Saturday mornings are about to get a lot more exciting! As a summer full of international football comes to a close, the world’s top domestic leagues are set to begin their new campaigns. It is often debated as to which league is the best in Europe, but there is one clear choice. England’s top flight is above and away the most entertaining and unpredictable league in Europe, and the new season is sure to bring even more surprises to our households.
Before Manchester United and Leicester City kickoff the new season on Friday afternoon (8/10 @ 3 PM on NBCSN), here’s a breakdown of all twenty sides competing in the Premier League this season. The teams will be in inverse order as to how I think they will finish at season’s end.
20th – Huddersfield Town
After narrowly securing safety last season, Huddersfield will endure much of the same this season. This time however, the fight to stay in the Prem will be too much for the Terriers. A daunting first two matches against Chelsea and the champions Manchester City will set them back from the jump. Newly promoted sides Wolverhampton and Fulham are better equipped than the Terriers, so there will be no easy matches for Huddersfield this time around. Manager David Wagner was left with a short leash on the financial side of things and the lack of dynamic signings will ultimately be Huddersfield’s downfall.
Player to Watch: Jonas Lössl
The Danish keeper started all 38 Premier League matches for the Terriers last season, keeping 10 clean sheets. Now permanently signed following his loan-spell, Lössl will be the key man if Huddersfield want to stay up once again. He’ll be asked to do a lot more than what he did last season, which could spell trouble.
19th – Cardiff City
They weren’t expected to be here, but they are nonetheless. After finishing 12th in the Championship in 2016-17, not many chose Cardiff to gain promotion back into the Premier League. Fast forward one year later, the Bluebirds from Wales find themselves back in England’s top flight for just the second time in the last 57 years. Unfortunately for them, their stay this time will be just as short as their last in the Premier League. Despite some key signings in the likes of Josh Murphy and Greg Cunningham, the lack of experience in the top flight will be too much for Cardiff. They may surprise some teams throughout the season and stay in most games, but in the end Cardiff just does not have enough to stay up.
Player to Watch: Junior Hoilett
Having previously spent 5 seasons in the top flight with QPR and Blackburn, Hoilett is Cardiff’s most experienced outfield player. He enjoyed his best season to date last year, netting 12 goals for the Bluebirds. If they’re to stay up, Hoilett will have to duplicate his successes from last season and be an outspoken leader in the dressing room.
18th – Brighton & Hove Albion
Lead by one of the most underrated managers in England in Chris Houghton, Brighton survived what many thought would be a quick one and done last season in their first year in the Premier League. With massive wins against giants Arsenal and Manchester United, Brighton gave their fans plenty to cheer about last season. Despite what they would chalk up as a successful season, I don’t see them surviving once again. They lack scoring, having scored just 34 goals last season, which only topped Huddersfield and demoted sides Swansea and West Brom. New signing Alireza Jahanbakhsh hopes to spark the goal scoring they need, as he arrives from AZ Alkmaar having led the Eredivisie, Holland’s top league, in scoring last season. They also have a tough time getting results away from home, grabbing just two away victories last season. If anyone can keep these guys up it would be Houghton, but it doesn’t seem to be in the cards for the Seagulls this time.
Player to Watch: Pascal Gross
Gross had a superb first season with the Seagulls last year, registering 7 goals and 8 assists in the Premier League. He was their top playmaker last season and for Brighton to survive, they’ll need more of the same from the German midfielder.
17th – Watford
Lack of scoring could spell trouble for the Hornets in what will be their 4th straight Premier League campaign. Manager Javi Gracia is tasked with keeping his men up in what is sure to be an improved league this season. As mentioned previously, scoring may come at a premium for Watford. Their three main strikers accounted for just 11 goals last season. The loss of Richarlison will have them looking for that key playmaker in the midfield. Expect another fight for survival for the Hornets, but they’ll have just enough to stay up for at least one more season.
Player to Watch: Gerard Deulofeu
The former Barcelona prodigy has made his Watford stay permanent following a half season loan spell. He’ll be tasked with creating some of that technical magic that Watford lost after selling Richarlison to Deulofeu’s former club, Everton. Still just 24 years old, Deulofeu still has a chance to prove he is the star many expected him to be.
16th – Southampton
Mark Hughes was tasked with keeping the Saints away from the bottom three when he took over in March after being sacked by soon to be relegated Stoke in January. His task was met, and he was granted with a new three year contract. Another fight for survival could be on the horizon for a club that finished 6th just three seasons ago. The loss of Dusan Tadic could be a big blow for the Saints, but they have plenty to stay up. It is just a matter of how Hughes uses his squad, as the two managers before him didn’t seem to fit the part.
Player to Watch: Charlie Austin
Plagued by injury and lack of play in recent memory, full health and some time on the pitch will benefit both Southampton and Austin himself. Still seen as a reliable goalscorer, Austin looks to be healthy again and will be the Saints’ go to man this season.
15th – Bournemouth
Defense will be the key for the Cherries this season. After allowing the third most goals last season, Eddie Howe’s men will look to improve their defensive woes. I don’t expect much trouble for Bournemouth this season as far as a relegation battle, but that lack of defense could scare a few people. Keeper Asmir Begovic will have his hands full, but the Cherries will find a way to survive without much drama. After finishing 9th and 12th the previous two seasons, another drop in the table looks inevitable.
Player to Watch: Nathan Ake
Bournemouth’s record signing from Chelsea was their player of the year last season and anchor of the back four. More of the same will be asked of Ake this season, as the Cherries will look to him for defensive leadership.
14th – Crystal Palace
A remarkable turnaround last season saw Palace fail to score a goal in their first seven matches, then finding a way to finish 11th. A full season under aging manager Roy Hodgson will be interesting. His sometimes unconventional tactics could be figured out by now by other clubs, so he may need to tweak the way his squad plays. The signings of Cheikh Kouyate and Max Meyer replace the departing Yohan Cabaye and Ruben Loftus-Cheek, but will they prove to be the right ones for the Eagles?
Player to Watch – Wilfried Zaha
Arguably the best player in the Premier League not part of the top six clubs, Zaha has been the key man for Palace for years now. Being able to keep him until at least January was key for the Eagles. They lost all ten matches Zaha missed last season, so his health and playmaking style will be key for another successful season for Palace.
13th – Fulham
Following a four year absence from the Premier League, Fulham are back in the top flight and are looking to turn some heads. A disastrous start last season was saved by a playoff final victory over Aston Villa. A number of big signings, headlined by former Newcastle forward Aleksander Mitrovic, will have the pundits expecting a mid-table finish for Fulham. Playing with a Premier League style, Fulham should have no problem staying up this season and beyond.
Player to Watch: André Schürrle
Three seasons away from the Premier League should bode no problem for Schürrle, as he spent those three seasons in the Bundesliga with Wolfsburg and Borussia Dortmund. The German midfielder will prove to be a key signing for Fulham and will be one of their primary playmakers for the upcoming season.
12th – Burnley
Possibly the most surprising club last season, a 7th place finish secured Europa League play for Burnley. Those extra matches plus the loss of some key players may put a damper on Burnley’s league run. A short squad will have a lot of players tired, so missing out on the group stages of the Europa League may not be the worst thing for the Clarets should they fail to make it. Another top half finish isn’t out of the question for Burnley, but it will be difficult. Expect a similar drop in the league table for Burnley that Leicester had after they won the title a few years ago.
Player to Watch: Ashley Barnes
I was torn between choosing Barnes and his counterpart up top Chris Wood, but decided to stick with Barnes. He scored 9 goals for Burnley last season and his fitness was top notch as he played in all but two league matches. If Wood is healthy, the two could pose a threat to most backlines this season.
11th – Wolverhampton
Insane expectations are being put on the newly promoted Wolves this season following a dominating performance that won them the Championship last season. Having spent over $100 million in transfers, the expectations seem deserved, yet we should all be pumping the breaks a bit. Making the jump from the Championship to the Premier League is still a challenge for any club, regardless of how much is spent in the window. Wolves will have no problem staying up for the next couple of seasons, but don’t pencil them in for a top half finish just yet.
Player to Watch: Joao Moutinho
Possibly the best bargain of any Premier League signing this summer, the Portuguese midfielder looks to be a great signing for Wolves. How he adapts to the Premier League will be something to keep an eye on, but he is a seasoned veteran and I expect no problems adjusting for him.
10th – Newcastle United
Another top half finish seems to be possible for Newcastle, though it may not come very easily. Manager Rafa Benitez was given close to nothing in the financial department this summer to improve his squad, as he spent just over $20 million. He did bring in a plethora of loanees, headlined by forwards and Kenedy and Salomon Rondon, but it may not be enough to see them finish in the top ten. Benitez is in the final year of his contract and despite promoting Newcastle and finishing 10th the last two seasons, he has not signed an extension. Could there be turmoil growing between Benitez and the club’s board?
Player to Watch: Jonjo Shelvy
His dreadful start to the season last year found many people questioning the homegrown midfielder, but a good run of form after Christmas sparked a revival for Shelvy. A full season of good form will benefit Shelvy’s mentality and Newcastle’s squad as a whole.
9th – Leicester City
Now two seasons removed from their improbable title run, Leicester are looking for some consistency from both players and manager. An improved 9th place finish last season from their 12th place finish two seasons ago shows the Foxes are ready to compete consistently again. The loss of Riyad Mahrez will have the fans upset, but the signings of James Maddison and Ricardo Pereira will ease the pain a bit. Keeping Harry Maguire after a surging attempt by Manchester United to buy him is big as well, though they may not be able to say no if they offer an even bigger price in January. The Foxes should have no problem staying in games and may even finish higher than my 9th place prediction.
Player to Watch: Jamie Vardy
Having to play without Riyad Mahrez will be an adjustment for Vardy, but I think he has another prolific goalscoring season for the Foxes. He will score 20 goals once again and will fight with Mo Salah and Harry Kane for the golden boot.
8th – West Ham United
A disappointing 13th place finish for the Hammers last season was met by a huge cash splash this summer. West Ham have spent over $75 million in the window and their supporters have high expectations this season. The hiring of former Premier League champion Manuel Pellegrini as manager may be the biggest signing however. He has been successful everywhere he has been in charge, and that shouldn’t change at West Ham. They have the players to compete for a Europa League berth, but it may take some time for the squad to adjust to Pellegrini’s tactics. Fans will be happy with a top half finish and that’s exactly what the Hammers should deliver.
Player to Watch: Lukasz Fabianski
Snatched up from relegated Swansea, the Polish keeper will be tasked with backing a defense that gave up the most goals last season. Fabianski has made 181 appearances in the Premier League and has kept 51 clean sheets. Following a dreadful season between the pipes from Joe Hart, the Hammers will be happy to find some consistency in goal.
7th – Everton
European competition looks to be in the cards for the Toffees this season following an 8th place finish last season. New manager Marco Silva finds himself in a good spot with a pretty deep squad, but will have to answer some questions defensively. The last minute signing of Columbian youngster Yerry Mina from Barcelona should help their defensive woes a bit. Jordan Pickford returns in goal following a brilliant World Cup campaign with England and would certainly like some help after allowing 58 goals last season. 7th seems to be the ceiling for Everton. They have improved from last season, but not enough to crack the top 6.
Player to Watch: Richarlison
The club’s record signing has hefty expectations, especially with his former manager at the helm. Richarlison thrived for Silva at Watford in the beginning of last season, but once Silva was sacked he looked like a different player. Everton paid a big price for the young Brazilian, so the pressure is on for him to perform early and often.
6th – Arsenal
Back to back finishes outside the top 4 had the Gunner supporters calling for Arsene Wenger’s head, and the end of an era finally came. Wenger’s resignation opened the door for Arsenal to bring in Unai Emery as their new manager and fans and pundits alike expect big things from the Spaniard. He led PSG to four trophies last season in France, but the transition to the Premier League won’t be as smooth as many will hope. He wasn’t given as much to spend as the other top clubs, but will almost look at Pierre-Emerick Aubameyang and Henrikh Mkhitaryan as new signings. Both of them will be beginning their first full seasons in London and will be keys to Emery’s attack. The Gunners could make a run at the top 4, but another 6th place finish seems the most plausible outcome in Emery’s first season in charge.
Player to Watch: Pierre-Emerick Aubameyang
Aubameyang burst onto the Premier League scene last season, scoring 10 goals in 13 appearances for the Gunners. He is a more than proven goalscorer and could challenge for the golden boot with a full season ahead.
5th – Manchester United
A troublesome campaign could be on the horizon for United. The ever so outspoken Jose Mourinho has expressed his upset nature throughout the summer. He was given little money to use and United’s summer schedule in the U.S. has him scrambling to find time for new tactics and transfer negotiations. Pair Mou’s short temper with United’s need to win, and he could be the first manager sacked this season if expectations aren’t met. A 2nd place finish last season was coupled with the dominance of their crosstown rivals City. There is no denying that United have the firepower to contend for a title this season, but question marks on the backline and the reported rift between Mourinho and Paul Pogba could pose a threat to United’s title run.
Player to Watch: Paul Pogba
The world record signing at the time of his arrival in Manchester two summers ago, Pogba’s time at United has been marred by injury and speculation of displeasure between himself and the manager. Pogba seemed to enjoy his summer in Russia, as he walked away with a World Cup victory with France and performed well on the pitch. For Pogba to have a successful season, he needs to close out the distractions and play his game.
4th – Chelsea
This summer was an interesting one for the Blues. It started with rumors that Antonio Conte would be sacked, and that star players Eden Hazard and Thibaut Courtois would be on their way out. Two of the three came into fruition, as Conte was let go in favor of Maurizio Sarri, and Courtois left for Real Madrid just days before the Premier League is set to begin. The transition with a new manager may be more difficult this time around than years prior for Chelsea. Sarri arrived rather late for a new manager before a season, and his tactics have yet to be displayed correctly by Chelsea, most notably in a 2-0 Community Shield defeat to Manchester City. Keeping Eden Hazard (for now) and bringing in midfield genius Jorginho to pair with N’golo Kante were huge for Chelsea, but contending for the title may be too much to ask. The departure of Courtois was met with the record signing for a keeper in Kepa Arrizabalaga. Kepa will be thrown right into the mix for the Blues and the expectations in London could pose a problem for the young Spaniard, though he looks capable to live up to them. All in all, a return to a Champions League spot is realistic for Chelsea this season. As a Chelsea fan, I have to add, COME ON YOU BLUES!
Player to Watch: Jorginho
Maurizio Sarri arrived in London with his key midfield piece from his Napoli days in Jorginho. He is the man who is most familiar with Sarri’s style of play and will be tasked with teaching the other players Sarri’s tactics. I expect big things from the Brazilian this season.
3rd – Tottenham
Remarkably, Tottenham went the entire summer without adding anybody, but also didn’t lose anyone. The lack of signings has a lot of pundits placing Spurs outside of the top four at season’s end, but I think they are better than that. The talent they already possess puts them in a great spot to finish top three once again. Retaining manager Mauricio Pochettino after he looked destined for Real Madrid is huge, as he looks to build on his previous successes in London. The only thing that has stained his run at Tottenham has been the lack of trophies and with the squad he possesses, it’s no wonder fans are hungry for a trophy. Spurs may get one this season, but it won’t be the Premier League.
Player to Watch: Harry Kane
Who else would be here? Following his Golden Boot winning summer at the World Cup with England, Kane looks destined for another 30 goal season. He has improved his mark in each of the last four seasons, but can he stave off Mo Salah and regain his top scoring spot?
2nd – Liverpool
The Reds could be looking at a magical season both domestically and internationally. Following a 4th place finish in the Premier league last season and an appearance in the Champions League final, Liverpool are the only legit team that can challenge Man City for the title. Jurgen Klopp used his squad to perfection last season and answered big defensive questions by bringing in Allison between the posts. Big money signings like Naby Keita and Fabinho add to the lofty expectations for Liverpool to win a trophy this season. Klopp is a fantastic manager and knows how to get his men ready for big games. I think Liverpool will be in the title race until mid-April and will push City to the brink throughout the season,
Player to Watch: Mohamed Salah
No one else was more exciting to watch in the world of football last season than Mo Salah. A phenomenal campaign was bookended with a golden boot victory, as the Egyptian netted 32 goals for Liverpool last season. I don’t know that he will be able duplicate that type of season, but he sure will have a lot of eyes on him as Liverpool’s star man.
Champions – Manchester City
There really is no questioning it at this point. After a dominating season which saw them break the Premier League record for goals scored (106), points earned (100), and so many more, Manchester City look far and away the favorite to win the league and retain their title. The managerial masterclass of Pep Guardiola will be on display once again, and he has a new shiny pawn to use in the name of Riyad Mahrez. City return everyone that helped them break records last season and they are hungrier for more than just the Premier League. They surely have enough talent and depth to win not only the league, but the Champions League as well. Another historic season should be coming for Man City, and clubs around England and Europe should be wary.
Player to Watch: Kevin De Bruyne
A wonderful display at the World Cup should be followed by another solid campaign from the Belgian. He has thrived under Pep Guardiola and probably would have captured PFA Player of the Year last season had it not been for the brilliance of Mo Salah. De Bruyne is one of the best midfielders in the world, and will continue to haunt Chelsea fans this season and beyond with his immense talent.