The north remembers: 2017 English Premier League preview
Football season is upon us.
Although Arsenal and Leicester City officially kicked off the 2017–18 English Premier League season in a chaotic match earlier today, the season begins in earnest this weekend. Nine of the 10 opening contests take place Saturday and Sunday, as Watford and Liverpool kick off the festivities, while Manchester United and West Ham will close proceedings Sunday morning.
If you thought the season was already well underway, you wouldn’t be alone. The EPL has dominated sporting headlines since the beginning of July, when the summer transfer window opened.
Big-name players have switched sides and coaches are already sniping at each other. It’s been an interesting season already, and the games have only just begun.
Silly season turns real, silly, and real silly
Transfers are a regular part of each preseason, but player movement has reached a zenith this summer. The Premier League heavyweights have pulled out their checkbooks early and often, with another three weeks of chaos in store before the transfer window closes Sept. 1.
Manchester United dropped a cool $100 million for former Everton striker Romelu Lukaku, Chelsea spent more than $75 million to sign Alvaro Morata from Real Madrid after missing out on Lukaku, and Manchester City invested nearly $163 million in defensive reinforcements, plus an additional $47 million on a new goalkeeper.
Even notoriously frugal Arsenal doled out the big bucks, bringing Alexandre Lacazette to the Emirates in a $62 million deal.
The biggest Premier League clubs aren’t done yet, however. Chelsea and Manchester United are rumored to be battling for the signature of Barcelona midfielder Sergi Roberto, with the Blues being 8/11 favorites to sign the Spaniard as of Aug. 10. Additionally, United may place a bid for former Tottenham and Southampton winger Gareth Bale, with Chelsea also said to be interested.
Liverpool seem poised to once again sell one of their elite talents, as reports across England and Spain have suggested Barcelona will be relentless in their pursuit of Philippe Coutinho, who is seen as a replacement for the recently departed Neymar.
As of press time, each Manchester club has a net loss of nearly $200 million. No team in the Premier League has a loss of more than $65 million, while no team capable of challenging either of the Manchester clubs has tallied a loss of more than $48 million.
United gonna United
Only one team in English history has made $100 million signings in back-to-back seasons.
Manchester United, owners of the deepest pockets in England, are back at it again. Financial muscle can aid on-field results, and United are flexing those muscles in hopes of bringing the Premier League title back to Old Trafford for the first time since Sir Alex Ferguson retired.
Expectations will be sky high after United spent more than $410 million to provide Jose Mourinho a title-contending squad. Since his arrival prior to last season, the self-professed Special One has acquired Paul Pogba, Henrikh Mkhitaryan, Zlatan Ibrahimovic, Eric Bailly, Romelu Lukaku, Nemanja Matic, and Victor Lindelof, with rumors connecting United to Gareth Bale, Ivan Perisic and Danny Rose.
Mou has a way of meeting expectations in his second season, however.
Will Mourinho’s run of second-season success continue?
In stops at FC Porto, Chelsea (twice), Inter and Real Madrid, Jose Mourinho has led his team to the league title in his second season at the helm.
This campaign will be Mourinho’s second on the Manchester United bench.
Ladbrokes gives United 4/1 odds of lifting the trophy in May, while FiveThirtyEight gives the Red Devils an 18 percent chance of winning title no. 21. Both marks are third-best in the Premier League, trailing only Manchester City and defending champions Chelsea.
Mourinho’s five-for-five record may give Red Devils fans much more optimism, as United seem poised to make their first true title challenge of the post-Ferguson era.
Who gets relegated?
Don’t get too familiar with the new boys, as both Brighton & Hove Albion and Huddersfield will head straight back down to the Championship next spring.
Burnley rode a crazy run of form at home to avoid the drop last season — 33 of their 40 points came at Turf Moor — but won’t be so lucky this time around, as their two-year stint in the top flight will come to an end.
Who earns a Champions League berth?
Spoiler alert for those who read last year’s preview: My prediction for the top three will provide a bit of deja vu.
The race for the final UCL spot will be tight this spring, with Mauricio Pochettino leading Tottenham to a fourth-place finish, just ahead of Arsenal, Everton and Liverpool.
Antonio Conte, if by nothing more than sheer force of will, will lead Chelsea to third place, assuming he doesn’t lose his mind dealing with the confounding and obstinate Chelsea board.
Manchester United, with a stacked roster and and expectations to match, will be tough all season. Mourinho will work his second-year magic, bringing the Red Devils back near the top of the Premier League table. But they’re not the best team in their own city, much less the whole of England.
Who wins the league?
Pep Guardiola has one of the best attacks in football, but was unhappy with options on defense. The powers that be at Manchester City promptly brought in Kyle Walker, Benjamin Mendy and Danilo, while also replacing the underwhelming Willy Caballero with Brazilian youngster Ederson.
Those kind of fortifications would be the envy of any team in England. Come May 13, Guardiola’s Manchester City will be the envy of England, as the Citizens will lift the Premier League trophy for the third time.
Get used to Manchester dominating the headlines
The two best teams in England are separated by less than five miles, adding fuel to an already healthy fire.
But, just for kicks, let’s throw some dynamite into the mix: Manchester City manager Pep Guardiola and Manchester United head man Jose Mourinho do not like each other, dating back to their time at Barcelona and Real Madrid, respectively. Neither man is shy about sharing his feelings on the other, either.
This Premier League season is set for a prolonged Manchester derby, played out on the pitch, in press conferences and in newspapers, all year long. Get ready for a wild ride, led by the dueling powerhouses in the north of England.