Ladies and Gentlemen, like an adulterous father sloping back into your life after spending the summer wining and dining his mistress in Kings Lynn, the Premier League has returned and it’s more opulent than ever. England’s finest have been spending money like it’s (literally, if some Brexperts are to be believed) going out of fashion with clubs in the Premier League spending just shy of £1bn to date on some of the world’s star players: Yuning Zhang, Phil Bardsley, and Wayne Rooney to name just a few.
To get you frothing at the wallet we’ve taken a look at the prospects for this year’s competitors, with a preview that’s 4% statistics and 96% baseless predictions.
Cue the goal music.
North-London’s second most divisive resident lives to fight another season, and what better way for Arsene to celebrate his contract extension than to blow his load on a French striker? Alexandre Lacazette arrives at Ashburton Grove off the back of three excellent seasons for Lyon, netting 76 goals in 97 league games for Les Gones. At £45m he’s hasn’t come cheap, but with Arsenal sitting in 6th for chance creation last season he should get plenty of opportunities to add to his impressive ratio. Much has been made of The Tape’s inability to leap ahead of handsome fencepost Olivier Giroud in the France pecking order, but the important thing for Arsenal is that unlike Giroud, Lacazette offers pace and clinical finishing, something that, Sanchez aside, they’ve missed since the days of Robin van Persie.
Speaking of Sanchez – the key to Arsenal’s success this season rests heavily on keeping hold of the Chilean and, perhaps more importantly, knowing when to use him. Four years of solid football and regular walkies will eventually tell, so wily old Weng will need to expend his most lethal weapon with care.
Prediction – 6th – Those level headed folk at Arsenal TV won’t thank me, but the Premier League should not, and I daresay will not, take precedence for the Gunners this season. There are arguably four squads far better equipped to challenge for the title, and progress in the Europa League offers Arsene’s men the best chance of Champions League qualification.
Now into their third season in the Premier League, The Cherries find themselves at the big boys table, and have filled their plate up with mash potato and shaped it into a ball-playing defender. £20m for a player with 41 Premier League appearances since 2012 may sound a touch steep, but Nathan Ake’s performances on loan last season were a breath of fresh air, particularly with his propensity to surge forwards and join the attack. He’ll be joined on those forward forays by Jermain Defoe, who returns to Bournemouth 16 years after scoring 18 goals in 29 games on loan from West Ham. He may well play a bit-part role this season behind the impressive Josh King and Benik Afobe, but there are few marksmen as lethal as Defoe that you could call upon as Plan B.
Bournemouth’s biggest problem last season was keeping the ball out of their net, so the signing of all round nice bloke Asmir Begovic is as necessary as it is astute. The two inches in height the Bosnian holds over Artur Boruc may help to stem Bournemouth’s generosity when conceding headed goals – they let in 15 last season, a tally only exceeded by Hull and Sunderland.
Prediction – 12th – They’re not quite ready to challenge The Best of the Rest, but Bournemouth can now consider themselves Premier League staples, and it promises to be another exciting season down at the Vitality.
Brighton and Hove Albion
Despite conceding the Championship title thanks to a last-gasp Jack Grealish equaliser, Brighton will be overjoyed to finally have a crack at the Premier League. It’s their first foray into England’s top division since being relegated from Division One in 1983, when Spandau Ballet were top of the charts.
To Cut A Long Story Short they’ll be hoping mercurial winger Antony Knockaert offers them a Lifeline, and human cuddle Chris Hughton can lead them on Journeys to Glory. Surviving this season promises untold Gold, but they may have to rely on Diamond in the rough Glenn Murray to burst Through the Barricades and deliver on a stage he’s yet to conquer – though 11 Premier League goals during injury hit spells with Crystal Palace and Bournemouth does not necessarily reflect his ability.
True, this preview has been laboured, but it’s difficult to put a positive spin on a team that, despite performing excellently last season, are gambling on the majority of their promotion squad to keep them up. Hughton may have to spend his evenings consoling himself with his favourite album – The Best of Spandau Ballet.
Prediction – 19th – If Knockaert can reproduce last season’s form on the big stage Brighton have a fighting chance, but I fear they may end the season looking like one of those ropey seagulls you see on the seafront, pecking fruitlessly at a cigarette butt while his mates feast on chips.
At the third time of asking Burnley survived a Premier League season last time out, thanks in no small part to their form at Turf Moor. Ten of their eleven league wins came at home, including the excellent early season victory against Liverpool. Ballbag-headed manager Sean Dyche received plenty of plaudits from pundits, partly for achieving survival with such a limited squad, but also for being English. While some of Dyche’s opinions on the game may sound prehistoric, he at least took a leaf from 2016 champions Leicester’s playbook – Burnley averaged 44% possession across last season, and created a Premier League record with the 19% possession they managed in that 2-0 win against Liverpool. A big middle digit to Pep Guardiola and his 2009 fancy-dan vintage, I’m sure you’ll agree.
Unfortunately for the Clarets you also have to score goals, and despite surviving with the third lowest haul in the league (39), the imminent sale of 9-goal Andre Gray may leave them a little light up front. Presumably the reported £18m will be reinvested, but they could find themselves relying on Sam Vokes and publican-dressed-as-a-footballer Jon Walters to keep them safe.
Prediction – 18th – Owner Mike Garlick appears to be saving his bread for a rainy day, with the £25m generated from the sale of key man Michael Keane yet to be eaten into, and with the stakes so high the lack of investment may well see the vampiric spectre of relegation loom large over Lancashire.
With hyperactive hair-transplant evangelist Antonio Conte in charge, and John Terry now just a ghost that stalks the Shed End at 15:26 every Saturday, Chelsea are becoming…whisper it…quite likeable. Animatronic Spitting Image doll Diego Costa has been told he can “fare uno”, and handsome scamp Alvaro Morata has been tasked to fill his countryman’s well-scuffed boots. Tiemoue Bakayoko represents an exciting upgrade on Matic, while Antonio Rudiger provides sturdy competition in defence – so far so expensive. However there are murmurings among the Stamford Bridge faithful that key areas of the squad haven’t been strengthened – the wing back positions in particular are two injuries away from the Blues having to recall one of their 274 players from loan spells – while Willy Caballero is a less able understudy to Courtois than his predecessor.
Conte changed the fortunes of Chelsea’s season last year by switching to a 3-5-2 during a pumping at the Emirates, and unwittingly changed the tactical mindset of half the Premier League in the process, but if he’s going to succeed in his difficult second season he’ll need to arrest Eden Hazard’s ‘One-On, One-Off’ routine and hope Morata hits the ground running.
Prediction – 3rd – Champions League involvement may take Chelsea’s eye off the ball when it comes to the league, and their rivals ostentatious spending could see them slip out of the top two.
The Eagles’ 16/17 season, or The Redemption of Sam Allardyce as it shall forever be known, was one of disappointment, frustration, and relief. Having reached the cup final in May, Palace ended 2016 as the worst side in the country. The Pardew Slide, debunked by Ian Wright, Mark Bright, and all his other mates from the early ‘90s, was very real, and the South Londoners were heading for oblivion. Fast-forward to May 2017 and Christian Benteke’s goals, as well as some shrewd business in the January transfer window, saw Big Sam exit stage left, waving goodbye with that familiar shit-eating grin on his massive face.
It looked as if Palace were about to do a reverse England as Roy Hodgson was installed as the bookies favourite to replace Allardyce, until the intriguing appointment of Frank de Boer was announced. The former Dutch international arrives off the back of a frustrating spell at Inter having built his reputation as an exciting young coach at boyhood club Ajax. Unsurprisingly de Boer was quick to raid his former employers, and the £8m acquisition of promising defender Jairo Riedewald looks a canny bit of business. Securing Ruben Loftus-Cheek on loan also offers some attacking imputes to a midfield that had started to look stagnant. The 74% passing accuracy of last season should be lifted by the presence of Loftus-Cheek and the impressive Milivojević.
Prediction – 9th – Provided de Boer can get to grips with his charges early, Palace have plenty of reason to be optimistic for the season ahead. If they can get big performances from the likes of Townsend and Van Aahnholt then they offer a serious threat going forward.
The Netherlands’ favourite flicker has enjoyed three quietly impressive seasons in the Premier League, guiding Southampton and Everton to top seven finishes. This time round he goes into the new season having had his biggest asset torn from his grasp. The £75m income from Lukaku’s sale has certainly been reinvested, but incorporating six new signings into his starting line-up will be no mean feat.
That said, the signings Everton have made are exciting. £30m for the custodian of a relegated team would have melted heads 20 years ago, but Jordan Pickford’s star is on the rise. Distribution wise, he looks the absolute business, but whether his value has been inflated by being overworked last season remains to be seen. Elsewhere, Michael Keane is the perfect antidote to Phil Jagielka’s creaking bones, Sandro Ramirez could prove a snip at £5m, and Davy Klaasen arrives with a fanfare of purring from fans of Dutch football.
Prediction – 7th – For now that top 5 looks impenetrable, but don’t be surprised to see Everton’s bright young things blow teams away this season.
The feel-good story of last season’s Championship, Huddersfield Town are preparing for their first season in the top flight since 1972, having triumphed against Reading in the play-offs. Tipped to struggle pre-season, the Terriers only briefly dropped out of the play-off positions all season, using the gegenpress and playing expansive, possession based football, aided and abetted by some shrewd loan signings. One of those loans – Manchester City’s Aaron Mooy – has made his transfer permanent, and his stand-out performances in the Championship mark him out as one to watch this season.
Human onomatopoeia Elias Kachunga has also made his move permanent, while Steve Mounie stands out among Town’s other purchases – £11.4m is serious outlay for a joiner from Mansfield with a Francocised name. Concern may be felt by Huddersfield supporters that little has been invested into a defence that makes Malta’s military resources look like The Army of Darkness. £6m on full-backs Scott Malone and Mathias Jorgensen suggests that opposition attackers may find trips to the John Smith extra smooth.
Prediction – 20th – It won’t all be cloudy days in Yorkshire, but expect Huddersfield to have their backsides handed to them regularly this season. Wagner’s men face Eine Kapitulation.
Remember the spring of 2016 when life was wonderful and Obama was in office and the mudslinging between two rival factions with differing opinions on the UK’s membership of the EU was only mildly entertaining and not verging on civil war? Remember when you didn’t spend your evenings burying your most valuable possessions in the garden to be used as currency at a later date? Remember thinking you’d live to a ripe old age and spend your dotage pottering around in the garden, complete oblivious to the fact that you and everyone you love will be vanquished by a nuclear war between the two worst haircuts in the world? Remember when Leicester won the league?
Well that was the past.
Craig Shakespeare is now in charge at the King Power after Granddad Claudio took everyone’s chicken burgers away, so they all got together and pushed him down the stairs. Suddenly Leicester started to look more like the team of 2016, rather than the team of 2015 that they had spent most of 2017 resembling. The loss of N’Golo Kante was a blow for the Foxes last season, but the departure of Head of Recruitment Steve Walsh was more harshly felt. £80m spent on Slimani, Mendy, Musa and Kaputska made the DUP look like a bargain, but their work this summer looks more promising. The arrival of Harry Maguire should allow Huth and Morgan to cash in some of their Saga loyalty points, while Kelechi Iheanacho represents one of the best pieces of business in the window.
Prediction – 11th – On paper Leicester are neither league winners nor relegation fodder, but if Iheanacho hits the ground running they could certainly bloody a few noses.
Besides trying to entice Virgil Van Dijk using that Bluetooth thing that was all the rage with sex pests in the late 90s, it hasn’t been a particularly lively summer in the red half of Merseyside. Mo Salah has arrived to nail another coffin into Chelsea’s transfer policy, while according to Twitter Dominic Solanke is already proving a bargain. Because he’s scored a few goals. In pre-season friendlies.
Liverpool were in the top 4 for goals scored, chances created, possession, and passing accuracy last season so up top they’re well equipped enough to spend seven weeks on Love Island. At the back they’ve only recruited promising left-back Andrew Robertson, and despite their best efforts they’re yet to land the annual Southampton player. Meanwhile, Belgium’s leading David James impersonator heads into the new season as first choice goalkeeper, with the assumption that surely Loris Karius will soon be half decent once he’s settled in and learned a few Beatles numbers on his ukulele.
The ‘Liverpool Boom and Bust cycle’ is a well-worn trope, but when their fans are appearing on social media suggesting they’re going to win the quadruple, they aren’t doing themselves any favours. The Klopp project surely has to bear fruit sooner rather than later, and at the minute it looks like one of those really convincing rubber plants.
Prediction – 5th – To emulate last season’s success Liverpool may need to land a couple of marquee signings before the window closes. A central defender is vital, and if Coutinho packs his bags for Catalonia, they’ve got a seriously talented hole to fill.
Ten years ago Manchester City had just been taken over by deposed Thai Prime Minister Thaksin Shinawatra, and Sven Goran-Eriksson was in the manager’s seat. City were restored as Premier League regulars, and there was a buzz around Eastlands. That particular season ended in an 8-1 defeat at Middlesbrough, but in the intervening decade the Sky Blues have risen to the top table, won the league twice and now have one of the most successful managers in the world at the helm. But somehow all has not been rosy. Guardiola’s first season in charge ended with an underwhelming 3rd place finish, thanks in some part to the purchase of The Man Who Makes No Saves. Claudio Bravo had an annus horribilis, with a save percentage of 55.9%, the lowest of any keeper with more than 10 appearences.
To counter last season’s disappointment, City have been shopping – presumably at some kind of Full-Back Warehouse, stopping off at on the way home to throw new goalkeeper Ederson in the basket too. Kyle Walker, Danilo and Bernard Mendy have all been signed for fees that you’re either appalled by, think are justified, or couldn’t care less about. With Bernardo Silva also joining, City look like a terrifying force going forward, though they’re still lacking a natural replacement for Vincent Kompany – sidelined with chronic woodworm.
Prediction – 1st – It’s going to take a herculean effort (or some poorly timed injuries) to stop City scoring goals this season, and while they might leak a few at the other end, De Bruyne, Aguero and Jesus should win points on their own this season.
The award for services to schadenfreude is currently sitting proudly in the trophy cabinet at Old Trafford, alongside last season’s Poundshop treble. One could be forgiven for ROFLing their way through Manchester United’s season review last year, as Burnley, Hull, and Stoke turned up at Old Trafford and out Mourinho-d Mourinho. Saying that, they did end the season qualifying for the Champions League, beating an Ajax team that had taken the evening off from revising for their A-Levels to provide opposition in the Europa League final.
This season, though, Jose means business. He’s appointed Romelu Lukaku as the spearhead of his attack, and a striker with 85 goals from the last 5 seasons should aid a team that finished below Bournemouth for goals scored last time out. Nemanja Matic has decided he would like to play for his former boss once again, despite downing tools last time they worked together, and the Serbian (hailed as the ‘missing link’ by pundits) should prove an upgrade on Marouane Fellaini (hailed as the missing link by scientists). The jury is out on the other new boy, Victor Lindelof, but surely he offers a more mobile option in defence than the Easter Island statue currently occupying the No.4 shirt.
Prediction – 2nd – Manchester United’s reliance on Zlatan Ibrahimovic last season cost them, but Lukaku, alongside an exciting support cast of Martial, Mkhytarian and Rashford, should see them challenge their neighbours for the title.
Thirty-six hours had passed after Newcastle United’s return to the Premier League had been confirmed with a 4-1 win over Preston before they were making news headlines once again. A raid from Her Majesty’s Revenue & Customs has subsequently been dismissed as unfounded, but it signaled the erection of the circus tent in the North East once again. Over the course of summer, owner Mike Ashley has been charming barristers across the land with stories of vomiting in fireplaces whilst simultaneously pissing off the manager of his football club. Benitez has been left frustrated by the lack of transfer activity at St James’ Park, particularly the signing of only two Spaniards, given the promise of eleven fresh countrymen each summer.
There is understandable concern around the future of the manager – with Rafa’s magic, Newcastle have the potential to be surprise packages (he can turn Ciaran Clark into a competent defender!), without it this is a team that can lack direction and the essential guts for a relegation scrap. The signings of Jacob Murphy and Mikel Merino inject youth and excitement into the team, but it has been a far from satisfactory summer on Tyneside.
Prediction – 15th – Consolidation will be the watchword in NE1 this season, and anything more than a successful relegation fight will be a bonus.
Little old Southampton, once perennial strugglers reliant on Guernsey’s most famous footballer, have become top-half mainstays in the Premier League. So entrenched is their position that Claude Puel’s league finish of 8th and a cup final earned him the sack. It seems that the ever-changing cast on the pitch must now be co-ordinated by yearly guest stars off it. And so enter stage-right Mauricio Pellegrino. The Argentine former Liverpool defender took Alaves to a very respectable 9th in La Liga last season, and was touted for multiple jobs over summer before the Saints pounced.
The minimum requirement then, surely, is an 8th placed finish? All well and good until your star player hands in a transfer request, leaving you potentially short in defence. The good news for Southampton is that the fixture computer is a St Mary’s regular, so has handed them a kind opening run, but once the nights start drawing in they might find that top half finish isn’t so easily achieved. Fraser Forster has hopefully cleared his enormous head after a below-par season last time out, because he could prove the key to the Saints success.
Prediction – 10th – The revolving door to the Player’s Lounge has so far avoided the skids, but this could be the season Southampton slip out of European contention.
There’s three things Mark Hughes likes: outlandish scissor kicks, bemoaning foreign coaches, and a good firm handshake. Something he may like a little less is Stoke City’s stagnation – after three 9th placed finishes in his first three seasons, the drop to 13th last time out represents a step backwards, and its starting to look like The Stokealona Experiment hasn’t gone exactly to plan. Were it not for Peter Crouch’s goals last season the Potters may have slipped further down the table, and the exodus of those exotic imports has begun. Bojan was seen surplus to requirements last season and sent out on loan, while Arnautovic has packed his bags for Stratford.
The loan signing of Kurt Zouma aside, Stoke’s transfer business is hardly inspiring. The free transfer of Eric Maxim Chupo-Moting will at least keep the staff in the club shop busy, but for a team that only score 41 goals last season the lack of a presence up top could cause serious harm. Stoke have a tough opening few weeks, and if Hughes can’t shake their poor record against the top six – P12 W0 D2 L10 last season – then he may be giving his employers one last firm handshake before Christmas.
Prediction – 17th – It’s going to be a rocky ride in the Potteries, but if Hughes does get sacked there’s plenty of pull for a decent calibre manager to step into the breach and steady the ship. Probably foreign.
The key to Swansea City’s success this season currently sits in the bank account of the money men at Goodison Park. If Everton are willing to stump up the £50m to prise Gylfi Sigurdsson away from South Wales, then it could be curtains for Paul Clement and his charges. Sigurdsson played a part in nearly half of Swansea’s goals last season, with 9 of his own and 13 assists, and the playmaker was the driving force behind their late season revival. There’s plenty of reason to be hopeful, however. Everton have already flexed their spending muscles during this window, and their attention is now turning to defensive recruitment. Sigurdsson is also yet to prove himself an asset to a top club – his spell at Tottenham was decent if not mindblowing, and he seems to play at his best when appointed the fulcrum of a team.
Tammy Abraham will be hoping to add goals to Swansea’s frontline, having reportedly been refused a move to Newcastle because of the nightlife – as if Chelsea’s top brass know nothing of drinking MD20/20 down Swansea Bay on a Friday night. The young striker’s 23 goals in a poor Bristol City team last year suggest he can thrive in the lower echelons of a league. Jacks will be watching the clock right up to midnight on the 1st September – the fate of their season could rest on Jim White. What a terrifying thought.
Prediction – 16th – Even without Sigurdsson, the Swans have every chance of surviving this season. Paul Clement has engendered a battling spirit into his side, and that will come in handy at the business end.
To paraphrase Chas and Dave “Rabbit, rabbit, rabbit, rabbit, rabbitrabbitrabbitrabbitrabbitrabbitrabbit” – a top 10 hit there in 1980, isn’t progress incredible. Anyway, where was I – oh yes. Spurs are going to Wembley, their knees have gone all trembly. And Levy’s not feeling very spendy. Possibly still stinging from the last time he opened his chequebook and paid Thirty Million Pounds for professional hoodwinker Moussa Sissoko, Levy has disabled the outgoing call function on his office phone this summer, preferring to take £50m of Man City’s money for Kyle Walker, and release a clone from the cryogenic freezer in his Seven Sisters lock-up.
Tottenham were delicious last season. The best side to watch by a country mile, and beaten to the league only by Chelsea’s machine like insistence on not dropping points. Apart from when they travelled further north and turned out at Wembley in European competition. Then they were complete dog egg. The concern among pundits is that their fear of £6 pints of Carling and Authentic South-East Asian Street Food kiosks may carry over to this season, which could see them suffer. It’s a psychological step they’ll have to conquer, but if Kane and Alli can continue the form they were in last season, they can still challenge the top 6.
Prediction – 4th – A season of consolidation awaits before they head into a new home, but Poch should be targeting cup success to maintain momentum.
Such was the extent of Watford’s underwhelming season last year, few noticed that Football Manager’s Miles Jacobson actually loaned his team eleven regens to field at their leisure, which is why it seemed like every time you saw Watford play they were fielding at least two busy midfielders you had never heard of. Alec Baldwin’s season in charge ended with the sack, so while he’s off to hopefully film some new episodes of 30 Rock, Marco Silva has taken the reigns at Vicarage Road.
Fortunately Silva now knows something about the Premier League having been so close to steering Hull away from relegation, which makes him marginally more qualified to manage Watford that Des at Dog and Duck FC. Hull under Silva were exciting to watch, taking the game to the bigger sides and reaping their rewards. This gung ho attitude did leave them susceptible to shipping goals, and he joins a team that kept only 7 clean sheets all season. The acquisitions of homophobe Andre Gray, EDL’s Will Hughes, and talented Nathaniel Chalobah are as progressive as they are dicey, and the lack of continuity in the hot seat may finally take its toll.
Prediction – 14th – There are teams in worse positions than Watford going into the season, but an over-reliance on the goals of Gray and Deeney may see them sucked into trouble.
West Bromwich Albion
The Baggies return to Premier League action sporting lobster pink skin, having retired to the coast three months earlier than their counterparts, having amassed 40 points by the end of February. Tony Pulis refuses to pay summer holiday prices, and who can blame him?
Despite falling off the edge of a cliff towards the end of the season, 16/17 was a fruitful year at the Hawthorns, with whispers of European qualification extinguished only by a run of five points from ten games. Pulis has largely stuck by the same squad heading into the new season, with the signing of forever-promising Jay Rodriguez from Southampton the only first-team addition this summer. FPL favourite Gareth McAuley heads into his 21st season as a professional off the back of his most prolific – 6 goals from centre-back went some way to securing West Brom’s midtable finish.
It’s difficult to see where this group of players goes next, particularly under a manager not known for his progressive football. A good first half of the season may guarantee those bargain flights to Alicante come Easter.
Prediction – 13th – Pulis offers a strong hand on the tiller, and West Brom are unlikely to get dragged into a relegation scrap, but don’t expect the highs of last season.
West Ham United
Having overseen The Greatest Stadium Migration of All-Time, The Porn Barons and Lady Brady have now switched focus on actually having a decent football team. The defection of Dimitri Payet ensured last season was a slog for the Hammers, with many of Bilic’s signings not up to the task of building on the 7th place finish of the prior season.
This summer, they’ve come out all guns blazing. Joe Hart has been secured on loan from Man City, along with the free signing of utility man Pablo Zabaleta, Marko Arnautovic arrives from Stoke, and Sinead O’Connor has been signed from Bayer Leverkusen. She’s got tidy feet, but she’s not so hot on crosses. Bilic will be hoping he can call upon a fit Andy Carroll, who at times last season led the line superbly, and also gave a glimpse of the kind of things he’s been working on at the stable with his stupendous overhead kick against Crystal Palace. Defence will be a concern to the Croatian, with 12 defensive errors leading to goals, the highest in the league last season.
With the Hammers settled into their new soulless surroundings, and most of the torn-up seats now replaced, an improvement on last season is the minimum expectation. Otherwise Bilic’s bubble may be about to burst.
Prediction – 8th – West Ham have secured some sound additions and haven’t broken the bank. Ironing out the deficiencies at the back will be their biggest priority, but with Joe Hart’s place at the forthcoming World Cup under threat, he’ll be wanting to dust his shoulders down and kick on.