SO how will the Premier League table look at the end of May? Chris Graham (@chrisgraham79) had a go at calling the final standings.
Premier League | How They’ll Finish
Defending champions Chelsea head into the new season as favourites to retain their crown. The consensus amongst the many canvassed is that they can finish top again in May. I’m inclined to agree.
The Blues were eight points clear at the top of the table when the curtain came down last season and were never troubled in the second half of the season. Unlike their rivals they ground out points even when tiredness and malaise were a perfect.
Sunday’s Community Shield defeat to Arsenal may be a blessing in disguise for Chelsea backers as it may prompt Jose Mourinho to go into the market to buy another striker. Loic Remy and Radamel Falcao looked ineffective and that will concern him.
Crucially Mourinho has already won two consecutive English championships and he can repeat the feat in this new decade. Expect a closer tussle than last year but the Blues should still come out on top.
2. Manchester United
There are no excuses for Louis Van Gaal this year and after a stuttering campaign last season, things must improve this time round. Another fourth place finish shouldn’t be tolerated.
The Manchester club have once again smashed their way into the transfer market with the capture of Bastian Schweinsteiger, Morgan Schneiderlen and Memphis Depay amongst others. More may follow.
Van Gaal is vital this year, and one would think a second year in charge will hold him in good stead. The erratic nature of their form in the opening few weeks of his tenure last season should be expunged and the ride should be a lot smoother and fruitful.
We saw glimpses of a destructive, bold Manchester United towards the end of last season with Manchester City, Liverpool and Tottenham all beaten in consecutive weeks. More of those vibes will see them in the title hunt.
Arsenal were Arsenal last season. Patchy and inconsistent when it mattered yet fluent and fantastic when the heat was off and everyone was counting the days to crown Chelsea. Can it ever be any other way?
In fairness this might be Arsenal’s best chance for a few seasons. They kept all their top players and brought in a born winner in Petr Cech to help out on and off the field.
Sunday’s Community Shield victory was another step forward for the club and Wenger 2:0 and their rich squad seem confident of an authentic title tilt.
Arsenal’s mental fragility in The Matches That Matter may be quashed this season. But it ain’t no guarantee and while their remains concern I’ll happily swerve them in the title betting.
4. Manchester City
For the second time in three seasons Manchester City put up a pithy effort in defending their Premier League title. Level on points with Chelsea on New Years Day, City dropped off the pace and were even briefly overtaken by their clumsy neighbours in early-Spring.
The vibes don’t feel too good for me this time round as well to be honest. It all feels a bit staid. The manager, the creaking defence, the signings yet to make it count in a blue jersey.
This summer they’ve brought in Raheem Sterling and Fabian Delph so far and while they should have an impact surely more recruitment is required.
Is Manuel Pellegrini really the man to re-inspire his troops for another title push? I’m not so sure. This could be a dangerous drifting season for Man City as they (presumably) await the arrival of Pep Guardiola next summer.
A tough campaign for sixth place Liverpool last season, but wasn’t it always going to be that way? Their second place finish the season before was truly a blip and with Luis Suarez leaving the club a drop back was inevitable.
You get the impression Brendan Rodgers will need something in between those two seasons this time round. By golly, no one can accuse him of not having a crack at it during the summer transfer window. A swathe of new signings have been brought in to bolster the cause.
Christian Benteke, Roberto Firmino and Nathaniel Clyne look shrewd purchases but the wisest of all may be the wonderful mind of James Milner. The ex-Man City player will bring calm and experience to the club.
It’s a pivotal year for Rodgers and it may be that he fails to end the season in charge but this season should be a more fruitful one than last. Penetrating the Top 4 may be beyond the club though.
It’s been seven seasons since Tottenham failed to finish between fourth and seventh and that stat looks unlikely to be bust this time round. Last season felt like small progress for Mauricio Pochettino. A building block for this campaign had been registered.
It’s the defence that’s been the key focus of Pochettino over the summer with a whole heap of players purchased in the last couple of years thrown out the door. In their place have arrived Toby Alderweireld, Kieran Trippier and Kevin Wimmer.
Harry Kane remains on the White Hart Lane books but he faces big pressure in trying to replicate the heroics of last season. Will he rise to the challenge?
Tottenham look like they’ve moved forward just half a step over the summer. It’s simply nowhere near enough to put them in contention for a return to the Top 4.
7. Stoke City
Another excellent, reliable season for the Potters last year when they finished in ninth position for the second consecutive season. Four more points were secured a year on as well and it bodes well for this new campaign.
Ambition seems to be in the air at the Britannia Stadium and their summer purchases have certainly caught the eye. Ibrahim Afellay was the latest player brought in from Barcelona and he’ll sit alongside Bojan Krkic, Marc Muniesa and Moha El Ouriachi.
Their other signings look a mix of experience (Glen Johnson, Shay Given) and Premier League potential (Joselu, Marco Van Ginkel) that could add more steel to the club.
This will be manager Mark Hughes’ third season at the club and things look really settled and progressive at the Brittania. Expect further improvement from last season’s 54 point tally.
8. Crystal Palace
A season of two halves last year for Crystal Palace. The opening half was fraught with managerial changes and poor results and they entered 2015 in the relegation zone. Hours into the New Year Alan Pardew was appointed and Palace ended up finishing Top 10.
French international Yohan Cabaye was not a name people would associate with a side like Palace, but he’s come in from PSG to hook up with his ex-boss and it’s just the boost the club needs to take them onto a different level.
As well as Cabaye, the final third has been bolstered by the arrival of Chelsea’s Patrick Bamford and Sunderland’s inconsistent Connor Wickham.
The signing of Cabaye and the fact that Pardew has a full season at the reins means Palace look likely to be heading in an upwards direction this season.
Remember this time last year? Every man and their dog had written off Southampton as their players tumbled out the exit door, but they proved the majority wrong and had a fantastic season finishing in seventh place.
Once again there have been exits with Morgan Schneiderlin and Toby Alderweireld heading for Manchester United and Tottenham respectively but new faces have arrived in their place.
Jordy Clasie, Cedric Soares, Juanmi, Cuco Martina, Maarten Stekelenburg and Steven Caulker all look an intriguing mix and it would be foolhardy to question Ronald Koeman’s purchases after what he pulled out the hat last season.
The Europa League should have an impact on Southampton’s form as they look the kind of side to really go for it in the competition. Despite this they should be comfortable enough to finish in the Top 10.
Like their Merseyside rivals, 2014/15 was a bit of a comedown year for Everton. Fifth place and a spot in the Europa League were secured before they fell all the way down to 11th after a taxing year for the club.
Roberto Martinez faces a tough season with the Goodison faithful frustrated at his one-dimensional tactics and activity in the transfer market has certainly been quiet over the summer.
Gerard Deulofeu (who was so key to their success in 2013/14) has been brought in on a permanent basis and it will be vital that they keep hold of John Stones.
While other sides like Stoke and Crystal Palace seem to be pushing harder and harder to move up the table, Everton’s progress seems a little cloying at this juncture and it could be another mid-table season for the Goodison club.
11. Swansea City
A best ever finish for Swansea last year and a fourth consecutive term between positions eighth and twelfth. In many ways they (and Stoke) are the model clubs for newly-promoted outfits.
It’s been a fairly busy summer in the transfer market for Garry Monk as he bids to bolster his squad. Wilfried Bony’s departure for Man City in January has saw him swoop for Portuguese international Eder.
On top of that Andre Ayew (brother of Aston Villa’s new recruit Jordan) has joined as another striker as well as Franck Tabanou, Kristoffer Nordfeldt and youngster Ollie McBurnie.
While they’re unlikely to scale the heights of last season Swansea should be savvy enough to avoid getting involved in a relegation scrap.
12. Aston Villa
It was another season teetering on the brink for Aston Villa but Tim Sherwood got them over the line and to an FA Cup Final. Whilst they were awful in the end of season showdown Sherwood can be happy with what he achieved.
The honeymoon period is over now though and things are starting to get serious for the club. Christian Benteke has left for Liverpool and captain Fabian Delph to Manchester City. Things looked incredibly gloomy two weeks ago.
Since then though Sherwood has gone a spending splurge recruiting a number of players from the French league like Lorient’s Jordan Ayew. As well as that, exciting Blackburn striker Rudy Gestede has arrived from Ewood Park and all of a sudden things look a lot rosier.
I’ve been against Aston Villa the last two seasons but with this new-look side they may just surprise a few people in 2015/16.
13. Newcastle United
Another season, another soap opera at Newcastle, with Alan Pardew at the helm they got off to an awful start before picking up well in the late-autumn. Pardew then left for Crystal Palace and with John Carver in charge the Toon dropped like a stone, just avoiding relegation.
Over the summer former England manager Steve McClaren has taken charge and he’ll be looking to revive his career after a disappointing few years at Wolfsburg, Nottingham Forest and latterly Derby County.
His signings look interesting with Georginio Wijnaldum coming in from PSV and the enigmatic £13m striker Aleksander Mitrovic from Anderlecht. Both could have a real impact on the division.
If Newcastle’s new signings click then a Top 10 place looks a possibility but are things ever that simple in the North East?
14. West Brom
Like with Crystal Palace, things were getting a bit hairy for West Brom around Christmas time so they dumped Alan Irvine and sent for Tony Pulis. The former Stoke and Palace head honcho did what he does best and kept them in the division comfortably.
A quiet summer has ensued until the last few days when the club have got the chequebook out. James Chester has come in from Hull while WBA have picked up James McClean from now League One Wigan.
Goals were a problem last year with just 38 notched during the season and the signing of Rickie Lambert from Liverpool is an interesting one. Whether he can rediscover his fire after a wasted year at Liverpool is another matter.
It might not be straight-forward for West Brom this year but with Pulis in charge they should have the nous to avoid the drop but top half looks to be well beyond them.
Norwich are another club who had their season transformed at the halfway point of last season. Things weren’t clicking under Neil Adams and the club took a huge gamble in appointing Hamilton Academical coach Alex Neil.
The gamble paid off brilliantly and Norwich were promoted via the play-offs. Neil is just 34 years old and the weeks and months ahead for him will be a steep learning curve. Will he sink or swim?
Youssouf Mulumbu looks to be a shrewd experienced addition to the set up and Robbie Brady and Andre Wisdom should fit in well also at Carrow Road.
Norwich’s squad looks good enough to (just) escape relegation, unlike their manager many of them are experienced but it’s how well Neil performs that could be the key.
If you thought things were exciting at Newcastle…well at Watford they forced it up another level with four separate managers taking charge last season. Despite the chaos they were just seconds away from winning the Championship.
The man in charge on the final day of the season, Slavisa Jokanovic was turfed out during the summer and replaced by former Atletico Madrid manager Quique Sanchez Flores.
Flores has brought in 10 new players over the summer and almost all of them look experienced and of a high international standard. The coach has his own doubters to quash as well and it’s unlikely to be a smooth campaign.
The likes of Valon Behrami and Miguel Britos might just be the kind of players needed to instil belief and experience at the club and there’s no reason why they can’t put up a real fight for survival.
17. Leicester City
How did Leicester survive last season? Rooted to the foot of the table as late as the last few days of March they staged a remarkable fightback to end up finishing 14th. It was some achievement by Nigel Pearson – they rewarded him with the sack.
Experienced coach Claudio Ranieri has come in (much to the disgust of many) and will be desperate to prove the critics wrong. The former Chelsea manager does have a decent record but there’s just a feeling that time may have passed him by.
Leicester’s signings have caught the eye though. The likes of Shinji Okazaki and Christian Fuchs look promising as they bid to plug the gap vacated by Esteban Cambiasso.
It’s difficult to know what to make of Leicester and Ranieri but the fact remains they were woefully inept at getting results for the vast majority of last season and this manager may not be the answer.
18. West Ham
Whispers of a Top 4 push at Christmas were soon made to look foolish when West Ham collapsed after New Year and failed to even finish in the top half. Sam Allardyce has been replaced by ex-Croatia boss Slaven Bilic.
This could potentially be a very tough season for West Ham. If they qualify for the Europa League group stages it could spell danger for their league hopes.
Slaven Bilic has made a clutch of new signings (Angelo Ogbonna chief amongst them) but his record as a coach in recent years hasn’t been outstanding.
The Hammers move into the Olympic Stadium next season and the pressure of staying in the Premier League due to that are one of a number of negatives surrounding the club as the new season begins.
Bournemouth’s story last season was Walt Disney like at times. Young handsome prince sweeps sleepy town off it’s feet and wins the ultimate prize with seconds to spare. Ok, not quite Cinderella but you get the general idea.
Handsome prince Eddie Howe has brought in the highly-rated Tyrone Mings from Ipswich, Joshua King from Blackburn and Chelsea’s Christian Atsu.
With a squad boasting very little Premier League experience the recruitment of Sylvian Distin could be a crucial one. The ex-Everton and Man City player could be the face that the players look to for guidance in the months ahead.
The rise of Eddie Howe has been a huge one and like Alex Neil he faces his greatest ever test this season. Will his inexperienced players be carried by the sheer adrenalin of playing with the big boys or find themselves outclassed? I’d be hanging more towards the latter.
Yet another messy season for Sunderland as they flirted with relegation once again. Gus Poyet was booted out at the end of winter and in came veteran coach Dick Advocaat who kept them up.
The Dutch coach now has the reins full time and with it a huge challenge in trying to keep the side in the division. Is he capable of doing that over a full season rather than via a late burst at the end?
Purchased from Dynamo Kiev, Jeremain Lens has been brought in to bolster the attack and add much needed goals to the equation. Sunderland scored just 31 last season so the onus on Lens is huge.
Can Lens click at Sunderland? Will Advocaat’s new defensive signings bring stability? If both those answers are no then the Black Cats are heading for relegation.
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