‘The fixture to define this Premier League era’ – Liverpool v Man City preview

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Klopp v Guardiola. Super Sunday. The best two teams in England go head to head. Heavy metal gegenpress meets the super-attacking jugo de posicion. Judgement Day. Sky Sports can push whatever slogans they want in the lead up to this match, it won’t boost their numbers that much, because everyone from around the world will be tuning in to watch the footballing spectacle that is Liverpool v Manchester City on Sunday afternoon.

The Premier League champions and leaders travel to a place where they haven’t won since 2003, to face a Liverpool side who seem to be the only team in the English game who can say they can go toe-to-toe with City and outperform them. Other teams in the league have done it, such as Wolves, but lightning won’t strike twice with those teams, it does with Liverpool. Consistently, Klopp’s men up their game for the visit of Manchester City: the crowd up the ante from the stands, whilst the players seem to start the match at a 100 miles per hour tempo, which seems to only be reserved for the visit of City.

Here, we look at Liverpool v City and try and preview what will be a fascinating tactical battle…

‘Forcing a rivalry’

It’s become clichéd by now, but Liverpool and City fans love to accuse each other of ‘forcing a rivalry’. Whether it be bricking a coach, singing about each others failures at games not involving one another, or simply just getting hit up about the other seemingly more than either team would for Manchester United these days, the fans of the opposing clubs would talk negatively on this and accuse the other of the aforementioned.

Don’t beat around the bush. There is a rivalry.

Liverpool v City is the modern-day Arsenal v United, the grudge match of the decade. People will look back on this period in a decade or so’s time and conclude that this was the era defining fixture.

There may be no Vieira’s or Keane’s on the pitch, but there certainly is talent in abundance. Two revolutionary coaches and a couple of star-studded teams that could dominate the English football landscape for years to come.

The attacking styles that Guardiola and Klopp have brought to England will set a blueprint in the league just as the styles of Wenger and Ferguson in the late 90’s. Just as Arsene Wenger and Sir Alec Ferguson popularised the whole idea of a second, deeper lying striker (Dennis Bergkamp and Eric Cantona), in ten years, a vast portion of the league may use goalkeepers of the Ederson or Alisson breed, or play with the ‘number 6’ style of midfielder that Kevin de Bruyne is.

It may not be a bitter rivalry yet, but the fixture could be looked on as England’s answer to the Clasico, the two big hitters going toe-to-toe to out-tactic one another.

Should Guardiola alter his ways?

In his press conference ahead of this game, City boss Pep Guardiola admitted that to play defensive would be ‘boring’.

Does that mean he can’t alter his tactics to be slightly more pragmatic? Pragmatism isn’t putting 11 men behind the ball, in fact you can be offensive by being defensive. Mourinho used to deploy three men on the half way line when defending a corner, which in turn meant the box was less crowded. Guardiola won’t do this, but the essence rings true.

Playing his usual 4-3-3 plays into the hands of Liverpool, and ‘taking the sting out of it’ via playing simple passes in the first fifteen minutes just doesn’t work. You either need to go all out and try to score a goal first, or sit back (which Guardiola won’t).

The main thing for City and Guardiola has to be to stop the early goal. In the last five or six visits, City have gone one down within the first half an hour. From there, it has been an uphill battle. If they do this, it makes for an entertaining spectacle, where both teams can feasibly win.

Will Liverpool’s front three turn up?

So much has been made of Liverpool’s scintillating start from the widespread media that it has been near impossible to scratch beneath the surface of what has been a relatively poor start for ‘the front three’, for their standards at least.

When talking to Liverpool fans, they will admit the fascinating trio of Mané, Firmino and Salah look like they have never played together before, and look disjointed.

While Sadio Mané started the season in impressive fashion, Salah and Firmino have struggled to find the form of last season.

Despite this, if history repeats itself, Liverpool players should up it for the visit of Guardiola’s City.

Predictions

Taking my neutral hat off for a second, I am not confident. Less confident than ever. I think that City may get a draw from Anfield, but I can’t see it. Liverpool up their game for the visit of City every year and while I think City will give it a better go than last, I am going with a Liverpool win.

2-1. Salah and Mané to score, with David Silva scoring a consolation for the visitors.

Match Review: Leicester City v Liverpool

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Liverpool enter the international break with maximum points from the first four games after a gritty win at the King Power Stadium.

First half goals from Mané and Firmino set the Reds on the trail to a win that may please Jurgen Klopp more than a high scoring thrashing, as it was this sort of fixture that saw his side drop points in the last couple of seasons.

Alisson was at fault as Rachid Ghezzal pulled one back for the home side. The Brazilian conceded his first goal of his Premier League career as he tried to overplay in his own box – Kelechi Iheanacho stole the ball and squared to his Algerian teammate who finished well.

Leicester threatened for the remaining half an hour, but never put Liverpool under too much pressure. Ultimately, Leicester will see this as a game they deserved at least a point from, but Liverpool will leave the stadium delighted with their early season form heading into the first international break.

Talking Points

Liverpool show they can grind out results 

One of the biggest components of a title winning side is the ability to grind out results. The great Manchester United teams under Ferguson did it year after year, Mourinho’s Chelsea often won narrowly, Pep Guardiola’s City often got late winners to romp home to the title last season.

So far, albeit only four games into the season, Liverpool are showing they have that trait. Last week at home to Brighton, Klopp’s side were far from their best, but won narrowly. Today, Liverpool were poor, especially in the second half, but got the victory and maximum points.

This is far from a criticism of Liverpool. I am sure all Liverpool fans would admit they have been poor so far. But they have maximum points, with four wins in four. That is title winning form.

Leicester missed a few chances they would have felt they could’ve done better with, but The Foxes never really looked like equalising, despite being well worth a point.

It is too early to make rash predictions of who will win the league, or at least to change predictions from pre-season, but Liverpool are showing the one trait that has alluded them in the last decade.

Last season, they would’ve dropped points in one of the last two games, but Klopp’s men surged on and got maximum points at a tricky stadium. Hats off.

Maddison the pick of Puel’s Leicester 

“In a midfield full of international talent, he [Maddison] ran the game” – Jamie Redknapp on Sky Sports was full of praise for Leicester’s 21-year-old midfielder James Maddison after a brilliant performance today.

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Gareth Southgate announced his England squad this Thursday for the UEFA Nations League fixtures against Spain and Switzerland. Rumours around the country spread that England’s heroic gaffer may have gave a call up to impressive youngsters such as James Maddison or Jadon Sancho of Borussia Dortmund.

Southgate didn’t do this, but James Maddison surely can’t be far off the England squad.

Making his name at Norwich City, the exciting attacking midfielder earned plaudits for his goalscoring haul in the Championship last season, as he was the pick of a poor Canaries bunch.

Since his move to the East Midlands, Maddison has been extremely pleasing. He put in a good performance at Old Trafford in the season opener and was the star of the show for the home side today.

He has the knack all good midfielders have, of ghosting into positions and finding space in between the midfield and defence. There were a couple of times he opted to pass rather than shoot and maybe with a bit of confidence, Maddison would have scored today.

Maddison, who came through the ranks at Coventry, was the main attacking threat for Claude Puel’s side today – the future looks bright for Leicester.

Van Dijk is the best defender in the league (and future Liverpool captain) 

An indicator of a good signing is when no one mentions the price six months down the line. When Liverpool won the long, dramatic race for Virgil Van Dijk in January, many questioned whether £75m was too much for the then Southampton defender.

A few weeks into the new season, that price does not get mentioned.

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Already, Virgil Van Dijk is settling in at Liverpool and proving himself to be one of the best defenders in the world, and potentially the best in the league.

For sure, the Dutch international is the most well rounded of potential candidates: Vertonghen, Laporte, Azpilicueta, etc.

He is adequate on the ball and exceptional off it. When a cross comes into the box, Van Dijk is always the favourite to win the ball, which he did time and time again when Leicester put his side under extreme pressure towards the end.

With the young trio of Gomez, Alexander-Arnold and Robertson either side of him, Van Dijk is the leader and seems a shoe in for a future Liverpool captain, as he enters his peak years.

Player Ratings

Leicester: Schmeichel 6; Pereira 6, Maguire 7, Morgan 6, Chilwell 7; Mendy 8, Ndidi 6; Ghezzal 6, Maddison 8 (MOTM), Albrighton 6; Gray 6.

As has been mentioned, James Maddison was the pick of the bunch for Leicester. Another promising performance was that of Nampalys Mendy. The young Frenchman struggled for form in his first year at Leicester, so was loaned to OGC Nice last season. Puel decided Mendy will play a key part of his side this year, and he has looked more than capable of doing so in the early weeks of the season, as he looks assured in the Leicester midfield.

The Foxes certainly missed Jamie Vardy today, as Demarai Gray struggled in an unfamiliar central role. Kelechi Iheanacho came off the bench and linked the play perhaps better than Vardy does, as he dropped deep rather than looking to get in behind. Puel has a couple of handy options in the striker role, and Iheanacho’s performance off the bench will please him.

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Liverpool: Alisson 4; Alexander-Arnold 5, Van Dijk 7, Gomez 7, Robertson 8; Milner 6, Wijnaldum 6, Henderson 6; Salah 6, Firmino 7, Mané 7.5.

It wasn’t a great afternoon for Liverpool by any means. Alisson Becker’s mistake could have costed Liverpool, whilst Trent Alexander-Arnold looked nervous on a few occasions too.

Andy Robertson, however, is developing into one of the best full backs in the division and proving he wasn’t just going through a purple patch of form in Liverpool’s Champions League run. The Scotsman looks solid at the back and offers a good outlet in attack. Robertson will be a key component of Liverpool’s team, should they go all the way this year.

Player of the Month: August

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The first month of the Premier League season is already over. New players managers are now getting used to their surroundings, the top clubs are already heading towards the top of the table and some big names are beginning to earn their worth.

August was a month of teams getting gritty victories, individual talent setting alight games and some of the stars of last season already making their name heard in the 2018/19 campaign.

But who was the best player on show in August, across the league? Here, I take a look at some of the players who have excelled in the opening month and who deserves a shot at the August ‘Player of the Month’ award:

Sadio Mané

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Key stats: 3 goals (in 3 apps)  

Egyptian Mo Salah won all the plaudits last season for his unprecedented goal-scoring haul, with Roberto Firmino also earning deserved praise for his role in Liverpool’s Champions League run and attacking displays in the league. This meant that the third of the attacking trio went under the radar.

His name is Sadio Mane. The Senegalese international is as talented as the other two and could be just important for Jurgen Klopp’s Liverpool side going forward if they are to challenge Guardiola’s City for the title.

The decision to swap shirt numbers from 19 to the vacant 10 following Coutinho’s departure was symbolic and reflective of the fact his reputation at Liverpool is growing into a player ready for responsibility and talismanic traits.

Whilst Keita and Milner have been excellent for Liverpool, Mane has been the standout performer in August, delivering encouraging showings against West Ham and Crystal Palace.

If Liverpool are to push all the way for the title, Mane will need to continue his early season form and carry on chipping in with goals to take the burden off Salah and Firmino.

Roberto Pereyra

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Key stats: 3 goals (in 3 apps)

Tipped as one of the favourites to face the drop, Javi Gracia’s side have been the surprise package of the early weeks of the season. Whilst it is indeed very early days, achieving maximum points in the month of August is not to be understated.

The star of The Hornets success has been Roberto Pereyra. The Argentine was signed by Watford in 2016 for a then record fee but has been blighted by injuries and subsequently failed to hit any consistent form.

Once dubbed the next star of Serie A, Pereyra was poached by Udinese at the age of 18 and his performances earned him a move to Juventus. He managed 52 appearances in his first season at the Old Lady but failed to impress in the following year so was sold to Watford, where his new boss Walter Mazzarri said he would rather Pereyra than Pogba.

Perhaps now settled in to his surroundings in England, Pereyra is starting to win plaudits. Gracia deploys him as a left attacking midfielder in a 4-2-2-2 formation and it is starting to pay dividends.

His performance against Brighton especially was noteworthy as the Argentine used his excellent positional sense and on the ball abilities to glide into the Brighton box and score two goals.

Lucas Moura

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Key stats: 3 goals (in 3 apps)

After a stagnant spell at PSG, it took Lucas Moura half a year to settle in at Tottenham.

Yet, on Monday night, Lucas Moura showed more than glimpses of the teenage sensation he was when he burst on to the scene at Sao Paulo as a 19 year old, when he nearly moved to Manchester United in 2012.

Lucas’ career looked to be spiraling away quickly in Paris, so he made the gutsy decision to leave the club he dreamed of making it at to join Spurs, coached by one of Europe’s most coveted coaches: Mauricio Pochettino.

In the second game against Fulham, Pochettino decided to play Moura as a second striker, playing off Harry Kane.

So far, that educated gamble is paying off, with the Brazilian netting three goals in two, including a brace at Old Trafford.

His new role gives a new dimension to Spurs’ play and takes some of the goalscoring burden off Harry Kane, allowing Spurs to have the chance to launch a real bid for the title as they now have more power on the counter attack.

Benjamin Mendy

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Key stats: 3 assists, 1 clean sheet, 25 crosses, 7 tackles (in 3 apps) 

It may well be the most overused phrase of the season thus far, but Benjamin Mendy really does feel like a new signing for Manchester City. The Frenchman spent most of his debut season in England watching from the stands or recovery rooms following his knee injury in September.

Whilst Fabian Delph provided ample cover at left back, City lacked a direct threat going forward, often meaning Leroy Sané was City’s only attacker on the left flank. Mendy has come in and changed that massively.

The man who was signed from Monaco for causing City problems in their Champions League exit in 2017 has been a weapon for City going forward thus far this season, used in slightly different roles each week.

In the league opener against Arsenal, Mendy played an inverted full back role, discussed in our Talking Tactics feature on that fixture. He helped out in the midfield in a tricky away game, whilst often marauding forward to create chances himself. He setup the goal for Bernardo Silva’s eventual winner, as well as assist Raheem Sterling’s opener.

Against Huddersfield, Mendy played in a wing back role. He excelled in this position and was City’s main source of attacking prowess down the left as he peppered Ben Hamer’s goal with crosses, a couple of which leading to goals.

Mendy has added a new dimension to City’s game and has been a bright star in Guardiola’s side.

Jorginho

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Key stats: 92.01% pass completion, 1 goal (in 3 apps)

 Jorginho was signed from Napoli along with manager Maurizio Sarri so unsurprisingly he looks at home in this Chelsea team, probably grasping Sarri’s concepts the easiest thus far.

After a shaky afternoon in the Community Shield, the Brazil-born Italian international has looked comfortable alongside Ngolo Kante in midfield. He adds a new dynamism to Chelsea’s midfield that has been lacking for a few seasons and is an astute passer.

In the game against Newcastle last weekend he registered a stat that would prove why Guardiola was so interested in his services: Jorginho completed 158 passes – 25 more than the whole Newcastle team. This stat summarizes Jorginho’s style: he is a dictator that will pull the strings in the midfield, just what Chelsea have missed.

Maurizio Sarri was willing to risk a friendship with Pep Guardiola to sign Jorginho from Napoli and his decision is showing to be well educated, with the midfield maestro starting his career at the Bridge with flying colours.

Notable mentions go to:

Naby Keita, Richarlison, Marcos Alonso, Aleksandar Mitrovic, Aymeric Laporte

Don’t agree? Let me know who you would pick instead.

Premier League Preview: Part 2

With all teams now nearing full fitness after a short but gruelling pre-season, I am back with part two of my Premier League preview, where I try to pick apart the second half of teams ahead of the new season. Look out for who I’ve chosen as the Champions and also who may be doomed for relegation come May.

Leicester City

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Last season’s finish: 9th

Major ins:James Maddison (CAM, Norwich), Ricardo Pereira (RB, Porto), Caglar Soyuncu (CB, Freiburg), Filip Benkovic (CB, Dinamo Zagreb), Rachid Ghezzal (RW, Monaco), Danny Ward (GK, Liverpool), Jonny Evans (CB, West Brom).

Major outs:Riyad Mahrez (RW, Manchester City), Ahmed Musa (ST, Al-Nassr), Ben Hamer (GK, Huddersfield), Leonardo Ulloa (ST, Pachuca).

First choice XI: (4-2-3-1) Schmeichel; Pereira, Soyuncu, Maguire, Chilwell; A. Silva, Ndidi; Ghezzal, Maddison, Gray; Vardy.

Leicester boss Claude Puel is the favourite to be the first Premier League manager out of the door this season. After poor performances at the tail end of last season and the departure of star man Riyad Mahrez, Leicester are in for a turbulent season and pundits are not sure if Puel is the man to steer that.

Despite this, The Foxes have a healthy squad that has potential to do well this season, so can not be underestimated (remember – do not underestimate Leicester City).

Transfer window grade: B

Riyad Mahrez was Leicester’s most instrumental player for the last three seasons, with a PFA Player of the Year to his name in that season, as well as a plethora of goals and assists in the two to follow. The loss of the Algerian will be damaging and the signing of Rachid Ghezzal does not fill any gaps – he may be likened to his Algerian counterpart but has never looked anything special at Monaco.

Despite this, the signigns of Caglar Soyuncu, Ricardo Pereira and James Maddison are very welcome for Leicester. Puel has strengthened his team in positions that were weak and added quality players that have been courted by bigger clubs. Jonny Evans was also signed for West Brom for a meager fee and he will add valuable experience to the ranks, to tutor the young Soyuncu and Maguire.

 Where points will be won or lost

If Jamie Vardy was five years younger and played for a top six team, he would be valued around the footballing world as one of the most prolific in the world. The Englishman has the best record against top six teams since 2015 and that is no fluke. If he is on form again this season, Leicester will have no problems scoring goals.

Leicester have a very decent squad, but it is whether they can all play together which was often the problem last season. In Demarai Gray and Rachid Ghezzal they have two players who on their day are excellent, but are far too inconsistent – this must change.

Verdict – 10th

Another season of mid table security for Leicester is my prediction. They are building a good team that is a few signings away from a great team, but I think there are better teams around them that will finish above them.

Liverpool

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Last season’s finish: 4th  

Major ins:Alisson (GK, Roma), Naby Keita (CM, RB Leipzig), Fabinho (CDM, Monaco), Xherdan Shaqiri (RW, Stoke).

Major outs:Danny Ward (GK, Leicester), Jon Flanagan (RB, Rangers), Emre Can (CDM, Juventus), Danny Ings (ST, Southampton), Ben Woodburn (LW, Sheffield United)

First choice XI: (4-3-3) Alisson; Alexander-Arnold, Van Dijk, Lovren, Robertson; Henderson, Keita, Fabinho; Salah, Firmino, Mane.

Oh so close, yet so far. Last season was a typical Liverpool season – brilliant attacking football, a joy to watch, but ultimately no rewards. Jurgen Klopp’s won the hearts of the footballing world playing some of the best football seen in years to beat Guardiola’s City in the league and Europe, but ultimately fell at the final hurdle.

Kiev would have hurt them. As much as Mr Klopp put a smile on his face, that would have hurt deep. It is the one thing that has escaped him as a manager, not being good enough in finals. Yet, Liverpool have had a very promising summer and are serious candidates for their first Premier League title.

Transfer window grade: A-

Naby Keita could be the signing of the window. The Guinean born midfielder has been touted as one of the best midfielders in the world for his performances with Ralf Ragnick’s RB Leipzig side, and with Liverpool’s front three in front of him, he could excel.

Alisson and Fabinho are also very smart buys. The former only really shipped goals once last season, which was against Liverpool. He gets the nod over Ederson for Brazil, so must be doing something right. His style of play is perfect for Klopp, as he can get the ball forward quick, bypassing the defence, to start attacks. Perfect for Salah et al.

Despite this, the back four still looks like it has a couple of pieces of the jigsaw missing, especially if Van Dijk got injured. Fabinho doesn’t really improve on what they already had with Emre Can, whilst Coutinho’s loss will still be felt, despite Liverpool fans denying it.

Where points will be won or lost

In the attacking trio, Liverpool have the best front line in the league. Mo Salah’s 2017/18 campaign will go down in history as one of the best the league has ever seen – he may not reproduce said stats, but he will be up there for the golden boot come May.

The latter of the Salah-Firmino-Mane trio was potentially the one who got the least plaudits last season. However, naturally, Sadio Mane is potentially the best. He could be the one to drive Liverpool to a title this season.

Can Liverpool go all the way? They seem to be the favourites with many pundits, but I am not so sure. In Lovren I do not see a defender that can lead Liverpool all the way to the title, whilst the full backs are still young and inexperienced.

Verdict – 2nd

I think Liverpool will fall just short. They seem to have everything in order, but something doesn’t feel quite right. Klopp will push Manchester City all the way, but I predict they will come up just short in the business end of the season.

Manchester City

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Major ins:Riyad Mahrez (RW, Leicester), Philippe Sandler (CB, PEC Zwolle(, Daniel Arzani (LW, Melbourne City), Claudio Gomes (CDM, PSG)

Major outs:Angus Gunn (GK, Southampton), Joe Hart (GK, Burnley), Larry Kayode (ST, Shakhtar Donetsk), Jack Harrison (RW, Leeds*), Yaya Toure (CM, without club), Lukas Nmecha (ST, Preston*), Brandon Barker (LW, Preston*), Tosin Adarabioyo (CB, West Brom*)

First choice XI: (4-3-3) Ederson; Walker, Stones, Laporte, Mendy; Fernandinho, De Bruyne, B.Silva; Mahrez, Aguero, Sane.

From the first kick to the last (literally), Manchester City were by far the best team in the league last season, perhaps the best side we have ever seen in the Premier League. With pundits having to delve deep into lists of superlatives to describe Pep Guardiola’s side, the country watched in awe as City broke record after record. After a relatively short pre-season, City are back and the target is to do it all again and be the first team to go back-to-back for ten years.

Transfer window grade: C

It’s been a very quiet window in Manchester, but the addition of Riyad Mahrez is one of the signings of the window. The Algerian was probably the best player outside of the top six for the past few seasons and is a player that Manchester City have courted since Guardiola’s arrival in 2016.

In truth, City didn’t need much.

Not signing reinforcements to cover for Fernandinho could cost City, especially when they try to compete on four fronts. Jorginho already looks a smart addition for Chelsea, and despite what Pep may say, he will be disappointed not to add to this area.

Where points will be won or lost

Man for man, City still have the best team in the league. On the back of a very pleasing World Cup, the star man will again be Kevin De Bruyne. The Belgian made games looked effortless at times last season as he helped City coast past tough tests on the way to the title.

One man who could have an exciting season is Bernardo Silva. The Portuguese man racked up the most appearances at City last year, but many felt Pep was using the season to ease Bernardo in to the new league. With David Silva now ageing and Guardiola admitting he will not play every week, his namesake may play in a central role in order to dictate the games more.

Verdict – 1st  

Not signing a defensive midfielder could cost City points in some big games, but I think they have enough to go back to back. Guardiola is assembling a young squad that is ready for the very top. It certainly will not be as easy as last time out, but I think City can go all the way again.

Manchester United

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Last season’s finish: 2nd   

Major ins:Fred (CM, Shakhtar Donetsk), Diogo Dalot (RB, Porto), Lee Grant (GK, Stoke)

Major outs:Daley Blind (LB, Ajax), Sam Johnstone (GK, West Brom), Axel Tuanzebe (CB, Aston Villa*), Joel Pereira (GK, Vitoria Setubal*), James Wilson (ST, Aberdeen*), Timothy Fosu-Mensah (RB, Fulham*), Michael Carrick (retired)

First choice XI: (4-2-3-1) De Gea; Valencia, Bailly, Lindelof, Shaw; Matic, Fred; Lingard, Pogba, Sanchez; Lukaku.

The Premier League would be boring without Jose Mourinho, off the pitch anyway. Whilst Jose is criticized for his dull style of play, the Portuguese coach is never too far away from a controversial news story. This summer was no exception, with Mourinho dubbing his pre-season tour a waste of time, whilst he put on and exaggerated his discontented demeanour. We know you Jose, it’s all a front.

After a trophy-less second season at Old Trafford, Jose Mourinho’s United look to close the gap on their rivals Manchester City. Although last season was disappointing for the high standards of United, the Red Devilsdid manage a second place finish, with their best points tally since their 2012-13 title win.

Transfer window grade: C-

You may think: why have City only signed Mahrez and got a C, whilst United have added Fred and Dalot and got a worse grade? The answer is simple, as is the thought process for the transfer window grading’s: how good are the reinforcements? Have they strengthened all weak areas? Have they replaced lost players?

These are the questions I ask with every club and can only conclude it’s been a disastrous window for Manchester United. Fred is a good signing and excelled in Ukraine for Shakhtar. He looks super talented on and off the ball, potentially perfect for a Mourinho side and could unlock Pogba, but he cannot win titles on his own.

Despite this, Manchester United failed to sign a central defender, after failed attempts at Harry Maguire, Toby Alderweireld and Diego Godin. For United to mount a serious title challenge, I suspect they may regret not getting in defensive reinforcements. Mourinho sides are always built on solid defences, but Mourinho hasn’t got the profile of player he once had at Chelsea, Inter or Madrid – a ‘destroyer’ or leader. 

Where points will be won or lost

Despite Manchester United’s apparent crisis, they have a very good squad. On the back of a positive World Cup, this season could finally be Paul Pogba’s time to shine. The Frenchman on his day is in the top bracket of midfielders – the problem is this day comes once every six or so weeks, which isn’t enough for a team like United.

Despite United’s strength in depth in the attacking positions, they look poor at the back. Valencia and Young was the tried and tested full back pairing last season, but this duo is now ageing and United will hope the likes of Luke Shaw can bounce back from a few injury ridden seasons.

Verdict – 4th

The crisis is not as bad as Jose Mourinho wants you to believe. United are in a very bad way but should have enough for top four. Is that enough for the clubs ambitions? If you look at the past two times they have finished outside it, the club have splashed the cash in both windows. That would indicate top four is the aim for the club now. Manchester United can do better than that and maybe next summer will be another one of rebuilding.

Newcastle

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Last season’s finish: 10th   

Major ins:Yoshinori Muto (ST, Mainz), Federico Fernandez (CB, Swansea), Fabian Schar (CB, Deportivo La Coruna), Martin Dubravka (GK, Sparta Praha), Jose Salomon Rondon (ST, West Brom*), Sung-yong Ki (CM, Swansea), Kenedy (LW, Chelsea*).

Major outs:Aleksandar Mitrovic (ST, Fulham), Mikel Merino (CM, Real Sociedad), Chancel Mbemba (CB, Porto), Matz Sels (GK, Strasbourg), Adam Armstrong (ST, Blackburn), Ivan Toney (ST, Peterborough), Dwight Gayle (ST, West Brom*), Massadio Haidara (LB, Lens), Jack Colback (CDM, Nottingham Forest).

 First choice XI: (4-3-3) Dubravka; Yedlin, Lascelles, Lejeune, Dummett; Diame, Shelvey, Ki; Ritchie, Rondon, Kenedy.

Another summer of disappointment for Newcastle off the pitch has left fans with little hopes for the season ahead. In Rafael Benitez, The Magpieshave one of the best managers in the league, but he has not had the necessary backing from the board to get Newcastle to where they could be.

Transfer window grade: D

The Toon splashed the cash in the Championship, but Mike Ashley has not backed Rafa Benitez in the window since their prompt return to the Premier League. The permanent signing of Martin Dubvravka coupled with extending the loan of Kenedy is good business for Newcastle, whilst the additions of Ki and Rondon could be wise additions.

Aside from that, it has been very poor. Benitez himself admitted that Newcastle would have to smash their £16.8m record of fee paid for a striker, on Michael Owen in 2005, if they were to sign a striker to hit at least double figures in a season. Newcastle failed to do so, instead signing Yoshinori Muto, who is not proven at this level. 

Where points will be won or lost

 Had Benitez walked in summer, I would fear for Newcastle. However, he still remains at the helm, for now. Newcastle have a good core of players and always look solid at the back, with Jamaal Lascelles and Florian Lejeune particularly impressive regularly, but going forward they lack goals.

Goals tended to be few and far between last season for Newcastle and despite the signings of Muto and Rondon, this may still be the case. Whilst Matt Ritchie is a more than capable player, he doesn’t have the ability to come up with clutch moments and get points for Newcastle.

Verdict – 16th

 Despite having potentially one of the worst squads on paper, Newcastle have one of the better managers in the division. Therefore, I think Newcastle will survive in the Premier League. Their fans have every right to protest at Ashley, who is running the club to the ground.

Southampton

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Last season’s finish: 17th

Major ins:Jannik Vestergaard (CB, Monchengladbach), Mohamed Elyounoussi (LW, Basel), Angus Gunn (GK, Manchester City), Stuart Armstrong (CM, Celtic), Danny Ings (ST, Liverpool)

Major outs:Dusan Tadic (CAM, Ajax), Florin Gardos (CB, Craiova), Sofiane Boufal (CAM, Celta Vigo*), Guido Carrillo (ST, Leganes*), Jordy Clasie (CM, Feyenoord*)

 First choice XI: (3-4-3) Gunn; Stephens, Hoedt, Vestergaard; Cedric, Romeu, Lemina, Bertrand; Elyounoussi, Austin, Ings.

For the first time in three years, Southampton have a steady ship – on paper at least. The past three June’s have seen the arrival of a new manager, whilst many summers prior to this have seen The Saints dragged into a battle to keep their prized assets, with many of their best players taking centre-stage of a good old transfer saga.

Last season was extremely poor for Southampton’s standards, but they survived. It went from a sixth placed finish to a relegation scrap in the space of two years, but the main thing is that Mark Hughes’ men lived to fight another day.

Transfer window grade: B+

The transfer window started disastrously for Hughes and co, with star man Dusan Tadic departing for Ajax, whilst both Sofiane Boufal and Guido Carrillo headed for the same exit door. But as ever at St Mary’s, the top scouts were assigned with the task of replacing some of the best players, and that is what they have seemingly done.

The winger Mohamed Elyounoussi is a very exciting buy. The Norway international joins from Basel, on the back of impressive performances, most notably his goal against Manchester City in March. Other signings include Stuart Armstrong and Danny Ings, both of whom will score goals and take the burden off Charlie Austin.

At the back, Southampton have acquired a man mountain defender in Jannik Vestergaard that will fill the void left by Virgil Van Dijk (disclaimer: I am not saying he is as good as Van Dijk). The 6 foot 6 inch Dane will add leadership and experience to help young Jack Stephens develop.

Where points will be won or lost

Hughes has evolved from the stubborn coach we have known in the past, adopting a 3-4-3 formation at St Mary’s. In Cedric Soares and Ryan Bertrand, he has the best wing back pairing outside the top six, as the duo will bomb up and down their respective flanks, whilst being more than competent defensively.

The shape allows the likes of Elyounoussi, Armstrong or Danny Ings to support the striker and help Charlie Austin, who is always heavily relied on in these parts.

Oriol Romeu is brilliant at what he does, whilst Mario Lemina is excellent on the ball and was rightfully courted by the likes of Manchester City and Borussia Dortmund in the closed season.

Verdict – 13th

Southampton have a very good squad and are more than equipped to bounce back from last seasons disappointments. I think a solid mid table finish is on the cards. Hughes has addressed the transfer market well, but they may just lack the individual quality that other mid table teams have.

Tottenham Hotspur

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Last season’s finish: 3rd 

Major ins:N/A

Major outs:  N/A

First choice XI: (4-2-3-1) Lloris; Trippier, Alderweireld, Vertonghen, Rose; Wanyama, Dembele; Lucas, Alli, Eriksen; Kane.

If there was a metaphor to use to describe Tottenham of the past three or four years, it has been written perfectly the last couple of weeks: the new stadium. The unveiling of the new fortress started so well, but ultimately isn’t ready for the big time yet. It has almost fell at the final hurdle, just like Spurs in the league the last few seasons. They have been great, but have lacked a cutting edge time and time again – whether it be losing a big game or bottling a cup semi final, Spurs have been through it a lot.

But, on the pitch, things aren’t that bad. Despite a stagnant summer, Pochettino has a developing squad on his hands that can only get better. But will Spurs be up there in May? We ask this nearly every year and many write them off, but the North London boys always silence critics, going about their business quietly but effectively.

Transfer window grade: E

“But…not signing a player represents strength…the players must be good enough”. No. It does not work like that – you can always make a team better. There’s not really much else to say. Spurs needed to strengthen a couple of positions, but failed. Trippier and Davies are competent but the so called strength of Spurs two seasons ago is becoming the downfall, they miss Walker and Rose of 2016/17 – the best full back pairing in the league by a mile.

Another area they could have strengthened is support for Harry Kane. Heung-min Son chipped in when he could last season, as will Dele Alli, but another goal-scoring wide man has alluded Spurs, despite attempts.

All in all, it has been a disastrous window at White Hart Lane (or Wembley, or even Twickenham!) 

Where points will be won or lost

Despite not the best of windows by any stretch of the imaginiation, Mauricio Pochettino still has one of the best squads in world football at his disposal. If Harry Kane can get firing as he has done since he broke through in the first team, Spurs will be a mean feat yet again.

Dele Alli has received a lot of criticism on social media, with many branding him ‘overrated’. Whilst I don’t fully believe he is the finished article, Alli should be hoping for a big season, as he looks to add more and more goals to his game. At his age, he has more goals than the likes of Gerrard and Lampard did at the same age.

The problem lies in the big games: to win a league, you need to beat those around you. I never fancy Spurs against fellow top six, especially away. They have spontaneous games where they are excellent, but others where they are poor. Pochettino must address this if Spurs are to have another exciting campaign.

Verdict – 5th

Whilst Spurs have a settled squad, not signing fresh faces could cost them, as the squads around them have spent big and evolved their team. I’m not sure Pochettino’s side have the strength in depth to get another impressive top four finish, as the problems with the new ground overshadow what I predict to be a poor season for Spurs.

Watford

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Last season’s finish: 14th   

Major ins:Gerard Deulofeu (RW, Barcelona), Adam Masina (LB, Bologna), Ken Sema (LM, Ostersund), Marc Navarro (RB, Espanyol), Bel Wilmot (CB, Stevenage), Domingos Quina (CM, West Ham), Ben Foster (GK, West Brom).

Major outs:Richarlison (LW, Everton), Nordin Amrabat (LW, Al-Nassr), Mauro Zarate (ST, Boca Juniors), Costel Pantilimon (GK, Nottingham Forest), Jerome Sinclair (ST, Sunderland*). 

First choice XI: (4-2-2-2) Foster; Janmaat, Catchcart, Kabasele, Holebas; Doucoure, Hughes; Pereyra, Deulofeu; Gray, Deeney.

Whilst many see Watford as a settled Premier League side, the bookies have The Hornets to be relegated at the end of the season, as they did for the previous two campaigns. Watford have never really toyed with the idea of relegation since their promotion in 2015, mainly in part due to fast starts to the season, but the model that the hierarchy employs sees many managers come and go, and long term success seems a bit unrealistic.

Last season, the side led by Marco Silva started brilliantly. The Portuguese coach, now at Everton, was sacked after a poor Christmas period, with some fans citing loss of focus as the reason for Watford’s disappointing run of results. A few months on, Watford still don’t look in great shape, and many of their fans are fearing for the season ahead.

Transfer window grade: D

 Apart from the permanent capture of previous loanee Gerard Deolofeu, it has been an extremely underwhelming summer at Vicarage Road. Star man Richarlison left the club for a big fee, but the use of this money never followed. Ben Foster represents an upgrade on previous goalkeepers such as Gomes and Karnezis, but apart from this Watford have been too reluctant to splash the cash, whereas teams around them in the relegation battle have done so.

Where points will be won or lost

Javi Gracia has not been backed greatly by the board, which may indicate another unsettled coach. Whether Javi Gracia is the man for the job or not, the players and fans deserve reassurance. If Watford have a poor start, I am confident that the board would sack Gracia instantly, creating more uncertainty.

Abdoulaye Doucoure had a very promising season last time out, whilst the Argentine assassin Roberto Pereyra could be set for a big campaign should he stay injury free. Apart from this, the Watford squad is not loaded with talent, and I think they may struggle.

Verdict – 18th

 Uncertainty over the manager, not enough goals in the side, an uninspiring defence, reluctance to spend cash, fans feeling doomed before a ball has been kicked – many little factors add up at Watford and it doesn’t look good for Hornetssupporters. I think they will go down, despite potentially having a typical Watford good few months to start the season.

West Ham United

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Last season’s finish: 13h  

Major ins:Felipe Anderson (RW, Lazio), Issa Diop (CB, Toulouse), Andriy Yarmolenko (RW, Borussia Dortmund), Lukasz Fabianski (GK, Swansea), Carlos Sanchez (CDM, Fiorentina), Lucas Perez (ST, Arsenal), Fabian Balbuena (CB, Corinthians), Jack Wilshere (CM, Arsenal), Ryan Fredericks (RB, Fulham).

Major outs:Cheikhou Kouyate (CDM, Crystal Palace), Reece Burke (CB, Hull), Domingos Quina (CM, Watford), Jordan Hugill (ST, Middlesbrough*), Sam Byram (RB, Nottingham Forest*), Sead Haksabanovic (LW, Malaga), Edmilson Fernandes (CM, Fiorentina), Patrice Evra (LB, without club).

 First choice XI: (4-3-3) Fabianski; Fredericks, Diop, Ogbonna, Masuaku; Rice, Sanchez, Wilshere, Anderson, Arnautovic. Yarmolenko.

Manuel Pellegrini’s last act as a coach in the Premier League in his first stint was to secure top four football for Manchester City. They did that thanks mostly to West Ham, who dramatically overcome Manchester United in the last ever game at Upton Park or The Boleyn Ground. TheHammerswere supposed to move into their new home and challenge for European spots, but it hasn’t happened.

After two depressing seasons filled with protests against the owners, West Ham have finally splashed the cash in the transfer window and look set for an exciting year. Manuel Pellegrini is now back in England with the east London club and will be looking to put a smile back on the faces of the West Ham faithful, especially Sir Trevor Brooking, who was often shown sitting alone in the directors box, looking dejected.

Transfer window grade: A-

Firstly – the manager: after missing out on Shakhtar Donetsk’s Paulo Fonseca and then Newcastle’s Rafael Benitez, David Sullivan hired league winning coach Manuel Pellegrini. The Chilean has a rich brand of attacking football that will have The London Stadium full of fans on the edge of their seat.

The signings West Ham have made have been excellent. Felipe Anderson is one of the coups of the window. The Brazilian was touted for a move to one of Europe’s elite, but West Ham managed to capture his signature. If he hits the ground running early, he could be in for a frightening season.

Lukasz Fabianksi and Carlos Sanchez are super additions in areas that needed strengthening, whilst Jack Wilshere will hope to settle at his new club. With a run of games, I, as a football fan, hope Wilshere can finally discover his true potential.

The only reservation is whether West Ham have an ample central defender. Diop and Balbuena look smart buys but I am unsure if they have an experienced head to see West Ham through big games or not.

Where points will be won or lost

As we know from his time in Manchester, Pellegrini plays a very attacking style of play, often adopting the mantra: “we will out score the opposition.” This may work brilliantly in many games for West Ham, but I could see them on the receiving end of a few hammerings from the big boys.

Marko Arnautovic enjoyed an exciting first season in London, especially towards the end of the season, growing into his role as a central striker rather than a wide man. With the support of the new forwards and Wilshere signed up, West Ham could be in very good hands going forward.

Verdict – 8th

 An 8th placed finish, for me, would be very good for West Ham. They have had one of the best windows in the league and I think their squad is littered with talent, including a number of different weapons off the bench.

Wolverhampton Wanderers

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Last season’s finish: 1st(Championship)  

Major ins:Adama Traore (RW, Middlesbrough), Diogo Jota (LW, Atletico Madrid), Willy Boly (CB, Porto), Joao Moutinho (CM, Monaco), Leo Bonatini (ST, Hilal), Raul Jimenez (ST, Benfica*), Ruben Vinagre (LB, Monaco), Rui Patricio (GK, Sporting), Jonny Castro (LB, Atletico Madrid*), Leander Dendoncker (CDM, Anderlecht*), Benik Afobe (ST, Bournemouth).

Major outs:Benik Afobe (ST, Stoke), Barry Douglas (LB, Leeds), Ben Marshall (RM, Norwich).

First choice XI: (3-4-3) Patricio; Dendoncker, Coady, Boly; Doherty, Moutinho, Neves, Vinagre; Traore, Jimenez, Jota.

After relegation in 2012, Wolves had what seemed for fans like a lifetime wait to get back to the big time. It was worth the wait. Optimism is as high as it has been for decades at Molyneux and for good reason. Nuno Espirito Santo’s side arrive in the top flight looking as well prepared as we have seen for years from a newly promoted side.

Just over a year ago, Wolves were starting their Championship campaign on the back of a poor 15thplace finish. The board invested heavily in the transfer window, but nothing was certain. They may have been backed by the bookies, but no one saw the 99-point haul coming.

Transfer window grade: A+

 Whereas Cardiff were criticized earlier in this preview for being too loyal to the players that got them there, Wolves did the opposite, which is the best way to survive. As well as signing the impressive loanees of last season on permanent deals, Wolves have added to their squad with a mixture of exciting young talents and renowned names from across the globe.

Rui Patricio and Joao Moutinho are said household names that will now take centre stage in Wolverhampton. The former is a Euro 2016 winner, whilst Moutinho has tons of experience at the highest level.

Adama Traore, Leander Dendoncker and Raul Jimenez represent ‘wildcard’ selections. If you have watched them regularly, you will know they are super talented players, but whether they can produce that on a consistent basis will be crucial for Wolves.

Young Ruben Vinagre, snatched from the rapid producing factory of talent AS Monaco, made the team of the tournament at the U19 Euro’s this summer and will hope to break into the Wolves side and prove his worth in the most competitive league in the world.

Where points will be won or lost

 Ruben Neves at times last season looked like an adult playing on a kids playground, bullying the opposition. If he can reproduce and hopefully for him, better his form of last year, Wolves will do well to hang on to his services for much longer, as I am sure some of the big clubs will be after his signature.

The 3-4-3 formation Espirito Santo adopts allows for fluidity in transitions, whilst striking a good balance between defence and attack. It is unknown whether Adama Traore will play in the ‘wing back’ role or in the front three, but the ex-Boro man will hope to prove his critics wrong in the Premier League, older and wiser than his last stint two seasons ago.

If you were to pick a criticism, it is the lack of a born goalscorer – a man who will grab 10 to 15 goals for Wolves this season. Raul Jimenez is an unknown quantity and against some of the best defenders in world football, Wolves may come up stuck.

Verdict – 11th

 Some fans have been predicting Wolves a top half finish. Nuno Espirito Santo will be first to admit the target is safety. From there, Wolves can dream. They have a great squad and I have predicted a solid mid table finish in their return to the top flight.