As the Premier League kicks off this coming Friday, it really is shaping up to be one of the most competitive in recent memory.
With the last four titles being won by seven points or more, you would have to think back to the 2013/14 season to find a more dramatic final last few days, when Manchester City pipped Liverpool to the title by an agonising two points.
So, will it be one of the usual contenders hoisting the trophy aloft next May or can someone spring a Leicester-esque surprise? Lets run through how we see the table shaping up, starting with the bottom half.
20th – Cardiff City
Being promoted following a 2nd placed Championship finish last season, there is not much reason to be optimistic for fans of the Bluebirds. With Neil Warnock at the helm, the club have retained every player from last seasons campaign, but the arrivals at the club have been less than inspiring. They have got probably the worst starting eleven on paper and, barring a miracle, will be in for a long 38 weeks.
19th – Brighton & Hove Albion
Having survived the drop last season by seven points, Brighton fans will be hoping for more of the same this season, although I wouldn’t hold your breath.
Nigerian centre-half Leon Balogun remains the only marquee summer addition, and they only stayed up last season on the merit that the teams below them were worse. Now that three of those sides have been relegated, and two of the three promoted sides look a lot stronger, expect Chris Hughton’s side to wave goodbye to the top flight this season.
18th – A.F.C Bournemouth
Despite boasting perhaps the best young coach in the division, Bournemouth’s summer transfer window has been worrisome at best. Max Gradel, Benik Afobe and Lewis Grabban have all departed the club, while left-back Diego Rico and midfielder Jefferson Lerma remain the only purchases worth mentioning.
With an aging back-line not getting any younger, it will take a momentous effort to survive the drop this year, let alone build on last seasons 12th place finish.
17th – Huddersfield Town
I’ve put Huddersfield finishing one position worse off than last season, but just about staying up, thanks in large part to two men – Aaron Mooy and David Wagner.
Mooy pulled the strings expertly from midfield last season and contributed to four goals and three assists in 36 league games, while Wagner has made slight improvements to his squad, bringing in solid left-back Erik Durm from Borussia Dortmund and tricky winger Ramadan Sobhi from Stoke City. They won’t be world beaters by any stretch of the imagination, but should do just enough to survive.
16th – Southampton
With the Mauricio Pellegrino appointment just not working out last season, Mark Hughes was appointed with five games to go tasked with keeping the club in the division, and he succeeded, just. Five points behind Swansea when appointed, he pipped them to 17th by three points, seeing the Welsh club drop to the Championship.
So far, Stuart Armstrong has been brought in to supply goals, while Jannik Vestergaard and Angus Gunn look like shrewd acquisitions to shore up a leaky defence. However, key attacking players such as Dusan Tadic and Sofiane Boufal have departed, so expect a typical uneventful Mark Hughes season as he guides his side to safety yet again.
15th – Watford
Watford’s transfer window business has been excellent so far. The club managed to somehow squeeze €50 million out of Everton for the transfer of Richarlison, while picking up an arguably better player in Gerard Deulofeu for a mere £13 million.
With Nordin Amrabat the only other notable departure, coach Javi Gracia has kept the core players from last season largely intact, and that should be enough for a successful survival campaign.
14th – Leicester City
One would have to imagine that losing Riyad Mahrez to Manchester City will be a huge loss for The Foxes. Two thirds of the trio that won them the Premier League title three seasons ago have now departed, leaving only Jamie Vardy up front, while Robert Huth was also released, being replaced by Jonny Evans. With a key component of their attack now gone, Leicester may find goals in short supply this season, and will have to rely on Claude Puel and a solid defence to guide them to safety.
13th – Newcastle United
Actually, 13th with an asterisk. Rafa Benítez has remained incredibly loyal to this club, staying on even when they were relegated to the championship, but owner Mike Ashley has tested his patience, and you wouldn’t be surprised to see the master tactician walk away at some point during the season.
He has been given little to no funds for new transfers, while key players such as Mikel Merino and Chancel Mbemba have been sold. Kenedy and Salomon Rondon will provide some attacking threat, with both being brought in on loan, but this 13th place finish depends entirely on the coach. If he lasts the full campaign, it is definitely achievable, leave, however, and they could be dragged in to a tough relegation battle.
12th – Fulham
Another of the newly promoted sides, Fulham came up to the Premier League via the play-offs, and have wasted no time bolstering their squad. André Schürrle has come in on a two year loan deal, and will most likely take up a role on the left, forming a good partnership with young attacking full-back Ryan Sessegnon, while Aleksander Mitrović made his loan move from Newcastle permanent.
Their most important arrival, however, is that of 27-year-old Ivorian midfielder Jean Michaël Seri. Barcelona struck a €40 million deal with Nice for him last summer, but opted instead for Paulinho, while Arsenal were also keen. He should fit in comfortably to Slaviša Jokanović’s midfield, and The Cottagers should be in for a comfortable first season back in the top flight.
11th – Crystal Palace
No matter how dull Roy Hodgson sets his teams up, he almost always achieves results. To date, he has managed to keep a hold of star man Wilfried Zaha, while Max Meyer and Cheikhou Kouyaté will add much needed quality to midfield and take some of the burden off of Luka Milivojević’s shoulders.
Despite the other top flight transfer windows remaining open until August 31st, Zaha’s most likely destination seems another English club, so holding on to him after Thursday will be a huge boost before the season gets underway.