August 7, 2018

2018-19 English Premier League preview: The 10 pretenders

by Dan Bilicki In: Soccer

Not every team has a chance at playing for a European spot in the Premier League and many will be happy to just survive in the top flight for another season. Here are the teams that should be closer to the relegation zone than the top of the table.

Burnley

2017-18: Seventh place, 54 points.

The skinny: Manager Sean Dyche’s defensive system has worked wonders for the Clarets, who allowed the sixth-fewest goals in the league and had the seventh-best goal differential last season. After losing England keeper Tom Heaton to injury for most of the season, the backline remained strong with Nick Pope stepping in. With an improvement in attack, Burnley could move even further up the table.

Biggest news: Lost Pope to a shoulder injury that will keep him out up to three months.

Big question: Can the Clarets cope with the added rigors of Europa League competition – if they do qualify?

Key arrivals: Ben Gibson.

Key departures: Scott Arfield.

Key player: Tom Heaton

Prediction: 11th place after the defence holds strong, but the attack can’t turn good performances into wins.

Wolverhampton Wanderers

2017-18: First in League Championship, 99 points.

The skinny: This isn’t your average promoted team. After an ownership takeover in 2016, Wolverhampton has seen some big investment in the team. Among the players brought in, Ruben Neves has been the star – a Champions League-calibre player anchoring the midfield. The moves have paid dividends thanks to its lucrative return to the Premier League and sights should be set on the midtable.

Biggest news: Longtime goalkeeper Carl Ikeme was forced into retirement after a year-long battle with acute leukemia.

Big question: With the signings of Joao Moutinho and Rui Patricio, are there any other Portuguese players left for Wolves to get?

Key arrivals: Willy Boly, Rui Patricio, Diogo Jota, Joao Moutinho, Benik Afobe, Jonny, Raul Jimenez.

Key departures: None.

Key player: Ruben Neves

Prediction: 12th place and possibly some more good transfer signings coming in January.

Bournemouth

2017-18: 12th place, 44 points.

The skinny: Eight years ago, the Cherries were in the fourth tier of English football; now they’ll be looking to clinch a fifth season in the top loop. The little club that could struggled to begin last season, failing to win its second game until Oct. 21, 2017. A stellar January solidified a spot in the midtable, as Eddie Howe was awarded manager of the month.

Biggest news: Signed Diego Rico after the Spanish fullback turned down a bigger contract at Germany’s Borussia Dortmund.

Big question: After going 2-0-10 against the top six clubs, can Bournemouth improve against the league’s top competition?

Key arrivals: Diego Rico.

Key departures: Benik Afobe, Max Gradel, Lewis Grabban.

Key player: Joshua King

Prediction: 13th place and Howe earns one manager of the month award to go with plenty of praise.

Leicester City

2017-18: Ninth place, 47 points.

The skinny: This isn’t the same side that shockingly won it all just a few years ago. Of the core players that captured the sporting world in 2015-16 only Jamie Vardy and Kasper Schmeichel remain while playing at a high level. Former Southampton manager Claude Puel will try to right the ship, but will be in tough without the likes of Riyad Mahrez. In short, we’re not expecting any miracles from the midlands this season.

Biggest news: Sold Mahrez to Man City, but have held off Man United’s interest in World Cup standout Harry Maguire.

Big question: Is there any way to rekindle the magic or are the Foxes doomed to fight for midtable scraps?

Key arrivals: Rachid Ghezzal, James Maddison, Jonny Evans, Ricardo Pereira.

Key departures: Mahrez, Ahmed Musa.

Key player: Jamie Vardy

Prediction: 14th place and we wouldn’t be surprised if Puel doesn’t make it to January.

Watford

2017-18: 14th place, 41 points.

The skinny: Watford started the season strong, sitting as high as fourth in the table in October, before starting to slide. Manager Marco Silva was fired in January amid reports of him being distracted due to tampering by a rival – he eventually joined Everton, the team in question, this off-season. From there, new manager Javi Gracia brought the team home with an uninspiring 4-3-8 record.

Biggest news: Sold Brazilian winger Richarlison to former manager Silva at Everton for $68 million.

Big question: Can the Hornets repeat their hot start from last year, or will they struggle again under Gracia?

Key arrivals: Gerard Deulofeu, Ben Foster, Adam Masina, Marc Navarro.

Key departures: Richarlison, Nordin Amrabat, Mauro Zarate, Costel Pantilimon.

Key player: Gerard Deulofeu

Prediction: 15th place and some uncomfortable days in or around the relegation zone.

Brighton & Hove Albion

2017-18: 15th place, 37 points.

The skinny: The Seagulls survived their first Premier League season in unspectacular fashion. Apart from some good performances from Pascal Gross and Jose Izquierdo, their offence was often lacking and the team was especially poor on the road, finishing with a league-worst 11 away points. The only thing that kept BHA up was gaining the eighth-most home points in the league, losing only four games at Falmer Stadium.

Biggest news: Broke its club record transfer fee, buying Iranian winger Alireza Jahanbakhsh from AZ Akmaar for $22 million.

Big question: Can manager Chris Hughton find a way to bottle up his club’s solid play at home and bring it on the road?

Key arrivals: Alireza Jahanbakhsh, Percy Tau, Bernardo.

Key departures: None.

Key player: Pascal Gross

Prediction: 16th place and some calls about Gross in the January transfer window.

Fulham

2017-18: Third in League Championship, 88 points.

The skinny: Once a Premier League mainstay, Fulham is back in the top tier after spending four season in League Championship. The Cottagers were the hottest team in the Championship from Christmas on, winning 15 matches in a 19-game undefeated streak before securing promotion in a playoff win over Aston Villa.

Biggest news: Swooped in to steal Ivory Coast midfielder Jean Michael Seri from under the noses of Chelsea and Arsenal.

Big question: How will 18-year-old winger Ryan Sessegnon fare against the big boys of the Premier League after racking up 15 goals last season?

Key arrivals: Aleksandar Mitrovic, Alfie Mawson, Jean Michael Seri, Andre Schurrle.

Key departures: Ryan Fredericks.

Key player: Ryan Sessegnon

Prediction: 17th place and a fight to the end to avoid relegation.

Southampton

2017-18: 17th place, 36 points.

The skinny: Once one of the top academies, the Saints well might be running dry. After years of selling off its top players – mainly to Liverpool – a lack of talent has seemingly caught up to the South coast side. Manager Mark Hughes was able to save the team from relegation in the final days of the season and was rewarded with a three-year deal.

Biggest news: Signed Mohammed Elyounoussi from Basel as a replacement for Dusan Tadic, who left for Ajax.

Big question: Can Hughes return the club to its roots and starting building it back up with homegrown talent?

Key arrivals: Mohamed Elyounoussi, Stuart Armstrong, Jannik Vestergaard.

Key departures: Dusan Tadic, Sofiane Boufal, Jordy Clasie.

Key player: Charlie Austin

Prediction: 18th place and a focus on rebuilding their youth in the future.

Huddersfield Town

2017-18: 16th place, 37 points.

The skinny: After two wins to start the season, the Terriers were sitting atop the table. It was all downhill from there and Huddersfield barely survived the relegation battle. In fact, it was tied for the fewest goals scored at 28 and had the second-worst goal differential at -30. If the Terriers want to survive another season, they’ll need more bite than bark.

Biggest news: After barely surviving relegation, it gave manager David Wagner a contract extension through the 2020-21 season.

Big question: Where are the goals going to come from? Aaron Mooy is a solid playmaker, but the team lacks finishing up front.

Key arrivals: Ramadan Sobhi, Juninho Bacuna, Adama Diakhaby, Erik Durm.

Key departures: Tom Ince.

Key player: Aaron Mooy

Prediction: 19th place and a spot near the bottom of the goals for chart.

Cardiff City

2017-18: Second in League Championship, 90 points.

The skinny: The Bluebirds are back and they’re actually wearing blue this time around. Cardiff returns after a disastrous 2013-14 season saw it finish last in the Premier League. A marked improvement in defence saw it climb from the midtable to second in League Championship, tied with Wolves at 39 goals conceded in 46 games.

Biggest news: Signed top scorer and Canadian international Junior Hoilett to a contract extension, keeping him at club for three more seasons.

Big question: Will owner Vincent Tan be able to stay out of the limelight after causing controversy during Cardiff’s previous EPL stay?

Key arrivals: Josh Murphy, Bobby Reid, Alex Smithies.

Key departures: None.

Key player: Junior Hoilett

Prediction: 20th place and another quick trip back to the Championship.

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