This is the first part of my (admittedly late) predictions for the new Premier League season. They’ll almost certainly be mostly wrong but it’ll be fun to look back on them in May. The second part of the preview will be out later today.
Eddie Howe’s side successfully avoided the dreaded second-season syndrome with a best-ever 9th place finish. They have made some shrewd signings this summer that should help them further cement their Premier League status – Nathan Ake returns, this time on a permanent basis, Asmir Begovic is an upgrade on Artur Boruc and Jermain Defoe returns after sixteen years away. Crucially, the Cherries have also retained key players from last season, in particular top scorer Josh King. Some question marks remain over their defence, which may prevent them from finishing any higher than mid-table.
Arsene Wenger’s remarkable run of top 4 finishes came to an end after 21 years, but the veteran manager resisted calls for him to quit and will be aiming to qualify for the Champions League as an absolute minimum. Arsenal will also have the challenge of balancing the demands of the league with Thursday night Europa League football. They will be hoping Alexandre Lacazette can bring a consistency that Olivier Giroud has been unable to offer, and Saed Kolasinac should add a bit of bite to the defence. Keeping hold of Alexis Sanchez is pivotal, but even with him the Gunners are facing an uphill struggle to return to the top level of European football, which could spell the end for Wenger. A good start is important if they want to prevent the atmosphere turning toxic at the Emirates.
Brighton and Hove Albion
The Seagulls are one of the feel-good stories of the season, going from the brink of extinction 20 years ago to the top flight for the first time since 1983. Everything is in place off the field for a serious tilt at the Premier League, so it’s now down to Chris Hughton and his squad to do the business on the field. The club have broken their club record twice already this summer, signing PSV midfielder Davy Propper and goalkeeper Matthew Ryan, with winger Jose Izquierdo expected to join soon from Club Brugge. Hughton has the Premier League experience that his squad lacks, and their organisation means they shouldn’t get thrashed too often, though they probably still need another striker. Staying out of the bottom three is surely the only aim for this season.
Sean Dyche’s second tilt at the Premier League with Burnley was one of the more impressive performances of last season, as they comfortably avoided relegation on the back of their superb home form. Turf Moor was one of the toughest grounds to visit, and they’ll need it to remain a fortress if they are to survive again. Two key players – Andre Gray and Michael Keane – have departed and neither have been replaced so far. Jon Walters and Phil Bardsley have been brought in from Stoke City, but they’ll need more proven quality going at both ends of the field. The away form will also need to improve significantly if the Clarets are to establish themselves as a Premier League club.
Antonio Conte had a spectacular first season at Stamford Bridge, winning the league at a canter with his dynamic 3-4-2-1 formation getting the best out of Diego Costa and Eden Hazard. Despite this the summer has not gone to plan and the squad looks remarkably thin going into the start of the season. With Costa expected to depart, Alvaro Morata will be expected to lead the line, Bakayoko will be a direct replacement for Matic and Antonio Rudiger strengthens the back line, but more additions need to be made. Many potential squad players have left – Asmir Begovic and Nathan Ake on permanent deals, and Kurt Zouma, Tammy Abraham and Ruben Loftus-Cheek on loan to other Premier League sides. It looks unlikely they will be able to sustain a challenge in both the league and Europe, which could spell trouble for Conte.
After a messy start to last season under Alan Pardew, the ever-reliable Sam Allardyce steadied the ship to ensure Palace of another season in the top flight. He surprisingly quit over the summer and his successor is former Ajax and Inter manager Frank de Boer, who will be aiming to implement the classic Dutch brand of passing football. Whether he has the individuals for that system remains to be seen – Palace have very much been a counter-attacking side over the last few years. Johan Riedewald is the only permanent addition so far, with Loftus-Cheek and Timothy Fosu-Mensah arriving on loan. It will take a while for everyone to get used to the new system, but an attack containing Christian Benteke and Wilfried Zaha should be good enough to keep them up at least.
Ronald Koeman had a promising first season in charge of the Merseyside team, finishing in a league of their own in seventh – eight points behind sixth and 15 points ahead of eighth. They’ve spent big in an attempt to close the gap to those above. With Romelu Lukaku heading to Manchester United and Ross Barkley also expected to depart, Koeman has focused on strengthening the spine of the team – Jordan Pickford, Michael Keane and Davy Klassen will go straight into the side. Wayne Rooney returns though it remains unclear how much game time he’ll get, particularly as Gylfi Sigurdsson is expected to sign and would likely fill the number 10 role. Expectations are high at Goodison Park as Everton look to join England’s elite, but this season could end up being a transitional one as the new players bed in.
The Terriers were the surprise package of last season’s Championship, challenging for automatic promotion for the first half of the season before fading away. They gathered themselves and won two penalty shootouts in the play-offs to earn their first top-flight appearance since 1972. Manager David Wagner was key to that success, having been well backed by owner and lifelong fan Dean Hoyle. Aaron Mooy and Elias Kachunga have signed permanent deals, while Steve Mounie and Tom Ince will add to the side’s attack. Keeping hold of Wagner is key to their chances of staying in the Premier League, though even with him in charge they may not have enough quality over the course of the season.
The 2015/16 champions had a mixed campaign to say the least, reaching the quarter finals of the Champions League and finishing 12th in the league having sacked Claudio Ranieri after a run of poor results. The players had lost faith in the Italian and results picked up the moment he was gone, so Craig Shakespeare has been given the manager’s job on a full-time basis. The spine of the team has been strengthened with Harry Maguire, Vicente Iborra and Kelechi Iheanacho joining. Rumours persist around the future of Riyad Mahrez and Danny Drinkwater has been linked with a move to Chelsea, though even without them they shouldn’t be threatened by relegation this time round.
Despite a few blips along the way, Jurgen Klopp’s first full season in charge was a success with his Liverpool side finishing in the top four. Mo Salah will be an excellent fit for their high-tempo, aggressive style of play, Andrew Robertson has arrived from Hull and promising young striker Dominic Solanke has joined from Chelsea. So far the search for a new centre-back has been unsuccessful – this was clearly Liverpool’s weakest area last season, and if they hope to qualify for the Champions League again it is critical that additions are made in this area before the end of August. A potential spanner in the works is Philippe Coutinho’s rumoured transfer to Barcelona, following Neymar’s move to Paris. The Brazilian has handed in a transfer request so there may be a rush to replace him before the end of August.
How do you think these sides will fare this season? Let me know in the comments below.