The summer is officially over. The English Premier League is back and the nine-month long season appears to be better than ever. Six teams have a chance to win the league. There will also be a competitive relegation battle as eight or nine teams could be fighting to stay in the top flight of English soccer. Here are my predictions on the table and a short preview of the top six teams.
1. Chelsea- I think this is the season Chelsea wins the Premier League. It looked like the Blues were in control at the top of the EPL late last season until shocking defeats at Crystal Palace and at home to Sunderland. Chelsea finished four points behind champions Manchester City so those losses even more painful for Jose Mourinho’s men. I think Mourinho will make sure Chelsea won’t lose matches against lesser opponents and that they will have a focus on wining the EPL as oppose to the Champions League. Chelsea signed a pair of Spanish internationals in striker Diego Costa and midfielder Cesc Fabregas to sure up their side. Costa could solve Chelsea’s striker problem and Fabregas is familiar with the EPL after spending most of his career at Arsenal. The duo joins plenty of other attacking talent including Eden Hazard, Oscar and World Cup super-sub Andre Schurrle. Mourinho won La Liga with Real Madrid in his second season as coach. I think he will do the same at Chelsea in the second season of his second stint in West London.
2. Manchester City- The defending champions had a quiet summer for their standards after facing sanctions for breaking financial fair play rules. Most summer transfer windows at Manchester City have included bringing in high-prized attacking talent to bolster their squad. They did bring in center back Eliaquim Mangala and Arsenal right back Bacary Sagna to strengthen the back line. Manchester City is led by captain Vincent Kompany and he will likely have a new center back partner in Mangala. They employ four strikers in Sergio Aguero, Edin Dzeko, Alvaro Negredo and Stevan Jovetic. The midfield is also stacked with Yaya Toure, David Silva, Jesus Naves and Samir Nasri. I think the priority at Manchester City will be the Champions League. They will have a strong season but won’t repeat as champions.
3. Machester United- This is one of the most fascinating teams in the EPL this season. They have a new coach in Louis Van Gaal who is coming off a third place finish as the Netherlands manager at the World Cup. Predicting Manchester United to finish third might be ambitious especially with questions marks on what formation Van Gaal will play. There is also uncertainty on the players Manchester United will buy and sell before the transfer window closes on September 1. Van Gaal might install a 3-5-2 formation at Old Trafford. This would put a lot of pressure on center backs Phil Jones, Jonny Evans and Chris Smalling to play well. Nemanja Vidic, Rio Ferdinand and Patrice Evra all left the club this summer so Manchester United is in the market for another defender. The Red Devils are lacking a strong central midfielder so that might be a position that Van Gaal addresses by the end of the month. New captain Wayne Rooney, Robin Van Persie, Juan Mata, Danny Welbeck and new signing Ander Herrera all will have big roles this season. Manchester United might struggle early but I think they will be strong after Boxing Day and return to the top four.
4. Arsenal- Arsenal ended their trophy drought last season by winning the FA Cup. Now they have even greater goals to win another trophy. Arsenal were top of the table for a portion of last season. Then a gauntlet of tough domestic and European matches in February and March ended any hope of bringing the Premier League trophy back to North London. Arsenal’s lack of depth showed when key players picked up injuries. This season Arsenal need their top players like Mesut Ozil, Jack Wishere, Santi Carzola and Aaron Ramsey to stay healthy. Theo Walcott and Alex Oxlade-Chamberlain also have battled injuries and are key to Arsene Wenger’s side. Arsenal has sold many high profile players in the past but this summer was one where the Gunners spent money. Forward Alexis Sanchez was brought in from Barcelona. The Chilean international can partner with striker Oliver Giroud or preseason revelation Yaya Sanogo. Arsenal also bolstered their back line with the signings of French right back Mathieu Debuchy and English starlet Calum Chambers. The Gunners might be in the market for another center back after selling Thomas Vermaelen. Arsenal is a team that you can count on to finish in the top four every year. They improved their squad this season so I think they will finish fourth again and surprise some people in the Champions League.
5. Tottenham- A new era begins at Tottenham with coach Maurico Pochettino taking over. The Argentinian manager had a terrific season at Southampton and he hopes his system will translate to success at a higher profile club. Tottenham were in a tough position last season. They were distracted by the Gareth Bale saga at the beginning of the season and finally sold the Welshman to Real Madrid. They brought in seven players last summer with the funds they got but no player made a big impression other than Christian Eriksen. Striker Roberto Soldado couldn’t score in open play, Paulinho didn’t play at the level he displayed at the Confederations Cup and Erik Lamela struggled to find first-team minutes. I think things will be different after these players had a full season plus a summer to work together. Emmaneul Adebayor and promising youngster Harry Kane can score goals if Soldado struggles again. Lewis Holtby is a player that could thrive under Pochettino after being out of favor last season before being sent out on loan to Fulham. Tottenham have some question marks in defense but they have a great right back in Kyle Walker if he can stay healthy. I think Pochettino will succeed at Tottenham and they will flirt with a top four position all season.
6. Liverpool- It will be tough for Liverpool to repeat what they accomplished last season. They finished in second place and really should’ve won the league if it wasn’t for a shocking mistake by captain Steven Gerrard in a match against Chelsea near the end of the season. There’s a few reasons why I think they will regress and not finish in the top four. The main reason is the loss of Luis Suarez. It was a necessary business decision to sell the Uruguayan especially after his antics at the World Cup. However, it’s impossible to replace 31 goals, which was Suarez’s goal tally in only 33 EPL matches. Not only did he score 31 goals but he played a key part in linking up with Daniel Sturridge in many of his 21 goals. Liverpool got 52 out of their 101 EPL goals from two players. Sturridge will still have a strong season especially with Raheem Sterling but Liverpool doesn’t have another player with the creativity and lethalness in front of net like Suarez. Another reason Liverpool won’t finish top four is their shaky defense. The Reds gave up 50 goals last season and were on the right side of a lot of high-scoring matches. It will be hard for them to win games if they give up multiple goals to teams like Stoke City, Aston Villa and Swansea. Last season they defeated Fulham 3-2, beat Cardiff 6-3 and survived at Norwich 3-2. Those three teams were relegated last season. Liverpool bought Croatian center back Dejan Lovren as part of their raid of Sunderland, which also included the signings of midfielder Adam Lallana and striker Rickie Lambert. I’m not convinced that Lovren will solve the defending problem with Mamadou Sakho or Martin Skrtel. Another reason Liverpool won’t repeat is because of a packed schedule. Last season Liverpool took advantage of not having to play any European soccer. They avoided the pointless Thursday night Europa League matches that could fatigue a team for the weekend game. Now Liverpool will be back in the Champions League, which is great for the club but will hurt their performance in the league. Liverpool will likely be in a tough group in the Champions League and might struggle in some EPL games especially early in the season. Early slips up could be costly especially in a very competitive EPL.
12. Aston Villa
13. Hull City
16. West Ham
17. Leicester City
18. West Brom
19. Crystal Palace