August 10th is suddenly upon us and that means the start of the English Premier League season as Manchester United play host to Leicester City at Old Trafford. Hawkeye Sidekick runs the rule over the twenty teams on the starting blocks.
City still the team to catch?
The century point winning league champions were the standout team of the league last season. Their passing game was too much for the rest. City have secured the services of Mahrez from Leicester City, an excellent squad depth signing.
City are happy with their defensive setup and will hope that Vincent Kompany is injury free this season. Stones and Otamendi will have come on from their World Cup experience. The midfield is stacked with quality and De Bruyne, Sane, Silva will look to continue where they left off last season terrorizing league defenses.
The attacking options for Manchester City will be in the form of Aguero and Jesus and they should be expecting plenty of opportunities to score given the players around them. They are the side to beat this season and are a good bet (provided the players are hungry for further glory) to retain their title.
Pep also wielded the axe during the off-season. Toure and Hart bide farewell from the club; two players who have had indifferent relations with the manager. Several promising young players have also left the club for first team opportunity with Angus Gunn looking to impress at Southampton.
Liverpool poised to deliver title push?
Is this the season where Liverpool deliver a league title? This is a crucial season for Jurgen Klopp and squad given the investment on new talent this off-season. Four marquee signings may their debuts for the club this season. Fabinho, Keita, Shaqiri and Alisson will need time to settle but in doing so, will Liverpool lose valuable points to the likes of Manchester City early doors?
A second season for Mo Salah to confirm his talent and goal scoring prowess; an opening day home fixture against West Ham United should be the perfect platform for the player and club to start the season in the right fashion.
The defensive side of the team has being highlighted last season but the central defensive positions look strong. van Djik and Lovren struck an effective partnership in the second half of last season.
Robertson and Alexander-Arnold are two full backs full of potential and pace. The keeper situation has being addressed with Alisson but the Brazilian keeper will need to answer early questions on his aerial ability. If he can come through this unscathed, Liverpool are in with a great chance of securing a much coveted league title.
Tottenham content with squad depth?
For the first time since the transfer window was introduced, Tottenham Hotspur decided not to sign any player (much to the disappointment of Jack Grealish). The club have sent out the statement that squad depth is sufficient as they prepare to move back to the Lane. The home fixture with title rival Liverpool should be a standout moment of the season.
Massive onus on Harry Kane to continue to be the main man to score the goals. Alli, Song and Eriksen will provide the creativity and flair in the side. The question is when Kane is injured, who will provide the scoring threat? Defensive solid with the likes of Vertonghen and Sanchez in the ranks, expect Trippier to become an even more prominent player from the set piece given his impressive World Cup cameo.
The question is with respect to the striking options when Kane is injured or unavailable for team selection; it is the biggest concern for the club and Llorente will need to contribute more than last season which was brief cameo appearances.
Manchester United in limbo?
What to expect from United this season? A mixed bag truth be told. Can the manager get the best out of Paul Pogba who showed with France this summer that he is capable of playing a disciplined midfield role? The prospect of Matic being absent for the start of the season places pressure on McTominay and no discernible replacement for retired Carrick.
It has being an interesting off season at the club. Early summer signings with Fred the standout but the end of this window has proved increasingly frustrating. The chase for a central defender foiled several times; Maguire, Godin, Boateng and any other defensive player they approached were out of reach. A messy end to transfer dealings which has only increased Mourinho’s frustration to the media yesterday.
The performance of Sanchez will be keenly watched; an interrupted preseason showed glimpses of brilliance from the player and he will need to be the focal point for attacking flair in the side. Rashford and Lukaku will be the main scoring threats as Martial looks primed to play a peripheral role given his extended absence from preseason. A season where Mourinho may decide that it is time to look elsewhere; the dreaded third season in charge, watch this space. United are not winning the title and top four is the priority this season with a cup run the likely outcome.
Arsenal: Post Wenger Era
The start of the Unai Emery era at Arsenal. The Arsenal TV fans will need to give the experienced manager the time to settle into the club. There have being key departures from the squad. No Mertesacker, Wilshere, Cazorla in the squad but Arsenal have secured the services of Lichtsteiner, Leno and Papastahopoulous who should contribute from the opening weekend.
What to expect from Arsenal this season? It is a good question. A daunting home game to start against Manchester City but the new manager will look for his side to express themselves with the ball and be compact when in defensive duties. Patrick Aubameyang should enjoy an excellent full season with the club; his pace, power and scoring prowess should see Arsenal take a couple of top four scalps but defensively there are concerns particularly in the central defensive areas. Top four finish is the priority for the club.
Are Everton the dark horse top four bet?
Everton have had on paper a strong transfer window and the board have backed new manager Silva in the transfer market. Richarlison is a risky buy given his record with Watford. Where now for Cenk Tosun? Digne from Barcelona will provide good options in the full back berth.
Bernard, Mina and Gomes if they can settle quickly into the side are quality additions. Mina has the skill set, power to settle the Everton defensive issues seen last season.
Silva is a well respected manager but the fact that he has being dismissed by Watford last season has cast a shadow on the appointment. Will Silva last the full season? Everton need a stable managerial tenure to grow but Silva has questions to answer particularly when the club have backed the manager to the hilt.
The fact that Jordan Pickford remained at the football club was almost another signing in the off-season as well as the fully fit Seamus Coleman to the ranks. This is a season which could deliver great promise for the club provided that they start the season well.
Everton were shrewd in their departures this off season. They cut their losses on Klaassen and Williams who did not settle at the club. The fortunes of the club rest on the new manager and Silva needs to deliver. Top six is attainable given the personnel assembled.
Burnley steady as she goes
Sean Dyche and squad should be applauded for the sixth position in the league last season. UEFA Europa League secured but it brings its own challenges to the club. The squad depth will be fully tested this season and if early season form dips, an uncomfortable relegation battle will ensue which would be a big disappointment.
The goalkeeper crisis at the club forced Dyche’s hand and it has provided Joe Hart with the perfect opportunity to restore his reputation as a top keeper in this league. Given the side’s defensive organization is usually on point, Hart should revel in the surroundings. When Pope and Heaton come back to the first team squad, the competition for the number one jersey will be epic.
Other transfer dealings were to reinforce the defensive squad depth with the capture of Gibson and Vydra arrives to bolster the attacking options. If Burnley finish in the top half of the table given their UEFA Europa League commitments, it would be regarded as a good season.
Leicester City after Mahrez
The departure of Mahrez from the club has being long in the offing. It is now a reality and we will see if the likes of Gray can fill the shoes and provide the ammunition for the likes of Vardy to score the goals.
Claude Puel and club held their ground with Manchester United’s advances of Harry Maguire. The England international defender will play a key role in the side defensively and with Kasper Schmeichel still at the club, the side look extremely strong defensively.
The squad has being reinforced with the signings of Pereira (Porto), Evans (WBA), Maddison (Norwich), Ward (Liverpool), Ghezzal, Benkovic (Dinamo Zagreb) and Soyuncu (Freiburg). Maddison is a player of tremendous upside and is one of the young players to watch in the league this season; good feet and his delivery from set piece should create goal scoring opportunities.
The attacking options without Vardy is the chief concern for the club, a top eight league berth should be attainable given the experience and defensive cover signed. Gray will be asked to be the Mahrez effect at the club.
Wolves: Mendes United
The Championship winners from last season have wasted no time to strengthen their squad depth for the challenge of the top flight. Exciting signings come in the form of Boly, Patricio, Moutinho, Traore. Afobe arrives with EPL experience from AFC Bournemouth and then you have one of the potential shrewd signings of the window with Leander Dendoncker arriving to bolster the midfield ranks.
I am genuinely excited to see how the new signings blend in with the current squad and their footballing style was so easy on the eye last season. The time to integrate the new signings is key here and could be an issue early doors but expect Wolves given their squad quality to have more than enough to secure a respectable mid-table position. Moutinho’s experience to midfield also a real positive for the Midlands club. A quality addition to the league; great stadium and fan base.
AFC Bournemouth look to move onwards
Eddie Howe has being given transfer funds to bolster the squad after an inconsistent past season. The performances were a mixed bag and the squad needed rejuvenation.
Several squad members have departed the club. Arter , Gradel and Federici lead the list. Howe has reinvested in the squad with three targeted signings. Brooks arrives from Sheffield United, an exciting midfielder who will look to create from the wide channels. Rico is an established La Liga defender who comes from Leganes and their chief summer target was finally secured with the capture of midfielder Jefferson Lerma from Levante.
The team’s passing style is lovely on the eye but do the team have sufficient quality at both ends of the pitch to contend in the UEFA Europa League race? Initial answer would be no and I think mid-table position is the prediction for the club this season. King and Wilson will be required to produce the goods upfront.
Chelsea In Transition?
This is a season into the unknown for Chelsea. The unceremonious dismissal of Antonio Conte resulted in the appointment of Maurizio Sarri from Napoli. The managerial appointment will have to be judged on its merits as the season progresses but a good start is vital for the Italian to win over the board and fans that he is the man to lead the side on.
The off season has seen the departure of Thibault Courtois to Real Madrid. Kepa and Kovacic arrive to offset the loss but the two new arrivals will take time to acclimatize to the EPL style of play. Chelsea’s keeper options are Caballero and Green; enough said so the signing of Kepa is a win or bust scenario.
The potential signing for Chelsea of most promise is Jorginho, the player had a superb season with Napoli last season and will provide the side with attacking and defensive nous to complement the likes of Kante and Fabregas in the side.
The big question upfront is whether Morata can fulfill his potential and start to score goals on a regular basis. After a strong start, confidence quickly faded from the Spaniard with some glaring missed opportunities. If Morata fails to fire, questions will be asked of the side in the attacking department so more onus on Hazard to rescue the side.
I don’t see Chelsea as a title contender this season. The new head coach is an unknown quantity and his ability to adapt quickly to the EPL will be key for Chelsea to have a successful season. Chelsea will pick up momentum as the season wears on but early season dropped points will prove costly. Potential top four finish but it will be a close run thing.
Brighton & Hove Albion spending big to get to the next level
Chris Hughton has being backed in this transfer window with several arrivals of note which will look to increase squad depth and quality. Defensive options are boosted with Balogun, Bernardo and Montoya. Goalkeeper competition is increased with Steele and Button’s arrivals. The attacking options see Andone, Jahanbaksh (club record signing), Dreyer to provide goals and support to the likes of Glenn Murray. The middle of the park now contains Bissouma who will be well suited to the league. The key point for the club is how quickly these signings bed in and start to contribute. A quick start is required; otherwise Hughton may be looking over his shoulder as fans and board start to become impatient. Brighton & Hove Albion should be well safe this season; top half finish is a realistic aim.
Crystal Palace looking for goals
Roy Hodgson and squad deserve massive credit for their great escape last season. A dreadful start to the season saw the De Boer era finish as soon as it started and it was up to local boy Hodgson to pick up the pieces with the club securing their top flight place this season with a couple of games to go in the season.
The club has seen key arrivals and departures. Guaita is a key acquisition to increase competition for the number one spot. Kouyate provides defensive and midfield presence for Cabaye who has left. Zaha is the standout goal threat but there needs to be more goal scoring threat. Benteke will look to right the wrongs of last season but Hodgson is looking for alternatives as Max Meyer and Jordan Ayew arrive to bolster the strike force. Meyer potentially is a dark horse. Ayew is a mystery; not sure of the lure for the player who has not delivered for Swansea last season.
Palace will look to Zaha for the attacking inspiration and there will be moments of anxiety defensively but the side are well placed with Hodgson to reach forty point and secure their place in the league next season. Mid-table finish.
Newcastle United look vulnerable
Rafa Benitez is a worried man. The lack of off season activity from the club means that the manager will have to use all his tactical nous to stave off a lengthy relegation battle.
Dubravka and Kenedy were key recruits at the start of the calendar year. Muto, Rondon will look to provide the goals for a side who struggled in this department last season. Fernandez signing is astute; defensive experience but nothing standing out in terms of any summer arrivals truth be told.
I fear for Newcastle United this season; thought this off season was an opportunity missed by the club to consolidate their league position as clubs around them have invested big in their squads, sense a relegation battle and if Benitez walks away could go down.
West Ham United splash the cash
Last season was a scene from Dream Team for the football club. Fan protests against the board, fans invading the pitch were all too common. The board have responded with support to Pellegrini in the transfer market and the recruits joining look potentially astute.
Fabianski is a goalkeeper well respected in the league and he will provide excellent squad depth with Adrian. All areas of the pitch have being covered with particular attention on Wilshere for the coming season. If the player can remain fit, his passing style and play will be ignite West Ham as an attacking side. The striking options will see Arnautovic playing a key role; the Austrian was superb in the second half of last season and will be the main target man.
Squad depth looks on point with the acquisitions of Anderson, Yarmolenko as well so the club should not be in a relegation battle this season. Top ten finish potentially if the side can start the season with aplomb. Otherwise, fan hostility to the club and team will intensify leading to a hideous atmosphere and relegation battle will loom large.
Huddersfield Town look doomed
Huddersfield Town did something no-one expected last season; stave off relegation. A great achievement for the town, the club, the squad and the fans. This season sees added challenges for management and playing group and the sense of surprise is no longer a trick card to play for Wagner’s side.
Experienced campaigners in Whitehead and Green have departed and the arrivals are uninspiring. Sobhi struggled for form at Stoke City last season. Hamer will provide backup for Lossl. Durm, Kongolo, Diakhaby and Mbenza are quite frankly unknown quantities which is a worry and concern.
Dressing room leadership is further eroded by the loss of Hefele who has left for Nottingham Forest; a popular figure around the club. This is a season where the harsh realities of EPL life will be exposed; do not see another fairytale survival this season and could be down by next March. An early season winning stretch is required to have any chance as squad depth will be ruthlessly exposed.
Southampton start the Hughes era
Southampton have responded with that near miss with a shrewd transfer window. Tadic has left for Eredivisie and his replacement comes in the form of Stuart Armstrong from Celtic. Angus Gunn arrives with an excellent reputation and will provide additional keeping squad depth for Forster, McCarthy. Vestergaard has the ability to be an excellent defensive and set piece signing. Danny Ings will provide pace and goal scoring nous for the side who struggled in front of goal last season (particularly Shane Long).
A season of consolidation and I suspect Southampton may have to battle for a time around the lower half of the league before moving away from relegation trouble by Christmas. Hughes and January transfer window looks pivotal if they harbor any aspirations for a top ten berth.
Fulham keen to impress
Fulham have had an active transfer window with several marquee signings in all areas of the park. Seri was an early standout signing. The Nice player was courted by the likes of Liverpool before deciding to join Fulham. Schurrle provides a wealth of EPL experience from his time at Chelsea. Mitrovic provides attacking and goal threat; a player who could be a key player for the side if he hits the ground running.
The new signings will provide good quality depth options for management to complement the talent of Cairney and Sessegnon who will look to impress in the top flight; two superb young talents. With an owner looking for the club to grow at a massive rate, the world is at Fulham’s feet and if a deal to purchase Wembley is pulled off, the revenue streams could be incredible. Top mid-table position to start off their top fight stay.
Cardiff City could struggle
Neil Warnock has done a superb job at Cardiff City, a club who were spiraling out of the control before his arrival. His classic man management approach has worked a treat and the side were a cohesive unit last season with the likes of Hoilett, Connolly, Etheridge to the fore.
This season has seen several key signings to complement the talent in the squad containing Gunnarsson, experienced operator in both international and top flight level. The issue is that the arrivals lack top flight experience, good Championship players who are looking to get to the next level.
Only Harry Arter has EPL experience from the players signed and this is a concern if the new arrivals such as Murphy, Reid, Camarasa, Smithies struggle early doors. The fact that Warnock has not kept a team up in the top flight is another concern whose post-game comments could get the manager into disciplinary trouble.
After a promising start, squad depth and experience will kick in and I sense that Cardiff City could be relegated come next May. January transfer window will be pivotal for the club to acquire key loan signings to stave this predicament.
Watford Jekyll and Hyde
Watford are a mysterious club; they wheel and deal managers and players like no one else in the league and this off season was no different in the squad department.
The marquee signings of Deulofeu (Barcelona), Navarro (Barcelona), Foster (WBA), Sema (Ostersund) will provide strength in depth but the side have being inconsistent over recent seasons at the cost of the manager who has being sacked.
Silva was shown the door last season and Garcia will get the same treatment if Watford perform in the same vain; don’t think they will go down but might struggle at the bottom half of the league for long stretches so the games against teams around them will be key.
The big issue for Watford is who will score the goals in the side with the departure of Richarlison from the club? Interesting to see how Garcia manages that big issue if he is given the time. Lower half of the league with the odd top four scalp thrown in for good measure; their inconsistency must drive their fans demented.
League Champions: Manchester City
Top Four: Manchester City, Liverpool, Tottenham, Chelsea
Europa League: Manchester United, Arsenal
Relegation: Cardiff City, Newcastle United, Huddersfield Town