It’s back and if Sky are to be believed, the Premier League’s 26th season is going to be bigger and better than ever. Quite how the good folk of Sky know this is anyone’s guess but on that premise let’s take a look at the runners and riders and their strengths, weaknesses, key players and chances from Arsenal to Liverpool (odds from 888sport for a top-four finish):
The Gunners will be hoping that a season free of Champions League commitments will boost their chances of getting into the top four. Fifth place last season, and subsequently missing out on mixing with Europe’s elite, was a disaster and only partly mitigated by winning the FA Cup last season, and Arsenal will be determined to come back with a vengeance in 2017-18.
News that Mesut Ozil and Alexis Sanchez both look like at least starting the campaign for Wenger’s men is a positive sign for Gooners; even more so if both can be persuaded to pledge their long-term futures to the club.
Having secured his own future at the club by signing a new two-year deal, Arsene Wenger has been quite busy during the summer – at least in Arsenal terms – and has added some much-needed reinforcements to his squad in the form of French international Alexandre Lacazette and Bosnian Sead Kolasinac; his spending being £47.7m.
Lacazette scored 37 goals in all competitions last season and was one of the top scorers in European football. He almost single-handedly dragged Lyon into fourth-place in Ligue 1 finish as well as regularly finding the net in both the Champions League and Europa League. His impressive pre-season form suggests they may have found the 20-goal a season striker they’ve been long searching for.
IntenseGambling’s prediction: 4th
A top half finish for Eddie Howe’s men for the first time in the club’s history was a tremendous achievement last season; many would say an over-achievement. The trick now is either replicate it or better it.
Backed by a wealthy owner – now a Premier league must have – they have miraculously managed to hold on to their key players as well as adding quality in the form of Asmir Begovic, Jermain Defoe and Nathan Ake, whose loan spell has now been made permanent in a £20m move from Chelsea; their total spending being £30.87m.
The downside, if there is one, to such levels of punching above your weight is that expectations rise commensurately and that now becomes one of Howe’s biggest challenges. Whether they can improve on 2017-18 appears doubtful and success will in truth come in the form of consolidation in the Premier League.
Norwegian international Joshua King was the Cherries’ top scorer last season and has come a long way since his time as a youth player at Manchester United. Much will depend on how he and Defoe can dovetail in Bournemouth’s attack and whether their midfield can create enough chances for the pair to feed off. Tick this particular box and it’ll be another successful season.
IntenseGambling’s prediction: 11th
The Seagulls were pipped at the post in last season’s Championship race by Rafa Benitez’s Newcastle United, who took the title, but there was little to choose between the two teams as they both comfortably secured automatic promotion.
In what will be Brighton’s first ever Premier League campaign, there will inevitably be a very steep learning curve, Chris Hughton has quietly compiled a squad that, amongst a fair sprinkling of quality, has plenty of experience in its ranks.
Hughton has headed to the continent for the quality and has brought in, amongst others, Mathew Ryan from Valencia, and Pascal Gross and Mark Suttner from Ingolstadt; their total spend now up to £30.87m.
Success for Brighton will in truth be to avoid the drop but buoyed by the bounce of promotion they will be looking to taking a few big names down along the way. It’s not an easy start for them though, with Man City up first at the Amex, and they’ll be hoping their baptism of fire doesn’t turn ugly and dent the confidence going forward.
Much will depend on now last season’s Championship Player of the Year Anthony Knockaert can adapt to the requirements of the Premier League. The former Leicester winger will almost certainly feel he has a point to prove having never been given a chance at the highest level, and will be hoping to get close to his 15 goals of last season. If he can achieve that the Seagulls will likely have had a good season.
2016-17: 2nd (Championship, automatic promotion)
IntenseGambling’s prediction: 19th
Sean Dyche performed a near miracle in keeping the Clarets in the division last season, especially as they did so having won only a single away game. Their form at Turf Moor was exceptional and they will need something similar this time round if they are to repeat or even improve upon last season’s achievement.
Dyche will know that expectations have risen as a result of last season’s heroics and that the second season is a doubly difficult one, especially as he’s lost two of his best players in Michael Keane – who joined Everton – and Andre Gray, who has gone to Watford in a £18m deal.
In terms of new additions, Jon Walters and Jack Cork will bring with them much-needed Premier League experience and Dyche will need both to contribute if the Clarets are to survive; a modest spend of £11.02m will surely increase before the transfer window closes.
Another player who they will need to step up is Robbie Brady, who arrived at Burnley from Norwich City last season at considerable expense. While the Republic of Ireland international showed a few glimpses of his quality in his 14 league appearances – including a brilliant free kick past Thibaut Courtois in the 1-1 draw with Chelsea – he was largely a disappointment.
A promising pre-season for the former Manchester United youngster is a good start but that form now needs to translate to quality Premier League showings, and Burnley need him to be firing on all cylinders.
IntenseGambling’s prediction: 16th
Despite being the reigning champions Antonio Conte’s Chelsea appears not to be a completely happy ship right now. The Diego Costa saga rumbles on and the fact he’s still technically a Chelsea player has caused problems aplenty behind the scenes at Stamford Bridge.
To have won the Premier League in his first season in English football was an impressive achievement for Conte and for the reasons stated above, for him to repeat the feat in his second season would most definitely exceed it.
In addition to their main competitors for the title strengthening considerably over the summer, Chelsea also have a fixture schedule that includes the Champions League this season – something that will have a significant impact.
The departure of Nemanja Matic to Manchester United and the impending departure of Diego Costa will require a tweak or two in their playing style, and the imbedding of new players may take time. Also there’s an injury to Eden Hazard, which will cause him to miss the first few weeks of the season, so it’s been far from plain sailing in the King’s Road.
On the plus side they finally managed to bring in Alvaro Morata from Real Madrid for £70m and also acquired the services of Tiemoue Bakayoko from Monaco and Antonio Rudiger from Roma; their total spend now up to £126m.
Morata is the key signing though and if the two-time Champions League winner can hit the ground running, the void left by Diego Costa will be quickly filled.
IntenseGambling’s prediction: 2nd
CRYSTAL PALACE (80/1)
With Frank de Boer now in charge at Selhurst Park, replacing Sam Allardyce, there is a culture change underway in south London. The former Ajax and Inter coach has made clear his intention to bring a different philosophy to the club and has started this transition by bringing in Netherlands international Jairo Riedewald, as well Ruben Loftus-Cheek from Chelsea.
The rest of the Palace squad has remained largely intact and with the new additions Palace fans will be optimistic about their chances of improving on last year’s 14th-place, albeit one would expend their current spend of £8.1m to increase before the window closes.
Again they will be largely reliant on Belgium international Christian Benteke for their goals and will be hoping he can improve further on his 15 goals in 36 league appearances last season. Now 26, the former Liverpool player has matured into an accomplished Premier League striker and will be central to de Boer’s Selhurst revolution.
IntenseGambling’s prediction: 17th
In his first season at Goodison, Ronald Koeman secured Europa League football for the Toffees, and in order to take the club to the next level he must now have the top four in his sights.
With wealthy owners who are prepared to splash the cash and funds available from the sale of Romelu Lukaku to Manchester United, Koeman will be looking to further bolster his squad and has already brought in a few high quality additions. Former Ajax captain Davy Klaassen and ex-Barcelona forward Sandro Ramirez are among those to join the ranks during the summer, along with Michael Keane from Burnley. A total spend to date of £88.2m pits them among the league’s big spenders.
The biggest profile arrival of course has been Wayne Rooney – who brought to an end a 13-year spell at Manchester United to return to his roots – and there will be plenty of hype and spotlight surrounding the man who originally made his breakthrough as a teenager at Goodison Park.
The former England captain, who will be 32 in October, suffered a downturn in form in his final two seasons at Old Trafford, but has now been offered a fresh start and will be expected to spearhead the Toffees quest for a Champions League place.
Final 2016-17 position: 7th
IntenseGambling’s prediction: 7th
HUDDERSFIELD TOWN (500/1)
To have reached the Premier League in the first place on a relative shoestring was a phenomenal achievement for the Terriers; to stay there will be an even greater challenge for David Wagner and his troops.
The club’s first season in the Premier League will require every ounce of savvy from the German, plus the squad will need to collectively punch above their weight. But don’t write them off. They overcame the odds last season and have enough about them to do it again.
Wagner is an energetic presence and has bought wisely in the transfer market with Laurent Depoitre having joined from Porto, Steve Mounie from Montpellier for a club record £11.5m, while Australian midfielder Aaron Mooy has made a permanent switch from Manchester City. The Huddersfield boss needs all three to have an immediate impact having splashed out £38.79m to date,
Mooy was a key performer for Wagner in their promotion campaign and his ability to dictate the pace of games from the centre of midfield will be a key component again this time round.
2016-17: 5th (Championship, promoted via play-offs)
IntenseGambling’s prediction: 18th
LEICESTER CITY (20/1)
Leicester’s title triumph now feels a distant memory and despite a very decent run in the Champions League the Foxes came crashing down to earth in last season’s Premier League, which also saw the departure of Claudio Ranieri.
Ranier’s departure mid-way through the season came as the atmosphere around the club became toxic, but Craig Shakespeare managed to revitalise the team and steer them away to safety.
To date Shakespeare has spent a whopping £52.83m and, while uncertainty remains over the future of Riyad Mahrez, he has bolstered his squad with the signing of three-time Europa League winner Vicente Iborra and Kelechi Iheanacho, from Manchester City.
It’s difficult to envisage a renewed assault on the Premier League title, but they will be able to perform free of the media glare that was fixed on them as defending champions and also will be without the unrelenting schedule that the Champions League brings with it.
The signing of Iheanacho is an interesting one and they have arguably secured the services of one of the brightest prospects in the Premier League.
The 20-year-old Nigerian international has already proved himself to be clinical in front of goal, scoring 17 goals for Manchester City over the course of the last two seasons despite featuring predominantly from the bench. He’ll be key to Leicester’s prospects and will share the goalscoring load with Jamie Vardy.
IntenseGambling’s prediction: 10th
The Reds quest for a major trophy goes on and even the enigmatic Jurgen Klopp has been unable so far to bring the big trophies to Anfield. Yet there’s a sense that the good times are around the corner and a fourth place last season was a sign or real progress.
Off the field the summer has been dominated by the Philippe Coutinho saga – the latest being that the Brazilian has handed in a transfer request – but still Klopp has been busy, not least with the signing of Mohamed Salah from Roma.
The Egyptian is regarded as a winger but one with an eye for goal; his goalscoring record in Serie A and with the Egypt national team is exceptional, and will lessen the burden on Sadio Mane and , if he stays, Coutinho. If the latter does depart, Klopp will need to act quickly and decisively to bring more goals to his squad and expect their current summer spend of £45.9m to soon increase massively.
Klopp will feel that a top-three finish is within his side’s grasp but squad depth remains an issue and he’ll be hoping for more luck on the injury front this time round in order to achieve such lofty aspirations.
The need for Salah to hit the ground running is obvious; so too the need to increase the firepower options if Coutinho does indeed head to Barcelona. But if these boxes can be ticked the season could yet be another step forward for the Merseyside giants.
IntenseGambling’s prediction: 6th
MANCHESTER CITY (1/5)
Pep Guardiola’s failure to deliver a Premier League title in his first season in the Man City hot seat was regarded by many as a failure, especially given the almost bottomless pit of money at his disposal, and his paymasters are unlikely to settle for another third place.
But the Spaniard is now familiar with what it takes to win the Premier League and having spent a ludicrous £216.45m this summer he’ll feel his squad is now well equipped to top more than just the spending charts.
A major squad overhaul has taken place and a host of established names have left to make way for some big incoming names like Kyle Walker, Benjamin Mendy, Ederson and Bernardo Silva. The net result is a stronger, more balanced squad that will set them up perfectly to challenge for honours on several fronts.
Key too will be keeping the likes of Kevin De Bruyne and David Silva fit, in addition to having a fit again Gabriel Jesus back in the squad, which will be a lot like having a new player.
The young Brazilian scored seven goals in 10 league appearances last season, but his debut campaign was cut frustratingly short by a foot injury and he’ll be looking to play a full part in City’s title charge this season.
IntenseGambling’s prediction: 1st
MANCHESTER UTD (33/100)
Jose Mourinho guided United to League Cup, Europa League glory and Champions League football in his first season in the Old Trafford dugout but will be hoping to go one better this time round. His managerial CV is one long list of league titles and he’ll be hoping to continue that impressive run.
What he’ll need to do to achieve this is to increase his side’s potency in front of goal without compromising one of the best defences in the division. As part of this quest for more attacking thrust Jose has brought in Romelu Lukaku from Everton at great expense but of equal importance in terms of his squad upgrade is the arrival of Nemanja Matic from Chelsea; their total spend being £147.96m.
And the signs are good for Utd, having enjoyed a successful pre-season and they’ll be keen to hit the ground running and not let any of their rivals steal an early march on them.
Key to their progression will be the performances of Paul Pogba who despite arriving last summer for a then world-record fee did not live up to expectations. The French international scored just nine goals in all competitions, but did not dictate games in a manner befitting his price tag. Utd fans will be hoping his friendship with Lukaku will inspire both to deliver the goods, and the early signs are good.
IntenseGambling’s prediction: 3rd
NEWCASTLE UNITED (80/1)
Rafa Benitez ensured Newcastle bounced straight back from the disappointment of relegation at the first time of asking by winning the Championship, and will be hoping to see the Magpies push on now.
While survival will be the main aim, the Toon Army will be hoping for something a little better and, while they’ve left their business late, the Newcastle squad now looks strong enough to at least compete with those outside the league’s top six.
Christian Atsu has joined the Toon permanently from Chelsea having spent the 2016-17 season there on loan and Javier Manquillo has signed from Atletico Madrid, both giving the Magpies a major boost for 2017-18. Jacob Murphy too has arrived from Norwich and will add some further attacking thrust to Rafa’s attacking options; the club’s summer spend now up to £30.42m.
Goals will of course be harder to come by in the PL and for that reason they’ll continue to look to Ayoze Perez and Dwight Gayle to keep them flowing. Their success, or otherwise, in doing so will be crucial to Newcastle’s season.
2016-17: 1st (Championship, automatic promotion)
IntenseGambling’s prediction: 12th
Mauricio Pellegrino will lead Southampton into the 2017-18 season having replaced Claude Puel as manager during the summer and there is a sense of the unknown attached to the former Alaves boss, who was previously assistant to Rafa Benitez at Liverpool and Inter Milan.
Even though the Saints reached the final of the League Cup and finished a respectable eighth, Puel’s services were dispensed with and so there will be extra pressure on Pellegrino to deliver.
The uncertainty around Virgil van Dijk’s future at St Mary’s has made for a feeling of uneasiness but they have a solid core to their squad, to which Pellegrino has added Polish defender Jan Bednarek; their total summer spend to date being £20.7m.
Nathan Redmond enjoyed an impressive debut season after joining from Norwich and Saints will be hoping he raises his game further in 2017-18 to get himself in the frame for England.
Having previously excelled with the Canaries, the 23-year-old displayed his attacking prowess by scoring seven goals in 37 league appearances for the Saints last time out and can play a central role for the club this season.
IntenseGambling’s prediction: 9th
STOKE CITY (80/1)
Stoke have seen a number of key personnel depart over the summer and much will depend on how Mark Hughes can reshape his squad to cope with the gaps they have left.
So far Marko Arnautovic has left for West Ham, Jon Walters has signed for Burnley and Glenn Whelan has joined Aston Villa. What Hughes has done however is bring in five-time Premier League winner Darren Fletcher from West Brom and the 33-year-old will add a much-needed winning mentality to their midfield.
Having finished ninth for three consecutive seasons, last year’s 13th-place finish was a disappointment and Hughes will have to show the club’s owners an improvement as he enters his fifth campaign as Potters’ boss. Fletcher arrived on a free and Hughes is yet to spend a pound this summer in transfer fees.
Much will continue to depend on the form of Swiss international Xherdan Shaqiri, widely recognised as the most talented player in the Stoke squad, and he’ll be key to their hopes of securing a top-half finish.
IntenseGambling’s predicted 2017-18 position: 13th
Last season was the Swans’ worst-ever in the Premier League as they finished 15th after only just managing to pull themselves clear of the relegation zone.
Paul Clement brought stability to a team that had been in disarray following the tenures of Francesco Guidolin and Bob Bradley, and ultimately delivered on his original remit.
Much of the summer has been taken up with trying to resist overtures from Everton and others over star player Gylfi Sigurdsson, but for now the Iceland international remains at the club. If he stays it will be a major boost heading into the new campaign.
Clement has, in addition to retaining the services of Sigurdsson (for now), strengthened his squad with the addition of Chelsea youngster Tammy Abraham on loan, while Spanish midfielder Roque Mesa has joined from La Liga outfit Las Palmas.
Abraham has a bright future ahead of him and the 19-year-old demonstrated his goalscoring prowess while on loan at Bristol City last season, scoring 23 goals for the Championship club. A tall and powerful forward, Abraham must add potency to a strike force that managed just 45 league goals last term if the Swans are to survive again.
IntenseGambling’s prediction: 20th
Unlike their rivals, Spurs have not made any fresh signings ahead of the new season and they head into the campaign weakened by the loss of Kyle Walker to Manchester City.
But squad cohesion and familiarity will not be a problem for Spurs and they look more likely than any of their rivals to be able to hit the ground running. They proved a formidable team last season, pushed Chelsea all the way and with Harry Kane, Dele Alli, Christian Eriksen and Heung-Min Son combining to create one of the most effective attacking units in Europe they will again be a force.
Their biggest hurdle however is likely to be nothing to do with their rivals but more to do with their temporary home. A transitional season, while the White Hart Lane site sees the finishing of a brand new stadium, means Wembley is home, and a difficult time there in last season’s Champions League doesn’t bode well.
Much again rests on the shoulders of Kane, and it goes without saying that he will be key to their ambitions of winning the league. He’s claimed the Golden Boot in the last two campaigns and will need to be there or thereabouts again.
IntenseGambling’s prediction: 5th
This time round its Marco Silva turn to attempt to steer Watford clear of relegation after he took the reins from Walter Mazzarri at the end of last season. And the former Hull manager has a tough task.
They narrowly avoided the drop last season but have added a number of players in a bid to prevent themselves from being sucked into this season’s relegation battle. Former Manchester Utd midfielder Tom Cleverley has signed from Everton, Spanish right-back Kiko Femenia will add competition in defence and England Under-21 midfielder Will Hughes has joined from Derby County. It total they have spent a whopping £51.75m.
Etienne Capoue’s combative skills will again be central to their quest for mid-table safety and the French international will be a key figure for the Hornets. The ex-Tottenham and Toulouse player also chips in with important goals and scored seven league last season, including a strike in the crucial win over Manchester Utd.
IntenseGambling’s prediction: position: 14th
WEST BROM (100/1)
Tony Pulis’ West Brom were comfortable for most of last season but ended on a downward curve, losing seven of their final 10 fixtures.
They still managed however to finish in the top half, and the Baggies will be aiming to avoid a repeat of their end-of-season form this time round. Pulis, who has just signed a new contract, will demand his players do not take their foot off the pedal as they strive for another top half finish. To date they have spent £18.81m this summer.
The signing of Jay Rodriguez from Southampton will take some pressure off Venezuelan Salomon Rondon to score most of their goals and the 28-year-old will hope to add more goals to his game following his successful return from a long-term injury.
Rondon, West Brom’s top goalscorer last season, will however remain the focal point of the Baggies’ attack in the upcoming campaign and will be looking to dovetail effectively with Rodriguez.
IntenseGambling’s prediction: 15th
WEST HAM (35/1)
Slaven Bilic came under a lot of pressure last season and the Croatian will be keen to improve the Hammers’ league position this time round.
He has brought in several new faces to try and achieve this and propel the club towards a European place. So far Joe Hart has arrived on loan from Manchester City, Pablo Zabaleta has also moved south from the Etihad and they paid £20m for Austria international Marko Arnautovic from Stoke; their spend to date being £38.79m.
Crucially Bilic has also landed former Manchester United and Real Madrid striker Javier ‘Chicharito’ Hernandez, who at the age of 29 comes armed with loads of Premier League quality and experience..
If Hernandez hit double figures, just as he did in his first three seasons at Utd before falling out of favour, the Hammers can look forward to a productive season.
IntenseGambling’s prediction: 8th