Are you ready for some Association Football? After one of the most thrilling World Cups in recent memory, I certainly am. The best teams in English soccer kicked off last Friday with Manchester United besting Leicester City by a solid but unspectacular 2-1 margin. Much like the first week of NFL games, the opening of the Premier League campaign should be celebrated by jumping to conclusions and the making of rash predictions. Who am I to buck tradition?
The Top Four
Besides chasing after the fancy Barclays trophy for finishing first, the top four in the Premier League qualify for the UEFA Champions League tournament. Facing off against the best teams in Europe is a profitable privilege, Just ask Chelsea, who fell on their face in a 0-3 debacle against Newcastle to close last season in 5th.
- Liverpool: Let’s start our rash predictions right at the top. The Reds spent a bundle over the transfer window adding talented midfielders like Fabinho, Naby Keita, and Switzerland’s World Cup hero Xherdan Shaqiri. Adding Allison in front of net plugs one of the biggest holes in their defense. The electric front line of Mane, Firmino and Mo Salah returns intact to terrorize keepers around the league. This might finally be the year for Jurgen Klopp to push his men across the finish line. Unless these guys have a say…
- Manchester City: Last years champions weren’t as splashy with their spending as the Reds, but Pep Guardiola’s squad will welcome Ryad Mahrez to their attacking midfield, joining Kevin DeBruyne and Leroy Sane. Kun Aguero will compete for the Golden Boot as usual. Captain Vincent Kompany, will lead a defense that has to play perfectly considering it’s often just the 4 four of them covering the break with all those midfielders attacking. And that’s the crux of the season. Last year City played practically the perfect season. Repeating that kind of performance is simply unlikely. Some regression to the mean is inevitable. Plus they may be distracted by that shiny Champions League trophy they are also chasing.
- Tottenham Hotspur: The Spurs became the first team in PL history to make not a single signing in the summer transfer window. Instead, they focused on extending their talented young core and not disrupting the chemistry they have been building. Harry Kane, the top scorer in the World Cup just turned 25, Christian Eriksen is just 26, and Dele Alli is twenty freaking two. The Spurs played well in the last Champions League and may be willing to settle for a good run there, competing for the domestic cups and continuing to solidify a solid team with an eye for long-term success. It’s not fancy, but it’s a plan. And if either of the top two teams implodes, they might be able to use the savings to make a big splash with a midseason signing in January.
- Manchester United: This pick pains me because I don’t really think they deserve the spot. Jose Mourinho spent the summer feuding with his ownership, demanding an upgrade at center back, which shouldn’t fill the current defenders, Victor Lindelof and the talented Eric Bailly with much confidence. World Cup winner Paul Pogba is the new captain and is trying to put on a brave face, but you can’t seem to avoid “Pogba is unhappy” stories in the press. The team has too much talent to fall completely out of contention. Heck, they had 80 points last year to place second. But chemistry is important in the top tier and if they don’t get all these egos to gel into a team they may leave an opening for the rest of the league.
- The Rest of the League: Ok, in reality, the rest of the league aren’t even chasing one of these spots. Two years removed from their 1st place 16/17 season Chelsea are scrambling after firing their manager Antonio Conte. They added some good players, Jorginho came over from Napoli and Mateo Kovacic on loan from Real Madrid, but it is unknown how the Blues will react to new manager Maurizzo Sarri. Arsenal is also working with a new man up top, as the legendary Arsene Wenger retired in the offseason. Other teams that might flirt with the top four could be Leicester City or Everton.
The Bottom Three
At the bottom of the table, which teams will end their season with the heartache of relegation?
- Cardiff City: Of the three teams promoted from the Championship after last season, the plucky Welshmen of Cardiff are the best candidates to go right back down. The Bluebirds simply don’t have Premier League talent and play a very backwards long ball style that won’t crack modern defenses.
- Huddersfield Town: The Terriers dramatically staved off relegation in the last game in 17/18. They will need a lot of luck to repeat that feat. I’ll be rooting for them, but simply don’t see a way for a team with no scoring threat to compete with the big boys.
- Watford: Their best player, Richarlson, is scoring goals for Everton now, and they have a moose on their logo but their nickname is the Hornets. Makes no sense, off you go!
So there are my bold predictions. There will be other stories to follow over the season. Can Wolves and Fulham surprise in their return to the top flight? How will plucky Burnley react to the experience on the continent in their first ever Europa League tourney? I’ll be tuning in each weekend to find out and report back!
“From our Haus to Yours”