English Premier League 2018-2019: Another Runaway?
The 2018/2019 English Premier League (EPL) starts tomorrow with Manchester United hosting Leicester at Old Trafford. So with it brings another season of the best soccer league in the world (UEFA Champions League (UCL) is a different category). All soccer fans know that the league was decimated by Manchester City last season.
(You can discuss this on the BSL Board here.)
City set all kinds of EPL records last season, setting marks for wins, points, goals, and differential. Not to mention an 18 match unbeaten streak at one point. Every fan with a pulse knew the season was decided by the winter break. The league title was going to be City’s, the rest of the season was played out to see who else would qualify for the Champions and Europa Leagues. With such a deep team the question for this season is a repeat in the cards or will some other side rise up and unseat them? Well we’ll get a first look at Manchester City on Sunday as they open their campaign on the road in London against Arsenal. A match featuring two stars (pictured above) captain’s Pierre-Emerick Aubemayang for Arsenal and City’s Sergio Aguero.
So lets take a look at the upcoming season.
Manchester City – Etihad Stadium
We’ll get to the bottom line straight away. Manchester City should win again. They are just an incredibly deep team. In fact there is a pretty good chance that their second 11 would be good enough to finish in the top 5 or 6! Barring injuries, a surprise uprising by another club, or a total flop, they will hoist the EPL Trophy next May.
The biggest move during the offseason was the signing of Leicester City midfielder Riyad Mahrez for a club transfer fee record of $101M. Their biggest losses? Third string keeper Joe Hart and part time midfielder Yaya Toure. The net here is a huge gain for City. Manager, Pep Guardiola said in an interview yesterday that “they can be better.” Not good news for their opponents. They are stacked once again and I suspect that they will not only win the EPL but make a deep run in the UCL.
Liverpool – Anfield
This side finished fourth in the EPL last season and fell just short in the UCL final losing to Real Madrid. Liverpool’s run last year was fueled by an incredible attack with Mohamed Salah who set an EPL record with 32 goals and Roberto Firmino and Sadio Mane. That attacking trip each scored double digit goals in the UCL! That is a formidable attack. Their weakness last season was in the back. At times they struggled to keep opposing teams from scoring so to correct that they brought in Brazilian keeper Allison and midfielder Fabinho and Guinean midfielder Naby Keita. These three additions should bolster the defensive end of the field and allow the front runners to continue to do their thing.
Liverpool should finish way up in the EPL table and could be a team that pushes Man City for the league title.
Manchester United – Old Trafford
Last season was a mixed bag for United. While they finished second in the EPL. They qualified for this years UCL which is important both financially and for their fans. But they struggled at times last season especially with an apparent feud between Manager Jose Mourinho and their star midfielder Paul Pogba. Mourinho was critical of Pogba for not playing to his potential and lack of effort. And I agree with that assessment. For those that watched the recent World Cup you saw the Pogba that United fans were hoping for when he joined the club. If Pogba has figured it out and plays this season like he did this summer for France then it could be a very good season for United.
They are one of the deepest sides in the world and got better over the summer transfer window signing Brazilian midfielder Fred. He is not the most creative player on the field but what he gives you is 90 minutes of solid play from end to end. And you have to love a guy who simply goes by Fred! The biggest question for United is will they succomb to the Mouinho curse. Historically in his third year as a manger his clubs have faltered. I think they get past that United will be among the leaders in the EPL. If for no other reason that their side has seven players who were on World Cup sides that played in the semi-finals.
Arsenal – Emirates Stadium
Arsenal finished a disappointing sixth last season and after a long long run at the helm, Arsene Wenger is gone replaced by former French club Paris Saint-Germain boss Unai Emery. First thing in line for Emery will be to figure out how to get the Gunners to play better on the road. They only had one road victory last season and that came on the last day of the campaign. They are pretty stacked in midfield and in the attack. If Emery can develop a system that combines those pieces, especially Mesut Ozil and Aubemayang they could find themselves back into the UCL for the 2019/2020 season.
Chelsea – Stamford Bridge
Chelsea won the 2016/2017 EPL title in their first season under Antonio Conte then dropped clear down to fifth place last year amid a lot of controversy. Conte openly expressed his dissatisfaction with the clubs transfer policy. At one point they suffered consecutive three goal defeats to mid table squads and ultimately failed to qualify for the UCL. This lead to Conte being sacked and the hiring of Maurizio Sarri from Italian side Napoli.
The biggest off season news, and it happened only recently is the loss of keeper Thibaut Courtois the standout Belgian. Courtois basically forced Chelsea to approve a transfer to Real Madrid (yes the rich get richer) and although they brought in Spaniard Kepa Arrizabalaga its a definite blow for the Stamford Bridge side. Expect some early season stumbles as the players get tuned into whatever system Sarri has them playing but they are a solid club led by Belgian midfielder Eden Hazard. They will get on the same page sooner than later and should have a decent year and could move up enough to qualify for next years UCL.
Tottenham – Wembley Stadium
The Spurs finished in third last season mostly on the scoring punch from Harry Kane who has a remarkable 105 goals the last four seasons. The short for this side is the proverbial good news/bad news. The good news is they haven’t lost any players through the transfer window. The bad news is they haven’t gained any players though the transfer window. So Manager Mauricio Pochettino has a well tuned squad for his system. The players know their roles and those of their teammates. The problem is they probably don’t have the horses to be up near the top of the table. They have some talent, just don’t think they have enough. And there have been rumors swirling for awhile that Pochettino may be leaving.
Everton – Goodison Park
Everton finished in eight last season and will be working to move up to the top seven meaning a qualification for UCL or Eurpoa League (much more likely). Everton had pretty nondescript season last year not making much noise. Well that’s not quite accurate. There was one place they made a lot of noise and that was with the referee’s whistle! They led the EPL last season amassing an astounding 448 fouls. Thats a lot of whistles blowing in 38 matches. Everton will rely on a stout defense led by England’s #1 keeper Jordan Pickford. Pickford was simply outstanding in the World Cup and if he continues to improve Everton could surprise a bit. Much will depend on how well defender Seamus Coleman has recoverd from his broken leg. If he is in form they could be solid in the back. Their attack relies on Icelandic playmaker Gylfi Sigurdsson and he’s a good one.
Time will tell if new Manager Marco Silva can build a strong side but I am pulling for them. Everton has historically been one of the clubs in the EPL who has given American players a shot bolstering the careers of a few names you might know…Landon Donovan, Brian McBirde, and Tim Howard.
So those are my predicted top seven. The top four qualifying for the UCL and the next three the Europa Leage.
So are there other sides that could challenge for one of the top seven spots? Crystal Palace, West Ham United, and Newcastle United could, if a lot of things fall right, make a challenge for a Europe League spot. The problem these sides, as well as the rest of the league, is that they just don’t have the resources to invest in the talent they need to really challenge the big clubs. This means they really need a combination of some of the big clubs faltering at the same time that their youth programs develop some top flight talent. It happens and one needs look no further than several years ago when Leicester City won the EPL. In this group Crystal Palace seems to be the one most likely to surprise but to do so they have to avoid a start like last year. The set a EPL record by starting the season with seven straight losses. And if they wasn’t bad enough, they failed to score a single goal during those seven matches. Ouch!
As to the rest of the league the season boils down to one of avoidance. As in avoiding relegation. In the next set of sides I see Fulham, Leicester City, Wolverhampton, Southhampton, and Burnley solid enough to stay in the EPL but probably not strong enough to challenge for a top seven spot.
Then the rest. Fighting it out to avoid being relegated. Those clubs being Brighton, Bournemouth, Watford, Huddersfied, and Cardiff. They will fight over the length of the 38 match campaign to try and stay out of relegation space (the bottom three).
EPL fans in the US can again watch all 380 matches on the NBC family of channels with most being shown on NBC Sports with the remained on CNBC, USA, or NBC. And the first match kicks off tomorrow at 2:55 EDT. Go United!!