Soccer

Premier League preview ahead of big kick-off

  • Happy days: Arsenal celebrate Kolasinac’s goal in the Community Shield, but how long before the “Wenger Out” banners are in full view at the Emirates Stadium again? (Photograph by Frank Augstein/AP)

It’s a game for mugs ... so yours truly is perfectly qualified for the job.

And seeing as everyone and their mom has an opinion on the new season, it’s only right the RG gets off the fence.

The transfer window is still wide open so the landscape could change drastically, but here’s a team-by-team take on the season ahead.

The differences between all the top six are wafer thin so no angry you-hate-my-team e-mails, please.

Manchester City

If it’s possible to spend $265 million quietly, Pep Guardiola has done it. That’s mainly because he has kept his counsel and strengthened the least sexy area: defence.

Benjamin Mendy and Kyle Walker address full back, while he will hope keeper Ederson is an upgrade on the flappy Claudio Bravo. Defender Danilo and midfielder Bernardo Silva complete the notable new boys.

Guardiola will have learnt from last season and if he can sure up that backline, there is devastating talent everywhere you look, of which the dreamy skills of Kevin de Bruyne (18 assists last season) are pivotal.

Prediction: 1st

One to watch: Gabriel Jesus

Manchester United

After laying the groundwork last season, José Mourinho slowly turned United into an ultra pragmatic operation; uneasy on the eye but with a healthy appetite for trophies. Sound familiar?

And, in a move that’s surprised no one, he’s added more muscle to the mix. Romelu Lukaku, Nemanja Matic and Victor Lindelof will play prominent roles in a squad that looks primed for a title assault.

Prediction: 2nd

One to watch: Paul Pogba

Chelsea

Last season’s achievement was arguably a little underrated as Antonio Conte conquered all before him in his first Premier League season. However, with a Champions League campaign added to the workload, there is a question mark over how his team will cope without the out-of-favour Diego Costa, departed Matic, club figurehead John Terry and an injured Eden Hazard. But before Conte gets the violins out, remember he has spent more than $180 million already on Álvaro Morata, Antonio Rüdiger and Tiémoué Bakayoko. Much will depend on how those three settle, in particular striker Morata.

Prediction: 3rd

One to watch: Álvaro Morata

Liverpool

Jürgen Klopp has added Mohamed Salah to an already impressive forward armoury but, with a European campaign added into the mix, he will need all of them, including Philippe Coutinho, who may or may not be a Barcelona player by the time the transfer window closes. By all accounts Phil is a good egg and unlikely to rock the boat but his departure would be a blow, although perhaps not as much as some may think. When, for example, did he complete a full season?

Defence remains a concern.

Prediction: 4th

One to watch: Mohamed Salah

Tottenham Hotspur

A quiet transfer window so far has fans squirming in their seats, but they learnt a long time ago to trust Mauricio Pochettino. Their temporary move to Wembley may prove more problematic with the Londoners having a less-then-stellar record there, though. After two excellent seasons, progress would essentially mean the title but they require new blood (which I expect them to get) to keep the momentum going and to keep the sublime talents of Harry Kane (last season’s top scorer with 29 goals) and Dele Alli on their toes.

Prediction: 5th

One to watch: Dele Alli

Arsenal

Whether the fans’ disquiet over Arsène Wenger returns will affect not only the atmosphere but whether they launch a sustained challenged or whether the club fails to push on in familiar fashion. The signings of Sead Kolasinac (a beast) and Alexandre Lacazette (dynamic) look positive but uncertainty over the futures of Alexis Sánchez and Mesut Özil remain and the Gunners need both firing and motivated. Ripe for implosion as always.

Prediction: 6th

One to watch: Alexandre Lacazette

Everton

The Goodison Park revolution is in full swing, as is their chequebook. Their transfer roll call includes: Wayne Rooney, Jordan Pickford, Davy Klaassen, Sandro Ramírez and Michael Keane — all bought for about the same money they flogged Lukaku to Manchester United for.

They could potentially break into the top six if all the signings hit their straps. Rooney’s return adds a fairytale element but dead-eyed manager Ronald Koeman reeks of cold ambition.

Prediction: 7th

One to watch: Sandro Ramírez

Leicester City

There is nothing to suggest Craig Shakespeare will not command the same respect among his charges as he did last season, which should avoid the early-season slump that did for Claudio Ranieri.

The addition of defender Harry Maguire appears astute and the big-money deal for Kelechi Iheanacho is also a fine bit of business. Enigmatic winger Riyad Mahrez could leave but many fans will tell you that happened a year ago.

Prediction: 8th

One to watch: Demarai Gray

Bournemouth

The South Coast side have the potential to flirt with a top-eight finish having added shrewdly to a squad that possesses a growing sense of belonging in the Premier League.

This will only be boosted by the arrival of Jermain Defoe and Asmir Begovic, plus the permanent signing of defender Nathan Aké. Anyone else, man or woman, have a crush on Eddie Howe?

Prediction: 9th

One to watch: Josh King

Southampton

Mauricio Pellegrino inherits a good squad, which he has been bolstered by the signing of midfielder Mario Lemina from Juventus. The Virgil van Dijk transfer request casts a shadow but Saints are secure, well-run and have the luxury of being able to hold their ground for as long as they want. Plus, they are probably fed up with being a feeder club for Liverpool, albeit a cash-rich one.

Prediction: 10th

One to watch: Manolo Gabbiadini

Crystal Palace

Frank de Boer is now at the helm, which promises a change of style in South London. Fêted in Holland but scarred by his Inter Milan experience, his appointment has a boom-or-bust feel.

He does, though, have plenty of talent to work with in Yohan Cabaye, Wilfried Zaha and Christian Benteke. Ruben Loftus-Cheek’s progress will also be interesting.

Prediction: 11th

One to watch: Wilfried Zaha

West Ham United

Slaven Bilic’s sparkle diminished last season thanks to the Dimitri Payet saga and some lacklustre signings; the move into the shiny new, characterless stadium didn’t help either.

Moves has been made to address squad deficiencies with Joe Hart, Javier Hernández, Marko Arnautovic and Pablo Zabaleta arriving. Should be enough to steady the ship.

Prediction: 12th

One to watch: Javier Hernández

Newcastle United

There must be short odds right now on Rafa Benítez telling Mike Ashley to stick his dusty wallet where the sun don’t shine and walking out by Christmas.

Benítez’s bond with the fans may be tight, but the Spaniard is already unhappy with the club’s transfer-window performance. As usual, the undercurrents on Tyneside are worrying but they should be comfortable.

Prediction: 13th

One to watch: Matt Ritchie

West Bromwich Albion

Tony Pulis’s side lost seven of their final ten games of the season after they secured safety. The signing of Jay Rodriguez looks a roll of the dice and it remains to be seen for how long the fans can stomach Pulis’s meat-and-potatoes football.

Prediction: 14th

One to watch: Nacer Chadli

Watford

There would have been a few worried Hornets knocking around despite the coup of signing manager Marco Silva after the Portguese impressed in a losing cause at Hull City.

However, the signing of Andre Gray gives the team a potency that could gel nicely with the mishmash of foreign names at Vicarage Road.

Prediction: 15th

One to watch: Will Hughes

Stoke City

The arrival of Darren Fletcher will hardly boost season ticket sales, although the arrival of forward Maxim Choupo-Moting is a step in the right direction.

Marko Arnautovic’s departure was a blow and Mark Hughes’s rein has a whiff of staleness about it.

Prediction: 16th

One to watch: Xherdan Shaqiri

Swansea City

A lot will hinge on whether they can keep hold of Gylfi Sigurdsson, who produced the third-most assists in the whole league, behind only Christian Eriksen and Kevin De Bruyne. He also smashed in nine goals, which is huge for a club like Swansea. Everton, though, are circling.

Elsewhere, Paul Clement has made a good impression but he will hope that Fernando Llorente’s injury — he broke his arm in a cycling accident — will not be a sign of things to come.

Prediction: 17th

One to watch: Tammy Abraham

Burnley

A solid unit that survived thanks to their stupendous home form last season. However, they have to do that all over again without star centre back Michael Keane and with some steady signings in Jon Walters and Jack Cork.

Sean Dyche will get every ounce out of his squad but if the Turf Moor form drops even slightly, it doesn’t look good. On the plus side, they finally got rid of Joey Barton.

Prediction: 18th

One to watch: Tom Heaton

Huddersfield Town

Nahki Wells’ injury is horribly timed with him poised to become only the fifth Bermudian (after Arnold Woollard, Clyde Best, Shaun Goater and Kyle Lightbourne) to play top-flight English football.

David Wagner has strengthened up front through Laurent Depoitre and Steve Mounié, but a relegation battle looks likely.

Prediction: 19th

One to watch: Aaron Mooy (and Wells when fit)

Brighton & Hove Albion

Chris Hughton wins the award for nicest man in football but his team will make more friends than points this season.

Squad is experienced but does it have the quality to steer them to survival in their debut Premier League season?

Prediction: 20th

One to watch: Anthony Knockaert