2018/19 Premier League Preview, Part 2

Kepa

Everton

The blue half of Merseyside have had an interesting offseason but are set for a change in fortune following a disappointing few years. The Blues have qualified for European football just once in the past four seasons, but the addition of new manager Marco Silva has the Toffees’ fortunes pointing up.

While the loss of club legend Wayne Rooney to the MLS hurts fans sentimentally, his output can be replaced given he managed just 10 goals last season.

New signing Richarlison will play an important role for the squad but January signing Theo Walcott will be relied upon as a goalscorer.

Everton’s lack of depth at striker will place a lot of pressure on its midfield and wide players to hit the back of the net, and Walcott’s skill and pace should lend itself favourably. While he has never been a prolific goal scorer, the midfielder has shown the ability to score goals, recording 21 in 2012/13 and 19 in 2016/17.

If Walcott can return to peak form away from the constant pressure of Arsenal, Everton can make a run at a Europa League spot.

Key player: Gylfi Sigurdsson

While Walcott will be relied upon to score goals, Sigurdsson will be Everton’s key man.

His passing is sublime and is one of the best free-kick takers in the entire Premier League, both traits which the Toffees will call upon in their quest for Europe.

Given Everton’s lack of potent strikers, Sigurdsson will be needed to link their play from the middle of the park to the final third. If he can replicate his 2016/17 form that saw him get 13 assists (and nine goals), the Blues issues up front won’t be as paramount as once thought.

In: Richarlison
Lucas Digne
Joao Virginia

Out: Wayne Rooney
Ashley Williams
Davy Klassen

Expected finish: 7th

Fulham

The Cottagers return to the Premier League for the first time since the 2013/14 season, bringing top flight football back to one of England’s most famous grounds, Craven Cottage.

Following its 1-0 EFL Championship playoff final against Aston Villa that earnt the club the third and final promotion spot, they haven’t looked back amid a busy transfer window.

They landed German international André Schürrle in one of the surprise signings across football, landing the winger on a two-year loan.

Given his vast experience playing in Germany’s top flight and as a member of his homeland’s national team, the astute signing should pay off immediately both on field and off.

Along with the additions of midfielder Jean Michaël Seri and striker Aleksandar Mitrović, the London side has meant business as they aim to maintain their spot in the Premier League beyond this season.

Key player: Ryan Sessegnon

Mitrović’s stunning form that saw him net 12 times in just 17 starts after moving to Fulham on loan in January would normally warrant his selection as their key player, but it is young English defender/winger Ryan Sessegnon that will dictate whether Fulham stays up or is relegated.

He is set to become a breakout star if his form continues in 2018/19. He became the first Championship player to ever be nominated for the PFA Young Player of the Year award and was named as the Championship’s Player of the Year, Young Player of the Year and featured in the Team of the Season, among other accolades.

He netted 15 times in Fulham’s 2017/18 campaign despite playing a majority of their games as a left back, highlighting his outstanding ability.

Should Sessegnon continue to improve, Fulham will remain in the top flight but will more than likely lose the talented youngster to one of Europe’s bigger clubs for a hefty transfer fee.

In: Andre Schürrle
Aleksandar Mitrović
Jean Michaël Seri

Out: Ryan Fredericks
David Button
Stephen Humphrys

Expected finish: 13th

Huddersfield Town

Arguably the second favourite team of Australian fans because of gun midfielder Aaron Mooy, the Terriers were a welcome surprise last Premier League season that included a giant-killing 2-1 against Manchester United.

Despite a promising start that included winning seven of nine available points from their first three games, Huddersfield could never properly find their feet and hovered around the relegation zone for most of the season.

Finishing just four points clear, they’ll face a tough task in 2018/19 of remaining in the top flight.

Adama Diakhaby was signed from Monaco to help strengthen a Terriers attack that scored the equal fewest goals (28) in the league last season.

Steve Mounie led the line but found the net just seven times, a number that will need to dramatically change if Huddersfield want to hang around.

Key player: Erik Durm

The Terriers surprised the world this offseason when they announced the signing of 2014 World Cup winning defender Erik Durm from Borussia Dortmund.

At just 26 years old, the experienced full back is entering his prime which should pay instant dividends for the Kirklees Stadium residents who had the second worst goal difference last season at minus 30.

Durm has played over 200 times in the Bundesliga, Europa and Champions Leagues combined, bringing vital experience and talent to a side desperate for players across the park.

He has earnt seven caps for Germany and if he can recreate the form that saw him named to Germany’s 2014 World Cup squad and stay injury free, Durm will be one of the best signings of the season.

Ins: Erik Durm
Adama Diakhaby
Terence Kongolo

Out: Tom Ince
Robert Green
Jordy Hiwula

Expected finish: 19th

Leicester City

The biggest underdogs to ever win a league title, Leicester City will forever be remembered for their magical title run in 2015/16.

They are far removed from that side however as there is just six members of their title-winning starting 11 still at King Power Stadium.

Despite a poor start that saw former manager Craig Shakespeare fired, Claude Puel guided the Foxes up the table to a ninth-place finish, seven points behind European qualification.

The loss of winger Riyad Mahrez will be one of the biggest players losses for any side in the league this season. His pace, dribbling ability and finishing is elite and finished second for scoring (12) and first in assists (10) for Leicester last season, leaving a huge gap on the right wing.

New signing James Madison is expected to fill part of the void left by Mahrez after arriving from Norwich City.

The talented young midfielder was named in the Championship’s Team of the Season, scored 15 goals, dished out eight assists and created the most chances in England’s second division.

Centre back Jonny Evans is a welcome addition and brings with him previous Premier League winning experience having won three titles as a Manchester United player. Should young star Harry Maguire make a move to United as is rumoured, Evans can slot in and fill in ably.

Leicester hope an experienced squad and talented signings can bring them back up the table, but the loss of Mahrez will be felt all season long.

Key player: Jamie Vardy

The enigmatic striker that doesn’t fit the mold of what a top Premier League striker looks like, Vardy will once again be called upon to drive the Foxes in season 2018/19.

A magical run since the beginning of Leicester’s title run has seen Vardy score 57 goals in 108 appearances over the past three seasons.

He’ll need to bag at least 20 goals (as he’s done in two of the past three league campaigns) if the King Power Stadium residents want to get back to European football.

If Vardy can net 25 plus goals, look out.

Ins: James Madison
Jonny Evans
Rachid Ghezzal

Out: Riyad Mahrez
Robert Huth
Ahmed Musa

Expected finish: 11th

Liverpool

The Champions League finalists have had a stellar offseason, addressing key needs as they aim for their first league title since the 1990-91 season.

Following Loris Karius’ disastrous performance in the Champions League Final, the signing of Brazilian goalkeeper Alisson from AS Roma should give Liverpool their best keeper since Jose Reina left the club after the 2012/13 season.

The additions of Fabinho and Naby Keita strengthen Liverpool’s midfield and provide depth to a squad that was so reliant upon its starting 11 last season.

Led by superstar Mo Salah, who became the first player to score at least 32 goals in a 38-game league season in England, the Reds have their best chance to end their title drought since they finished second in 2013/14.

While manager Jurgen Klopp has lost six consecutive finals and as a whole, the club has only won one trophy (2012 League Cup) in the past 12 years, Liverpool’s talent alone can overcome the lack of title experience as they should mount a serious title challenge.

Key player: Virgil van Dijk

Salah should go some way to repeating his historic 2017/18 campaign, it will be the world’s most expensive defender that will be pivotal to what Liverpool can accomplish this season.

Despite arriving in January for a record £75 million, van Dijk flourished at Anfield and finished the league season with Liverpool’s second most aerial battles won with 79.

Liverpool’s defence leaked like a sieve at different times last year, due in part to Klopp’s high pressing style that pushes players up the field and a lack of quality defenders.

As one of the best central defenders in the league and with the quality Liverpool possess in the middle of the park and forward third, van Dijk’s job will be made easier as teams will put more time into defending the Reds and not finding avenues to attack.

Ins: Alisson Becker
Naby Keita
Fabinho

Out: Emre Can
Joe Flanagan
Yan Dhanda

Expected finish: 2nd

Manchester City

On top of being the first team to reach 100 points, City broke the record for most points in a season, wins (32) in a 38-game season and they finished with the biggest winning margin (19 points) in league history.

While it’s unlikely they can replicate such amazing form this year, the blue side of Manchester should find themselves at the top of the league come the end of the season.

The club’s depth is incredible, many players coming off the bench would be starting at other clubs, and the signing of Riyad Mahrez highlights this. He didn’t fill a need for City but his high-level talent should boost the club this season.

The only issues that could affect the five-time league champions would be injuries or squad dissention due in part to playing time given how many stars City have on their squad.

If they can stay healthy and avoid infighting, Manchester City should do well to earn their sixth league title and second consecutive.

Key player: Kevin De Bruyne

You could make the argument that City doesn’t have a ‘key’ player given their unbelievable depth and ability to cover poor performances on how talented their squad is.

But Manchester City’s midfield maestro is one of the Premier League’s top stars and his sublime passing saw him register a league-high 16 assists in 2017/18.

After a World Cup run that saw his Belgium national team reach the World Cup semi-finals, De Bruyne should build on an excellent past season, particularly given the multitude of talent around the midfielder.

While City can still win the league if he doesn’t reach his lofty heights, De Bruyne’s passing is unmatched at the Etihad and if they want to not only win consecutive Premier League titles and their first Champions League he will need to be at his best.

Ins: Riyad Mahrez
Claudio Gomes
Philippe Sandler

Outs: Yaya Toure
Joe Hart
Pablo Maffeo

Expected finish: 1st

Manchester United

Despite a jump from sixth to second and final points total that would usually mount a serious title challenge in most league seasons, United copped a lot of stick from fans and commentators.

The at times negative game style from manager Jose Mourinho is not what the Reds are known for, a trend that has seeped into the media this off and pre-season.

The signing of Fred from Shakhtar Donetsk strengthens United’s midfield, but it could be depleted almost instantly given the rumours of a possible Paul Pogba transfer to Barcelona.

Should Pogba make the move, it will be hard to see United mounting a serious title challenge given the undeniable talent the French midfielder possesses.

No team under Jose Mourinho is ever truly out of a title race but the strength of rivals Manchester City and Liverpool should prove too much for the 13-time Premier League champions.

If Manchester United can come together they could surprise the football world given the less than ideal build up to the season, but if they start poorly time may be up sooner than imagined for the enigmatic Mourinho.

Key player: David de Gea

United will heavily rely on Pogba given his all-world abilities, but if they are to mount a title challenge they will need de Gea to continue his sublime form that has made him the world’s best goalkeeper.

He has recorded 93 clean sheets in 237 appearances in the Premier League for the red side of Manchester despite a less than ideal centre-back partnership ahead of him featuring Phil Jones, Marcos Rojo and Chris Smalling in the past few seasons.

Despite conceding a goal, de Gea recorded 14 saves in a 3-1 away win against Arsenal last season that equalled the Premier League record, including two that would be highlights on most goalkeepers best saves reel.

De Gea at 90 per cent is still better than most goalkeepers around the world so if he can continue his exquisite form, United will be in with a fighting chance to win any game he’s featured in.

Ins: Fred
Diogo Dalot
Lee Grant

Outs: Michael Carrick
Daley Blind
Axel Tuanzebe

Expected finish: 3rd

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