August 8, 2018

2018-19 English Premier League preview: The 10 contenders

by Dan Bilicki In: Soccer

It’s called the best league in the world for a reason: The teams that make up the top of the table are some of the most talented out there, ready for the 10-month grind towards potentially hoisting the trophy come next May. Here are the Premier League’s 10 best teams.

Manchester City

2017-18: First place, 100 points.

The skinny: The defending champions had a record-setting season last year and only got better over the summer. City set EPL marks for wins, points, goals and differential while also going on an unheard-of 18-game winning streak. This is the strongest, deepest club that the league has seen in years – City’s backup XI could be a top-six team in the Premier League. A repeat seems to be in the offing, unless the Sky Blues takes a serious step backwards.

Biggest news: Broke its club transfer record once again, signing Riyad Mahrez for $101 million from Leicester City.

Big question: How will City fare in Champions League, the one title that has eluded the club?

Key arrivals: Riyad Mahrez.

Key departures: Yaya Toure.

Key player: Kevin de Bruyne

Prediction: First place a spot in the Champions League semifinals.

Liverpool

2017-18: Fourth place, 75 points.

The skinny: A whirlwind season for Jurgen Klopp’s charges ended with them falling just short in the Champions League final to Real Madrid. Led by Mohamed Salah’s record-setting 32 goals, the Reds were an offensive juggernaut that were too often undone by mistakes at the back. The Reds’ five losses were second-fewest in the league, but draws against teams below them in the table scuttled any chance of a realistic run at the top of the table.

Biggest news: Solidified its biggest weaknesses by bringing in goalkeeper Alisson and midfielders Naby Keita (who had agreed to join last summer) and Fabinho.

Big question: Can Salah approach that level of greatness again, or was he just a flash in the pan?

Key arrivals: Alisson, Naby Keita, Fabinho, Xherdan Shaqiri.

Key departures: Emre Can, Danny Ward.

Key player: Mohamed Salah

Prediction: Second place and an honest run at City atop the table.

Manchester United

2017-18: Second place, 81 points.

The skinny: If it weren’t for its noisy neighbours, United would’ve had a decent chance at winning the title. After all, 81 points is what it took for Leicester to become champs in 2015-16. It was a good result considering the inconsistency in the lineup and reported turmoil behind the scenes. There was even visible on-pitch strife between manager Jose Mourinho and star midfielder Paul Pogba. Whether or not the team is fed up with The Special One remains to be seen, but this is one of the most talented squads in the world.

Biggest news: His name might not inspire much creativity, but new-signing Fred is no joke in the midfield.

Big question: Will United fall into the third-season woes that usually come along with the eccentric Mourinho?

Key arrivals: Fred, Diogo Dalot, Lee Grant

Key departures: Daley Blind, Michael Carrick.

Key player: Paul Pogba

Prediction: Third place and a lot of tabloid fodder from Mourinho.

Arsenal

2017-18: Sixth place, 63 points.

The skinny: Club supporters got their wish after years and manager Arsene Wenger is finally out, resigning in May after 22 years at the club. Replacing him is former PSG boss Unai Emery, who will look to right the ship at a club that should look to finish in a Champions League spot. The Gunners won just one away game in 2018 – on the final day, no less – and will need to improve that mark, as well as its organization on defence, to return to Champions League.

Biggest news: Saw controversial playmaker Mesut Ozil retire from the German national team while levying accusations of racism.

Big question: With such a bloated squad, how will Emery use all of his midfield and attacking pieces?

Key arrivals: Stephan Lichsteiner, Bernd Leno, Sokratis Papastathopoulos, Lucas Torreira.

Key departures: Santi Cazorla, Per Mertesacker, Jack Wilshere.

Key player: Pierre-Emerick Aubameyang

Prediction: Fourth place and a lot of gloating over Spurs.

Chelsea

2017-18: Fifth place, 70 points

The skinny: Last season’s title defence went only slightly better than the Blues’ previous attempt, falling out of a Champions League spot while reports of discontent were widespread. A lack of hunger – typified by consecutive three-goal losses to midtable teams Bournemouth and Watford – and manager Antonio Conte’s not-so-secret disdain for the club’s transfer policy weighed heavy on the team that also had European competition to deal with last year.

Biggest news: Hired Maurizio Sarri who was followed by midfielder Jorginho from Napoli to Stamford Bridge.

Big question: Will star goalkeeper Thibaut Courtois get his reportedly desired move to Real Madrid?

Key arrivals: Jorginho, Robert Green.

Key departures: None.

Key player: Eden Hazard

Prediction: Fifth place and some growing pains learning Sarri’s system early on.

Tottenham Hotspur

2017-18: Third place, 77 points.

The skinny: Despite lagging well behind the rest of the top six clubs in wages, Spurs have done a marvelous job in keeping its very talented squad together. Tottenham finished above North London rival Arsenal for the second year in a row thanks in large part to the stellar play of striker Harry Kane – who has scored an astounding 105 goals over the past four seasons – and Danish playmaker Christian Eriksen, among others.

Biggest news: Watched Kane captain England to the World Cup semifinals and win the Golden Boot.

Big question: How will Spurs cope in the early season with no transfers coming, so many key players returning late from the World Cup and Son Heung-min playing for South Korea at the Asian Games?

Key arrivals: None.

Key departures: None.

Key player: Harry Kane

Prediction: Sixth and there’s some real buzz about some key players and manager Mauricio Pochettino possibly leaving.

Everton

2017-18: Eighth place, 49 points.

The skinny: The Toffees have fallen well behind their Merseyside rival, seemingly settling into the midtable more than making an honest run at a European place as they had in years past. Several injuries did have an impact on the team, especially losing Seamus Coleman to a broken leg. The one thing that Everton did lead the league in last season was fouls, picking up an astounding 448, five more than Watford.

Biggest news: Everton finally got its man, Marco Silva, who brought along standout winger Richarlison with him from Watford.

Big question: Has the team improved enough to make a return to Europa League?

Key arrivals: Richarlison, Lucas Digne.

Key departures: Wayne Rooney, Davy Klaasen, Kevin Miralles, Ashley Williams.

Key player: Gylfi Sigurdsson

Prediction: Seventh place and a decent run in one of the two Cup competitions.

Crystal Palace

2017-18: 11th place 44 points.

The skinny: The Eagles started last season with the worst opening run in Premier League history, losing seven straight games while failing to score a goal. This led to the dismissal of manager Frank de Boer and the start of a turnaround under Roy Hodgson. It was a change in system that allowed Wilfried Zaha to carry the team to an 11th-place finish that should’ve shocked many, considering the club’s awful start.

Biggest news: Signed talented-but-petulant German midfielder Max Meyer on a free transfer from Schalke 04.

Big question: How high will the club do climb under Hodgson without a massive hole to dig out of?

Key arrivals: Max Meyer, Cheik Kouyate, Vicente Guaita.

Key departures: Yohan Cabaye, Bakary Sako, Damien Delaney.

Key player: Wilfried Zaha

Prediction: Eighth place and a lot of interest in Zaha when the window opens in January.

West Ham United

2017-18: 13th place, 42 points.

The skinny: The first half of last season was a disaster for the Hammers, sitting in the relegation zone for much of the first five months of the season. A change of management in November from Slavan Bilic to David Moyes didn’t have an immediate impact, but eventually turned things around. The defence and goalkeeping left a lot to be desired, with the Irons conceding 68 times – tied for most in the league with relegated Stoke.

Biggest news: Brought in Premier League-winning, ex-Man City gaffer Manuel Pellegrini to manage. He spent the past two seasons working in China.

Big question: Can former Arsenal prodigy Jack Wilshere actually stay healthy for most of a season? He has played more than 20 games just four times in 10 seasons.

Key arrivals: Lukasz Fabianski, Jack Wilshere, Andriy Yarmolenko, Felipe Anderson, Issa Diop.

Key departures: Cheik Kouyate, Patrice Evra, James Collins, Reece Burke.

Key player: Marko Arnautovic

Prediction: Ninth place and some rare optimism in East London.

Newcastle United

2017-18: 10th place, 44 points.

The skinny: In the former champions’ first season back in the top flight, the Magpies did well to settle back in to the midtable. While Newcastle’s defence played well despite a spate of injuries, the club’s form was inconsistent, much like its offence. A nine-match winless streak sank the Magpies into the relegation zone, before reaching 10th place with a run that saw them lose just three of their next 15 games.

Biggest news: Signed Martin Dubravka on a permanent transfer after the Slovakian keeper impressed during a six-month loan spell.

Big question: Can overqualified manager Rafa Benitez find some consistency while improving the attack?

Key arrivals: Martin Dubravka, Yoshinori Muto, Fabian Schar, Ki Sung-yueng.

Key departures: Aleksander Mitrovic, Mikel Merino, Chancel Mbemba.

Key player: Jamaal Lascelles

Prediction: 10th place and some questions about Benitez’s future at the club.

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