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Premier League 2016-17 preview: Can they stay on top?

Leicester's Wes Morgan and Claudio Ranieri celebrate with the trophy during the Barclays Premier League match at the King Power Stadium (Photo by Sportimage/Imago/Icon Sportswire)
(Sportimage/Imago/Icon Sportswire)

With a week left before the start of the 2016-17 Premier League campaign, it’s time to take a look at the teams and see what they have done over the summer. In part four, we’ll take a look at Leicester, Arsenal, Tottenham, and the two Manchester clubs as they finished at the top of the table last season.

Manchester United:

Louis van Gaal was unable to get United back in the Champions League after finishing in fourth the previous season, as the Red Devils finished in fifth. It ended up costing the Dutchman his job, as he was notified after the FA Cup final win over Everton that he was being let go. With Jose Mourinho taking over at Old Trafford and a handful of high-profile signings, United are aiming for the title once more.

Last season was marred by underwhelming play as van Gaal’s possession-based style was suffocating any form of fluidity and flair. With the signings of Paul Pogba, Zlatan Ibrahimovic and Henrikh Mkhitaryan there’s plenty of creative players in the side and although Mourinho isn’t known to go all out attack, it can’t be worse than what we saw under van Gaal. Eric Bailly has been brought in to bolster the back line, and the centre back has been impressive during preseason and in the Community Shield win over Leicester.

Comment: United have been so aggressive on the transfer market this summer and just wrapped up the record deal for Pogba, bringing him back to Old Trafford after four years in Italy with Juventus. With the signings they’ve made, United should be pushing for the title once more after a few lean years under David Moyes and van Gaal. Ibrahimovic has already made his presence felt as he scored the winner against Leicester in the Community Shield.

Manchester City:

City started last season in great form, winning seven out of the opening 10 games. But after the nice start, they had trouble staying consistent and only picked up back-to-back wins in the league on one occasion when they had a three-game winning streak toward the end of the campaign. Manuel Pellegrini left his post as manager at the conclusion of the season, as the club announced in February that Pep Guardiola would take over the team.

City has been very active on the transfer market, signing eight player so far. They recently completed a £47.5 million deal to bring over centre back John Stones from Everton. They also splashed the cash on German winger Leroy Sane from Schalke 04 (£37.5 million), along with signing forward Nolito from Celta Vigo and central midfielder Ilkay Gundogan from Borussia Dortmund. They also signed several promising youngsters like 19-year-old Brazilian striker Gabriel Jesus who will join the team at the turn of the year after finishing the season with Palmeiras.

Comment: Rumors are that Guardiola is eyeing Barcelona goalkeeper Marc-Andre ter Stegen to replace Joe Hart, and if City can get lure ter Stegen away from Barca, they will be in a very good position to battle for the title. Hart is not a bad goalkeeper, but ter Stegen would be a significant upgrade and more in the mold of the type of play Guardiola advocates. They have one of the world’s best strikers in Sergio Aguero and as long as the Argentine international stays healthy, he will score loads of goals.

Tottenham Hotspur:

Spurs were neck and neck with Leicester after a strong second half of the season, but fizzled out in the end and saw themselves get overtaken by rivals Arsenal on the final day of the season to ultimately finish third with 70 points, one point behind Arsenal and 11 points behind champions Leicester. But the campaign was a big step in the right direction for manager Mauricio Pochettino and his side as they are back in the Champions League for the first time in seven years. Harry Kane won the Golden Boot after scoring 25 goals, and young midfielder Dele Alli got his definite breakthrough, scoring 10 league goals and earning a spot in the England squad for Euro 2016.

Spurs have made two signings so far, bringing in Dutch striker Vincent Janssen from AZ Alkmaar for £17 million and Kenyan midfielder Victor Wanyama from Southampton for £11 million. These two signings add some much-needed depth for the team as they will look to challenge for the title along with playing in the Champions League. Janssen won the Golden Boot in the Netherlands last season and allows Pochettino to rest Kane every once in a while, and Wanyama boosts the central of midfield and could slot in to replace Eric Dier or Mousa Dembele.

Comment: Tottenham will look to learn from last season’s mistake. With the experience of last season, the young side will be aiming to be consistent throughout the whole season. They played a lot of games last season, and they looked fatigued toward the end, along with Alli getting suspended for the final three games.

Arsenal:

Arsenal topped the table halfway through the season, but fell off a bit in the second part of the season as the Gunners drew eight games down the stretch while Leicester were racking up the wins. With Arsene Wenger heading into the final year of his contract, it will remain to be seen if he can keep the team competitive despite the lack of signings in the summer.

They’ve brought in central midfielder Granit Xhaka from Borussia Monchengladbach, along with young defender Rob Holding from Bolton and forward Takuma Asano from Hiroshima. Injury troubles among the centre backs has Arsenal on the hunt for an addition to the squad, but nothing has materialized as Wenger seems to try to lowball clubs for their players. They’re also in the market for a striker, with Alexandre Lacazette being pointed out as the main target.

Comment: Unless Arsenal brings in a high-quality centre back and a proven goalscorer, it could be a long season for the Gunners faithful. The team lacks depth and Olivier Giroud has proven that he’s not the most reliable striker. Wenger needs to loosen the purse strings if he wants to stay competitive, as all their competitors have gotten a lot stronger on paper.

Leicester City:

It was a truly remarkable season for Leicester City as they defied all odds to win their first ever top-flight title. Led by Jamie Vardy and Riyad Mahrez, the Foxes pulled off the impossible and became the first Premier League champions not named Manchester United, Manchester City, Chelsea or Arsenal since Blackburn won the title back in 1994-95.

Vardy led the team in scoring with 24 league goals, finishing tied for second with Sergio Aguero in the scoring race. Vardy had an offer to join Arsenal in the summer after the Gunners activated his buyout clause, but opted to stay with Leicester.

With Leicester set to play in the Champions League for the first time, they’ve made several signings in order to add some depth to the squad. They’ve brought in German goalkeeper Ron-Robert Zieler from Hannover to compete with Kasper Schmeichel. They set a new club record when they signed striker Ahmed Musa from CSKA Moscow for £16 million, along with adding defensive midfielder Nampalys Mendy to replace N’Golo Kante who left to join Chelsea.

Comment: Winning back-to-back Premier League titles is a very difficult task, and with several clubs making significant improvements to their squads, Leicester will have to pull off another miracle if they are to defend their crown. They’ve made some smart moves on the transfer market, and they should be pushing for a finish in the Top 4.

The laidback nature of manager Claudio Ranieri and his side speaks in their favor, as they never seemed phased by the pressure last season. No matter what happens, it will be a season to enjoy for the Leicester fans being reigning champions and playing in the Champions League.

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