How do you follow a season like 2015/16? 5000/1-shots Leicester secured the most incredible of Premier League titles, while holders Chelsea could only finish 10th.
Well, in response to the incredible year of the underdog, the traditional elite of English football have strengthened considerably so there’s a handful of teams who will have their eyes on the Premier League trophy.
Here, I’ll run through the contenders for the title, for Europe, for relegation and for the Golden Boot. I’ll also throw a few predictions and betting tips that will undoubtedly be proved completely wrong come May.
The Race for the Title:
Nobody predicted Leicester would pull off the impossible last season, even when they’d been top for a while (See my blog from March about the importance of a Leicester title win). Even having proved the doubters wrong, they’re as far as 33/1 to retain their title this season. The loss of N’Golo Kante will be big, and a successful season for the Foxes would probably involve a respectable campaign in the Champions League, and competing for a European place.
Manchester City are clear favourites for the title after a disappointing 4th place finish last season. The arrival of Pep Guardiola will surely get the best out of Kevin De Bruyne, David Silva, and Sergio Aguero. Guardiola could still strengthen his defence with the likes of Leonardo Bonnucci and John Stones which would make it hard to look past City for the title.
City aren’t the only big team that will be preparing a title challenge. Big managerial names Jose Mourinho and Antonio Conte have joined Manchester United and Chelsea respectively with instructions to deliver the Premier League trophy to their clubs as soon as possible. Both managers have announced their arrivals with expensive signings – Henrikh Mkhitaryan and potentially Paul Pogba for United, and Michy Batshuayi and N’Golo Kante for Chelsea. Top 4 is a minimum requirement for these clubs, but Mourinho and Conte will need their high-investment, new-look squads to quickly gel in order to satisfy their impatient boardrooms.
My outside tip for the title is Liverpool. Under Jurgen Klopp last season they reached the Europa League final and are not involved in Europe this year. Leicester benefited from having one focus throughout the season last year, and Liverpool could have their eyes on the top prize if they can find the consistency they lacked last season. They should be looking for at least a Champions League spot this season. Chelsea are another club not involved in Europe, and will look for a response to last season’s 10th placed finish.
My tip: Manchester City are fairly priced at 13/5, but better value can be found at around 6/1 for Chelsea, or around 9/1 for Liverpool to win the league – especially at each-way prices.
The Race For Europe:
As mentioned, United, City, Liverpool and Chelsea will all be expecting Top 4 finishes. Likewise, Leicester and Tottenham will be looking to repeat their involvement in the title race in 2015/16. And who can forget Arsenal, who always seem to manage a Champions League spot. With the strength of Arsenal’s rivals and their failure to sign a striker yet again, this could be the season where Arsenal do not secure a top 4 spot.
Last season saw the pressure from West Ham and Southampton which resulted in a Europa League place for Slaven Bilic’s Hammers. A move to the Olympic stadium infront of 50,000 fans will be a boost to a team that’s managed to keep hold of star man Dmitri Payet. Qualification for the Europa League, through league position or a cup competition, is not beyond West Ham, and they are 3/1 for a Top 6 finish.
Everton will be contenders after a disappointing year which saw Roberto Martinez lose his job. Replacement Ronald Koeman will have the Toffees competing at the right end of the table, and striker Romelu Lukaku has the ability to front a challenge for the Top 6. Likewise, Koeman’s old club Southampton should continue to impress, but the loss of Graziano Pelle means they are not worth backing for a European finish at only 5/1.
My tip: Tottenham ran out of steam when it mattered most last season. They are 5/2 to finish outside of the Top 6, while Arsenal are 7/2. If they fail, Leicester (12/5), West Ham (3/1), and Everton (4/1) are in good positions to take their place in the Top 6.
The Race for Survival:
The best place to start with the relegation picture is the three promoted teams from the Championship. From these, I can only see Middlesbrough surviving. Boro’ have added the proven Premier League quality of Alvaro Negredo to their existing forward line that includes Stewart Downing, Cristian Stuani, and Jordan Rhodes. Their squad is mode up of experienced Championship players along with former top flight players with a point to prove. I can see them having a similar impact to Bournemouth and Watford last season.
I can’t say the same for Burnley and Hull, whose squads are filled with players who were relegated from the Premier League only two seasons ago. Hull’s only hope of survival was Steve Bruce, but after he has abandoned the KC Stadium, a long season lies ahead. Burnley should put up more of a fight, but the loss of Joey Barton and lack of depth in their squad probably means they will fall short of survival. Saying that, highly-rated manager Sean Dyche will have learned from the club’s relegation in 2014 so survival isn’t beyond Burnley’s capabilities, especially with Andre Gray leading the line.
Last season saw teams like Bournemouth, Watford, and Swansea impress. However, frustrating summers in the transfer market at Vicarage Road and the Liberty Stadium will probably beckon a relegation battle this season. In contrast, Bournemouth have spent big on Jordon Ibe and Brad Smith from Liverpool and Lewis Cook from Leeds. These may be promising players, but Eddie Howe’s adventurous team will find the Premier League harder this season, and his signings appear to have the long term in mind. Unfortunately for Bournemouth fans, that long-term may involve a short-term return to the Championship.
My tip: Bournemouth-Burnley-Hull all to be relegated (40/1, Betfair).
Race for the Golden Boot:
Harry Kane won it last year, beating off stiff competition from Jamie Vardy and Romelu Lukaku. All three players will surely be looking to repeat their 20+ goal tallies, but there’s only one contender for me. Sergio Aguero and Pep Guardiola is an unforgiving combination, and if the Argentine stays fit he will be unstoppable this season.
Aside from Aguero, Zlatan Ibrahimovic is tempting at around 9/1. The Swede has topped the goalscoring charts wherever he’s played, but there is doubt over how much he will play at 34 years old. New Chelsea striker Michy Batshuayi could do well under Antonio Conte, amidst reports that Diego Costa is on his way out of Stamford Bridge.
My tip: Aguero is priced at 7/2, and although these are relatively short odds for the Golden Boot, it’s a fairly safe bet. Any of Kane (7/1), Vardy (18/1) and Lukaku (14/1) are all attractively placed should Aguero spend any time out injured. An outside bet would be Daniel Sturridge at 25/1. Sturridge thrived under Klopp after his return from injury, but is ridiculously injury prone. At that price, though, it’s worth a gamble – he’s a natural goalscorer suited to Klopp’s attacking style.
Last season, Leicester emphatically showed that nothing is guaranteed in the Premier League. However, the fallout from the most unpredictable of seasons in 2015/16 does guarantee one thing. The biggest teams have reacted by bringing the best managers in the world to work with some of the best players – that surely guarantees 9 months of quality, exciting football ahead.
I don’t think I’ve ever looked forward to a season as much as this one.
Check out my season previews for the Championship, and League One/Two. I’ve looked at the contenders for the top and bottom of each division, as well as some betting tips. I’ve also previewed my club – Oldham.