The question most fans and pundits alike enjoy asking every season is “who will win the league or who will qualify for the UEFA Champions League?”
We will try and analyse clubs’ preparations and opportunities and hopefully we can guess correctly the premiership winners in the new season. Unless another club does a Leicester City FC and surprises everyone, we can safely say the battle for the title lies among the usual suspects of Manchester United, Manchester City, Chelsea and Arsenal, with Liverpool and Tottenham Hotspurs making great attempts to quite literally, turn the table upside down.
One of the first rules of football is that you don’t change a winning team, if anything, you improve it. Chelsea manager, Antonio Conte seems to have not got the memo. Just about the first thing he did after strolling to the Premiership title was to sack the club’s leading goal scorer and talisman, Diego Costa and release club captain, John Terry. Apparently, he sacked Costa via text message, you might add, because he was preparing the ground for the homecoming of Romelu Lukaku. However, things did not work out the way he planned because, Manchester United, managed by a former Chelsea manager, hijacked the Lukaku deal. In a bizarre episode, by the time you are reading this, United’s summer target, Alvaro Morata will most likely be the striker bought from Real Madrid to replace Costa.
Chelsea have signed keeper Willy Caballero from Manchester City to deputise for Courtois in goal. They have signed Antonio Rudiger from Roma to fill the gap left by John Terry and they have signed Tiemoue Bakayoko from Monaco to replace Nemanja Matic who is on his way to either Juventus or Manchester United. Observers believe Chelsea are not likely to retain the title for a few reasons. One of them is the fact that since 2011, no defending champions have been able to retain the title. Secondly, it appears Conte is trying to upset the applecart in the dressing room. He is not improving his champions, he is gradually replacing them. Footballers are like spoilt kids, they get upset over very petty things like seeing their best mates sent packing. Thirdly and probably most important, Chelsea have injuries to key players. Eden Hazard is out with injury and he won’t start the season. New boy Bakayoko is also out injured recovering from a knee operation. If Matic leaves, Chelsea will lose the defensive cordon in the midfield that was instrumental to their success last season. Although one good thing that could come out from this is the fact that they may get the chance to explore the creativeness of Cesc Fabregas in the middle. Then, that will depend on his connection with new boy Morata.
The Lillywhites have not been busy in the transfer market. They have sold Kyle Walker to rivals Man City, but they already have Tripper to cover his position. They are on the verge of losing Eric Dier to Manchester United but they are already lining up Ross Barkley to replace him. Therein lies Spurs’ handicap. They are not recruiting, they are filling exposed gaps. Since Mauricio Pochettino arrived at White Hart Lane, Spurs have improve a whole lot. Man for man, they have one of the best first eleven in the premiership. The problem is the bench. The squad is paper thin. Injuries and fatigue to first team starters without adequate replacements have played major roles in the way they ended up in the last two seasons. One would have thought the manager and owner would have made plans to rectify this, but as things are now, it seems it is same old story. That may cost them the premiership again this season.
When Pep Guardiola moved from Bayern Munich to the Premiership, a lot of people felt it would be a stroll in the park for him. Everyone now knows better. He came in with all swagger and got rid of England number one goalkeeper Joe Hart, only for the guy he replaced him with, Claudio Bravo to turn out to be a failure. Now he has signed Ederson from Benfica at 34.7 million pounds to replace him. Pep is trying to use this transfer window to finally get his own players in. it has not been smooth sailing. One of his main targets, Dani Alves who played under him at Barcelona decided to follow the money to PSG, he was supposed to come for free, but after Alves decided to join PSG, Pep was forced to pay
£50m to Spurs for Kyle Walker. He is also on the verge of paying 26m pounds for Real Madrid defender Danilo for the same position!! Pep’s signings in the premiership have not all a success story, remember Jesus and Stones? But you can’t rule him out just yet, he was not rated the best manager in Europe for nothing, so watch out for City next season.
The Reds’ manager, Jorgen Klopp appears confident in his present team, only adding two players to his team so far. The new players are former Chelsea winger Mohamed Salah whom he signed for 34 million pounds from Roma and striker Dominic Solanke whom he got from Chelsea. The problem with Liverpool under Klopp has not been scoring goals, it has always been defending goals. He got angry with his best defender Sankho during pre-season last year and he fanned him out to Crystal Palace. Also, his two goalkeepers, Loris Karius and Simon Mignolet look like accidents waiting to happen and a few times during last season, they were actually accidents that happened. Both keepers would sit on the bench at the other big clubs in the top six of the premiership. If Klopp keeps his faith with either of them, it may be the reason Liverpool will not win the league.
Arsenal are in the habit of losing key players to rivals and the trying to replace them with players of lesser quality or the ones who don’t have premiership pedigree. They lost Adebayo, Toure, Clichy, Nasri, Sagna etc to Manchester City , lost Henry and Fabregas to Barcelona and lost van Persie to Manchester United.This season does not appear to be looking any different. Arsenal are struggling to keep Alexis Sanchez, their best player in the last two seasons. He wants to re-join Pep Guardiola at Man City but the Gunners’ boss is refusing to sell to direct rivals , but Bayern Munich and PSG are lurking in the background ready to pounce. Wenger has signed Alexandre Lacazette from Lyon for 52m pounds but that should be in addition to Sanchez and not at his expense simple logic dictates that Arsenal will be stronger with the two of them in the team rather one replacing the other. There were talks about teenage sensation Kylian Mbappe but that seems to have died down for now. The new talks are about his teammate, Thomas Lemar whom the Gunners are discussing to buy for 80 million pounds. Arsenal have not won the premiership in 13 years based on preparations that we can see right now, it doesn’t seem they would win it this season either.
The Red Devils last won the title in 2013 which incidentally was Sir Alex Ferguson’s last season at the club. They have since had David Moyes and Louis van Gaal as managers but none of them has been able to return the glory days to Old Trafford. Mourinho took over last season and was able to win two main trophies, the Europa Cup and the League Cup. As a bonus, he was also able to get them into the Champions League. That was acceptable for his first season, but the board and fans will expect more. They will expect him to win the league next season or the one after, at the least. Mourinho already caused a mini coup by hijacking the Lukaku deal under Conte and Mike Emenalo’s noses. He has also signed defender Victor Lindelof from Benfica. He is planning for Inter Milan’s pacy winger Ivan Perisic and Chelsea’s Nemanja Matic. A lot of people have said Mourinho has lost the magic, but events over the years have proved that you only rule the Portuguese out at your own embarrassment.
After all said and done, the question still remains who will win the premiership title?
My top five predictions are, in no particular order, Chelsea, Manchester United, Manchester City, Tottenham Hotspurs and Arsenal.