09 Aug Ian Darke’s Premier League preview, predictions: Will Man City four-peat? Will Chelsea rebound?
No team in the history of football has ever been champions of England four years in succession. But Manchester City are odds-on favourites to do exactly that, and it will be very hard for any club to stop them after last season’s superb league-FA Cup-Champions League treble.
As ever, the three promoted clubs — Burnley, Sheffield United and Luton — will be tipped to go back down, but last season’s trio of newcomers all survived. Predictions are notoriously difficult, particularly as there may be significant signings still to come in this transfer window, which closes on September 1, but here is my club-by-club look at their prospects.
Manager Mikel Arteta’s team were eight points clear at the top in early April, but did not quite have the squad depth and staying power to repel Man City’s late charge. However, 84 points was a fine effort and the squad has been significantly strengthened with Declan Rice, Kai Havertz and the versatile Ajax defender Jurrien Timber.
A preseason injury to Gabriel Jesus, which will keep him out for a few weeks, does not help, but the Gunners have the ammunition to give City another run for their money — especially with the likes of Bukayo Saka, Gabriel Martinelli, Leandro Trossard and captain Martin Odegaard all likely to chip in with important goals.
Leboeuf blasts Raya’s move to Arsenal: Players ‘don’t want to play football!’
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There is a real buzz around Villa Park as the club returns to European football following a spectacular surge under Unai Emery last season, which netted 33 points from the last 45 available. This is a strong, confident side with many players, especially striker Ollie Watkins, transformed by Emery’s magic touch. The arrivals of speedy attacker Moussa Diaby, Youri Tielemans in midfield and classy defender Pau Torres only add to the mix, and Villa should be top six contenders if they can cope with the routine of playing Europa Conference League on Thursdays and Premier League on Sundays.
The Cherries defied the critics by finishing five points clear of the drop last season… and then fired the manager who led them to survival, Gary O’Neil. In comes Andoni Iraola, who produced some exciting football at unsung Rayo Vallecano, but this is a punt because O’Neil was doing a great job.
It will be fascinating to see how young Justin Kluivert fares in England and watch out for another new signing, the fast young left-back from AZ Alkmaar, Milos Kerkez. Staying up again will be a big achievement.
How will they cope without their talisman, Ivan Toney, who was suspended for eight months for 232 breaches of the FA’s rules on betting? (He is set to return in January.) It is a major headache for the excellent manager Thomas Frank, who took his team to 59 points and ninth place last season.
Toney missed the last three games of the season, and the Bees won all three with Bryan Mbeumo stepping into the headlines. It will clearly be harder this time, but Brentford have enough quality without Toney to stay afloat.
BRIGHTON & HOVE ALBION
They were a treat to watch last season as they finished sixth and qualified for Europe for the first time ever, but the Thursday-Sunday routine of European and domestic football will make it tougher this campaign. Brighton have lost the brilliant World Cup winner Alexis McAllister to Liverpool and might struggle to hold on to Chelsea target Moises Caicedo, but the succession planning at Brighton is superb and Roberto De Zerbi’s team should be great entertainers again, especially with the likes of James Milner from Liverpool — he’s an eye-catching signing who will add nous and experience.
Transformed into a stylish passing team under manager Vincent Kompany, they ran away with the Championship last season and earned promotion to the Premier League. There will be no deviation from that approach this time, but will it work in the top flight?
Kompany has spent £19m ($24m) on England under-21 keeper James Trafford among a raft of new arrivals, who include the veteran former Southampton winger, Nathan Redmond. The Clarets might be a revelation under a very bright manager who knows exactly what it takes in win on the big stage. Expect them to stay up.
After a calamitous 2022-23 season in which they finished in the bottom half of the table for the first time in 27 years, Chelsea finally have some stability under new boss Mauricio Pochettino. Their preseason campaign in the U.S. suggests he is already producing a more streamlined squad with a coherent plan, with striker Nicolas Jackson from Villarreal and the clever Christopher Nkunku from Leipzig playing off the front. But some big names like Mason Mount, N’Golo Kante and Kai Havertz have left for other teams, and there is more squad surgery needed before Pochettino can hope to restore Chelsea to former glories.
Manager Roy Hodgson stays, forward Wilfried Zaha goes: those are the two big Palace summer headlines. Worryingly for Eagles fans, gifted winger Michael Olise is a target for Manchester City, and he would be a big loss, too. So far, midfielder Jefferson Lerma from Bournemouth and playmaker Matheus Franca are the only confirmed first-team arrivals so far this summer, and there’s a feeling a major signing needs to be made to replace the match-winning qualities Zaha brought to Selhurst Park, especially when you consider that Palace failed to score in 16 of 38 league games last season.
They escaped relegation on the last day by beating Bournemouth, but there’s still plenty for Toffees fans to worry about. For example, forward Dominic Calvert-Lewin misses too many matches and the team scored 34 goals last season (only Wolves managed fewer). Arnaut Danjuma, never given a proper chance at Spurs, might add to their attacking thrust, but the hunch is that Everton will find it tough again to stay up, albeit with a good manager in Sean Dyche.
They followed promotion with an excellent tenth placed finish last season, but it has been an unsettling summer for the club with top scorer Aleksandar Mitrovic wanting a lucrative move to Saudi Arabia and Willian, such a key influence last season, possibly on his way out, too. Raul Jimenez, who has lost his scoring touch these days, has arrived from Wolves and tough defender Calvin Bassey from Ajax. Fulham are also considering wingers Demarai Gray and Callum Hudson-Odoi. Much of The Cottagers success will depend on keeping Mitrovic sweet or replacing him effectively.
The Reds have signed world-class quality in midfield with Alexis McAllister and Dominik Szoboszlai, but Jordan Henderson‘s leadership qualities will be missed following his move to the Middle East. Manager Jurgen Klopp will try to recreate the heavy metal football that was the club’s hallmark on their way to conquering the Premier League and Europe, but was nowhere to be seen in last season’s hugely disappointing campaign.
Liverpool have the firepower to flourish. But preseason games have suggested that defensive shortcomings might still be a problem, especially if Trent Alexander-Arnold is pushed into midfield from his right back slot, leaving potential gaps behind.
Wrexham isn’t the only fairy tale in football; in fact, you should consider the Hatters’ rise from non-league to the Premier League in nine years, with midfield man Pelly Ruddock Mpanzu on that journey the whole way.
Much will be written about their ramshackle ground and everyone will predict relegation, but their dynamic style and press, coupled with the threat of two dangerous strikers in Carlton Morris and Elijah Adebayo, could make them a real handful at home. They’re likely to fight every inch of the way to stay in the top flight, but the odds are stacked against them.
It’s hard to see the English and European champions being toppled as this squad still oozes quality despite the potentially damaging losses of Ilkay Gundogan and Riyad Mahrez. Mateo Kovacic, signed from Chelsea, will fit in nicely but he won’t replace Gundogan’s goals. Meanwhile, an already impressive defence is now bolstered by new arrival, Josko Gvardiol.
Erling Haaland (52 goals last season) will score plenty because, well, he always does. The only problem might be if the squad does not have quite the same hunger after feasting on silverware last season. I expect manager Pep Guardiola is unlikely to let any complacency creep in.
Finished third and won the League Cup in Erik ten Hag’s first season as manager. Can they build on that with the addition of Mason Mount from Chelsea and a new keeper in Andre Onana? United will hope that another new signing, 20-year-old Rasmus Hojlund from Atalanta, can prove a spectacular fulcrum up front, too, but it’s asking a lot for only his second season in a major European league.
A personal hunch is that the brilliant young winger Alejandro Garnacho might become a key figure in this campaign, while Sofyan Amrabat, so good for Morocco at the 2022 World Cup, is a potential signing to help Casemiro in midfield. United could have another good year, but are probably not ready to contest the title.
There is great excitement on Tyneside as the Toon return to the Champions League for the first time in 20 years. Italian international Sandro Tonali, Leicester winger Harvey Barnes and Southampton right-back Tino Livramento — cover for Kieran Trippier — have been added to last season’s potent mix, but manager Eddie Howe may feel he wants a couple more additions to cope with a heavier schedule and the added demands on his squad. Newcastle will do well to repeat their fourth-place finish last season.
Manager Steve Cooper did a great job in keeping them in the Premier League, despite only one away win all season and the fact that he had to handle a bloated squad: the club signed 27 players across both transfer windows. Thirty of their 38 points came amid wild scenes at home, where the likes of Morgan Gibbs-White and Brennan Johnson caused rivals real problems. I’m mot sure if they do that again. And even though Anthony Elanga‘s arrival from Manchester United will add pace to their attack, another relegation fight looms.
The Blades scored the very first Premier League goal — Brian Deane, vs. Manchester United in 1992 — but will they score enough on their return to the top flight, especially now that star man Iliman Ndiaye has moved to Marseille?
As well as this famous old club played to get promoted, the squad as it stands does not look good enough to survive at the higher level. Middlesbrough’s Chuba Akpom, who scored 28 goals in the Championship last season, remains on Sheffield United’s radar as a replacement for Ndiaye.
Wright: Postecoglou is coming up against ‘the cream of the crop’
Ahead of this weekend’s season start, Premier League legend Ian Wright hopes new Spurs boss is Ange Postecoglou given time to implement his ideas.
Everything hinges on whether the club’s record scorer, Harry Kane, stays or signs for Bayern Munich. And what a difficult, uncertain situation for new manager Ange Postecoglou to walk into, making his job in planning the season almost impossible. Spurs should have settled this before now. However, James Maddison is the No. 10 creator that the team has cried out for ever since Christian Eriksen left.
Postecoglou’s teams were good to watch at Celtic and the demanding Spurs faithful may find the style refreshing after the stilted tactical torment imposed by Jose Mourinho and Antonio Conte. But if Kane goes, what then?
WEST HAM UNITED
The euphoria of lifting a European trophy (the UEFA Europa Conference League) in June has been replaced by genuine concerns about the season ahead, as the departure of captain Declan Rice has left a crater in the squad. However, the Hammers are suddenly busy in the transfer market: a £30m fee has been agreed for Man United defender Harry Maguire while Edson Alvarez, the Mexico midfielder, is joining too.
They’re also likely to get James Ward-Prowse (elite from set pieces) from Southampton, but will be worried by Man City interest in Brazilian playmaker Lucas Paqueta. A new era begins.
It looks a mess with financial problems, with manager Julen Lopetegui leaving following “differences of opinion” and the exits of stalwarts like Ruben Neves, Joao Moutinho and Raul Jimenez. The return of full-back Matt Doherty is about the most exciting thing that has happened this summer.
Lopetegui took Wolves from bottom to 13th last season, but has departed the club less than a week before the start of the campaign. (Gary O’Neil, mentioned above for his heroics with Bournemouth, has already been announced as his successor.) He’ll have his work cut out, too: Wolves were the lowest scorers in the division (31) and it’s hard to see who in their squad can find the net enough this campaign to keep Wolves from being relegated.
TOP SIX PREDICTIONS
1. Manchester City
4. Manchester United
Sheffield United, Wolves, Luton Town