It’s been said many times before, but is this to be the Premier League’s most exciting season yet?
There are six, or possibly seven teams who can all lay claim to having a reasonable shot at the title this year, whilst at the other end of the table the league looks far stronger this year; there will be no Aston Villa or Sunderland type team that will almost volunteer to be relegated themselves. No, this year the battle to avoid the drop could be as close as the battle at the top, as the quality of teams appears to be at a higher standard than we’ve seen for quite a few years.
Now, my prediction of last season’s table was forgettable to say the least, but I’ll go again in the hope of better luck this time round. It is widely agreed that this year’s top seven is likely to be the same as last year’s: Chelsea, Tottenham, Man City, Liverpool, Arsenal, Manchester United and Everton. However, it is the order of those teams that will be so hard to predict.
This season I’ve gone with City for the title again. In 2016/17, perhaps not all at the club were entirely behind Pep Guardiola and his methods, but after a full season of Premier League experience under his belt accompanied with an even better squad than last time out, the blue half of Manchester look too good to not win the league.
Young Brazilian Gabriel Jesus impressed in his first few games in a City shirt last season before injury ruled him out until the last few weeks of the season where he came back and scored even more goals. On a couple of occasions Pep has selected Jesus over Sergio Aguero, and to do that again this season would be a bold move, but this does look like the breakthrough season for the youngster. Pep may also experiment with Jesus out wide, but I would like to see a system with both him and Aguero as a partnership up front, perhaps with Jesus just behind his Argentinian team-mate.
Pep also has decisions to make with regards to the selection of the rest of his team too, with Leroy Sane, David Silva, Raheem Stering, Bernardo Silva and Kevin De Bruyne at his disposal for attacking midfield options.
From there, he also has to choose between Fernandinho, Yaya Toure and Ilkay Gundogan as deeper midfielders, and one would hope that the latter is given as much game time as possible after the German international was yet again plagued by injuries last year, despite looking impressive when playing.
He has spent £100m on Kyle Walker and Benjamin Mendy as upgrades to Aleksandr Kolarov and Pablo Zabaleta in the full-back positions, whilst he will be praying that this is the year where John Stones fulfils his promise and become’s one of the league’s best centre backs.
In goal, a world record fee (for a goalkeeper) has been spent in order to bring Edinson in from Benfica, and Pep will hope that he fares better than Claudio Bravo after a poor season in Manchester for the Chilean.
Having so many good players to choose from is a problem most managers would love to have but leaving out top players could also create disharmony amongst the group.
He’ll have to play his cards wisely, but with the sqaud he has, I’m tipping Pep’s Manchester City for the title.
The rest of my top four are made up of Manchester United, Chelsea and Tottenham.
Last year one of Man United’s main problems was goals, and after effectively sacrificing their league position in order to win the Europa League and thus qualify for the Champions League, Mourinho’s men finished a measly sixth.
This season though, with the addition of £75m man Romelu Lukaku to bolster United’s strikeforce, a sqaud with potential could turn into a squad that performs.
Goals may have been hard to come by at times last year for United in comparison with other top sides, but with Romelu Lukaku, Marcus Rashford, Henrikh Mkitaryan and Anthony Martial as main goal threats, that could all change.
Players such as Jesse Lingard and Juan Mata will also make a difference, whilst Ander Herrera and Paul Pogba are threatening to become one of the world’s best midfield duos, and this could be their year.
Despite being villified by a number of opposition clubs, Ander Herrera has his best season in a United shirt yet in 2016/17 and should he continue that, he will only be counting on Pogba to do the business too.
After Man United spent £90m to bring him back to the club from Juventus, he went below the radar for much of the season in a campaign where he often failed to dazzle.
However, this time out it could be his time to shine, his undoubted class brought trophies at Juventus, now it’s time to bring trophies to United.
In third place, I’ve gone with last season’s champions, Chelsea.
The signing of Alvaro Morata looks a good one, although it is hard to see how the Spaniard can improve on Diego Costa’s performances.
Costa, who looks set to leave after being told he wasn’t part of Conte’s plans earlier this year, is Chelsea’s main departure from their title-winning team of last season, along with Nemanja Matic.
The sale of Matic, a star performer from last season, to title rivals Manchester United, almost looks like Chelsea have themselves in the foot.
Not only have they sold a key player in their team, but they’ve handed him to Jose Mourinho where he will line up alongside Ander Herrera and allow Paul Pogba to play further forward and cause havoc.
It is a strange decision to say the least, and one that could leave Chelsea on the back foot; United and City look far stronger this year.
I’m tipping Tottenham to finish in the final Champions League spot this season, and although they will have to overcome thier Wembley hoodoo, they are undoubtedly a fantastic side.
The sale of Kyle Walker to Manchester City was their only notable departure from last season’s side which were Chelsea’s closest challengers for the title, but Kieran Trippier, who will replace him at right-back, is arguably the better players anyway.
Oddly, Spurs have not made a single signing so far this summer, and although their first 11 is definitely capable of challenging for top spot, one would’ve expected them to bolster their ranks and add depth to their sqaud ahead of what is likely to be an extended Champions League campaign in comparison with last season.
Still, with Harry Kane, Christian Eriksen, Dele Alli, and Toby Alderweireld providing the spine of the team, they should be in the mix for first place for most of the year, but in what could be the tightest season yet, I expect them to fall just short once again.
In fifth, I expect Arsene Wenger’s men to miss out on Champions Leaue football for the second year running.
Whilst they have a good team that are capable of challenging high in the league, they simply don’t look as strong as Spurs, Chelsea, City and United.
Still, the acquisition – at last – of a top striker in Alexandre Lacazette should bolster thier firepower as he’ll look to score at least 20 goals this season, and new left-back Sead Kolasinac, who impressed on his Arsenal debut in the community shield with the equalising goal, looks as shrewd a buy as you’ll see all summer.
The big question mark still remains though – will Alexis Sanchez stay?
There have been strong rumours that both Manchester City and PSG are interested in bringing the Chilean to the club, although the former probably wouldn’t need another attacker, and the latter have just signed Neymar, so a deal would be unlikely, but it still seems possible that Sanchez could be on his way out.
Should he stay, Arsenal are likely to be contending for a champions league place or even higher, should he go, they could struggle.
In sixth, it could be a backwards step for Jurgen Klopp’s Liverpool.
With strong interest from Barcelona, star man Phillipe Coutinho could be out of the door this summer, which would no doubt be a blow for their campaign.
However, new signing Mohamed Salah will get his second crack in the Premier League after struggling with Chelsea, but off the back of a fine season with Roma, the Egyptian could cause problems for Premier League defences with his pace and eye for goal, making him slot in perfectly on the opposite wing to Sadio Mane.
While Salah is a good buy, Liverpool still seem to be lacking a genuine centre-forward.
Daniel Sturridge’s career was summed up in a nutshell in a pre-season game against Bayern Munich, coming off the bench and scoring a delightful chip, but injuring himself in the process of taking the shot.
Once again he will be a doubt and will be unreliable for the rest of the season, while Roberto Firmino isn’t really an out and out striker.
In seventh place I’ve gone with Everton, where Wayne Rooney has returned to his boyhood club.
Despite the sale of Romelu Lukaku to Manchester United, Everton look prepared for what should be a good campaign.
In adding Jordan Pickford, Michael Keane, Davy Klaasen, Wayne Rooney and Sandro Ramirez, Ronald Koeman has created an impressive new spine for the team.
It remains to be seen whether former Barcelona man Sandro can score the goals that Lukaku did, but he shouldn’t lack in providers as Klaasen appears to be a class midfielder.
Idrissa Gana Gueye will do the dirty work once again, and he is the one that often makes the difference for Everton; you notice when he’s not playing.
All in all, like last season, these top seven teams look a cut above the rest, but the thirteen below will be of a much higher quality this time out.
In eighth, I’m expecting West Ham to do the unexpected.
Amongst all the drama involving the Dimitri Payet saga and the poor performances at their new London stadium, Slaven Bilic has consistently been under pressure, but while some may expect him to finally crack, it could be the opposite.
New signing Javier Hernandez could be one of the buys of the summer.
He had a decent spell with Manchester United back in the premier league a few years ago and he has scored goals pretty much everywhere he’s been, and might just be the answer to West Ham’s problems.
Their defence may still be shaky, but Hernandez’s goals combined with Manuel Lanzini’s class from midifeld could be a frightening prospect.
Following them closely are Southampton in ninth under another new manager in Mauricio Pellegrino.
Pellegrino guided newly promoted Alaves to a ninth place finish and a cup final in Spain last season, which caught the eye down south.
Whilst results are still imperative, Southampton fans are craving some entertainment after a dire end to Claude Puel’s rein, but if he can get Manolo Gabbiadini scoring again and Nathan Redmond and Sofiane Boufal rejuvenated, the goals should flow, but that will be no easy task.
The Saints broke their transfer record for the third consecutive window to bring Juventus midfielder Mario Lemina to the club, and he could also get the feel-good factor going again at St Mary’s.
In tenth place, I’ve gone with Frank De Boer’s Crystal Palace.
After Sam Allardyce saved them from relegation last season, he resigned and it is De Boer’s job to take the team back to where they should be, and with their sqaud they are more than capable of a top half finish.
They under-performed for much of last season but the likes of Christian Benteke, Wilfried Zaha, Andros Townsend and Yohan Cabaye make up a strong side, and if De Boer can get them playing effective football under his possession-based philosophy, there’s no reason why they can’t go far.
In 11th, 12th and 13th I have Bournemouth, West Brom and Leicester respectively.
Under Eddie Howe the Cherries finished an impressive ninth last term, but they haven’t rested on their laurels, moving quickly to bring in Asmir Begovic, Nathan Ake and Jermian Defoe to strengthen the sqaud.
West Brom will almost certainly avoid any kind of relegation battle again, but under Tony Pulis it seems as if that side has reached its peak.
Pulis will keep them safe every year, but will it ever get much better than mid-table mediocrity?
As for Leicester, the back to basics approach worked wonders under Craig Shakespeare after Claudio Ranier’s shock sacking, and now it’s time to take it up a notch with the signing of Kelechi Iheanacho showing they want to keep improving.
They could lose Riyad Mahrez to Roma, which would be a blow, but they stil have the majority of their title-winning team amongst their ranks, so they should avoid any relegation scraps this time round.
In 14th, 15th, 16th and 17th, I’ve chosen Newcastle, Stoke, Watford and Swansea, all of which could find themselves battling to avoid the drop.
Under Rafa Benitez, the Magpies look the safest of the four, and although their sqaud appears fairly basic, Benitez will get the best out of his men in a functional system, something that not many teams will be able to do.
As for Stoke, they appear to be on a decline.
The loss of Marko Arnautovic to West Ham is a blow, and they still need a striker; Peter Crouch being their top scorer last season tells its own story.
Wilfried Bony looks like deadwood and it remains to be seen if Saido Berahino can fulfil his promise, Stoke need to move quickly or they could be in trouble this season.
Despite Marco Silva’s best efforts, Hull still went down in 2016/17.
In his new job, Silva finds himself with a far better chance of survival at Vicarage Road with a Watford side crying out for a bit of stability.
The signing of Andre Gray from relegation rivals Burnley could be massive, but Marco Silva has a lot of work to do to keep the Hornets up.
At Swansea, it looks almost certain now that their star man, Gylfi Sigurdsson, is set to leave, and Nigel Clement has an uphill task to save them without their Icelandic star.
As with Silva at Watford, Clement will hope to provide some stability in Wales after the club had three different managers last season, so Swans fans will be hoping that the board put a little faith into Clement’s work.
Young Tammy Abraham will hope to make an impact, whilst fellow striker Fernando Llorente will attempt to defy Wilfried Bony and Michu in his efforts to not be a ‘one season wonder’.
It almost pains me to predict the immediate relegation of Brighton, who have a wonderful story behind their ascent to the Premier League.
Still, under Chris Hughton there is no doubt that they will fight all the way, and whilst you shouldn’t rule out survival, it seems an unlikely feat, even if Anthony Knockeart can continue his fine performances from last season.
The sale of Andre Gray to Watford will not help Burnley, and this could well be the year they go down again.
Last season it was their home form that kept them up when their away form was so poor, but Turf Moor is unlikely to be as much of a fortress as it was last season, and if their away form doesn’t improve, a dismal season could be ahead.
The loss of Michael Keane will also unsteady the ship at the back, but Sean Dyche’s men won’t go down without a fight.
In 20th are David Wagner’s Huddersfield, who clinched promotion after two penalty shoot-out wins in the play-offs.
Wagner, the Jurgen Klopp disciple, lovesa high press, but against the top teams adopting that tactic could be fatal, especially against the likes of Man City and Arsenal.
The permanent signing of Aaron Mooy will definitely help, but it looks like a long season is in store for them.
Those top seven teams realy do all have a shot at the title, but will it be Conte again, or will Pep ad Jose be battling it out until the death?