The Premier League returns this weekend, as do the late Saturday/Sunday nights and groggy Monday morning lectures that accompany it. So, to keep you up to date with what’s been happening, what follows is a breakdown of the teams I predict will occupy the top half of the table.
In: Petr Cech (Chelsea)
Out: Abou Diaby (Marseille), Lukas Podolski (Galatasaray), Carl Jenkinson (West Ham United), Yaya Sanogo (Ajax), Wojciech Szczesny (Roma), Chuba Akpom (Hull City)
Despite an obvious lack of transfer activity, Arsenal fans will enter the 2015-16 season with a heightened sense of optimism. Their young stars are finally maturing, and though the claim is made every single year, with Petr Cech - their only purchase this summer – I don’t hesitate in saying Arsenal could well be mounting a serious title challenge. On paper, only a top class centre forward separates their starting lineup from those of City or Chelsea, with enviable depth in every position.
The eyes may be on Alexis Sanchez, and Arsene Wenger, but Francis Coquelin might be whom the club will need to rely on. Since December, and his return, no side picked up more points.
TAB Title Odds: 4.50
In: Nathan (Atletico Paranaense), Asmir Begovic (Stoke City), Radamel Falcao (Monaco)
Out: Thorgan Hazard (Borussia Monchengladbach), Gael Kakuta (Sevilla), Petr Cech (Arsenal), Josh McEachran (Brentford), Didier Drogba (Montreal Impact), Filipe Luis (Atletico Madrid), Christian Atsu (Bournemouth), Marco van Ginkel (Stoke City), Mohamed Salah (Roma)
Looking to retain the title, Chelsea enter the season as favourites. Alongside the purchase of Falcao - someone who could truly thrive in the creative, yet disciplined, nature of a Mourinho-led Chelsea team - and the possible addition of one or two defenders, they have the strongest first-eleven in the league.
The formidable spine of the squad: Courtois, Terry, Matic, Fabregas, and Diego Costa, all bear large responsibility, but one cannot look further than PFA Player of the Year, Eden Hazard, to be the talisman this coming season. Incredibly fortunate regarding the lack of injuries the squad succumbed to last year, with one notable exception, the fitness of Costa will yet again be paramount to any success.
TAB Title Odds: 2.45
In: Tom Cleverley (Manchester United), Gerard Deulofeu (Barcelona)
Out: Antolin Alcaraz (Las Palmas), Sylvain Distin (Bournemouth)
Devastatingly poor last season, I have every hope that Everton find themselves back to their very best this season, aided by the lack of Europa League in this campaign. Roberto Martinez will be boosted by the return of the exciting Deulofeu, but needs his key players to perform if he is to mount a serious challenge for the European places.
All eyes will naturally be on record signing, Romelu Lukaku, who lacked consistency last season and only mustered a measly 10 goals in the league. A terrible set of opening fixtures suggest Martinez could be under heavy pressure come November, but I’d be surprised if Everton recorded another bottom-half finish.
TAB Title Odds: 201.00
In: Joe Gomez (Charlton Athletic), James Milner (Manchester City), Danny Ings (Burnley), Adam Bogdan (Bolton Wanderers), Roberto Firmino (1899 Hoffenheim), Nathaniel Clyne (Southampton), Christian Benteke (Aston Villa)
Out: Brad Jones (Released), Glen Johnson (Stoke City), Steven Gerrard (LA Galaxy), Sebastian Coates (Sunderland), Iago Aspas (Celta Vigo), Raheem Sterling (Manchester City), Rickie Lambert (West Bromwich Albion), Andre Wisdom (Norwich City)
The daunting opening fixture list suggests Brendan Rodgers has until November to retain his job. Despite games against five of last year’s top seven, and two away games at Stoke and Everton, within their first 11 fixtures, Liverpool fans will demand results. Made all the more difficult with Raheem Sterling’s unceremonious departure, Rodgers knows he’s up for close inspection. The loss of club legend Steven Gerrard will also hurt fans, but is likely to benefit the squad, and it will be interesting to see how Jordan Henderson adapts to the role of captain.
The £67m layout so far this summer, in my opinion, has been a successful venture. Milner, Clyne, Firmino, and Benteke are terrific signings, all adding much necessary quality to a side in lack of it throughout the pitch. Danny Ings, also purchased this summer, and Benteke, in particular, will need to adapt quickly; as without Daniel Sturridge, Liverpool are in desperate need of inspiration up front. Liverpool will find themselves among the top four, but are unlikely to compete at the very top.
TAB Title Odds: 17.00
In: Raheem Sterling (Liverpool), Fabian Delph (Aston Villa), Patrick Roberts (Fulham), Enes Unal (Bursaspor)
Out: Dedryck Boyata (Celtic), Matija Nastasic (Schalke 04), Micah Richards (Aston Villa), Scott Sinclair (Aston Villa), Frank Lampard (New York City), James Milner (Liverpool), Alvaro Negredo (Valencia), Karim Rekik (Marseille), Stevan Jovetic (Internazionale)
Whether you love or hate the kid, City’s £49m acquisition of Sterling was a terrific piece of business. Overpriced, definitely, but with the club needing to meet their home-grown quota, they have gone and bought themselves England’s brightest prospect. Add to that the intelligent signing of the ever-improving Fabian Delph, their squad matches that of Chelsea’s in most departments.
Though in need of a quality defender to accompany Kompany at the heart of the defence, I would be surprised if City failed to be the highest scoring team this season. With Toure, Sterling, and the intricate Silva, supplementing last year’s Golden Boot winner, Sergio Aguero, I’d expect them to challenge Chelsea right until the very end.
TAB Title Odds: 3.75
In: Memphis Depay (PSV Eindhoven), Matteo Darmian (Torino), Bastian Schweinsteiger (Bayern Munich), Morgan Schneiderlin (Southampton), Sergio Romero (Free)
Out: Ben Amos (Released), Tom Cleverley (Everton), Nani (Fenerbache), Robin van Persie (Fenerbache), Rafael (Lyon), Angel Di Maria (Paris Saint-Germain)
Louis van Gaal faces a challenging year; his ‘philosophy’ has underwhelmed; his typically patient, largely ineffective brand of possession football, has failed to strike fear into the opposition; and most importantly, he is yet to win over the fans. With the sale of Di Maria, despite being regarded as the arguable ‘flop of the season’, they have lost their star attraction, and, undoubtedly, one of the most talented players in the league.
All is not lost, however. United have finally made a number of smart signings, including the midfield duo of Morgan Schneiderlin, and Bastian Schweinsteiger. Though the latter comes with the expectation and leadership the fans so often desire, it’s very likely the former will play the larger role. Darmian is a firm improvement on current fullback, Valencia, and with the maturing Shaw on the other flank, Old Trafford could finally be seeing exciting, attacking football.
Memphis Depay, who could be the signing of the season, arrives with great promise. 22 goals in the Eredivisie last season suggest he’s the ideal man to form a devastating duo with leading man, Wayne Rooney. Surprisingly, van Gaal seems insistent on using the versatile Daley Blind as a left sided central defender, prompting the idea that there will be no big-money CB on his way. However, I do expect Barcelona winger, Pedro, to make the move in the coming week, so as to fill the gaping void left by Di Maria. Will likely lack the consistency to win the league, but should find themselves within touching distance of the top.
TAB Title Odds: 6.00
In: Juanmi (Malaga), Cedric Soares (Sporting CP), Cuco Martina (FC Twente), Jordy Clasie (Feyenoord), Maarten Stekelenburg (Fulham), Steven Caulker (Queens Park Rangers)
Out: Nathaniel Clyne (Liverpool), Morgan Schneiderlin (Manchester United), Artur Boruc (Released), Jos Hooiveld (Released), Dani Osvaldo (Released)
You have to feel a little sorry for Southampton; in the past two years, they have lost six - seven, if you count Alderweireld - established, and very talented, players, to the allure of their big-name league rivals. However, similar to Atletico Madrid in Spain, when The Saints lose a key squad member, they go ahead and purchase a (typically) foreign player at a reduced price, who is equal to, if not better, than the departee.
Clyne, Alderweireld, and Schneiderlin have been replaced by Cedric Soares, Caulker, and Jordy Clasie, respectively. Cedric and Caulker should be able replacements, but it’s the acquisition of Clasie that excites most. A deep lying playmaker, with the tenacious attitude to hassle opponents on defence, the young Dutch footballer could be one of the signings of the season. Though the Europa League will likely take precedence over (and therefore hinder) their league campaign, a mid-table finish should be easily guaranteed.
TAB Title Odds: 201.00
In: Andre Ayew (Marseille), Franck Tabanou (Saint-Etienne), Kristoffer Nordfeldt (Heerenveen), Eder (Braga)
Out: David Cornell (Oldham Athletic), Alan Tate (Released), Gerhard Tremmel (Released), Jazz Richards (Fulham)
Finishing in 8th last season, their highest ever in Premier League history, Garry Monk has attracted applause from fans and neutrals for his brand of exciting, attacking football. Developing under Monk, Swansea have outgrown the possession based football of his predecessors, and are an unpredictable side capable of big results – they managed home and away victories against both United, and Arsenal, last year.
Swansea have maybe the coup of the transfer window, landing Ghanaian Andre Ayew on a free transfer. The addition of Eder, as backup to Gomis, is also a reasonable purchase; he offers a more dynamic option to what the talented Gylfi Sigurdsson is used to supplying. This season should offer more of the same, with the Swans looking to push for those coveted Europa League slots.
TAB Title Odds: 501.00
In: Kevin Wimmer (1. FC Koln), Kieran Trippier (Burnley), Toby Alderweireld (Atletico Madrid)
Out: Paulinho (Guangzhou Evergrande), Brad Friedel (Retired), Bongani Khumalo (SuperSport United), Lewis Holtby (Hamburg), Etienne Capoue (Watford), Younes Kaboul (Sunderland), Benjamin Stambouli (Paris Saint-Germain), Vlad Chiriches (Napoli),
Finally, Spurs appear to have amended the repercussions of their heavy transfer activity in 2013, offloading the likes of Paulinho. Little inward activity occurred, but the three signings thus far are all positive movements. Toby Alderweireld should find himself alongside compatriot Vertonghen at the heart of the defence, and Trippier will provide much-needed competition to the seemingly stagnant Kyle Walker.
Most importantly, they’ve managed to fend off the interest towards Harry Kane, their star man of last season. The PFA Young Player of the Year bears an excessive amount of expectation, and I would be surprised if Pochettino chose not to bring in another player as competition. The centre of midfield is still lacking in quality, and could greatly benefit from an established creative midfielder. Unlikely to push the top four this season, but should have the quality to secure a Europa League slot.
TAB Title Odds: 61.00
Crystal Palace // West Ham:
Crystal Palace In: Yohan Cabaye (Paris Saint-Germain), Alex McCarthy (Queens Park Rangers), Connor Wickham (Sunderland), Bakary Sako (Wolverhampton Wanderers), Patrick Bamford (Chelsea)
Out: Shola Ameobi (Released), Stephen Dobbie (Bolton Wanderers)
West Ham In: Stephen Hendrie (Hamilton Academical), Darren Randolph (Birmingham City), Pedro Obiang (Sampdoria), Dimitri Payet (Marseille), Angelo Ogbonna (Juventus), Carl Jenkinson (Arsenal), Manuel Lanzini (Al Jazira)
Out: Carlton Cole (Released), Guy Demel (Released), Jussi Jaaskelainen (Released), Stewart Downing (Middlesbrough)
Alan Pardew’s Crystal Palace were a revelation towards the back-end of last season, with their thrilling forwards often too unpredictable for opposition to handle. Yannick Bolasie is one of the league’s most exciting players, and alongside Wilfried Zaha, pose a real danger down the flanks. The addition of Yohan Cabaye could prove to be invaluable, as they seek to better their last year’s 10th place finish.
Only three European players recorded more assists than the 17 that Dimitri Payet managed for Ligue 1 outfit, Marseille, last season. And with 134 chances created, Payet was the most prominent playmaker in Europe – something West Ham so sorely needs. It will be important that Sakho has a productive year up front, if Bilic intends for his men to be challenging for European places.
It’s hard to separate the two, but with West Ham under new management, I’d be a little inclined to think Palace will just edge ahead of them.
TAB Title Odds: 1,001.00 // 501.00