james debate
james debate

Tuesday, 27 August 2019

Welcome back football fans.  I hope everyone had a great summer, but now that we've had our approximately ten days per year of sun 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 2019/20 preview


Premier League 2018/19 Predictions in a nutshell:
Champions: Liverpool
Champions League qualifiers: Liverpool, Manchester City, Arsenal, Tottenham
Relegated: Watford, Brighton, Sheffield United
Golden Boot winner: Mo Salah (Liverpool)
Golden Glove winner: Alisson (Liverpool)
Player to watch: Raheem Sterling (Manchester City)
New signing to watch: Pepe (Arsenal)
Young player to watch: Mason Mount (Chelsea)
First manager to get the sack: Roy Hodgson (Crystal Palace)
Shock of the season: No Chelsea striker's goal tally will hit double digits



ARSENAL
Nickname: The Gunners
Ground: Emirates Stadium
Capacity: 60,000
Position last season: 5th
Manager: Unai Emery

It is fair to say that Unai Emery's first season did not quite mark the statement of intent that Arsenal fans may have hoped; trophiless and the season ending on a sour note with a decisive 4-1 drubbing at the hands of Chelsea. Nevertheless, they begin the season on a note of optimism. It seem that every season begins with some pundit or other making the declaration that "this could be the year" for Arsenal to re-enter the top tier of Premier League clubs (somewhere they clearly have not been for a number of years), but while few would entertain the notion of them being a serious title contender, they begin the season with every chance of returning to the top four.

It is easy to forget that Arsenal ended last season just one point away from Champions League qualification. Emery has built a capable squad with some genuine talent, most notably Pierre-Emerick Aubameyang whose electric season ended with a formidable 22 goal tally in the league last year.

They have also signed well this summer. The main headlines will rightly focus on the £79million man Nicolas Pepe, whose excellent track record in Ligue 1 has earned comparisons to Kylian Mbappé. The fee is astonishing, and marks the latest in a series of big-money signings for Arsenal in recent years. It will be hoped that this one fares better than some of the others. Equally, the club has done good business with the defensive reinforcements Willian Saliba and Kieran Tierney, the latter of whom in particular I am tipping to be something of a revelation this season. I expect the signing of experienced defender David Luiz will also prove to be somewhat of a boon in a squad sorely in need of big personalties.

You have to conclude that Arsenal have gotten stronger, but ultimately the question will not be whether they have gained on Manchester City and Liverpool, but whether they have gained on Chelsea and Tottenham (and maintained their advantage on Manchester United). With two Champions League places for grabs among those four teams, you would have to fancy Arsenal's chances this season.

Key Signing: Nicolas Pepe
Key Man: Pierre-Emerick Aubameyang
Verdict: Still a ways off from the top of the league, but with favourable top four prospects.


ASTON VILLA
Nickname: The Villans
Ground: Villa Park
Capacity: 42,785
Last season: Promoted (Playoff)
Manager: Dean Smith

A return to the top flight for one of England's historic clubs, and a season ahead that is just full of delicious subplots. Jack Grealish back in the Premier League, assistant manager John Terry with his first coaching role in the top flight. Villa finished the season in good form, with just two defeats since February, ultimately clinching promotion against Frank Lampard's Derby County via the playoffs.

From post-season interviews, it is clear that the higher ups and Villa still see themselves as a big club, a Premier League club, and they have wasted no time in making a statement that they do not intend to just make up the numbers, with a large number of new faces brought into the team.

Signing Tyrone Mings on a permanent deal is a no-brainer after his impressive loan spell last year, while the club will be helping that club record signing Wesley can make up for the goals of last season's top scorer Tammy Abraham, who has since returned to his parent club. Still, Villa have spent a whopping £100million of that new Premier League money on some 12 players, and yet only two of those players have top flight experience. Genuine questions will need to be asked about whether they have spent wisely. For all the new faces, however, the heart of this team remains Jack Grealish, a man perennially linked with a move to a bigger club. If he performs, the club will do well.

Is this Villa side Premier League quality? Only time will tell, but I am tipping them for survival.

Key Signing: Tyrone Mings
Key Man: Jack Grealish
Verdict: Likely to be in the relegation battle for a while, but should have enough about them to survive.


BOURNEMOUTH
Nickname: The Cherries
Ground: Dean Court
Capacity: 11,700
Last season: 14th
Manager: Eddie Howe

One has to respect the work that Eddie Howe has done with Bournemouth, the club now heading into their fifth season in the top flight. We've discussed here in previous years the astonishing transformation that the club has seen of late, and the reality is that Bournemouth are now a solid top flight club. Last season ended up being a somewhat comfortable lower mid-table finish, and the question will be whether they can now build on that.

The key for any club to build is to retain the core that has previously brought success, and Bournemouth will be pleased that they have managed to ward off suitors for a number of players. Former Chelsea academy product Nathan Aké remains a bedrock of the team's defence, despite allegedly stratospheric £70million offers from an array of top clubs. Lewis Cook (assuming he recovers well from his injury) is a stalwart midfield general. Up front, Callum Wilson and Joshua King are as tricky a pair as any team can boast in the league. They have recruited modestly, but smartly, with Lloyd Kelly and Arnaut Danjuma set to offer a new threat down the left flank.

The main problem the club faces right now is injuries, with a number of key names currently out of commission. Expect a slow start for the Cherries, but one that hopefully doesn't cause so much discouragement that they can't bounce back later on.

Key Signing: Lloyd Kelly
Key Man: Callum Wilson
Verdict: A similar lower mid-table finish is likely.



BRIGHTON
Nickname: The Seagulls
Ground: Falmer Stadium
Capacity: 30,750
Last season: 17th
Manager: Graham Potter

Brighton's second season in the top flight was rough, but they managed to hold on and now embark on another season in the Premier League. A change in management has seen Chris Hughton replaced by the hotly tipped English prospect Graham Potter, but he has a lot of work on his plate if he is to steady this ship and keep them afloat.

Brighton will be pleased to have retained the services of captain Lewis Dunk, and he will be bolstered by a new partnership with the £20million signing Adam Webster. Other than Webster, the only major signing of note will be Belgian left winger Leandro Trossard, whom the club will be hoping can add some much needed goalscoring threat to their lineup. The main issue with this squad currently is age, and the club looks set to hand more opportunities to its youngsters in an attempt to remedy this, most notably with Taylor Richards and Aaron Connolly who look set to have a prominent role this season.

So it's a new manager crafting what many will hope to be a new look Brighton team. This league will give them precious little time to adapt, however, and they head into this season knowing that they are among the favourites for the drop.

Key Signing: Leandro Trossard
Key Man: Lewis Dunk
Verdict: No pushovers by any means, but among the favourites for relegation.


BURNLEY
Nickname: The Clarets
Ground: Turf Moor
Capacity: 21,800
Last season: 15th
Manager: Sean Dyche

To what extent did Burnley's Europa League commitments affect their domestic performance? The steady improvement of the Dyche era has given way to a roller coaster of fortunes that has seen the club go from cannon fodder to top 7 and European football, and back last season to the depths of the table.

That European campaign was a welcome change of scenery for fans who had not experienced such a level of football before, but ultimately proved to be something of a strain on the players. So was it a blip brought about by overextension, or is the club really in trouble?

We shall see, but Dyche clearly appears to have confidence in the same group of players. The team has changed little over the summer, with Jay Rodriguez coming in up front, and Danny Drinkwater being brought in on loan. This means Burnley will still be depending on the usual crew, Ashley Barnes, Jack Cork, and Nick Pope. One to keep an eye on is the youngster Dwight McNeil, whose promising debut season has seen him being linked with moves to several larger clubs.

Key Signing: Jay Rodriguez
Key Man: Ashley Barnes
Verdict: Should improve on last season, but unlikely to repeat the highs of two years ago.


CHELSEA
Nickname: Blues
Ground: Stamford Bridge
Capacity: 41,837
Last season: 3rd
Manager: Frank Lampard

Whatever happens, this is going to be a fascinating season for Chelsea. Rocked by a transfer ban, and helmed by a new, inexperienced manager, the fact that talismanic forward Eden Hazard finally made his move to Real Madrid would seem to be the cherry on top of what seems destined to be a disaster of a season.

That's the pessimist's view. The silver lining is that that inexperienced manager is none other than club legend Frank Lampard, whose debut season in management at Derby County was widely hailed as a success. He replaces a manager who, let's be honest, no one was sad to see go. Meanwhile that transfer ban looks set to finally force the club to make use of its Academy's considerable pool of homegrown talent. Chelsea's youth team are undoubtedly among the best in the world, having dominated domestically and across Europe for years, and a large number of Academy products have gone on to be stars across the continent. If Chelsea can finally find a way to integrate that great resource into their first team, then ultimately it may not end up having been such a bad thing.

But the key point to remember is that this is still largely the same squad that finished third and won the Europa League last season. Rudiger is a top defender. N'Golo Kanté is arguably the best in the world in his position, and perhaps the only nailed-on starter in this Chelsea team. He will be absolutely key.

The permanent signing of Kovacic is a good, albeit largely superfluous seeming move, while there will be much ado about Christian Pulisic, the American hotshot who has ostensibly been signed as Eden Hazard's replacement. Last season saw the serious first team participation of youth products Ruben Loftus-Cheek and Callum Hudson-Odoi, and they look likely to be joined this year by Mason Mount, Tammy Abraham, and Reece James amongst others in what could be the most youthful looking Chelsea side for a generation. Frankly, with the squad at their disposal, Chelsea will have no choice but to use most of those young players on a regular basis.

If Chelsea have a major weakness, it's up front. Their transfer ban means they have been unable to sign a first-rate striker. Giroud is a very useful workhorse of a player, but doesn't score many goals. Michy Batshuayi is quite the personality, but has not shown himself to have the quality or consistency for this type of club. Tammy Abraham has bags of potential on the back of a few goal-laden seasons in the lower leagues, but has not yet proven himself at this level. It is simply hard to see where the goals are going to come from. Chelsea are going to need the midfield to step up, otherwise it will be a long season.

So a Chelsea legend takes the club on a grand, Academy-focused experiment for a season. What could go wrong? Let's be frank, if this team ends up anywhere near Champions League qualification it will be a good showing.

Key Signing: Christian Pulisic
Key Man: N'Golo Kanté
Verdict: An exciting season awaits, but unlikely to remain in the top four.


CRYSTAL PALACE
Nickname: Eagles, Glaziers
Ground: Selhurst Park
Capacity: 25,486
Last season: 12th
Manager: Roy Hodgson

Stability has been tricky to come by for Crystal Palace in recent times, through a slew of managerial changes and squad upheaval. This season could be Hodgson's toughest yet at the club, as he struggles to manage an ageing squad that is increasingly dependent on one player.

Whether Wilfried Zaha stays or goes in January could well be the difference between survival and relegation, such is the influence of the lad. Zaha is consistently rated as one of the best non-top six players in the league, and a move to a bigger club seems inevitable every time the transfer window opens. Matters are not helped by the departure of last season's star performer Aaron Wan-Bissaka, off to Manchester United for a frankly absurd amount of money. This is a small squad, and serious doubts persist over whether the club has done enough over the summer to strengthen.

So who has come in? Jordan Ayew from Swansea looks a good bit of business, while Gary Cahill may not help the age problem, but brings a wealth of experience and quality. Otherwise its slim pickings. The lack of squad depth may not necessarily be entirely Roy Hodgson's fault, but in this sport we all know the manager is usually the first to go when things don't pan out as planned. I'm tipping Roy to go and to go early this season.

Key Signing: Jordan Ayew
Key Man: Wilfried Zaha
Verdict: A tricky season lies ahead.


EVERTON
Nickname: Toffees
Ground: Goodison Park
Capacity: 40,170
Last season: 8th
Manager: Marco Silva

So established are Everton as the perennial "best of the rest" in the Premier League that it has become one of football's most pervasive memes. Last season saw the club finish yet again just outside the top 6, and Marco Silva has strong foundations on which to build as he heads into his sophomore season.

Everton can boast a very fine starting XI. Keane, Digne and Mina contribute to one of the league's meanest defences, while Jordan Pickford is a goalkeeper of the highest calibre. Gylfi Sigurðsson is as formidable as ever all over the pitch, while Richarlison on his day is a potent threat. Silva has added good depth to his squad over the summer with the likes of André Gomes and Alex Iwobi, but the standout signing for me is former Juventus prospect Moise Kean, widely tipped as a star of the future. It will be exciting to see how he settles and develops in the Premier League.

It's good news off the pitch as well, with the club finally moving ahead with plans for a new stadium, while the league's financial dominance ensures the club maintains the sort of healthy bank balance that had been missing in years gone by, with resources to spend. Indeed Everton have splashed more than £100 million this summer, a sum that would have been unthinkable for the club a few short years ago.

For all the positives, the question has to be to what extent can this Everton side pose a credible threat to the top tier of clubs above them. This team may well remain the best of the rest, but I'm skeptical that they have the kind of star power needed to push them into those upper echelons.

Key Signing: Moise Kean
Key Man: Gylfi Sigurðsson
Verdict: Probably looking at a similar finish to last year, top half of the table.


LEICESTER CITY
Nickname: The Foxes
Ground: King Power Stadium
Capacity: 32,315
Last season: 9th
Manager: Brendan Rodgers

It's been a rough old ride for Leicester since their still hard to believe title triumph a few years back. A few managerial changes and some pretty mixed performances. While few of the old guard remain, there were enough signs towards the tail end of last season, and particularly following the appointment of Brendan Rodgers last February, to suggest that they may finally be finding their level in this league.

I've always been a big fan of Rodgers. I saw first hand the exceptional work he did with the Chelsea youth team back in the day, and it's easy to forget that it was he who took Liverpool from a top 7 club to within one small slip of the Premier League title, laying the groundwork for the Klopp era.

Whisper it quietly, but this could even be a better Leicester side than the one that won their shock league title. The versatility of Ayoze Perez (signed on a permanent deal now) has freed up Jamie Vardy in a way not seen since the days of Riyad Mahrez, while in Youri Tielemans (also signed on a permanent deal) they have a bona fide prospect at the heart of their midfield. James Maddison, meanwhile, lived up to our pre-season billing as a potential star in this team, his breakout season establishing his name as one of the league's leading youngsters.

So what are their prospects, really? They're not top four challengers, but if they can achieve greater consistency than they did last year they could really be a force among the next best teams. A place in Europa League qualification is a very reasonable target.

Key Signing: Ayoze Perez
Key Man: Jamie Vardy
Verdict: A potential top 6 contender.


LIVERPOOL
Nickname: Reds
Ground: Anfield
Capacity: 54,074
Last season: 2nd
Manager: Jurgen Klopp

Plenty has been said of Jurgen Klopp's Liverpool side in a season which saw the club smash all kinds of records, be crowned European Champions, and yet still not win that long sought after league title. The fact is that regardless of which side finished one point above the other, there is no doubt that this Liverpool side count themselves among the world's top football teams at the moment, and at least an equal of Pep's very impressive Manchester City.

"If it ain't broke, don't fix it" appears to have been the thinking this summer, and Liverpool have done very little in the way of reinforcing what is already a strong squad. Of this summer's signings, only Adrian has featured in the early games, and even there only because of injury to first choice keeper Alisson. It's hard to argue with that logic. In Firmino, Mané and Salah, Liverpool have arguably the finest attacking three in the world right now. In Alisson they have one of the best goalkeepers, and Virgil van Dijk is almost certainly the world's top defender at the moment, if not one of the top players in any position.

There is certainly no doubt as to the target. Liverpool are not nearly-men any more. They are title contenders, if not favourites, and they will come into this season even hungrier after last season's exploits and near miss. In what otherwise looks to be a tight contest, that could make the crucial difference.

Key Signing: Adrian
Key Man: Mo Salah
Verdict: Title or bust.


MANCHESTER CITY
Nickname: Blues
Ground: Etihad Stadium
Capacity: 55,097
Last season: Champions
Manager: Pep Guardiola

Which leads us nicely to the back-to-back champions. Manchester City have thrown the wealth of an entire nation into building a great football team, and have succeeded in doing so. They are one of the great teams in football at the moment whatever you think of their methods or their manager and his mixed track record. Yet for all their on-the-pitch success, the top prize in Europe eludes them, a fact that perhaps stings all the more when last season's close runners up Liverpool have managed two consecutive Champions League finals.

Suffice it to say, this is a squad with an embarrassment of quality all over the pitch, whether it's Laporte and Walker at the back, Silva, Mahrez and de Bruyne in midfield, Aguero up front. But it is the attacking talent of Raheem Sterling, seemingly improving year-on-year which wields the greatest influence in this side now, and he will be absolutely indispensible. Despite their great squad depth, City have seen fit to spend almost £200 million this summer, including two £60million+ players in Rodri and Cancelo. Of these new faces, Rodri in particular looks a fine addition, one of the few players who could walk right into this City side and make an instant impact.

Few would bet against them being in the running for the title this season. The question will be to what extent they can maintain their fine domestic record while balancing the demands of a European campaign, one which they are desperate to win. Very few teams have managed to win three in a row, and as good as they are, for City to join that elite club will be a difficult task, one that will cement their place along the league's greatest sides.

Key Signing: Rodri
Key Man: Raheem Sterling
Verdict: A title favourite, anything less would be a failure.


MANCHESTER UNITED
Nickname: Red Devils
Ground: Old Trafford
Capacity: 75, 643
Last season: 6th
Manager: Ole Gunnar Solskjaer

For a while it seemed that Manchester United might finally have been on the road back to greatness under José Mourinho. It's easy to forget that his side finished a credible league runner up just two seasons ago. Then everything fell apart, in a routine that has become predictable in the post-Fergy era. Ex-player Ole Gunnar Solskjaer has taken José's place, and returned some of the good-time feeling to the club. Turning them from a top 7 side into a club of genuine Champions League quality will be another matter.

The jury is still out on whether Solskjaer can really become a top manager, or just a fan-friendly face to keep things ticking along. The bigger worry will be a squad that includes some excellent talent, and some massive holes. The club has tried to patch a threadbare defence with two big-money signings. Most of the attention will be on the astonishing £80million man Harry Maguire, but it is his new teammate Aaron Wan-Bissaka with the greatest potential to improve this side.

Paul Pogba has grown into his world record valuation and resides at the heart of this United side, while the departure of Romelu Lukaku sees the attacking responsibilities fall on Marcus Rashford and Anthony Martial. Both of those players have undeniable quality, but have seemed to struggle for consistency in recent seasons. Will they be sufficient for United to mount a top 4 campaign? We will have to see, but I have my doubts.

Key Signing: Aaron Wan-Bissaka
Key Man: David de Gea
Verdict: Likely to fall just short of top 4.


NEWCASTLE
Nickname: The Magpies, Toon
Ground: St James' Park
Capacity: 52,354
Last season: 13th
Manager: Steve Bruce

The Newcastle rollercoaster ride is as ubiquitous to English football as the twin towers of Wembley and Des Lynam's moustache. Rafa Benitez had appeared to finally be bringing some semblance of stability and accomplishment to a side well passed its heyday... then in classic Newcastle fashion he abruptly left the club, to be replaced by the rather more pedestrian Steve "I'll just about avoid relegation but don't expect much else" Bruce.

Bruce inherits a squad that Rafa had managed to put to good use, and in their defence the club has not been shy about backing their new man in the transfer market. A big money move for Joelinton has raised a few eyebrows, but his extra firepower up front will be invaluable as the season progresses. Elsewhere, new-boy Allan Saint-Maximin adds a different kind of threat down the wing.

Bruce has a job to do here. This squad has its fair share of bloat, and lacks the kind of star personalities that many of their lower half of the table competitors do. Jamaal Lascelles has been impressive at the back, and is rightly turning the heads of a few bigger clubs. Miguel Almirón and Matt Ritchie add to what is a decent top flight spine, but there's not much depth beyond that.

This has the makings of a tough season for Newcastle, with many pundits tipping them for a relegation battle. I think they have enough to stay up.

Key Signing: Joelinton
Key Man: Jamaal Lascelles
Verdict: Good enough to survive, but could find themselves in a relegation battle if they're not careful.



NORWICH
Nickname: The Canaries
Ground: Carrow Road
Capacity: 27,244
Last season: Promoted (Champions)
Manager: Daniel Farke

The Championship's entertainers of last season, this Norwich side cut a very impressive attacking outfit, and it will be interesting to see if they can show some of that panache in a league of a higher standard.

Farke has got this side moving the ball forward quickly, and in Teemu Pukki a hugely prolific striker who has emerged seemingly out of nowhere in the latter stages of their career. Todd Cantwell and Jamal Lewis complete a spine that proved dominant in the lower division, and presents a good starting point to build for their return to the top flight. It is interesting then that the club have deigned not to make extensive use of that delicious Premier League cash, and their summer transfer activity provided only minimal reinforcement and bargain signings. It will nevertheless be interesting to see what Patrick Roberts, formerly the next big thing in English football and now signed on loan for the season, can do when given the opportunity for more first team football in the top flight.

Norwich make an exciting side to watch, but for their attacking talents the quality of their defence has been an issue, with a goals conceded rate that would have placed Norwich squarely in the mid-table of the Championship last season. They'll face a far greater attacking threat in this league and if they don't manage to adapt quickly, it could be a long season for them.

Key Signing: Patrick Roberts
Key Man: Teemu Pukki
Verdict: Lots of goals at both ends to be expected, but if they don't solidify at the back they could be at risk of relegation.


SHEFFIELD UNITED
Nickname: The Blades
Ground: Bramall Lane
Capacity: 32,125
Last season: Promoted (2nd)
Manager: Chris Wilder

The rise of Sheffield United from League One to the top flight in just three seasons has been nothing short of remarkable. The Premier League is another beast entirely, and there is the impression that this may be as far as the fairytale goes.

They're certainly determined to make a go of it while they are here, and a summer of fairly confident spending has seen them splash more than £40million on forwards Oliver McBurnie and Lys Mousset. Elsewhere, former Everton centre back Phil Jagielka will bring some much needed experience, along with Ravel Morrison, the former Manchester United man who Alex Ferguson had once described as the most talented youngster since Paul Scholes, but whose career has since failed to meet its potential.

Elsewhere, Sheffield United's squad has just too many question marks about them. Can David McGoldrick bring his hugely impressive form last season against this much more difficult top flight opposition? John Egan and Jack O'Connell were at the heart of the Championship's tightest defence last season, but do they have the quality to face off against some of the world's best attacking talent?

It's a bit of a cliché, but there are no bad teams in the Premier League. Unfortunately, compared to some of their competition at the lower end of the table, this Sheffield United side just don't seem to have much about them.

Key Signing: Oliver McBurnie
Key Man: David McGoldrick
Verdict: A tough season that could see Sheffield United among favourites for the drop.


SOUTHAMPTON
Nickname: Saints
Ground: St. Mary's Stadium
Capacity: 32,690
Last season: 16th
Manager: Ralph Hasenhüttl

It's been a rough couple of years for Southampton. A meteoric rise to the upper echelons of the Premier League was duly met with a scavenging of the club's most prized assets (mostly by Liverpool). They've generated a lot of revenue from those sales, and yet somehow it appears to have been squandered. Add to that a number of managerial changes and a general air of instability, and Southampton ultimately found themselves just barely clinging to top flight football. If Ralph Hasenhüttl is not able to steady the ship they could be in for another difficult season.

While the golden boys may have moved on, there's still plenty to like in this team: the width offered from the back by Ryan Bertrand on the left, the mercurial talents of Redmond and James Ward-Prowse. The loss of Charlie Austen marks a change up front, but he will be well replaced by Danny Ings, who completed a permanent signing to the club this summer after spending last season on loan.

But this is a very vulnerable team, especially against opponents playing through the middle of the pitch. Depth is also a problem, especially given the last few seasons of disappointing signings. This is a squad in need of major rebuilding, and they just did not achieve that this summer. It could be a long season for the Saints.

Key Signing: Danny Ings
Key Man: Ryan Bertrand
Verdict: A real risk for relegation this year.


TOTTENHAM HOTSPUR
Nickname: Spurs
Ground: Wembley
Capacity: 90,000
Last season: 4th
Manager: Mauricio Pochettino

Last season serves as a perfect embodiment of the frustrations of the Mauricio Pochettino era at Tottenham. So close to greatness, but just lacking that something extra needed to bring home the silverware. Last season started off in a rocky fashion, with Pochettino quite vocally bemoaning the lack of financial support and control that he had been afforded by the board. By mid-season they were flying once again, only to slump in the latter stages, only just clinging to a top four place. The somewhat inert league performance was somewhat mitigated by a stunning run in Europe, which saw them unexpectedly reach a first ever Champions League final, only to fall short again.

If there is one silver lining, it is that last season's doomed heroics appear to have finally convinced owner Daniel Levy of the importance of investing in the squad, a cool £100million being spent on Tanguy Ndombele and Ryan Sessegnon amongst others, while the tantalising prospect Giovani Lo Celso joins on loan.

The squad undoubtedly ranks among the strongest in the league, with the likes of Dele Alli, Christian Eriksen, Lucas Moura, and Moussa Sissoko all performers of the highest calibre. But the star man, as if there was any doubt, is Harry Kane, arguably one of the world's best strikers at the moment and a talismanic figure in this Tottenham team. Have no doubt, this side will be up there with the big boys again. The question is whether their new additions will give them that little bit extra depth to maintain the form of which we know they are capable over an entire season.

Key Signing: Tanguy Ndombele
Key Man: Harry Kane
Verdict: Will be right up there, top four but unlikely title contenders.


WATFORD
Nickname: Hornets
Ground: Vicarage Road
Capacity: 21,577
Last season: 11th
Manager: Javi Gracia

Watford have proven something of a livewire in the Premier League over the past few seasons, bursting out the gates each season with some recklessly attacking football that has endeared themselves to neutrals, only to run out of gas in the latter half of the season. It is a knack that has earned them a series of mid-table finishes, and most impressively their first ever FA Cup final appearance. Most pundits appear to be expecting more of the same this season, but in my view I see plenty more reason for fans to worry.

It is only natural for people to see a pattern and expect it to continue, but surprisingly few have really asked why Watford's late-season form has tended to tail off in such a dramatic fashion. This is a team that has sorely lacked for depth in quality, and has masked their deficiency with the verve provided by a few exceptional individual talents. Most of those talents have now moved on to other clubs, while a number of their key players have been plagued with fitness and injury problems.

Despite this, precious little seems to have been done during the summer to prepare them for a stronger campaign. The club's defenders have bafflingly declared "if it ain't broke, don't fix it" applies, never mind the fact that all of Watford's competitors will have strengthened considerably. They enter this season in a precarious position, with a real risk of being dragged into the relegation battle.

Key Signing: Danny Welbeck
Key Man: Troy Deeney
Verdict: A difficult season, with a risk of relegation.


WEST HAM UNITED
Nickname: The Hammers
Ground: London Stadium
Capacity: 60,000
Last season: 10th
Manager: Manuel Pellegrini

Always a pundits' favourite. The golden age romanticism of the ex-football brigade is always dying for a West Ham resurgence, but it never quite clicks for them. One season they'll look on the verge of a big leap, only to slump to a safe mid-table finish the next. At their worst, they find themselves dragged in and around the foot of the table. So it is again, and with the Pellegrini hype in full swing, there's real talk of a top ten finish and maybe even a push for the Europa League. But such things seldom happen over night, and Hammers fans would do well to strike a tone of caution.

This applies particularly for the upcoming season, with significant transition around the team. Mark Arnautovic has departed, with new big money signing Sebastien Haller ostensibly taking on the responsibility of main forward. Noble and Hernandez aren't getting any younger, while key players such as Yarmolenko, Wilshire and Lanzini have struggled for fitness of late.

Still, this is a team that, on paper, should do well when firing on all cylinders. Haller will bring a potent goal threat to the Premier League. Fabianksi was one of the league's best performing goalkeepers last season. Lanzini pulls the strings quite capably in attack when fit, while Declan Rice is the beating heart of a very tough midfield.

Expect a slow bedding period for a side with this many changes, but if they can gel, and if they can bring a fresh attacking impetus to their game, then they can do well this season. There's not a whole lot between the teams in the middle of the table, and you could see West Ham finishing anywhere from 8th to 15th or so.

Key Signing: Sebastien Haller
Key Man: Manuel Lanzini
Verdict: A solid mid-table finish.


WOLVERHAMPTON WANDERERS
Nickname: Wolves
Ground: Molineux Stadium
Capacity: 31,700
Last season: 7th
Manager: Nuno Espirito Santo

One of the more interesting clubs to watch in recent years. Formerly a Big Club™ as recently as the mid 20th Century, buoyed in recent years by a wave of foreign investment. Their rise has been meteoric and they marked their return to the top flight with a hugely credible 7th place finish. The expectation this season has to be for another strong year.

Wolves have made a habit of investing in good young talent, the likes of Ruben Neves, Diogo Jota, and Adama Traore, but with a bedrock of experience in Joao Moutinho and Rui Patricio, among others. They have invested well again this summer with big money moves for the likes of Raul Jimenez and Patrick Cutrone. Of these new faces, Jimenez represents probably the most immediate upgrade to their existing lineup, but the high potential of Cutrone could bring the greatest benefit in the long run.

Once again, Wolves are buying talent like a big club, and crucially they have managed to hold onto their existing assets. They may be a lesser known name for modern football fans, but this is a strong team, and not to be taken lightly.

Key Signing: Raul Jimenez
Key Man: Ruben Neves
Verdict: Another credible finish in the top half of the table.


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







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