2018/19 Premier League Preview, Part 1
The Premier League is just around the corner bringing with it renewed excitement on the back of a tremendous World Cup, with as many as six sides in with a chance to call themselves champions after 38 games.
Manchester United and Leicester open the new season but it is reigning champions Manchester City who enter as favourites following their historic 2017/18 campaign, becoming the first side ever to reach 100 Premier League points.
But a new season means a new start. City, Liverpool, United and Tottenham should be the biggest challengers for the title given the strength of their squads, but anything is possible following Leiceister City’s magical 2015/16 title run.
Here’s our preview on each team and their likely finish:
Gone is long-time manager Arsène Wenger and in comes Unai Emery, the first season the Gunners will be managed by a man not named Arsène since 1995/96.
Emery’s arrival brings a breath of fresh air for Arsenal and with it, renewed optimism. The club has made five signings with most looking likely to have an immediate impact. Arsenal’s achilles heel last season was a poor backline, the signings of German international goalkeeper Bernd Leno and veteran Greek defender Sokratis Papastathopoulos should help turn their fortunes around.
Despite their signings, the Gunners have lost an array of experience from their squad. Per Mertesacker retired, Santi Cazorla was released while fan favourite Jack Wilshere, who on his day can change the outcome of any game, left on a free transfer to London rivals West Ham United.
Wilshere’s talent is unquestionable; it was his inconsistent performances that saw Emery allow him to leave on a free, taking with him a huge chunk of Arsenal’s heart.
The North London side face Manchester City and Chelsea in its opening two games, and poor results in both could quickly dissipate any early optimism that come with a new manager.
Their squad is the strongest it’s been for several years, and with a full pre-season for January signings, Pierre-Emerick Aubameyang and Henrikh Mkhitaryan, Arsenal can be a dangerous squad in 2018/19.
Key Player: Mesut Özil
The oft-maligned midfielder is the key to Arsenal as his sublime passing is able to unlock any defence stood before him. But his output can fluctuate, the difference between his best and worst often leaves fans furious given the talent he possesses.
His retirement from international duty should help focus the midfield maestro and given Arsenal’s weapons up front (Aubameyang and fellow striker Alexandre Lacazette), he should rack up double digit assists.
It’s simple to say, but if Arsenal want to return to Champions League football, Özil will need to be at his best.
In: Lucas Torreira
Out: Jack Wilshere
Expected finish: 5th
Boasting the smallest stadium (capacity is just 11,464) and being the most southern team in the league, Bournemouth aren’t exactly a giant of English football. But what the Cherries lack in size they more than make up for in heart.
Marking their intent for the upcoming season, Bournemouth broke their own transfer record to sign Colombian midfielder Jefferson Lerma (fee undisclosed) who should be a starter in manager Eddie Howe’s midfield from the opening game.
The Cherries will look to match or beat their ninth-place finish in 2016/17, and with the additions of young Welsh midfielder David Brooks and Spanish defender Diego Rico, they will be well placed to do so.
Despite finishing 12th last season, they are arguably the best of the teams who finished in the bottom half of the table and winning points against the ‘Big Six’ (United, City, Liverpool, Tottenham, Arsenal and Chelsea) would be invaluable if Bournemouth want to make the jump into the top 10.
A place in Europe seems unlikely given the strength of mid-tier sides such as Burnley and Everton, but a finish just below them would be a massive achievement for the smallest club in England’s top league.
Key player: Jermain Defoe
Veteran goalscorer Jermain Defoe, who has scored the seventh most goals in Premier League history, should be the main man up front for Bournemouth once again and his form will go a long way to determine how far the Cherries climb up the Premier League ladder.
His age is a factor given he will turn 36 in early October and a run of poor form could spell trouble for Bournemouth. Prior to last season, Defoe had scored 15 league goals in four straight seasons but netted a paltry four goals in season 2017/18.
He will need to bag at least 10 goals if Bournemouth are to mount a serious challenge on the top half of the table.
In: David Brooks
Out: Benik Afobe
Expected finish: 12th
Brighton & Hove Albion
The Seagulls finished 15th in their first Premier League season ever and first time in the English top flight for 34 years.
They’ll face a tough task of repeating their performance in season 2018/19 as they finished just seven points above the drop zone.
Albion’s biggest signing of the offseason was striker Florin Andone, the Romanian international a much-needed addition as they scored the fourth lowest number of goals in the league last season.
Glenn Murray was Brighton’s leading scorer with just 12 goals and the only player for the Chris Hughton led side to net in double digits.
They also had the fourth worst goal difference at minus 20, conceding a paltry 54 goals. The signing of defender Bernardo Fernandes da Silva Junior will be a welcome addition to the Albion backline, who will need all hands on deck if they are to remain in the top flight beyond 2018/19.
Brighton will need to pick up points against several top sides if they are to avoid relegation, particularly away from home.
Key player: Mat Ryan
The Australian was one of the form keepers in the league last season despite his side’s poor defensive record. He recorded the third most total saves with 124, including 10 clean sheets.
Given Brighton’s porous defence, he’ll once again need to be at or near the top of the season saves list if Brighton are to remain in the league.
In: Bernardo Fernandes da Silva Junior
Out: Sam Baldock
Expected finish: 18th
The surprise story of the 2017/18 season, the Clarets finished in seventh place and qualified for the second round of the Europa League, their first appearance in Europe for 51 points.
As of publication they are in the third round of qualifying for the Europa League, but if they advance further it won’t just be the start of their season that is interrupted by the extra fixtures.
The first two games of their Premier League season will both be just two days after their third-round qualifiers for the Europa League, meaning the start to the season will be on the back of short rest which could come to haunt them late in season.
The club has signed just four players despite its European aspirations, former Manchester City goalkeeper Joe Hart their latest signing after fellow keeper Nick Pope was injured in a second-round qualifier against Aberdeen.
Club record signing Ben Gibson will be a key figure in manager Sean Dyche’s back four as a central defender. Looking to build on a season which saw them concede the fifth fewest goals in the Premier League, Gibson should be an upgrade at the heart of Burnley’s defence as he earnt his first England cap in March, 2017.
Balancing Premier League and Europa League aspirations will be difficult for Dyche and his men but given their surprise league form last season, anything is possible. But as is frequently the case for teams playing European football for the first time in some time, league form often suffers. Burnley’s place on the table at the end of the season will be dependent on their ability to balance both competitions.
Key player: Chris Wood
New Zealand international Wood enjoyed a breakout season for the Clarets in 2017/18. Recording 10 goals in 24 appearances, the striker became the key target man for Burnley and will be relied upon again this season.
Despite the signing of striker Matej Vydra, who scored 21 goals for Derby County in the Championship last season, Wood will be the main man.
His experience in the top flight is invaluable and as he hits his prime (he turns 27 in December), he will need to increase his scoring total to keep Burnley from slipping from its seventh-place finish.
In: Joe Hart
Out: Dean Marney
Expected finish: 8th
One of three newly promoted sides, the Bluebirds finished second in the EFL Championship in 2017/18 and gained automatic promotion, finishing nine points behind champions Wolverhampton.
While it is highly unlikely they’ll finish second in the Premier League, Cardiff should be in with a shot to remain in the Premier League for another season.
Junior Hoilett netted 11 goals in all competitions (nine in the Championship) last season and will be relied upon once again. His previous Premier League experience with Blackburn and QPR will be vital, and if he can match his scoring output then the Bluebirds will go a long way to remaining in the top flight.
Right back Callum Paterson surprisingly led Cardiff in the league with 10 goals despite playing as a defender.
The signings of winger Josh Murphy (11 goals in the Championship) and forward Bobby Reid (19 league goals in 2017/18) should have the Welsh side hitting the ground running.
Having only lost two players in the offseason (as of publishing), Cardiff are well placed heading into the season.
Key player: Bobby Reid
While a number of players will be vital for the Bluebirds in season 2017/18 but if they are to remain in the Premier League beyond this season, Reid will be the key to their success.
Reid broke out last season, netting double digit goals for the first time in his professional career as he recorded 19 of his 32 career goals. He added seven assists for good measure as he helped Bristol City finish 11th.
While a player scoring over half his career goals in one season might be cause for concern, Reid clearly found his way as a professional footballer.
He finished with a career-high in goals, assists and appearances and shouldn’t look out of place in the Premier League given he scored over a third of Bristol City’s total league goals.
Ins: Bobby Reid
Out: Greg Halford
Expected finish: 18th
To say the lead up to Chelsea’s season has been less than ideal would be akin to saying the Trojans were foolish for accepting the giant horse the Greeks left them on their doorstep.
The Blues fired former manager Antonio Conte but didn’t hire Maurizio Sarri, the former Napoli manager, until there was less than a month before the season started.
Star goalkeeper Thibaut Courtois has been posturing for a move to European giants Real Madrid but so far the London side had been unwilling to move their keeper. His failure to report to training on the Monday before the new season may change that as it is rumoured the Blues have agreed to a £72 million move for Athletic Bilbao keeper Kepa Arizzabalaga.
It’s safe to say Chelsea’s build up hasn’t been good. If they are to improve on a disastorous 2017/18 season that saw them finish fifth, they’ll need Sarri to perform a miracle.
Eden Hazard will be relied upon once again to lead the Blues, particularly given the turmoil the club has been engulfed in. The 2014/15 PFA Player of the Year will need to net at least 20 goals and record close to double digit assists in order to guide Chelsea back up the table and into the Champions League.
The Blues have a relatively easy start to their season but if results don’t fall their way, expect continued disruption that could derail their league campaign before it gets off the ground.
Key player: Alvaro Morata
Moving to Chelsea prior to last season for around £60 million, the striker had a disastrous season as he failed to live up to his huge transfer fee.
Morato netted 11 times in 31 appearances, however three came in a hat-trick as he managed just a further eight goals in 30 matches.
Rumours of a loan or another transfer followed the striker over the English summer, but as of publication he remains as a Blue. Chelsea will be reliant upon him reaching the form that saw him bag 15 goals in 26 appearances for Real Madrid in 2016/17.
Another poor season would spell doom for both Morata’s time as a Chelsea player and the club as a whole. If he can settle in England and reach the potential the Blues purchased just last season then they can climb into the top four.
Expected finish: 6th
The Eagles had a rollercoaster past season. Frank de Boer lasted just 77 days as manager and was sacked after losing his first four Premier League games in charge. The London side hired Roy Hodgson to steady the ship and despite relegation expected after they lost eight of their first nine fixtures, he managed to guide Crystal Palace to 11th.
Hodgson was kept on for the upcoming season, providing stability to a club that has had seven managers since 2012. It will be interesting to see how the manager fares this campaign given his age (will be 71 by Palace’s opening match) but if he can inspire his players and get performances out of them like he did last season they will be a hard side to beat.
It’s unlikely they’ll lose their opening seven matches again, and if they can get positive results early in the season could set them up for an even better campaign.
Incoming German midfielder Max Meyer is an underrated signing who the club are clearly enthusiastic of, highlighted by the midfielder being given the number seven jersey to wear this season.
Wilfred Zaha, who has been in transfer rumours for much of the offseason, will play an important role for Palace if he remains at the club for the upcoming season. His pace on the wing is electric and he has the ability to change a game in an instant. As he enters his prime, he should start to show why Manchester United signed him back in 2013.
Key player: Christian Benteke
The Belgian striker is often on the receiving of backlash from Palace fans and with a poor 2017/18 campaign, it is hard to argue against. He found the back of the net just three times despite making 30 appearances, a far cry from his form at Aston Villa from 2012-2015 that saw him score 49 goals in 100 appearances.
If Palace want to fight for a spot in Europe, they’ll need their towering striker to regain the form that saw him move from Villa to Liverpool for one season, before making the move to Selhurst Park for £27 million.
Meyer completed 89.1 per cent of his passes in 24 league appearances in Germany last season and if he and Benteke can form a partnership, they will be hard to stop. Combined with Zaha’s pace and ability, the striker should have ample opportunities to hit the scorers list in season 2018/19.
Failure to do so could signal the end of his time at Selhurst Park.
In: Max Meyer
Out: Yohan Cabaye
Expected finish: 12th