It’s back. The Premier League season returns and ESPN FC’s bloggers give their thoughts on the new campaign.
Each team gives their club mission statement, rates their transfer business, backs their player to shine and one with work to do as well as discussing the potential problems facing their side.
Agree or disagree? Vote for your Premier League winner in our poll and have your say in the comments below.
Mission Statement: This season should be about one thing and one thing only: the Premier League. Ideally that would mean a legitimate title challenge, but at the very least it should mean fighting hard for a return to the top four and the Champions League.
The FA Cup has been a welcome distraction from Arsenal’s other failings in recent seasons but domestic cups cannot be the priority. Neither should the Europa League, which Arsenal can afford to almost entirely neglect, playing a reserve team and giving them the kind of free run at the title which has benefitted Chelsea and Leicester in the past two seasons.
Transfer Talk: Alexandre Lacazette is an exciting signing at a club record £46.5 million but it’s not yet clear that he is a big upgrade on Olivier Giroud. Sead Kolasinac certainly looked like a cult hero in the making in the Community Shield win over Chelsea and his free transfer arrival could be one of the bargains of the summer. But Arsenal are still looking for further acquisitions and if they can find a world-class talent to add to their squad they should do it.
They will certainly need one if Alexis Sanchez leaves, but the latest suggestion is that he has accepted Arsene Wenger’s decision not to sell him. If so, nudge that score up to an 8/10. Keeping Sanchez would be a huge boost — even if it just kicks his contractual impasse down the road. 6/10.
Main Man: There was a lot of scorn piled on Granit Xhaka last season and much of it was merited. But he finished strongly in the 3-4-3 formation and showed at the weekend that he has a big role to play in the coming campaign.
With Santi Cazorla no nearer to a comeback from injury it is clear that Arsenal will rely on Xhaka to stitch everything together in the middle of the park. He is the deep-lying playmaker who will set the tempo for Wenger. If he can tame his disciplinary issues and continue his rapid improvement he will be a big player this season.
Work To Do: Mesut Ozil tailed off badly in the second half of last season and while Arsenal need a big campaign from their best creative forward, he needs one for himself too. The German, like Sanchez, is out of contract next summer, but unlike Sanchez, doesn’t have a queue of huge clubs waiting to sign him. Ozil needs to prove his doubters wrong. They are never far away.
Potential Pitfalls: Quite simply that Arsenal had their weakest season in two decades last time out and didn’t make any significant changes to how things operate. Ivan Gazidis’ “catalyst for change” just vanished into thin air.
The manner of the FA Cup final win over Chelsea meant removing Wenger was politically impossible but it did not solve all the endemic problems which have infected the club over the past 10 years or so. Wenger’s Arsenal remain Wenger’s Arsenal and recent history teaches us that a title challenge is vastly unlikely under the current regime. The switch to a three-man defence towards the end of last season was a big upgrade but now opposing teams have had the time to try and work it out.
My top seven: 1. Manchester City 2. Tottenham 3. Liverpool 4. Arsenal 5. Chelsea 6. Manchester United 7. Everton — Tom Adams
Mission Statement: As reigning champions, a successful title defence has to be the main priority, especially given all the Antonio Conte-led banter about the need to avoid a “Jose Mourinho season”.
Transfer Talk: There’s a lot of talk about Chelsea having a poor transfer window to date. At face value, the argument in support of this seems logical with only three players, Antonio Rudiger, Tiemoue Bakayoko and Alvaro Morata, brought in and peripheral players Nemanja Matic, Nathaniel Chalobah, Nathan Ake and Bertrand Traore sold. But the reality is they are quality signings and Conte only needs maybe one more top-notch addition to his squad. 7/10.
Main Man: With Diego Costa’s goals already a fading memory, the pressure will be on record £60m signing Morata to deliver the goods. Failure isn’t an option.
Work To Do: There isn’t an obvious choice. There is an opportunity once again for Michy Batshuayi to prove he can find the net when given an opportunity by Conte. The Belgium international exudes enthusiasm to do well for Chelsea, but it’s goals that count and he could be sold if it doesn’t come together for him this season.
Potential Pitfalls: Conte has a hot-headed streak which could prove Chelsea’s undoing if the Italian continues to be riled by a perceived lack of support from the board in respect of transfers. Conte walking away from the Bridge would be a disaster.
My top seven: 1. Manchester City 2. Chelsea 3. Manchester United 4. Arsenal 5. Tottenham 6. Liverpool 7. Everton — Mark Worrall
Mission Statement: Improvement on last year. That means either winning the title or at least being in the conversation in the closing weeks of the season. Making an impression in Europe is important too, but genuine success can only really be measured in silverware, so top four and a trophy would be nice.
Transfer Talk: It’s been frustrating, as Jurgen Klopp has so far been thwarted in his attempts to sign his two main targets, Naby Keita and Virgil van Dijk. Mohamed Salah looks like he could make a big impression and Dominic Solanke could surprise people based on what he’s shown in preseason. It’s not enough though, and the next three weeks could be season-defining. 5/10.
Main Man: Philippe Coutinho. The Brazilian is brilliant on his day but has never been the most consistent of players. A move to a slightly deeper role could be the making of him though, as virtually every time he’s played in midfield he’s been sensational. Keeping hold of him is vital to Liverpool’s chances of achieving anything this year.
Work To Do: Daniel Sturridge needs a big season if he’s to remain at the club. His ability is not in question but what use is talent when you’re rarely fit enough to use it? For all the talk of him looking the fittest he’s ever been, the striker was still unable to complete preseason and is sidelined with a minor strain. Sturridge has to be available a lot more this year or this will be his final season with the Reds.
Potential Pitfalls: If Liverpool could field their best XI every week they’d probably win the title. Unfortunately that’s not possible as injuries will undoubtedly happen and Klopp’s frenzied style of football can take a heavy toll on players’ fitness. Liverpool ran out of gas around the turn of the year last time around, and the lack of new signings means there’s a very real possibility that might happen again, especially with the increased workload that playing in Europe brings.
My top seven: 1. Manchester City 2. Liverpool 3. Arsenal 4. Chelsea 5. Manchester United 6. Tottenham 7. Leicester — Dave Usher
Mission Statement: Anything other than a title challenge will be a bad season. The club should really be winning the league — they’ve strengthened hugely this summer and should expect to see a return for the money they’ve laid down fixing some long-standing problems in the squad.
Transfer Talk: City have been quite aggressive in getting their targets, missing out on only Dani Alves so far. In Kyle Walker, Danilo and Benjamin Mendy, Pep Guardiola has acquired three top class and far more mobile full-backs in comparison to last season. Ederson has looked impressive in preseason, too — so now it all hangs on whether they can tempt Arsenal or Monaco into letting go of Sanchez or Kylian Mbappe, and what value they can get in players to be sold. 9/10.
Main Man: City have several all over the pitch, though this could be a transitional season for the classic main men David Silva or Yaya Toure. While they are still vital to City, you get the impression Guardiola will have his eye on Kevin De Bruyne and Bernardo Silva stepping up as the ones to take over that mantle. However, the one who fans should be very excited to watch is Gabriel Jesus. After a half-season teaser last year, the Brazilian could be a spectacle as the figurehead of the attack.
Work To Do: It’s perhaps a tad unfair to include him in this, but Vincent Kompany needs to prove his injury problems are behind him. He finished the last season brilliantly, he’s had a great preseason and looked comfortable in a back-three set-up, but Guardiola is thought to be eyeing up a new centre-back just in case. Fans know Kompany is key to City defending well — he’s just been absent for so long that he now needs to show he’s over the last two-and-a-half years of hell.
Potential Pitfalls: City have to take their chances. That was one of the biggest issues in 2016-17 and they need to kill off teams when they have the opportunity. With Ederson looking like he’ll do more than Claudio Bravo did to keep the ball out of the net, it should give City a little bit more leeway in wastefulness.
My top seven: 1. Manchester City 2. Chelsea 3. Manchester United 4. Liverpool 5. Arsenal 6. Tottenham 7. Everton — David Mooney
Mission Statement: United should be aiming to win the league this season but I’ll be happy with a title challenge. It would be great if Jose Mourinho could win another trophy and go on a decent run in the Champions League too.
Transfer Talk: Mourinho wanted four players and, so far, he has three of them. It was great to swipe Romelu Lukaku from under Chelsea’s noses and Nemanja Matic could be just what United need to allow Paul Pogba to shine. Victor Lindelof hasn’t looked great so far but Mourinho has watched him a lot, so the jury is still out with that one. 7/10.
Main Man: Pogba. He had a good debut campaign but now that he’s settled he needs to come alive this season. He’s still young and clearly has fantastic potential. He needs to be the boss in midfield and I fancy him to do it.
Work To Do: Chris Smalling and Phil Jones are on borrowed time. If Lindelof can find some good form, neither should play.
Potential Pitfalls: United had a good defensive record last season but that was largely thanks to David De Gea, midfielders pulling their weight and a less risky approach to the game. United fans are keen to see more attacking football next season but that will mean pressure on the back four, with only Antonio Valencia and Eric Bailly proving they’re any good.
My top seven: 1. Manchester United 2. Manchester City 3. Chelsea 4. Tottenham 5. Arsenal 6. Liverpool 7. Everton — Scott Patterson
Mission Statement: Another title challenge, a trophy and progress in Europe — ideally a place in the Champions League knockout stages this time rather than a return to the Europa League.
Transfer Talk: Tottenham are the only Premier League club yet to sign a single first-team player, while they have sold Kyle Walker to rivals Manchester City for £50m. Mauricio Pochettino has stressed the need to put pressure on his top players and promised that signings are on the way, so the picture is expected to change, but right now Spurs have a weaker squad than they had in May. At least Walker has been the only major departure. 4/10.
Main Man: Spurs need Kieran Trippier to a) not be out of action for too long and b) prove himself a worthy successor to Walker, particularly defensively. They also need Harry Kane to keep banging in goals. But Christian Eriksen is the player who really makes Tottenham tick in the final third. Last term he produced 23 assists and 12 goals, and he already has netted twice in preseason. If the Dane can maintain those levels,Tottenham will score goals aplenty. However, if he has a lull or is injured, it is hard to see who will replace his creativity.
Work To Do: Moussa Sissoko cost £30m on deadline day last summer but flopped badly in his first season: The sum total of his contribution was three assists. His future has been in doubt, but there were encouraging signs during Saturday’s 2-0 friendly victory over Juventus, particularly when he hit the post with a curling effort. Spurs need better strength in depth this season, and if the France international stays and finds his feet in north London that will certainly help.
Potential Pitfalls: The early weeks of the season could be tricky since Spurs are still waiting to do all of their recruitment, and they are starting the campaign without the injured Trippier, Danny Rose and Erik Lamela, while Victor Wanyama and Son Heung-Min are doubts. Meanwhile, a number of their rivals have made sizeable investments in their squads. The Wembley issue also could undermine Spurs’ ambitions. They had the best home record in the top flight at White Hart Lane last season, but it will be tough to repeat that feat at the national stadium. Again, though, last Saturday’s 2-0 win over Juventus was positive in that respect.
My top seven: 1. Manchester City 2. Manchester United 3. Chelsea 4. Tottenham 5. Arsenal 6. Liverpool 7. Everton Ben Pearce
Mission Statement: Try to close the 15-point gap separating Everton in seventh from fourth place and Champions League football. Silverware is also long overdue for a club without a trophy since the 1995 FA Cup.
Transfer Talk: A clear move to strengthen the spine of the team has seen significant investment in central positions. Wayne Rooney is the standout name but has a point to prove on his return. Jordan Pickford and Michael Keane shone in preseason, while promising duo Davy Klaassen and Sandro Ramirez offered flashes of their potential. A further injection of game-changing quality in the final third would cap an encouraging summer. 7/10
Main Man: Everton will look to Pickford to provide the commanding and authoritative presence lacking since Nigel Martyn retired over 10 years ago. For a team still prone to avoidable errors in defence, especially away from home, a reliable goalkeeper can help narrow the gap to the teams above.
Work To Do: Preseason has shown both the qualities and quandaries Rooney presents at this stage of his career. Manager Ronald Koeman faces the same challenge as recent England and Manchester United bosses: finding the best way to utilise the 31-year-old in his team.
Potential Pitfalls: Such focus on the core of the squad leaves concerns on the flanks. Both full-back positions lack depth, and a squad that used to have wide players in abundance remains short on genuine width in the attacking third. Much rests on how Everton cope without Romelu Lukaku and, in all likelihood, Ross Barkley.
My top seven: 1. Manchester City 2. Tottenham 3. Chelsea 4. Liverpool 5. Arsenal 6. Manchester United 7. Everton — Luke O’Farrell
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