With the new Premier League season only around the corner, Ben Smith previews what is surely to be one of the most enthralling title races in recent memory.
Again, like their Manchester rivals, Man Utd fans will be approaching the new season with fresh optimism after the appointment of Jose Mourinho and the huge outlay of money on new players.
Zlatan Ibrahimovic is a huge coup and it will be very interesting to see if he can replicate the form that has made him one of the greatest strikers of his generation. Mourinho has also strengthened defensively and new signing Eric Bailly looked very solid in the Community Shield win over Leicester. Luke Shaw is back fit and big things will be expected from world record signing Paul Pogba.
I fully expect Jose Mourinho to field weakened teams in the Europa league and to focus entirely on the Premier League, and I think this will give them the edge on their title rivals who will have other commitments. Mourinho to be smiling come May.
PLAYER TO WATCH: Paul Pogba PREDICTION: 1st
Middlesbrough return to the top flight after 7 long years in the second tier. They finished as runners up in last season’s Championship but had the hugely impressive record of 22 clean sheets from their 46 league games.
This solidity will need to be replicated if they are to beat the drop. I think manager Aitor Karanka has made some useful additions to his squad and I expect them to be a very well organised outfit. In attacking areas they have good options with Jordan Rhodes and Alvaro Negredo and I think these players will do enough for Middlesbrough to finish outside the bottom three.
PLAYER TO WATCH: Alvaro Negredo PREDICTION: 16th
Another summer of upheaval at Southampton. They have lost key players Victor Wanyama and Sadio Mane, and have also lost their manager Ronald Koeman to Everton. However, it’s not all bad news for Saints fans as their excellent recruitment system has provided them with the signings of Nathan Redmond from Norwich, and highly rated Pierre-Emile Hojbjerg from Bayern Munich.
Shane Long has also committed his long term future to the club which is a big boost for the team. New manager Claude Puel has been successful during periods managing in France but the Premier League is a different kettle of fish and I feel Saints fans will have to be patient as he tries to get his philosophy across to the team.
Southampton also have the added bonus of Europa League nights at St. Mary’s and I think while this will distract from their league campaign, it will be an exciting step forward for the club.
PLAYER TO WATCH: Pierre-Emile Hojbjerg PREDICTION: 10th
The problem Stoke City face going into the new season is the growing expectations from their supporters. They are now an established mid table Premier League club and the fans yearn to push on towards the top end of the table, which of course is never an easy task.
Mark Hughes has strengthened in midfield and Joe Allen could yet prove a shrewd piece of business. Xherdan Shaqiri showed glimpses of his potential last term but he will need to show that on a more consistent basis for his team this year.
I think Stoke will struggle to better their best ever finish of ninth place, and this may not be enough to keep their supporters happy. They won’t have any relegation worries but I do not see them challenging for European positions either. Mid-table for Stoke.
PLAYER TO WATCH: Xherdan Shaqiri PREDICTION: 11th
Sunderland fans will be hoping that this time around they are not involved in the scrap for survival, as they have been for the last number of seasons. In David Moyes they have an experienced manager who knows the division well, and he will seek to build a strong team to guide the club clear of the lower regions of the division.
I would have liked to have seen Sunderland strengthen in attacking areas as Jermaine Defoe was very much on his own last season, however there is still time and I am sure David Moyes will be looking to add more talent before the window shuts.
The Stadium of Light needs to become a fortress again and I think with Moyes in charge it will be a difficult trip for any side. No worries for the Black Cats.
PLAYER TO WATCH: Wahbi Khazri PREDICTION: 13th
Similarly to Sunderland, Swansea supporters will be hoping they are not flirting with the bottom three this season and they have looked to avoid this eventuality by strengthening their squad with record signing Borja Baston from Athletico Madrid.
However, their defence was their Achilles heal last season and the imminent departure of Ashley Williams will do nothing to ease those worries. They have also lost Andre Ayew and they will need to replace him before the window shuts.
If Swansea are to avoid being dragged into the relegation dogfight they will also have to improve their away form, which was very poor last season. I feel the current squad is good enough to survive but injuries to any key players will see them be right in the scrap for survival.
PLAYER TO WATCH: Borja Baston PREDICTION: 15th
Spurs face the daunting task of trying to improve on what was an excellent season last year, despite the disappointment of ultimately finishing third. They have had a quiet transfer window thus far, adding just two players, but these are both players I feel will add great depth to the squad.
Victor Wanyama will provide cover for midfield while Vincent Janssen will provide much needed support for Harry Kane up front. The most important factor for Spurs is that they have held onto their most prized assets in the likes of Harry Kane and Hugo Lloris.
I feel the Premier League title is still a bit beyond this young and talented squad, but I think Spurs can look forward to a solid season and a good run in the Champions League. The battle for Champions League places will be fierce, but I see Tottenham finally pipping Arsenal for the first time.
PLAYER TO WATCH: Dele Alli PREDICTION: 4th
Watford were the surprise package of the promoted teams last season and had a flying start to the league campaign. Odion Ighalo and Troy Deeney formed a formidable partnership that elevated Watford to the top seven at Christmas.
Their second half of the season form was very poor and they struggled to get results from January to May. They still finished a very respectable 13th but Quique Sanchez Flores was still relieved of his duties following the final game. In club owner Gino Pozzo they have a man known for his quick hiring and firing of managers and as a result they have had six different managers in the last three years.
Their new head coach is Walter Mazzari, who has never managed outside of Italy, so it remains to be seen what he can bring to the table. Don’t be surprised to see him out of a job if Watford endure a difficult start to the season. The constant chopping and changing of managers is never good for a football club and I see Watford’s poor ownership and direction costing them their place in the top flight.
PLAYER TO WATCH: Odion Ighalo PREDICTION: 19th
West Brom supporters, like Stoke supporters, will be hoping that their team can kick on and push out of mid-table this season. I think these supporters are going to be disappointed. They have failed to make any exciting signings thus far and as a result they will struggle to push on to the next level.
Having said that, Tony Pulis will have his side well organised and they will have enough to steer clear of the drop zone. West Brom should put more effort into the domestic cups this year as this is an area they could have some success. They are not good enough at present to push into the top ten and I see them finishing in mid table.
PLAYER TO WATCH: Solomon Rondon PREDICTION: 14th
West Ham move into the Olympic Stadium with optimism after a very encouraging first season under Slaven Bilic. They have the added excitement of a Europa League campaign which will be great for the club.
Moving into a new stadium can be difficult as Arsenal learned at the Emirates some years ago, and it will be interesting to see if that fantastic Upton Park atmosphere can be transferred to a bigger arena. Retaining the services of Dmitri Payet is a great boost and the signing of Andre Ayew is one that will excite Hammers supporters also.
I think they will find it difficult to balance Thursday night football with games at the weekend but I still fancy West Ham to finish inside the top ten.
PLAYER TO WATCH: Dmitri Payet PREDICTION: 9th
FINAL TABLE PREDICTION:
- Man Utd
- Man City
- West Ham
- Crystal Palace
- West Brom