Looking Forward to Another Season’s Football
By Kevin Cain
It is that time of year again when we are on the precipice of an avalanche of Premier League football. It seems like the final whistle of the 2016/17 has just sounded, but here we are again waiting for the referee to blow and get things under way.
Last season, the Champions Chelsea never seemed in danger of not winning the league, Antonio Conte’s men won at a canter and although the seven point margin over second place Tottenham Hotspur did not seem that excessive, the men from the Kings Road were convincing winners. Whereas Sunderland ended rock bottom and were relegated, a dismal season yet again from the Black Cats, and David Moyes’s team swapped places with their neighbours Newcastle United, who were promoted from the Championship as champions.Middlesborough and Hull both followed Sunderland’s demise but new boys Brighton and Huddersfield will compete with the elite of English football this season.
Chelsea, Spurs, Manchester City, Liverpool and Manchester United will all compete in the Champions League in 2017/18 and it is hoped that the English clubs will make a better fist of it this time around. It was not the EPL’s best display in the top European league during 2016/2017.
Manchester United fared much better in the Europa League by beating Ajax in the 2016/17 final, which qualified them for the Champions League with the other four.
Arsenal and Everton will be the two English Clubs competing in the Europa League in 2017/18, and both will hope to emulate the Red Devils performance.
The Europa League has often been touted as the albatross around the Premiership clubs necks who are competing, in terms of the amount of extra games needed to be played in the Europa League directly affecting their Premier League form. Both Arsenal and Everton will definitely need to strengthen their squads if they are serious about challenging for the Champions League positions. In fact the Europa League has long been criticised for its format and the fact that halfway through the competition another bunch of teams kicked out of the Champions League joins in, which does nothing to endear the competition to its dissenters.
Jose Mourinho brought silverware once again to Manchester United with the FA Cup, whilst Arsene Wenger may have saved his job when Arsenal beat Chelsea in the League Cup final.
So after this brief summary the first question to answer is how will the new boys perform in the Premiership ? It must be said that Newcastle United are old hands at playing in the Premiership, and with a respected manager such as Raffa Benitez at the helm they should definitely fare pretty well.
Brighton had a good season last year and it was unlucky that they did not end up as champions, their football ethos is similar to one of their neighbours Bournemouth, and if they can emulate the Cherries and stick to their attacking football, then they might stave off relegation. As for Huddersfield, they have a mountain to climb, and if they survive their first ever season in the Premier League it will be a big surprise.
The next question is can anybody break into the top six positions of the Premiership. Tottenham Hotspur have proved that indeed that there is a top six elite clubs and have cemented their position after an excellent season. Mauricio Pochettino has moulded a young talented team, and with Golden Boot winner Harry Kane signing a new contract they should be a powerful force once more. But playing at Wembley might hinder their success and scupper any real title hopes.
Everton comfortably finished seventh last time out, but their inclusion in the Europa League may test Ronald Koeman’s squad to the limit. However, they have been very busy in the transfer market and have made some marquee signings in the close season, in particular the return of their talisman Wayne Rooney. Whether they can break into the top six remains to be seen, especially with their tricky fixtures at the start.
There seems to be no other team capable of breaking into the super six at the moment unless somebody comes along right out of the blue. As for who qualifies for the Champions League this is a bigger poser. Perhaps Arsenal or Everton may emulate Manchester United gaining access through the back door, but for the immediate league qualifying positions, Chelsea, Manchester City and Spurs look favourites with Manchester United and Liverpool fighting for the last spot.
Chelsea and City have strengthened with serious intention, and Tottenham’s squad is as good as last year. Manchester United also seem more balanced under the direction of The Chosen One, and with the addition of Romelu Lukaku anything is possible. Although Liverpool have added to their squad any injuries could really scupper their chances, as the squad is still lightweight on quality.
Now is the time for the proverbial chopping block to come out, and for the author to bow down and make his predictions. In reverse order, firstly the teams to get relegated will be Huddersfield, Burnley and Brighton.
The top four teams will be Spurs, Chelsea and Manchester City with the eventual winners being Manchester United. The F.A Cup will be won by Everton, and the League Cup winners will be Chelsea.
The Premier League is going from strength to strength and the old days of one or two teams dominating it seem to be over. The super six is refreshing for English football, it makes the competition even harder and more games have significance. And with Everton about to join all the fun the super six will shortly become the magnificent seven.
“the super six will shortly become the magnificent seven.”
The big conundrum is why the English teams are finding it so hard to perform well in the Champions League, the last team to lift the trophy was Chelsea back in 2011/2012 and things have not really been good since then. With the quality of the English game and the number of world class players playing in the Premiership, surely things must change soon. And it would not come to the Trader as a big surprise if it was this season.