Arsenal, Aston Villa, Bournemouth, Chelsea, Crystal Palace
With the new Premier League season barely a week away we thought it was about time we had a look at the runners and riders of the new campaign. Who will win the league? Is the top 4 a lock in? Are there any teams that are dead set for relegation?
The transfer window doesn’t “slam shut” for another few weeks yet, so this exploration of possible eventualities won’t take any last minute signings into account. So if you’re a Norwich fan wondering why we’ve said you’ll be facing a relegation battle when you’ve just signed Lionel Messi, don’t send us your complaint letters.
20 teams is a lot to write about and we’re sure you’d get bored sifting through it all, so we’re going to split this season preview into 4 parts, 5 teams in each section.
The Runners And Riders
The Gunners are an odd bunch. Arsenal fans are forever caught between two stools regarding Arsene Wenger. For some he’s taken the club as far as he can it’s time to cut him loose if they are to have any chance of winning another league title. Yet for others he remains the man who made Arsenal invincible. Jose Mourinho might call him a specialist in failure, but two FA Cups in two years argues against that notion.
That said, Arsenal are a club that seem to be reasonably static in movement as far as the league is concerned. The signed Alexis Sanchez last summer, beating Liverpool to the punch, and everyone was very excited for them. Indeed, whilst Eden Hazard took all the plaudits most sensible observers of football actually felt that Sanchez was the best player in the league in the 2014-2015 season. Yet Arsenal actually accrued less points last season than they did in 2013-2014 – before they signed the Chilean – and they went out in the same phase of the Champion’s League. They won the FA Cup both with him and without him.
Maybe Arsenal fans would be forgiven, then, for thinking that they could do with another top quality signing or two if they hope to compete at the very top of the table. So far the only name of any note that they’ve signed is Petr Cech from Chelsea. There’s no question that the former Chelsea number 1 will make a difference for their North London rivals, but will he add the 10 points needed to get the Gunners to the top of the table? It seems unlikely.
Rumours of Lacazette, Benzema and more continue to do the rounds and if one of those players comes in then we might review our opinion of how the Arsenal are likely to get on this season. For now, though, with fans like Piers Morgan we’re not entirely sure the club deserves much more than just about scraping into the top four every year.
Our Prediction: 4th
It’s not been a fun summer for Aston Villa fans. Most Villains headed to Wembley feeling confident that they might just be able to get one over on Arsene Wenger’s Arsenal, only to leave with their tails between their legs, having suffered a stark reminder of just how far off the best teams in the league Villa really are.
Then, just when they decided it was time to start thinking about football again, Liverpool put on some lipstick, sprayed some sweet smelling perfume and decided to embark on a reasonably drawn out attempt to woo Christian Benteke. The Belgian went on Villa’s pre-season tour, but everyone knew he was thinking of someone else whilst he was there. It didn’t take long for him to up sticks and move in with the Scouse lads down the road.
Fabian Delph offered hope to Villains everywhere, though, when he turned down Manchester City’s advances and declared his loyalty to the Birmingham based club. No amount of money could persuade him to look elsewhere! Except it could, and Delph lasted less than a week before quietly walking out of the door when everyone was looking at Benteke and joining the rich kids at The Etihad. From Villain to villain in 3 easy steps.
Can Tactics Tim make this year a more comfortable one for Villa fans? After all they’ve spent the last couple of seasons knowing they would be facing a relegation battle by the time Christmas has come around. The only time they’ve had any joy or excitement was when Sherwood arrived and played some slightly more attractive football than his predecessor.
Sadly, though, Villa have lost virtually a full team’s worth of players, with Delph and Benteke being joined by the likes of Weimann and Tom Cleverley in heading for the exit door. In fairness they’ve brought in some good looking players, with Micah Richards and Idrissa Gueye hoping to add some defensive steel and attacking prowess to the squad. Otherwise, though, Sherwood will be hoping for impressive seasons from his youth prospects; players such as Jack Grealish, Leandro Bacuna and Ciaran Clark need to pull it out of the bag for Villa to avoid relegation.
It may be a matter of three teams being worse than Aston Villa this season, but we’re struggling to see how they avoid a relegation battle given everything that’s happened to their first choice starting XI this summer. Sherwood feels he’s not given the credit he deserves and that he’s a better manager than the press and pundits make out. Whether that’s true or not is a matter of debate, but one thing that is true is that this season he’ll need to be the best manager he can possibly be if the Midlands club are going to avoid the drop.
Our Prediction: 18th
Eddie Howe has done an impressive job with the Cherries, having essentially taken them from League Two to the dizzy heights of the Premier League. Of course such exploits are often quickly forgotten by fans that see the trap door open up at the bottom of the league and threaten to send them back from whence they came. Nigel Pearson did an incredible job getting Leicester promoted, but plenty of fans wanted him gone at the first sign of trouble.
You’d hope that Bournemouth fans are a little more circumspect and just enjoy the ride. After all, Howe has hardly been quiet in the transfer market. He’s brought in a combination of youth and experience. The youth coming in the form of Tyrone Mings who, at £8 million, is Bournemouth’s most expensive signing. The experience is oh, oh so experienced. At 37 many would forgive you for thinking that Sylvain Distin’s time was up as a Premier League level defender, but the veteran former Everton player is determined to prove the doubters wrong.
Elsewhere in the Cherries set up they have brought in Josh King from Blackburn. The youngster couldn’t cut it at Manchester United but he is hungry for success and will doubtless be keen his worth at the highest level. Another youngster is Christian Atsu who has arrived on loan from Chelsea. Given the London club have about 3000 players out on loan at various places Atsu is likely to want to push himself to the front of Jose Mourinho’s thoughts.
If Artur Boruc can produce the kind of form that regularly caught the eye at Southampton and Matt Richie successfully makes the step up to the Premier League then Bournemouth could yet cause a few surprises. We don’t think they’ll quite hit the heights that Swansea did when they were first promoted, but if the relegation battle comes down to which team is less awful that three other teams, we think the Cherries could be the pick of the bunch.
Our Prediction: 17th
Jose Mourinho remains the Marmite of the footballing world. If Marmite was smug, full of its own self-importance and needed to spend millions of pounds in order to stay at the top of your cupboard. People either love him or loathe him, with those in the ‘love’ camp tending to be Chelsea fans – who he gives trophies to – or journalists – who he gives good copy to. Everyone else begrudgingly admits that he knows how to win things, a fact that makes him one of the best managers of the modern era. The fact that his Chelsea side often appear to be a Tony Pulis team with money is not important as long as you get the nice shiny thing at the end of the year.
Like Arsenal and Manchester United, Chelsea appear to be leaving most of their business until the end of the transfer window, having only really brought in two players of note. Even then both of the players Mourinho has tempted to Stamford Bridge know that they’re coming in to play second fiddle to better players. As soon as Arsenal managed to persuade Petr Cech to swap medals on the bench at the Bridge for the 4th placed trophy in the first team at The Emirates it was clear that the self-proclaimed Special One would need to bring in a replacement stopper. Step forward Asmir Begovic.
The former Stoke ‘keeper Begovic has been brought in as back up to Thibaut Courtois, a player many consider to be one of the best in the world in his position. He’s still young, too, so he’s only likely to get better. Begovic, meanwhile, has been less than impressive in between the sticks so far for the Blues. The Bosnian replaced Courtois at half time in a friendly game against New York Red Bulls with Chelsea leading 1-0. They went on to lose 4-2. The less said about that performance the better.
The other big name Mourinho’s brought in is Radamel Falcao. The Columbian was considered amongst the top 5 attackers in world football prior to the injury that ruled him out of the 2014 World Cup. After that he’s struggled to hit the heights that helped him make his name, netting just 4 times in 29 appearances for Manchester United last term. Louis Van Gaal decided not to take advantage of a clause that would have let the Red Devils buy him at the end of his loan term and so Mourinho pounced on his opportunity, which is more than can be said for Falcao in recent times.
With Didier Drogba having left the club to head to Montreal and Diego Costa struggling with fitness last term, Falcao could be called upon quit regularly – especially with Chelsea competing on four fronts next season. If Mourinho can get him fit and firing and back to his previous form then it could be an extremely astute gamble from the Portuguese manager. If not, there’s no question that he’ll find someone else to blame for his failings.
Whatever else you can say about Chelsea, Mourinho and Roman Abramovich’s millions you can’t rule them out of a title challenge. The Special One has claimed, hypocritically, that his rivals are trying to buy the title. It may well be true as far as Manchester City are concerned and, despite the Sky Blues having a reasonably poor run of it under Manuel Pellegrini last season, there’s no doubt that the ‘noisy neighbours’ will be the biggest threat to Chelsea’s hopes of retaining their crown.
Our Prediction: 2nd
Alan Pardew, myth, manager, amateur boxer. Everybody laughed when Newcastle did so well under Pardew that Mike Ashley rewarded him with a 25 year contract, or something, and they nodded their heads wisely when the Magpie’s form promptly dropped away abysmally. Yet Pardew was fighting against more than just his own ability when he was trying to keep the Newcastle team engaged in the process of climbing up the league, and the terrible form Newcastle have suffered since his departure is a testament to his ability as much as it is a sign of how miserable an appointment John Carver was.
Palace, meanwhile, became the form team in the entire universe for a time under Pardew and the signings they’ve made this summer are only likely to make them stronger. We’re probably not alone in being surprised that so few clubs were interested in Yohann Cabaye when he chose to leave Paris St. Germain, giving his former boss a free run at his signature. Cabaye is a talented midfielder and already knows how to perform in the Premier League; indeed Newcastle’s down turn in form seemed to follow his departure rather closely.
A solid goalkeeper in Julian Speroni paired with a tight defence and a talented midfield means that Pardew is only really an attacker or two away from having a squad more than capable of getting into a European place and perhaps even giving the top four challengers a bit of a scare if they don’t perform to their best this season. We’re confident that Palace won’t be anywhere near the relegation places and should break in to the top 10 without too much trouble.
There are many moving pieces in play here, and so many variables could yet ruin our thoughts on the way Palace are looking heading in to the new season, but if they can sign that mythical creature – a proven Premier League goal scorer – and we see the Alan Pardew that earned himself a ludicrously long contract rather than the one who seemed terrified having signed it, then Palace could be something of a surprise package. Selhurst Park can be an intimidating ground when the fans want it to be – just ask title chasing Liverpool from 2014 – so don’t be too shocked if many a team falter there.
Our Prediction: 8th
Everything is subject to change, of course, and the predictions are little better than complete guesses, but anyone who says they can accurately predict the way the league will finish by doing anything other than looking at the cost of each first XI and then putting them in financial order is, frankly, a liar.
If you disagree with our predictions and what we’ve said then feel free to let us know in the comments section! Next time on our season preview we’ll be looking at something of a rivals special, with Everton, Leicester, Liverpool, Manchester City and Manchester United all being look at. Stay tuned for more!