EPL Season Preview – Part II

Huddersfield

Being the first team promoted from the Championship with a negative goal difference might cement your place in pub quiz history but it won’t do your chances of cementing a premier league place any good. David Wagner says they’re the biggest underdogs in the history of the Premier League. They were underdogs last year too. The Terriers have brought in 11 new players from all around Europe but have limited PL experience in the squad. Wagner comes with a clear vision and a high octane brand of football which will ensure Huddersfield’s stint in the league will at least be memorable, if not successful. The PL debutants boast similar qualities to last season’s Burnley in that they are well drilled and possess a formidable team-spirit but that alone is not enough. Expect entertainment similar to Phil Brown’s Hull and Ian Holloway’s Blackpool, with a similar outcome.

Verdict – 20th

Leicester

The Foxes don’t do boring seasons. If they’re not fighting relegation, they’re winning the league and if they’re not winning the league they’re storming through Europe. With that in mind, I’m predicting Leicester to do the exact opposite, and have a ‘boring’, steady season culminating in a top 10 finish. Shakespeare is eyeing up a European place which isn’t beyond the realms of possibility but breaching the top 6 is no mean task. Iborra is an excellent addition while if Iheanacho is actually as good as his 10 minute cameo appearances suggest, the Foxes have signed a real gem. Harry Maguire, his lack of pace aside, is another good signing and all three are capable of taking Leicester to the next level. The squad is unbalanced in that it has more hitmen than a Mexican cartel but competition for places is good and the squad still functions. Upgrades at full back would go a long way, while losing Riyad Mahrez isn’t fatal with Demarai Gray more than capable of filling the void. The Foxes have a tough start and after 4 weeks of doom and gloom, there may be value in backing a top 10 finish.

Key Player – Jamie Vardy / Surprise Star – Demarai Gray / Weak Link – Danny Simpson

Verdict – 7th

Liverpool

Liverpool have improved last season’s team by signing Mo Salah and Andy Robertson, but their rate of improvement is slower than their top 4 rivals and preserving their position will be a much harder task than earning it was. Jurgen Klopp’s team struggled with fatigue after Christmas last season and will now have European football to contend with as well. The reds are capable of beating anyone in a one off game, but doing it over a 38 game season, let alone a 60 game season is a much more difficult task. Liverpool will be fourth seeds in their Champions League group meaning there will be no easy games and little scope to rest players. The difference in quality between the first choice front 4 and their replacements is perhaps even more pronounced than at Chelsea and is likely to be Liverpool’s biggest downfall. Emre Can has steadily improved and will have a big role to play in any success for the Merseysiders, while Philippe Coutinho will thrive in a central position. Salah and Mané provide a lethal attacking threat cutting in from either flank, while Coutinho and Firmino’s ability from range means sitting deep against the redmen still comes with it’s risks. Salah and Robertson are among the best value signings made by PL teams this season but if Liverpool are to repeat last season’s achievement, as well as putting up a fight in Europe, the addition of at least a centre back is a necessity. Jurgen Klopp has a big 3 weeks ahead of him to add numbers to a squad which at present looks likely to be ravaged by injuries. A title push is a stretch but add a quality centre half and Liverpool should find themselves fighting it out for fourth come the end of the season.

Key Player – Coutinho / Surprise Star – Emre Can / Weak Link- Dejan Lovren

Verdict – 6th

Manchester City

Pep Guardiola has left no stone unturned in ensuring his first trophyless season remains his only. The Spaniard has an embarrassment of attacking riches to choose from and has also added 2 Duracell bunnies at full back in the shape of Walker and Mendy. Danilo might be a useful squad player given his versatility but isn’t a long term solution in any position. The Brazilian’s best contribution may be his ability to play both full back and defensive midfield facilitating Guardiola’s in-game changes in shape, which should be kept to a minimum given over-complicated tactical innovations was one of City’s biggest downfalls last season. The heart of defence is still an issue given Vincent Kompany’s battles with fitness and Nicolas Otamendi’s battles with the demons on his shoulder urging him to dive in. Ederson is a talented keeper but whether he hits the ground running is a different question, given the attack minded nature of City’s likely line-up, it’s likely he is put to the test right from the get-go. Guardiola has a wealth of options at the other end of the pitch. Kevin De Bruyne’s ability to orchestrate the play make him a contender for Player of the Year while Guardiola can choose between touchline hoggers or wide-10’s on the wings depending on what he sees fit. David Silva will do what David Silva does but Pep’s biggest task lies in getting the best out of both Sergio Aguero and starman Gabriel Jesus, a difficult task but one that isn’t beyond the world’s best manager. City’s squad is largely unbalanced and predicting a favoured 11 is nigh impossible. What is certain is that if Vincent Kompany isn’t hoisting the Premier League trophy above his head next May, Guardiola will have questions to answer. Domestic success appears a certainty, and City fans aren’t wrong to expect a long run in Europe.

Key Player – De Bruyne / Surprise Star – Leroy Sané / Weak Link – Otamendi

Verdict – 1st

Manchester United

Jose Mourinho’s job doesn’t hinge on delivering the Premier League title but the Portuguese manager must show he’s capable of at least leading the team into a title race. Romelu Lukaku, despite clearly not being the manager’s first choice, guarantees goals. A flat track bully was exactly what United missed last season and while question marks may exist over the Belgian’s mentality, work rate and ability against the best of the best, he is undoubtedly a good bet for the league’s top scorer. One of two things need to happen on United’s left flank, either Rashford/Martial improve on last season’s lackluster displays in a position that’s not first nature to them, or United sign a left footed attacker capable of crossing for Romelu Lukaku. The lack of service from the left was glaringly obvious during the Supercup and is magnified by the likelihood of United playing a narrow left back (Darmian/Rojo) and a roaming right back in Antonio Valencia. Valencia struggled for fitness at the end of last season and Mourinho will rue not bringing in a player capable of providing effective competition for the Ecuadorian. Nemanja Matic has been added to primarily allow Paul Pogba dominate from the LCM position and United need the Frenchman to increase his output in front of goal if they are to have a successful season. Phil Jones will likely start alongside Bailly at the back as Lindelof doesn’t look ready to start from day 1. Mourinho flirted with a variety of formations during pre-season, including the league’s flavour of the month 3 at the back system, but United’s squad is best suited to a 433 giving Pogba licence to roam. Mourinho’s ability to organize a defence has never been in question, but his struggle to get the best out of talented attacking players is likely to cost him again. The former Chelsea manager has built a side geared towards domestic success and even taking his second season record into account, it’s hard to see the PL trophy spending next summer in the red half of Manchester. Expect United to be a lot better than last season but ultimately fade away from the title race.

Key Player – Paul Pogba / Surprise Star – Anthony Martial / Weak Link – Lindelof

Verdict – 2nd

Newcastle

The success of Newcastle’s season hinges predominantly on one thing – repairing or replacing the fractured relationship between owner and manager. Two control freaks, Benitez is bitterly disappointed by the club’s failure to live up to promises in the transfer market, and the Magpies need him a great deal more than he needs them. Failure to land a striker means Benitez is relying on the iffy-at-best Dwight Gayle for goals. Aleksandar Mitrovic still has something to offer on Tyneside and could well be leading the line for Newcastle by the end of the season – new signing pending. Signings such as Lejeune and Merino are hard to quantify while Javier Manquillo has already shown he’s not a Premier League player. Last season’s star defender Ciaran Clark has already been found out at this level, but has improved considerably since then. Restricting him in the window restricts the lengths Benitez can take the club but as long as Mike Ashley operates his Sports Direct business model in the football world, Newcastle fans will have to be content with *just* survival.

Key Player – Jonjo Shelvey / Surprise Star – Aleksandar Mitrovic / Weak Link – Rob Elliot

Verdict – 15th

Southampton

In 2003, Porto, a notoriously successful selling club felt they had a particularly strong set of players and opted to keep the group together. They ended that season winning an unprecedented double including incredible Champions League success. Now I’m not saying Southampton can go and do that, but what constitutes success for the Saints? Porto challenge for the Portuguese title every year in spite of their sales. Are Southampton fans happy to unearth gems, sell, replace repeat and end up 10th again? Claude Puel has been replaced by Mauricio Pellegrino in the hotseat, with the Southampton board preaching that not only the destination matters, but the journey as well. Pellegrino is tasked with working with the tools already at his disposal to bring significantly more swagger to Southampton performances. Expect Ryan Bertrand and Oriol Romeu to have particularly impressive seasons, while Jack Stephens’ ability on the ball should garner a bandwagon to get him on the plane to Russia. Elsewhere, Saints fans will be hoping Pellegrino can unlock the true potential of Nathan Redmond and James Ward-Prowse who’ve been knocking on the door so long, but ran away once the hinges started to crack. Pellegrino’s greatest success could come in taking Dusan Tadic to the next level. Fraser Forster signed a new 5 year deal at the start of June which the Argentine will live to regret while Manolo Gabbiadini has some convincing still to do up front. The Southampton squad is too small to make any real impression in Europe but look good for their routine top 10 finish, followed by another summer of sales.

Key Player – Ryan Bertrand / Surprise Star – Jack Stephens / Weak Link – Fraser Forster

Verdict – 8th

EPL Season Preview Part I

EPL Season Preview Part III

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