The world’s most popular league is finally back. Storylines aren’t lacking within the Barclays Premier League following an eventful summer. Raheem Sterling’s inevitable departure from Liverpool to Manchester City was the biggest talking point. Other high profile moves for Petr Cech, Bastian Schweinsteiger, Christian Benteke, and many others will be highlighted as well. After last year’s lackluster season, expectations are high for a more competitive title race. Chelsea haven’t really bolstered their squad, while other Champions League sides have spent significantly. My predictions will consist of a detailed breakdown for each club and their potential place in the standings.
1. Chelsea: The lack of big spending seems surprising to most fans and analysts. Despite winning the league by a significant margin last season, Chelsea’s main rivals have made high-profile signings to bolster their squad. Chelsea’s most notable acquisition so far has been Radamel Falcao, who will be their third-choice striker at best. Falcao’s struggles at Manchester United last season are well documented. With Diego Costa and Loic Remy as proven goal-scorers, Falcao won’t be depended on barring injury. Jose Mourinho’s side still features the best defense (by far), second best goal keeper in Thibaut Courtois, and best holding midfielder in Nemanja Matic across the Premier League.
It’s become evident that Chelsea’s style isn’t pleasing to endure for casual viewers. That disciplined style was essential in securing definitive wins and vital draws against their biggest rivals. With the potential addition of promising center-back John Stones, they will only become more difficult to break down. With world class attacking midfielders like Eden Hazard and Cesc Fabregas, Chelsea have to be the favorites once again. They may not have the attacking firepower like Arsenal, but they have the defense to secure clean sheets on a consistent basis.
2. Manchester United: No English club has made greater improvements than Manchester United this summer. The signings of Bastian Schweinsteiger and Morgan Schneiderlin provide balance to an already excellent central midfield. With these signings, Louie Van Gaal is preparing his side to not only challenge for the Premier League title, but also a deep run into the Champions League. Juan Mata and Ander Herrera were pivotal in United’s run towards surpassing Liverpool to secure fourth place. While the defense is still relatively shaky, the signing of Matteo Darmian should provide stability at right back. Antonio Valencia was dangerous as a wing back, but eventually became a defensive liability.
It wouldn’t be surprising to see them make one more big signing. Angel Di Maria is gone, while David De Gea’s future remains unclear. Another striker and center-back could do wonders in their quest to overtake Chelsea. Memphis Depay’s pace and strength on the ball should provide an immediate upgrade over the slow and predictable Robin Van Persie. United has all the components to seriously push Chelsea this season. The lack of depth behind Wayne Rooney, along with having no leader in defense will keep them from winning the title. Chris Smalling and Phil Jones haven’t convinced anyone that they can lead the back-line.
3. Arsenal: When it comes to midfield depth, no English club surpasses Arsenal. Santi Cazorla, Aaron Ramsey, Jack Wilshere, and Francis Coquelin have proven to be vital contributors. With their ability to control the midfield and send killer balls to their array of attacking options, Arsenal is prime for another top four finish. The acquisition of Petr Cech gives them stability at goalkeeper for the first time in years. Alexis Sanchez is the type of world-class attacking midfielder that every team needs to be a title challenger.
The big questions pertain to an inconsistent defense and streaky forward Oliver Giroud. Despite his impressive goal record of 14 goals in 27 games, Giroud’s tendency of becoming anonymous in big games has left fans questioning his value. Another central defender should be added, given Per Mertesacker’s struggles last season. Arsenal will be more successful this season, but their back four doesn’t provide enough stability to pose a serious threat to Chelsea.
4. Manchester City: Although the high-profile signings should provide an immediate upgrade at their respective positions, Manchester City should have prioritized on squad depth rather than flashy signings. Raheem Sterling should be an excellent fit alongside David Silva and Sergio Aguero. The thought of a counter attack featuring that entire trio seems terrifying, given their blistering speed and creativity on the ball. Fabian Delph should provide stability in central midfield alongside the declining Yaya Toure. Besides those two signings, what have City done to improve? The defense still looks fragile, as Vincent Kompany’s poor season can’t go unnoticed. His poor positioning and carelessness left aging center-back Martin Demichellis hopeless in attempting to cover his mistakes. Speaking of hopeless, Eliaquim Mangala looked every bit of it last season.
Without Joe Hart’s heroics, Manchester City doesn’t make it out of group stage of the Champions League nor finish second last season. While Edin Dzeko, James Milner, Stevan Jovetic aren’t world class players, they are the type of squad players that every Champions League club needs. Any long-term injury to Silva and Aguero could be damaging for their top-four status, let alone title challenge. Nobody can discount their star power, which will provide more than enough to secure a top four spot. A title challenge seems highly unlikely, which could mark the end of Manuel Pellegrini as manager.
5. Liverpool: On paper, Liverpool has made several quality signings this summer. Nathaniel Clyne was one of the best right backs in England last season. James Milner is the type of versatile team-first player that any club with major aspirations needs to have at their disposal. Roberto Firmino’s relentless work ethic and play-making ability could ease the pressure off Daniel Sturridge. Liverpool’s attacking options offer plenty of optimism compared to last season’s abysmal rotation. While scoring goals was a major issue last season, the defensive shortcomings can’t be overlooked. Dejan Lovren failed to stabilize an already shaky back four. His ability to win headers and make last-ditch tackles (or clearances) was supposed to compliment Martin Skrtel’s physical style.
Instead, Liverpool had to make promising midfielder Emre Can into a center-back, which eventually failed to pan out. They still don’t have a true holding midfielder, as Lucas won’t be expected to start over the likes of Can, Milner, and Jordan Henderson. Left-back is still an issue with Alberto Moreno proving to be a defensive liability. It’s hard to place a shaky defensive team in the top four without any world-class attacking players. Philippe Coutinho is the only player on the verge of earning that label. Unless the defense improves and Christian Benteke can score 18 to 20 goals, another season of no Champions League nights at Anfield seems probable.
6. Tottenham: Despite their shortcomings, Tottenham has three elements that will always make them threatening. A world-class goal keeper (Hugo Lloris), outstanding center forward (Harry Kane), and ultra playmaker in the number ten role (Christian Eriksen). Unfortunately for Spurs, they seem to be lacking at every other position. No team can expect to make the top four, when they allow the fifth most goals in the league. The inconsistent wing play of Andros Townsend, Nacer Chadli, and Erik Lamela cost them in major games. As brilliant as Kane was, the lack of scoring options behind him became apparent. Mauricio Pochettino has changed Tottenham’s style of play based on their high-press style of wearing out teams. Can Daniel Levy change the landscape of Tottenham into becoming a certifiable top four contender?
The lack of signings so far suggest that nothing will significantly change. Toby Alderweireld and Kieran Tripper should be significant upgrades in the back. Can they add more attack-minded players to ease the pressure off Kane and Eriksen? It doesn’t seem likely right now. Unless the likes of Lamela and Townsend start living up to expectations, it’s going to be another year of uncertainty for Spurs. The transfer offers for Kane and Lloris will continue to increase, along with their desire to play for Champions League caliber clubs, which is something that Tottenham simply can’t claim to be.
7. Southampton: Many pundits are concerned about Southampton, due to playing in Europe for the first time. Squad depth seems to be a concern, especially without their two best players from last season in Clyne and Schneiderlin. Ronald Koeman’s tactical brilliance and utilization of squad depth will help them sustain another successful season. Unlike past English clubs in the Europa League such as Swansea and Everton, Southampton has more talent and an experienced manager in Europe. Experience is vital for any new club in Europe, which Koeman provides from managing in Spain and Holland. The return of Jay Rodriguez will feel like a new signing. Two years removed from a 15-goal season, the slick forward will ease the pressure off Graziano Pelle. After an excellent first half of the season, Pelle suffered from a scoring slump and noticeably was frustrated on the pitch.
A more composed Pelle alongside Rodriguez, Dusan Tadic, and Saldo Mane could prove to be an absolute nightmare for defenses. The big question comes from the back, as Fraser Forster will be out for an extended period of time and no clear-cut replacement for Alderweireld has been made. Steven Caulker has the physical traits to be an excellent center-back, but looked far too slow and out of position for QPR last season. If Jose Fonte and Ryan Bertrand can help solidify the back four’s question marks, Southampton is more than capable of finishing as a top-seven side and possibly even greater. Koeman is an absolute mastermind that can get the best out of marginal players.
8. Everton: Every club usually has a stand-out player that shined on a consistent basis last season. Roberto Martinez’s side is the rare exception, as every player either underperformed or didn’t evolve as a player. Ross Barkley’s inability to become a play-maker in the number ten role has left fans frustrated. Despite scoring ten goals, Romelu Lukaku underwhelmed up front in big games. Everton lacks depth on the wings and the uncertain future of John Stones brings cause for concern.
The one major benefit for Everton will be based on not playing in Europe unlike last season, which was detrimental towards their league performance. That should keep talented players like Kevin Mirallas and James McCarthy fresh. If Everton can add another winger and center back, they could push for a Europa League spot. Tom Cleverley is a decent signing to bolster their central midfield. Other than that, Everton has too many uncertainties within their starting eleven, especially if they sell Stones to Chelsea.
9. Stoke When it comes to rejuvenated clubs, no English club looked more reinvigorated than Stoke last season. They played a much more free-flowing style that allowed creative players like Bojan and Charlie Adam to flourish on a weekly basis. Before tearing his ACL, Bojan was the spark that Stoke desperately needed to beat top-tier clubs. That came to fruition in their memorable 3-2 win over Arsenal. How Stoke copes with the losses of Steven N’Zonzi and Victor Moses will be pivotal in their hopes of securing a top-ten finish. The signing of Barcelona castaway Ibrahim Afellay could make or break those chances.
If he can remain fit and become an asset on the wing, Stoke has a crafty trio with Bojan and Marko Arnautovic. Mark Hughes has really turned this club into a more capable and entertaining side. The key will be maintaining balance in the squad, along with producing a potential 20-goal striker. Jonathan Walters and Mame Biram Diouf are rotational players at best. If a more clinical striker develops and the play from their full-backs improve, Stoke could push for a Europa League spot. Not having enough consistent playmakers has left me hesitant in declaring them as a top-seven side.
10. Swansea: Besides Ronald Koeman, no manager did a better job last year than Gary Monk. After a lackluster 2013-2014 campaign, Monk inspired his side into playing a more high-pressing style that pressured opponents into mistakes. Gylfi Sigurdsson was outstanding last season with seven goals and ten assists. His inspired play marked a pivotal change in Swansea’s approach against bigger clubs. Wins against Arsenal and Manchester United came from playing more fearless and catching them on set-pieces. Jonjo Shelvey and Ki-Sung-Yeung were major components towards building a strong central midfield. Expectations will certainly be raised for Monk, as fans would like to see them pushing for a top-seven finish. They haven’t really made any signings to suggest that playing in Europe is a realistic proclamation.
Bafetimbi Gomis was injured on several occasions last year, while Eder isn’t exactly one of the more touted forwards coming from a lower league in Europe. They could have done better in signing another striker that could possibly help replace Wilfried Bony’s goal-scoring excellence. Swansea are well composed in the back, along with their overall midfield. Ghana international Andre Ayew should provide an immediate upgrade over Nathan Dyer and Wayne Routledge on the wing. The lack of a potential 15-20 goal scorer will hinder Swansea’s progression into challenging for a Europa League spot.
11. West Ham: The inspiring Croatian legend Slaven Billc has taken the managerial role at West Ham. With the new Olympic stadium ready for 2016 and an upcoming campaign in the Europa League, the pressure is on for Billc. Thankfully for his sake, the board has invested in quality players that will bring a new edge to West Ham. Dimitri Payet had the most key passes in Ligue 1 last season, along with seven goals and 16 assists. His ability to pick out defenses with excellent crosses should do wonders for Andy Carroll and Diafra Sakho. After Stewart Downing’s decline in the second half of the season, a new creative playmaker was needed to spark the Hammers’ attack. Their back four looks relatively solid with Carl Jenkinson back on loan from Arsenal and promising left back Aaron Cresswell. Winston Reid’s commitment to the club provides a much-needed boost for the club’s aspirations.
Due to Europa League game requirements and the lack of consistency from their strikers, West Ham will fall short of the top ten. Another striker is desperately needed following Enner Valencia’s serious knee injury. If they can add another striker, that would be pivotal for Billc to meet expectations. It should be an eventful year for the former hometown player. The Hammers may struggle to score at times, but they will play far more inspired under Billc. That alone should be an immediate upgrade over their apathetic display during the final stages of Sam Allardyce’s tenure.
12. Crystal Palace: One of the best fan-bases in England were rewarded with their most successful season in club history. Alan Pardew replacing Neil Warnock as manager proved to be the ultimate difference maker. Yannick Bolasie was an absolute nightmare for fullbacks to defend on the wing. Jason Puncheon excelled in the number ten role. Older players such as Glenn Murray and Scott Dann rejuvenated their careers. Palace is certainly on the rise, which was shown this summer by signing Yohan Cabaye from PSG. While Cabaye is looking to rejuvenate his own career, he’s a proven commodity based on his success at Newcastle. Palace will be another mid-table club that bigger clubs will struggle to beat twice a season.
Highly-touted striker Patrick Bamford (on loan from Chelsea) could prove to be a difference-maker. New signee Connor Wickham provides intrigue, although his finishing has left a lot to be desired. It would still be wise to sign another center-back, along with potentially another goalkeeper to push 36 year-old Julian Speroni. A small drop-off is bound to happen, as Pardew’s sides tend to be streaky in terms of getting results. As glorious as last season was, it can’t be forgotten that Palace struggled to score at times last year and remain shaky in the back.
13. Newcastle: It can’t get much worse following last season’s debacle into nearly being relegated. After John Carver’s horrendous stint as manager, Newcastle has invested in Steve McClaren to help rebuild the squad and overall credibility of the club. McClaren is very experienced, yet has failed to fulfill expectations at various clubs and England’s national team.. Mike Ashley has been rightfully criticized over the past few seasons for showing zero ambition in strengthening the squad. That looks to have changed based on their signings of Georginio Wijnaldum (14.5m) and Aleksander Mitrovic (13m). Both players come from lower leagues in Holland and Belgium, yet add much-needed optimism towards an insufficient attack. Remy Cabella needs to be more consistent following an underwhelming first season.
The Frenchman showed glimpses of promise, which flowed well with hard working midfielders such as Jack Colback. McClaren has his work cut for him with so many uncertainties at key positions. It’s very surprising to see aging center-back Fabricio Coloccini still marshaling the defense. They desperately need to develop a long-term replacement for him. Newcastle will be slightly better this season, but that likely won’t satisfy their demanding fan-base. If they can sign in-demand striker Charlie Austin, they could possibly push for a top-ten spot.
14. West Brom: Positions can change drastically if Saldo Berahino was sold by the end of August. Berahino scored 14 of West Brom’s 38 goals last season. Nobody can deny the substantial impact of his play. That being said, Tony Pulis did a masterful job of bringing stability and structure to a club lacking leadership. They need to take the next step and insert more creative players within their starting eleven. Other than James McClean, no other signing stands out in possibly developing into a playmaker. Colin McManaman and Stephane Sessegnon need to become more consistent. They are excellent at dribbling and using their pace to get past full-backs. The final ball has been lacking from both players so far in their respective careers.
Berahino seems to be staying for now, but would it surprise anyone to see a club like Tottenham proposing a significant offer in January? Wilfried Bony left Swansea for Manchester City last January, which proved that teams are willing to spend heavily during the halfway point of a season. Regardless of what happens with Berahino, West Brom will manage to secure safety through their organized defense and efficiency on set-pieces. Rickie Lambert will quietly be one of the better signings this season. Pulis will use him far better than Brendan Rodgers did last season.
15. Aston Villa: No English club suffered more this summer than Tim Sherwood’s side. The emphatic manager lost Christian Benteke and Fabian Delph to high-profile transfer moves. Given the impact of both players, Aston Villa could have been relegated without both players’ contributions. Many expect Sherwood and company to start adding to the squad from selling two of their best players. Benteke was the only true goal scorer, while Delph was the heart of their central midfield. Jack Grealish will be called upon to become Villa’s main playmaker.
That is a daunting task for the 19-year old, who has only become a true first-team member for four months. Villa needs to make key signings to freshen up an aging squad. Jordan Ayew and Jordan Amvai could be those players to fill certain flaws. They can’t afford to rely on the likes of Alan Hutton, Kieran Richardson, and Charles N’Zogbia to start on a weekly basis. With Sherwood’s guidance and the surplus of money from both transfers, Villa will have enough to survive another relegation battle.
16. Bournemouth: The newly promoted side has enough talent to stay up for at least one season. Callum Wilson was the fourth leading goalscorer in the Championship with 20 goals. They added highly-touted winger Christian Atsu on loan from Chelsea. Joshua King will be a player to watch for them as well. The speedy striker scored a hat trick against Stoke in the FA Cup for Blackburn last season.
Similar to Leicester City, Bournemouth has the attacking capabilities to play at a frantic pace and force the biggest clubs to play at their best. The prime question comes from their overall defense, which has many pundits questioning if this unit is Premiership worthy. Notable players such as Sylvain Distin and Arthur Boruc are well past their prime at this point. In the end, Eddie Howe has proven to be one of the brightest managers in England. His leadership and Bournemouth’s creativity will be enough to survive.
17. Leicester City: After an improbable escape from relegation last season, Leicester City will be enduring the same circumstances this season. Nigel Pearson being sacked was surprising to an extent. While his press conferences left people shaking their heads, nobody can deny his influential role in the final three months of last season. Claudio Ranieri isn’t exactly the most aspiring replacement, given his recent struggles as manager. His five month stint managing Greece through the 2016 European qualification stages was an absolute debacle. At 63 years old, how will a manager adjust towards managing a lower-tier club following his past tenures at Juventus and Inter Milan?
Leicester offer plenty in attack with Jamie Vardy, Riyad Mahrez, and new signing Shinji Okazaki. The back four remains creaky, particularly at the center back position. How will the team be affected by Esteban Cambiasso’s departure is another major question. Andrej Kramaric needs to prove his worth following a difficult adjustment to the Premier League. It wouldn’t be surprising to see Ranieri sacked at some point during the season. Regardless if that happens, Leicester’s array of attacking options and Kasper Schmeichel’s commanding presence will be just enough to stay up.
18. Watford: Similar to Bournemouth, Watford has the ability to score goals in bunches. Troy Deeney, Odion Ighalo, and Matej Vydra all reached double digits in goals last season. Unlike QPR and Burnley, they won’t have to rely on one lone striker to produce on a weekly basis. The issues pertain to the rest of the squad featuring untested players, disappointing players from bigger clubs, and declining players. Jose Holebas should provide great pace on the left flank, as the Greek international should excel in the Premier League. The other “big signing” Etienne Capoue struggled as a holding midfielder at Tottenham. With ten new signings, Watford will likely take more time to gel than the other two promoted teams.
The lack of stability in the back, along with Heurelho Gomes likely being the number one goalkeeper is very concerning. While the former embattled Tottenham goalkeeper has revived his career, it’s difficult to feel confident with him between the sticks. His below-average ability in handling low shots and crosses led to his demotion at Spurs. Watford will be competitive based on their attacking options. With so many potential new players in the first team and no commanding presence in defense, Watford will fall short behind Leicester and return back to the Championship.
19. Sunderland: Relegation has been knocking on the door for the past few seasons. With outstanding play from goalkeeper Costel Pantilimon and sound defending in snatching hard-earned points, the Black Cats remained in the Premiership. Eventually, hard work won’t be able to overcome a lack of talent. Dick Advocaat hasn’t been given many well-touted prospects to work with nor established veterans. Younes Kaboul has been on a steep decline over the past two seasons. John O’Shea and Wes Brown are well past their prime. Jermain Defoe scored some jaw-dropping goals last season, but four goals in 14 league games suggests that the former England international isn’t capable of scoring 12-15 goals a season anymore.
Can the likes of Steven Fletcher and Adam Johnson step up? They will be depended on frequently, especially with Connor Wickham joining Crystal Palace. Jermaine Lens is the curious signing, who could provide a much-needed spark towards a lackluster attack. It will be vital for Sunderland to start the season on a positive note. An early tough start will immediately lead to speculation about Advocaat’s job security. Sunderland haven’t had stability in the managerial position for years now. That won’t be changing anytime soon. The board will have to realize that poor signings such as Jack Rodwell will cost them in the most grueling way possible through relegation.
20. Norwich: A quick return to the Premiership for the Canaries didn’t surprise many pundits. They always had many quality players in their midfield and defense to overcome the grueling schedule of the Championship. Have they actually improved from two seasons ago? Unlike the other two promoted sides, Norwich hasn’t been very active so far in the transfer window. Robbie Brady should prove to be an excellent signing based on his excellence on set pieces and pace on the left flank. Other than Andre Wisdom joining them on loan, Norwich haven’t made any eye-opening signings.
They still lack a true striker up front, as the likes of Cameron Jerome and Gary Hooper have poor goalscoring records in the Premiership. Nathan Redmond is one of the brightest prospects in England, who should be a nuisance for opposing full backs. Other than Redmond, no other player poses a serious threat that opposing managers have to account for. A scrappy side can only go so far in the top-flight division. Burnley realized that in the final three months of last season, which led to their inevitable relegation. Alex Neil is a promising manager, but he’ll find out instantly that Norwich is overmatched and can’t survive with this current squad