Premier League 2017/18 – Top Half Teams

It says a great deal about how highly bookmakers Everton that bookmakers offer a market without the ‘Big Seven’ in the Premier League for ante post purposes. The Toffees were 15 points outside of the Champions League spots and also 15 clear of Southampton last year, and they look set to be a clear best of the rest once again in the market without the ‘Big 6’ teams that have contested the title for the past few seasons.

 

The loss of Romelu Lukaku was perhaps inevitable but even before that the arrival of Farhad Moshiri as major shareholder has allowed for some financial impetus and the truth is that Lukaku had been ’replaced’ before he left for Manchester United.

 

Sandro Ramirez (below) has none of the profile but he brings big potential and could well be their best value signing. He was Spain’s starting striker at the European Under 21 Championship and he also scored 14 goals in 30 appearances for Malaga in La Liga last season, firing the seventh most shots in a league that contained Messi, Ronaldo, Suarez, Neymar and Bale, and he should grow into his role quickly if adapting early.

Davy Klassen scored 27 goals over the last two seasons for Ajax and whilst this is a big step up at a hefty price tag, it will do Koeman good to have a creative option in the middle of the park. The big story was the return of Wayne Rooney, although he thankfully will not be carrying the team given his 13 goals over the past two campaigns for Manchester United. A season of full fitness should do him a great deal of good, although he has looked off the pace and struggling to find a real role, so he could give Koeman a lot of tactical headaches.

 

One can question the judgment of paying £50m for players that were involved with clubs who finished 16th and 20th last season but this is the modern transfer market and the fact of the matter is Michael Keane was an integral part of Burnley staying up whilst Jordan Pickford saved Sunderland from an even more embarrassing season than they already had last year.

 

They look smart additions to a rearguard that could already count Ashley Williams as a reliable operator and Leighton Baines on his opposite side, and they’re well protected by Morgan Schneiderlin (who hopefully will get through a full season) and Idrissa Gueye who represent a very solid midfield pairing.

 

Replacing the goals of Lukaku, especially at Goodison Park (where 13 of their 17 victories came last season), will be their biggest challenge but overall, they have signed very well and they should be seventh once again.

 

It appears that Southampton will be without Virgil van Dijk for the upcoming season after he posted a very strong statement expressing his desire to leave, but overall the Saints fans shouldn’t have too much to worry about. Disruption between seasons in the past few seasons have still seen them finish eighth, seventh, sixth and eighth and they appear to have made an interesting appointment in Mauricio Pellegrino.

 

He arrives with a similar sort of reputation to Pochettino, who did such great things there, although he may not be the solution to a lack of goals which frustrated those who watched the Saints score just 41 goals, including 17 at St Mary’s. In a Déjà vu with the man he’s replacing, Pellegrino made a Cup final (and lost no shame in being beaten by Barcelona) although his Alaves side also scored only 41 goals and his biggest danger could be a lack of goals upfront.

A full season for Manolo Gabbadini (above) should go a long way to changing that. He lit up the league with six goals in four starts before he was injured and all the steam had come out of their season when he returned late in the season, understandably not as his physical peak. If the man who scored 15 goals in Serie A and then made the Italy squad two seasons ago retains that form then considerable pressure will be off the shoulders of Pochettino, although he will need to given that their top scorer last season notched just seven goals.

 

On the plus side, apart from Van Dijk just four players have come and gone on permanent deals, at the time of writing, with Jay Rodriguez being replaced by Juventus’ Mario Lemina, who looks to be a fine arrival from the Serie A winners having feature in the final of the Champions League whilst making 42 appearances for the Saints.

 

They are also a very solid unit, with Fraser Forster a high-class shot stopper whilst Maya Yoshida has become a fans favourite in a short space of time, and Ryan Bertrand is already established as one of the best in his position on the left.

 

In the middle of the park, Oriol Romeu has quickly made himself integral to the team’s fortunes and he partners well with Steven Davis, and Saints fans should be sleeping soundly in the knowledge that Dusan Tadic will have plenty of licence to create upfront.

 

If there is an award for ‘least boring club in England’ then it surely must go to Leicester, who have gone through two promotions, a relegation, a Champions League quarter final and a title win that was literally the biggest shock in modern sports betting history. God knows what might happen this season, but perhaps fans might settle for something less rollercoaster than last season, which saw Claudio Ranieri sacked after the dressing room downed tools on the Italian legend before Craig Shakespeare piloted them to a strong end of the season.

 

 

So which side will we see this season? The Foxes won their last five in the Premier League season whilst they also beat Sevilla in the last 16 of the Champions League, with the return to form of Jamie Vardy going a long way towards that improved run of results.

 

It’s important to remember that whilst the title win is a once in a lifetime occurrence, this is a squad and first XI that should be aiming to finish in the top half. Vardy is a consistent menace when on form, Daniel Drinkwater is one of the hardest working players in the league, something that can be said of Marc Albrighton on the left-hand side.  Both Drinkwater and Christian Fuchs are apparently in the crosshairs of Chelsea, although that looks to be more ironic twitter rage than anything serious, and in defence Danny Simpson and Wes Morgan should provide a solid base for Kasper Schmeichel.

 

Riyad Mahrez is said to want out but Leicester have not stood still in the attacking department. Vicente Iborra brings technical excellent and a powerful physical presence to the midfield, as shown by his exploits in the Champions League for Sevilla (he played against Leicester last time, and won three Europa League titles), but the best arrival of the summer is their most recent.

 

Kelechi Iheanacho (white, below) was always likely to make away given all of the new arrivals at Manchester City but the 20-year-old looked lethal in the handful of appearances he got for City early last season and his years in midfield give him the spatial awareness to keep track of his teammates’ movements in and around the box.

If Craig Shakespeare can continue where he left off last season will be of interest given a very tough start to the season – they face Arsenal, Manchester United, Chelsea and Liverpool in their opening six fixtures – but at some point they could well drift for a top half finish and they will be worth backing a few weeks into the season.

 

It’s not always true that the grass is greener on the other side – just ask West Ham fans from last season, who saw them go from a fortress at Upton Park to what often felt like an awkward and forced atmosphere at the London Stadium when they picked up just 25 points in a campaign that started with five losses in their first six games and also saw them lose Dimitri Payet midway through the season.

 

That they finished 11th of a testament to the squad, the tight nature of the second half of the table and also Slaven Billic, but they should make a decent fist of things this season.

 

The squad from last season remains largely the same but for four key additions. There was no boxing clever with the arrival of Joe Hart, Pablo Zabaleta, Javier Hernandez and Marko Arnautovic a serious statement of intent.

 

And all four look to be quality signings that should inject quality into the starting XI. Joe Hart has had his struggled but his performances for England show that he’s nowhere near finished and his dismissal at Manchester City appeared harsher as the season went on. The capture of Zabaleta (pictured) on a free injects quality into the backline on the right-hand side along with delivery from the flanks.

Arnautovic scored six and assisted five in what was a restricted Stoke team last year and he looks the ideal attacking foil for the best arrival of the lot, Javier Hernandez. The former United and Madrid man scored 28 goals at Bayer Leverkusen before switching back to London – on a free no less – and ought to be a light year ahead of Andy Carroll in terms of movement and mobility. Playing off Manuel Lanzini, he should thrive with decent supply off the wings and the Hammers ought to be much slicker in their overall attack play and they should have more than enough for a top half finish once again.

 

Eddie Howe’s Bournemouth are another side that have signed very well during the window and with Eddie Howe not resting on his laurels over the summer they should be challenging for a top half finish. There was trouble afoot when they were just four points above the relegation zone in March but they finished the season in very taking fashion (only losses in last 12 coming against Chelsea and Tottenham) suggesting that they have adapted to the League and they can now kick on.

 

Picking up Jermain Defoe from Sunderland on a free transfer might well be the shrewdest transfer of the summer, with Defoe having scored 15 for relegated Sunderland last season and led the line expertly despite suffering the drop.

 

Goalkeeper Asmir Begovic was first class for Stoke and a more than able stand in at Chelsea who should be an upgrade on Arthur Boruc (although he is no shabby substitute) and in front of him they have now confirmed that Nathan Ake (mbelow and left) will be there following his loan spell last season. Bournemouth conceded 67 goals for the second successive season but they can surely only do better on that front and they should have another successful season with the main players established at this level.

Crystal Palace were saved by Sam Allardyce’s steady hand last season but they shouldn’t need to give Frank de Boer the sack. The Eagles were in a lot od danger before Big Sam got them to win seven of their final 13 matches, with a rejuvenated Christian Benteke scoring in six of his last 10.

 

Those included wins at Chelsea and Liverpool when their counter-attacking style was managed to perfection, showing what is possible for with a squad that has plenty of attributes for a comfortable survival in the league this season.

 

De Boer’s tenure at Inter last season was a disastrous an 84-day spell that would knock any manager back but he won four titles with Ajax when Dutch football was in a stronger state than it is now and he’s had a full pre-season to embed his ideas with Palace, something that should help for the start of the season.

A move to a back three might help Wilfried Zaha, who should enjoy the pass and move style that de Boer used to make a name for himself, and in Yohan Cabaye he has the ideal passing midfielder to let the likes of Reuben Loftus-Cheek – a very smart loan from Chelsea – free with Andros Townsend on the other side. Timothy Fosu-Mensah should also thrive in the new system returning to his old boss from Manchester United and Palace should be OK if the new XI adapts to the new style.

 

Many Hull fans will be thinking ‘if only’ given that Marco Silva’s results at the Tigers would have seen them finish 14th over the course of a whole season, but the Tigers loss might be the Hornets’ gain. Walter Mazzari saw the exit after surviving last season but there should be an instant connect with Silva over the summer especially as previous players have raved about him and the summer business looks decent too.

 

Nathaniel Chalobah is a decent arrival from the Chelsea exodus who should provide fresh legs in midfield along with the massive talent of Will Hughes in midfield. Andre Gray’s singing weakening Burnley (more on them later) as well as providing an alternative to Troy Deeney upfront or even a second striker. Etienne Capoue impressed last season and should continue the good work although the best singing might be one that’s already been made.

 

The fitness of Argentine Roberto Pereyra through the season will have a huge bearing on their attacking fortunes, with the forward having returned to full training during the summer, and his presence should see more fluidity in the attacking approach. The Pozzo family are hard to please, but they should be a Premier League family at the end of the season.

 

Advice

 

4 pts Everton w/o Big 6 (13/8 Betfred)

 

2 pts West Ham to finish in Top Half (11/8 general)