The Premier League has just restarted after the first international break and it is beginning to become apparent how teams will fare as the season progresses. I am beginning a four-part series detailing the different teams from the top to the bottom of the league and how I believe they will rank over the course of the season depending on additions and departures they have made as well as how they have played during the beginning of the season.
1. Manchester City
Many believed City would win last year with the arrival of star manager Pep Guardiola, but even with the tactical mastermind the squad was unable to acquire any silverware, finishing third in the league behind Chelsea and Tottenham. Heading into his second season in the Premier League, Guardiola has shown he is ready to mount a challenge for the title after shuffling up the squad and revamping the defense with some huge purchases in the transfer window. After getting rid of fullbacks Aleksandar Kolarov, Gael Clichy, and Pablo Zabaleta, Manchester City went on a spending spree to bring in new talent. The team spent over £124 million to bring in right-backs Kyle Walker from Spurs (£45.9m) and Danilo from Real Madrid (£27m) as well as left-back Benjamin Mendy from Monaco (£51.75m). If these transfers end up being money well spent, then it will be hard to deny the team has one of if not the most talented and well-constructed defenses in the entire league.
Aside from the defense, the team brought in right winger Bernardo Silva from Monaco (£45m) in order to offer an attacking replacement for the likes of Nolito, Wilfried Bony, and Kelechi Iheanacho, all of which left the team this transfer window. While the team may have lost more attacking talent than they brought in, it is hard to argue that it is not enough after the team dismantled Liverpool 5-0 this past weekend. So far it looks like the biggest competition for City will be rivals Manchester United and the main decider will be City’s ability to stop the extremely talented and aggressive midfield and attacking power of United.
2. Manchester United
Despite only losing an aging Wayne Rooney from last year’s squad, coach Jose Mourinho has managed to bring in key talent across the team with the additions of Romelu Lukaku from Everton (£84.7m), defensive midfielder Nemanja Matic from Chelsea (£44.7m) and center-back Victor Lindelof from Benfica(£35m). Although many believed Mourinho was foolishly spending money after Paul Pogba’s performance failed to warrant his record-breaking price tag, the addition of Romelu Lukaku from Everton may change their minds. The long-time Everton striker has already managed four goals in four games and has shown a great connection with Pogba who has also supplied two goals and two assists.
Nemanja Matic had been one of Chelsea’s most consistent midfielders since re-joining the team in 2014; the addition of Matic to the United midfield makes it one of the most dangerous moving forward into the final third considering it also holds Juan Mata, Pogba, and Henrikh Mkhitaryan who has already supplied five assists in the first four games. Although the defense is nowhere near Citys’ in terms of talent and depth, the addition of Lindelof could pay off dividends as they finally have a reliable center-back to help bring consistency to a historically shaky defense consisting of David De Gea, Eric Bailly, Daley Blind, and Phil Jones, Marcos Rojo, and Luke Shaw.
Chelsea is a team that divides popular opinion going into this season. They looked like they would have a fall from grace after losing many key players such as Nemanja Matic to United and Diego Costa to a drawn out transfer saga with Atletico Madred, and it seemed to be true as the team lost 3-2 at home to Burnley after red cards were given to both Gary Cahill and Cesc Fabregas in the first half. Despite the dread Chelsea fans felt as the first half ended 3-0 down two men, the team was able to score two goals in the second half to at least attempt a comeback.
As hopeless as the start of the season looked for Chelsea, they have shown themselves to still be formidable opponents since then, beating Tottenham, Everton, and Leicester in the three games since. Costa’s replacement Alvaro Morata has impressed in the four games he has played, scoring three times and assisting twice for Chelsea. Mourinho hopes that incoming midfielders Tiemoue Bakayoko from Monaco and Danny Drinkwater from Leicester City will be able to plug the hole left by Matic, but it still remains to be seen if the midfield can still pivot the ball from defense to offense at the level they did last season in their title run. Antonio Rudiger has joined the defense from AS Roma (£35m) and started all four games, adding valuable defensive depth and showing he may be a viable partner for David Luiz or Gary Cahill as it gets deeper into the thick of the season. As long as Chelsea stars Eden Hazard, Cesc Fabregas, N’Golo Kante, and Pedro are able to play up to the level they have shown in previous seasons than even with some losses to the squad it is unreasonable to see them finishing below third.
4. Tottenham Hotspurs
Spurs completed a task last season that they had not been able to do since the first season of the Premier League: finish above Arsenal. The young, English-to-the-core team accomplished the feat by finishing second in the league with 86 points, 11 more than their North London rivals. This huge accomplishment for a historically underwhelming team led to hope that it may be merely a stepping stone towards a title in the coming season. Despite key defensive player Kyle Walker and center-back Kevin Wimmer departing the team, Spurs have shown they are capable to deal with the loss after spending £40 million for Davinson Sanchez from Ajax and £25 million for Serge Aurier from PSG.
Although the team has managed to plug the hole left in their defense, it may have left them unable to do any meaningful upgrades to their midfield and attack. The team brought in an aging Fernando Llorente to help link-up play with stiker Harry Kane, but the key to the Spur’s season depends on if their midfield is able to provide as much attacking support as they did last year. If Dele Alli, Eric Dier, Christian Eriksen, Erik Lamela, and Son Heung-Min aren’t able to produce as much as they have previously or end up injured it could be their undoing as the goals shrivel up.
I believe that Liverpool is one of the most talented and fun to watch teams in all of Europe under coach Jurgen Klopp, but the coach has shown another season in a row an unwillingness to improve the defense after failing to sign Virgil Van Dijk from Southampton. Once again, the team has gotten rid of defenders across the board in order to increase their offensive productivity. Although not the best players in the world, swapping center-back Mamadou Sakho and midfielder Lucas Leiva for right winger Mohamed Salah and Alex Oxlade-Chamberlain could end up shooting them in the foot as players end up injured or in dry spells further into the season.
I have no doubt that the team will be one of the best in the league at creating and finishing chances, but they have already proven the defense is shaky at best with 8 goals allowed in four games. Although five of those goals came against Manchester City this weekend, if the team wants to stand amongst the best in the league they have to show they can defend against the best in the league. I can’t say I have much faith in a patchwork defense consisting of Joel Matip, Ragnar Klavan, Alberto Moreno, Joe Gomez, and Dejan Lovren, and with drama still surrounding Philippe Coutinho, Klopp will have to completely restructure the team’s style of play in order to get them towards a Champions League spot at the end of the season.