Premier League Football is back and bigger than ever. After a summer of change in the top flight, with a whole host of new managers and top-quality players this EPL season promises to be the strongest ever. Following a year of upsets and joy we dive in to take a look at our expected top 8 teams for season 2016/17.
With the deadline day for transfers still a week away at time of print, a reminder that the transfer window could yet have a significant impact.
TOP 8 PREDICTIONS
This season: 1st Last season: 5th
Manchester United are a club with something to prove. They have appointed a brilliant, albeit highly-divisive manager who also has something to prove in Jose Mourinho after his sacking at Chelsea just seven months after his team won the title.
Dutchman Louis van Gaal may have won the FA Cup but his was a joyless reign and this superpower needed an X Factor on and off the pitch to renew their damaged status.
The Portuguese will provide it as manager and striker Zlatan Ibrahimovic will do the job on the pitch – although there is an element of “Hollywood” about signing a 34-year-old at the end of his career who has never played in the Premier League. Will it be more style than substance?
The shining symbol of United’s new future is the return of Paul Pogba from Juventus for a world-record £89m – although this was the same player allowed to escape for about £1.5m four years ago.
The creative spark provided by former Borussia Dortmund midfielder Henrikh Mkhitaryan and Pogba will arguably be of greater long-term significance than Ibrahimovic’s short-term sparkle.
There are, though, still questions to be answered.
Where will Wayne Rooney fit into Mourinho’s grand plan? And what about United’s defence? How will £30m Eric Bailly from Villarreal adapt to the Premier League? Despite this, expect United to be back in the title shake-up. Early indications are looking solid at Old Trafford.
Manager in: Jose Mourinho.
Players in: Eric Bailly (Villarreal), Zlatan Ibrahimovic (PSG), Henrikh Mkhitaryan (Borussia Dortmund), Paul Pogba (Juventus).
Manager out: Louis van Gaal.
Players out: Tyler Reid (Swansea City), Victor Valdes (Middlesbrough), Jimmy Dunne (Burnley), Nick Powell (Wigan Athletic), Joe Rothwell (Oxford United), Ashley Fletcher (West Ham United), Guillermo Varela (Eintracht Frankfurt), Paddy McNair (Sunderland), Donald Love (Sunderland).
This season: 2nd
Last season: 4th
The arrival of the world’s most celebrated coach, Pep Guardiola, is the fulfilment of a long-held dream for Manchester City’s owners. He is the man they have always wanted at the head of their football organisation. The Etihad house has been built waiting for him to move in.
City’s run to the Champions League semi-final and a Capital One Cup final win barely covered up a campaign of Premier League under-achievement with Manuel Pellegrini in charge last season. They were left hanging on until the last game of the campaign to secure a Champions League place.
Guardiola is the perfect choice to get more out of a quality squad that has too often seemed short of inspiration and motivation. He is a fiercely driven perfectionist who will not let standards slip.
Midfielder Ilkay Gundogan will add guile when he is fit while winger Nolito is a shrewd capture from Celta Vigo.
Now that City have signed defender John Stones from Everton, responsibility will lie with him for curing the defensive ills caused by the poor form of Eliaquim Mangala and Nicolas Otamendi, as well as captain Vincent Kompany’s injuries. I’m backing a Guardiola-inspired City to become a top 2 contender for a Premier League title.
Manager in: Pep Guardiola.
Players in: Ilkay Gundogan (Borussia Dortmund), Nolito (Celta Vigo), Oleksandr Zinchenko (FC Ufa), Leroy Sane (Schalke 04), Aaron Mooy (Melbourne City), Gabriel Jesus* (Palmeiras) *will join in January 2017, Marlos Moreno (Atletico Nacional), John Stones (Everton).
Manager out: Manuel Pellegrini.
Players out: Martin Demichelis (released), Seko Fofana (Udinese), Aaron Mooy (Huddersfield Town on loan), Marlos Moreno (Deportivo La Coruna on loan).
This season: 3rd
Last season: 10th
Stamford Bridge’s revolving door spins again and in steps Antonio Conte as manager.
The charismatic, combustible Italian created a huge impression at Euro 2016 in France as he guided his nation to wins over Belgium and Spain based on superb tactics and fierce organisation before they lost to Germany on penalties in the last eight.
Conte will need all of this at Chelsea as they recover from a desperate 10th-place finish last season following their implosion under Mourinho after winning the title the previous term.
The superb N’Golo Kante will provide the legs and energy needed in midfield after he played a huge part in Leicester City’s title win while Conte will hope Belgium’s Michy Batshuayi will provide goals with the possibility of more firepower arriving before the deadline.
Everton’s Romelu Lukaku remains a target but the Merseysiders are in no mood to sell the striker they brought from Stamford Bridge for £28m two years ago.
This squad and team was so much better than it showed last season. Expect Conte, who will not suffer fools or any political manoeuvring in the dressing room, to flourish.
Manager in: Antonio Conte.
Players in: Michy Batshuayi (Marseille), N’Golo Kante (Leicester City).
Manager out: Jose Mourinho
Players out: Lewis Baker (Vitesse Arnhem), Nathan Ake (AFC Bournemouth), Jeremie Boga (Granada), Tomas Kalas (Fulham), Kasey Palmer (Huddersfield Town), Alex Kiwomya (Crewe Alexandra), Mohamed Salah (Roma), Tammy Abraham (Bristol City).
This season: 4th
Last season: 8th
This is Jurgen Klopp’s first full season in charge and he has spent the summer putting his imprint – ostensibly tactical awareness and intense fitness demands on a new-look squad.
Last season was mixed as Liverpool reached the Capital One Cup and Europa League finals but lost them both, now Klopp can attack on the domestic front without the extra pressure of European football.
Winger Sadio Mane and Gini Wijnaldum have been the biggest buys from Southampton and Newcastle United respectively with a total expenditure of about £50m, so there is plenty to be optimistic about. But will old frailties such as Simon Mignolet in goal and a vulnerable central defence let them down?
The biggest plus will be that Klopp now has the squad he wants. The first title since 1990? No, but a good bet for a cup and a top 4 finish.
Players in: Joel Matip (Schalke), Loris Karius (FSV Mainz 05), Sadio Mane (Southampton), Ragnar Klavan (Augsburg), Alex Manninger (Augsburg), Georginio Wijnaldum (Newcastle).
Players out: Joao Carlos Teixeira (Porto), Jerome Sinclair (Watford), Kolo Toure (released), Lawrence Vigouroux (Swindon Town), Jordan Rossiter (Rangers), Danny Ward (Huddersfield Town), Jose Enrique (released), Samed Yesil (released), Sergi Canos (Norwich City), Martin Skrtel (Fenerbahce), Jordon Ibe (AFC Bournemouth), Adam Bogdan (Wigan Athletic), Joe Allen (Stoke City), Brad Smith (AFC Bournemouth), Jon Flanagan (Burnley).
This season: 5th
Last season: 3rd
Tough call this one as Mauricio Pochettino’s side were excellent last season and were right in the title shake-up for so long.
In reality, you could throw a blanket over the likes of Chelsea, Spurs, Liverpool and Arsenal in the battle for top-four places. But when you think about Spurs, will a hangover from England’s Euro 2016 fiasco in France effect the likes of Harry Kane, Eric Dier and Dele Alli?
Midfielder Victor Wanyama will provide power and energy after his arrival from Southampton while striker Vincent Janssen, the powerful 22-year-old bought from AZ Alkmaar for £17m, will give Kane support.
At this stage fifth, but they will be a danger to everyone they play.
Players in: Victor Wanyama (Southampton), Vincent Janssen (AZ Alkmaar).
Players out: Filip Lesniak (Slovan Liberec), Grant Ward (Ipswich Town), Federico Fazio (Roma), Alex Pritchard (Norwich City).
This season: 6th
Last season: 2nd
How do you even start to work out Arsenal?
The temptation is to simply put them in the top four because they always finish there.
No chance of the title, but they always seem to win enough games to keep qualifying for the Champions League. Granit Xhaka’s arrival from Borussia Moenchengladbach for a reported £35m will add steel to midfield. Manager Arsene Wenger will need to reach for the chequebook to buy class in attack and in central defence. If he does, the outlook may be brighter. If he doesn’t, expect more of the same or even less.
And will be that be enough in the final year of his contract? Sixth place prediction…but with doubts and with fingers crossed.
Players in: Granit Xhaka (Borussia Monchengladbach), Takuma Asano (Hiroshima Sanfrecce), Rob Holding (Bolton Wanderers)
Players out: Mikel Arteta (released), Tomas Rosicky (released), Mathieu Flamini (released), Isaac Hayden (undisclosed), Dan Crowley (Oxford United), Jon Toral (Granada), Wellington Silva (Fluminense), Wojciech Szczesny (Roma).
This season: 7th
Last season: 7th
West Ham’s biggest challenge may be settling into new surroundings at their new London Stadium. Yes, they will be watched by bigger crowds and the environment may be more luxurious, but Upton Park had an atmosphere that could win points. Can it be replicated at a new home?
The Hammers have shown plenty of ambition with striker Andre Ayew signing for £20m from Swansea City, to go along with additions such as former Valencia striker Toni Martinez, exciting winger Sofiane Feghouli from Valencia and Gokhan Tore from Besiktas.
Slaven Bilic has proved an inspired choice as manager and he will elevate his reputation even more if he can finish higher than last season’s seventh. This a talented squad so watch out for a cup run.
Players in: Toni Martinez (Valencia), Havard Nordtveit (Borussia Moenchengladbach), Domingos Quina, Sofiane Feghouli (Valencia), Gokhan Tore (Besiktas), Ashley Fletcher (Manchester United), Arthur Masuaku (Olympiacos), Andre Ayew (Swansea City).
Players out: Joey O’Brien (released), Elliot Lee (released), James Tomkins (Crystal Palace).
This season: 8th
Last season: Champions
It’s hard to expect another run at the Premier League title but there is good reason to believe the momentum and confidence gained from one of the greatest sporting stories ever told will lead to another very good campaign. What a prospect Champions League nights will be at The King Power Stadium.
The loss of N’Golo Kante to Chelsea is a real blow but keeper Kasper Schmeichel and 24-goal top scorer Jamie Vardy have signed new long-term contracts, the latter rejecting Arsenal in the process.
Nobody can accuse the champions of standing still, with Nigerian striker Ahmed Musa a potentially exciting addition from CSKA Moscow for a club-record £16m plus highly-rated former Nice midfielder Nampalys Mendy arriving as a £13m acquisition to strengthen midfield.
If the Foxes can fight off any late moves for Riyad Mahrez then the top 8 is very attainable.
Players in: Ron-Robert Zieler (Hannover 96), Luis Hernandez (Sporting Gijon), Raul Uche Rubio (Valencia), Nampalys Mendy (Nice), Ahmed Musa (CSKA Moscow), Bartosz Kapustka (KS Cracovia).
Players out: Andrej Kramaric (Hoffenheim), Mark Schwarzer (released), Paul Konchesky (released), Ryan Watson (released), Dean Hammond (released), Harry Panayiotou (released), N’Golo Kante (Chelsea), Joe Dodoo (Rangers), Michael Cain (Blackpool), Hamza Choudhury (Burton Albion).
PLAYERS TO WATCH
Sometimes the most effective players are the one’s that have yet to achieve their full potential. We take a look at some quality and exciting names that may have significant impacts on there club’s season moving forward.
HENRIKH MKHITARYAN, MANCHESTER UNITED
It’s a delight to watch players like him. He takes chances with his passing and has the best through ball we’ve seen in a long time. He’ll be the maestro who dictates play and the one who sets things up. Mkhitaryan made 14 assists for Dortmund last season, the most in the Bundesliga, so United’s forwards will be licking their lips. My only worry is where he will fit in. He can be so devastating when deployed as a No 10 but he will have competition from Paul Pogba and Wayne Rooney and may have to play out wide.
SADIO MANE, LIVERPOOL
Mane caused so many problems playing for Southampton against Liverpool that it’s not at all a surprise they have signed him. The winger will have to justify his £30m fee but he gets fans out of their seats, just look at when he broke Robbie Fowler’s record for the fastest Premier League hat-trick.
Liverpool have been crying out for someone who can go past people and put in good crosses. Adam Lallana and Philippe Coutinho want the ball to feet but Mane can give Liverpool a different dimension running in behind with his blistering pace.
ANDRE GRAY, BURNLEY
These are the stories we all want to see. Three seasons ago he was in the Conference with Luton and now he’s a Premier League player. Like Jamie Vardy, every non-League player will be looking up to him and thinking anything is possible. Gray reminds a little of Troy Deeney and Callum Wilson, strikers who chase lost causes and have a real eye for goal.
He has shown his hunger by doing extra work with Superior Striker, a programme designed to maximise the performance of forwards. Now Burnley must create the chances for him to realise his potential in the top flight.
VINCENT JANSSEN, TOTTENHAM
Ruud Gullit was quoted last week talking very highly of this boy. The last Dutch league export he talked up this much was Luis Suarez, so if Janssen is half as good he’ll be all right!
A left-footed striker who can play out wide, Janssen is a real workhorse and his goals should take the heat off Harry Kane. While he may not start every game, he’s a very good option from the bench, something Spurs lacked as their title bid petered out last season.
LEROY SANE, MANCHESTER CITY
This lad caught the eye a couple of seasons ago when he scored against Real Madrid for Schalke in the Champions League. It was his first appearance on the European stage but you just knew you were watching a very special talent. At just 20, the winger already looks the real deal. He has excellent feet, moves the ball really well and looks as quick on the ball as he does off it.
It wasn’t that long ago we were talking about Manchester City having an ageing team. Now they have a good few younger stars with Sane, Kevin De Bruyne and Ilkay Gundogan all aged 25 or under.
Sane may well need a little time to get used to the Premier League and we should be patient with him, although by Christmas I expect the German ace to have hit top gear.