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Premier League 2017-18: Manchester go to war

LiveMint logoLiveMint 18-08-2017 Sidin Vadukut

A new season is upon us, with the first round of matches having been held on 12 August. What is there to look forward to in the weeks ahead? This is The Goal Post’s guide to why you should keep an eye on every team in the Premier League, and some select teams elsewhere.

AFC Bournemouth: Eddie Howe is still at Bournemouth. It wasn’t that long ago that the Englishman was being touted as Arsène Wenger’s successor. And yet here he is, still at Bournemouth, a team now featuring a host of new recruits from the sublime Jermain Defoe to the exciting Nathan Aké. The Cherries finished ninth last season. You can’t help but wonder whether this is going to be a boom or bust season for Bournemouth and Howe.

Arsenal: There is exactly one reason to watch Arsenal this season: a certain Mr Arsène Wenger. Surely, surely, this is Wenger’s swansong season. But things are peculiarly tricky for the club. Alexis Sanchez appears insistent on leaving. Recent recruits in Sead Kolašinac and Alexandre Lacazette are not quite slam dunks. And then there is the headache that is the Europa League. It all comes down to two things: What does Wenger want to win? What does Wenger think he can win?

Brighton & Hove Albion: Survival, survival, survival. There will be little else on the mind of the Seagulls. And the pundits’ consensus seems to be that Chris Hughton’s team are favourites for relegation to the Championship. But neutrals will hope they won’t. This is such a nice team full of nice people. Especially Hughton, a man so nice he has a Hug in his name.

Burnley: Surely this is the season things will come unstuck at Burnley? Or maybe not. Somehow Sean Dyche’s men managed to turn a terrible away record—just one win last season—into comfortable survival. A repeat this year seems unlikely. Burnley will almost certainly give away more points at home. Can they win some on the road? (P.S. They already have with that win at Chelsea. Sizzle.)

Chelsea: The defending champions are in a weird sort of place. On the one hand, there are signs that Antonio Conte is somewhat displeased with the transfer-market business. But on the other hand, they have some bright new signings in Álvaro Morata and Antonio Rüdiger. An opening weekend loss to Burnley will hurt. But a somewhat similar hiding at the Emirates last season saw Conte respond with almighty power and win the league. Anything is possible.

Crystal Palace: Frank de Boer was in need of a club that would give him longevity, and Crystal Palace were in need of a manager who would just hang around long enough to stick to some sort of plan. So de Boer’s appointment is something of a marriage of substantial mutual convenience. Expect nothing extraordinary from both; expect what both will be hoping will be the beginning of a beautiful relationship.

Everton: What do Everton have to do to finish in the top 4? This year, Ronald Koeman and company are going down the “spend a lot of money and hire Wayne Rooney” route. But will that be enough in a league in which the bottom half continues to haemorrhage points to the top 6? The odds are poor.

Huddersfield Town: David Wagner, once Jurgen Klopp’s deputy, has done wonders with Huddersfield. A realistic prediction would be for Wagner to get poached by a bigger team while Huddersfield slide down to where they came from. But this is a funny game. The team has its feet on the ground and its wallet well guarded.

Leicester City: Will this be the season the Foxes quietly settle for safety and security somewhere in the middle of the table? Both Vincent Iborra and Kelechi Iheanacho are exciting buys. But that should prove just adequate for little more than an average season for what is now an average squad.

Liverpool: By the time this piece is published, Philippe Coutinho may well have left for Barcelona. Indeed, Liverpool perhaps remain the Premier League team with the most transfer-market business left to do. The team has a plethora of riches up front. Mohamed Salah is an exciting prospect. But things are less solid in the midfield and defence. Liverpool will score a lot of goals. But how many will they let in?

Manchester City: It is hard to see how the Premier League champions this year will be from anywhere but Manchester. In the blue side of town, Pep Guardiola may end up with total transfer costs of almost a quarter of a million pounds in the last 12 months. That is a lot of money. Guardiola is going for gold.

Manchester United: And in the red corner, José Mourinho and a team that started the season in sparkling form and with some eye-watering transfers. Wayne Rooney will not be missed whatsoever. Mourinho too has spent a lot of money. It all looks set for a season in which the rest of England will watch while Manchester go to war.

Newcastle United: Rafael Benítez did a good, and noble, turn by guiding the Magpies back to the premiership. How many managers would even contemplate a season of glamour at Real Madrid and then one of rough and tumble in the Championship? But Benítez has stuck with Newcastle. Will Newcastle stick with him? If they don’t, the drop could be precipitous.

Southampton: Southampton have hired a new manager to do new things with old goods. Okay, that is harsh. But the club has spent much of the summer trying to keep Virgil van Dijk and has done little other business. That is not folly. The club has a wealth of young and not-so-old players who came together under Claude Puel’s management to offer solid, staid results. Mauricio Pellegrino will hope he can teach some young players some new tricks and get more excitement out of the squad.

Stoke City: Not a few pundits expect Mark Hughes to be one of the first few managers to get the boot this year. And not just because only Arsène Wenger is allowed to hang around for decades, wallowing in stagnation. Stoke City have a reputation for toughness that they didn’t really earn last season. Recruitment too has been iffy. This is a squad with gaps, and not enough grit to fill them.

Swansea City: Manager Paul Clement is, as they say, the business. Without his astute leadership last year, Swansea, then reeling after the Guidolin-Bradley fiascos, may have well tumbled into the Championship. This season Clement will have loftier goals, but does he have the players? Gylfi Sigurdsson, who has been snapped up by Everton, will not be easy to replace.

Tottenham Hotspur: The Spurs are the great unknown of the new season. Manager Mauricio Pochettino has managed to keep his squad of highly rated players intact. But this could also be his greatest weakness. Should he sign some new players? Then there is the Wembley factor. The Spurs will play at the national stadium, while their home ground is closed for construction. But this is the thing: The Spurs could win the league regardless. And no one will be particularly astonished.

Watford: Marco Silva is a good manager and this year Watford have, arguably, a complete squad with quality all over the place. Burnley’s Andre Gray could be a good buy. If Silva can do at Watford over an entire season what he did for Hull City over half the season last year, the bottom of the table will be a distant mirage for the Hornets.

West Bromwich Albion: Tony Pulis’ side ended last season in a conflicting mood. On the one hand, they came 10th, their best result in four years. On the other hand, they were dreadful towards the close of the season. Pulis’ job, which sounds easier than it is, is to keep West Brom the “best of the rest” side. Expect no sparkle, but lots of hard grafting.

West Ham: And finally we come to the Hammers. Last season was not one Slaven Bilic’s West Ham will care to remember. The team struggled at their new home in the Olympic Stadium, and summer recruitment was a complete disaster. But there is quality in this team. It is just that West Ham seem to have a lot of 7/10 players who rarely play better than 5/10. Having said that, West Ham have also made one of the most exciting signings of the window in Javier Hernandez. He can score.

***

Return on interest

Players who scored on debut for their new clubs last weekend

Romelu Lukaku (Manchester United): 2

Steve Mounie (Huddersfield Town): 2

Alexandre Lacazette (Arsenal): 1

Álvaro Morata (Chelsea): 1

Wayne Rooney (Everton): 1

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