How will the English Premier League's "Big 6" rank this season?
The return of the English Premier League has been longed for by most football fanatics and it's just a matter of days before we witness the resumption of the biggest and most exciting league in world football. Reminiscing on how good the previous season was, one can’t help but imagine how better the upcoming season will be. As expected; various teams will be having various objectives coming into the new season and unsurprisingly, the main focus will be on what has been known as “The big six” in Manchester City, Liverpool, Tottenham Hotspur, Chelsea, Manchester United and the Arsenal. The current champions Manchester City will be hoping to add to their seemingly increasing trophy cabinet, but will face intense competition from rivals Liverpool who will be looking to avenge the misfortunes of the previous season where they did all they could to win the league but it was simply not enough. Meanwhile, the rest of the top six clubs will be looking to stamp their authority and force their way into the top two and ultimately challenge for the title. Below we preview the return of the league and the possible outcome of the top six teams, nine months from now.
It is without a shadow of doubt that last season’s top two teams will be the two teams gunning for the league title this season. Being miles ahead of the rest of the top six teams, Manchester City and Liverpool will only be hoping to replicate last season’s form and will only get better. To show their intentions on remaining dominant, Pep Guardiola has already made a statement of not backing down by strengthening the side in a critical position that is central to the way City plays. That is the acquisition of record signing Rodri to potentially replace the ever dependable Fernandinho in the holding midfield role. Nonetheless, it remains to be seen what effect Vincent Kompany's departure will have on City next season considering that the club have not signed a replacement for their talismanic former captain. As it stands, provided City don't sign a new centre-back, they will go into the new campaign with just three recognised senior central defenders in Aymeric Laporte, John Stones and Nicolas Otamendi. Nevertheless, the commanding presence of Aymeric Laporte at the back, coupled with the massive work rate from Kyle Walker, and the potential return of injury-prone left back Benjamin Mendy, should be enough to ensure that City's defense remains solid, though the addition of a new centre back stays crucially important. Alternatively, there have been rumours that Pep Guardiola might shift Fernandinho to the centre back position at some point. As such, one cannot rule out that possibility, especially considering the fact that Pep has been one tactically innovative coach who has had several successful experiments undertaken throughout the course of his managerial career. All in all, City all but look like they might go all the way once again and win it.
When you’re playing in the English Premier League and managed to amass a total of 97 points during the season surely you likely to win the league, right? Not necessarily, as Liverpool would attest. The Reds undoubtedly had one of the greatest campaigns in the club's illustrious history last season, winning the Champions League and coming within touching distance of a first-ever Premier League title since 1990. While they fell short last season, the Reds should be brimming with confidence going into the new season as they now surely know that the surest way of stealing the title from City is just to keep winning.
Liverpool have done pretty much the same as City in terms of strategy, save for the fact that they haven’t brought in any significant signings to strengthen the team further. However, Klopp will now be able to call upon the likes of Alex Oxlade-Chamberlain, Joe Gomez, Rhian Brewster and Adam Lallana, who all missed large chunks of last season through injury. So much so that, the quartet will act as new signings as alluded by the German. The team’s ability to keep their crucial three frontmen is commendable and shows a key element of continuity and belief in what the club can achieve. Furthermore, the return of players such as Adam Lallana and Alex Oxlade-Chamberlain from long injury layoffs will enhance the team’s depth especially considering the team’s rather lack of activity in the current transfer window. Nevertheless, Liverpool’s depth remains no match to City’s and considering that the team’s front three of Salah, Mane and Firmino played more than 90% of the team’s games, a cause for concern may arise in the event that one of these players gets injured as it might take some time for a suitable replacement to gel with the rest of the players. Still, the Reds remain huge title favourites especially if they are able to remain injury-free throughout the season.
Meanwhile, Chelsea, going through a host of changes during the current pre-season, will be hoping to remain in the top four whilst smoothly adjusting to the new philosophy coming in with club legend and new coach Frank Lampard. Being his first season as coach in the top flight league, much will be expected from the much loved Lampard and all eyes will be on him to ensure he is able to deliver with the players he has, especially considering Chelsea’s inability to sign new players until next summer. As such, Lampard will be hoping that a large number of his young players, most of whom have returned on loan from various clubs, will rise to the occasion and impress for the team. The likes of Mason Mount, Christian Pulisic and Tammy Abraham are expected to be heavily incorporated as key squad players that will be often called upon by Lampard to help the team. Furthermore, Lampard will be counting on the experience of players such as Kante and Azplicueta to settle the nerves of the many youngsters at the team’s disposal. However, the loss of Eden Hazard to Real Madrid has surely left a big hole in Chelsea’s attacking potent, and will require the club’s available attackers to rebrand their attacking style which has for a long time revolved around Hazard. What is worrying is that Chelsea have failed to find a reliable striker to bang in the goals since the departure of Diego Costa. Thus, Lampard might be forced to continue experimenting as he has done during pre-season, with the likes of Giroud, Batshuayi and Tammy Abraham all gunning to become the team’s frontman. While some are skeptical that Lampard’s lack of top flight experience might be exposed, others believe his appointment couldn’t have come at a better time where the team is looking to rebuild and transform itself once again, moving on from the much criticised ‘’Sarriball” which ironically got the team into the champions league one again, and further earned the team the Europa league trophy. Nevertheless, saying Chelsea are in for the title race might be too much of an ask especially considering the wholesale changes the club is going through. However, one cannot rule them out from producing a moment of magic and breaking into the top three. Nonetheless, being a transitional period for the club, Lampard will need time to make this Chelsea side gel and be able to compete. Therefore, anything more than a top-four finish and a decent Champions League run will most probably count as a bonus for the blues.
United have failed to impose themselves on the summer transfer window with only Daniel James and Aaron Wan-Bissaka arriving to the team at the time of writing this article. What is worrying about this United side is that the team’s signings from last season failed to exert themselves. For instance, Fred looked out of place in the team and seemed to be struggling with confidence at times, while Diogo Dalot only showed glimpses of his potential as he was kept out of the side by a questionable Ashley Young. Fast forward to the new season, one would have hoped for a busy transfer market for United but it looks like it’s pretty much the same old story just a different season. While the team has done well to sign a long term replacement for Antonio Valencia at right back in Aaron Wan Bissaka, the Red Devils have struggled to make progress in resolving other issues in key positions such as the centre back position and central midfield. Having considered the most number of goals in a season in the club’s history last season, one would have thought United would make it their primary objective to resolve the team’s defence but until now it has been more talk and less action. The rumours of Harry Maguire and Kalidou Koulibaly coming into the team have remained just that; rumours and most United supporters will be worried going into the new season knowing that they might have to continue with the tried and tested options of Chris Smalling and Phil Jones both criticized for being suspects at the back. Worse, the departure of the hardworking Ander Herrera at the middle of the park has opened a huge hole in United’s midfield that will prove costly if the team fails to sign a new midfielder before the close of the transfer window. Perhaps the possible arrival of Paul Dybala as part of an exchange for Romelu Lukaku might ease supporters' hearts and provide a glimmer of hope for United. Until then, it is highly unlikely that United have enough depth to challenge the likes of City and Liverpool for the title and bring it back to the theatre of dreams.
The challenges faced by United are not far-fetched from those faced by Arsenal. While most Gunners fans will be excited about the deadly attacking trio of new acquisition Nicolas Pepe, Pierre Emerick-Aubameyang and Alexandre Lacazette, there are still worries defensively for the Gunners. What is alarming is that the club’s authorities seem to be priotritising the attack over defence where it is an open secret that Arsenal has dearly struggled. Signing a highly-rated young winger for £72 million is commendable, and so is beefing up of the midfield through signing Dani Ceballos, however, history has shown us that the way a defence is setup is key for teams that go on to win the league. It is no secret that perhaps the signing of Pepe is what the Gunners needed, as an upgrade to both Iwobi and Mkhitaryan. But one would have thought that the positions of greater concern right now would be the team’s defensive areas. Interesting enough, Arsenal looked like they were addressing the team’s defensive issues when they signed defender William Saliba for £27 million, only to loan him back to his former club St Etienne. Quite ironic if you ask me, especially considering that the futures of captain Laurent Koscielny and German defender Shkodran Mustafi, hang in the balance. Unless the club signs quality defenders, this season might prove to be no different for Arsenal. Worse, the team is also facing a leadership crisis considering the departure of Aaron Ramsey, the unending problems between Unai Emery and Mesut Ozil and most recently, Laurent Koscielny’s want away antics. All these issues might hamper the team’s progress, ambition and may merely force the team to resort to only focusing on a top six target.
After enduring a crushing defeat to Liverpool in the Champions League final, Tottenham Hotspur have a right to feel down, but as the summer has progressed, the club hierarchy have acted well, and acted fast in the market to bolster the squad which though strong, has lacked depth in the past. In particular, the signing of Tanguy Ndombele, a wanted man across the whole of Europe, was impressive. Furthermore, the team’s ability to keep most of their key players especially Harry Kane and Christian Eriksen, both of whom were linked with moves to Real Madrid, will be important for Spurs going into the new season. Though they might miss the versatility of Kieran John Trippier at the right back position, they do have capable players such as Serge Aurier who can step up and put in a strong performance. Overall, having adjusted to their new stadium, coupled with the stability within the team, one cannot be faulted for vouching for this Spurs side going into the new season. They might lack the experience of winning the league, but they certainly have the pedigree to go all the way, as they showed us in the Champions League. Rule them out at your own peril.
So, who will be where when the season ends?
Overall, my belief is that City will retain the title, Liverpool will be again looking to take the title race to the wire and wrestle the title away from City, but will eventually succumb to the quality of this City side. Tottenham will remain the team that looks like the real deal but just don’t have it in them to win the title. The fight for the last top four spot will remain a scramble between Chelsea, United and Arsenal, I predict United to steal it, provided they’re able to sign Dybala and Maguire. Chelsea will come in at fifth position and Arsenal will close off the top six bracket. What are your top six predictions?