james debate
james debate

Saturday 30 December 2017

debbie debbies end of year awards 2017 best films music
The year was 2017. He was a twenty-something like any other, dreaming of his heroes and in love with a girl. But on a thunderous night along a ragged coast, a mysterious red car came to him, its power lighting his eyes blood-red.  It was at that moment that he knew what he had to do, an all-encompassing review of the world today, the blog post to end all blog posts. It is time once again for The Ephemeric's famous annual tradition. It's The Debbie Awards.

2016, as you may recall, was notable for being the year in which the universe began slowly imploding in on itself. 2017 by comparison has put things in perspective. As the world around us descends into ever greater levels of comic absurdity, life goes on, and even thrives. As always, The Debbies serve as a record of all that is good and noteworthy. Artistic endeavours, technological accomplishment, the pulse of business and politics. This event is about celebrating the best that human creativity and ingenuity has had to offer.

So without further ado, let the curtain fall upon 2017 as we begin our definitive review of the past 12 months:

2017 Debbie Awards

Cinema & TV

1. The Debbie for TV Show of the Year 
Winner: Master of None (Netflix)
Runners Up: Stranger Things 2 (Netflix)

master of none netflix best tv show 2017

2017 has been an excellent year for TV. The quality we've seen once again from the likes of HBO, Netflix and Amazon truly marks a golden age for the medium, and perhaps for the first time represents even a greater relevance than cinema. Ultimately there was one show which stood out across all categories. The second season of Master of None really was something special; smart, endearing, and endlessly bold in its artistic vision. You can read what I had to say at the time via the above link, but suffice it to say this is a true star-making turn from Aziz Ansari and his collaborators, and must-see TV for everyone.

Last year's winner doesn't walk away empty handed either. Stranger Things returned this past Halloween with its second season, branded as a sequel in the mould of one of its many cinematic influences, and it was just as entertaining as the first. If Stranger Things took everyone a little bit by surprise last year, there is no such danger this time. Yet with high expectations and the confidence to match, Netflix's prestige 1980s homage hit every note just as sweetly as before, with sharp writing, addictive thrills, and flawless production. More than that, Stranger Things 2 takes great strides in opening up the mythos of Hakwins, Indiana, paving the way for what looks set to be an enduring series.

2. The Debbie for New TV Show of the Year 
Winner: The Orville (Fox)
Runners Up: Glow (Netflix)

the orville best new tv show 2017

I'm as shocked as anyone about this one. Ordinarily I find myself broadly agreeing with the critical consensus, and Fox's The Orville, a passion project of comedian Seth Macfarlane, has been critically panned almost universally. Yet despite the critical response, The Orville has been widely acclaimed by viewers (particularly Star Trek fans who feel jilted by the new series) and is among the highest rated TV shows of the fall. I'm sorry, but in this case I am with the latter camp. The critics are just plain wrong. Forbes' Erik Kain put it best. The Orville was billed as akin to a TV version of cult classic Galaxy Quest, essentially a spoof of the old Star Trek series. Subsequently critics have obsessed about forcing the show into neat boxes as either too silly for a drama, or too serious for a comedy. But this is nonsense. The Orville does not aspire to be a "comedy Star Trek" at all, it is in actual fact a near pitch perfect homage. People forget just how light the older Star Trek shows often were, and The Orville nails the tone of its forbears. But more importantly the stories are just as rich and relevant as ever. The Orville, as with Star Trek, is an example of moral science fiction. Each episode imparts its own social commentary, and most are very memorable. Some are so astute and incisive, and presented with modern flourish, that they even come away feeling like something more akin to an episode of Black Mirror. If you were a fan of The Next Generation or Voyager, this is a no-brainer. Even if you weren't, this is just high quality, sincere sci-fi. A strong debut.

For this year's runner up we are giving another award to Netflix, with the surprise hit Glow. For the unacquainted, this is a fictionalised telling of the true story of what was an attempt at creating a women's version of WWE wrestling. Now I have zero interest in wrestling, and the concept of the show did not appeal to me at all. You may feel similar, but push past that, because this is a brilliant series and you do yourself a disservice by dismissing it because of its subject matter. Glow shines due to its great writing, a killer cast (most notably breakout performances from Marc Maron and Alison Brie). But as is becoming the standard with other Netflix series, it's the flawless and stylish production that impresses most.

3. The Debbie for Film of the Year 
Winner: Three Billboards Outside Ebbing, Missouri
Runner Up: Dunkirk

three billboards outside ebbing missouri martin mcdonagh frances mcdormand best film 2017 baby driver

A closely fought contest between our top two films of 2017, eventually won by the new Martin McDonagh release Three Billboards Outside Ebbing, Missouri. Those familiar with McDonaghs earlier work - In Bruges, Seven Psychopaths, his Oscar winning short film Six Shooter, or any of his theatre work - will know what this writer/director is all about. His is a dark but brilliant wit, featuring heavily stylised characters, and occasional fits of vivid violence. Three Billboards still manages to impress and surprise, offering a more sober and focused effort at drama than we've come to expect, dialling down the absurdist humour and violent slapstick in favour of a more sincere and humanising message. Three Billboards won't be for everyone, but it's McDonagh's most mature work to date and features awards calibre performances from it's stars Frances McDormand and Sam Rockwell.

Following in second place is Christopher Nolan's new film Dunkirk. A dramatic depiction of the British withdrawal from Dunkirk, Belgium in the early stages of World War II, told through a series of unrelated vignettes which offer a touchingly personal perspective of history. Few directors can make an action scene as powerful as Nolan, and he is on fine form here along with his cinematographer Hoyte van Hoytema, aided by the finest score of the year courtesy of Hans Zimmer. But what truly makes Dunkirk an affecting film is its lack of dramatic sentimentality; there is no forced adventure backstory, or fabricated hero of the piece, instead it presents a very raw and fact-based look at the war, one which holds no punches as to its brutality or its cruelty.

4. The Debbie for Variety Show Host of the Year 
Winner: John Oliver, Last Week Tonight
Runner Up: Stephen Colbert, The Late Show

john oliver last week tonight hbo talk show host of the year

John Oliver remains the king of all talk show hosts for his poignant, yet still hilarious commentary. If anything, he has attained even greater relevance in the era of Trump, refusing to pull punches when it comes to calling out corruption in Washington, and taking the media to task for its timid response. Oliver would be the first to remind you not to take any one man's word as rote, but increasingly this show is etching its place as an essential voice among confusing times.

Equally benefitting from the chaotic national climate is Oliver's fellow Daily Show alumnus Stephen Colbert, now of The Late Show. If initially Colbert struggled to step into the shoes of the great David Letterman and find his audience, the increasingly charged political obsession in America has seen him renewed as a man without shackles. Political commentary is, after all, how Colbert made his name on the Daily Show and later his own Colbert Report. The past year has shown us that he still has the touch.

5. The Debbie for Hollywood Rising Star of the Year 
Winner: Timothee Chalamet
Runner Up: Jordan Peele

timothee chalamet breakthrough star of the year

The big star turn of 2017 has been that of twenty-one year old Timothee Chalamet. Chalamet has previously appeared in the major television institutions of Law & Order and Homeland, and worked with top directors such as Christopher Nolan. But 2017 has sent his career to a new level, starring in two of the year's most critically acclaimed films, Lady Bird and Call Me By Your Name, the latter of which is considered to be one of the frontrunners on this year's awards circuit. And it just gets better from here, 2018 will see him star alongside Steve Carrell in Amazon's newest prestige drama Beautiful Boy, as well as the new Woody Allen movie A Rainy Day in New York. One to watch in the coming years.

For our runner up, let's mix it up a little by going for a director. 12 months ago Jordan Peele was best known as one half of the fairly pedestrian comedy duo Key & Peele, now he's the hottest name in Hollywood following his critically acclaimed directorial debut, Get Out. A critical darling, and with awards nominations aplenty, it's not even outside the realm of possibility to expect an Oscar nod in some form. Mostly though, everyone just wants to know where he's going next. Will he be a one hit wonder, or is this the start of a very promising filmmaking career?

6. The Debbie for YouTube Channel of the Year 
Winner: Primitive Technology
Runner Up: Isaac Arthur

debbies youtube channel of the year primitive technology isaac arthur 2017

YouTube has come a long way in recent years, moving on from lame Vlogs and people narrating themselves playing videogames. The website now offers much in the way of genuinely worthwhile content. And so, in a first for the Debbies, we will be recognising the best that YouTube has to offer. This year, the top prize goes to Primitive Technology, a channel following a single man's efforts to build increasingly complex technology and structures starting with nothing more than what he finds in the forest. A fire, tools, a house? He builds it all from mud and tree branches, and it's damned impressive. This is a great example of how YouTube content doesn't have to be obnoxiously narcissistic. No one knows who this chap is, he never speaks, just lets the content speak for itself, and there's something extremely relaxing about watching a guy silently connect with nature.

A close runner up, and in other circumstances a worthy winner, is the channel of Isaac Arthur. I don't know who Isaac is or what he does for a living, but on his YouTube channel he puts out extremely in-depth science videos of a shockingly high quality. For the most part, these videos consider the science behind potential future technologies or hypothetical concepts in the public discourse. Previous topics of conversation have included life extension technologies, societal reforms, space colonisation, general astronomy and physics. What makes these videos great is that he doesn't analyse the ideas from a fantastical science fiction point of view as you would normally see in media, but from the cold hard reality of science fact. The result is something that is both educational and a surprisingly considered look at what the future might hold.

Music, Art & Theatre

7. The Debbie for Theatrical Production of the Year 
Winner: Ink (Almeida)
Runner Up: Albion (Almeida)

ink almeida best theatre 2017

It has been a wonderful year for the Almeida Theatre in London. Arguably the three biggest shows of the year have been on their stage, and this year they can lay claim to both our winner and runner up place in the prestigious theatre Debbie. The top prize goes to James Graham's new play Ink. You can read what I had to say about it at the time from the link, but in short: James Graham is one of the most consistently thrilling political playwrights in the game, Bertie Carvel's Rupert Murdoch performance is a masterpiece in capturing the essence of a person, and Ink is just a brilliant good time, as well as an extremely timely bit of theatre.

The runner up prize is claimed by another Almeida production, Albion. Mike Bartlett's Brexit parable is an equally timely story, with another masterclass performance to go with it, from Vitoria Hamilton. Perhaps not as much of a crowd-pleaser as Ink, but Albion pulls no punches with its commentary, and is must see theatre.

8. The Debbie for Album of the Year 
Winner: I See You - The xx
Runner Up: Pure Comedy - Father John Misty

the xx i see you best album 2017

Surprisingly for a year which included new albums from two of my favourite bands, The Killers and Arcade Fire, neither has placed on this list. Instead The Ephemeric  has found itself won over by the consistency and quality of The xx's third studio album, I See You. A fine album as a whole, with a few particularly excellent songs. Lead singles On Hold and I Dare You were song of the year contenders, while A Violent Noise is a mesmerising and unique track. I See You as a whole is an album that successfully manages to evolve the sound of the band in bold, creative ways without losing what made them great.

A close runner up is Father John Misty's clever new album Pure Comedy. Tillman's caustic philosophising has never sounded so good. Lyrics are on-point and touch on themes of politics, social media, ageing and human nature. The result is the most mature work yet produced by the band, and simultaneously the most beautiful. Definitely check out lead single Pure Comedy, but for me the real highlight is 10 minute odyssey So I'm Growing Old on Magic Mountain, a strong contender for song of the year.

9. The Debbie for Debut Album of the Year 
Winner: Process - Sampha
Runner Up: Electric Lines - Joe Goddard

sampha process best debut album 2017

Sampha's debut album has been a long time coming, originally making an impression as far back as 2013. The artist's blend of smooth r&b with electronic and folk influences has proved an award winning combination, and debut album Process has been critically acclaimed by just about everyone. Those unacquainted will want to check out tracks like Without and No One Knows Me.

Also worthy of note is Electric Lines, the debut solo album of Joe Goddard, best known for his work with the band Hot Chip. But you don't have to be a fan of the British electronica group to appreciate the variety on offer here. There's title track Electric Lines with its brand of contemporary folk, one can move on to the more electronica-influenced Nothing Moves, and then kick back with a delicious slice of disco retro in Home. It's an album well worth giving a chance.

10. The Debbie for Song of the Year 
Winner: Long Time - Blondie
Runners Up: Some Kind of Love - The Killers, Down By the Water - Amy Macdonald

blondie long time best song 2017

2017 was certainly not a year lacking in great music. The pick of the bunch this year is the crown jewel of Blondie's excellent comeback album, Long Time. This track is just gold, a piece of euphoric pop that compares favourably even with the best of Blondie's classic hits. The evergreen Debbie Harry imbues her vocals with such energy that you'll scarcely believe she's really 72 years old.

Our runner up is the pick of the new album from The Killers. The Brian Eno produced Some Kind of Love gives us a side of The Killers that we seldom see, tender and ethereal. A far cry from the roof-raising anthems that one identifies with their bigger hits. Great song, expertly composed.

Lastly a shout out to specifically the acoustic version of Amy Macdonald's Down By the Water. Amy Macdonald remains an underrated song-writer, and in particular when she sticks to her folk-acoustic roots. Fortunately with her most recent album, she had the foresight to record every song twice, once in full studio, and once acoustic. This is the album's pinnacle, but you would do yourself a favour to check out the other acoustic tracks as well.

11. The Debbie for Live Performance of the Year 
Winner: Tears for Fears

tears for fears best live performance 2017

London is fortunate to play host to some of the best performers of our time, and music fans have no shortage of concerts to attend in a given year. For a year which has seen impressive tours from the likes of The Killers and The Kooks, The Ephemeric opts to give recognition to the unexpected return of one of the best bands of the 1980s, Tears for Fears. The duo have lost none of their edge or singing ability in the years since, and it was a joy to hear hits such as Everybody Wants to Rule the WorldPale Shelter and Mad World in full live glory. Well worth catching for old hands and newbies alike, some songs just don't get old.

12. The Debbie for Art Exhibition of the Year 
Winner: Paul Klee at The Beyeler Foundation

paul klee beyeler foundation basel best art exhibition 2017

Far be it from me to suggest that London does not have the world's finest art galleries (particularly the Royal Academy of Arts!), but really very little compares with a day out at Basel's most sublime meeting point, the Beyeler Foundation. I was hugely impressed by last year's exhibition of Der Blaue Reiter, and in 2017 they have done it again with a superb collection of Paul Klee. The paintings are remarkable enough in their own right, and some of his more notable works are on show throughout the gallery. Really though it's the state of the art facilities, with natural lighting and the relaxing bucolic setting, that allow you to enjoy the work as it was meant to be, and make the experience something extra special

Business & Technology

13. The Debbie for Scientific/Technological Breakthrough of the Year 
Winner: Artificial Meat

artificial meat impossible burger beyond meat memphis meats best important technological breakthrough 2017

It's been talked about for years, but hype in the field of artificial meat is reaching a fever pitch now. The first products are being released in American grocery stores and restaurants, and that has brought near daily coverage in media. There are many reasons why this is a good idea. It's healthier to eat, it's better for the environment, can be grown in large quantities, and of course it does not require killing an animal. Do not underestimate this, a sufficiently convincing artificial meat product could be a world changing development.

The two companies currently on market, Impossible Foods and Beyond Meat, specialise in meat-like products that are in fact made from reconstituted plant protein in such a way that there is supposedly little difference from regular meat. Theoretically there is no reason why this shouldn't be possible given sophisticated enough technology, after all meat and plant proteins are ultimately made from the same building blocks. These two players are betting that we have finally reached the point where current technology can make such a feat possible. But potentially more exciting is the method being used by Memphis Meats, among other companies. This is clean meat, that is to say, actual meat cells being grown in a lab. The theory here is that meat is meat, whether it is grown in a lab or on an animal, assuming it can be grown in equivalent conditions. Hypothetically then, there should be no taste or texture difference at all from regular meat.

I'm keen to try both, though I remain skeptical that plant protein can ever really taste like the real thing. I expect the Memphis Meats approach will be the preferred option, assuming they can bring down the cost of production sufficiently.

14. The Debbie for Videogame Console of the Year
Winner: Nintendo Switch

nintendo switch best console for gaming

It's been a bumper year for gaming, and in particular for Nintendo, whose Switch console has been a hit since launching this past spring. The technology itself is quite remarkable. The Switch features detachable controllers and a built in screen, meaning that it can be used either as a TV-connected home console or as a completely mobile handheld device. More impressive is how the console transitions so seamlessly between the two; simply pick up or place the Switch in its dock and it will instantly switch between TV and in-built display, without requiring a reboot of the console, or a restart of the game.

For such a small console (about the size of an ordinary handheld) the Switch packs a surprising amount of heft. It is impressive indeed to be playing a massive AAA game in full HD on your TV, and then seamlessly transition to playing the same game on a handheld, with very little noticeable difference in performance. Add to this Nintendo's best effort yet at online infrastructure, including a better-late-than-never embracing of DLC and multiplayer services, as well as Nintendo's formidable Virtual console, and there's an awful lot to like about this little device.

15. The Debbie for Videogame of the Year 
Winner: The Legend of Zelda: Breath of the Wild (Switch)
Runners Up: Mario Odyssey (Switch), What Remains of Edith Finch (PC)

zelda breath of wild switch game of the year 2017

So the Switch is a fascinating piece of technology, sure. But what has really helped the system fly off the shelves is software, with possibly a more impressive first year line up of games than any console in memory. Two Switch titles can already make genuine claim to being among the best games ever made, and naturally their quality will be recognised here at the Debbies. The first up is The Legend of Zelda: Breath of the Wild. You can read my more detailed thoughts at the above link, but the conclusion is simple. Breath of the Wild is a triumph, even by the lofty standards set by the Zelda series. This marks Nintendo's first attempt at a genuine open-world game, and they have pulled it off in a way that few developers ever have, with a world that is so well-realised, so tantalising to explore, and so interactive through it's brilliant and intuitive range of gameplay systems that just wandering about aimlessly is a memorable experience.

Then along came Mario Odyssey, very nearly stealing Breath of the Wild's thunder. Odyssey returns to the more open-ended level design from Mario 64 and Sunshine, but otherwise it's essentially the classic Mario platforming formula. So what's so special? It comes down to brilliant gameplay design. The levels and puzzles are so clever and well honed that you'll marvel at how Nintendo still have so many fresh ideas after so many years. As with the new Zelda, Nintendo have clearly put a lot of thought into the game's complementary gameplay systems that interact in unexpected ways to make Odyssey a true joy and surprising until the end. I defy anyone to play this without a smile on their face.

Breaking away from Nintendo for our second runner up is What Remains of Edith Finch. This is the debut release of Anapurna's new interactive division, and it's clear that they haven't lost any of their storytelling flair in the switch from cinema to gaming. Edith Finch tells the story of a young lady who returns to her abandoned familial home to revisit the stories of several generations of ancestors and relatives, all of whom have met with unfortunate ends. But far from some morbid eulogy, Edith Finch is a rich and touching tale, brimming with personality. Each story features its own unique gameplay and visual presentation in ways that will constantly surprise and impress, while exploring this unique house, with its haphazard construction and hidden secrets presents a marvel in world-building.

16. The Debbie for Company of the Year
Winner: Amazon

amazon company of the year 2017

From an online book merchant to one of the world's burgeoning tech superpowers, Amazon is a company that is quickly becoming all pervasive in ways many people don't even realise. In addition to being the world's largest internet retailer, Amazon has branched out into consumer electronics with the Kindle, grocery shopping with Amazon Fresh, and is now also the world's largest provider of cloud infrastructure services. On top of this, Amazon is making a real play for the future of your living room with its Echo products, and currently looks set to be one of the major players in the internet of things alongside Apple and Google. That's impressive enough even before you remember that they now produce award winning television series, and Oscar winning films, with a streaming service that many people are starting to say compares favourably even with Netflix.

From retail, to our kitchens and living rooms, the entertainment industry, and those all important web services; Amazon has a genuine claim to being the most influential company in the world. 2017 was a bumper year that saw their stock fly in value, making Jeff Bezos the wealthiest man in the world. Also, they're making drones.

17. The Debbie for Startup of the Year
Winner: Bloom & Wild

bloom wild startup company of the year 2017

This is a delightful little company as anyone who has used their services will attest. Bloom & Wild deliver flowers, but cognisant of today's hectic lifestyle and the fact that most of us spend our days in the office, they deliver their products in a manner that does not require anyone to be home to receive. Flowers arrive as buds, carefully and individually wrapped in mesh paper (and depending on the set, maybe even with glassware included). This is all packaged into a letterbox sized cardboard box and popped through your door on a specified date. No fuss, beautiful flowers to your door. Their latest injection of capital will allow them to spread this great business model in to Europe. With annual subscription and gifting options available, one can see this becoming a regular mainstay in our living rooms.


18. The Debbie for Footballer of the Year 
Winner: Cristiano Ronaldo - Real Madrid

cristiano ronaldo real madrid best footballer player in the world football 2017

2017 has been a fantastic year for Real Madrid and Cristiano Ronaldo, a Ballon D'or capping off a year in which Madrid won a stunning quadruple of silverware, including a record 12th Champions League title. There's no separating this success from Ronaldo, who on present form and despite his advancing years, is the most complete football player in the world. A genius comparable with Messi, but with a physique and burst of pace that reflects superior athleticism. The time is surely drawing near when the world game will no longer be dominated by these two, but for now Ronaldo wins another Debbie and rightly so.

19. The Debbie for Under-21 Footballer of the Year 
Winner: Kylian Mbappe - PSG

kylian mbappe psg paris monaco best young footballer player in the world 2017

An astonishing year for the teenage Kylian Mbappé, who despite his tender years has become the second most expensive player of all time following a bumper £150 million move from Monaco to their Ligue 1 rivals PSG, and the most expensive teenager. It is difficult to pretend that his accomplishments to date have merited such status, but that's not to say that he isn't a very promising young footballer. A player with the finesse and poise of Thierry Henry, but the power of the Brazilian Ronaldo during his younger years, Mbappé should be a world star for years to come. Hopefully receiving so much hype at such a young age will not adversely impact his career trajectory.

20. The Debbie for Football Manager of the Year 
Winner: Antonio Conte - Chelsea

best football manager in the world 2017 antonio conte

While there are many outstanding candidates for the top football manager in 2017, there are few where you can definitively state that the manger himself has elevated the level of a team. Zidane? Great manager, but would that stacked Madrid team really be doing any worse without him? Ditto Ernesto Valverde. In the case of Antonio Conte though, one has to marvel at how he has taken a 10th place club to Premier League champions in a single season. This despite minimal transfer activity compared to his more spendthrift rivals, and a squad with more holes than Swiss cheese. More than that though, it's just great to see someone in football with this passion; jumping, screaming, crowd-diving after a goal, and most importantly a gentleman towards his opposite number in all circumstances. Football needs more people like Conte.

21. The Debbie for Football Club of the Year 
Winner: Chapecoense

football club of the year 2017 chapecoense

"Now wait," I hear you say, "that tragic Chapecoense event was last year." Correct, I'm not here to recognise them for tragedy, but for the remarkable response that has played out in the year since that awful day. Remember that at the time of the crash, Chapecoense were relative newcomers to the top flight of Brazilian football, and their future at the highest level far from assured. Yet since this tragedy, they have gone on to record their highest ever finish in Brazilian football, won the Campeonato Catarinese regional league, and made credible efforts in both the Copa Sudamericana and Copa Libertadores (their first ever appearance in the competition). It's been a fine year by any team's standards, let alone for a team that tragically lost most of its playing squad just a year ago. An inspiring effort and a heartwarming story.

Current Events

22. The Debbie for Politician of the Year 
Winner: Emmanuel Macron

emmanuel macron politician of the year 2017

In a year with little in the way of positive role models among the political class, our top prize for politicking goes to Emmanuel Macron. Amid a so-called wave of right wing extremism in western democracies, Macron struck a major victory for moderates and centrists by showing that it is possible to gain popular support without pandering or selling yourself out to our darker instincts.

More incredible is the manner of Macron's victory. To successfully run as an independent candidate in modern day politics is unheard of at the national level, much less to gain as historically large a majority as Macron did. To put that into context, this isn't like Labour or the Tories becoming Prime Minister, this isn't even like the Liberal Democrats or UKIP becoming Prime Minister, this is more like Lord Buckethead becoming Prime Minister and picking up a record number of seats in the process. It's astonishing when you think about it and teaches a secondary, but no less important lesson that maybe we don't have to accept a "lesser of two evils" party system, maybe 21st Century democracy can accommodate a truly independent movement that isn't beholden to the politics of identity, but instead to whomever happens to be the best man for the job. Maybe we don't need the Tories or Labour, but can vote for someone in whom we actually believe.

Macron has proceeded to implement his vision, returning France to a state of efficient economic liberalism, and earns majority support among his people. I dare say it's an example for other democracies to follow.

23. The Debbie for Scandal of the Year 
Winner: Donald Trump

donald trump scandal 2017 russia

I'm thinking about removing this category, because it's far too obvious who's going to win for as long as Donald Trump is President (so another year at least then). Let's just get to it then: basically ever since he was inaugurated Trump has been under investigation for one thing or another. The Russia investigation appears to be reaching fever pitch, with four indictments and two guilty pleas even at this early stage from among his senior campaign/administration staff, and suggestion that he or members of his immediate family could be in the firing line sooner rather than later. The US intelligence services consider information provided by MI6 agents indicating that Russia's Government has some means of coercion over Trump to be credible. This Russia scandal is the most significant political scandal since Watergate, and probably even more so. A hostile foreign power swinging an election and installing a puppet leader in the United States is the stuff of movies and bad thrillers, and now it appears to be fact.

But guess what, that's not all! What about the dozens of accusations of sexual assault corroborated by contemporaneous evidence? What about his flagrant violation of emoluments clause regarding conflicts of interest with his businesses, currently working their way through the courts? What about his astonishing response to the murder of an American citizen by radical white supremacist terrorists by claiming that "both sides" were to blame? The truth is that each of these, as well as scandals in Puerto Rico, his war against law enforcement agencies, violations of the free press, as well as apparent fraud committed by his administration, and probably many others, would ordinarily be enough to remove a politician from office. Many of these are crimes. We've never seen anything like this before in western democracy. He's not even been President for a year, buckle up.

24. The Debbie for Cause of the Year 
Winner: Independence of the press

republican trump brexit nazi fascist autocracy authoritarian freedom independence press media most important issue 2017

In this era of corrupt politicians, fake news, and massive propaganda campaigns, it's more important than ever before that we ensure an independent and uncensored press. The only way to combat propaganda is to ensure that the general public is well informed and has access to verified, peer reviewed facts. The corrupt powers know this, which is why they exert so much energy on trying to censor information, discredit reputable and independent sources, and when that doesn't work, drown it out with an overload of fake information. The sad truth is that the credibility of the press is at a low, and much of that is their fault. But we need real journalism now more than ever. We need robust fact checkers, and widespread access to that data. Reality is not a matter of opinion and facts do matter. We are witnessing a concerted effort to turn western democracy into a Russia-style propaganda state. We all need to start paying attention now if we want to prevent this slide into Orwellian dystopia.

25. The Debbie for Person of the Year 
Winner: Jeff Bezos

jeff bezos robert mueller person of the year 2017

The Ephemeric's person of the year award goes to the man recently crowned the world's richest, Jeff Bezos of Amazon. The wealth itself is not the mark of accomplishment, but rather what it signifies, the surge in fortunes of Amazon. Bezos himself is the man who had the vision to take the company from its humble book-slinging beginnings into the global super-power that it is now, during which time he personally has transformed from librarian to Iron Man's more badass uncle. His time at Amazon has brought significant innovation not only to online retail, but to consumer electronics, cloud technology, AI and home automation. Also drones.

But his influence extends beyond one company. Incubator Bezos Expeditions has its fingers in many of the world's most innovative companies, from Google to Airbnb, Makerbot and Uber. He owns the Washington Post, the journalistic driving force behind Watergate, the Pentagon papers, and the current Russia-Lago scandal. He's even followed Elon Musk into the private space industry with Blue Origins, a company that actually managed to beat SpaceX to become the first company to launch and safely land a reusable rocket. In the developing world of the tech super powers, Bezos and Amazon are very much at the forefront, which makes him our pick for most influential of 2017.

Social & Lifestyle

26. The Debbie for Restaurant of the Year 
Winner: Marianne

marianne lumb london best restaurant 2017

When it comes to dining out in London these days, we are truly spoilt for choice. Our pick of the bunch for 2017 is newcomer Marianne, project of head chef Marianne Lumb. I gather that Ms Lumb was on some kind of reality TV series as a contestant, though I would never watch such a thing. If being headed by a TV chef gives you any misgivings, not to fret, Marianne is wonderful.

The food itself is great; a multi-course tasting menu, but one that doesn't prove overbearing as it does in many top-range restaurants. Dishes are technically accomplished and invigorated with fresh flavour combinations. While many tasting menus just go through the motions, this is a setlist that has been crafted with the joy of a chef who loves food. But the key element of this evening is the experience. The atelier is very small, seating only fourteen people across four tables in a single seating, while Chef Marianne comes out to greet guests towards the end of the evening. For those seeking an intimate evening of delightful dining, this is the place for you, but move quickly before she relocates to a larger location.

27. The Debbie for Nightclub/Bar of the Year 
Winner: Bourne & Hollingsworth

bourne hollingsworth best bar club london 2017

London has no shortage of fine drinking establishments, but one this year stands head and shoulders above the rest. Bourne & Hollingsworth is one of those delightful venues that suits all occasions. By morning it's a bright and leafy brunch locale, by night a classy lounge with a fireplace, sofas, and some of the best cocktails in the city, and by later night the downstairs club area opens up, complete with dance floor and novelty sharing drinks. So whatever mood you might be in, this is your one stop shop for a great night out.

28. The Debbie for Mixologist of the Year 
Winner: Alessandro Palazzi

alessandro palazzi dukes bar best mixologist

My annual shout out to The Duke's Bar owner Alessandro. Famous across London for making Ian Fleming's drinks, and in particular his flair for unique martinis turn heads. Whether he's making his signature Fleming 89 or whipping up some original creation on the spot, there's no finer cocktail around. This year's special creations include the white truffle martini, and now for the first time, actual snacks with which to line your stomach.

29. The Debbie for Destination of the Year
Winner: Everywhere, Canada

canada everywhere vancouver toronto viarail best holiday destination 2017

Canada is not necessarily the first place people think of for a magical vacation, but their lives are the poorer for it. In Toronto, Canada boasts a world class city with culture, shopping and good food. But the real attraction is the country itself, the second largest in the world by area, and so heavily urbanised that the vast majority remains stunningly unspoilt. Many other countries have natural beauty, but few if any have quite so much of it, from dramatic mountainous regions to staggering open flatland, dense, untouched forests the size of Western Europe, and hundreds of thousands (seriously) of beautiful lakes.

And then there's the people; friendly, reasoned, and well educated. One of the best compliments I can pay to Canada is that it is like America, but without the Americans. This year we decided to take the train right from the west coast of Vancouver to Toronto in the east, and were treated to a tour of the entire country-scape in between, and it is an experience that won't soon be forgotten.

30. The Debbie for Wine of the Year 
Winner: Bibbiano Gran Selezione Vigna del Capannino 2011
bibbiano capannino gran selezione 2011 best wine 2017

The up and coming Chianti vineyard of Bibbiano takes the prize this year, specifically with its wonderful gran selezione of 2011, the Vigna del Capannino. Visitors to this modest estate will be greeted by the signs of expansion everywhere; a new restaurant is in the works, and even accommodation to stay. If the lunch we had on our tour was any indication, that restaurant will be well worthwhile. But of course, the main attraction is the wine, and the Capannino is one to savour. Smooth with strong berry tones and warming palate, a good example of the Sangiovese grape, and a terrific accompaniment to any meat dish.

31. The Debbie for Champagne of the Year 
Winner: Franck Bonville Cuvée Le Belle Voyes

best champagne 2017 franck bonville cuvee belles voyes

And finally we have our top prize for champagne, and it's a comeback for Franck Bonville, the mid-sized factory fast becoming the champagne of choice for connoisseurs. It's hard to go wrong with a basic blanc de blancs, or even their stately Millésime, but our pick of the bunch has to be the special collection Belles Voyes grand cru blanc de blancs. Like drinking liquid stardust, to be savoured on special occasions.

Well there you have it. 2017 will go down as an interesting year for sure, but here's to the next one being even better!

Monday 27 November 2017

Directed by Rupert Goold
Written by Mike Bartlett
Starring Victoria Hamilton, Helen Schlesinger, Charlotte Hope, Christopher Fairbank
Theatre Almeida

albion almeida mike bartlett brexit boris theresa may corbyn trump king charles

Once in a while comes an artistic work that perfectly encapsulates the times in which we live. Mike Bartlett, a playwright best known for the excellent King Charles III, is a writer of astute observation, and a penchant for having his thumb on the societal pulse. King Charles asked questions as to the relevance of an archaic Monarchy in an age of YouTube and celebrity culture, Albion is perhaps even more poignant in its addressing of the challenges currently facing the United Kingdom.

Albion tells the story of Audrey Walters, who takes ownership of a historic and once beautiful garden, now overgrown and a shade of its former self, with the intention of restoring it to the former glory that she remembers from her younger days. In doing so, she implements tighter restrictions on when her neighbours can and can't enter the garden, and makes decisions that detrimentally impact the futures of the local youth. Her blind zeal ultimately ends up alienating her neighbours, her liberal intellectual friends, and her children, leaving Audrey alone, economically ruined, and with a garden of which people no longer want any part. The garden is named Albion (an archaic name for Great Britain).

I don't think it will surprise you too much to hear that this is a metaphor for Brexit, and one which is not exactly awash with ambiguity at that. At times the use of metaphor can be a little bit on the nose, be it the replacing of the doddering old British caretakers with a far more industrious Polish worker, or the scene where Audrey is lambasted for idealising a past which no longer exists, while whitewashing the negative aspects of that same past (an allusion to British Imperial guilt).

This allegory forms the backdrop to a more traditional narrative. A rural setting, familial drama, wider socioeconomic tensions between the established values of the past, and an oncoming future that threatens upheaval. It's all very much in the mould of an Anton Chekhov play, in particular the Cherry Orchard, and that comparison is presumably no accident. There is after all no reason to set a Brexit allegory in so deliberate a Chekhovian setting, and one has to wonder if the influence of a Russian author on this setting is intended as a commentary on the Russian influence over its subject matter.

Indeed one could write a whole essay on the subtext at play here, but I don't wish to spoil everything. Suffice it to say, each character fills a clear role in this metaphor, from Audrey's detached "intellectual elite" friend Katherine, to the directionless youth "Zara", or the ineffectual but steadfast husband Paul, who perhaps not so coincidentally happens to look and speak a lot like Prince Charles, and fulfil a support role not incomparable to that of the monarchy in modern day Britain.

Fortunately, if the overly deliberate attempt at political commentary can be a bit off-putting, it's more than compensated for by the quality of its execution. Aside from the occasional clumsy analogy, the writing here is sharp and to the point, occasionally hilarious. The production is bold and stylish, with striking setpieces punctuating the key moments of drama. Rupert Goold is on a roll this year at the Almeida, and Albion continues to establish his name as one of the great artistic directors in the game today.

The performances are particularly worthy of note. Victoria Hamilton's portrayal of Audrey is remarkable; the scene feels electrified every time she is on stage, and she will surely be a frontrunner in this year's theatre accolades.

But ultimately this is a play of its themes, and in my view one that succeeds. While Albion will no doubt draw most of the discussion to its commentary on Brexit, the core of its message really lies with the British people, and the divisions in today's society. I mentioned earlier the roles of the individual characters, and indeed each of these roles essentially pertains to a particular demographic, and explores the way in which the politics of today has affected those people. This is where the production really feels invaluable as a commentary on our times.

It's been a very strong year for new plays, but Bartlett's latest is as good as any I've seen all year. Essential viewing.

Thursday 2 November 2017

It has been two decades since Phillip Pullman wrote the first entry in the His Dark Materials trilogy, The Northern Lights (known as The Golden Compass in the US). The novel's standing during this time has risen to the point where it is considered by many to be among the most important pieces of children's/young adult fiction ever written. Now Pullman returns to the series with his new Book of Dust trilogy. Let's mark this occasion by taking a look at why Pullman's work still resonates to such an extent.

his dark materials golden compass northern lights philip pullman book of dust belle sauvage influential classic harry potter

Few artistic works manage to attain high levels of both critical and commercial success, but in the case of His Dark Materials, the praise coming from professional observers has been equally matched by the adulation of its readers. Indeed the series has garnered enduring acclaim, and literary awards including the Carnegie Medal, the Whitbread book of the year (the first time the award has gone to a children's novel), and the Astrid Lindgren award, a prize considered to be second only to the Nobel prize in literature. The series has spawned an award winning National Theatre production, an upcoming BBC adaptation, and a film that we'll just pretend doesn't exist. For many of us who grew up during the 1990s, and especially in the United Kingdom, The Northern Lights represents a dear part of our childhood, and is the essential novel that drew a generation into reading.

It's easy to see why the series so successfully engaged its readers, with its imaginative, yet tangible setting and full-bodied characters. This world is imbued with a formidably rich mythology, mesmerising and varied locations, and rewarding story arcs that draw the reader in and make them genuinely care about what happens. From the moment we first join young protagonist Lyra and Pantalaimon sneaking through the halls of Oxford we are hooked through the stories to come, be they delightful or heartbreaking.

But the appeal of this work goes beyond its narrative thrill. Plenty of other novels of the genre feature exciting adventures and likeable characters, Harry Potter comes to mind. What makes His Dark Materials stand out is the way its surreal worlds convey a deeper reflection of our own reality. The series' Magisterium offers a clear and scathing critique of the Catholic Church, and its war against the ambiguous property referred to as Dust can be seen as many things; a war on knowledge and enlightenment, a war on decadence and independence, or simply a resistance to change and growth. These novels are not merely some secular smear on religiosity, but a powerful rebuke of any dogma that values power and ignorance over truth. These themes of corruption and authoritarianism are more relevant than ever today.

Even beyond the politics and philosophy, there's something altogether more fundamental at the core of the series. These elements provide the intellectual backdrop to what is ultimately the classic coming of age story. Through the pre-adolescent eyes of Lyra the series explores the nature of friendship, the confusion of love, and comes to terms with the inevitability of loss. Unlike, for example, Harry Potter, this is not some fantasy power-trip of a powerful wizard fighting another powerful wizard to defeat evil and then they all live happily ever after. Lyra is a child entering a world dominated by forces far more powerful than her that she can't possibly understand. Just like the rest of us, Lyra cares less for the obscure machinations of the world around her than for the deeper personal drives which motivate us; rescuing a friend, reuniting with a lost parent.

So for all its fantastical tropes, His Dark Materials is a series that seeks to awaken its young audience to the real and overwhelming aspects of the world we live in. It's a series that by its premise encourages its developing minds to engage in critical thinking and to place value on knowledge and truth. But for all of its complexity, this is above all a series that helps those at a critical juncture to explore the very personal dilemmas of growing up that they themselves are faced with. Less of a magical diversion, and more a lifting of the veil. At the time, it was radical reading for impressionable young minds, and a revelatory experience. So it remains. As an artistic work, this is still an essential read for the new generation about to enter the wider world, and its status among the most influential literature of our time is well deserved.

Sunday 15 October 2017

Genre Alternative rock
Label Island
Producers Jacknife Lee, The Killers, Erol Alkan, Stuart Price

the killers wonderful wonderful 2017 the man

It's been five years and one solo album since The Killers’ most recent and most divisive album, Battle Born. Battle Born was certainly not a bad album by any means, but its mixed reception at the time rightly drew unfavourable comparisons to the band’s previous work, as fans expressed disappointment at the relatively derivative nature of the music. The album still spawned hits and platinum singles, but that couldn't shake the feeling that The Killers had found themselves in something of a rut creatively. So began the longest hiatus in the band's history.

But rather than take a holiday, frontman and lead songwriter Brandon Flowers decided to use that time to refresh his process. With a new production team and a wider range of musical influences, Flowers has since entered a period of great creative output.

A year after Battle Born, The Killers released the promising single Shot at the Night, mixed by guest producer (and musical star in his own right) M83. Two years after that Brandon released his second solo album, The Desired Effect, in another first time collaboration with prominent producer Ariel Rechtshaid. Praised for its creative variety and slick production, the Desired Effect received critical acclaim. Rob Sheffield of Rolling Stone described it the best pop album in recent memory.

Creatively reinvigorated and enjoying a second wind of success, Brandon Flowers now returns to the band that made him a star with The Killers’ fifth studio album, Wonderful Wonderful. The result is something quite different to anything The Killers has done before.

Wonderful Wonderful sees the band trade their signature high tempo rock and roll for a sound that is much slower and heavier in tone. They follow suit thematically, abandoning the tales of Hollywood, Vegas glamour, and cheesy Americana for topics that are far more meditative than we have come to expect. Instead we get what is ostensibly an exploration of Flowers' own psyche, his self-doubt, questions of masculinity, his legacy in music. Such raw introspection is a new angle for The Killers, and while the music may not necessarily sparkle in the same way their best tracks do, this lends a greater sense of poignancy and reality that you might not expect from this band.

This is something that I can see turning a lot of long time fans off the album. Such a sedate tone from a band known for their energetic stadium lifters can be quite jarring for those who came hoping for the next set of radio-friendly hits. But give the album a chance, and you will be well rewarded with a piece of work that is complex and beautiful in its own right, if not at all what we were expecting.

The album can be roughly divided into a series of thematic pairings of tracks.

Opening and title track Wonderful Wonderful serves as the thematic introduction, the "id" of the album presented as a swirling tempest of the insecurities and concerns that weigh heavily. This contrasts heavily with lead single The Man, the super ego of hyper-masculine braggadocio. The track itself is an enjoyable enough homage to the funk-era of 1980s David Bowie and to a lesser extent Roxy Music, borrowing heavily from the bass-line of Bowie's Fashion, and directly referencing Fame. Still, it's surprisingly forgettable for a lead single from The Killers.

Next, the duo of Rut and Life to Come delve into personal tragedy, drawing inspiration from Flowers' own struggles and in particular the ongoing health problems facing his wife Tana. The former is a slow builder of a track teeming with defiant insecurity, while the latter swells into a full-on U2-esque declaration. Knowing the context of this one-two hit makes it difficult not to tear up a little when listening, but more than that this connection to a very real and human feeling of devotion and loss.

Flowers returns to themes that have historically been fertile ground for his songwriting, career and legacy in Tyson vs Douglas and Out of My Mind, religion and faith in Some Kind of Love and The Calling. Tyson vs Douglas and Some Kind of Love in particular are arguably the two best tracks on the album. The former is a creative flip on the classic "underdog beats the champion" story, putting you in the perspective of the defeated champion. A breathless ride through the champ's state of mind ensues, a veritable storm of fear and shame. The latter, co-written with the legendary Brian Eno, is a dreamy star of a tune that evokes shades of Coldplay, as well as Eno's own earlier work.

The odd one out is second single Run for Cover, itself one of the most crowd-pleasing tracks on the album. Originally written for The Killers' third album Day & Age, Run for Cover doesn't fit neatly with the themes or structure of Wonderful Wonderful. One suspects that it has been brought in to make up for the lack of upbeat songs on the album. The album then finishes on a fittingly introspective note with the knowingly titled Have All the Songs Been Written.

Wonderful Wonderful is an album that, as a whole, stacks up favourably with The Killers' previous efforts. Artistically, some might even say it's a step up, and I can see critics responding very strongly. Still, I came away feeling underwhelmed. This is an album that lacks a standout track.

Run for Cover is a fine single, but does it really stack up individually with Mr. Brightside, Human, or even Runaways? You'd have to say the answer is no. Tyson vs Douglas is a better song, but one that might only just make the top 15 songs written by Brandon Flowers. Some Kind of Love is probably the strongest track on the album, and it's a slow burner of a track that I can see flying under the radar of most people. There isn't really a bad song on this album, but equally there is little that seems likely to live long in the memory in terms of individual songs.

This is an album that reminds us what a strong songwriter Brandon Flowers can be, and demonstrates an extra dimension of the band's talents that we have not seen before. The days of Hot Fuss' pretty-boys with makeup seems long ago, Wonderful Wonderful cements The Killers' status as one of the prestige rock groups of modern music. While these may not be the best songs they've written, they represent another fine addition to a growing body of work.

Must Listen :
Some Kind of Love
Tyson vs Douglas
Run for Cover

Tuesday 12 September 2017

Genre Art-rock
Label Columbia
Producers Arcade Fire, Thomas Bangalter (ie half of Daft Punk), Geoff Barrow, Markus Dravs, Eric Hegle, Steve Mackey

arcade fire everything now 2017 electric blue

Music is an art-form. Not just by virtue of how pretty it sounds, but the message, the lyrics, the context, it all contributes to the work. Yet for the vast majority of people who listen to the song, the main (if not the only) thing that will be noticed is simply "does this feel good in my ear-holes?". And so there is always this balance in music between producing something that sounds pleasing, and something that delivers whatever larger meaning the artist has in mind.

Where this balance lies is often simply a matter of taste. Some people couldn't care less about the meaning or subtext, and just want to listen to whatever serotonin-releasing crowd-pleaser is currently riding high in the charts. Others see a song as more akin to a painting, appreciating its composition or message as much as what it actually sounds like. The truly great artists are the ones who successfully manage to marry both aspects.

Arcade Fire have always been a band who take the artistic side of their work seriously. More so than most of their contemporaries, the band's work invariably has a complex and thought-out conceptual basis behind it. It was this that first grabbed the attention of many of Arcade Fire's early promoters, perhaps most famously David Bowie (himself considered a trailblazer in the idea of mainstream music as a form of intellectual exploration) whose patronage played a significant role in the band's early history.

With their last album, Reflektor, Arcade Fire lent the conceptual side of their work an even greater prominence. For the release of that album a fake band, The Reflektors, was created, along with a fake website, fake album, and a series of secret shows under their new moniker. This was accompanied by a short film which tied into the album's larger themes of isolation in the digital age. A lot of work had been done around the concept of Reflektor, but crucially the music was given the same level of care, and the album was ultimately met with great critical acclaim.

For Everything Now, Arcade Fire have re-used many of the same gags. A fake website, this time a "global e-commerce platform", was joined by a variety of fake infomercial videos and products, all boosted by a significant effort on social media. Fake news, Russian spambots, trying very much to be a reflection of our anxious times, but in a hazy, unfocused way. Frankly as a critique of consumerism and the instant gratification of social media, the whole thing comes off as a bit obvious, and sophomoric. It doesn't help that Everything Now re-treads much of the same ground as Reflektor, without adding much in the way of new ideas. That which is new has already been articulated many times before, and done better, by others.

The album's worst offender is the track Infinite Content, which essentially boils down to the lyric "infinite content, infinite content, we're infinitely content" being said over and over. An idea they were apparently so pleased with that they decided to put two versions of this track on the album. It's painfully obvious what they were going for, and that pretty much typifies an album which gives the impression of thinking itself to be far deeper and more intellectual than it actually is.

So the concept falls a bit flat, but can the undoubted musical talents of the band save the day? It's a bit of a mixed bag. Just as the conceptual basis of the album feels tired and re-used, so do many of the tracks on this album. Far too much of the music here feels like a less clever rehash of Reflektor. Frontman Win Butler seems stuck in "monotone snarl" mode, sounding almost like Reflektor B-sides. Fortunately in those few moments where Arcade Fire break free and try something new, the music really shines.

The title track Everything Now is a bit of a treasure, a rich composition of strings and choir. The base melody sounds almost like it could be a TV jingle, tying in with the core concept, but the underlying progression and clever tonal shifts elevate the track into something that is quite dazzling as a statement piece for the album.

Arguably the standout track is Electric Blue, a groggy slice of ethereal disco-funk led by the under-utilised vocal talents of Régine Chassagne into something reminiscent of The Suburbs' excellent Sprawl II.

But my personal favourite of the album is the spectacular Put Your Money on Me, a track that begins with a deliciously subversive funky riff before building into a soaring denouement of classic rock. It's an electrifying piece of pop-rock and the moment which thankfully feels most liberated from the album's conceptual constraints.

Author's note: coincidentally, these three standout tracks are the three tracks produced by Daft Punk's Thomas Bangalter. Maybe Arcade Fire should just have him lead production on their next album.

These highlights are not enough to make Arcade Fire's new LP a great album, but they do make it a "good enough" album. Everything Now suffers from a conceptual smugness that is all too obvious and ultimately derivative of the band's earlier work. Fortunately the few standout tracks make Everything Now worthy of your attention.

Must Listen :
Put Your Money on Me
Electric Blue
Everything Now

Sunday 20 August 2017

Welcome back football fans.  I hope everyone had a great summer, but it is time to get back to business. A new season of Premier League football is approaching, and once again it looks like a corker, promising fake drama, real tears, and hopefully some good football. As per usual the Ephemeric is here to run the rule over every team in the Premier League and render a few inevitably accurate predictions. Read on for the ultimate preview of what awaits us these next nine months.

premier league 2015/16 preview

Premier League 2017/18 Predictions in a nutshell:
Champions: Manchester United
Champions League qualifiers: Manchester United, Manchester City, Tottenham, Liverpool
Relegated: Swansea, Crystal Palace, Brighton
Golden Boot winner: Harry Kane (Tottenham Hotspur)
Golden Glove winner: David de Gea (Manchester United)
Player to watch: Dele Alli (Tottenham Hotspur)
New signing to watch: Romelu Lukaku (Manchester United)
Young player to watch: Tammy Abraham (Swansea)
First manager to get the sack: Craig Shakespeare (Leicester City)
Shock of the season: Arsene Wenger leaves Arsenal


Nickname: The Gunners
Ground: Emirates Stadium
Capacity: 60,000
Position last season: 5th
Manager: Arsene Wenger

Fifteen years without a league title, and now for the first time in Wenger's Arsenal tenure, no Champions League football. It's going from bad to worse for Arsenal, and it's no surprise that the calls to replace manager Arsene Wenger have increased and reached a fever pitch. Many expected him to go after last year's failures, but he has stuck around for another year. Make no mistake though, there can be no excuse for a repeat performance this season.

Typically the problem with Arsenal has been money, not that they don't have it, but that they refuse to spend it. Whether by some misplaced morality, or the simple greed of the club's board, the club has become typified by a lack of ambition. Now with massive recent outlays on transfer spending, including the £50 million deals for Ozil and Sanchez, £40 million on Granit Xhaka, and this year a cool £50 million for Lacazette, the club seems finally to have accepted this new reality. The money has been flowing, now the question is whether they waited too long and are simply too far off the pace to seriously challenge the big clubs. Based on last year's showing, it would appear that this may be the case.

The headline signing of the summer has been French striker Alexandre Lacazette. It's a excellent start, but won't be enough in itself to paper over the deficiencies elsewhere in the squad. More concerning for Gunners is the ongoing saga over Alexis Sanchez, by far their best player of the last few years. At a time when they need to be retaining their key personnel and building a squad, losing Sanchez would come as a bitter blow to their chances.

Key Signing: Alexandre Lacazette
Key Man: Alexis Sanchez (if he stays)

Verdict: A lot of question marks, they face a tough challenge to break back into the top 4.


Nickname: The Cherries
Ground: Dean Court
Capacity: 11,700
Last season: 9th
Manager: Eddie Howe

An impressive season for Bournemouth saw the side secure a top half finish in only their second Premier League campaign. Great credit has to go to manager Eddie Howe for his constant drive to exceed expectations. No time to rest on laurels though, two good seasons doesn't guarantee sustained success.

Their meteoric rise through the leagues (League One just five years ago!) is only part of the feel-good story surrounding the club right now. Progress has been made on a new stadium, while their summer's transfer activity has been ambitious, and astute. The signing of Aké from Chelsea could be one of the signings of the season, while the addition of experienced goalkeeper Begovic is a smart purchase. Jermain Defoe also joins this summer, a player who, despite his advancing years, still inevitably brings goals.

Equally, they have done a good job in retaining their key players from last year. It's not the league's deepest squad, particularly at the back, but they are well stocked in the midfield and up front. Striker Joshua King riding a wave of goalscoring form from last season, and could form a deadly partnership with Defoe. There is no doubting the difficulty of what lies ahead, but Eddie Howe is a good manager and on paper they don't look worse off than last year.

Key Signing: Nathan Aké
Key Man: Joshua King

Verdict: A tough ask for them to repeat last season's feats, but who would bet against them? We're going for a solid mid table finish.


Nickname: The Seagulls
Ground: Falmer Stadium
Capacity: 30,750
Last season: Promoted (2nd)
Manager: Chris Hughton

These Premier Legaue debutants may have been unexpected runners up in last year's Championship, but will need to adapt quickly if they are to navigate the colossal step up to the Premier League. At a time when even the league's smaller clubs command great financial resources and high quality on the pitch, there is no room for hesitance or inexperience. Brighton will require great strengthening just to survive.

It is to their credit that they have at the helm the experienced management of Chris Hughton, and players such as Anthony Knockaert and Liam Rosenior who are familiar with the league. But otherwise there remains a great question mark over much their squad.

They have been active in the transfer market within the confines of their financial means, the most notable of which will be the key signing of goalkeeper Mathew Ryan from Valencia. The additional depth will serve them well and ensure that they are no pushovers in this league, but have they made the kind of moves, and brought in the kind of experience that new clubs need to succeed in this league? I'm not so sure.

The Seagulls understandably begin the season on a wave of enthusiasm, but they know they face an uphill struggle in order to survive. Away fans best enjoy the opportunity for football trips to the beach while they can.

Key Signing: Mathew Ryan
Key Man: Anthony Knockaert

Verdict: No pushovers by any means, but among the favourites for the drop.


Nickname: The Clarets
Ground: Turf Moor
Capacity: 21,800
Last season: 16th
Manager: Sean Dyche

Sean Dyche is a fine manager and has done very well to survive last season with such meagre resources at his disposal. Burnley now heads into a second consecutive season in the Premier League and will be looking to consolidate their position.

To this end they have reinforced with some solid Premier League experience in Jack Cork and Phil Bardsley, but with key player Andre Gray going in the other direction. They will be looking for players like Sam Vokes to take up the mantle of main goal threat, while doing everything to keep ahold of key players like Steven Defour and Benjamin Mee.

Many pundits have favoured Burnley for relegation this season, but I think this does them a disservice. Make no mistake, this is not an especially strong squad, and with another manager they may be favourites for the drop, but with Dyche at the helm they stand a good chance of survival.

Key Signing: Jack Cork
Key Man: Sam Vokes

Verdict: Tough battle for survival, but one they can win.


Nickname: Blues
Ground: Stamford Bridge
Capacity: 41,837
Last season: Champions
Manager: Antonio Conte

It's difficult not to feel a sense of deja vu. Two years ago Chelsea were champions, but after a summer of stagnation, incompetent transfer policy, and complacency, they ended their title defence in 10th. They scapegoated the manager and swept the failure of that season under the rug. Duly they strengthened, bounced back, and are champions once more. Well surprise surprise, they didn't learn from their mistake. History is set to repeat itself.

Chelsea's squad last season was already among the smallest in the league. They owe much of their title win to the fact that they missed out on Europe, and thus had fewer games than their competition. So the fact that they have reduced the size of their squad over the summer is hard to understand. They have signed three decent players, Alvaro Morata from Real Madrid, Antonio Rudiger from Roma, and Tiemoue Bakayoko from Monaco, but they have sold twice as many players as they have brought in. The result is a squad which currently has only 14 senior outfield players, barely enough to fill a subs bench, and no proven striker.  Sure, they still have Eden Hazard and N'golo Kante, but two players can't carry a team. A single injury or suspension here could send the squad into a crisis. Just look at the bench of their opening fixture, populated almost entirely by youth products.

Even more inexplicable is the lack of a pre-season. They have played just three pre-season games this summer, compared to 6 - 8 that they ordinarily play. It is no wonder then that they looked so sluggish and unfit in the Community Shield game.

I've never seen a team of champions enter a title defence with such pessimism. This is a squad that is clearly insufficient in depth and quality for a title challenge, and perhaps for a top four finish. It is also a squad that is bizarrely unprepared for a new season, with little in the way of warm up to pull them out of their summer holidays. Two years ago, I made a bold prediction that the champions could miss out on top four, a prediction which was widely mocked, and yet turned out to be highly prescient. All signs indicate that this season could be just as bad.

Key Signing: Alvaro Morata
Key Man: Eden Hazard

Verdict: Any notion of a title defence is absurd, without at least 3 more signings top four will be a struggle.


Nickname: Eagles, Glaziers
Ground: Selhurst Park
Capacity: 25,456
Last season: 14th
Manager: Frank de Boer

Stability has been tricky to come by for Crystal Palace in recent times, through a slew of managerial changes and squad upheaval. Yet they will be hearted by the fact that they enter a 5th consecutive season in the top flight. Now with the appointment of Frank de Boer, a manager with genuine status, there is the hope that the club is starting to be seen as a Premier League mainstay, rather than one concerned with mere survival. This is a mistake, their position is far more tenuous than it appears.

It's not just luck that has led to this managerial merry-go-round. There is work that needs to be done to build consistency. Yet the club has let go of a whopping 13 players this summer, and brought in just 1 on a permanent basis. The club with nevertheless be buoyed by the promising loan moves for Chelsea youngster Ruben Loftus Cheek and Manchester United youth Timothy Fosu-Mensah, both very intriguing additions who will be interesting to see gaining regular Premier League football.

The rest of the team is not bad by any means, with the likes of Christian Benteke, Wilfried Zaha and Patrick van Aanholt in the first XI, but beyond that the depth of the squad seems a little suspect for a Premier League campaign, and one would hope that they bring in additional new faces before the end of the transfer window.

There is much to be intrigued by this Crystal Palace team, but it's clear that they have not addressed the main concerns with the squad, and seem increasingly reliant on unproven quality. The lack of squad depth makes a battle for survival a very real possibility this season. They must avoid complacency.

Key Signing: Ruben Loftus Cheek
Key Man: Wilfried Zaha

Verdict: Not safe by any means, relegation a very real possibility.


Nickname: Toffees
Ground: Goodison Park
Capacity: 40,170
Last season: 7th
Manager: Ronald Koeman

Premier League mainstays Everton enter this season in an unfamiliar position, with serious financial backing from their board. The famously frugal management has splashed a cool hundred million this summer in order to back manager Ronald Koeman. That's the kind of money one would expect of a side that's pushing very much for Champions League qualification.

Serious money has been spent on Jordan Pickford, Davy Klaassen and Michael Keane, while former youth star Wayne Rooney has been resigned from Manchester United. They will, of course, be missing the goalscoring threat of Romelu Lukaku, who went in the other direction.

So what are their prospect this season? They're a good side, one of the best in the league and with decent depth. There is an absence of players who can offer real penetration, particularly among their extended squad, and of course they miss a frontman with the calibre of their outgoing Lukaku. Of their signings, Pickford has potential but still has much to prove, while with Rooney Koeman is gambling that the former England captain was written off too soon at United. They'll make a good showing of it, but unlikely to trouble the top four this season.

Key Signing: Michael Keane
Key Man: Morgan Schneiderlin

Verdict: Probably looking at a similar finish to last year, just outside the top four.


Nickname: The Terriers
Ground: John Smith's Stadium
Capacity: 24,500
Last season: Promoted (Play-off)
Manager: David Wagner

The league's "biggest underdogs", "certain for the drop". These are all things being said about Huddersfield. And sure, they're nobody's favourite. They're Premier League newcomers, with little in the way of Premier League talent, but that also means low pressure, and belies the fact that they have actually made some pretty solid transfer moves this summer.

Steve Mounie and Mathias Jorgensen will provide decent talent for a low level Premier League side, but the most significant new face is Tom Ince, a highly talented player with plenty of top flight experience. Frankly it's surprising that no bigger side has moved for him sooner given the promise shown during his Blackpool years, but Huddersfield will reap the benefits.

Make no mistake, a monumental challenge faces this team in the coming year, but then no one fancied them for promotion last year either and look where we are. This is a club with a manager who can motivate his team and get more out of them than one might expect. They have strengthened shrewdly and reinforced in precisely the right areas. I think they could surprise people.

Key Signing: Tom Ince
Key Man: Christopher Schindler

Verdict: Everyone's favourite for relegation, I think they could surprise, and maybe survive.


Nickname: The Foxes
Ground: King Power Stadium
Capacity: 32,315
Last season: 12th
Manager: Craig Shakespeare

It is not at all a surprise that Leicester City failed to live up to their previous season's billing. Their title winning heroics were among the most astonishing feats in sporting history, and a subsequent slump to mid table is mere reversion to the mean. So where does that leave them? Hard to say. Is mid table the natural place for this club, or can they push on again into the top tier of clubs. Might they even be at risk of relegation as one might expect of a club with such limited top flight experience? It's hard to say.

There are warning signs for sure. Shakespeare does not look a longterm solution in the dugout. A change in management usually leads to a temporary resurgence in form, but beyond that it's hard to see what he brings to the table that his title winning predecessor did not.

More promising is the club's positive activity in the summer transfer market, which has seen some fairly big money moves for the likes of Harry Maguire, now set to start in the heart of defence, and Kelechi Iheanacho, the former Manchester City striker. They will complement the largely intact core of this Leicester team, which includes the likes of Jamie Vardy, Wes Morgan and Riyad Mahrez. These are all quality players who could thrive in just about any team in the league. The trouble is that beyond them the squad still looks closer to a second tier team than a top of the table side.

Ultimately Leicester have the look of a side that have marginally improved upon last season, but still face a number of challenges if they are to progress. Pre-season has not been promising, there is still a lot of work to be done if Leicester are going to consolidate their position. A top half finish will do them just fine.

Key Signing: Harry Maguire
Key Man: Jamie Vardy

Verdict: Will push for a top half finish, but face significant risk from teams lower down the table.


Nickname: Reds
Ground: Anfield
Capacity: 54,074
Last season: 4th
Manager: Jurgen Klopp

Last season saw a marked improvement for Liverpool, and a return to the Champions League. With Jurgen Klopp, one of the hottest managers in the world today, the feeling at the club is finally one of genuine optimism and direction. Can he take this club back to the top?

Now it might seem like such statements are made every season, and there is something to that, especially with the dominance of ex Liverpool players in the pundit class, but the things Klopp accomplished at Dortmund are not to be sniffed at, when faced with the total monopoly of German football and sponsorship that is Bayern Munich. That they won the title and damn near won the Champions League should not be understated.

More importantly, this is a Liverpool team bristling with quality, from Mané to Firmino, and the new big money signing of Mo Salah. Then there is the story of Philippe Coutinho, still the essential Liverpool player. Coutinho currently looks dead set on pushing through a Barcelona transfer, though Liverpool are holding firm at the time of writing. His loss would be a big blow to the team

So what is the target for this season? The title is always on the mind of Liverpool fans. More realistic is another top four finish, and this year that looks a very achievable goal.

Key Signing: Mo Salah
Key Man: Sadio Mané

Verdict: Another top four finish on the cards.


Nickname: Blues
Ground: Etihad Stadium
Capacity: 55,097
Last season: 3rd
Manager: Pep Guardiola

So what to make of this Manchester City team? On paper one of the deepest and strongest squads in the country. They finished a disappointing 3rd last season, with no major silverware, after spending a whopping £200 million in the transfer market. They have spent yet another £200 million this summer.

I've long been a vocal critic of Pep Guardiola, a manager who has only ever succeeded when inheriting a team that was already the best in the world, and has invariably left his club worse off than when they hired him. Regardless of whether you acknowledge these facts or buy into the hype, the simple fact is he has not gotten results, despite the fact that he has every resource in the world at his disposal.

He has the players. Sergio Aguero remains one of the world's best goalscorers. Kevin de Bruyne has joined a long list of neglected Chelsea youngsters to go on to become world class elsewhere. Kompany, Silva, Sané, Sterling... this is a squad packed to the rafters with quality in every position, and they have added to that abundance with the likes of Kyle Walker and Danilo, Benjamin Mendy and Bernardo Silva.

It's a squad that's up there with the best in the world on paper, with the money and facilities to accomplish anything. The only question mark remains the manager. Surely the club will not tolerate another season of failure. It's the title or bust for Pep.

Key Signing: Kyle Walker
Key Man: Sergio Agüero

Verdict: A title favourite, anything less would be a failure.


Nickname: Red Devils
Ground: Old Trafford
Capacity: 75, 643
Last season: 6th
Manager: Jose Mourinho

It seems as though the stars are beginning to align for Manchester United. They have capitalised on the foolishness of their competitors to acquire one of the best managers in the world in Jose Mourinho, one of the best young strikers in the world in Romelu Lukaku, and to top it all off they have added the hugely underrated midfield general Nemanja Matic. Add to this an already strong squad of Juan Mata, Paul Pogba, Anthony Martial and others, and this is starting to look like it could be their year.

Really, the only weakness remains their defence. Man U currently rely on Phil Jones, Eric Bailly, an ageing Antonio Valencia and Daley Blind, none of whom have really proven themselves as top class defenders. Victor Lindelof has been signed to bolster that backline, but had not have the most auspicious of starts in red. It is fortunate that they have one of the world's best goalkeepers in David de Gea to pick up the slack.

The current imperfections in the squad suggest that any ambitions of challenging the top clubs in Europe are still a ways off, but there will be time for that later. The target this season is very much to reclaim the Premier League title. Reassert domestic ascendancy, and then build on that to compete in Europe. That's what a big club is supposed to do, take note Chelsea board.

Key Signing: Romelu Lukaku
Key Man: David de Gea

Verdict: Genuine title contenders, should be there or thereabouts.


Nickname: The Magpies, Toon
Ground: St James' Park
Capacity: 52,354
Last season: Promoted (1st)
Manager: Rafa Benitez

The Newcastle rollercoaster ride continues. Up and down and up again. This time, however, there is an altogether more positive atmosphere about the club. Mike Ashley has reconciled with the fans. Rafa is doing a decent job keeping everything together, and now they're back in the top flight, with a solid chance of staying up this time.

Do they have the squad to compete at this level? There is certainly talent in this side, particularly the mercurial Jonjo Shelvey, and he is joined by the likes of Matt Ritchie, Dwight Gayle and Jamaal Lascelles. These are solid players, but going into this summer there was the clear impression that reinforcement was needed, and it's not clear that they have really done enough.

The signings of Christian Atsu and Javier Manquillo are good additions for sure, but they have been unable to add the dependable top flight striker they were after, having failed to bring in Tammy Abraham as expected.

Where is all this going? Who knows. Newcastle on paper are a side that can achieve survival, but it's going to be difficult.

Key Signing: Christian Atsu
Key Man: Jonjo Shelvey

Verdict: A tough fight for survival awaits, but they should have enough about them.


Nickname: Saints
Ground: St. Mary's Stadium
Capacity: 32,690
Last season: 8th
Manager: Mauricio Pellegrino

One of the Premier League's great success stories in recent years, Southampton's rise to the top has been hugely impressive. But a series of managerial changes and player departures has started to leave them looking a bit disjointed. A club that wishes to remain at the top needs to at some point consolidate what they have, and yet Southampton continue to turnover at a rate more befitting a club of less promise. Last season we predicted a slight regression into mid table, and they duly delivered. Now the challenge is for them to reverse the decline and build.

Mauricio Pellegrino, formerly of Manchester City, is the man now charged with taking the club forward. A fine choice with a history of success behind him. General consensus has it that he was hard done by at Manchester City, but at Southampton he'll have the patience and time to get his vision into practice.

In terms of signings, it's been a quiet summer compared to the rest of the Premier League. Mario Lemina from Juventus is the most notable of the signings. Instead the focus has been on keeping ahold of their key players, in particular Virgil van Dijk who has been linked with just about every top club in Europe and also Liverpool.

Fortunately for the most part Southampton have managed to maintain the key squad elements, the likes of Ryan Bertrand, Cedric, Fraser Forster, and striker Manolo Gabbiadini. The latter in particular will need to have a good season if Southampton are to meet expectations. The team's main flaw last season was a lack of goals. With Gabbiadini now entering a first full season with the club, fans will be hoping that he solves that particular problem.

Key Signing: Mario Lemina
Key Man: Manolo Gabbiadini

Verdict: Pellegrino to steady the ship, but too soon to push further up that table.


Nickname: Potters
Ground: Britannia Stadium
Capacity: 28,384
Last season: 13th
Manager: Mark Hughes

After a good few years of incremental improvement, Stoke had seemed to be becoming a bit of a hot thing in the Premier League, with many expecting a push into the top 10 last season. So to have ultimately slumped to a 13th place finish is being seen as something of a disappointment, and a step backwards. Certainly one can't argue that Mark Hughes has done a very impressive job with this team. Stoke are after all no longer a team merely fighting for survival every season, and in shaking off the utilitarian ways of Tony Pulis they have managed to build a side that can play real football and play it well. Still even fans will have to admit that they have lost some of their recent lustre, and worrying times may lie ahead.

Perhaps spurred on by last season's unmet expectations, the club have been fairly active in the summer transfer market. They have made a solid 6 signings, most notably for Dutch defender Bruno Martins Indy, as well as former Manchester United and West Brom midfielder Darren Fletcher. They have also made two highly shrewd loan moves for Jese of PSG and Kurt Zouma of Chelsea. At the same time, the loss of key player Marko Arnautovic is a bitter blow, and perhaps an indication that even players are worried about the direction of the club.

So what to expect this season? Based on the strength of the squad and the track record of Mark Hughes, one would have to think they're too good to get sucked into the relegation battle. Still I'd fancy them for a slump back into the lower half of the table.

Key Signing: Bruno Martins Indi
Key Man: Joe Allen

Verdict: Could be a tricky season for Mark Hughes and his team.


Nickname: The Swans
Ground: Liberty Stadium
Capacity: 21,088
Last season: 15th
Manager: Paul Clement

It's all starting to go pear-shaped for Swansea City. The club has made a good account of itself over what has been a very solid top flight run, playing good football, claiming a few giant scalps, and generally becoming a real fixture in this league. But now the frustration is starting to seep through, with more backwards movement in the league and upheaval on and off the pitch yet again (a whopping 15 players out and 9 in over the summer).

Great credit to new manager Paul Clement, who came in part way through the last season and really turned around what could have been an even worse season, but he'll have his work cut out for him this year.

The loss of Gylfi Sigurdsson is a massive blow, and one that could push the club into a relegation tussle over the coming year. That Fernando Llorente might follow him out the door makes matters even worse. Loan signing Tammy Abraham looks like he'll have a great deal more pressure on him than might have been expected. The youngster broke all kinds of teenage goalscoring records in the Championship last season, let's see if he can bring that form to the top flight. If their options look thin up front, then at least they have solid depth to fall back on in the midfield, with the likes of Jordan Ayew, and last season's inspired signing of Tom Carroll.

There's a lot of new faces, and one would have to assume there will be a gelling process before we see this Swansea team come together. The question is do they have the time to develop, or will it all be too much for them this season?

Key Signing: Tammy Abraham
Key Man: Jordan Ayew

Verdict: Could find themselves sucked into a relegation battle of not careful.


Nickname: Spurs
Ground: Wembley
Capacity: 90,000
Last season: 2nd
Manager: Mauricio Pochettino

There's not much more than needs to be said about manager Mauricio Pochettino. The man was a phenomenal success at Southampton and he has carried that midas touch on to Tottenham. Last season was a remarkable feat, achingly close to the title, and another year of Champions League football to come.

With Chelsea taking their foot off the gas, one might have suspected that Tottenham would leap on the opportunity to stake their claim for their surrendered title. Yet this summer we have seen a strangely unambitious Tottenham, incredibly still yet to make any new signings. However unlike Chelsea they have managed to keep ahold of most of their key players, with only Kyle Walker so far moving for the exit. As such, their lack of activity may not necessarily be a problem, after all this was a very fine team last year and retains the same depth of quality as before.

The squad undoubtedly ranks among the strongest in the league, with the likes of Lloris, Dier, and Christian Eriksen all performers of the highest quality. But the keys to this team undoubtedly belong to Dele Alli and Harry Kane. Picking one out of the two of them as a key man for this team is a difficult task, so central are they both to the way this club plays. With a squad this good, and still largely intact from last season, anything really is possible.

Key Signing: N/A
Key Man: Harry Kane

Verdict: Will be right up there, top four and likely title contenders.


Nickname: Hornets
Ground: Vicarage Road
Capacity: 21,577
Last season: 13th
Manager: Marco Silva

The rollercoaster continues, another managerial change, and another summer of mass squad upheaval. This summer has seen them sign 9 new players and sell 11. Despite this madness, the team actually performed fairly decently last season, coming comfortably in the mid table and never really looking at danger of relegation. New manager Marco Silva has created a sense of calm about the club and looks the right man to take this club forward.

Indeed they have signed well this summer, bringing in the likes of Tom Cleverley on a permanent basis, as well as Nathanial Chalobah and Burnley's Andre Gray. The addition of former hot prospect Will Hughes is also a tantalising move, if he can recapture the promise that was shown prior to the cruciate ligament injury he could be one of the finds of the season. The addition of so many central midfielders suggests a switch to a 4-3-3, which will give their lead man Stefano Okaka room to shine. At the moment this squad looks a little thin at the back, but their quality in midfield and attack should make them good fun to watch this season.

They won't have an easy going of it this season, but they should survive. It's important to hit the ground running or they could find themselves sucked into the relegation battle early on.

Key Signing: Tom Cleverley
Key Man: Stefano Okaka

Verdict: Lower half of the table but should survive.


Nickname: Baggies
Ground: The Hawthorns
Capacity: 26,852
Last season: 10th
Manager: Tony Pulis

The Tony Pulis project continues, and indeed the nails from Wales appears to have worked his magic on West Brom. From previous relegation battlers, Pulis has built his customary solid mid table side, and ultimately ended up squeaking into the top half last season. History tells us that pushing beyond that will be a tricky ask, but West Brom have built a fine team and should give a good account of themselves again.

Tony Pulis is one of the very best when it comes to winning Premier League points with only meager resources at your disposal. He did it with Stoke, and he did it with Crystal Palace. With Pulis at the helm, West Brom will be safe from relegation. The question now is can they push on and make a case for the top half of the table.

The loss of Darren Fletcher is a big blow, but they have replaced experience with experience by signing Gareth Barry, who now becomes arguably the key player in this West Brom side. Meanwhile the club's move for Jay Rodriguez may well solve their goalscoring issues. Those familiar with Pulis teams will however point out that great emphasis is rarely placed on the front man.

The extra spice to the tale is the upcoming expiration of Pulis, and the relatively new club owner Guochuan Lai. How will that play out? Does Lai want to keep this a Pulis team, or is the ambition somewhere else? Time, and good results, will tell.

Key Signing: Gareth Barry
Key Man: Gareth Barry

Verdict: A comfortable mid table but unlikely to break the top 10 again.


Nickname: The Hammers
Ground: London Stadium
Capacity: 60,000
Last season: 11th
Manager: Slaven Bilić

A solid mid table finish was perhaps not what was expected following the previous season's heroics. Many had been expecting the Hammers to inaugurate their new home at the Olympic stadium, now inexplicably renamed London Stadium, with a genuine push to the next level. European qualification was the aim, and with bumper crowds and the resources for squad building, it looked a realistic one.

Bilić has been getting a lot of credit for the fine work that he has done during his tenure as West Ham manager, but he'll be under pressure this season to keep the momentum going. West Ham has always been a club with ambition, and that is the case again this year as they step back out into the transfer market. The signing of experienced Man City defender Pablo Zabaleta will be a fine move, but the key additions here are the signings of Marko Arnautovic and Javier Hernandez (Chicharito). Joe Hart joining the club on loan is also a very fine choice. Mark Noble is still a key figure at this club, along with Andre Ayew. Indeed they look reasonably well stocked up front, while their summer business will hopefully shore up that thin defence.

So when will everything settle down? That remains to be seen. While this squad is by no means bad, it perhaps has not improved enough to suggest that a renewed push into the top tier of the league is a realistic goal for this season. With increased scrutiny on his job, Bilic is unlikely to have much leeway either. This will perhaps be another season of consolidation, rather than progress.

Key Signing: Javier Hernandez
Key Man: Mark Noble

Verdict: Another mid table finish on the cards.

Predicted table:
1. Manchester United
2. Manchester City
3. Tottenham
4. Liverpool
5. Chelsea
6. Arsenal
7. Everton
8. Southampton
9. West Ham
10. West Brom
11. Leicester
12. Bournemouth
13. Watford
14. Newcastle
15. Stoke
16. Burnley
17. Huddersfield
18. Swansea
19. Crystal Palace
20. Brighton

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