Thanks for stopping by this article. What follows is a Premier League preview from one of my close friends, Liam. He’s a bit of a football nut and we’ve been pals since we were 5. As many of you know I’m a Liverpool fan. He’s an ardent ‘United’ fan. This made for an ‘entertaining’ time at school and it’s fair to say i’m pleased they’re struggling a bit these days! 🙂 (well, not hitting their heady heights of the Fergie era) It’s all good fun and I do like a bit of lighthearted jousting. Anyway… he likes writing about football and I gave him free licence to come up with something for you all. Really it’s just a good read with the odd ‘tip’ thrown in. He is not a professional footy punter, so do with the info as you please. Hopefully you find it an enjoyable read while sipping a hot mug of your favourite brew.
Over to Liam…
It’s back, though in truth with all the international tournaments over the summer, football never went away! Here’s a look ahead to this season’s Premier League.
Twelve months ago I was rather confident that the Premier League title would be won by one of the two Manchester clubs, but as we know now – like an out of form striker – that was rather wide of the mark.
Even so, call it what you will (probably blind stubbornness!), I am going to stick with that suggestion for 2017/18.
And more assertively, it is the blue half of Manchester that have got my money behind them, despite my allegiances! At the time of writing, Manchester United have not done enough to bridge the gap from sixth position. That, of course, may change before the end of the month and is another reason why the transfer window should be shut as soon as the season begins – what you start with should be what you have got, but that is a rant for another day!
Manchester City, meanwhile, may still need a defender to cover Vincent Kompany’s certain fitness issues, but aside from that, they look ready to go. Pep Guardiola has improved his full-backs – a key position in any of the Spanish coach’s teams – remember Dani Alves at Barcelona or David Alaba at Bayern Munich?!
Bernardo Silva is also a very useful addition to what was already a potent attack, with strong suggestions Alexis Sanchez may also be arriving before the deadline passes.
One would also assume that a manager of Guardiola’s credentials and pedigree would learn from some of his tactical mistakes he made last season. Providing he has done that, City look to have the best shout. There is no huge value in this, with the bookies pricing them at 15/8, but that is just about right.
As for the chasing pack, I fear all is not well at Chelsea. Speculation continues to circulate that Antonio Conte is not happy with the club’s failure to land his main targets. On top of that, they have replaced Diego Costa with a Real Madrid reserve (albeit Alvaro Morata is a good player). Without Nemanja Matic they have no defensive screen – I am sure N’Golo Kante could do this (there is not much he cannot do!) but he does like to get up and down the pitch. And when you consider they have more matches thrown in courtesy of the Champions League, things will not be as rosy in the Stamford Bridge garden this time around.
Tottenham Hotspur fans will be sick of hearing it, but Wembley is going to be a problem for them – their Champions League campaign last season showed that. On top of that, Danny Rose will not be the only one in that dressing room feeling exactly how he has publicly admitted. When you go away on international duty and find out Jesse Lingard earns double what you do, it is little wonder that the Spurs players are feeling a bit down in the mouth and are starting to engineer moves away. Kyle Walker has joined Man City, Rose looks set to leave and Eric Dier – I have it on good authority – was desperate to join Man United after learning what he would earn at Old Trafford. Do not be surprised if Spurs miss out on the top four this season.
One would expect (and hope in my case) that Man United will close the gap this year, but they have not done enough yet transfer-wise. Romelu Lukaku should help himself to 20-30 goals, but he has only replaced Zlatan Ibrahimovic. Last season, Bournemouth scored more goals than Jose Mourinho’s men and that has not been addressed.
Even if Philippe Coutinho stays (which I get the impression he will for another season), Liverpool’s defensive and goalkeeper issues would still have me waking up in a cold sweat if I were Jurgen Klopp. With what he had at his disposal at the back last year, the German did remarkably well to guide Liverpool into the top four. They should still score plenty of goals – even if another centre-forward would be welcome – but they look like they are going to be ever so leaky again.
As for Arsenal, the same old issue arises – they still look to be three or four players short of being able to sustain a challenge. The squad is full of players that promised so much when they arrived, but have not kicked on from there. And if Sanchez does go before the transfer deadline, they would have serious problems.
Goals, Goals, Goals
Man United may not get my nod for the title, but they could well have the Premier League’s Golden Boot winner within their ranks.
Since he joined Everton in 2013, the only players to score more Premier League goals than Lukaku are Sergio Aguero and Harry Kane.
Now, it would not be unfair to anticipate that the big Belgian will get even more chances over the course of a season following his £75 million switch to United. Take Ibrahimovic – prior to his serious knee injury, he scored 17 Premier League goals for United, but the Swede did in fact miss a host of very, very good chances as well. His total should have been much nearer the 25 mark before he was struck down.
What Lukaku also has in his favour is that there are some factors that could end up hampering his main rivals. As mentioned, I expect Spurs to struggle with the move to Wembley, meaning Kane’s tally could be down on recent seasons. There is uncertainty over Sanchez’s future and whether or not Aguero will be first-choice at City, while Morata needs to adapt to the Premier League.
For Lukaku, though, the path appears to be a smooth one. At 4/1 the return might not quite be as big as his transfer fee, but it would be a nice little earner.
And staying with the goals theme, through gritted teeth (being a United fan) I have to speak of my admiration for Sadio Mane. I was not overly bothered when he joined Liverpool last summer, but he proved me wrong and the Merseysiders certainly missed him when he was unavailable.
In his first season at Southampton he scored 10 Premier League goals, followed by 11 the next campaign. He got 13 last term – despite injuries and appearing at the Africa Cup of Nations – so this time around surely 15+ is not beyond him? Sky Bet are offering 6/4 on this. Though, I would say this is dependent on Coutinho staying and continuing to load the bullets for him to fire.
Elsewhere, while I am not one of those believing that a return to Everton will reinvigorate Wayne Rooney for a whole host of reasons I will not bore you with, he could be a money maker against Stoke City on the opening day. The scouser has found the net seven times on the first day of a new season, which is more than any other player in the division, so it is worth having a bit of your hard earned cash on that.
As for Lukaku, he loves playing West Ham United and by chance, that is who Man United host on Sunday. He has scored seven goals in his last eight appearances against The Hammers, who I am also backing to nick a draw at Old Trafford. Three of the last five matches between the teams have ended all square and with Jose Mourinho still not seemingly overly sure on his best formation or personnel, West Ham at 7/2 for the draw could capitalise.
This may well end up looking like a very lazy and easy observation to make, but I just cannot see Huddersfield Town or Brighton & Hove Albion surviving their first seasons in the Premier League. By all accounts, the standard of the Championship was particularly poor last term and neither have done enough in the transfer market to convince me otherwise – Newcastle United will also struggle for the same reasons.
Do not get me wrong, I would like to see them prove me wrong and give it a real good go like Bournemouth did (and have continued to do so) since they were promoted to the top flight.
Unsurprisingly, there is no great value in tipping those three to go down, but I do have a couple of other teams to flag up as potentially being in danger.
Southampton have continually impressed me in recent years with their ability to keep churning out competitive teams, despite consistently losing their best players and managers.
However, I have a real sense that the events of this summer will be the straw that finally broke the camel’s back. They have yet another new manager in Mauricio Pellegrino, while their best player – Virgil van Dijk – will almost certainly not be at the club when the transfer window passes.
His exit, coupled with the quality of player that has departed the club in seasons gone by, has left the squad looking extremely threadbare. As already mentioned, there is still some time left for reinforcements, but if they do not come along, it could be a long, hard season down on the South Coast.
You cannot consistently lose your best players and keep your head above water, which is why their odds of 25/1 to go down are extremely appealing. And, if you are feeling particularly adventurous, the relegation treble of Brighton, Huddersfield and Southampton pays out at 200/1 with Sky Bet.
The other team that need to watch themselves are 7-1 shots Stoke City. The word is Mark Hughes is not popular among the fanbase and with the club struggling to add attacking players so far this summer, they could well get sucked into the dog fight come May.
I praised Bournemouth in the section above and rightly so. While I do not buy into the fairy-tale that has been portrayed over recent years – they have a rather wealthy owner after all – you nevertheless have to admire how they have gone about establishing themselves as a Premier League club. There are three bets I like regarding The Cherries.
1) Bournemouth to get more than 42.5 points – evens with William Hill. Eddie Howe’s men racked up 46 points last season, following on from the 42 in the previous campaign. And having added Jermain Defoe’s goals, a decent goalkeeper in Asmir Begovic and the promising Nathan Ake, racking up more than 42.5 points looks a shoo-in.
2) Bournemouth to finish in the top half and Brighton to finish bottom – 16/1 with Sky Bet. Bournemouth ended up in an impressive ninth place last year and looking at those that finished below them, none of those have yet made significant improvements to suggest they can break into the top half. Brighton, for reasons already explained, are likely to be in trouble. It will be a shoot-out between them and Huddersfield for bottom spot.
3) At least one goal to be scored in all of Bournemouth’s matches – 15/2 with Sky Bet. Just one of Bournemouth’s 38 matches ended goal-less last season. They like to play an expansive game, which leaves them leaky at the back. Who is to say they cannot go a whole campaign without a 0-0?
There is every chance Hughes will not be the Stoke manager come the end of the season, but there is another boss that seems to be much further out of the exit door at his club.
It was a surprise Rafael Benitez agreed to stay at Newcastle after their relegation, but to be fair to the Spaniard, he remained in situ and has got the club back in the Premier League.
Rumour has it, though, that all is not well on Tyneside – when is it?! Benitez is said to be extremely unhappy at the club’s failure to land his preferred transfer targets. Benitez will not want a season of fighting against relegation and is the sort of character that if he sees that happening, he will simply walk away – sooner rather than later. After all, with a track record like his, he would not be out of work for too long.
He is 4/1 to be the first manager to leave his post this season.
World Cup Bound
Now, in what has been essentially a look ahead to the new Premier League season, it may seem a little strange to start discussing next summer’s World Cup.
But, after a number of big-money signings during pre-season, there was a switch costing a modest £5 million or so that caught my eye.
Nathaniel Chalobah has decided, quite understandably, that his future lies away from Chelsea. We live in an era where managers are given very little time, therefore they have no interest in giving younger players the chance to bed themselves in. It is a risk not worth taking.
At his new club Watford, Chalobah will almost certainly play week in, week out, giving him the chance to showcase his talent in the Premier League on a regular basis.
He already has one big fan – Gareth Southgate. The England manager coached Chalobah during his stint in charge of the Under-21s and was not shy on numerous occasions in revealing how much of an admirer he was of the player’s talent and potential. To give you a big indication as to how popular Chalobah has been with the England coaches, he has featured 97 times at youth level – more than any other player ever.
Southgate also publicly encouraged Chalobah to ensure he would be playing more regularly this season, so the Watford move is bound to have gone down well.
He is 6/1 with Bet Victor to be on the plane to Russia for the World Cup, which given the reasoning above, is worth considering. After all, who would you rather see take one of the midfield places in the England squad – a potential talent like Chalobah, or Jake Livermore?
Enjoy the football. Liam
I hope you enjoyed that,