Not since Manchester United in the 2008/09 season has the English Premier League title been successfully defended. Since then, United, Manchester City, Chelsea, and Leicester City have all failed in their attempts to repeat championship glory. It’s the turn of Chelsea to once again attempt to break that streak, in what is shaping up to be another competitive campaign.
Pep Guardiola’s second season in the Premier League will be a smoother ride than his first; the Spaniard now knows the demands of England’s top flight, and perhaps most importantly the weaknesses in his squad and how to rectify them.
The addition of goalkeeper Claudio Bravo proved a misstep last season, but the same mistake will not be made with the acquisition of Ederson from Benfica. New full-backs in Kyle Walker and Benjamin Mendy will improve the back four, and with the promise of another central defender, Guardiola will have papered over the cracks in the City line-up. There are no such deficiencies up front, but despite this, Bernardo Silva has arrived from Monaco to boost an attack already overflowing with firepower.
City ended the season on an eight-match winning run, and with another pre-season with Guardiola under the belt, they’re likely to hit the ground running. It’s hard not to look at a line-up that is likely to boast Sergio Aguero, Kevin De Bruyne, Gabriel Jesus, and Leroy Sane and not be excited. Oh, and have we mentioned that they also signed one of Europe’s hottest prospects in Bernardo Silva? Just checking. Newcomers Brighton will be cursing their luck for landing an opening-day fixture against the Citizens.
The problem with Manchester City is that at just +187 for the title there is little value. Do they boast the best attack? Yes. Have they improved a shaky defense? Yes. Is it worth backing a club on such short odds across a 38-game season considering the strength of the teams around them? Maybe not, but if City wins the title – and I think they will – you may regret not getting on board despite the short odds.
City’s cross-town neighbors have also been delivered short odds at +350 and I can’t see how they’re justified; this is a team that finished in sixth last season, seven points off the Champions League places and which has signed just three players at the time of writing.
Romelu Lukaku is one of those through the doors, and while the striker may have struggled when he first came onto the scene at Chelsea, during his time at Everton the Belgian has grown into the striker that United so desperately need. Lukaku bagged 24 goals in the league last season, including two hat-tricks, and the 24-year-old feels he has a point to prove now that he’s back in the top echelon of English soccer. Mark Lukaku down as a favorite for the Golden Boot. Fellow newcomer Nemanja Matic is a boost to the midfield, as it Victor Lindelof to the defense, but is it enough to turn United into title winners?
Tuesday’s Super Cup defeat to Real Madrid may have been a pre-season fixture against the European champions, but it made one thing clear: United still have a long way to go.
The defending champions join United on +350 to retain the Premier League crown and I believe they’re much better value. Hopefully, this won’t be a repeat of the 2015/16 season when the Blues were almost exclusively predicted to make it back-to-back titles only to implode in spectacular fashion!
Antonio Conte has expressed some frustration with Chelsea’s limited transfer activity, but despite this, the Italian’s side will have a new spine to it, with Alvaro Morata, Tiemoue Bakayoko, and Antonio Rudiger added to the squad. The trio all have the potential to be star performers, but a lack of Premier League experience could prove crucial – there will be little room for error as they try to acclimatize to the top flight. How quickly Morata adapts to life in the Premier League will be particularly key given that Diego Costa looks to have played his last game for the club. The injury-enforced absence of Eden Hazard for the start of the season could also contribute to the Blues being a little slow out the blocks.
It’s the addition of European football that should be a real concern though. Looking back over the past decade, on average a title-winning team that’s also playing in Europe will play 57 games in a season – that’s 10 more games than the Blues played last season. That’s more than a quarter of the league season’s fixtures added on for good measure. And it’s not just that there will be more games, it’s when they will be played; Chelsea’s Premier League fixtures that will follow European nights are none other than Arsenal (home), Manchester City (home), Manchester United (home) and Liverpool (away) – it’s certainly not ideal timing.
If it was a straight pick between United and Chelsea I would certainly back the Blues, but given I’ve already thrown my lot in with City, they’re playing for second.
Many outsiders looking at Tottenham have expressed concern about their lack of transfer activity (they’re yet to make a signing), with a number of questions on the same general theme being asked –what if Harry Kane gets injured? Can Spurs cope if Christian Eriksen is out for a spell? Will the defense hold if Toby Alderweireld is absent? You get the picture. While admittedly frustrated with what they view as absurdly high transfer fees doing the rounds, the Spurs hierarchy is believed to be far from reaching for the panic button.
Manager Mauricio Pochettino has taken a different approach to some of his rivals in building a title-chasing team; while others have spent freely, Spurs have a negative net spend and instead have fostered a core of players who are highly motivated and have the talent to match. Those are characteristics possessed by a fair few teams, but Pochettino has Tottenham purring in a fashion that’s been impressive to watch.
However, while this tactic proved successful in getting Spurs into the position to challenge for the title, one has to wonder if it will aid them in making the jump to league winners.
One factor that can’t be downplayed is that Tottenham will not be playing at White Hart Lane this season, but rather Wembley, with the construction of a new stadium underway. Spurs were unbeatable at home in the league last season – literally – dropping points just twice and conceding just nine goals in 19 games, during which time they netted 47 goals. It was that kind of form that powered them to second in the standings and it will be hard to replicate. As fellow London outfit West Ham will attest, the move to a new stadium does not always go as smoothly as planned; the Hammers struggled after making the switch to the Olympic Stadium last season, and while Tottenham are a significantly better team, they may stutter somewhat too.
Premier League glory for Tottenham would make for a great story, but I don’t think it’s one that will be told this season.
If Tottenham are a rung back from City, United, and Chelsea, then Liverpool and Arsenal are a further yard off the pace. The Reds don’t look like true title contenders this season and are unlikely to improve on the fourth place they managed last time out.
Seeing off the overtures of Barcelona and keeping hold of Philippe Coutinho will be Jurgen Klopp’s first battle, and the German has been unwavering in his stance that the Brazilian simply will not leave the club – the Reds can’t afford him to.
The arrival of Mohamed Salah will help relieve some of the attacking burden placed on Sadio Mane and Coutinho and don’t be surprised to see youngster Dominic Solanke make an early impression. With any luck, the Reds faithful will see a new center back through the door in the coming weeks too.
However, we’re talking about transfers that will keep Liverpool in the top four, not challenge for the silverware.
and it’s not worth a punt in my view.
Much of what we’ve said about Liverpool applies to Arsenal too; they have to hold on to Alexis Sanchez, and they need reinforcements if they’re to improve on last season’s fifth-place finish.
Even if Sanchez stays, Mesut Ozil regains his best form, and newcomer Alexandre Lacazette lights up the Premier League from the opening night, they’re not going to have the consistency to challenge for the league. Bank on Arsenal to put up a few stunning displays and some equally dreadful ones, but not to win the league.
Arsene Wenger will be pleased to have one trophy already in the cabinet after Sunday’s Community Shield victory over Chelsea, but since 1992 the team winning the traditional season curtain raiser has gone on to win the title only 52% of the time and this particular double hasn’t been achieved since Manchester United did so in 2010. Don’t count on Arsenal to buck the trend.