TWO titles in a row for Chelsea? Chris Graham (@chrisgraham79) tackles England’s top division.
Premier League | Outright Winner
A disclaimer. With still a month to go before the transfer window closes there looks to be the possibility of more big name signings turning up at the key contenders. That may affect the odds and the perception of that respective team’s chances but overall I’m fairly happy with what I’m putting down here. We may even do an updated article the day after Deadline Day. But for now…
Last season was pretty dung wasn’t it? Chelsea felt robotic under Jose Mourinho, clunking and grinding their way to victory after victory in the post-Christmas period. They went four months without winning a game by more than one goal. Extraordinary.
Defending champions Manchester City also slowed down after Christmas, but unlike Chelsea they got out of the habit of picking up points as well. A surprise 2-0 home defeat to Arsenal in mid-January set things off and within weeks they’d lost touch of Chelsea, were humiliated by Middlesbrough in the FA Cup and were dumped out the Champions League by Barcelona. Manager Manuel Pellegrini looked doomed.
Arsenal were just Arsenal. Absolutely superb when the pressure was off but never really troubling the judge at any point. Louis Van Gaal had an average, erratic start to his tenure as Manchester United manager but unlike their city neighbours the smiles grew wider as the season progressed. Liverpool had a dreadful start and end to a season that turned out to be the horrid comedown from the oh-so-close heady saucer-eyed trip of a lifetime in 2013/14.
So where do we stand now? Over the summer it’s been firm rivals Manchester United and Liverpool that have been beefing up their squad while the other three have been playing it cool and assessing their options.
Chelsea won by a comfortable eight point margin last season and I’m not sure I’ve seen enough to convince me they can be overhauled. Radamel Falcao has come in to replace Didier Drogba and you can imagine Mourinho will be gagging to get the Colombian clicking again just to give the middle finger to Van Gaal who failed to revive his form.
The Blues were very lucky with injuries last season and if Diego Costa’s dodgy hamstrings tweak more seriously this time round they could be seriously light up front. Loic Remy isn’t up to leading a side like this and we’re all aware of the gamble with Falcao. Will Chelsea strengthen in the final third before the window shuts?
John Terry was an inspiration last season but does he have the durability at his age to go through a whole season unscathed again? John Stones looks on his way from Everton and that will ease any issues there.
Another pro-Chelsea point for me is that Mourinho knows what it takes to defend the Premier League. After his debut season win in 2004/05 he guided the West London side to an easy victory the following season.
The only side I could see overthrowing Chelsea were Manchester City but nothing the Eastlands club have done since the end of last season fills me with any sort of positivity. They finished eight points ahead of Man City last season and in truth I can see that increasing in 2015/16.
Yes, Man City give me brewers droop this season. Not an ounce of sexiness, just staidness and staticity. For starters I’m astonished Manuel Pellegrini is still in office. It really felt like there was a disconnect between him and the players in the second half of last season and it looks dangerous keeping him on.
The chat of course is that City are waiting for Pep Guardiola next season and the Chilean is simply keeping the seat warm at the moment until then. That may be true but it’s an incredibly risky thing to do. Perhaps I’m being harsh on Pellegrini, after all he did win the title the season before last, but I just get the impression that the chemistry is no longer there with him and the club.
The new (senior squad) recruits City have brought in number just two. Raheem Sterling and Fabian Delph. Hardly the names we expect from this rich club. Apologies, Sterling could indeed be special but his form dipped last season and he clearly looks a long term buy.
When you look at the Man City team it’s littered with players with question marks against them: Vincent Kompany (declining), Fernando (top class?), Wilfried Bony (yet to click in a City shirt), Eliaquim Mangala (hasn’t fitted in well), Martin Demichelis (turns 35 before Christmas) and Yaya Toure (no spring chicken either at 32).
I just don’t like the look of Man City this season and if Sergio Aguero gets injured (like we saw in January this year) then all sorts of shit could hit the fan.
Arsenal eh? Here we are again. Excellent pre-season, tipped by a few to taste glory this season, I’ll politely swerve. I can see a further improvement on last year but expect them just to fall short.
The days of Arsenal selling their crown jewels seem over but there remains a concern over their ability to grind and get the better of their title contenders. Perhaps their 2-0 victory at the Etihad in January was a watershed moment but I’m not yet convinced.
League results against the Top 5 over the last two seasons are frightening: P16 W2 D7 L7. Those figures simply have to improve in 2015/16 and bringing in Petr Cech and the influence of Copa America winner Alexis Sanchez can only help.
I remain unconvinced though that the North London club have the mental strength to fully thrive in the heat of a title race. On top of their Top 5 record the way they meekly and pathetically exited the Champions League to Monaco in March was sheer self-parody.
Manchester United intrigue me. Louis Van Gaal will surely be far more comfortable in his post now with a year under his belt. The Dutch veteran is known for improving from Season 1 into Season 2 and that could reap dividends for the Old Trafford club.
Their signings have certainly caught the eye and there’s surely more to come. The Manchester club seem intent on financially bulldozing their way back to the top and with the likes of Bastian Schweinsteiger, Morgan Schneiderlin and Memphis Depay recruited they look a far beefier outfit.
There remains a doubt over their very ordinary defence though and it’s surprising more hasn’t been done to patch that up over the summer. Having said that despite the weakness in personnel they did only concede 37 goals last season, one fewer than their city rivals.
At the prices and at this particular moment it’s Manchester United who fill me with the greatest desire to invest in them. More signings should follow and they should be able to build on some of those outstanding performances at the end of last season (4-2 v Man City, 3-0 v Tottenham and 2-1 v Liverpool).
Liverpool also raise the eyebrows. Out goes Raheem Sterling, in comes a barrel-load of new players including Christian Benteke, James Milner, Nathaniel Clyne and Roberto Firmino. I wouldn’t claim to be an expert on the latter but they all look positive recruits.
The drop off in league goals last season was alarming. 101 to 52 in one season but Benteke should address that. I’m somewhat surprised to see his signing mocked in some quarters. This is a man who’s hit double figures in the league the last three seasons whilst playing for the most dull, lifeless side. He should thrive if he avoids injury.
James Milner will bring a calming influence to proceedings and Nathaniel Clyne will settle a defence that’s conceded more than a bottom half team in both the last two seasons.
Liverpool should improve from last season but whether that’s enough to see Brendan Rodgers still in his post by this time next year is debatable.
Onto Tottenham…actually let’s leave it there.
English Premier League – Chelsea to win the Premier League (6/4 Bet365)
English Premier League – Chelsea/Man Utd Straight Forecast (8/1 Bet365)
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