2018/19 Premier League Preview

Yes, the blog is finally back! Life has been incredibly busy and I regret not completing my World Cup coverage, but I knew I still had to write an EPL Preview Blog. We’re one week into the season, so it’s time for lots of recency bias and subjective opinions about how the EPL will shake out this season (plus check out some of the new kits teams are rocking this year, all of which you can find here).

Off we go!

 

20. Cardiff City

cardiff

Last Season Finish: 2nd place in Championship

Notable Signings: Josh Murphy (M, Norwich)

Notable Departures: None

Week 1 Result: Lost 2-0 to Bournemouth

Cardiff are back in the EPL after being relegated in 2014, and plenty has changed since then. Primarily, the fans finally convinced club chairman Vincent Tan that changing the club’s primary color from blue to red and the logo from a bluebird to a dragon was a mistake, and both have been corrected. They’ve also gone through several managers, with Neil Warnock now in charge and back in the Premier League for the first time since getting sacked by QPR back in 2012. He took over Cardiff a couple seasons ago while they were in the relegation zone of the Championship, so it’s a tremendous credit to him that Cardiff are back in the top flight.

However, I just don’t think they have the squad to stay around very long. Iceland’s Aron Gunnarsson is a reliable force in central midfield, but there aren’t many offensive difference makers on this team.

I predict a swift relegation.

 

19. Brighton & Hove Albion

brighton

Last Season Finish: 15th

Notable Signings: Bernardo Fernandes da Silva (D, RB Leipzig), Alireza Jahanbakhsh (F, AZ)

Notable Departures: None

Week 1 Result: Lost 2-0 to Watford

Brighton were the invisible team last year. They weren’t flashy and were in the bottom end of the table all season, but never felt in severe danger of being relegated. Manager Chris Hughton has done an excellent job with this team, but I don’t think they’ve done enough to improve. Fernandes da Silva may be an upgrade at right back, and Jahanbakhsh scored 21 goals for AZ in the Dutch Eredivisie last season. They’ll help, but nothing really jumps off the page about this team and I think they’ll return to the Championship.

 

18. AFC Bournemouth

bournemouth

Last Season Finish: 12th

Notable Signings: Diego Rico (D, Leganes), Jefferson Lerma (M, Levante)

Notable Departures: Benik Afobe (F, Wolves)

Week 1 Result: Beat Cardiff 2-0

Bournemouth have been an unbelievable story, with manager Eddie Howe leading them up the English football pyramid to a now fourth-straight season in the EPL. They have a stadium that holds less than 12,000 fans and have been an easy underdog to root for in recent years. However, I see this as the end of the EPL road for the Cherries. They’ve made some good additions in recent years, but they’ve really struggled to stay healthy and I think the teams around them in the table have passed them by. This would be quite the drop off for Bournemouth, but being idle in the EPL often gets you kicked out of it. It was a good start to the season, but if we’re being honest everybody should beat Cardiff.

 

17. Huddersfield Town

huddersfield

Last Season Finish: 16th

Notable Signings: Terence Kongolo (D, Monaco), Ramadan Sobhi (M, Stoke), Jonas Lossl (GK, Mainz), Erik Durm (D, Borussia Dortmund), Adama Diakhaby (D, Monaco)

Notable Departures: Tom Ince (M, Stoke)

Week 1 Result: Lost 3-0 to Chelsea

How on Earth did Huddersfield stay up last year? They struggled to score goals and always to me seemed like a Championship level group of players. Much of the credit is due to German-American manager David Wagner, who has been busy this summer bringing in new talent. They won’t miss Tom Ince, and will hope Ramadan Sobhi can contribute more in terms of goals and assists (not a high bar). They’ve made goalkeeper Jonas Lossl a permanent Terrier after his loan from Mainz last year and have done significant work to bolster their defense. They may struggle to score again, and their opening game wasn’t promising, but I think they’ll keep just enough out to hang on for dear life again.

 

16. Newcastle United

newcastle

Last Season Finish: 10th

Notable Signings: Martin Dubravka (GK, Sparta Prague), Kenedy (M, Chelsea), Fabian Schar (D, Deportivo La Coruna), Yoshinori Muto (F, Mainz), Salomon Rondon (F, West Brom)

Notable Departures: Mikel Merino (M, Real Sociedad), Aleksandar Mitrovic (F, Fulham)

Week 1 Result: Lost 2-1 to Tottenham

Another year, another summer where owner Mike Ashley doesn’t give his manager any money to spend. Martin Dubravka and Kennedy are back after they proved vital to Newcastle’s strong end to last season. Aleksandar Mitrovic is gone for good, and they’ve brought in Japanese forward Muto and Rondon from West Brom as potential replacements. The bottom line for the Magpies is will they score enough goals? They’ve really struggled to find a consistent scorer, and Rafa Benitez will hope that Muto or Rondon can step up. The squad still isn’t what it could be, but Benitez is a phenomenal coach and he’ll keep them up this year.

Their most pressing concern, however, is the health of Deandre Yedlin, who injured his knee on Saturday (and it did not look good).

 

15. Fulham

fulham

Last Season Finish: 3rd in Championship, won Championship Playoffs

Notable Signings: Jean Michael Seri (M, Nice), Andre Schurrle (F, Borussia Dortmund), Aleksandar Mitrovic (F, Newcastle), Alfie Mawson (D, Swansea)

Notable Departures: Ryan Fredericks (D, West Ham)

Week 1 Result: Lost 2-0 to Crystal Palace

Fulham are back in the Premier League and they have wasted no time making improvements to their squad. They’ve brought in Andre Schurrle from Dortmund, who for his sake I hope didn’t sell his house from when he played for nearby Chelsea. They also added Jean Michael Seri from Nice for 27 million pounds, an impressive acquisition for a newly promoted club. Perhaps most important is who they held on to. Mitrovic is back, joining permanently from Newcastle after his successful loan last season. They’ve also held onto teenage superstar Ryan Sessegnon, who will look to take a big step in his development as he begins his first season in the EPL. Fulham fans need to savor this season because the 18-year-old probably won’t be there long. One concern is the loss of Ryan Fredericks to West Ham, and defense in general could be a concern (shoutout American Tim Ream), though the addition of Mawson, one of Swansea’s few bright spots last season, should certainly help. Fulham should be fun to watch, and they’ll score more than enough goals to hang around the Premier League for at least another year. A loss to Crystal Palace isn’t the greatest start, but give this team some time and I think they’ll be fine.

 

14. Southampton

southampton

Last Season Finish: 17th

Notable Signings: Stuart Armstrong (M, Celtic), Angus Gunn (GK, Manchester City), Jannik Vestergaard (D, Borussia Monchengladbach), Mohamed Elyounoussi (M, Basel)

Notable Departures: Dusan Tadic (M, Ajax), Sofiane Boufal (M, Celta Vigo), Jordy Clasie (M, Feyenoord)

Week 1 Result: Drew 0-0 with Burnley

What the hell happened to Southampton last year? The perennial 8th place team had a nightmare season and just barely avoided getting relegated. They’ll consider themselves lucky to be here and will be looking to get things back on track. The big story is that Tadic and Boufal are gone, and the question is how will they be replaced? New signings Armstrong and Elyounoussi will definitely be looked to for that, as will Nathan Redmond who was invisible for much of last season and will need to pick up the slack.

The Saints won’t be anything spectacular but they’ll feel a bit better about things this season. Much like their opening day draw, it won’t be interesting but it’ll get the job done.

 

13. Watford

watford

Last Season Finish: 14th

Notable Signings: Gerard Deulofeu (F, Barcelona), Ben Foster (GK, West Brom)

Notable Departures: Richarlison (F, Everton)

Week 1 Result: Beat Brighton 2-0

It’s been a weird summer for Watford. They’ve been perhaps given the summer’s biggest gift in the form of 50 million pounds for Richarlison. This is a gift because the Brazilian winger hasn’t scored a goal since NOVEMBER 19TH (until scoring two on Opening Day). What did Watford do with this money? They bought Deulofeu who spent the end of last season there on loan. I think this season will look a lot like last year for Watford. Andre Gray can’t possibly be any worse, and he’ll have to be better with club legend Troy Deeney another year older. A healthy Nathaniel Chalobah (who missed most of last year with a knee injury) should also be a big boost. They’ll be relying heavily on Roberto Pereyra as a creative force, who scored both goals in the Hornets’ opening game. Like Chalobah, he’s had his share of injury issues so the main focus will be staying on the field.

This team is mediocre; lower mid-table it is.

 

12. Burnley

burnley

Last Season Finish: 7th, qualified for Europa League

Notable Signings: Joe Hart (GK, Manchester City)

Notable Departures: Scott Arfield (M, Rangers)

Week 1 Result: Drew 0-0 with Southampton

Setting aside the records Man City were smashing last year, Burnley were the story of the season. Their opening day win at Chelsea was no fluke and the Clarets went on to have their best ever season in the Premier League as they qualified for the Europa League. What exotic European location did they get to travel to first? Scotland. Yep, in their first qualification game they took a trip to Aberdeen, were they got a draw before winning at home to advance. I think their Europa League involvement will take a toll early on the season, as Sean Dyche hasn’t done anything meaningful to improve his squad. They’ve also had more goalkeeper troubles. After Tom Heaton missed all of last season injured, his replacement Nick Pope is now out injured and Burnley have signed Joe Hart as a replacement. Hart was nowhere near playing time at Man City and will looking to get a fresh start. This is a team that was absolutely unbeatable at home last year, and I don’t see that trend continuing. Enjoy Europe, boys, but you’re headed back to the bottom half this year.

 

11. Leicester City

leicester

Last Season Finish: 9th

Notable Signings: Ricardo Pereira (D, Porto), Jonny Evans (D, West Brom), Danny Ward (GK, Liverpool), James Maddison (M, Norwich), Rachid Ghezzal (M, Monaco)

Notable Departures: Riyad Mahrez (M, Manchester City), Robert Huth (D, released)

Week 1 Result: Lost 2-1 to Manchester United

Well, it finally happened. Riyad Mahrez has left Leicester. It was only a matter of time, and it’s impressive they held onto him this long. Mahrez, who burst onto the scene when Leicester won the title three years ago (how has it been that long already?!?!) broke Manchester City’s transfer record with his move to the Etihad and now Leicester will be wondering what comes next. They’ve brought in Maddison and Ghezzal to fill some of the void, and Ahmed Musa is back from loan at CSKA Moscow following a great few games at the World Cup, so he’ll be looked to to as well. They’ve strengthened their defense, which was needed, but Jamie Vardy can’t do this all by himself. There was the question of whether they would lose goalkeeper Kasper Schmeichel to Chelsea, but they’ve instead gone for a much more expensive option. That’s good news for Leicester, who will need Schmeichel to keep them in games at times.

 

10. Wolverhampton Wanderers

wolves

Last Season Finish: 1st in Championship

Notable Signings: Raul Jimenez (F, Benfica, loan), Rui Patrício (GK, Sporting Lisbon), João Moutinho (M, Monaco), Diogo Jota (F, Atletico Madrid)

Notable Departures: None

Week 1 Result: Drew 2-2 with Everton

Wolves seem to have aspirations of being the next Man City. They were purchased in 2016 by a Chinese investment conglomerate and have begun splashing out the cash. They seem to have a particular interest in Portuguese players, bringing in four this transfer window alone. Linking up with fellow Portuguese midfielder Ruben Neves, this team should have some serious quality in its midfield and attacking options, with a phenomenal keeper between the sticks in Rui Patricio. It’s a bold move to pick a newly promoted side to finish in the top half, but Wolves have no shortage of ambition. They’re opening day draw with Everton was exciting, and Neves looks to be the real deal.

 

9. Crystal Palace

crystal palace

Last Season Finish: 11th

Notable Signings: Cheikhou Kouyate (M, West Ham), Max Meyer (M, Schalke)

Notable Departures: Yohan Cabaye (M, Al Nasr), Ruben Loftus Cheek (M, returned to Chelsea following loan)

Week 1 Result: Beat Fulham 2-0

It’s hard to believe that after the worst start in Premier League history Crystal Palace still managed to finish in 11th. Roy Hodgson did a phenomenal job after taking over as manager, as Wilfried Zaha proved to be indispensable. Palace has managed to hold on to Zaha this summer, which is a huge win for them. To be fair, this was largely on account of the fact Palace wanted 70 million pounds for him and no one was willing to pay that (nor should they have been). It’s no secret Zaha would like to move to a bigger club (see the look on his face above), but until Palace lower their asking price he isn’t going anywhere. Ruben Loftus-Cheek was one of Palace’s most important players last season, and Kouyate and Meyer will be tasked with filling his shoes. Meyer will also be looked to for a few goals, as Zaha needs all the help he can get. With Zaha sticking around I think Palace will be fine, and there’s an outside chance they could crash the Europa League places.

 

8. West Ham United

west ham

Last Season Finish: 13th

Notable Signings: Ryan Fredericks (D, Fulham), Issa Diop (D, Toulouse), Lukasz Fabianski (GK, Swansea), Jack Wilshere (M, Arsenal), Andriy Yarmolenko (F, Borussia Dortmund), Felipe Anderson (F, Lazio)

Notable Departures: Patrice Evra (D, released), Cheikhou Kouyate (M, Crystal Palace)

Week 1 Result: Lost 4-0 to Liverpool

What a summer it’s been for West Ham. After a disappointing season, they have once again done enough to convince me they’re going to be good. While that hasn’t worked out the last couple of seasons, they’ve made quite the investment this time around. Manuel Pellegrini is back managing in the Premier League, as the former Man City boss returns from a two-year hiatus in China. He’s quickly gotten to work reshaping this squad, spending 85 million pounds on new players. Anderson and Yarmolenko will give greater depth to the attack and take some weight off the shoulders of Javier Hernandez and Marko Arnautovic. They’ll also provide cover for Manuel Lanzini, who looks like he’ll miss the entire season with a torn ACL. Jack Wilshere is another potentially great signing (especially because they got him for free), with Diop and Fredericks strengthening what has been one of the league’s worst defenses in recent years. They’ve also rid themselves of Joe Hart, replacing him with the generally reliable Fabianski who escaped from Swansea.

They certainly didn’t get off to the start they wanted, but these things take time and I believe in Pellegrini as a manager.

I genuinely think West Ham will be good this year (eventually). If nothing else, they’ll be entertaining. They won’t be pushing for Champions League or anything like that, but they’ll get back in the top half.

 

7. Everton

everton

Last Season Finish: 8th

Notable Signings: Richarlison (F, Watford), Lucas Digne (D, Barcelona), Yerry Mina (D, Barcelona), Andre Gomes (M, Barcelona), Kurt Zouma (D, Chelsea), Bernard (M, Shakhtar Donetsk)

Notable Departures: Wayne Rooney (F, DC United), Davy Klaassen (M, Werder Bremen)

Week 1 Result: Drew 2-2 with Wolves

What the hell is this team doing? They finally got Marco Silva as manager, something they’ve been trying so hard to do that their advances got him fired from Watford. Like if you were dating someone and they had a stalker, and you broke up with them because of the stalking, and then they ended up dating the stalker. It’s weird, and it’s only gotten weirder. They won their first preseason game 22-0 against a fifth-tier Austrian team, but haven’t won since. They bought Richarlison, who as I mentioned in the Watford section hadn’t scored in almost a year for 50 MILLION. Davy Klaassen has left the club after one year and basically being missing the entire time (he made only 7 appearances), replaced by Brazilian international Bernard who is somehow still just 25 and along with Richarlison could bring real excitement to Everton’s attack. Wayne Rooney is also gone, riding off into the sunset of the MLS after it became apparent he was no longer of any use at Everton.

On a more reasonable note, they’ve replaced most of their defense with the purchases of Digne and Mina from Barca plus the loan of Zouma from Chelsea. Leighton Baines and Phil Jaglielka started the opening game, but their time may be coming to an end.

Marco Silva is a good manager, and this is generally a pretty good team. As long as they hold on to Jordan Pickford I don’t see any reason they can’t stay the course and finish pretty much where they always do.

 

6. Arsenal

arsenal

Last Season Finish: 6th, qualified for Europa League

Notable Signings: Bernd Leno (GK, Bayer Leverkusen), Stephan Lichtsteiner (D, Juventus),  Sokratis Papastathopoulos (D, Borussia Dortmund), Lucas Torreira (M, Sampdoria)

Notable Departures: Per Mertesacker (D, retired), Santi Cazorla (M, released and signed with Villareal), Jack Wilshere (M, West Ham)

Week 1 Result: Lost 2-0 to Manchester City

Arsene Wenger is finally gone. After 26 years at the helm, the Frenchman “stepped-down” at the end of last season. In has come Unai Emery, and he’s gotten to work trying to remake the Arsenal squad. The Gunners were one of the best teams at home and worst teams on the road last season, and in similar inequality had a phenomenal attack but a porous defense. Emery’s task is to figure out how to make the most out of this imbalanced squad. The potential strike partnership of Pierre-Emerick Aubameyang and Alexandre Lacazette could be deadly. Aubameyang scored 10 goals in just 13 appearances last season after his transfer from Dortmund, and he’ll be a popular pick to win this year’s Golden Boot. The Gunners also have plenty of creative talent between the likes of Mesut Ozil, Henrikh Mkhitaryan and Aaron Ramsey. They’ve also strengthened their midfield defensive capabilities with the signing of Torreira. The issue is the defense players like him are compensating for. Yes, they’ve brought in Sokratis and Lichtsteiner, but they’re both aging and can’t be expected to be full-time starters. Laurent Koscielny will still be out for the foreseeable future.

Having watched their feeble effort against Man City, it’s hard to see the Gunners contending this season.

 

5. Manchester United

man united

Last Season Finish: 2nd, qualified for Champions League

Notable Signings: Fred (M, Shakhtar Donetsk)

Notable Departures: Michael Carrick (M, retired), Daley Blind (D, Ajax)

Week 1 Result: Beat Leicester 2-1

Yup. Let’s have a little recent history lesson, shall we? Jose Mourinho has made a habit lately of having two great years with a club, followed by a third that is a complete disaster that sees him fired. This is how his two recent spells with Real Madrid and Chelsea have gone, and we’re already seeing signs his third at United could follow suit (and his first two years haven’t even been that good). He’s spent the summer complaining about United’s lack of transfers in comparison to teams like Liverpool, and seems to be generally miserable. Fred is a good signing, as he should help maximize the talents of Paul Pogba in United’s midfield. Otherwise, nothing has really changed. They still have the issue of what to do with Alexis, Rashford and Martial all competing for playing time with speculation swirling that Martial wants out. Their defense is healthy, but there’s still concern that they don’t have the necessary quality and depth there. Sure, they finished second last year but they looked far less impressive than Spurs and Liverpool, both of whom I think will surge past them this year.

 

4. Chelsea

chelsea

Last Season Finish: 5th, qualified for Europa League

Notable Signings: Jorginho (M, Napoli), Kepa Arrizabalaga (GK, Athletic Bilbao)

Notable Departures: Thibaut Courtois (GK, Real Madrid)

Week 1 Result: Beat Huddersfield 3-0

It’s transition time at Chelsea (again). As expected, Antonio Conte is gone after his falling out with the club’s board and the team failed to qualify for the Champions League. In comes Maurizio Sarri from Napoli, who have been very impressive in Serie A over the last couple of seasons under his leadership. He brings with him Jorginho, a defensive midfielder who was an important cog in Sarri’s Napoli squad and who will hopefully take some pressure off of N’Golo Kante. This summer has been filled with speculation of which players might be leaving Chelsea, most notably Eden Hazard and Thibaut Courtois, the latter of whom actually has left. His replacement is 23-year-old Athletic Bilbao keeper Kepa Arrizabalaga, who cost a record 71 million pounds. Coming the other way in the Courtois deal is Croatian midfielder Mateo Kovacic, who will be on loan at Chelsea this season. With all of this settled, the new focus will be hanging on to Eden Hazard. The Spanish transfer window is open until the end of the month, so there’s still time for Real to make another move.

It will take time for the squad to adjust to Sarri’s system, and the new manager has said he thinks that within a couple months they’ll be a very good team.

That learning period will take its toll on Chelsea’s position in the table, but I think they could be an incredibly dangerous team once they put it all together. I think it will be too late to challenge for the title at that point, but I think they could certainly make the Champions League spots.

That said, their best route may lie in the Europa League, which will take its own toll on Chelsea’s efforts to move up the table.

But who knows, last time they had an Italian manager come in an introduce a brand new system things worked out pretty well.

 

3. Tottenham Hotspur

tottenham

Last Season Finish: 3rd, qualified for Champions League

Notable Signings: None

Notable Departures: None

Week 1 Result: Beat Newcastle 2-1

Tottenham had a very busy or a very quiet summer, depending how you look at it. On the one hand, they had 12 players at the World Cup (only trailing Man City in the EPL), nine of whom made it to the semifinals including captain Hugo Lloris who won the whole thing with France. On the other hand, they made no signings and nobody of note left.

That last point is particularly relevant as they managed to hold on to Toby Alderweireld amid interest from several clubs, notably Manchester United. This is the exact same team as last year and there’s no reason they shouldn’t be able to repeat the success they had. I don’t think this is a squad that can make a serious challenge for the title, but they should remain in the top four for another year. Harry Kane and his loads of goals are almost a guarantee of that.

 

2. Liverpool

liverpool

Last Season Finish: 4th, qualified for Champions League

Notable Signings: Fabinho (M, Monaco), Naby Keita (M, RB Leipzig), Xherdan Shaqiri (M, Stoke), Alisson (GK, Roma)

Notable Departures: Emre Can (M, Juventus)

Week 1 Result: Beat West Ham 4-0

Liverpool have responded to their defeat in the Champions League Final with some high-stakes retail therapy, hitting the transfer market hard and splashing out serious cash. They signed Alisson for a (then) record 60 million euros to replace Loris Karius, whose (potentially concussion-induced gaffes) gaffes contributed to the UCL Final defeat. They massively upgraded their midfield with the signings of the more defensive Fabinho and more all-action Keita (who became the first Liverpool player to where the #8 since Steven Gerrard’s retirement), and added depth on the wings in the form of Xherdan Shaqiri. What this means is that a team that was already a force to be reckoned with and difficult to play against is now even more so. Mo Salah picked up where he left off last season with a goal this week, and if The Reds keep scoring at this pace it will be hard to stop them.

Having defeated Man City in the Champions League quarterfinals last season, they’ve already shown they know how to beat the Champions, and they’re the only team I can see mounting a serious challenge this season. That said, Liverpool still have some defensive shortcomings and I think they’ll find themselves falling just short in the title race.

Which means…..of course…..

 

1. Manchester City

man city

Last Season Finish: Champions, qualified for Champions League

Notable Signings: Riyad Mahrez (M, Leicester)

Notable Departures: Yaya Toure (released)

Week 1 Result: Beat Arsenal 2-0

Last season, Manchester City were arguably the best team the Premier League has ever seen, setting records in both points and goals scored. So what did they do this summer? Went out and added even more depth by signing Mahrez from Leicester, a move that had seemed inevitable. They went out and dominated Arsenal this week with Kevin De Bruyne spending most of the game on the bench and David Silva uninvolved, a terrifying prospect. This team’s biggest problem last year was a lack of depth due to injury, but the entire squad is now fit with the likes of Ben Mendy and Ilkay Gundogan looking to complete a full season for City.

City has absolutely everything, and their second-team would push for a Top 4 position. I think it’s unrealistic to expect them to match last season, but this team is still a juggernaut.

Pep Guardiola’s men will be setting their sights on the even bigger prize of the Champions League this season, and I consider them favorites to win that as well.

***UPDATE***
Kevin De Bruyne (see photo) injured his knee in practice and is expected to miss up to a couple months injured. Can city win a title without him? Yes. Will it be a lot harder? Yes. Am I still picking them to repeat? Yes.

 

Awards Predictions

Golden Boot: Harry Kane, Tottenham

Golden Glove: Ederson, Manchester City

Player of the Year: Sadio Mane, Liverpool

Young Player of the Year: Richarlison, Everton

Manager of the Year: Pep Guardiola, Manchester City

 

For consistent soccer content from me, check out SoccerCast Chicago (@Soccer_Cast) on Apple Podcasts and Spotify, a podcast I co-host about the all things EPL, Fire, US Mens National Team and soccer at large.

All photos courtesy of PremierLeague.com

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