We have had our first taste of football this season after Arsenal and Chelsea wet our appetites in the Community Shield final on Sunday and now that the Premier League is only days away, what can we expect from the next 10 months of top flight English football?
Here is my prediction for how The Premier League will look come the end of the 2015/2016 season.
After dominating the league throughout 2014/2015 José Mourinho’s Chelsea are undeniably the team to beat this season. The champions have perfected a winning formula and look to be sticking to it this season by only reinforcing their overall squad rather than tinkering with the first team. Asmir Begovic and Manchester United flop Radamel Falcao have been brought into to replace club legends Petr Cech and Didier Drogba, who say goodbye to Stamford bridge this summer after playing smaller roles in the squad last year. If Fabregas, Hazard and Costa can replicate their sublime form of last season, scoring 37 goals between them, then it’s hard to see anyone taking the trophy away from them and Mourinho this season.
2. Manchester United
Manchester United fans are eagerly awaiting the start of this season for a number of reasons. Louis Van Gaal has had his first season to settle in and get to know the squad and this year is where he really needs to prove his calibre as Manchester United manager. Being back in Europe is going to drive the squad to its limits but with the acquisition of both Schweinstiger and Schneiderlin it seems that Van Gaal wants to start dominating games in vintage Manchester United style. If United can pull of the signing of either Thomas Muller, Sergio Ramos or even Cristiano Ronaldo then they will be classed as serious title contenders, however if Wayne Rooney can step up and score 25+ goals then who knows what can happen.
Arsenal need to hit the ground running this season to keep the pressure on the other teams in the top four. Petr Cech could be a more important signing than people initially thought, his experience and raw talent could inspire the players in front of him to move freely and forward to score more goals, safe in the knowledge that they have a solid defence behind them. Hector Bellerin and Theo Walcott finished the season in style and Arsene Wenger will be hoping this form continues through to the new season, however without bolstering his attack and giving Olivier Giroud fresh competition it’s hard to see them breaking into the top two.
4. Manchester City
The backbone of the Manchester City squad has been unchanged for the last three seasons and although Hart, Kompany, Touré and Aguero on paper are some of the best players in the league, it’s hard to see them competing for the league again this season. After the dismal performance at the tail end of last season, the transfers of both Delph and Raheem Sterling are attempts to break the broken record at the Etihad. Losing James Milner to rivals Liverpool would have been a disappointment to many and it is going to interesting to see if last years runners up can once again dominate each and every game they play or if they and their ageing squad fall short once again.
Not only has club legend Steven Gerrard moved to the MLS, he was the clubs top goal scorer last season and Liverpool are definitely going to struggle to fill the void he leaves behind. Brendan Rodgers needed to sign a handful of players who can guarantee goals and so far he has delivered. Benteke should be a great addition to the squad especially when he has the Brazilian duo of Coutinho and Firminho to supply he from either side. If this front three can deliver and Daniel Sturridge finds his form and fitness again, then the 6-1 defeat to Stoke on the final day of the season will soon be forgotten.
Mauricio Pochettino has his work cut out for him this season, firstly he needs to get through the start of the season without his star goalkeeper Hugo Lloris who broke his wrist in pre-season. Secondly, he needs to make sure that Harry Kane continues his momentum from last season and keeps scoring goals from all kinds of positions and finally he needs to make sure the team finally work together in his very particular style of fast paced, high intensity play.
Gerard Deulofeu has the ability to lift an entire club, his arrival for what seems to be a bargain price not only brings a talented player back to Goodison Park but also brings league and international winning experience. With no Europa League distractions Roberto Martinez will be hoping to concentrate fully on the domestic season, but equally he will need to keep hold of his top players who could be tempted away by the promise of european football. Baines and Coleman will be crucial to both an attacking prowess and solid defence this season and could prove to be the deciding factor in their overall position in the league.
Have Stoke established themselves as a top ten side? For the last two years, under the watchful eye of Mark Hughes they have finished in the better half of the league and after humiliating Liverpool on the last day of the season, The Potters will be eager to get the 2015/16 season underway. After losing their first choice goalkeeper Asmir Begovic to Chelsea and winger Steven Nzonzi to Sevilla, Stoke looked like a deflated team but now with the return of Bojan from injury and a number of interesting signings such as Joselu from Hannover 96, Glen Johnson from Liverpool and Mario Van Ginkel from Chelsea they really could push for another top ten finish.
9. Aston Villa
With Benteke and Delph gone, Tim Sherwood can concentrate on bringing through younger, up and coming players into his first team. Aston Villa are a yo-yo team, normally after having a brush with relegation, The Villans have a habit of pushing their way back up the table and I think the same will happen this season. Jack Grealish has shown signs of his quality and with signings such as Ayew from Lorient and Idrissa Gueye from Lille, Villa could be the surprise performers of the season.
Norwich are one of those teams that seem to fit into the Premier League quite well and unlike Bournemouth and Watford it’s hard to see them going back down next spring. The Canaries have already signed Graham Dorrans from West Brom after his successful loan spell last season and Youssouf Mulumbu has also arrived from The Hawthorns on a free transfer. Alex Neil’s side with have to strengthen further before the end of the transfer window though if they really want to establish their position in the Premier League.
The fans on the south coast have been on a high for the last five years and now that they are in Europe it’s possible their league form could suffer. With the exit of Nathaniel Clyne, Morgan Schneiderlin and Toby Alderweireld this summer, Ronald Koeman has to reshuffle his squad once again and those boots are going to be hard to fill. Jordi Clasie is a decent signing but whether he matches up to Schneiderlin is yet to be seen. Gratziano Pelle had a great start last year, but after a disappointing run of from the Italian striker finished the season on 12 goals which needs to improve this year.
After three seasons Swansea are now an established Premier League team and they don’t look like they are going anywhere anytime soon. After losing Wilfried Bony in January The Swans struggled to find the back of the net, but Garry Monk will be hoping that his midfield of Siggurdson, Ayew and Ki will be able to provide the goals this season. Swansea exceeded expectations in 2014/15, finishing just outside the Europa League spots, it’s going to be difficult to maintain that high level of consistency.
John Carver is gone and new boss Steve McClaren hasn’t hesitated to spend big and bring some big talents to Tyneside. Georginio Wijnaldum could be one of the best signings of the summer and Aleksandar Mitrovic from Anderlecht can almost guarantee a bag full of goals every season. The Magpies had a miserable run at the end of 2014/15, only narrowly avoiding relegation after a run of nine defeats from their last 11 games of the season, so McClaren will have to try to hit the ground running.
Sunderland have managed to convince Dick Advocaat to stay on as manager for another season after he managed to keep them up with one game to spare last season and the fans will be hoping for more positive excitement this year. Jeremain Lens arrives from Dynamo Kiev to add attacking flair and The Black Cats have bolstered their defensive options with Sebastian Coates, Younes Kaboul and Adam Matthews. If Sunderland can maintain a strong defence as they have done in the past then the fans should be able to sleep a little easier this season.
15. West Ham
Stewart Downing was one of West Ham’s top players last season and now he, along with Sam Allardyce have been let go, things could get interesting during the Hammers last season at The Boleyn Ground. Slaven Bilic has been busy in the transfer market already, World class defender Angelo Ogbonna has signed from Juventus, while France winger Dimitri Payet has joined from Marseille and Spanish midfielder Pedro Obiang has also arrived from Sampdoria.
Nigel Pearson and Esteban Cambiasso may be gone and fans are a little apprehensive of Claudio Ranieri but Leicester still have a strong backbone of players in their squad that they will heavily rely on this season if they want to have any chance of staying up. With the permanent signing of Robert Huth, Christian Fuchs arriving on a free transfer to compete for the left-back spot and consistent Bundesliga forward Shinji Okazaki on his way from Mainz things could get even more exciting at The King Power Stadium.
17. Crystal Palace
Last season Crystal Palace had a poor start, but when Alan Pardew took over in January everything seemed to come together, his 57.14% win ratio led to a top ten finish and the home fans finally had something to cheer about. This summer Pardew is free from the controlling grasp of Mike Ashley at Newcastle and has already convinced former Magpie Yohan Cabaye to join him in the capital in a surprise signing from PSG and, after a strong season in the Championship with Middlesbrough Patrick Bamford has been given a shot at the Premier League after joining on loan from Chelsea.
18. West Brom
After five consecutive seasons in the Premier League, The Baggies have their work cut out for them this season, especially having allowed Graham Dorrans and Youssouf Mulumbu to join newly-promoted Norwich, and Chris Baird leaving to join Derby County. Tony Pulis may have pulled off the great escape last season, dragging West Brom from the regulation zone to a respectable 13th place finish, but without Saido Berahino its hard to say whether or not they would have survived. Whether the same again will happen this season is yet to be seen, especially if they can’t keep Berahino.
Slavisa Jokanovic was one of four managers who led Watford to promotion last season and at the end of his one year contract, he and the club failed to reach new contractual agreements and he has been replaced by Quique Flores who is relishing the chance to take on the big teams in the Premier League. Several new signings have already been completed after The Hornets broke the bank and their own transfer record to sign Etienne Capoue from Tottenham. Fans will also be delighted they have managed to finally sign forward Matej Vydra on a permanent deal from Udinese after two successful loan spells at Vicarage Road.
Although they have a young and hungry manager it’s hard too see Watford staying up this season, they are going against the odds and will have to pull off something special if they want to really challenge for their Premier League place.
Eddie Howe had a spectacular season in The Championship last season and will be hoping to bring that form with The Cherries into The Premier League. A few creative signings in Atsu and Gradel and Premier League veteran Sylvain Distin will help them to compete with the big boys, but it is very hard to see them surviving this season. Being the underdog has both its positives and negatives in the top flight, but the sheer lack of experience in the squad and management could prove to be detrimental to their season.
Let me know if you agree or disagree in the comments below or you can let me know what you think on Twitter at @SJNeve.