2016/17 Season Preview

Coming off the back of what was, most definitely, the most sensational Premier League season ever, 2016/17 has a lot to live up to.

However, this season could prove just as intriguing, with previous 5000/1 minnows Leicester City beginning their difficult title defence, whilst arguably the two best managers in the game, Pep Guardiola and Jose Mourinho, have both rocked up in Manchester, and they’ve added some top quality talent to their squads aswell.

Not only that, but Mauricio Pochettino’s Tottenham will be looking to build on a strong third place finish last time round, and across the road at the Emirates, it is one last chance for Arsene Wenger to restore glory.

So, can the foxes win again? It seems unlikely – but nowhere near as unlikely as it was last season. Still, the distraction of Champions League football will be a pain, and they won’t have the element of surprise that was available to them last season, enabling them to make a fast start.

The loss of the team’s main heartbeat N’Golo Kante to Chelsea will be a blow too, but the signing of Namphalys Mendy could be a shrewd replacement.

Also joining the champions this summer is Nigerian striker Ahmed Musa, arriving from CSKA Moscow. Similar to current striker Jamie Vardy, Musa as an eye for goal accompanied by blistering pace, so a partnership of those two up front could be lethal.

It could also be a big season for the young Demari Gray, who featured mainly as a substitute last season, but when he did come on, he impressed, and his speed could contribute towards Leicester’s frightening counter attacking threat as Claudio Ranieri’s side attempt to defy the odds again.

Last season’s runners up were Arsenal after they sneaked into second place on the final day, in what was still a relatively poor season for Arsene Wenger’s men.

Wenger, who ended a nine year trophy drought with victory in the FA Cup in 2014, seems to have already missed his final chance.

Last season was there for the taking – champions Leicester (it still doesn’t seem right) lost only three games all season, two of them being to Arsenal.

Other than the Foxes and possibly Spurs there were no really impressive teams, and Arsenal’s squad was significantly better than Leicester’s.

However, Wenger failed to create an unbreakable team spirit like Ranieri did, and what seemed like the final piece in the jigsaw wasn’t there – a top striker.

Olivier Giroud doesn’t strike me as a player who will score 20-25 goals in a season, and if you look down the years, every title winning team has had one.

However, this summer the Gunners have been linked with the likes of Romelu Lukaku and Alexandre Lacazette this summer, and a signing like that could see them as strong title contenders.

In truth, Wenger is still yet to replace striker Robin Van Persie, who left in 2013, so it should be about time he splashed the cash.

Wenger has always kept to his philosophy of spending little money on relatively unknown players, but he has splashed the cash on both Mesut Ozil and Alexis Sanchez in recent years, and if that top striker they need is brought to the club, they would look a formidable side, and could definitely challenge this year.

In third place last year was Tottenham Hotspur, but only after a final day collapse against already relegated Newcastle.

In a season which saw Harry Kane claim the golden boot and Dele Alli win the PFA young player of the year award, Pochettino’s young outfit looked like the only team able to get close to challenging Leicester, and if it weren’t for their poor run of form at the end of the season, their season would surely have been viewed in a far better light.

This time out though, like Leicester, Champions League football won’t help, so yes, they are a young side with potential that are on the rise, but with all the big sides looking much stronger this year, they will struggle to make the top four.

Manchester City seriously underwhelmed last season coming 4th, but it is viewed by many that if it weren’t for the announcement half-way through the season that Pep Guardiola would be taking over, Manuel Pellegrini could well have done a better job.

This year, whilst Pep doesn’t know the Premier League as well as he might, his superior squad and excellent tactical nous with the likes of Sergio Aguero, Kevin De Bruyne and Vincent Kompany aswell as new boys Leroy Sane and Nolito at his disposal should see him conquer the Premier League, but by no means will it be easy – in his first season as head coach of Barcelona he could afford a defeat and a draw in  his first two games – he might not be able to this time.

As for Manchester United, Jose Mourinho brings with him an outstanding reputation aswell as expert knowledge on the Premier League, a factor that could see him challenge for the title.

Providing that superstar signing Zlatan Ibrahimovic is on form and the world’s most expensive footballer Paul Pogba re-energises the side, there is no reason why United can’t challenge at the very top again, and after Eric Bailly’s impressive performance in the Community Shield against Leicester last week, they are looking like an incredibly strong side.

Mourinho and Pep, who worked together at Barcelona when Pep was player and Jose was translator, got on well originally, but after some fiery episodes in previous clasicos (which Pep has usually had the upper hand in) their relationship has turned sour in the extreme.

Southampton did brilliantly to come sixth last time out, but after Ronald Koeman’s decision to leave for Everton, former Lyon and Nice manager Claude Puel has big boots to fill – on paper his attractive style of play should suit Southampton – if only the Premier League would ditch the grass playing surface then!

Providing that Charlie Austin stays fit, he could be the answer to their quest to find an undisputed no.1 striker, and the signings of Pierre Emile-Hojberg and Nathan Redmond look shrewd.

However, this season they will be playing in the Europa League, and that extra lot of games combined with the transitional period that inevitably comes with a new manager means that the Saints are unlikely to repeat their heroics of last season.

Coming seventh last season were West Ham, and after a strong showing, the feel-good factor really is back at Upton Park – oh wait, the Olmpic stadium!

The stadium move has many Hammers fans excited, and with cult hero Slaven Bilic at the helm and Dimitri Payet on the pitch, they have every right to be looking forward to good times.

Still, that might not be immediate – with the influx of big managers and the big teams looking, well, big again, West Ham will struggle to break into the top seven again, and it will be even more difficult if they are able to qualify for the Europa League.

Last season Jurgen Klopp complained about fixture congestion, suggesting that a winter break would benefit English football, but this season they aren’t in Europe after they reached the Europa League final last season.

That cup run, along with their run to the final of the League Cup aswell, didn’t help, and an eighth place finish is not where Liverpool want to be.

But this season Klopp will have a full pre season under his belt with a summer to go after his preferred signings, and  they can focus on the Premier League with more intent also, so Liverpool could do well, although a Champions League place could just elude them – for now.

Stoke, who have finished ninth in the last three consecutive seasons, have added a bit glamour to their steel recently, but simply need to start improving – a goalscoring striker would help – and Xherdan Shaqiri and Marko Arnautovic, who both had decent seasons last time out, will need to step up if Stoke want to start rising.

Chelsea, after their calamitous tenth place finish last year, will be without European football – for the club itself that is a major blow – but for there Premier League hopes, as we say so often, it could be blessing in disguise.

New boss Antonio Conte has a good track record with Juventus and Italy, and the addition of N’Golo Kante – in my opinion the Premier League’s best player last season – could transform their hopes, and Michy Batshuayi looks like a promising striker too – a return to the Champions League has to be the goal.

Ronald Koeman, who bizarrely chose to leave Southampton for Everton, will look to restore hope to Goodison Park after a dismal season under Roberto Martinez, but at the moment, it seems unlikely that he will be able to fire them up the table immediately, and it looks a long term project.

Moving onto Swansea, the future doesn’t look bright – the lossses of Ashley Williams, Andre Ayew and Bafetimibi Gomis – who were all key players last season – won’t help their cause, and their source of goals looks almost non-existent.

Icelandic midfielder Gylfi Sigurdsson will have a lot of pressure on his shoulders to help keep Swansea up, but it looks a difficult task.

Watford also don’t look in good shape – sacking your manager after guiding the club to a 13th place finish when most people thought they would go down is never a good idea, and a heavy reliance on Odion Ighalo and Troy Deeney is worrying; a spell of bad form or an injury could lead to a disastrous season.

West Brom under Tony Pulis have a squad lacking in Premier League quality, and they’ll be in a relegation battle from day one, but with Pulis being a manager who is unlikely to have a team not doing the basics properly, they should survive – albeit by the skin of their teeth.

Crystal Palace started 2015/16 in fine form – and that was what saved them, as they became the last English team to win a league game in 2016 – and if that form continues they could struggle, especially if they lose Yannick Bolasie.

A striker has been needed for a while now, but Andros Townsend could provide a source of goals that will be useful, but they could be involved in a relegation battle.

Bournemouth should once again look to survive this season – I don’t think it’s time for them to begin making top half pushes, that should be next season – for now, Eddie Howe’s e will look to continue playing good football, and consolidate their Premier League position.

Sam Allardyce saved Sunderland last season, but as he has now become the England manager, David Moyes has a tricky task on his hand – will Jermain Defoe keep on scoring? Can Moyes plug the gaps in their leaky defence? For now they look good enough to survive, but it is about time that they either pushed on into mid table or go down?

Looking at Burnley, the last two times they have come up to the Premier League, they’ve gone straight back down again, and many people are tipping them to do just that this season, but they are a strong side.

Sean Dyche has moulded together what should be, at last, a side who can survive in the Premier League season, and look out for Andre Gray – Burnley’s top scorer last time out could thrive again.

Middlesbrough, who came second in the championship, should also survive, and the shrewd signing of Alvaro Negredo could be one of the best all summer, whilst Hull, who won the play-offs, have a near impossible task.

They currently don’t have a manager after Steve Bruce resigned due to a disagreement with the board, and with only 13 senior players fit, they seem doomed to be relegated.

Here is my prediction:

1st Manchester City 2nd Manchester United 3rd Arsenal 4th Chelsea 5th Liverpool 6th Tottenham 7th Leicester 8th West Ham 9th Everton 10th Southampton 11th Stoke 12th Crystal Palace 13th Middlesbrough 14th Sunderland 15th Burnley 16th Bournemouth 17th West Brom 18th Swansea 19th Watford 20th Hull.

Despite Jose Mourinho’s Premier League experience, the fact that Pep has the better squad will see him claim the title, whilst Arsenal could make it a three horse race (if they sign a striker!!!!). Chelsea and Liverpool will be without European football which will benefit their league form, whilst Tottenham will be the opposite and it will work against them. Leicester will have a decent season but won’t hit previous heights, whulst Everton, West Ham and Southampton will be comfortably in mid-table, way ahead of the chasing pack. From here on it will be very tight, but the teams truly battling relegation will be Sunderland, Burnley, Bournemouth, West Brom, Swansea, Watford and Hull, and the latter three will all go down.

So, Jose, Pep, Klopp, Pogba, Zlatan, Vardy, Mahrez and Ranieri are all in the Premier League – this season is going to be huge!

 

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