English Premier League Preview

by Joshua McGehee


By the time Liverpool kick off the new English Premier League season on Friday, it will be exactly 89 days since Manchester City beat them out for the title by a single point.  In between that time, the league has seen three new teams come up and go down, multiple managerial changes, and numerous player transfers.  While the summer wait is always long for fans, the return of arguably the most exciting and competitive league in all of soccer is upon us.  How does each team stack up in their chase for domestic or European glory?  That is where I come in to help preview each of the 20 teams who will compete in the EPL this season, the impactful transfers that will shape each squad, and which players you should be paying close attention to.

 

Manchester City

  • Last Season: Champions
  • Transfers In: Scott Carson (Derby County), João Cancelo (Juventus), Angeliño (PSV), Rodri (Atletico Madrid)
  • Transfers Out: Vincent Kompany (Anderlecht), Fabian Delph (Everton), Danilo (Juventus)

Many people predicted that City would be unable to replicate their record-breaking season of two years ago when they set the record by winning the title on 100 points.  Not only did they come close to duplicating that number (98 points), they became the first English club to win the domestic treble, winning the Premier League, FA Cup, and the Carabao Cup.  Now in Pep Guardiola’s fourth season as manager, the club will once again look to capture their first UEFA Champions League trophy while continuing to maintain their dominance in the league.  The biggest question for City entering this season is how to replace the leadership void left by former captain Vincent Kompany, who left to be a player manager in his native country Belgium for Anderlecht.  The team still boasts a plethora of attacking players such as Sergio Aguero, Raheem Sterling, and what they hope to be a healthy Kevin De Bruyne who will look to make it three straight league titles for City. 

Player to Watch: Bernardo Silva  

Silva joined City from AS Monaco for the 17/18 season but struggled to break into the already stacked starting eleven for City on a regular basis.  That all changed last season when Silva took advantage of injuries to De Bruyne, playing so well that Guardiola deemed him, “the best player in the league.”  The Portuguese midfielder’s seven goals and seven assists earned him a Professional Footballers’ Association Player of the Year nomination; totals he will look to improve upon as he becomes a staple of City’s lineup.


Liverpool

  • Last Season: 2nd Place
  • Transfers In: Adrián (Free Agent), Sepp Van Den Berg (PEC Zwolle), Harvey Elliot (Fulham)
  • Transfers Out: Simon Mignolet (Club Brugge), Alberto Moreno (Villarreal)

Despite finishing second in the EPL last year, Liverpool got the last laugh when they beat Tottenham to claim their sixth UCL trophy.  However, most diehard fans will admit they wanted the league title even more.  Liverpool showed tremendous growth once again under manager Jurgen Klopp.  Mohammed Salah showed he wasn’t a one season wonder, Allison asserted himself as the best goalkeeper in the league in his first year, and center back Virgil Van Djik was named PFA Player of the Year.  With no major signings this summer, it looks like Klopp is putting his faith in this group to get over the finish line first this season.

Player to Watch: Sadio Mané

Mané may not be the first name people come up with when talking about Liverpool wingers, but he was just as responsible for Liverpool’s offensive success as anyone.  Mané joined his teammate Salah in scoring 22 goals for the club last season in league play.  He also scored many important goals during Liverpool’s UCL run.  If he is able to take on a big part of the scoring burden once again, Liverpool will continue to be one of the most feared attacking teams in the league and beyond.

 

Chelsea

  • Last Season: 3rd Place
  • Transfers In: Christian Pulisic (Borussia Dortmund)
  • Transfers Out: David Luiz (Arsenal), Eden Hazard (Real Madrid)

Most people would look at Chelsea’s season last year, when they finished third in the EPL and won the UEFA Europa League, and deem it a success.  However, a tumultuous back and forth all year between the players, fans, and manager Maurizio Sarri eventually led to the Italian moving on to take charge of Juventus and the appointment of club legend Frank Lampard.  Lampard’s job got much harder when Chelsea were banned from signing new players for two periods, a decision that is currently being appealed.  That decision made the departure of their best player Eden Hazard, who’s moved on to Real Madrid, that much more disheartening.  Chelsea’s success this season will hinge upon Lampard’s ability to work with what he has already and getting the players to buy into his system.

Player to Watch: Christian Pulisic

Chelsea were fortunate enough to snap up Pulisic in January before they were hit with a ban.  He was loaned back to his then current club Borussia Dortmund to finish the season but will be making his EPL debut this weekend.  Having already faced the pressure of being the face of the United States men’s national team, Pulisic will take on the task of trying to replace Hazard.  How quickly he’s able to adapt to the style of the EPL will go a long way in telling how successful Chelsea is this season.

 

Tottenham Hotspur

  • Last Season: 4th Place
  • Transfers In: Ryan Sessegnon (Fulham), Tanguy Ndombele (Lyon), Giovani Lo Celso (Real Betis)
  • Transfers Out: Kieran Tripper (Atletico Madrid)

After an off-season without making one new player signing, Tottenham shocked everyone by making it to the UCL final, which they would lose to Liverpool.  Combined with another top four finish, Spurs have shown that they belong with the top clubs in England and Europe.  Manager Mauricio Pochettino was rewarded for sticking with the club with three major signings that should improve the club in defense and the midfield.  If they can get a full season out of Harry Kane this year, Tottenham will at least be favored to keep their top four spot.

Player to Watch: Heung-Ming Son 

The winger from South Korea stepped up in the absence of Kane last season, playing a big part in Tottenham’s run to the UCL final.  In the EPL, he was second on the team with 12 goals while also providing six assists.  While he’ll be suspended for almost the first month of the season after getting a red card on the final day last year, Son will have plenty of time to make his mark on Spurs’ offense.

 

Arsenal 

  • Last Season: 5th Place
  • Transfers In: Kieran Tierney (Celtic), David Luiz (Chelsea), Dani Ceballos (Real Madrid), Gabriel Martinelli (Ituano FC), Nicolas Pépé (Lille)
  • Transfers Out: David Ospina (Napoli), Laurent Koscielny (Bordeaux), Aaron Ramsey (Juventus), Alexi Iwobi (Everton)

In Unai Emery’s first season in charge, Arsenal showed modest improvement in their play.  However, they would still miss out on Champions League soccer by finishing fifth in the league and losing to Chelsea in the UEL final.  The response from the club has been overwhelming, bringing in several new players in attack and defense.   They still have the joint top scorer in the league from last year Pierre Emerick-Aubameyang and Alexandre Lacazette, who form one of the more deadlier strike forces in the EPL.  If Arsenal are able to improve defensively and reverse their horrible road record, they may become dark horse challengers for the title.

Player to Watch: Nicolas Pépé

While Arsenal have never really had trouble scoring goals, they upgraded big time by signing Pépé.  The striker led Lille last season with 22 goals and 11 assists, helping them earn a spot in the UCL this season.  The thought of 24-year-old linking up with Aubameyang and Lacazette will surely bring nightmares to the other EPL managers.

 

Manchester United

  • Last Season: 6th Place
  • Transfers In: Harry Maguire (Leicester City), Aaron Wan-Bissaka (Crystal Palace), Daniel James (Swansea)
  • Transfers Out: Ander Herrera (PSG), Antonio Valencia (Liga de Quito), Romelu Lukaku (Inter Milan)

Manchester United fans must be relieved to have a new season begin after suffering through one of the worst in the club’s recent history.  A dismal first half of the season led to the sacking of controversial manager Jose Mourinho, who was replaced by club legend Ole Gunnar Solskjær.  Solskjær was able to provide a boost to the club for the first few months, which included an impressive comeback in the UCL vs. Paris Saint Germain.  However, United limped to a sixth-place finish in the league, losing on the final day at home vs. relegated Cardiff City in the process.  United’s defense will be improved with Maguire and Wan-Bissaka in the fold, but all the pressure will be on Solskjær to find a way to restore faith and glory to this historic club.

Player to Watch: Marcus Rashford

With Lukaku moving on to Italy, and the future of Paul Pogba still a mystery, the stage is set for Rashford to become United’s main goal scorer.  The young forward was finally able to break into the starting 11 on a full-time basis last season, scoring 10 goals and adding six assists.  It is still unknown whether he is better playing up the middle or on the outside, but he has tremendous pace regardless, and will look to improve his goal scoring total with or without the help of the bigger stars on the team.

 

Wolverhampton Wanderers

  • Last Season: 7th Place
  • Transfers In: Jesús Vallejo (Real Madrid), Patrick Cutrone (AC Milan) 
  • Transfers Out: Ivan Cavaleiro (Fulham), Hélder Costa (Leeds United)

There seems to be a recurring theme each year in the EPL that one of the newly promoted teams not only is able to stay up another year but are actually able to crack the top 10.  That was the case with Wolves last season, when they finished in seventh place and booked a spot in Europa League qualifying.  The success of the club was due in large part due to the quantity and quality of their new signings, as Rui Patrício, Willy Boly, João Moutinho, Raúl Jiménez, and others all had fantastic seasons.  Now, the question for Wolves will be can manager Nuno Espírito Santo and his team still be successful in the league now that their schedule has gotten even busier?  

Player to Watch: Matt Doherty

While there are plenty of attacking players who make Wolves so enjoyable to watch, they also got production in that area from their defense.  Doherty spearheaded that effort by contributing four goals and five assists in league play from his right wing-back position, while also adding four goals and three assists during Wolves’ FA Cup run.  The Irishman will look to continue to get forward when possible and be a big part of Wolves’ attack once again this season.

 

Everton

  • Last Season: 8th Place
  • Transfers In: Djibril Sidibé (AS Monaco), Fabian Delph (Manchester City), André Gomes (FC Barcelona), Alex Iwobi (Arsenal), Moise Kean (Juventus)
  • Transfers Out: Phil Jagielka (Sheffield United), Idrissa Gueye (PSG), Ademola Lookman (RB Leipzig)

When it comes to clubs outside of the big six, Everton are as consistent as any in finishing in the top half of the table.   Despite a good first year from manager Marco Silva, Everton and their fans had to watch in horror as their rivals Liverpool went on to win the UCL trophy.  This year, Everton will look to qualify for their chance at European glory on the back of England’s starting goalkeeper Jordan Pickford and a collection of crafty attacking players they hope will work together to improve their goalscoring total.

Player to Watch: Lucas Digne

The Frenchman joined Everton last season from FC Barcelona to provide some competition for long-time left back Leighton Baines.  It wasn’t long until Digne won the job and began to contribute on both ends.  Digne scored four goals and added four assists from his defensive position, while also helping Everton concede the fifth fewest goals last season.  Now that the position is fully his, Digne will try to continue to be a force down that left side for his club this season.

 

Leicester City

  • Last Season: 9th Place
  • Transfers In: Ayoze Pérez (Newcastle United), Dennis Praet (Sampdoria)
  • Transfers Out: Harry Maguire (Manchester United), 

Leicester City were one of a couple EPL teams who had to deal with tragedy last season when their majority owner Vichai Srivaddhanaprabha died when his helicopter crashed after departing from the stadium after a match.  In true Leicester fashion, the club were able to rebound and once again finish in the top half of the table.  Not many remain from the Foxes’ championship team of a few years ago, but Jaimie Vardy remains the man who leads the attack.  With the likes of Kasper Schmeichel in net and Ben Chilwell in defense, City have the components to once again challenge for a spot in Europe next season.

Player to Watch: Youri Tielemans

The Belgian signed permanently with Leicester this summer after joining them on loan from AS Monaco in January.  In just 13 appearances, the midfielder scored three goals and added four assists for the Foxes.  A full season of Tielemans’ creativity could unlock another gear in the City attack.

 

West Ham United

  • Last Season: 10th Place
  • Transfers In: Pablo Fornals (Villarreal), Sébastian Haller (Eintracht Frankfurt), Albian Ajeti (FC Basel)
  • Transfers Out: Reece Oxford (FC Augsburg), Marko Arnautovic (Shanghai SIPG) 

While their defense still left a lot to be desired, manager Manuel Pellegrini brought stability to West Ham in his first season that hadn’t been seen in quite some time.  Three straight wins to end last season bumped the Hammers into the top half of the table, despite only a few of their summer signings panning out.  West Ham will depend upon goalkeeper Lukasz Fabianski to keep them in games while they hope their new striker, Sébastian Haller, will be able to replace the production of the departing Marko Arnautovic.

Player to Watch: Felipe Anderson

Anderson was West Ham’s most expensive signing last season, joining the club from Lazio in Serie A.  The midfielder was second on the team scoring nine goals and adding four assists in league play.  However, seven of those goals came within a nine-game stretch of league fixtures.  If West Ham are to have any success this season, Anderson must become a consistent offensive threat.

 

Watford

  • Last Season: 11th Place
  • Transfers In: Craig Dawson (West Bromwich Albion), Ismaïla Sarr (Stade Rennes), Danny Welbeck (Free Agent)
  • Transfers Out:

The manager merry-go-round at Watford has stopped at the moment on second year man Javi Gracia.  Despite the club winning their first four league matches, the Hornets limped to a finish in the bottom half of the table.  Watford were also thrashed by Manchester City 6-0 in the FA Cup final, but supporters will point out that just making it there is progress.  Watford will hope for another good season from goalkeeper Ben Foster, as well as a return to form for club captain and striker Troy Deeney, in order to move up a few spots in the standings.

Player to Watch: Gerard Deulofeu

The winger was once considered a future star at FC Barcelona, but never was given an opportunity to prove himself.  After brief spells at Everton and AC Milan, Deulofeu landed at Watford, where he was able to score 10 goals and add five assists in league play last season.  With Deeney getting older, and a lack of goal-scoring production from the midfield, Watford will depend upon Deulofeu to shoulder more of the offensive load for their club.

 

Crystal Palace

  • Last Season: 12th Place
  • Transfers In: Gary Cahill (Free Agent), Víctor Camarasa (Real Betis), Jordan Ayew (Swansea City)
  • Transfers Out: Aaron Wan-Bissaka (Manchester United)

While Crystal Palace finished in the bottom half of the table last season, they still managed an impressive feat with their record.  Of the club’s 14 wins, nine of them came on the road, including a 3-2 victory vs. Manchester City.  Now, manager Roy Hodgson and the club’s supporters hope that the team can match their success at home this year with their away form from last year, especially considering they were able to hold onto prize winger Wilfried Zaha.

Player to Watch: Luka Milivojevic

Milivojevic certainly found his niche as the spot kick specialist for Palace last season.  Of his team leading 12 goals, 10 of them came from the penalty spot.  The central midfielder is also adept at crosses and breaking up the opponent’s attack.  Palace will need another good year from Milivojevic if they wish to continue their run in the EPL.

 

Newcastle United

  • Last Season: 13th Place
  • Transfers In: Emil Krafth (SC Amiens), Allan Saint-Maximin (Nice), Joelinton (TSG Hoffenheim), Andy Carroll (Free Agent)
  • Transfers Out: Ayoze Pérez (Leicester City), Joselu (Alavés)

Another season of turmoil and underachievement saw Newcastle finish in the bottom half of the table once again.  It finally became too much for manager Rafa Benítez, whose unhappiness with ownership over the lack of new signings led to his departure.  Now Steve Bruce, who hasn’t managed in the EPL since 2015, will be tasked with restoring this club to its former glory and fixing an offense that had the fifth lowest goal total last season.

Player to Watch: Miguel Almirón

Almirón became the latest player from Major League Soccer to make the jump to the EPL when he joined the Magpies from Atlanta United in January of last season.  Despite his success in MLS, he was only able to make 10 appearances for Newcastle.  Now with a full season ahead of him, this attacking midfielder will look to spark his club’s offense and showcase his skills on one of the biggest stages in the game.

 

AFC Bournemouth

  • Last Season: 14th Place
  • Transfers In: Jack Stacey (Luton Town), Philip Billing (Huddersfield Town), Arnaut Danjuma (Club Brugge)
  • Transfers Out: Tyrone Mings (Aston Villa), Marc Pugh (QPR), Harry Arter (Fulham), Lys Mousset (Sheffield United)

Eddie Howe’s attacking style has always been pleasant to the eye of neutral fans, but Bournemouth supporters might want their team to be a bit more conservative this season.  The Cherries conceded the third most goals in the league last season, but what kept them from being relegated was that they scored the seventh most goals.  While Bournemouth have a bevy of attacking talent in Callum Wilson, Joshua King, and David Brooks, the club’s defense must rise to the level of their offense if they wish to remain in the EPL any longer.

Players to Watch: Ryan Fraser

Fraser was the offensive catalyst out wide for Bournemouth last season.  The Scotsman led the team with 14 assists while also scoring seven goals during his breakout campaign.  Fraser received interest from a few bigger clubs in Europe but elected to stay with the Cherries for at least another season.  Bournemouth will look to make the time he’s still on the team count and hope for another excellent season from the diminutive, but mighty winger.

 

Burnley

  • Last Season: 15th Place
  • Transfers In: Bailey Peacock-Farrell (Leeds United), Erik Peters (Stoke City), Danny Drinkwater (Chelsea),  Jay Rodriguez (West Bromwich Albion)
  • Transfers Out: Tom Heaton (Aston Villa), Stephen Ward (Stoke City)

Burnley began last season juggling league fixtures and Europa League qualifying after finishing remarkably in seventh place the year before.  Unfortunately, the team still struggled to score goals while their defense conceded 29 more goals than the previous season.  Sean Dyche, being the great manager that he is, was able to keep his side up, but the Clarets must improve on both sides of the ball or they could become one of the favorites to be relegated.

Player to Watch: Ashley Barnes

Burnely’s other striker, Chris Wood, had been the team’s best scoring option for the past few years, but Barnes broke out last season, leading the team with 12 goals scored.  Offering a contrasting style to the physicality of Wood, Barnes relies on getting behind the defense to create chances.  Both will need help from the rest of the team, but Burnley will hope that Barnes can maintain his form from last season.

 

Southampton

  • Last Season: 16th Place
  • Transfers In: Moussa Djenepo (Standard Leige), Che Adams (Birmingham City)
  • Transfers Out: Matt Targett (Aston Villa), Jordy Clasie (AZ Alkmaar), Charlie Austin (West Bromwich Albion)

Southampton have flirted with the possibility of relegation for a year now and once again required sacking their manager to boost the team mid-season.  Mark Hughes became the latest casualty and in stepped former RB Leipzig boss Ralph Hasenhüttl.  The plan worked, as eight of the Saints’ nine victories came after the managerial change.  The key to Southampton’s season will be improving the league’s sixth worst defense, as well as getting goal production from their new signings. 

Player to Watch: Che Adams

Adams joined Southampton this summer from Birmingham City, having started 43 matches and scored 22 goals for the club last season.  Having failed in their previous attempts to sign a striker who can consistently score and stay healthy, the Saints will hope that Adams will be able to translate his success in the Championship to the EPL.

 

Brighton and Hove Albion 

  • Last Season: 17th Place
  • Transfers In: Adam Webster (Bristol City), Aaron Mooy (Huddersfield Town), Neal Maupay (Brentford), Leandro Trossard (Racing Genk)
  • Transfers Out: Anthony Knockaert (Fulham)

Brighton will surely look to improve upon last season, where they weren’t able to clinch another year in the EPL until the penultimate match of the season.  Their struggles were enough for the club to sack the man who helped the Seagulls get promoted for the first time ever in 2017, Chris Hughton.  Former Swansea City boss Graham Potter will take over a side who only scored 35 goals as a team last season but have the personnel capable of reversing that trend.

Player to Watch: Shane Duffy

The Brighton center back had the tireless task of having to be the team’s best defender while also being one of their main offensive catalysts.  Duffy was second on the team last season scoring five goals, most of which came from set pieces.  He’ll continue to be a big part of Brighton’s game plan on both sides of the ball going forward, but he’ll be hopeful that help will be in larger supply this season.

 

Norwich City

  • Last Season: 1st Place in English League Championship
  • Transfers In: Ralf Fährmann (Schalke 04), Ibrahim Amadou (Sevilla FC)
  • Transfers Out: Ivo Pinto (Dinamo Zagreb)

Norwich City are back in the EPL for the first time since the 2015-2016 season.  They will hope not to repeat history as their previous tenure only lasted that one season.  Their manager, Daniel Farke, saw his team finish in fourteenth place his first season before leading them to first place last year in the Championship.  The Canaries will depend upon a strong midfield for success led by Mario Vrancic and Emiliano Buendía, while Tim Krul and new signing Ralf Fährmann will compete to be the starting goalkeeper.

Player to Watch: Teemu Pukki

Pukki is Norwich City’s star striker, having led the team and the Championship last season with 29 goals scored.  He also added nine assists, showcasing his all-around skills as a playmaker.  Goal-scoring is at a premium for newly promoted teams, so Pukki must be able to adapt to the skill of the EPL if Norwich wants to avoid another short stay.

 

Sheffield United

  • Last Season: 2nd Place in English League Championhip
  • Transfers In: Phil Jagielka (Everton), Luke Freeman (Queens Park Rangers), Callum Robinson (Preston North End), Ben Osborn (Nottingham Forrest), Lys Mousset (AFC Bournemouth), Oli McBurnie (Swansea City)
  • Transfers Out:

You’d have to go back to the 2006-2007 season for the last time Sheffield United was in the EPL, a season that left a bad taste in the mouth of their club and supporters.  This team had been rotting in English League One for six years before Chris Wilder took charge.  Wilder helped get them promoted to the Championship, then finally to the EPL after finishing second in the league last season.  Manchester United loanee Dean Henderson will be between the posts once again and former Everton captain Phil Jagielka has been brought in to anchor the defense.  Sheffield also have a talented group of forwards who they hope will be able to acclimate themselves to the EPL quickly.

Player to Watch: Billy Sharp

Sharp has had three separate spells with Sheffield United, but his latest one that started in 2015 has revitalized his career.  He has scored 20 or more goals in three of his past four seasons, with last year’s total of 23 good for fifth in the Championship.  Sharp’s eye for goal, and help from his supporting cast, will be crucial in making Sheffield’s return to the EPL an extended one.

 

Aston Villa

  • Last Season: 5th in English League Championship
  • Transfers In: Tom Heaton (Burnley), Björn Engels (Stade de Reims), Ezri Konsa Ngoyo (Brentford), Jota (Birmingham City), Trézéguet (Kasimpasa)
  • Transfers Out: Albert Adomah (Nottingham Forrest)

It has been a real shame to see a club with so much history like Aston Villa (seven-time champions of England), have to toil in the Championship for so long.  Now, for the first time since the 2015-2016 season, Villa are back in the Premier League.  It took the arrival of current manager Dean Smith in October to revitalize a team then in fourteenth place to get to the playoff, where they defeated Derby County in the final.  The Villains have been busy this summer, bringing in double digits worth of new players to the team.  Striker Tammy Abraham, who’s 26 goals were second last season in the Championship, has returned to his parent club Chelsea.  That opens up a lot of goals to be replaced and a lot of new opportunities for the fresh faces at Villa.

Player to Watch: Jack Grealish

Grealish is still only 23-years-old and has been the subject of numerous bids from some of the bigger EPL clubs for a few years now.  Aston Villa have been able to retain his services and he repaid them last year to the tune of six goals and seven assists.  While others contributed more in both categories, they lack the potential of Grealish, who has continued to improve each season.  His play as an attacking midfielder will be instrumental in ensuring that Villa return to prominence in the EPL.


For more EPL coverage, tune in to the STL United Soccer Sunday Show from 8 a.m.-10 a.m. central on 590 The Fan KFNS.  Here's to another great season!