After arguably the best ever Premier League season in 2013/14 was followed by a sensational World Cup, enter the utterly forgettable 2014/15 season. A Chelsea team that barely reached its potential after January waltzed the title without serious contest, whilst the top four and relegation spots were largely sealed early on, and without note as English teams all-round floundered in Europe. But this year we’re in for a proper title race, and possibly a departure from the three teams who have shared the league since 2004. The gap between 4th and 5th has never been so big, with the depth in quality in mid-table never so strong. Each of the promoted sides will genuinely add to the league, making for what should be an intriguing relegation battle. It’s good to be back.
2015/16 Season Preview and Predictions
1st – Arsenal
Outgoings: Miyaichi, Ajayi, Diaby, Maitland-Niles (loan), Podolski, Jenkinson (loan), Szczesny (loan), Dobson, Akpom (loan), Campbell* (loan)
The idea that Arsenal are finally ready to win the title is not unique to this season by any means, in most recent seasons they’ve looked like the best team in the league for about half of the season, and it’s natural to expect them to convert that extended form into a full term. I really think that they will do that this year though. The addition of Cech has been much lauded, and rightly so, and the Gunners’ team is now pretty much complete, and very nicely balanced – strong in all areas of the pitch, unlike its unreliable predecessors. Too much shouldn’t be read from pre-season, but Arsenal have been in fine form, looking far more convincing than Chelsea, and Champions or not, their midfield will certainly play some scintillating football this year. They would do well to add cover for Coquelin before the window is over, but I do get the sense this will be the year when Arsene Wenger finally sees the fruits of his years of toil, frugality and squad moulding.
Key Player: There are so many to choose from. Alexis Sanchez is a simply superb footballer, but he might take a few months to really hit his stride following a lack of a full pre-season due to his heroic exploits in the Copa America. Cech will be called upon in the big games, Ramsey, Cazorla et al will delight, but right now the single most important member in the squad is genuinely Francis Coquelin.
2nd – Chelsea
Incomings: Nathan, Falcao (loan), Begovic, Kenedy
Outgoings: Atsu (loan), Drogba, Kakuta, Cech, Pasalic (loan), McEachran, Brown (loan), Baker (loan), van Ginkel (loan), Kalas (loan), Bamford (loan), Luis.
It is easy to forget quite how imperious Chelsea were in the first half of last season, and predictions of an Invincible year (though obviously wide-of-the-mark) were not at all unreasonable. Their starting XI is still the strongest in the league, their defensive record peerless. However, just a couple of injuries to key players and large cracks start to appear. Chelsea do seem reliant on Costa staying fit, which is a massive gamble given his issues with his hamstring, and I’m sorry to say that everything I’ve seen from Falcao suggests that his season at United wasn’t a blip, and that he is gone as a player – regardless of what Mourinho thinks. If Chelsea focus on the Champions League, which I suspect Mourinho is keen to do, then they might take their eye off the ball, and their lack of squad depth may be exposed, providing a pathway for Arsenal to win the title. They certainly won’t be easy to beat, they’ll be the bookies’ favourites for good reason, they’ve got the best manager in the league and several world-class players, but I can see Arsenal just pipping them to the post.
Key player: Eden Hazard was deservedly PFA player of the Year last season, and will continue to star with his enthralling play and creativity. Chelsea were even more reliant on Nemanja Matic and Diego Costa last year though.
3rd – Manchester United
Incomings: Depay, Darmian, Schweinsteiger, Schneiderlin, Romero
Outgoings: Cleverley, Amos, Thorpe, Janko, Nani, Keane (loan), van Persie, di Maria, Valdes*
United only briefly truly convinced last season, but still made the top four with time to spare, van Gaal’s primary objective. The Dutchman will expect to win the title before his time at Old Trafford is out, though I don’t think it’ll come just yet, with the added pressures of European football back at Manchester United. United have certainly had a very productive transfer window, though the costly departure of di Maria after a solitary mediocre season is very disappointing. Darmian is a very solid purchase at fullback, whilst Schneiderlin has been one of the most consistently good players in the league over the last three seasons. In Depay the Reds have secured a player whose potential knows no bounds, and one who will light up the Premier League. They probably won’t win the league, but they’ll be in the mix, and much more like the Manchester United that everyone’s familiar with, that has been somewhat missing since Sir Alex Ferguson retired.
Key player: De Gea was United’s stand-out performer last year, but at the other end of the pitch, with the sale of van Persie, and the absence of Falcao, the onus will be on Wayne Rooney to step and score 20-plus goals as a centre-forward. He almost certainly will do.
4th – Manchester City
Incomings: Unal, Faupala, Sterling, Delph, Roberts
Outgoings: Sinclair, Milner, Boyata, Angelino (loan), Richards, Rekik, Dzeko
I would say that this would be very much a season of stasis for Man City, given that it would most likely be a case of Manuel Pellegrini seeing out the final year of his contract, with an ageing squad due to be completely overhauled with the arrival of Pep Guardiola next summer. But despite the repeated exclusives of Richard Keys and BeIn Sports, the Argentine has signed a new contract today, which rather changes my perspective on things. It doesn’t, however, change where I think City will finish. The core of the team that has won two titles in the last four years is still there, and they’ve made a habit of alternating between 1st and 2nd in the league, but that trend will be broken this season I fear. The key issues that saw Man City look so fragile and fall away so easily last year have not been addressed, and I fear that their squad needs a great deal more refreshing than it has seen if they are to catch up with Arsenal and Chelsea. Either that, or players such as Yaya Toure and Vincent Kompany need to rediscover the form that they so apparently lost last season.
Key player: Sergio Aguero is still the best player in the league when fit, in my opinion. His goals and sheer ability remain the single most compelling factor that suggests they might still have a shot at the title.
5th – Tottenham
Incomings: Wimmer, Trippier, Alderweireld
Outgoings: Archer, Ceballos, Khumalo, Paulinho, Holtby, Capoue, Kaboul, Stambouli
This has been a very quiet summer for Spurs – but in their case, that’s probably no bad thing, given the tumultuous nature of previous summers, and the fact that Mauricio Pochettino will want a settled squad to instil his philosophy onto ahead of his second season. The former Southampton manager made Spurs look a very well organised and cohesive side at times, though their season worryingly fizzled out after the Capital One Cup final. Without the quality to break into the top four, Spurs will probably have a very similar season to last year, though they may well go one better in a domestic cup, whilst playing a dynamic brand of football, which is probably the best they can hope for realistically, before their move into a larger and more commercially profitable stadium. The only concern might be if the form of Harry Kane severely declines (which I myself think is a distinct possibility), and there is a lack of goals in the team.
Key player: Harry Kane was of course Spurs’ star-man last season, and they’ll be hoping he can produce the goods again. Christian Eriksen and Hugo Lloris are just as important to the Tottenham machine though.
6th – Liverpool
Incomings: Milner, Ings, Gomez, Bogdan, Firmino, Clyne, Benteke
Outgoings: Gerrard, Johnson, Jones, Coates, Sterling, Wisdom (loan), Lambert
Brendan Rodgers will probably have to do better than 6th if he wants to keep his job, and there’s a good chance he will, or add a trophy to the mix. Liverpool have done well in the transfer market. Kind of. It does rather feel like we’ve been here before though, and large defensive deficiencies in their squad have still not been addressed (though Clyne is a very good signing, and Gomez has impressed in pre-season). They have got plenty of potent attacking players in their squad now, and the loss of Gerrard in reality will be absolutely minimal, if not a positive, but I can’t see them coming close to finishing in the top four.
Key player: With Gerrard out, a shaky defence, and a myriad of forwards, new-boy James Milner and new-captain Jordan Henderson will be relied upon to make Rodgers’ likely 4-3-3 formation work.
7th – Everton
Incomings: Cleverley, Deulofeu, Henen
Outgoings: Alcaraz, Distin, Long, Green, Kenny (loan), Junior (loan) Garbutt (loan), Lundstram
Everton fans were expecting another run at the top four last season, but were instead met with their worst domestic season in a decade. It was a huge disappointment, and one that called into question the true abilities of Roberto Martinez, a notion that seemed unfathomable to those who worshipped the ground the Spaniard walked on just a year previously. The Toffees’ starting XI is still very good, goalkeeper aside, and filled with young talent, but the trouble is that as confidence dropped, their style became all-too timid and predictable, and the squad is wafer-thin (and has already been affected by several injuries). If Martinez can get the three players in who he has publicly demanded, and keep hold of John Stones, Everton will improve significantly in the league this season, though probably without hitting the heights of Martinez’s first season. A domestic cup is the main goal for this year.
Key player: Romelu Lukaku will be massively relied upon for goals after a slightly lacklustre domestic season following his big money move. The addition of Gerard Deulofeu should help.
8th – Swansea
Incomings: Ayew, Tabanou, Nordfelt, Eder
Outgoings: Tate, Tremmel, Cornell, Richards
Swansea are a very likeable team, managed by a very likeable man in Garry Monk. Andre Ayew on a free is quite possibly the signing of the summer, and a mark of how the Swans’ stature in the game has improved, now they are a fully established Premier League club which expects to finish ‘in and around’ the top-half on a regular basis. Their side is very well balanced, and competent in all areas – not reliant on one individual to work, though not without several quality players. Swansea will look to nip in ahead of one of Everton, Spurs and Liverpool to qualify for the Europa League, though will probably just fall short. Don’t put it past them though.
Key player: Ki Sung-Yeung is probably the most underrated player in the Premier League, and will dictate play from deep, whilst Gylfi Sigurdsson will contribute both goals and assists from attacking midfield. Both would fit in at a Champions League club.
9th – Stoke
Incomings: Haugaard, Wollscheid, Joselu, van Ginkel, Given, Johnson, Afellay, Molina, El Ouriachi
Outgoings: Sorensen, Palacios, Wilkinson, Begovic, N’Zonzi
Much has been made of the fact that Stoke are the new Barcelona, and that Mark Hughes is an unprecedented revolutionary, but Stoke were still quite ‘Stokey’ last season. I’m being facetious, and of course it’s a very exciting time to be a Stoke fan, and similarly to Swansea they have a decent chance of breaking into the Europa league places this season. The Welshman’s done enough in football now, bar the odd blip, to show he’s a very competent manager, and Stoke will claim a few scalps whilst building on a solid base with a more progressive style again.
Key player: If Bojan can recover from his terrible injury, he will shine and delight again.
10th – Crystal Palace
Incomings: Cabaye, Bamford (loan), Wickham, Sako
Outgoings: Price, Garvan, Ramage, Dobbie, Thomas
Yohan Cabaye to Selhurst Park is the coup of the summer, and the jewel in King Alan Pardew’s crown. Palace are a very reliable team, who excelled under Pards, and capable of hitting any team on the counter with their pace and skill on the wings. Their average possession was the lowest in the entire league last season, so maybe they’ll become more of a flexible unit, capable of dominating games at home this year, but even if they don’t, they won’t be in a relegation battle. However, they’re still without a reliable goal-scorer – I like Bamford, but he’s not played at the top level yet, and the money spent on Wickham seems a massive waste.
Key player: Palace’s strongest area is their wingers, who are sharp, skilled and plentiful. Sako joins Zaha, Puncheon and Bolasie who all impressed last year.
11th – Southampton
Incomings: Juanmi, Soares, Stekelenburg (loan), Martina, Clasie, Caulker (loan)
Outgoings: Boruc, Hooiveld, Cropper, Rowe, Sinclair, Clyne, Osvaldo, Schneiderlin, Gallagher (loan)
This may be quite harsh on Southampton, and I wouldn’t be at all surprised if Ronald Koeman inspired them to a much higher finish. The Saints have proved in the past they can cope with losing their best players, and I have no doubt that Soares, Juanmi and Clasie in particular will be big successes – though Clyne and Schneiderlin are in my opinion by far the superior players that they have lost since their promotion to the Premier League. Adjusting to the Europa League, and the affect that the Thursday-Sunday schedule can have on a relatively small squad will be tricky, and probably will result in Southampton dropping a few places down the table, just for this season. An intelligent manager, good recruitment, European nights and a great academy still means there’s plenty to be positive about though.
Key player: Graziano Pelle will need to stretch his form over a whole season, whilst I’m really looking forward to James Ward-Prowse and Jordy Clasie featuring together.
12th – West Ham
Incomings: Randolph, Obiang, Payet, Ogbonna, Jenkinson (loan), Lanzini (loan), Dobson
Outgoings: Potts, Cole, Demel, Jaaskelainen, Nene, Downing
This could be anything from a push for the European places or a surprise relegation for West Ham, and will probably end up somewhere in between. Slaven Bilic seemed a good, ambitious appointment to me, and they’ve signed a few talented players, most notably Dimitri Payet, who – though not young – could easily play for any of the top four and is immensely talented. However, the fortunes of clubs after sacking Sam Allardyce has been well documented, and the Hammers have many average players on their books. They decided to throw away the Europa League, which if I were a West Ham fan I’d find infuriating, but it might just save them from being dragged into a relegation dogfight, which isn’t what they need ahead of their ridiculously fortuitous move into the Olympic Stadium.
Key player: Especially with Downing’s departure to Middlesbrough, Payet will be expected to show his quality weekly – which he will. Cresswell had a fantastic debut season, and will hope to replicate it again.
13th – Newcastle
Incomings: Wijnaldum, Mitrovic, Mbemba
Outgoings: Jonas, Taylor, Campbell, Streete, Ameobi (loan), Armstrong (loan), Woodman (loan)
Personally, I think Steve McClaren is a very good choice of manager for Newcastle, and I look forward to the style of football he could implement at St James’. They won’t be set for the Mike Ashley-promised glory, defensively they’ll still feature some, frankly, terrible footballers (though from what I’ve heard, Mbemba is far from that), but Mitrovic and Wijnaldum are two attacking additions that will excite fans and add goals and assists to the team. They’ll avoid a relegation scrap, and bring back some entertainment to the North-East while doing so. Probably.
Key player: (see ‘Incomings’, really). All three new signings will be expected to slot straight in and improve the overall ability of the team drastically. I hope Siem de Jong can enjoy what will essentially be his first season too, and Moussa Sissoko remains a very good player, when he can be bothered.
14th – West Brom
Incomings: McClean, Chester, Lambert, Gnabry (loan)
Outgoings: Dorrans, Jones, Roofe, Mulumbu, Baird, Davidson, Palmer (loan)
Try to imagine some more ‘West Brom under Tony Pulis’ signings than James McClean, James Chester, Callum McManaman (January) and Rickie Lambert. Serge Gnabry will add a touch of class, but the others embody West Brom under Pulis. Safe, unspectacular, hard working, mid-table. That’s where the Baggies will be, fans will be hoping Berahino can stick around and work some magic on occasion too.
Key player: Darren Fletcher will hope for a full season without injury, and he could be a quality operator for a team like West Brom. Berahino will naturally be vital if he stays too.
15th – Watford
Incomings: Prodl, Arlauskis, Holebas, Vydra, Capoue, Behrami, Nyom, Britos, Jurado, Berghuis
Outgoings: Bond, McGugan, Fabbrini (loan)
Many pundits have tipped Watford to go straight back down, with their incredible turnover of players and revolving door of managers. A number of their additions are quality players though, Holebas, Nyom, Capoue and Behrami stand out, but Berghuis is a Dutch youth international with a decent record in the Eredvisie, and Jurado’s pedigree is very high, with his experience as a creative force with Atletico Madrid and Schalke. Sanchez Flores is an interesting figure, early success with Getafe was rewarded with two solid seasons at Valencia, and later a Europa League trophy with Atletico. That was five years ago though, and Watford is a good opportunity for the Spaniard to get his career well and truly back on track. It might take time for their essentially new team to gel, but I can see the Hornets staying up with aplomb this season, and utilising the Pozzo’s ownership of Granada and Udinese to establish themselves as a consistent Premier League outfit over the coming years.
Key player: Troy Deeney will be hoping to mirror the likes of Charlie Austin and Danny Ings from last season, and show his quality at a higher level. Record signing Etienne Capoue is probably the pick of the myriad of quality players highlighted earlier.
16th – Sunderland
Incomings: Coates, Matthews, Lens, Kaboul, M’Vila
Outgoings: Ba, Vergini (loan), Wickham
There are many reasons to think this might be the season that the Black Cats’ luck runs out, and they are finally relegated. They largely only stayed up last season because of the inadequacy of others, and have a real absence of goals in their squad, having lost Wickham on top of that. They’ve not acted ridiculously strongly in the transfer window, signing five players, one of whom was on loan last season and one of whom is Younes Kaboul, but that may be wise given the window track record Sunderland have had regards to quantity versus quality in recent years. Advocaat staying was a large boost though, and if they can secure a striker before the window is out, I’m confident the experienced Dutchman can steer them to safety yet again.
Key player: Jermain Defoe is still the main, if not only, source of Sunderland’s goals at 32. Lee Cattermole is still a reliable presence in the heart of midfield, and Costel Pantilimon had a pretty good season as a first choice goalkeeper, which he’ll likely improve upon.
17th – Leicester
Incomings: Fuchs, Huth, Okazaki, Kante, Benalouane
Outgoings: Wood, Cambiasso
Ah, Leicester – it was all going so well. Now Nigel’s gone, and Esteban’s joined him, leading for troubled times at the King Power given the surprise replacement of Claudio Ranieri. Ranieri’s recent jobs have been questionable at best, and given that Leicester spent most of last season right at the foot of the table, have lost their much-loved hero at the helm, and their best player from last year there is serious cause for concern. I certainly expect Leicester to be in a firm relegation battle, though I think they’ll probably just survive. There’s still a fair amount of quality in their squad, and Okazaki is a good addition.
Key player: Leicester fans eulogise about the impact Robert Huth had on their season, and his signing was a very important one. Mahrez really caught the eye at times last season too.
18th – Norwich
Incomings: Dorrans, Mulumbu, Brady, Wisdom (loan)
Outgoings: McGeehan, Bunn
Norwich have kept things very low-key on the transfer front, choosing instead to trust the bulk of the side that got relegated in 2014, which is either very wise, or not good enough, depending on who you ask. Alex Neil, at just 34, is a very bright coach, who worked wonders with the team last season, winning the Playoff final in style. They’ve got a good chance of staying up, for his influence alone, but I expect they’ll fall just short.
Key player: Bradley Johnson flourished in the Championship last season, and it’ll be interesting to see if Nathan Redmond can convert raw talent into regular Premier League performances this year.
19th – Bournemouth
Incomings: Boruc, Federici, Mings, Atsu (loan), Distin, Gradel, Tomlin, King
Outgoings: Harte, McQuoid, Flavahan, Coulibaly, Partington, Addison, Fraser (loan), Pitman, Stockley (loan)
The job Eddie Howe has done at Bournemouth isn’t really describable, so I won’t try to in a small paragraph, as it couldn’t do the man justice, but needless to say, if there’s any man who has the ability and the charisma to keep the Cherries up, it’s him. Much like Burnley before them, Bournemouth have chosen to remain fairly conservative, trusting the players and team spirit that got them promoted – though they have signed a few players to boost their squad. All of their new signings have got the potential to be successes on the coast, though few if any can be truly relied upon to be consistently good in the Premier League. Bournemouth and Howe won’t just be pleased to be a participant in the Premier League, they’ll want to stay up – but because of how strong the bottom half of the league will be compared to the last few years, unfortunately I think they just won’t be able to.
20th – Aston Villa
Incomings: Sinclair, Richards, Bunn, Gueye, Amavi, Ayew, Crespo, Gestede, Veretout
Outgoings: Bent, Stevens, Weimann, Lowton, Sylla, Luna, Given, Delph, Benteke, Vlaar
This is quite a bold prediction, given how popular Tim Sherwood is with his friends in the media, and Villa’s revival under him last season. I really like Aston Villa as a club, but I fear for them, given that this is Sherwood’s first full season as manager, he’s seemingly tactically naïve, they lost their last three games of last season – at an aggregate of 11-1 – and have lost Benteke, Delph, Cleverley, Vlaar and Given from their already weak team of last season. From what I have seen/read/heard, several of their signings, particularly Jordan Amavi, have the potential to be good players, but they are almost without exception unproven in the Premier League, and are being immediately heavily relied upon to keep the team up in the Premier League. That combined with the enigma that is Sherwood, means that Villa this season will be utterly brilliant, or an unmitigated shambles, and sadly I fear it’ll be the latter.
Key player: Ciaran Clark recently signed a new fiver year deal and is highly thought of by the Villa faithful. If Carlos Sanchez can replicate his form in the Copa America then Villains will be in for a treat too.
Player of the Year – A three-way tussle between Sergio Aguero, Alexis Sanchez and Eden Hazard will be won by top-scorer Aguero.
Young Player of the Year – Memphis Depay will collect the award in his first season in England, ahead of English duo John Stones and Alex Oxlade Chamberlain.
Manager of the Year – Garry Monk will be the well deserved fashionable, ‘left-field’ shout, but the award will be won by Arsene Wenger, who at 65 will probably retire basking in the glory and respect he has earned over many, many years.