So the new premier league season is nearly upon us. It feels a little too soon, particularly after England’s exploits at the Euros. Personally, we at The MALESTROM are also big cricket fans, we love whiling away the summer months absorbing the challenge of test match cricket up and down the country. But that’s a bit of escapism, a game that sustains its moral conduct and can throw up surprises where they never looked likely – Yasir Shah anyone? Heroes become zero’s ever so quickly. He took wickets on a traditionally flat Lords wicket, where even the great Shane Warne laboured but is now struggling to find the mark. What a fantastic series it’s been. Let’s hope the final test at The Oval delivers more of the same, but we digress.
No, it’s the Premier League season and its elite clubs making the headlines as per. And for all the hysteria and hyperbole of the pre-season friendlies and the summer transfer window, it’s actually building up to being one of the most gripping seasons in many a year.
The big boys look like they’ve learnt the lesson that Leicester so profoundly taught just a few months ago. N’Golo Kante has joined Chelsea for what right now looks like a modest 32 million pounds. Irreplaceable? Well given that nobody knew who he was twelve months ago, let’s not write off Ranieri’s men just yet.
So who will win what looks on paper like being the most competitive season of Premier League football to date? We’ve got Manchester United down as our favourites as it stands. With Man Utd’s transfer activity thus far, and more significantly the acquisition of Jose Mourinho to the role of gaffer, surely United are going to be in the reckoning come May 2017.
With an attacking squad consisting of Ibrahimovic, Rooney, Martial, Rashford and slightly deeper Mkitharyan, Pogba and Mata (if he stays after The Charity Shield debacle). And holding players the like of Carrick, Schneiderlin and Fellaini – they all of a sudden look like a serious proposition. Consider the names of Herrera, Blind, Depay, Valencia, Young and Lingaard, Januzaj, have gone unmentioned (presumably, many of these will be shipped out) and add a sprinkling of Mourinho belligerence, and it’s hard to make a convincing argument against the squad United are building.
Of course, Pep Guardiola will hope things pan out differently, and for those and there are many, that have followed his managerial career both at Barca and Bayern, it seems inevitable that Man city will be a force. His reputation precedes him, however, this season could prove a moment too early. An excellent run in Europe would not surprise – where Guardiola feels so at home – but the Premier League is an unpredictable beast. Add to that the serious reshaping of the City squad, so clearly needed, made harder by the enormous wages paid to good not great footballers, and accept he’s got a definite settling in period ahead. With John Stones signing on the dotted line from Everton- it appears Guardiola is building a whole new team, could there be some big name casualties to come?
Arsene Wenger is the kind of guy, who’d be the last man standing in a Royal Rumble, by simply keeping out of the way. Notwithstanding his contribution to English football is palpable and by all accounts, he’s an admirable, likeable chap. A purist and pragmatist in equal measure, it clearly baffles Arsenal fans, why he’s so insistent on beating his rivals the hard way. Arsenal lacks nothing in their arsenal – money, stadium, support, a manager who knows what it’s like to be invincible. Your guess is as good as ours, but they’ll finish in top four again, right? Maybe not this time. Granit Xhaka is a good signing, sign a centre-half of similar stature and anything’s possible, as it always is in Wenger’s World.
A short dash across North London leads to the doorstep of Mauricio Pochettino and his great pretenders. A top quality coach, who has improved every year he’s spent in English football. Tottenham is in need of a stronger squad which they look to be building, and they’ve got a very good young team to build upon. Based on last seasons run it’s hard to see how they won’t improve, although replicating a third place finish, even with an enhanced squad will be a challenge, especially given how much money is being spent elsewhere.
And so to Liverpool. Jurgen Klopp appears to be an outstanding person. His character seems unquestionable. Promising to build a team that can challenge, losing the ego’s along the way, shunning big name, big money signings – Mane aside, is this his year? A closer inspection of Liverpool’s squad provides some troubling questions for the German. A lot of players fighting to play in an area of the pitch there’s no room for them all to occupy, even at an expanded Anfield. Coutinho, Firmino, Mane and Lallana can’t excel when they want what the other has – the ball in the final third, centre of the pitch.
It’s reminiscent of a battle scene from Game of Thrones, something or someone has to give. Can and Grujic are big strong men, providing Hoddle and Viera like qualities, although as yet unproven, they’re exciting and if Liverpool are to do anything this season, it appears one of those might hold the key. Why? Because we know how good the others are, and last season it was only good enough to lose Liverpool two cup finals. Verdict – Klopp, Lovren, Can and Firmino will need to be at their very best to make the top four.
Another team lacking European football is Chelsea. Make no doubt about it, Antonio Conte is the real deal. A more underrated footballer in his time, you’d struggle to find – even though everyone said he was great! Tenacious, hardworking, bullish, tactically astute, Chelsea as always have loads of money, there’ll be up there, make no mistake, but it may take them until Christmas to get going. With the additions of Batshuayi and Kante and if Hazard plays to his highest level again having gone missing last season there’ll certainly not be far off.
It’s a daunting prospect to say who’ll be lifting the trophy come May, it’s like picking a winner for the National. And on that note what chance for last years un-fancied winner? Leicester’s achievement was remarkable, so much so it’s impossible for them to drop off the map. A repeat performance is not going to happen – because they taught the big boys a lesson – and they’ve taken note and spent big, very big. Their legacy – well you can be sure all will be looking over their shoulders because shocks will always be possible thanks to Leicester. Stand up Koeman, Hughes, Pardew et al. It sounds ridiculous, right? Leicester were 5000-1 this time last year.
It’s hard to look past United in the short term. As for the long term, well that’s a game every manager worth his salt can sell and sell they will, which leads us to next summer. Who’ll win the Premier league in 2017-18? Oh God help, it’s all too much.
The MALESTROM’s predicted top six:
Who do you think’s going to be up there next May? Have your say in the comments.