As John Terry embraced Antonio Conte and hoisted the trophy high in May this year, many thought this was the beginning of a legacy. Chelsea had all-but walked the league after the charismatic Italian, Conte, altered their formation to 3-5-2, a month into what was starting to be a worrying campaign. Eden Hazard pulled the strings as the Stamford Bridge inhabitants took the title back from underdogs Leicester.
One summer later and things are oh so different. Controversial talisman Diego Costa is still mid-hissy fit as he demands a move to his “home” at Atletico Madrid, the board have sold midfield centerpiece Nemanja Matic to rival Manchester United against Conte’s wishes, and they missed out on main target Romelu Lukaku, also to United.
The floor is well and truly open, and other teams are making their voices heard. Manchester City have again flexed their financial muscle in bringing in goalkeeper Ederson, defenders Kyle Walker, Danilo and Benjamin Mendy, and midfielder Bernardo Silva. Pep Guardiola has followed Conte’s lead in changing to a 3-5-2, with ball-playing defender John Stones leading them out from the back flanked by Vincent Kompany and Nicolas Otamendi as Walker and Danilo/Mendy patrol the flanks. Fernandinho or Ilkay Gundogan will sit deep while the powerful front four of Kevin De Bruyne, David Silva, Gabriel Jesus and Sergio Aguero run amok. They are the early favourites for the title, having solved their fullback and goalkeeper issues while adding further depth in midfield.
The eternal Premier League behemoths, Manchester United, are back in the picture after some smart additions. Romelu Lukaku will hopefully provide the finishing touches that were notably lacking up front last season. Furthermore, the additions of Nemanja Matic in midfield and Victor Lindelof in defence provide the team with a solid spine. David De Gea will be as spectacular as always, while the addition of Matic frees up Paul Pogba to show just why United splashed out €90m for him and he will look to provide for the likes of Lukaku, Marcus Rashford, Anthony Martial and Henrikh Mkhitaryan. For what it’s worth, I can’t see the Premier League title going outside of Manchester this season.
Other contenders are Tottenham Hotspur, who have failed to add any players while facing a potential uprising about Daniel Levy’s notoriously tight pay-structure (Danny Rose being the perpetrator), and Arsenal. The latter admittedly look a far cry better for having introduced French striker Alexandre Lacazette, alongside the Serbian Kolasinac to commandeer their left flank. Expect to see them improve as they adapt to coach Arsene Wenger’s new 3-5-2 system (gee, that’s awfully novel Arsene!). The only downside is that they’re likely set to lose all three of Mesut Ozil, Alexis Sanchez and Alex Oxlade-Chamberlain following this season, so this is likely Wenger’s last chance to win the League again before he calls it a day.
At the other end of the table, the cliché of newly-promoted teams being in relegation trouble is as true as ever. Brighton Hove Albion, Newcastle and Huddersfield will battle it out with Swansea City, Burnley and possibly a surprise package of Stoke or Watford.
Here are my predictions, then:
Champions – Manchester United: The simple math is Jose Mourinho + second season = title. There’s an air of confidence and swagger around Old Trafford the likes of which hasn’t been seen since Fergie’s time, and I’m picking Pogba, Lukaku and Mkhitaryan in particular to step up and bring the title back to where it belongs.
Top Four - Manchester United, Manchester City, Arsenal, Tottenham: City will push United right to the finish, while Arsenal will be the best of the rest as a last hoorah for Chilean dynamo Sanchez, as Lacazette will prove to be a great addition. Tottenham, under the tutelage of Pochettino, will scrape in ahead of Chelsea and those small clubs from Merseyside to round out the four. Harry Kane and Dele Alli to feature prominently as per. Chelsea might get in ahead of them, but it depends if Conte stays the whole season or the board get too much for him before then.
Relegation – Brighton Hove Albion, Burnley, Swansea: Brighton look the weakest of the promoted teams, and the early loss of standout Anthony Knockaert doesn’t help. Having lost defensive colossus Michael Keane to Everton, Burnley look even weaker than last term, while Swansea have lost their star Gylfi Sigurdsson to Everton too and show no signs of investing.
Golden Boot – Romelu Lukaku/Harry Kane: Can see this being a great race between these two, Alvaro Morata, Alexandre Lacazette and the City duo of Jesus and Aguero. Kane loves to win this gong and will no doubt be in the mix, while Lukaku and his supporting cast is simply too potent to ignore.
Player of the Year – Paul Pogba: I feel it’s Paul Pogba’s year. He no longer has the pressure of being the world’s most expensive player, he has Nemanja Matic behind him to give him more freedom and he has a great understanding with his close friend Romelu Lukaku ahead of him. His form will dictate United’s this season.