After a summer full of international play and friendlies, competitive play has returned and the Premier League will kick off. The first day of the Premier League season is full of hope for every club as every fan and player envisions how their team can get to the top of the table. Realistically, only a few clubs have a chance at lifting the trophy at the end of the year, but everyone can dream on opening day. These are likely the teams that have a realistic shot at the title.
After a long spell of trophy-less years at the Emirates, Arsenal have now won the FA cup in consecutive years and are coming off a big Community Shield win over London–rivals Chelsea. This success has led to high expectations for Arsene Wenger’s squad, especially domestically, as they are seeking their first Premier League title since their “Invincibles” season of 2004. Another injury to Jack Wilshere is a bad start to their campaign, but outside of that setback, they look to have their best squad in years. A problem that has plagued the Gunners over the past decade or so is the lack of consistency in goal, and now they have fixed that issue with the acquisition of Petr Cech, after Chelsea reluctantly let him go to get more first-team action.
The classic style of play that the Gunners have employed will be on full display this season, because they have the talent to pull off their free-flowing attack. If the likes of Alexis Sanchez, Mesut Ozil and Aaron Ramsey can stay healthy and avoid the midseason lull that has plagued them in recent years, this could be a very successful season in North London.
Predicted Finish: 4th
The reigning champions have made very few changes to their squad as Jose Mourinho looks to win back-to-back Premier League titles for the second time as Chelsea manager. Last year, the Blues dominated the Premier League from start to finish and got great seasons out of Diego Costa, Cesc Fabregas and Eden Hazard which they hope to repeat. The constant hamstring injuries to Costa will be a concern, and Radamel Falcao, who hopes to recreate his form of old before his unsuccessful Manchester United stint, was brought in on loan. Falcao and Asmir Begovic have been the only acquisitions so far in the transfer window, but the Blues also have a few players returning from loan that they hope can make some contributions.
Fabregas and Costa having a full year at Chelsea under their belt will only help their play this season, and Hazard will look to repeat his Premier League “Player of the Year” form. The defense will likely continue to be the most organized and solid in the league and that will help them build from the back. The only real weakness of this squad is in the midfield, with Fabregas and Nemanja Matic as the only consistent starters. Oscar John Obi Mikel and Ramires are all solid, but they are inconsistent, and if Mourinho decides to not add any more to his squad, that could be a problem as the season wears on. With all of that said, they look very likely to repeat as Champions, even with a lot of the clubs around them adding talent.
Predicted Finish: 1st
For the second summer in a row, the Anfield outfit has lost their best and most high-profile player; last year it was Luis Suarez, and this summer it was Raheem Sterling, both of whom moved on in big money moves. The loss of Sterling will weigh heavy on a Liverpool club that finished sixth in the Premier League last campaign, but an uncharacteristic big money move for Aston Villa’s Christian Benteke will help fill the void left by Sterling’s departure.
Brendan Roger’s tenure at Anfield has not been overly successful, apart from two seasons ago when he guided his squad to second in the Premier League, narrowly missing out on the title. He now has lost both his best player and longtime captain, Liverpool legend Steven Gerrard, who moved onto the MLS this summer. Rogers is not necessarily managing only to keep his job, but another mid-table finish will not help his cause. His consistency against the top teams is a part of what has plagued his time and if he can fix that this year, he could return Liverpool to what they once were.
Daniel Sturridge, Benteke and Jordan Henderson will need to play at their best if Liverpool want to get back into the top four. This club’s talent level is not at the elite level of a Chelsea or Manchester City, but they have a fringe chance of getting back into the Champions League’s qualification range.
Predicted Finish: 5th
Of all the moves made by Premier League teams this summer, City made the biggest single move, prying Raheem Sterling away from Liverpool. The young Englishman will be added to a loaded attack already consisting of David Silva and Sergio Aguero, two of the Premier League’s best overall players and set-up men. An under-the-radar acquisition of Fabian Delph was also a great move for last year’s second place finishers. Success in the Premier League has not been tough to come by in recent years for City, but what their fans will be hoping for this term is the European success that has eluded them. Maybe it has been bad matchups, or perhaps a lack of real experience among their players in making deep Champions League runs, but for whatever reason, they still have yet to get past the Champions League quarterfinals since entering the conversation of the European elite.
Manager Manuel Pellegrini will have high expectations set on him this campaign and will need to live up to them if he hopes to keep his job going forward. Just recently, rumors swirled that City has offered current Bayern Munich manager Pep Guardiola roughly 100 million pounds to leave Germany for Manchester at the start of the 2016 season. This will likely weigh heavy on Pellegrini, but he has faced similar pressures before at Real Madrid and will have a squad built for success.
Predicted Finish: 2nd
In terms of the clubs expected to finish at the top of the Premier League, Manchester United have had the busiest summer. After last year’s big name moves for Radamel Falcao and Angel Di Maria failed to pan out, the Red Devils looked to acquire young talent – and fast. Memphis Depay, Morgan Schneiderlin, Matteo Darmian and Bastian Schweinsteiger have all been brought in to reshape the team that finished fourth last year. Even with all these big moves, Louis Van Gaal’s squad still has some big holes, including at the back, due to a lack of central defenders, and in attack, as they lost both of their main strikers in Falcao and Robin Van Persie. The loss of Van Persie is a big one, as he knew how to score in England so well for so many years, and it weighs even heavier because of United’s inability to truly replace him so far this summer. Wayne Rooney is obviously a capable goal-scorer, but with his multitude of talents, it almost seems wasteful to have him as just a classic No. 9.
There is still time for Van Gaal to hunt down some more pieces to add to his puzzle of a team, but the Old Trafford outfit is far from a finished product at this point. The Red Devils might have to spend if the rumors surrounding a possible David De Gea exit come to fruition. In the same vein however, they are also too talented to not finish in the top four, and all signs point to them doing so.
Predicted Finish: 3rd
Other clubs, like Tottenham, Everton and Southampton, will have their shot at finishing in the top four, and others will challenge. Aston Villa and all the newly promoted clubs, like Watford, Norwich City and Bournemouth, will likely be fighting the relegation battle, along with others. However the season plays out, and whichever team finishes where, it is just a good feeling to have competitive football back in one of the best and most popular leagues in the world.
Commentary by Max Petkevicius
Edited by Jennifer Pfalz
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Photo Courtesy of Tim Snell’s Flickr Page – Creative Commons License