The upcoming Premier League season is about to begin and as usual there are no shortage of storylines heading into the season. This summer, the focus has been on the number of big name and big ego-ed managers that are coming into the league, highlighted by the Jose Mourinho/Pep Guardiola rivalry that will take place in Manchester.
With all those great managers comes a surplus of great teams. In fact, there are no fewer than seven teams whose fan bases genuinely believe they can make a run at the top-four this season, and that doesn’t even include West Ham. But those seven teams aren’t just thinking of finishing in the top four, they’re dreaming of winning the Premier League title. While not all of those teams have realistic title chances this season, this certainly is one of the most wide open title races the Premier League has ever seen.
Here’s your 2016-17 breakdown of which teams have the right to be dreaming of championship parades, and which fans are thinking just a little too big.
The teams that don’t really have a chance at the title
Why does everyone and their mother suddenly love Liverpool to not only finish in the top four but to win the title as well? It’s always the same answer: Jurgen Klopp. Yes, Klopp is a fantastic manager but you never want your manager to be the best thing about your club.
Chelsea have Antonio Conte, but they also have Eden Hazard. Manchester City have Pep Guardiola, but they also have Sergio Aguero and Kevin de Bruyne. Manchester United have Jose Mourinho, but also Zlatan Ibrahimovic and Paul Pogba. Liverpool have Klopp. That’s it.
This was supposed to be Klopp’s summer to add his type of players to the squad but all he’s done is add Sadio Mane from Southampton (Liverpool have a very suspect record adding Southampton players) and Georginio Wijnaldum, the best player on a bad Newcastle team. The rest of their team is still very average and very injury prone, and that’s not even looking at the disaster that was their defense last year.
Are they an improved team from last year? Absolutely. But are they better than Manchester City, Manchester United, Chelsea, Tottenham, or Arsenal? No.
It’s no secret this is going to be Arsene Wenger’s last season in charge of Arsenal, but if you thought he’d ride off into the sunset with one last Premier League title think again. You can’t win a title in August but you can certainly lose one, which Arsenal is in deep danger of doing as they enter the season with a massive injury crisis on defense and a manager who’s sitting on his hands in the transfer market.
They added Granit Xhaka to an area of the field that they didn’t need to address and left all their other needs untouched. They return essentially the same team that picked up only 71 points last year, only everyone around them got significantly better.
The Wild Card
Chelsea may be the hardest team to predict in the league this year. Are they going to be better than last year? Absolutely. This team quit on Jose Mourinho and all of a sudden turned it on when he left, so as long as their all trying they should be better. But how much better is a great question.
Diego Costa didn’t exactly look like he quit last year, he simply looks slow and out of shape. At this point you don’t know what you’re going to get from him. Same can be said about Cesc Fabregas, who simply just looked exhausted all year last year.
In a very un-Chelsea like move, they didn’t make many high-profile additions to their squad this year, and while they have a new manager, there is concern about his style. Antonio Conte’s style has led to a lot of draws in the past. That’s been good enough to win in Italy, but won’t cut it in England. If they draw too many games, they could be on the outside looking in.
The team no one believes in
Once again no one wants to believe Leicester City can do it again even though they will return the same squad minus N’Golo Kante but bolstered by some good signings to add some depth. Leicester’s strength has been that they don’t care who lines up against them, they simply believe they can win when no one else does. Are they going to repeat their title success last year? It’s highly, highly doubtful, but fourth place is certainly on the table.
Don’t be fooled by everything you’ve read about how great a summer Manchester City have had, because most media outlets fail to mention the important issue that City really didn’t address any of their big needs. Leroy Sane and Nolito are great players, but City already had Raheem Sterling, David Silva, and Kevin de Bruyne in those spots. Gabriel Jesus is an exciting young striker, but City already have Segio Aguero and Kelechi Iheanacho.
Their biggest needs were replacing Yaya Toure in the midfield and finding defenders that can play without Vincent Kompany. Ikay Gundogan is a great player, but he has to prove he can stay fit for a whole season before I’d rely on him to replace Toure. £50 million man John Stones may be a great fit for Guardiola’s system that requires defenders to be able to pass the ball, but his actual defending has been very suspect over the past year.
Just like Arsenal, Manchester City got richer in their already rich areas, but failed to actually address their most pressing needs.
There’s nothing bad to say about this team. They had a very young team last year that fell apart at the end of the season when their first experience in a title race didn’t go their way. Now they have that experience and are a year older and a year more experienced.
Young players like Harry Kane, Dele Alli, and Eric Dier are all a year better, and the team has added depth in all the important areas to ease the burden of their superstars. While he may not be a big name continental manager like Guardiola or Mourinho, Mauricio Pochettino may quietly actually be the Premier League’s best manager.
With the whole world focused on the traditional big English teams, this could be the year Tottenham nips them all.
The title favorite
You can argue that had Mourinho been the manager of United last season they could have won the title last year. As Leicester City showed (and frankly many of Sir Alex Ferguson’s Manchester United teams showed as well) you don’t need to beat the best teams in order to win the title. You just have to not lose to them and beat everyone else.
Well last season under Louis van Gaal, United did beat the best teams. 20 of their 66 points (nearly a third) came against Leicester City, Arsenal, Tottenham, Manchester City, Liverpool, and Chelsea. They lost the title by dropping so many points against the smaller clubs.
Not only would that not happen under Mourinho but United have significantly bolstered the squad, adding attacking talents such Zlatan Ibrahimovic, and Henrikh Mkhitaryan as well as Paul Pogba, widely considered to be the best midfielder in the world. The team that struggled to score goals last season seems to have addressed that problem, making the title theirs to lose.