Looking Forward to the 2017-2018 Season
It’s that time of the year again. Summer is almost at an end and its long, lazy and, let’s be honest, boring days are about to be replaced by something you never really needed a holiday from: the football season.
The Barclays Premier League kicks off in earnest on Friday the 11th August at 7.45pm when Arsenal entertain Leicester City at the Emirates. As ever, a new season brings with it hopes, doubts and the excitement of the unknown.
Will Chelsea be able to retain their title? Can your unfancied team do a Leicester and rocket up the table? Will Arsene Wenger make it more than five minutes into the first game before fans begin calling for his head?
Let’s look ahead at what the season may have in store.
Antonio Conte’s Chelsea were worthy winners of last season’s Premier League. Conte’s switch from a back four to his favoured 3-4-3 formation triggered a remarkable 13-game winning streak that left Chelsea’s rivals trailing in their wake.
Last season’s Blues were beautifully balanced – solid at the back and potent in attack – but they’ve had an unsettling pre-season. Conte told Diego Costa he was no longer wanted at the club by text message, alienating some within the club hierarchy, while, aside from the arrival of Alvaro Morata from Real Madrid, little significant strengthening has been done.
The return of the Champions League to Stamford Bridge will stretch Chelsea’s squad more than last year and they may struggle to emulate last season’s consistency.
Manchester City have spent big to try and rectify last season’s deficiencies. Their roster of aging full-backs have been replaced by Kyle Walker, Benjamin Mendy and Real Madrid’s Danilo for combined fees of well over £100 million.
Pep Guardiola is arguably the most talented coach of his generation and, with speedy overlapping full-backs to complement an attack featuring the likes of Gabriel Jesus, Sergio Aguero, Kevin De Bruyne and David Silva, City will be a force to be reckoned with.
Cross town rivals Manchester United have spent big, too. Romelu Lukaku should guarantee goals and is the club’s glamour signing, but the arrival of Nemaja Matic from Chelsea for around £40 million could be every bit as significant.
Jose Mourinho teams are built on a solid base and with Matic sitting in front of the defence United should be tough to break down. Wherever he’s been, with Porto, Chelsea (twice), Inter Milan and Real Madrid, Mourinho has won the league in his second season – a good portent for United fans.
Liverpool and Arsenal have spent more sparingly than their rivals – albeit it’s a sign of the times that the £35-45 million fees for Mohamed Salah and Alexandre Lacazette appear positively thrifty.
Klopps’s Liverpool impressed offensively last year but looked shaky defensively – something Arsenal fans have been saying about their team for most of this millenium. Both sides face a fight to hang onto key players – Liverpool’s Coutinho is being pursued by Barcelona while both Sanchez and Ozil have entered the last year of their Arsenal contracts – and guarantee entertainment but may be too fragile to go the distance in the title race.
Spurs are undoubtedly a team on the rise. A second place finish last year was their highest in the Premier League and in Dele Alli and Harry Kane they boast two of the brightest young players in world football. Mauricio Pochettino has coached them into a solid unit, but a surprising lack of transfer activity and temporary relocation to Wembley raise questions about their credibility as title challengers.
Spurs struggled at Wembley in last season’s Champions League and will surely miss the home comforts of White Hart Lane. They’ll hope to avoid a transitional season.
Ronald Koeman’s Everton have spent big this summer. The acquisition of Sandro Ramirez, Davy Klaassen, Jordan Pickford, Michael Keane and the emotional return of Wayne Rooney to his boyhood club have raised hopes of a push for the Champions League spots. Lukaku’s absence will be felt but, outside of the top 6, Everton look like the best of the rest.
Bournemouth are one of the success stories of English football. Their rise up the divisions under the tutelage of Eddie Howe is an old-fashioned story of hard work reaping dividends – and Bournemouth have done it in some style, too.
Only six teams scored more goals than Bournemouth last year and with the potent Jermaine Defoe joining on a free transfer they should be every bit as prolific this year. If two recruits from Chelsea, Nathan Ake and Asmir Begovic, can toughen up a leaky defence, Bournemouth could improve on last year’s 9th place finish.
West Ham United, Leicester City, Stoke and West Brom will also be hopeful of pushing on this year. All four teams have enjoyed a stable close season, retaining their managers and adding carefully to their squads, and should, at the very least, avoid the trauma of a relegation battle.
West Ham are arguably under the most pressure to perform. Slavan Bilic excelled in his first season as manager but was touted for the sack last year as his team struggled to adapt to their new home at the Olympic Stadium. The board have backed him with heavy investments in Marko Arnautovic and Mexican goal-getter Chicharito and will be hoping for a fast start.
Battling at the Bottom
The Premier League isn’t all glamour. The battle to beat the drop becomes more intense each year as the gap between TV money in the Championship and the Premier League grows ever greater.
The three promoted sides Newcastle, Brighton and Huddersfield will enjoy a brief honeymoon period but will be aware that the Premier League dream can quickly dissolve into a nightmare if you fail to put points on the board
The Magpies should have the best chance of avoiding the drop. Undoubtedly a Premier League team in terms of stature, Newcastle have a Champions League winning manager at the helm in Rafa Benitez and won the Championship last year.
Benitez has, however, complained of a lack of signings – a problem not shared by Brighton or Huddersfield, who have both paid record fees for players as they seek to make the step up.
Swansea City and Watford were slightly fortunate to avoid relegation last year. Paul Clement worked wonders at the Welsh side and may have to do so again as Everton close in on Gylfi Sigurdsson. Marco Silva has been rewarded for nearly keeping Hull up last year with a move to Watford and will be hopeful of whipping a talented but slightly unfocused squad into shape.
Crystal Palace and Southampton also have new managers. Frank de Boer and Mauricio Pellegrino have strong reputations as young coaches in Europe but the Premier League presents another challenge altogether. Talented squads should help them settle and put points on the board
Burnley appear more likely to struggle. Sean Dyche’s men dug in well to stay up last year but having lost arguably their best defender and striker, Michael Keane and Andre Gray, to competing clubs, look short on quality. The Clarets will fight hard but may be due a return to the Championship.
Crystal ball time!
- Manchester City for the title.
- Brighton, Huddersfield and Burnley to go down.
- The remaining Champions League spot is too close to call!
Premier League History – 25 Years On
The new season of the English Premier League kicks off this Friday (August the 11th) when Arsenal take on Leicester City at the Emirates Stadium. Build up to the match has been dominated by talk of the Premier League’s 25th anniversary and a sell-out match, televised live, is a fitting way to mark the occasion.
The Premier League has been controversial at times. Leading lights, including Sir Alex Ferguson and Arsene Wenger, have lamented TV’s influence over kick-off times, while others claim that the sheer amount of money flowing into the game has corrupted it.
Few, however, would fail to acknowledge that the Premier League has returned the boom times to English football. Stadium crowds are up to near 100% capacity, Premier League games are watched by adoring fans worldwide and, for a golden period in the noughties, English teams dominated European football.
At the time of the year when everyone is looking forward to the new season, the 25th anniversary of the Premier League reminds us to look backwards, too.
In the early-1990s football remained a simple game. The best teams played in the First Division, the next best teams in the Second Division and so on. All played under a single governing body, the Football League.
The biggest clubs were restless, however. They felt there was an opportunity for growth, driven by TV interest in the game, and struck a deal with Sky television that would see matches broadcast from a new, elite league, the Premier League.
Stats from the first Premier League season 1992/93 indicate just how significant the new partnership would be. Just 3,039 fans turned up to watch a January fixture between Wimbledon and Everton, the lowest ever Premier League attendance, while even powerhouses Chelsea and Arsenal attracted less than 25,000 to their first home games.
Fast forward a couple of decades and the average Premier League crowd is a full 15,000 higher than in the 1992/93 season, with several clubs, including Arsenal, relocating to a new stadium to satisfy demand.
Deloitte reported in 2014 that the yearly revenue of Premier League clubs had exceeded £2.5 billion in the 2012/13 season. The current Premier League TV deal, driven by the fresh rivalry between Sky and BT, is worth an incredible £5 billion.
Popularity, wealth, success…the Premier League has it all. It has something priceless, too: memories.
Magic Moments In The EPL
Beckham scoring from the halfway line against Wimbledon. Keegan’s “I’d love it if we beat them!” meltdown over Fergie’s mindgames. Cantona’s kung-fu kick.
What about the 4-3 thrillers between Newcastle and Liverpool? Henry bending to kiss the Highbury turf as Arsenal bade farewell to their stadium in style? That injury-time league winner from Sergio Aguerooooooooooo!!!!!!?
Everyone has their favourite Premier League moment, their favourite player, their favourite rivalry.
It’s the stories football weaves, the unscripted madness and poignancy, that keeps us coming back for more.
The Premier League plot never ends, it merely thickens. In the mid-1990s Fergie’s United were becoming a little too dominant. There was widespread amusement when Arsenal responded to this by appointing a man the newspapers derisevely termed “Arsene Who?”
Wenger, a suave, sophisticated Frenchman, seemed unsuited to the rough and tumble of English football. He banned booze, introduced stretching exercies and brought some equally unheralded French footballers to Arsenal. A few seasons later they took the Premier League title from under United’s noses at Trafford.
The rivalry between Arsenal and United became so intense Roy Keane and Patrick Viera almost had a fight in the tunnel before a match. Arsenal players reputedly threw food at Ferguson in the “pizzagate” scandal after a roughhouse performance by his team finally ended their record unbeaten run.
Just when the rivalry threatened to become stale along came Jose Mourinho. There was no danger of Mourinho being underrated – he pronounced himself “The Special One” at his introductory press conference and lived up to his name by delivering Chealsea their first Premier League title in his first season.
Mourinho’s tactical sophistication ushered in arguably the Premier League’s golden age, measured, funnily enough, not by domestic performances, but by dominance in the Champions League.
Arsenal, Liverpool, Man U and Chelsea all reached Champions League finals between 2005 and 2012, the latter three multiple times, and regularly booked enough semi-final places that all-English battles like the Chelsea-Liverpool semi won by Luis Garcia’s “ghost goal” became common.
While European success brought a feelgood factor to the league, some lamented the predictable dominance of the “big four,” but the Premier League does underdog stories, too. Just last year Claudio Ranieri’s Leicester produced arguably the game’s greatest ever fairytale triumph by winning the Premier League against all the odds.
Images of Jamie Vardy (literally) having a party became another iconic Premier League memory.
Premier League Betting Offers Usually Surround Star Players – Who Stood Out Over The Years?
Plenty of great players have graced the Premier League, but the ones we remember most are those who dominated with personality as well as talent.
Eric Cantona stands out in the early Premier League era. The French striker with the turned-up collar was a prolific goalscorer with the rare gift of making it appear that he had time on the ball even when surrounded by defenders.
Cantona is arguably the Premier League’s greatest maverick. Kung-fu kicking a fan was ill-advised, to say the least, but you have to admire Cantona’s commitment to the madness. Has any footballer in history ever produced a press conference as spellbinding and impenetrable as his “when the seagulls follow the trawler” enigma?
Thierry Henry had a cooler head than Cantona. Henry cut through Premier League defences with such grace and elegance he brought plenty of “va-va-voom” to the party and symbolised the technical sophistication that made Wenger’s Arsenal the team to watch in the early noughties.
Cristiano Ronaldo didn’t win too many fans in his early days at Man United. Signed as a direct replacement for the image conscious David Beckham, Ronaldo initially looked like an even worse case of style over substance.
With his heavily gelled hair and habit of producing more step overs than crosses, Ronaldo infuriated teammates and fans alike until he suddenly discovered another level and introduced the league to new levels of efficiency, power and free kicks that contorted the laws of physics as they dipped, swerved and bamboozled their way into the net.
Betting Offers For The Premier League Usually Surround Transfers Too – Ronaldo Was a Big Move
Ronaldo’s departure for Real Madrid left a gap in the Premier League that has never quite been filled. There are still plenty of high quality players but, arguably, at the moment it is the managers who are the superstars.
Pep Guardiola and Mourinho are the two most influential managers of the modern game, with vastly opposing approaches, while everyone’s favourite mad German uncle Jurgen Klopp and manic Italian Antonio Conte bring plenty to Liverpool and Chelsea.
Touchline drama, on-pitch drama, social media drama. The Premier League story rolls on, starting this Friday, and one thing is guaranteed: you will be entertained.