After Manchester City romped to the 2017-18 Premier League title, notching up 100 points and scoring 106 goals in the process, the question for the remaining 19 teams as the 2018-19 season begins is, “Can they be caught?”
The 19-point margin over Manchester United in 2nd place last season would seem to suggest that there is a lot of work for the chasing pack to do, and so if United or any of the other top 6 sides from 2017-18 (Spurs, Liverpool, Chelsea and Arsenal) were to overtake Guardiola’s men, it would represent a pretty remarkable turnaround.
Of course, the Premier League these days is in reality two leagues (the miracle of Leicester City in 2015-16 aside), and anyone below seventh place will generally just be scrambling to get themselves into the top half and perhaps nick the last European place, as Burnley did last season or, more importantly, to avoid relegation. This was the fate that befell Swansea, Stoke and West Brom, and is one that this season’s newly promoted sides — Wolves, Brighton and Fulham — will be desperate to avoid.
As it has been a World Cup summer, the transfer market has been a little slower than usual to get into full swing, although there have been some significant moves made at both ends of the league. The need to bring players in has also been made a little more pressing in that this year the transfer window closes on 9 August, before the start of the season, whereas in previous years moves have been able to be made up until the 31st. Whether this induces panic buying and inflates the prices remains to be seen.
For the first time in more than two decades, the Gunners will start the 2018-19 Premier League with a new manager. With Unai Emery now in charge, observers will be keen to see if he can do something about the somewhat moribund atmosphere that has surrounded the Emirates for the last few years. Their biggest signing is the Uruguayan international Lucas Torreira from Sampdoria, for around £26 million, while Jack Wilshere to West Ham will be regarded as the biggest departure (by some, at any rate…)
Eleven wins for the season was a respectable return for Eddie Howe’s men, who in their time in the Premier League have never really looked in too much danger of going back down. To date, they have only brought in two new players, David Brooks from Championship side Sheffield United, and left back Diego Rico from Leganés (both for undisclosed fees), while their biggest out (amongst 11 players to leave in the summer) was centre-forward Benik Afobe, who has moved to Premier League new boys Stoke City (via Wolves) for £10 million.
It’s probably fair to say that Chris Hughton’s Brighton exceeded all expectations in their first season in the big time, and although goalscoring was a problem (they only found the net 34 times), a reasonable defensive record was enough to keep them in the league. The Seagulls have been busy in the transfer window, with 10 new names coming in to replace the 18 players who have left the south coast. Perhaps the most interesting signing is that of Florin Andone, a Romanian striker from Deportivo La Coruña for an undisclosed fee.
Its hard not to like Burnley (unless you’re a Blackburn Rovers fan). An unfashionable club with an unfashionable manager in Sean Dyche, Burnley manage to do things in the ‘right way’ and had an outstanding season in 2017-18, finishing in seventh and claiming a spot in the Europa Legaue qualifying rounds (against Aberdeen). They have brought in 9 new players over the summer — astonishingly, all of them British — with 12 players heading out. None of the signings leap off the page at you, but this is Burnley and they do things differently there.
Anyone who watched Neil Warnock’s Cardiff City in the Championship last season will know that they’re not pretty, they’re especially skilled, but they are highly efficient and know how to win. They secured automatic promotion on the last day of the season and on a couple of occasions were able to go on a run and string multiple wins together. However, given his record, how long Warnock manages to stay in charge will be one of the most interesting bets on the new season. Cardiff have spent big on British players in the summer, bringing in Josh Murphy from Norwich City, Bobby Reid from Bristol City and Alex Smithies from QPR.
As is so often the case with Chelsea, the new season begins with yet another new manager. Maurizio Sarri has come to Stamford Bridge after three seasons at Napoli, where he created an attacking and exciting side who pushed Juventus all the way in Serie A last year. Sarri has also managed to bring with him the Italian international midfielder Jorginho (allegedly from right under the nose of Manchester City), to date the biggest move the west London side has made. Whether Sarri has it in him to manage the massive Chelsea egos, and the pressure that comes with the job, remains to be seen.
Crystal Palace’s eleventh place finish in 2017-18 was enough to earn Roy Hodgson the London Football Awards Manager of the Year, which gives some indication of the level of expectation at Selhurst Park. They will begin the 2018-19 campaign with largely the same squad, having only brought in Spanish goalkeeper Vicente Guaita from Getafe.
The stability of the David Moyes era at Everton seems a long time ago now, with the Toffees going into the new season with yet another new manager — Marco Silva, formerly in charge of Watford and Hull City. Silva marks a significant change of style after Sam Allardyce, and no matter what he does, he is likely to more popular at Goodison Park than Big Sam. Reuniting with Silva after their time together at Watford is Brazilian winger Richarlison, the only signing to date (for £40 million), while as many as 17 players have departed Merseyside, Wayne Rooney amongst them.
Just about everyone who watched Championship football in 2017-18 would agree that Fulham played the best football in the division (early season Wolves aside, perhaps) and former Watford manager Slaviša Jokanović is quickly creating a reputation as one of the best young managers in the game. Likewise, Fulham has the most talked about young player in the country in Ryan Sessegnon, and the Cottagers have done extremely well to hold on to him despite the attention from some of the biggest clubs in Europe. Fulham has also demonstrated their attacking approach in the transfer market, holding on to both Sessegnon and captain Tom Cairney, while at the same time bringing in Nice’s Jean-Michael Seri and Maxime Le Marchand, along with Would Cup and Premier League winner André Schürrle on a two-year loan from Borussia Dortmund.
Another of last season’s newly-promoted teams who defied expectations by staying up, Huddersfield finished in 16th place and four points above the drop zone largely on the back of some excellent early season performances and the form of Australian midfielder Aaron Mooy. The Terriers have been busy during the transfer window, with the ins including record signing Dutch centre back Terence Kongolo from Monaco, Egyptian winger Ramadan Sobhi from Stoke City, and World Cup winning full back Erik Durm from Borussia Dortmund. Tom Ince leaves the John Smith’s Stadium for £10 million to Stoke City.
Okay, so it wasn’t as good as the historic 2015-16 season, but Leicester finished solidly mid-table in 2017-18, which was in many ways a creditable finish given the upheaval at the club since they won the Premier League. Despite many people not being able to make up their minds about him, Claude Puel remains in charge at the King Power Stadium, along with title-winning hero Jamie Vardy. However, one big name from 2015-16 who has (finally) left the club is Riyad Mahrez, who has moved to Manchester City for £60 million. The Foxes have already spent a good proportion of this, bringing in James Maddison from Norwich City for £25 million, Ricardo Pereira from Porto for £22.5 million, and Danny Ward from Liverpool for £12.5 million.
It must surely be time for Liverpool to break through and win the Premier League for the first time, with many fans asking, “If not now, then when?” They have the sort of manager they’ve long craved in Jürgen Klopp, Mohamed Salah has signed a new deal, and they have money to spend, having outlaid out more than £170 million in transfer fees in the summer. That cash has been splashed on just four players — Naby Keïta from RB Leipzig (£52.75 million), Fabinho from Monaco (£43 million), Xherdan Shaqiri from Stoke City (£13.5 million) and, the biggest buy of all, Alisson from Roma for £65 million. Can Anfield really afford to wait any longer for a 19th league title?
In a move that has shocked the football world, Manchester City has not actually spent a lot of money in the off season. Of the £63 million it has shelled out, £60 million of that was on one player — the Algerian midfielder Riyad Mahrez from Leicester City. Maybe after picking up 100 points and winning the title by 19, City don’t feel the need to spend a lot of money, or perhaps they are just biding their time after the World Cup. In either case, they have let 19 players go, the biggest fee they received being the £13.5 million they got for the move of young goalkeeper Angus Gunn to Southampton.
Like their crosstown rivals, Manchester United have had a relatively sedate transfer window, albeit making a couple of fairly substantial purchases. The two big names José Mourinho has brought in are the Brazilian midfielder Fred from Shakhtar Donetsk for a fee of £47 million, and 19-year-old Portuguese right-back Diogo Dalot from Porto for £19 million. They have also brought in a back-up goalkeeper for David de Gea in the form of Lee Grant from Stoke City. Will the addition of Fred and Dalot be enough to close the 19-point gap on City or, more importantly in the eyes of some United fans, will the Brazilian playmaker be able to reinvigorate a United side that was at times fairly uninspiring in the last campaign?
In many ways, it can’t be easy being a Newcastle United supporter. A great club, magnificent stadium, a trophy-winning manager — yet the Toon seem perpetually hamstrung by an owner who does not seem to want to compete on the spending front with the big boys. £7 million in total spent on bringing in new players is nothing in today’s market, and it looks like being another challenging season ahead for Rafael Benítez and the United faithful. Whether Slovakian goalkeeper Martin Dúbravka from Sparta Prague, Swiss centre back Fabian Schär from Deportivo La Coruña and Korean midfielder Ki Sung-yueng from Swansea City are enough to lift Newcastle beyond mid-table mediocrity looks somewhat doubtful.
The Saints held on to their Premier League status by just 3 points last campaign, unthinkable just a few years ago when they were consistently challenging for Europe and held up as the model of how football clubs should be run. However, it seems that they might have gone back to the well once too often in their all-too-frequent changing of managers, although the uninspiring Mark Hughes remains in place for the start of the new season. The four new players who Hughes has brought in are midfielders Stuart Armstrong from Celtic and Norwegian international Mohamed Elyounoussi from Basel, along with goalkeeper Angus Gunn from Manchester City and Danish defender Jannik Vestergaard from Borussia Mönchengladbach.
Always the hipsters’ favourite, many think Spurs are in the position of needing some sort of success this season — either domestically or in Europe — to be able to hold onto their much sought-after manager Mauricio Pochettino. However, there has to date been no action in the transfer market, with Spurs yet to bring in a new player. Before supporters panic too much, there have been new (and presumably significantly improved) contracts for Harry Kane, Harry Winks, Son Heung-min and Érik Lamela, so Pochettino would seem to be keeping faith with the squad that got Spurs into this year’s Champions’ League.
Watford may be owned and run in an unconventional manner, but that hasn’t stopped them cementing their place in the Premier League over the past three seasons. Finishing eight points clear of the drop in 14th, they were never in any danger of relegation last campaign and can reasonably expect to push on under relatively new Spanish manager Javi Gracia. The biggest addition to the Hornets squad in the transfer window has been Spanish winger Gerard Deulofeu from Barcelona for £11.5 million, the costs of which were more than covered by the sale of Richarlison to Everton for £40 million.
While debate continues to rage at West Ham over how much is actually available in the transfer kitty for new manager Manuel Pellegrini, and exactly how much cash the club made from its largely regretted sale of the Boleyn Ground, there have nevertheless been some interesting moves in the transfer market by the Irons. The signing of the Brazilian midfielder Felipe Anderson from Lazio for £36 million has excited Hammers fans, as have the introduction of Issa Diop from Toulouse (£22 million) and Ukrainian winger Andriy Yarmolenko from Borussia Dortmund (£17.5 million). Most, however, are more ambivalent about the free transfer of Jack Wilshere from Arsenal.
Comfortable winners of the Championship in 2017-18, Wolves look set to make a big splash back in the Premier League if their summer signings are anything to go by. Portuguese manager Nuno has brought in 9 new players (plus two loan signings), including fellow countryman Diogo Jota from Atlético Madrid for £12.3 million, French defender Willy Boly from Porto and Congolese ‘keeper Benik Afobe from Bournemouth (each for £10 million), and another Portuguese, midfielder João Moutinho, from AS Monaco for £5 million. Unusually for a newly-promoted side, there are not too many people who saw them last year who would bet on Wolves going straight back down again.
After winning the Golden Boot at this summer’s World Cup, Harry Kane is unsurprisingly the favourite to be the top scorer in the Premier League in 2018-19. The best price currently is 11-4, although he is as short as 2-1 with some bookmakers. Kane is some way ahead of Mo Sala in the markets, with a best price of 6-1 (although he’s as low as 4-1 at some sports books). For some value, you could take the 40-1 being offered on Jamie Vardy. He’s done it before, and he started to get back to his 2015-16 best towards the end of the last campaign.
Another very popular market, this is generally framed as ‘Next manager to leave post’ rather than ‘Next manager to be sacked’, so bear this in mind when you have a punt. You can get 8-1 on it being Watford’s Javi Gracia (as short as 4-1 at some bookmakers), or 9-1 on Rafa Benitez — although it’s more likely that he will walk out rather than get fired. A canny bet might be the 25-1 you can get on Huddersfield Town boss David Wagner. Although the Terriers did well in their first Premier League season, if a second-season dip takes hold early on and the board panic, he could well be in line for the chop as they look to bring in someone with more experience at this level. We all know who that might be…
Unusually, the favourites in this market are not the three newly-promoted sides — in fact, you can get a staggering 66-1 on Cardiff, Fulham and Wolves all going straight back down. The favourite is Cardiff/Fulham/Huddersfield at 20-1, although if you want a bit more value, Bournemouth/Cardiff/Huddersfield looks a good bet at 40-1, as does Southampton/Cardiff/Huddersfield at the same price.
This can often be one of the best pre-season markets, and you can get some decent prices on what, in reality, isn’t too difficult a bet to make. For instance, the favourite is City/United/Liverpool/Spurs at 28-1, while if you think Spurs can go one better this year, you can get 50-1 on City/Spurs/United/Liverpool. On the other hand, if you think Unai Emery can turn Arsenal around, City/Arsenal/Liverpool/Chelsea is 100-1, while Chelsea/City/Spurs/United is offering a pretty tempting 250-1.
Trying to find any value betting on Man City winning the title is a fairly fruitless task, so if you want to punt on Guardiola’s side, the multiple trophies market has some better bets. You can get 40-1 on City winning the domestic treble (Premier League, FA Cup and League Cup), or 100-1 if you want to throw that elusive Champions’ League title into the mix as well.