With the upcoming English Premier League season just around the corner, we’ll be previewing the new year in great depth this coming week.
We’ll feature various preview articles assessing title chances, relegation odds, top goalscorer bets, as well as who will be crowned the PFA Player of the Year.
For today’s feature, let’s delve into the coveted EPL title race. Over the years, more and more Premier League squads have entered the fray, as greater sums of money have entered the league.
In all likelihood, the winner of this year’s EPL season will come from one of the ‘Big Six’ sides in Chelsea, Manchester City, Manchester United, Tottenham Hotspur, Liverpool, and Arsenal. There have been seasons where the big surprise does occur, as Leicester City managed to do as huge underdogs a couple of seasons ago, though I wouldn’t count on that occurring again in our lifetimes.
In fact, since the inception of the Premier League in 1992, only the Blackburn Rovers and the aforementioned Leicester City have broken up the monopoly on titles from the likes of Man U, Man City, Chelsea, and Arsenal.
Will this year be different? Read on below for some quick hits on who the four main contenders are for this year’s Premier League crown.
Manchester City (-150)
Last season’s defending champs are hungry and back for more to kick off the 2018 campaign. They looked excellent in the Community Shield match against Chelsea, and Pep Guardiola is always targeting more and more silverware.
One of the key additions for the Citizens was their signing of former Leicester City midfield maestro, Riyad Mahrez. The talented midfielder should bring big elements of creativity and passing ability to the City midfield, and provide solid link play with the likes of Kevin de Bruyne and David Silva, along with Gabriel Jesus up top. The rich have gotten richer on the blue side of Manchester.
Last year, Man City won the title easily and though this year could be the same, it’s not always easy to cruise through such an unpredictable league two seasons in a row. City do have some issues and things that could go awry for the upcoming campaign.
For starters, it would seem that they do lack some depth with their holding or defensive midfielders. They really only have Fernandinho to hold down that role. Beyond that, they have talent but nobody who really suits that position. In a league like the EPL, City knows that they are dangerously thin if he is ever unavailable, given the sheer amount of talent among their rivals.
The other area of concern could be some of their key talent are beginning to creep into their thirties. David Silva is 33, and Vincent Kompany is 32. Is the defense good enough to deal with a decline to Kompany? John Stones, Nicolas Otamendi, and Aymeric Laporte all have significant question marks attached to them.
City also didn’t finish their last season on a tear, but that is to be expected given how dominant they were at the outset. Guardiola’s side could afford to cruise to the finish line, but teams like the Spurs and Liverpool matched them after Christmas. If they carry over that same form to start this year, paired with a World Cup summer – a slow start could make things tough on a Manchester City repeat.
All things said, City are the rightful favorites from the bookmakers. Their starting eleven remains the best, and Guardiola is the best manager in the Premier League. However, this season won’t be anywhere near as easy as last, and I’d venture to guess they won’t be leading from start to finish this time around. Keep reading for some of the main threats to Manchester City’s quest to repeat as champs.
In my mind, the Reds of Liverpool will be Manchester City’s stiffest threat this upcoming season. Last season was excellent for them, and although they fell just short of winning the Champions League against Real Madrid, Liverpool did many good things that have put them in great position to contend for this year’s EPL title.
Their offseason was the best in the entire top flight. Jurgen Klopp managed to be aggressive in the transfer market, securing the likes of Alisson in goal, Xherdan Shaqiri, and dynamic midfielder Naby Keita.
Liverpool have had issues between the posts in the past, so securing Alisson was great business. He is now the highest paid goalkeeper in the world, and he should be eager to prove his new side that this was money well spent, while helping to make up for a questionable back-line.
With Keita, the former RB Leipzig midfielder represented the highest transfer fee in Liverpool history at the time of his signing, and the early returns on his ability seem to be excellent. Keita adds yet another weapon into a loaded attack for the Reds, and his distribution, strength, and movement should be appreciated by the likes of Firmino, Sadio Mane, and of course Mohamed Salah.
Beyond the high profile acquisitions, Klopp also solidified Liverpool’s play without the ball in securing Fabinho from Monaco. He can feature as a right back, or play a defensive role in the midfield, which were two areas of need for the Reds. And while he hasn’t enjoyed the most positive of starts to his Liverpool career, once he gets more familiar with the English game, look for the team to be better because of it.
Their high profile signings were justified and fit the needs of the team. Liverpool is a squad that is loaded on the attack, and has likely done enough in goal and defense to seriously contend with Man City for the EPL title.
Manchester United (+700)
Prominent manager Jose Mourinho has been whining an awful lot before the start of the upcoming season, and it’s with good reason. Man United’s transfers and signings have been lackluster at best. Many predicted Manchester United to finally take that next step this season, but their offseason has been quite underwhelming.
They did go out and pick up Brazilian center midfielder in Fred, who is a solid player, but beyond that there has been nothing spectacular that moves the needle for this squad. In their recent tour, their results have not been promising, and Mourinho knows if he wants to seriously contend for a title he’s stated he needs at least two more players.
The ornery manager has been especially gloomy this pre-season, going as far as to suggest that “everything is really bad” with relation to the play of the squad and the atmosphere in the camp. It is all really puzzling for a team that was expected to contend for this season’s title. Many understand that he is upset about the lack of help and support from the transfer market, but the truth is that ownership has already poured sums of money into the team, and it’s now up to Jose Mourinho to get the most out of them.
They remain a very talented group going forward. Alexis Sanchez, Marcus Rashford, and Anthony Martial are great finishers, while Paul Pogba is more than capable of being a beast in the midfield if Mourinho allows him to flourish. Where the squad is still lacking is in defense. Keeper David de Gea bailed United out on countless occasions last year, and it’s unsustainable and unrealistic to imagine he can recreate that form again this season.
As of now, Manchester United have the pieces to be title winners up front, but just not enough at the back. Combine that realization with Mourinho’s grumpy disposition, and it just does not seem to be a positive work environment. They could go out and add a defender prior to the season, but it seems like it’ll be another year of just missing out on glory for the red side of Manchester.
The last side we’ll look at, and the fourth favorite according to oddsmakers is Chelsea. They’ve undergone some big changes as they prepare for the upcoming campaign, most notably on the touchline with a new manager. Maurizio Sarri has come over from Napoli, and the coach is known for having his side play an exciting brand of football.
That said, it takes time to learn the ways of English soccer and I think the learning curve could be steep for Sarri. He’s inherited a tough situation, to begin with as both Eden Hazard and Thibault Courtois seem to be pining for moves elsewhere as the Belgian duo thinks it’s time to move on.
In the transfer market, Chelsea went out and made a key addition to their midfield by bringing in Jorginho. He followed his manager from Napoli, and you can bet Maurizio Sarri will really lean on the talented Brazilian. Jorginho should be able to form a tantalizing midfield trio with both of Willian and N’Golo Kante, and as a result, the Blues should be able to control the majority of their games.
One area that remains a big concern has to be up front though. Alvaro Morata has not scored goals at the rate that was expected, and Olivier Giroud is not a prolific striker either. Sarri will expect a ton of possession and excellent passing, but it seems like his finishers will not be anywhere near the level of the link-play coming from the midfield.
Ultimately, there are lots of good pieces within the Chelsea lineup, but with some big structural changes and tough decisions looming, too much can go wrong to expect them to contend for this year’s title. If Hazard stays on, they might have a shot – though right now they really lack the required levels of pace and dynamic ability to match the likes of Manchester City and Liverpool.
From a value standpoint, I think it’s clear that Liverpool represents the best at +400 odds. Their transfers fit their team philosophy perfectly, and Jurgen Klopp’s vision is clear and dynamic. They’re a younger team than Man City, and although the expectations are sky high for the Reds, their time is now. Expect the quartet of Naby Keita, Roberto Firmino, Mohamed Salah, and Sadio Mane to just destroy defenses this year in England.