With the sun rising on the 26th season of the English Premier League on the 11th August 2017, football fans and clubs alike across the world are hard at work commencing their preparations for the new campaign. The summer transfer window of 2017 has been a considerably expensive one, with Arsenal and Liverpool both breaking their club transfer records in their purchases of Alexandre Lacazette and Mohammed Salah respectively, and Manchester United broke the record for transfers between British clubs after signing Romelu Lukaku from Everton. But will these signings help secure a better push up the table for the 3 traditional powers of English football?
Below we preview the full English Premier League season of 2017/18.
The EPL Title Race: It’s All About the Money
Defending champions Chelsea have their work cut out for their title defence. The Blues have been quiet compared to their Manchester rivals in securing new signings, but there’s a case to suggest there’s been no compromise to quality in their new players. The combative Bakayoko (Monaco), versatile Rudiger (Roma) and technically adept Morata (Real Madrid) add both potential and depth to the experience that coach Antonio Conte already has at his disposal at Stamford Bridge. However, it’s alleged that Conte has been relatively disappointed with the club’s transfer affairs. A left back may still yet arrive before the close of the window, and some other players in supportive roles.
Manchester United, meanwhile, have had an expensive but relatively focused window, which has seen them secure definitive improvements in key positions. A Matic, Pogba and Herrera midfield ahead of an improved defence with new centre back Lindelof can only seek to further reinforce the defensive solidity that coach Jose Mourinho established last season. New striker Romelu Lukaku may find it difficult to shoulder the bulk of the goalscoring burden, but if United do in fact, find some more goals from their youthful frontline, expect them to convert a few more draws into wins, allowing the experience of the Portuguese coach to be drawn upon for an outside title challenge.
Across the city, the Citizens’ spending has been both intimidating and impressive. The frontline has received considerable support with dribble-wizard Bernardo Silva (Monaco). At full-back, Kyle Walker (Spurs), Danilo (Juventus) and Benjamin Mendy (Monaco) bring massive improvements to the ageing options of Zabaleta, Kolarov, Sagna and Clichy, all of whom have left the club. The wildcard is new goalkeeper Ederson, whose performances at Benfica earnt him massive credibility but it remains to be seen if the young Brazilian will translate well into English football. That said, it’s hard to see Ederson being particularly busy. Ahead of him, City’s options read like a fantasy football team; Gundogan, De Bruyne, Sane, David (and Bernardo) Silva, Sterling, Gabriel Jesus and Aguero make for imposing depth and frightening versatility in the hands of a tactically adventurous Pep Guardiola.
Prediction: Given present squads, a brave man bets against Manchester City for top spot, and Guardiola surely can’t escape another season at the Etihad empty handed. Chelsea still possess the best balanced squad in the top flight, if a touch short of quality in depth in key positions. Expect the wild card to be Manchester United, who should improve considerably on their last season’s finish and land a spot in the top 3.
Download the 2017/18 EPL fixture list
The Top 4 Race: So Close, Yet So Far
Arsenal’s 75 point campaign in 2016/17 was the highest ever total for a team finishing 5th in English Premier League history. The FA Cup win may have added some polish to a disappointing league campaign, but the reality remains that Wenger’s side seems no closer to challenging for the title since its more convincing attempts to do so in the mid 2000s. The signings of Kolasinac feels typical of Arsenal; a free agent that represents a definitive upgrade at left back. Record signing Lacazette, however, is markedly different. The Frenchman adds flair and goal-scoring mobility to an attack that didn’t lack much in that department, especially given that Alexis Sanchez remains an Arsenal player. Should that change before the end of the transfer window, expect the Gunners’ chances for top 4 to reduce considerably.
Tottenham Hotspur, intriguingly, have been very quiet in the transfer window, and despite the big money departure of Kyle Walker, appear highly unlikely to move for any players. This isn’t to say they’re not in need of improvement, but given the London club’s relative financial disadvantage to the 5 richer clubs in last season’s top 6, chairman Daniel Levy may well feel the incremental push up the table from a spending spree may be negligible and damaging to Spurs broader fortunes. That isn’t to say coach Mauricio Pochettino has a poor side at his disposal. Spurs deservedly secured a 2nd place finish last season, and their impressive spine of Lloris, Alderweireld, Vertonghen, Wanyama, Alli and Kane remains intact. Add meaningful contributions by Son Heung-Min, Eriksen and Dembele, amongst others, and it’s hard not to see Spurs again repeat the feat of being a side that’s tough to beat and effective in attack.
Liverpool, meanwhile, have had a largely frustrating transfer window with key targets Virgil Van Dijk (Southampton) and Naby Keita (Red Bull Leipzig) both remaining with their clubs. It’s unclear if Liverpool may manage to secure them in the end or if they have alternative targets in mind, but with the arrivals of Mohamed Salah (Roma), Dominic Solanke (Chelsea) and Andy Robertson (Hull), the Anfield side go into next season having been unable to address the key weaknesses that undermined their 2016/17 campaign. There is logic in banking on star performances from a wiser and more experienced Coutinho, Firmino and less fitness disruptions to Sturridge and Mane, but should Liverpool continue to leak goals, the new campaign will feel all too uncomfortably familiar.
Prediction: Arsenal’s marginal improvements should see them run their North London rivals much closer for 4th, but we anticipate that continuity may yet prove to be Tottenham’s most crucial characteristic in another top 4 finish, as long as Pochettino doesn’t lose any more players. Liverpool remain the wildcard; their attacking prowess is as impressive as their coach’s energy, but their rivals have done a far better job addressing weaknesses, which may leave the Merseyside club adrift of the top 4 once again.
Escaping the Drop: A Question of Circumstance
While it’s often the case for promoted sides from the Championship to be heavily favoured for the drop, somehow, it’s hard to see this happening for the returning Newcastle United. Led now by former Liverpool, Chelsea and Real Madrid boss Rafael Benitez, the Magpies have made some astute signings in players like Christian Atsu (Chelsea) and Javier Manquillo (Atletico Madrid) to join some familiar Premier League faces like Dwight Gayle, Jonjo Shelvey and Tim Krul. Benitez’s experience is expected to keep the Newcastle faithful cheering on a triumphant survival act come season end.
By comparison, it seems that most expect Huddersfield Town’s debut appearance in the Premier League to be short lived. The Terriers added experienced centre back Mathias Jorgensen, Belgian journeyman Laurent Depoitre and talented forward Tom Ince to boost the ranks in the transfer window, while also securing Australian fan favorite Aaron Mooy on a permanent basis. This, however, hasn’t given pundits much confidence that the distinct gap in quality will be overcome.
Equal speculation has been applied to Brighton and Hove Albion, who despite running Newcastle close for the photo finish to the Championship summit last season, are also expected to be unsuccessful in escaping the drop. They, like Huddersfield, are also making a Premier League debut. Brighton have made some intriguing signings, particularly well rated Australian international goalkeeper Mat Ryan and experienced fullback Markus Suttner, but it’s expected that the goal flush quartet of Glenn Murray, Tomer Hemed, Anthony Knockaert and Sam Baldock will enjoy far less fortunes in the goalscoring department in Premier League football.
That leaves one more club to select for the drop and in this respect, the prospects are very difficult to assess. Crystal Palace’s new manager Frank De Boer comes with European pedigree to mesh fairly well with some prodigious talents such as Cabaye, Zaha and Benteke. Swansea’s transfer window has appeared somewhat underwhelming, and it’s unclear if the club will be able to hold onto talisman Gylfi Sigurdsson for much longer. Burnley’s window has also been equally unspectacular, and the loss of centre back Michael Keane may prove a crucial turning point in their case for survival. Watford have also made an intriguing coaching in coach Marco Silva, along with experienced midfield Tom Cleverley and highly rated midfielder Will Hughes, though support for top scorer Troy Deeney remains sparse.
Prediction: We’re banking on the broader experience of coaches Rafa Benitez, Frank De Boer and Marco Silva to count in favour of Newcastle, Crystal Palace and Watford’s survival. Huddersfield seems a certainty to enjoy a brief stay, while the lack of meaningful reinforcements to Burnley’s squad makes it somewhat hard to see them surviving the drop. The wildcard we’re bravely considering for escaping the drop is Brighton, whose varied options in goalscoring may just prove decisive in winning more crucial points than Swansea, especially if the latter are without Llorente and Sigurdsson for any extended periods of time.