As the Premier League kicks off tonight, 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? Having detailed what we think will be the lower half of the Premier League will fall yesterday, lets run through how we see the top half of the table shaping up.
10th – Burnley
This season could go two ways for Burnley. They could throw their European ambitions to one side and focus mainly on their domestic campaign to achieve another strong finish, or they could suffer the same fate as Everton did in 2014/15 by putting all of their eggs in the Europa League basket and allow their league position to suffer as a result. For me, I see them doing the former.
Manager Sean Dyche knows what is more important and will not risk another respectable league position for a deep run in a competition that no top team in truth pays much attention to. Despite not boasting any real stars, Dyche has kept a close core of players on side and should continue to take the right steps in his career and keep this smaller club in the top half of the table.
9th – Wolverhampton Wanderers
Wolves strolled to the Championship last season, finishing first while racking up an incredible 99 points, nine more than nearest challengers Cardiff, and coach Nuno Espírito Santo has only further strengthened his squad. Despite conceding six goals in four games at the World Cup, goalkeeper Rui Patrício is solid and accomplished and is a massive improvement on both John Ruddy and Will Norris.
Meanwhile João Moutinho should fit nicely alongside last seasons star player Ruben Neves in the centre of midfield. Winger Diogo Jota’s permanent arrival from Atlético Madrid is a real boost, while Raúl Jiménez will provide goals up front. All in all, Nuno Santo has built an incredible squad in his two years in charge and a push for Europe could be on for the 2019/20 season with a strong outing this year.
8th – Everton
After a promising spell at Hull City, during which he almost kept them in the top flight, Marco Silva’s career at Watford stalled after a promising start, and now the pressure is really on at a top club. Despite the hefty fee and inflated price tag, Richarlison is a good player and could form a formidable attacking trio with Gylfi Sigurðsson and Bernard, who they signed on a free from Shakhtar Donetsk. While André Gomes arrived on a one year loan deal from Barcelona.
Further back Lucas Digne will provide defensive resilience to aid Jordan Pickford, and although their centre-halves are still an issue, Yerry Mina’s Barcelona arrival could be the solution. Regardless, this is still a long term project for Everton under Marco Silva, and Everton are still a long ways away from European contention.
7th – West Ham United
Replacing David Moyes with the astute Chilean Manuel Pellegrini is already a massive step in the right direction, but West Ham’s improvements don’t stop there. Dead wood in James Collins and Patrice Evra has been moved on, while attacking talents Andriy Yarmolenko and Felipe Anderson have been brought in to partner Marko Arnautović up top.
While further back, Jack Wilshere on a free transfer may be the steal of the window. Couple this with solid shot stopper Łukasz Fabiański in goal and West Ham may be in contention for a Europa League spot.
6th – Chelsea
If the Community Shield is anything to go by, it will take Maurizio Sarri some time to acclimatise to his new surroundings and get the Chelsea team that he wants. Jorginho remains the only marquee signing of the window, while Mateo Kovačić has signed on a one year loan deal from Real Madrid. Goalkeeper Thibaut Courtois has forced a move to the Spanish capital, with Kepa Arrizabalaga coming in from Athletic Bilbao for a world record fee for a goalkeeper, a man largely unproven at this level.
The club are also facing an uphill battle to keep hold of Eden Hazard, and with the English window closed, Chelsea simply do not have the ability to bring in a replacement. Sarri may have to wait until January to improve his squad, but until then, he will have to make do with what he’s got.
5th – Manchester United
It’s been a strange pre-season for Manchester United. They have put in poor result after poor result, coach José Mourinho has constantly berated his own players, and has accused the board of not giving him enough money to improve the squad. Brazilian midfielder Fred remains the only big name player to arrive, and although he will slot in to United’s three man midfield with Paul Pogba and Nemanja Matić, that is simply not enough for a serious title push.
Mourinho has constantly made clear he needs a centre-half, and despite constant links with the likes of Toby Alderweireld and Harry Maguire, a move for either did not materialise. Fail to win any silverware this season, which they probably will do, and Mourinho will more than likely be shown the door.
4th – Arsenal
Now that Arsène Wenger is gone, there is new life around North London, and who better than new coach Unai Emery to bring them forward? During his time at Spanish club Valencia, despite the club constantly selling top players like David Silva, Juan Mata and David Villa, he still guided them to three consecutive third placed finishes, before going on to rack up ten major titles between Sevilla and Paris Saint-Germain.
With an already deadly front four of Aubameyang, Lacazette, Mkhitaryan and Özil, Emery has added tough tackling Uruguayan Lucas Torreira to his midfield, while shoring up at the back with the signings of experienced Stephan Lichtsteiner from Juventus and Sokratis Papastathopoulos from Borussia Dortmund. Add in new goalkeeper Bernd Leno and Emery should guide Arsenal back to Champions League football at the very least.
3th – Tottenham Hotspur
Having finished third, second and third in their last three campaigns respectively under Pochettino, and moving in to their new stadium, their is plenty of reasons for Spurs fans to be optimistic for the new season. Many have been quick in pointing out that they did not bring in any new players, the question begs here, do they need any?
They boast arguably the strongest starting eleven in the division with Harry Kane leading the line, supported by Dele Alli, Heung-Min Son and Christian Eriksen, while Victor Wanyama and Moussa Dembélé provide a stable engine room in the middle of the park. Jan Vertonghen and Dávinson Sánchez boast an envious understanding while exciting full-backs Ben Davies and Kieran Trippier provide width, with World Cup winner Hugo Lloris in goal. Under the guidance of the Argentinian, Spurs have made substantial strides forward and look set to continue their development this season.
2th – Liverpool
So close, but yet so far for Liverpool and Jürgen Klopp, again. While second place would be a brilliant result, with the money they have spent, they really should be winning titles, but I do not see them catching Guardiola’s City. They looked set to finish second last season, with an inferior squad in comparison to now, but their European commitments caught up with them and they succumbed to fourth, which is why a two position improvement on last season only appears positive on paper. Henderson and Lovren are still going to start for them, but I think they have adequate cover this time around, with Fabinho and Naby Keita beefing up their midfield.
Thinking back to last season’s Champions League final, Liverpool would have taken the game to extra time were it not for two fatal errors from goalkeeper Loris Karius, and in fairness to Klopp, he has rectified the issue. Alisson Becker’s arrival from Roma is sure to give the squad a confidence boost, with the knowledge that he is not an accident waiting to happen. While I expect them to run City a lot closer this season than United did last, I still don’t think they have enough to catch them.
1st – Manchester City
Who else? Pep Guardiola has only strengthened an already incredible squad, bringing in Riyad Mahrez from Leicester City, while pre-season has indicated Pep has pushed winger Bernardo Silva inside to a more central role, to take the baton from David Silva, and free up space for Raheem Sterling and Mahrez on the right.
With a young back line in Laporte, Mendy and Walker, skilfull midfield, with the likes of Kevin De Bruyne and David Silva, and an attack lead by the divisions most clinical finisher, who will have something to prove following a subpar World Cup with Argentina, it is difficult to envision anyone other than Vincent Kompany lifting the trophy again next May.