Last season’s Premier League title race was one of the most thrilling in recent memory, when Manchester City got the better of Liverpool by a single point, and even though there are nine months to go, it would be a surprise if we saw a different top two at the end of this season either.
It says a lot about Manchester City that they are 1/2 to win a third straight Premier League title despite the fact there was just a point between the two last season, but so good as Pep Guardiola’s side that the odds on quote is understandable. After a shock defeat at Newcastle, City won 14 straight games to hunt down Liverpool and they were able to grind things out when the going got tough, winning three of their last five games 1-0 to get over the line.
Their devastating forward line-up is ready to go again. Sergio Aguero and Raheem Sterling did the damage with 21 and 17 goals respectively but Leroy Sane’s 10 goals were sometimes crucial and both Bernado (7) and David (6) Silva both adding helpful totals too even though they were mainly providers for others.
We don’t know if Leroy Sane will be a City player this season but whether he is or not, there’s ample cover if Riyad Mahrez can kick on after a successful African Cup of Nations and Gabriel Jesus still hasn’t reached his full potential for City.
In midfield, Rodri’s arrival from Atletico Madrid means that Pep Guardiola needs not fret about injury or suspension to Fernandinho but the real game-changer could be the fact that Kevin de Bryune, who managed to start only 11 games last season thanks to a troublesome knee, has had a full pre-season and looked in grand shape in the Community Shield on his return.
In defence Vincent Kompany may be gone, and his leadership qualities will leave a mark, but City’s intensive domination of the ball – they averaged 64% of possession last season – provides its own security and a rearguard of Nicolas Otamendi, John Stones and Aymeric Laporte is more than enough to protect someone as good as Ederson in goal whilst you may see Fernandinho and Eric Garcia.
We might see more of Benjamin Mendy this season whilst Kyle Walker was uber-solid on the other flank, and put simply, there isn’t a team in the league which has that mix of depth and talent – and the evidence shows it. City got home by just a point last season but the season before they won by 19 points in a season when they managed to rack up a century.
Over the course of the last two seasons, City have won a ridiculous 197 out of 227 points available and it’s almost impossible to bet against a team that consistent.
It says it all about the standards City set that Liverpool lost just one game, conceded only 22 goals, won 97 points, and yet didn’t take the title. That tally would have won 25 of the previous 27 Premier League titles but it wasn’t good enough to overturn Manchester City. Infact, had it not been for a VAR call that saw Liverpool denied a goal at the Etihad by just inches, Liverpool would have won the title with a 100-point season and been the second side to go unbeaten. The Scousers got a deserved reward when they won the Champions League at the end of the season, and the challenge for them is to now match their tally from last year.
It is something they are capable of but there must be a big chance that their best opportunity to take the title has gone.
The fearsome front three of joint Golden Boot winners Mo Salah and Sadio Mane, along with Roberto Firmino scored 56 goals between them but the midseason spark of Xherdan Shaqiri gave them a fresh new lift whilst flying-fullbacks Trent Alexander-Arnold and Andy Robertson supplied a brilliant 23 assists between them.
Klopp’s high octane pressing game simply overwhelmed most of their opponents last season but they were also brilliant at the back, conceding just 22 goals as Alisson and Virgil Van Dijk excelled although one cannot forget the way Fabinho managed to protect the defence too.
The worry for them is that they got the perfect season in terms of injuries – Mohamed Salah, Sadio Mane and Roberto Firmino missed just six PL games between them last season, whilst Alexander-Arnold and Robertson both played 28 games each – but the Champions League heroics of Divock Origi should give him much more confidence to kick on and they managed to deal with the absence of Firmino well towards the end of the season. There’s also the huge bonus of having Alex Oxlade-Chamberlain, Adam Lallana and Joe Gomez back into the squad to start the season, especially if they manage to stay fit.
They will need another substantial amount of luck with suspensions and injuries to put down such a challenge, along with the little breaks such as the goalkeeping errors from Jordan Pickford and Hugo Lloris that turned draws into wins at the last minute, and the percentage call is that things won’t go quite as well for them this season as it did last campaign, and that City will probably be a bit further ahead in May.
On paper at least, there is a towering gap between them and the rest of the league. Just 15 points separated third to sixth last season, but there was a 25 gap between Chelsea and Liverpool last season and just five defeats in 76 games between the big pair. A straight forecast between Manchester City and Liverpool, as a stand-alone bet or the first two options in a combination.
Last season Tottenham had nine of their players involved in the World Cup semi-finals, no pre-season, two of their best strikers for a combined 27 games, no stadium for seven months, and one of their best midfielders appearing just 22 times in the entire season and still managed to finish just a point outside third, which is a remarkable testament to the skill of Mauricio Pochettino.
There’s been only one headline signing but Tanguy Ndombele, the barnstorming midfielder from Lyon who’s now the club’s record signing. Ndombele, who was once released from the Guingamp academy, was brilliant for Lyon last season especially against Manchester City in the Champions League – a competition were he showed his true quality – and he will release the pressure on Moussa Sissoko, whose fine form in the second half of the season kept them afloat.
Apart from the sale of Kieran Tripper to Atletico Madrid, the rest of the team basically remains the same, with the top quality attacking core of Harry Kane, Hueng Min-Son, Dele Alli and Christian Eriksen driving Spurs forward whilst they have one of the best defences too with Jan Vertonghen and Toby Alderweireld protecting Hugo Lloris.
Spurs also made it to the semi-finals of the EFL (League) Cup and most memorably the Champions League final, with the European run becoming an all-consuming effort even as the team was on its last leg domestically.
Tottenham won just 11 of the last 36 points available but when they went to Burnley in February they were still very much in the title race and their league tally last season could easily be false.
Spurs posted points tallies of 77, and 86 in the two previous seasons whilst they were third with 70 points when Leicester won the league the season before that. Last year, a run to the Champions League final along with a whole host of injuries prevented them from finishing third – by a point – last season. The 13/8 on them winning the league without either of the top two looks to be very generous.
Chelsea pipped Spurs to third in what was an excellent campaign for Maurizio Sarri despite the fact that – like so many other managers – he left the club on bad terms. Last season the Blues were runners up in the League Cup, third in the Premier League and also won the Europa too, but things could be very different at Stamford Bridge this season.
Fans will welcome new manager Frank Lampard with open arms, but the former blue is taking another big step up after starting his managerial career with Derby County last season. He did manage to take them to the playoff final last season, and did learn quickly on the job, but this is a different arena still and objectively it is hard not to see this as either a managerial downgrade or a major gamble.
Perhaps even more worryingly, Lampard is without Eden Hazard, who ended a long period speculation when he moved to Real Madrid in the summer. Hazard’s 16 goals were crucial, but his 16 assists – the most of any player in the league – were perhaps even more important and Lampard must quickly find a way to replace that amount of creativity.
There’s plenty for Lampard to work with, but also a huge amount of extra responsibility for Ross Barkley to step into the role and find his very best form, whilst Christian Pulisic is straight into the big time too. The young American is a real talent but he’s filling perhaps the biggest shoes possible.
It remains to be seen how Jorginho, who struggled badly at times last season, adapts to Lampard but he does have a potent pair of attackers in Mateo Kovačić and Pedro.
What might decide Chelsea’s season is just how their strikers function. Olivier Giroud was a roaring success in the Europa League but must replicate that form domestically if given a chance to lead the line and this is now a step up for Tammy Abraham too. The loan return of Michy Batshauyi can’t come a moment too soon, either.
Chelsea have a reasonable defensive pool to pick from assuming that Kepa Arrizabalaga does want to play for Lampard whilst Cesar Azpilicueta, Antonio Rudiger, and Emerson should all be contstants, but Chelsea really do feel like a watching brief at the moment.
Arsenal’s first season under Unai Emery had thrills – and a brilliant 14 game unbeaten run into December – but ended with the disappointment of losing out on fourth and then losing the Europa League final 4-1 to Chelsea to see hem fail to make the premier competition in Europe.
The issue with the Gunners is that they are essentially two teams. At home Arsenal were only beaten by Crystal Palace and Manchester City. On the road they finished eighth, conceded 35 of their 51 goals, and had just one clean sheet, at Watford when they played ten men for over eighty minutes.
It’s clear that defending was their main issue when one looks closer at their record, but at the time of writing no new defenders have arrived with William Saliba sent back to Saint-Etienne and that spells massive trouble once again on the road for the Gunners.
Going forward there’s no issue. Pierre Emerick-Aubameyang shared the Golden Boot last season and he and Alexandre Lacazette combined to score 35 goals between them. Arsenal’s overall total of 73 goals was third only to Liverpool and Manchester City and the arrival of Nicolas Pepe from Lyon makes for a fearsome front three if they can all be on the pitch. The arrival of Dani Ceballos from Real Madrid is very astute business although it’s likely that they will still miss Aaron Ramsey badly at some point during the season – the issue is that it’s the same old rearguard.
Manchester United fans enjoyed a magical start to the tenure of Ole Gunnar Solskajer with ten wins in their opening 12 matches, but since then the wheels have gone off the bus. United took just eight points from their last nine matches when the luck ran out.
Harry Maguire’s arrival will improve the defense immensely, and the arrivals of Aaron Wan-Bissaka at right-back from Crystal Palace, as well as £15million winger Dan James from Swansea are good moves with an eye on the future, but just a couple of signings will not turn them into winners overnight. There’s also the benefit of a full pre- season with this squad at the helm, and plenty of attacking firepower. A number of attacking talents have been unshackled and Marcus Rashford and Anthony Martial really showed the benefit of a free flowing system towards the end of last season and with Wan-Bissaka and Luke Shaw overlapping there shouldn’t be many boring game at Old Trafford.
Solskajer has a great deal to prove in his first full season at the helm and he will now need Paul Pogba’s freedom to pay off through an entire season especially with Ander Herrera surprisingly let go to PSG from the midfield. United didn’t make the top four on any metric last season however and they have an awful lot to prove.
Advice – Premier League Title
5 pts Manchester City/Liverpool (5/4 Bet365)
3 pts Manchester City/Liverpool/Tottenham (8/1 Bet365)
Advice – Without Manchester City & Liverpool
10 pts Tottenham (13/8 general)
Advice – Top Four Exact Order
1 pt Manchester City, Liverpool, Tottenham and Chelsea (22/1 Betfred)
1 pt Manchester City, Liverpool, Tottenham and Arsenal (28/1 Betfred)
1 pt Liverpool, Manchester City, Tottenham and Chelsea (40/1 Betfred)