed under Slaven Bilic’s first year as manager. The loss of Ronald Koeman could hurt Southampton, though they are unlikely to be in any trouble. Koeman’s new club Everton will probably be much stronger defensively under the Dutchman, but the squad lacks enough depth to challenge for Europe. Stoke appear to be in a similar area, they have some good players and a good manager, but not quite good enough to challenge, although being an established strong mid-table team is something so many clubs below them dream of and Stoke are always capable of causing an upset.
Swansea’s signing of Fernando Llorente is an interesting one and although they probably need to improve their squad further, they should be fine. It’s a similar story for Crystal Palace and their poor second half of last season should be a warning to the Eagles of a need to improve or face a potential relegation scrap. The same can be said of West Brom, a team in need of more goals if they are to avoid a season of draws and narrow defeats. Watford were impressive returning to the top flight last season, but inexplicably sacked manager Quique Sanchez Flores. They managed to hold onto strike duo Odeon Ighalo and Troy Deeney, but will need a good start to the campaign. Bournemouth also impressed after their promotion to the Premier League and manager Eddie Howe has made some good signings this summer that should see the Cherries safe for another season.
Sunderland survived last season by the skin of their teeth and have since lost members of their squad and manager Sam Allardyce to England; the appointment of David Moyes should be a good one, but he needs to sign some players quickly if the Mackems are not to be flirting with relegation again. Newly promoted Middlesbrough have made plenty of signings, with Victor Valdes, Marten De Roon, Viktor Fischer and Alvaro Negredo improving them in necessary areas and the Boro should be able to establish themselves. That certainly does not apply to Hull, who are a club in a mess; a paper thin squad and a manager resigned, their fate looks inevitable before a ball has even been kicked. Burnley, who came up as champions, will find it hard and could go straight back down, but manager Sean Dyche is a tough character and will make his team an equally tough prospect, so we could again see one or two established Premier League clubs lose that treasured status this campaign.
So, whether it be the big boys fighting over the title and scrapping for European places or clubs battling for their very Premier League existence, this promises to be one of the most competitive and exciting yet and Saturday cannot come soon enough.