Kunle Ajao

Kunle Ajao

 

The theatrics and pyrotechnics were on show at the Molineux, Wolverhampton Wanderers were back in the Premier League for the first time in some six years; the last time they were here, Sir Alex Ferguson and Arsene Wenger were still very much part of the top-flight furniture, Kylian Mbappe was 13 years old, Blackberry phones were on the in, Huddersfield were in the third tier, while things like Goal-line Technology and Video Assistant Referees were yet-to-be implemented theories. That’s how long it’s been.

Absence has made the heart grow fonder, and, add to that the fact that the Midlands-club have added well in the summer transfer window, and fancy themselves capable of more than mere survival, you could not just excuse the overwhelming sense of anticipation, but rather encourage it as well. The stadium was in full voice, as Everton came to town.

‘The fans must enjoy it’, said manager Nuno Esprito Santo, and the fans did, the boisterous atmosphere at the ground was palpable , as Wolves stepped out to begin a season in which they were the only side from the West Midlands in the top-flight. The kick-off came with roaring cheers, as did every Wolves kick of the ball early on.

But Premier League is never roses and rainbows, it took only 17 minutes for Wolves to be reminded of what they left behind back in 2012. The ruthless cruelty that is the top-flight, any lapse likely to be punished, such as failing to deal with a free-kick in your 18-yard box, what the hosts were guilty of in the 17th minute. When Gylfi Sigurdsson swung in a cross, Wolves’ defence hesitated in the area, their clearance uncertain, and Richarlison nipped in to put Everton in front.

Everton also have expectations of their own, looking to put things right after last season’s debacle. They also have a Portuguese manager, long sought-after Marco Silva finally appointed in the summer, and it was the manager’s new signings in Richarlison, a man who had raised eyebrows for being acquired for 40million pounds, who was off celebrating giving Everton the lead.

There it was, the size of the task that Wolves had to rise up to in this division; they’d talked the talk, now to walk it. But they did find a response, even if a helping hand came their way at first. Everton skipper Phil Jagielka took a heavy touch, then took his studs through Diogo Jota’s ankle, an act which saw receive his marching orders, in the 44th minute. Wolves had a numerical advantage, and from the resulting free-kick, Ruben Neves, near-impeccable in the Championship last season, arrowed one past Jordan Pickford.

Then the noise was back, the electricity in the ground resumed, not since Steven Fletcher in 2012 had this club had a goal-scorer in the big time, Wolves now had lift-off. ‘We thank the crowd, Molineux was incredible- buzzing’, said Santo, who was engulfed in celebration by his coaching staff after Neves’ leveller. ‘It was a good atmosphere’.

If the atmosphere was unquestionable, the performance wasn’t; for all the noise and bounce in the ground, Wolves didn’t create much after halftime, despite their numerical advantage, Jota guilty of taking a touch too many on a few occasions, while the passes weren’t quite coming off, and on 67 minutes, thanks once more to Richarlison, they fell behind again. ‘We over-played some moments…’, admitted Santo, ‘…but it’s natural when we’re growing’.

But the fans wouldn’t leave sullen, as with 10 minutes left, a delightful Neves cross was met by the head of Raul Jimenez, one of the summer signings, to rescue a point. ‘We have character.’ Santo again pointed out. ‘We came back with a result two times, it’s not easy’.

And he shouldn’t expect it to get any easier. There were a few causes for concern; the fluidity was lacking, the defence was suspect, and chance creation was next-to-non-existent. But as Santo said, the side is growing. There will be teething problems, but results like this will make them feel they should overcome that. The optimism can’t fade just yet, Wolves want to belong here.

Elsewhere

  • It was the ideal start for Chelsea at Huddersfield- three goals, three points, a clean sheet for the World’s most expensive goalkeeper. But that in no way means the Blues look ready, they were a few jittery moments at the John Smith’s stadium, but as Maurizio Sarri’s side are still at the getting-used-to-it stage, the win was more than welcome.
  • One side also getting used to it are Arsenal, who were shown a hint of the level they aspire to get to under Unai Emery as they lost to the champions Manchester City. No sense of deflation as of yet, this is another who are always going to face teething problems, even if one of those was almost the most inexplicable of own goals you could see. Almost.
  • It all began on Friday night, only 72 seconds were on the clock when Andre Marriner gave Manchester United a penalty against Leicester. A spotkick goal (yes, we had to) from World Cup winner Paul Pogba, a first career goal for Luke Shaw, suddenly Jose Mourinho’s pre-season grumpiness is forgotten… For now.
  • It’s the first weekend of the season, and Roberto Pereyra has probably already won the Goal of the Month award for August.
  • Mohammed Salah scored, Harry Kane didn’t score in an August game, Wilfred Zaha helped Crystal Palace to victory, Southampton didn’t score…nothing much is new these days.
  • From the probably-not-immortal words of Frank Underwood, ‘Welcome back’.

Results

Wolves 2-2 Everton

Fulham 0-2 Crystal Palace

Huddersfield 0-3 Chelsea

Liverpool 4-0 West Ham

Watford 2-0 Brighton

Arsenal 0-2 Manchester City

Manchester United 2-1 Leicester

Newcastle 1-2 Tottenham

Bournemouth 2-0 Cardiff

Southampton 0-0 Burnley


 

What is this really? A list of things to look out for ahead of the new season? A list questions to be answered ahead of the new campaign? A load of nonsense by Spotkick to generate attentio… okay, maybe not that last part.

Hence, we called it a prologue, the 2018-19 Premier League trailer; the thing before the real thing begins: 

 

An actual title race this time?

Yeah, yeah, Manchester City, we get it, you steamrolled to the title with all the records broken, whatever. But that also meant in four years, we haven’t had a real title race. Commendations to Spurs for trying to make something of two of the last four seasons, but still, there’s been little doubt over the state of the league winners going into the final two months for the first time since 2014. City look like favourites for the title again, but Liverpool’s summer spending has many tipping as the likeliest side to challenge the champions. The others, though, pose questions and reasons for doubt. Spurs made no action in the window, Manchester United haven’t had the best preparations, to say the least, Chelsea have new management and a lot of room for improvement, and Arsenal approach a season of the unknown. On paper, it looks like there are only two sides vying for the title, but it’s never played on paper is it? Yet it’s probably too much to ask for a six-team title race.

 

The unknown case of the Gunners

It’s gone from expecting the Gunners to implode in mid-February and wondering whom Arsene Wenger would push his irritation at, to a sense of the unknown at the Emirates. Wenger has departed after 22 years, Unai Emery is the new boss in Red North London, areas of weakness have been supposedly bolstered, and there’s the feel that the fans are stepping into the unknown with a touch of optimism. Suddenly, making a stern prediction on the Gunners seems a tough call. We no longer know what lies behind that Hornsey Road curtain.

 

Will Chelsea become- oh God- likeable?

It’s the supposed constant in West London, Chelsea are the formidable ruthless machine, hiring and firing reputable winners one after the other, thriving in their short-termism, and being hated by everybody else, like having an eternal dislike for Channels Television because they had the gusto to interrupt your cartoons with news programmes back when you were a kid. But could that change? For once in the Roman Abramovich era, the Blues have gone against their archetypal mode, appointing a manager who has nothing in terms of trophies, in Maurizio Sarri. Sarri comes with a mode of playing that will take some getting used to, it took a while for his style garnered fruit with Napoli. That means Abramovich seems settled to adopting a style that’ll require patience and practice, so no sign of short-termism, no hiring of a name laden with silverware. Which could equal, a style of play that could be pleasing on the eye, plus the fact that their system will take some getting used to, as the Community Shield proved, which could mean a few unpleasant results in the early days of the campaign, and a few unlucky outcomes may well generate some empathy. They may well be the new Premier League, gulp, .

 

Jose’s dissatisfaction hanging over Red Manchester

The grumpiest man in Manchester, The Guardian called him, United’s manager hasn’t expressed elation over United before the season begins, his claims over the club’s relative transfer inactivity and the unavailability of some of his players, who had the audacity to represent their country at the World Cup. Eyes have already been set at the Portuguese, who approaches his third season at Old Trafford, the period of calamity in his managerial timeline, and his grumpiness hasn’t taken away the limelight. All signs point towards a ticking time-bomb at the Theatre of Dreams, or is it all a smoke-screen to bait into playing United down as outsiders? The opening game of the season may set the tone.

 

2019: The year of the Reds?

Raise your hand if you’ve seen and been annoyed by this before: this could be Liverpool’s season. Before you snort in derision and walk away, look at the signs; mainly the transfer window. Having bolstered their defence with the acquisition of Virgil van Dijk last January, they seem to have plugged that goalkeeping hole with the acquisition of Alisson Becker from Roma, have added some solidity and security in midfield in the arrivals of Fabinho and Naby Keita, and the signing of Xherdan Shaqiri does their attack no harm. With Daniel Sturridge apparently staying and Adam Lallana fit for the start of this campaign, Liverpool finally boast sufficient squad depth to mount a lasting challenge. Don’t fold under pressure, and it really could be their year. (Spoiler alert: It probably won’t)

 

Neil Warnock, his point to prove, and his fiery atmosphere

Two: number of times Neil Warnock has taken a side into the top-flight.

Zero: number of times he’s achieved survival with them.

Either by suffering relegation or getting discarded halfway, Warnock and the Premier League don’t mix. And after leading Cardiff to their unexpected promotion last term, this may seem like his chance to put things right, so the manager wouldn’t want for motivation ahead of 2018-19. The odds are stacked against the veteran manager and his side, who are favourites to be relegated, which could mean no pressure or so much pressure. Survival may not come, and Warnock may not last long at the helm this term, but expect some feistiness from the Sheffield-born man. His list of spats and finger-pointing is quite something- even Sean Bean can attest to it. Has already made previous with Pep Guardiola and Nuno Esprito Santo last season, surely there’ll be more this time.

 

Battle to be best of the rest

There’s little denying the drawn-out gap between the top six and the rest, like titans watching the gods dining at the pantheon. Last season, Burnley in seventh place were closer to the relegation zone than they were to sixth place, the season before that it was Southampton in eighth that were in that scenario. We’ll always have Leicester’s crazy one-season stand in 2015/16, but the reality is, the top six are quite a cut above the rest. Speaking of Leicester, the Foxes do have a shot at being the best of the rest. Despite the loss of Riyad Mahrez, the summer has been good, highly-rated Championship playmaker James Maddison has joined from Norwich, Ricardo Pereira plugs that hole at right-back, while Jonny Evans is a bargain at 3million. There’s a worry over the future of manager Claude Puel, whom was the subject of fans discontent in the second half of the campaign, and a bad start could the Frenchman be sent packing. Everton also have a right to fancy their chances; a season of amends is likely to be on the cards after last term’s debacle, but they still possess a quality side and finally have their sought-after managerial target in Marco Silva. West Ham shouldn’t be out of the question, problems still lie in East London but the summer has looked promising for the first time in a while. Then there’s the other promoted duo. Wolves and Fulham will probably want to consider themselves as the winners of this transfer window, Wolves managing to lure top-class goalkeeper Rui Patricio to the club, as well as Joao Moutinho, while Fulham snapped up Jean Michel-Seri, once a target of Barcelona’s, as well as World Cup winner Andre Schurrle. Rarely before did newly-promoted sides fancy themselves capable of much more than survival right after coming to the big time.


We’ve always heard of looking into the crystal ball and seeing what will be. But how often do you look into the crystal ball and tell what’s not seen? Hardly.

So, with the new Premier League season on its way, Spotkick takes a long gaze into future, and what does see? It won’t say. Rather, it’s here to say what it didn’t see.

Note: This is about what won’t happen in the upcoming Premier League season, but should of our un-predicted events turn out right, we intend to together hug the credit and say we told you so, a bit like Harry Re…shhhh, don’t give anything away!!!

 

August

The season kicks off at Old Trafford on a Friday night, with Manchester United hosting Leicester City. Leicester defender and United target Harry Maguire opens the scoring on the hour, but decides not to celebrate against the side the who’ve been so interested in him. The match ends one-all, Juan Mata with the equaliser for United, but the game’s headline is United gaffer Jose Mourinho having a spat with club physio Richard Ferron, as a result of the latter taking off Alexis Sanchez due to a head injury, ‘if you can’t play through the inconveniences, then you don’t call yourself a professional’, says the Portuguese.

Arsenal begin the season with a home game against Manchester City, but trouble ensues when manager Unai Emery is said to have been missing for a few days, after the Spaniard didn’t show up for the pre-match conference. As a result, Arsenal turn to former boss Arsene Wenger to be in caretaker charge until Emery is found. ‘It feels different this time’, says Le Professeur, during his unveiling in a secret location. Arsenal lose the opening game to the champions, 4-0.

Tottenham begin the season with a trip to Newcastle. With the scores level at 1-1 in stoppage time, Harry Kane heads in what seems to be the winner, but the referee disallows the goal by the virtue of it coming in August. Wolves and Everton steal the headlines on the opening weekend with an eight-all draw. The month comes to a close with Watford sacking Javi Gracia. ‘Javi has been in the job for eight months, an eternity by our standards, and it’s important to uphold our values and policies that have made this club so successful’ says the statement released by the Hornets board. ‘Plus, we were itching to use the line ‘Javi, Gracias’ before anyone on Twitter did’. Harry Redknapp is announced as the new Watford manager.

September

September begins with Newcastle players refusing to travel to the Etihad for their game against Manchester City, ‘we’ve witnessed far too many humiliations’ says a Toon player, ‘so why bother’. Newcastle are finally persuaded to make the trip, and hold a 1-0 lead until 10 minutes left, before conceding six goals in seven minutes.

City’s next game is a trip to Cardiff, where they muster 147 shots, yet get nothing: Cardiff get the only goal of the game, via an Aymeric Laporte own goal. Neil Warnock’s post-match conference is interrupted by the presentation of a gift basket, supposedly from Mourinho.

The month ends with Manchester United playing a goalless draw at West Ham. ‘It was an excellent result’ says Mourinho, ‘if you compare the football heritage, this was a match against a superior side’.

October

Liverpool and Man City kick off November, City finally ending their long-wait for a win at Anfield. Raheem Sterling scores twice for City, but refuses to celebrate against his former club. ‘Spoilt disrespectful brat Sterling dishonours club that pays his wages by not celebrating’, the Daily Mail says. That loss leaves Liverpool with just three wins all-season, and manager Jurgen Klopp points out how the Reds can’t match the top clubs in spending big, then the German is reminded of his side’s summer outlay. ‘People say what they want to say, I know we don’t spend big’, he replies.

Chelsea and Man Utd meet in this month, an Alvaro Morata hatrick helping the Blues to a 4-2 win. ‘Sometimes those with zero trophies can get lucky against the successful ones’, Mourinho says post-match. United end their month with a hard-fought win over Everton, their third in the league, Luke Shaw getting the only goal.

Spurs also hit the headlines this month, Christian Eriksen guilty of simulation in their 3-3 draw at West Ham, but Harry Kane is the one who receives the yellow card.

November

Arsenal continue their uncomfortable start to the season with a 2-3 loss at home to Liverpool. Arsene Wenger is irate when asked if he worries about his future. ‘You can’t keep blaming me for everything’, the Frenchman bellows. ‘The club should be grateful I gave up spending time with my family to help them miss out on the top four. Perhaps you lot should spend time searching for Unai than worry about me’.

Watford’s heavy defeat to Newcastle means they haven’t won any game since September. ‘It’s important to keep things in perspective’, says Harry Redknapp. ‘I’ve had two wins in charge in all competitions, and that’s despite my knee injury’. Redknapp is sacked after. The Hornets appoint Quique Sanchez Flores as manager, then realise they’ve hired once before, and they duly fire him 16 hours after his unveiling. David Moyes is put in charge, after signing an affidavit swearing he’s never managed Watford before now.

The Manchester derby is the headline game of the month, and history is made when City get 100% ball possession for the entirety of the first half. City run out 3-1 winners. Mourinho is sacked, and Michael Carrick is named as manager until the end of the season.

Cardiff, winless since that win over Man City, sack Neil Warnock. Sam Allardyce, midway through another of his lectures on British managers not being given a chance in the UK (to Sky Sports), is announced as Cardiff’s new boss.

December

Liverpool and Everton kick-off the month with the Merseyside, in his pre-match interview Jurgen Klopp complains about how the derby is often overshadowed by other games in the same weekend. Liverpool win 4-1, Mohammed Salah scoring all four of Liverpool’s goals, but referee Michael Oliver hits the headlines by rushing right out of the pitch and the stadium in order to catch the North London derby happening later that day.

At the Emirates, with banners of ‘Find Emery’ colouring the stadium, goals from Pierre-Emerick Aubameyang and Alexandre Lacazette give Arsenal a 2-0 win over Spurs.

The month is headlined by Man City’s trip to Chelsea, an entertaining goalless draw with a combination total of 14,658 completed passes and 37 shots on target. Another headline act of December is Manchester United’s 5-3 win at Anfield, which makes it four wins in four for United under Carrick.

Bayern Munich get knocked out of the UEFA Champions League group stage, and are drawn with Arsenal in the last 32 of the Europa League.

Wolves go top after their 1-1 draw with Liverpool.

January

Wolves and Leicester meet in mid-January, with Leicester fans intent on Wolves not re-enacting their version of the Foxes’ 2015/16 fairy-tale, banners of ‘don’t let them take our fantasy’ filling the away end. Leicester come out as 3-1 winners, thanks to a brace from Jamie Vardy. Wolves also lose to Manchester City in January, and Spurs, and drop to fourth place.

The transfer windows  re-opens, and Spurs announce six players signing new contracts.

The Premier League accidentally records one of Arsenal’s games in January as a defeat to Stoke, despite the fact that Arsenal’s only loss of the month came at Man City, and the small matter of Stoke being in the Championship.

With Liverpool struggling and languishing in seventh place, Jurgen Klopp announces he’ll leave the club at the end of the season. Liverpool finish the month with a 6-2 win at West Ham, a match during which Andy Carroll gets injured after stepping out of West Ham’s bus. He’s ruled out for three months.

Watford sack David Moyes after a loss to Brighton, with Alan Pardew named his immediate replacement.

Huddersfield are still searching, astonishingly, for their first win of the season, but chairman Dean Hoyle expresses faith in David Wagner. ‘He’s proved capable of miracles, and I’m confident we can muster 14 wins between now and the end of the campaign’.

February

Everton pull off a shock 2-1 win over Man City, in the same weekend when Man Utd complete the double over Liverpool, the Red Devils remain unbeaten under Michael Carrick, who still possesses some tactical flaws, according to new BT Sport pundit, a certain Jose Mourinho.

Everton are brought back down to earth following their win over City, with a defeat to Cardiff, coached by Sam Allardyce, a 1-0 loss thanks to a goal of the season contender by January signing Omar Niasse. ‘Justice, like beauty, is in the eye of the beholder’ says a smug Big Sam afterwards.

Chelsea go top with a win over Spurs, Alvaro Morata bagging his 21st goal of the season in a 3-1 victory.

Arsenal are knocked out of the Europa League by Bayern.

Man Utd win the League Cup, after beating Leicester at Wembley.

March

Watford begin the month with a loss at home to Leicester, and during the International break, with members of the team travelling to Paris, Tom Cleverley and Ben Foster allegedly steal a bicycle from the Tour de France.

Everton bag their first Merseyside derby win since 2010, after a close-fought 3-2 win is decided by a howler from Liverpool goalkeeper Alisson Becker. Klopp defends Alisson post-match, ‘he feels very disappointed, but Loris… sorry Alisson is a very strong character’.

Man Utd’s unbeaten run under Carrick finally ends, with a derby defeat to Man City. City supposedly play without Kevin de Bruyne, who’s suspended, but their winning goal is created by Oleksandr Zinchenko, who covers himself in a mask, and can’t quite be differed from De Bruyne. After full-time, ‘Zinchenko’ hurries past the press and declines a post-match interview.

April

Huddersfield, despite six wins in eight games, are relegated from the Premier League after a goalless draw with Watford, who are in a precarious situation of their own.

Liverpool climb to fifth place after beating Chelsea at Anfield, a result which sends the Blues out of the title race. Spurs also miss out on the title, after defeat at Man City, and the win means City become the first side to retain the title since 2009.

Cardiff host Chelsea, needing a win to keep their survival hopes alive. After the Bluebirds go 2-0 down in the first half, Allardyce resigns as Cardiff manager at halftime, to keep his record of never having gone down on a technicality. ‘I had to do what’s best for the team’ says Big Sam, ‘now I’ll go on vacation till October’.

Arsenal win at Wolves at the end of October, leapfrogging them into sixth place, but the biggest information concerning the club is the re-appearance of Unai Emery, who confirms that he had been held hostage by Wenger for nine months. Then Wenger goes missing as well.

May

Watford’s relegation is confirmed after a defeat at Chelsea. David Moyes is sacked, and Alan Curbishley is announced as the new manager ahead of the 2019/20 season.

Spurs cement second place, with Chelsea in third, and Man Utd completing the top four, behind champions City. Liverpool finish fifth, Arsenal end up in sixth, and Wolves compliment seventh place with an FA Cup final triumph over Southampton, who finish in 11th.

Relegated trio Cardiff, Huddersfield and Watford, trade divisions with Leeds United- who finished the Championship season unbeaten-, Stoke, and play-off winners Middlesbrough, and their coach Tony Marvolo Pulis.

Arsene Wenger resurfaces, but will not be charged for any crimes, and is appointed the manager of Russian Premier League side Arsenal Tula. ‘Close enough’ says the Frenchman. ‘Now let’s find Gervinho and Sebastian Squillaci, and get this project started’.


 

Tottenham Hotspur

Last Season: 3rd; Top Scorer: Harry Kane (30); FA Cup: Semi-final; League Cup: Fourth Round; UEFA Champions League: Last 16

This is the season of…

Expectations. After three successive top-three finishes, Spurs are no longer surprise packages. Last season they weathered the Wembley storm, and ended up as the highest-placed London side in the country. They haven’t been active in the transfer window so far, but the squad is more than formidable, the move to the new stadium is just about done and dusted, and they have players buoyed by World Cup exploits in the side. Fans are expecting, as are the rest, it’s time to deal with that new weight on their shoulders.

Who’s in…

Anthony Martial, Jack Grealish, Mathias de Ligt… have all been linked. Spurs haven’t made any signings so far.

Who’s out…

It’s been quiet either way, no arrivals and no departures. Even the expected exits of Mousa Dembele and Toby Alderweireld haven’t happened yet.

The Gaffer (Mauricio Pochettino)…

Has taken them a long way from the seemingly spineless side of the past, but there’s still much room for improvement. Continues to debunk claims that Spurs need a trophy sooner rather than later, but in the sometimes black and white sport, it may well be the case.

Dream season…

Spurs finally go top of the pile, finishing the season as champions.

Nightmare season…

Pochettino is finally lured away, Spurs revert to their old, inconsistent selves, and peter out of every competition.

Key man…

Harry Kane and his goals remain, and he’s showing there’s more to his game than that lately, but Spurs look a different side up front without the creative nous of Christian Eriksen.

Needs to step up…

A third successive season of reaching double figures for goals, yet it was obvious Dele Alli’s form suffered last term. A return to his consistent best would be welcome.

Verdict: Nothing in the market so far, but Spurs have more than enough about themselves to make a better fist of the title race. 3rd

 

Watford

Last Season: 14th; Top Scorer: Abdoulaye Doucoure (7); FA Cup: Fourth Round; League Cup: Second Round

This is the season of…

Continued Pozzonomics (FourFourTwo’s made-up word). For the fifth season in a row, Watford will begin the season with a manager different from the one that started the last. Their trigger-happy approach hasn’t failed them thus far, the lowest they’ve finished in the Premier League in this run was 17th- and even that season, survival had been achieved a while back- but for how long will their method keep serving them?

Who’s in…

Gerard Deulofeu’s loan from Barcelona has been made permanent, Ben Foster is likely to be the first-choice goalie after joining from West Brom, and Adam Masina arrives from Bologna, while Marc Navarro has been signed from Espanyol.

Who’s out…

Richarlison has left to join former Hornets boss Marco Silva at Everton. Costel Pantilimon, Mauro Zarate and Nordin Amrabat have all left the club on permanent bases, while there’s a hundredth loan move for Tommie Hoban, and Jerome Sinclair also leaves the club temporarily.

The Gaffer (Javi Gracia)…

Came in at the start of the year to steady the ship, and did just that. The team’s form under the Spaniard has been anything but consistent so far, and he’ll know not to get too comfortable in the Vicarage Road hot-seat.

Dream season…

Managerial consistency, and Gracia leads Watford to Europe against all odds.

Nightmare season…

Gracia departs early, and this time Pozzonomics fails, and Watford are sent back to the second tier.

Key man…

Abdoulaye Doucoure made himself indispensable in midfield last term, and was even the side’s top scorer.

Needs to step up…

Troy Deeney went from underrated striker to the butt of (self-inflicted) cojone jokes in one season.

Verdict: Chopping and changing hasn’t failed so far, but it’s hard not to sense the tactic has an expiration date. 18th

West Ham United

Last Season: 13th; Top Scorer: Marko Arnautovic (11); FA Cup: Fourth Round; League Cup: Quarter-final

This is the season of…

Daresay optimism? It’s hard to say all is well at West Ham: the chairmen are still sources of fury to the fans, Karren Brady is still Karren Brady, and the London Stadium still hardly feels anything like home. But this summer has looked promising, from the appointment of a manager that’s certain to provide the forward style of football the fans have craved, to the new signings that have been unveiled thus far. West Ham are not without their problems, but after the previous seasons they’ve had, the fans have every right to be optimistic.

Who’s in…

Manuel Pellegrini is the new man in the London Stadium dugout, and has been active in the transfer window. Jack Wilshere joins from Arsenal on a free, Lukasz Fabianski is a long overdue upgrade to the goalkeeping department, as is Ryan Fredericks at right-back. Issa Diop arrives from Toulouse, while Andriy Yarmolenko and Felipe Anderson have been signed from Borussia Dortmund and Lazio respectively. Lucas Perez joins from Arsenal.

Who’s out…

Transfer-wise, no one (major) so far- James Collins and Patrice Evra have been released-, although Manuel Lanzini is likely to miss the whole of the new season due to injury.

The Gaffer (Manuel Pellegrini)…

‘The Engineer’ would walk into any ‘underrated managers’ list. Won the league title and two League Cups in his previous spell in England, with Manchester City, the Chilean also has a knack for taking less-fancied teams and having them punch above their weight.

Dream season…

It finally clicks, West Ham thrill their way to seventh spot, alongside League Cup success.

Nightmare season…

Things get no better, the London Stadium continues to feel alien, and the Hammers spend another season trying, unsuccessfully this time, to keep their heads above water.

Key man…

His first season at West Ham didn’t get off to the best start, but there was no stopping Marko Arnautovic once he got going. It’s no overstatement to say they’d have been relegated without his goals, and the Austrian will surely benefit from now having similar players around.

Needs to step up…

For two successive seasons Mark Noble and Cheikhou Kouyate in midfield have performed well below standard. Wilshere’s arrival means increased competition, and a cause for them to up their game.

Verdict: Whisper it quietly, but West Ham look to finally be on the right track since moving to their new home. A season of goodwill is not too much to ask. 9th

Wolverhampton Wanderers

Last Season: 1st (Championship); Top Scorer: Diogo Jota (17); FA Cup: Third Round; League Cup: Fourth Round

This is the season of…

Buoyancy. It seems like an exaggeration to say Wolves have been touted for a top-half slot in this upcoming season’s Premier League since way back as January, but it’s hard to ignore the signs at the Molineux. The Fosun investment played its part, as well as the influence of Jorge Mendes, but Wolves have a side likely to face no relegation trouble in their first season back in the Premier League since 2012. The bounce at the Midlands club doesn’t seem likely to leave anytime soon.

Who’s in…

Goalkeeper Rui Patricio has joined from Sporting Lisbon, Joao Moutinho has arrived from Monaco, while loan moves for Ruben Vinagre, Willy Boly, Leo Bonatini and Diogo Jota have all been made permanent, and Raul Jimenez joins on a temporary basis from Benfica. Adama Traore arrives from Championship side Middlesbrough on a club-record deal, and Leander Dendoncker joins from Anderlecht.

Who’s out…

Benik Afobe, days after Wolves made his loan from Bournemouth permanent, has joined Stoke on loan with an option to be bought, so make of that what you will. Less insane loan moves see Rafa Mir and Roderick Miranda respectively join Las Palmas and Olympiakos until the end of the season, while Carl Ikeme has retired from football after 18 years at the club, following his battle with acute leukaemia.

The Gaffer (Nuno Esprito Santo)…

The former Valencia and Porto manager joined the club last summer, and led them to promotion at his first attempt. Has gone up against the likes of Barcelona, Real Madrid and Juventus before, so wouldn’t be fazed by upcoming challenges in the English top-flight.

Dream season…

The return to the Premier League is a relative stroll, as Wolves comfortably finish in the top-half. Perhaps they even do a Leicester.

Nightmare season…

Wolves underperform, Esprito Santo leaves, and having found Premier League hard, they are relegated with games to spare.

Key man…

Top scorer last season, it was no surprise Wolves rushed to make Diogo Jota’s loan from Atletico Madrid permanent.

Needs to step up…

How skipper Danny Barth adapts to the top-flight will be an interesting watch.

Verdict: There’s a feel-good factor around the Molineux, as is the quality and capacity to improve, and in a league where the sides outside the top six suffer from congestion, Wolves will more than fancy themselves. 11th


Manchester City

Last Season: 1st; Top Scorer: Sergio Aguero (21); FA Cup: Fifth Round; League Cup: Winners; UEFA Champions League: Quarter-final

This is the season of…

Pressure. City ripped up the record books last season in the league; most wins, most away wins, most consecutive, most points, etc., and that also means they’ve set the bar high. Pep Guardiola has said records won’t tumble this term, and it’s hard to disagree, expecting City to reach those heights once again is rather unrealistic. But that’s the pressure they must face now, adding to the fact that all eyes will be on whether than they can retain the title, no team has done that since 2009, and City’s title defences have been underwhelming to put it mildly. Champions League glory is also sought-after, and as league champions, they’ll be the scalp everyone else wants to claim. Last season’s achievements have earned them praise, but it will buy them no room for laxity.

Who’s in…

It’s been a rather quiet market for the champions so far, although the only addition is a big one, long-term target Riyad Mahrez has finally joined from Leicester.

Who’s out…

Other than Yaya Toure- whose departure had been expected since, frankly, 2016- it’s been quiet on the exit front as well. Even Joe Hart hasn’t left.

The Gaffer (Pep Guardiola)…

Finally delivered in the league title- and in some style- in his second season, the aim for the Catalan is the retention of the domestic dominance, as well as European glory.

Dream season…

The league title is retained, and Champions League success is finally achieved. Daresay treble?

Nightmare season…

City’s title defence is timid, like that of the past six champions. An early European exit and cup disappointments make for a trophy-less campaign.

Key man…

Kevin de Bruyne is the main cog in the City wheel, almost like a box-to-box playmaker (it’s not a thing). His goals and outrageous number of assists don’t even measure his impact in the side.

Needs to step up…

Err… this is a tough one. Benjamin Mendy did little wrong last season, partly because he did little- injuries restricted him to a bit-part role. Staying fit for the entire campaign will be the aim for the World Cup winner.

Verdict: Replicating last season’s success is a particularly hard ask, but a successive league title is very much on the cards. 1st

Manchester United

Last Season: 2nd; Top Scorer: Romelu Lukaku (16); FA Cup: Runners-up; League Cup: Quarter-final; UEFA Champions League: Last 16

This is the season of…

Dread? Finishing second last term means Manchester United are not far away from the title as they used to be in recent year;, City won’t repeat their barnstorming season, and the Red Devils have a proven winner in the dugout. But Jose Mourinho enters his third season at the club- the time when things usually go south for him-, and his repeated expression of dissatisfaction in pre-season is helping no nerves connected with United. Begin the season on the wrong foot, and hell may well let loose.

Who’s in…

Mourinho has expressed his lack of satisfaction at United’s transfer activity so far: Fred has joined from Shakhtar Donetsk, while teenage full-back Diogo Dalot has arrived from Porto. Oh, right, goalkeeper Lee Grant has joined from Stoke.

Who’s out…

Daley Blind has returned to Ajax after four seasons at Old Trafford.

The Gaffer (Jose Mourinho)

Weird as it may sound, the Portuguese has something to prove this season, things are expected to go awry given this is his third season. His grumpiness hasn’t helped so far, but neither has the relative inactivity in the market.

Dream season…

What Third Season Syndrome? United win a first league title in six years, and make a fist of things on the continental front as well.

Nightmare season…

Third Season Syndrome strikes, United begin the season badly, manager and players fallout, Jose leaves by November, and the Mancunians tumble out of the top four.

Key man…

A productive first season at Old Trafford followed by a productive World Cup means Romelu Lukaku will be in no mood to let up in this new campaign. He does need some help up front, though, and the players around him need to contribute more.

Needs to step up…

Speaking of players around Lukaku who need to contribute more, Alexis Sanchez hasn’t had the best start to an Old Trafford career since joining in January. There’s the sense that he’ll hit his stride soon enough, which will do United’s cause no harm.

Verdict: Unrest seems to be brewing at the United camp, and may cost them another title, but there certainly won’t be calamity at the Theatre of Dreams. 4th

Newcastle United

Last Season: 10th; Top Scorer: Ayoze Perez (10); FA Cup: Fourth Round; League Cup: Second Round

This is the season of…

The usual Newcastle unpredictability. Last season’s tenth-place finish no longer looks the recipe for success it once did. Lack of assurances in the transfer market has left Rafa Benitez unsure ahead of the new campaign, and the air of uncertainty has spread to the fans. Funds are still non-existent, reinforcements still reliant on sales, the optimism that came with last term’s top-half finish is dissipating fast: straight out of the Newcastle playbook.

Who’s in…

Ki Sung-Yeung has joined on a free from relegated Swansea, defender Fabian Schar arrives from Deportivo, and Kenedy re-joins on another loan spell from Chelsea. Yushinori Muto becomes the first Japanese to sign for the Magpies, after joining from Mainz. Salomon Rondon joins on a swap loan deal, which sees...

Who’s out…

...Dwight Gayle move the other way to West Brom. Chancel Mbemba has permanently departed, joining Porto, while Mikel Merino has swapped Newcastle for Sociedad.

The Gaffer (Rafa Benitez)…

Did well to take a limited side to the top-half last term. It’s hard to not get the feeling that he can take the Toon much further if he gets backed in the market.

Dream season…

Mike Ashley finally loosens the purse strings, Benitez leads Newcastle to a very comfortable position, and the brink of seventh place, while delivering domestic cup glory.

Nightmare season…

Benitez walks after deciding he’s had enough, the trajectory becomes downward, as a limited squad is found out, and it’s a third relegation in a decade.

Key man…

Jonjo Shelvey is at the heart of everything good that comes out of the Newcastle side, his range of passing as impressive as his work-rate. Continues to be overlooked for a place in the England squad.

Needs to step up…

Owner Mike Ashley continues to play jump-rope with the club, and as a result Newcastle continue to be short-handed in the transfer market. He got away with it last term, he might not be so lucky again.

Verdict: A lot depends on Benitez not walking out. Should the Spaniard remain, Newcastle won’t be without belief. 10th

Southampton

Last Season: 17th; Top Scorer: Charlie Austin (7); FA Cup: Semi-final; League Cup: Second Round

This is the season of…

Mark Hughes. Sparky came in last March when Southampton were in deep trouble, and managed to stave off relegation, if only just. Now, with a new season incoming, the Welshman has a point to prove. Seen by many as the man who set the foundations for Stoke’s relegation and who simply got lucky to survive with the Saints, Hughes stock is dropping, as is Southampton’s. At least one has to pull the other forward.

Who’s in…

Stuart Armstrong joins from Celtic, Angus Gunn is likely to take the first-choice goalkeeping spot after signing from Manchester City, while Mohammed Elyounoussi joins from Basel, and defender Jannik Vestergaard cost 18million pounds from Borussia Monchengladbach.

Who’s out…

Dusan Tadic has left St. Mary’s, after four years, and joins Ajax. Jordy Clasie moves out on loan again, as does Guido Carrillo, and Hughes’ least-favourite person Sofiane Boufal. Jeremy Pied and Florin Gardos have both been released.

The Gaffer (Mark Hughes)…

Appointed in March, Sparky achieved the target of Premier League survival after an initial wobble. A man whose managerial reputation has taken another hit, his next task is to prevent the Saints battling the drop altogether.

Dream season…

Southampton return to punching above their weight, giving the top seven a good go, as well as finally getting it right in one of the domestic cups.

Nightmare season…

Another underwhelming campaign sees another managerial sacking, and the relegation battle proves too much for the Saints this time.

Key man…

Ryan Bertrand remains Southampton’s most consistent performer. Expressed his disappointment at not being selected in England’s World Cup squad, his leadership will be key to the Saints as much as his playing ability this term.

Needs to step up…

Nathan Redmond was once in the running for a place in the England side, but his performances last season did him no favours in that regard. The ability is undisputed, it’s the willingness and consistency that’s currently being questioned.

Verdict: Saints and Sparky should be motivated to put things right. A top-half place may be above their heads, but a season of relative comfort is by no means fanciful. 12th


 

Fulham

Last Season: 3rd (Championship play-off winner); Top Scorer: Ryan Sessegnon (15); FA Cup: Third Round; League Cup: Second Round

This is the season of…

Continued progress. Things have changed since Fulham were last in the Premier League: four of the usual top six have changed kit makers, vanishing spray has been introduced, and the transfer window here closes early now. The club have been on a progressive scale since 2016, and after losing out in the play-off semis in 2017, the Cottagers got it right a year after. The aim now is to continue that progress; which means survival in the big-time, for starters.

Who’s in…

Fulham have packed a punch in this transfer window so far, Maxime Le Marchand joining from Nice, as well one-time Barcelona target Jean-Michel Seri. Andre Schurrle has also arrived on loan from Borussia Dortmund, while goalkeeper Fabri joins from Besiktas, and Alfie Mawson has been snapped up from Swansea. Aleksandar Mitrovic’s loan has been made permanent.

Who’s out…

Ryan Fredericks is the biggest departure so far, swapping West London for East (West Ham). David Button has left to join Brighton.

The Gaffer (Slavisa Jokanovic)…

Two and a half years he has at spent Fulham, an eternity by his standards. Has taken them a long way since arriving, the former Watford boss’ stock keeps rising.

Dream season…

The transition from Championship to Premier League is smooth, and Fulham get a shot at finishing seventh before settling for a top-half spot.

Nightmare season…

Jokanovic finally activates his mobile self and leaves. A turbulent season ends with a return to the second-tier.

Key man…

Top scorer with 15 goals from out wide, wanted by the big-name clubs, and even touted by some for a place in England’s World Cup squad, it’s hard to believe Ryan Sessegnon is still a teenager.

Needs to step up…

There’s a reason why Fulham were keen on bringing back Aleksandar Mitrovic on a permanent basis, mostly because the other choice up front, Rui Fonte, has been disappointing so far. The Portuguese stepping up in the Premier League would be welcome, yet unlikely.

Verdict: The squad is still short in a few areas, and Fulham are unlikely to avoid a relegation fight, but survival is very much achievable. 16th

Huddersfield

Last Season: 16th; Top Scorer: Steve Mounie (8); FA Cup: Fifth Round; League Cup: Third Round

This is the season of…

Survival. That was the goal last season, and against all the odds, it was achieved. But the aim will surely be the same again this term. Consolidation is not yet up for discussion, finishing on the right side of that dotted line is the target once more.

Who’s in…

Huddersfield attack last season was so blunt it’s hard to think of where top scorer Steve Mounie got his eight league goals from. The arrival of Adama Diakhaby means David Wagner aims to sharpen that area. Terence Kongolo’s loan move has been made permanent, and the Dutchman becomes their record signing, while Ramadan Sobhi and Ben Hamer have joined from Stoke and Leicester respectively. Erik Durm has been signed from Borussia Dortmund, and Juninho Bacuna joins from Groningen.

Who’s out…

Tom Ince has left one season to join relegated Stoke, Robert Green has departed on a free, while deadwood in the form of Sean Scannell, Jack Payne, and Tareiq Holmes-Dennis has been cleared.

The Gaffer (David Wagner)…

Continues to work his miracle in Yorkshire, after taking them from a Championship relegation battle to a second successive Premier League season in three years. Survive again, and bigger clubs may well come calling.

Dream season…

Survival is much more comfortable than the last time, yet no one takes Wagner away.

Nightmare season…

The miracle gas finally runs out, and Huddersfield become a Championship side by 2019. Not that fans would consider that a nightmare though.

Key man…

Huddersfield reacted quickly in making goalkeeper Jonas Lossl’s loan deal permanent, the Dane will be crucial to their survival hopes again.

Needs to step up…

Would have been Tom Ince if he hadn’t selfishly opted to change clubs. The Terriers attack could do a bit more, though.

Verdict: Survival is very much achievable, but how many more surprise stories can they afford. 19th

Leicester City

Last Season: 9th; Top Scorer: Jamie Vardy (20); FA Cup: Quarter-final; League Cup: Quarter-final

This is the season of…

Anticipation. Whether a fan or a neutral, there’s something about looking forward to Leicester this season. Even despite the loss of Riyad Mahrez, their summer has given their squad significant reinforcements. Seventh place isn’t out of the question, or, if the end of last season is anything to go by, Claude Puel is under pressure, and could get the boot with a bad start. Either way, the Foxes look like one to watch this term.

Who’s in…

Johnny Evans has joined from West Brom, James Maddison has arrived from Norwich, Ricardo Pereira is an upgrade to the right-back slot, and goalkeeper Danny Ward joins from Liverpool. Rachid Ghezzal joins from Monaco.

Who’s out…

The inevitable Mahrez departure has finally happened, with the Algerian joining champions Manchester City.

The gaffer (Claude Puel)…

Like his time at Southampton, the Frenchman continues to divide opinion despite finishing in the top-half. The summer has been promising, so hitting the ground running seems essential.

Dream season…

Repeat of 2015/16. Too much? Okay. Leicester hit the ground running, and bag a top-seven finish, as well as a cup win.

Nightmare season…

Leicester get off to a bad start, Puel gets the sack, and the team underperforms their way through a relegation battle.

Key man…

Even when Mahrez was around, it was hard to look past Jamie Vardy. 20 league goals last season, the turbo-charged forward will have a lot more responsibility on his shoulders this season.

Needs to step up…

He may have had a decent end to last season, but more is still required from Kelechi Iheanacho, particularly after a quiet World Cup with Nigeria. The departure of Mahrez may well mean more league playing time, a potential chance he’ll have to take.

Verdict: The summer has been promising, the Foxes have a squad capable of challenging for a top-seven place. 8th

Liverpool

Last season: 4th; Top Scorer: Mohammed Salah (32); FA Cup: Fourth Round; League Cup: Third Round; UEFA Champions League: Runners-up

This is the season of…

Positivity. Last season’s exploits, plus a summer of not losing any key member of the squad, as well as significant additions in key areas that also creates squad depth, means title talk is not abominable at Anfield. They may be feeling this every other year, but Liverpool have every right to feel like this is their year.

Who’s in…

The goalkeeping transfer record has been smashed for Brazilian shot-stopper Alisson Becker (66million), Naby Keita makes his long-awaited switch from Leipzig (47million) and will be joined in midfield by Fabinho, who signs from Monaco, while Xherdan Shaqiri arrives from relegated Stoke (17million). Didn’t Jurgen Klopp once say something not spending colossal amounts of money like the rest?

Who’s out…

No major departure so far, Alex Oxlade-Chamberlain is at the club but is ruled for the entirety of the new season. Danny Ward has decided against being the fourth-choice goalkeeper, and signs for Leicester, Emre Can has joined Juventus on a free, while Daniel Sturridge has joine… oh wait, he’s still there.

The gaffer (Jurgen Klopp)…

Led the Reds to last season’s thrill that brought them a place in the Champions League final, where they lost to Real Madrid in Kiev. They could only finish fourth in the league though, and the summer investment means he’ll be under pressure to deliver this term.

Dream season…

The summer arrivals do the trick, the league title comes to Anfield for the first time in 29 years.

Nightmare season…

The summer outlay becomes a symbol of pressure, Liverpool fold, and an early exit from the Champions League is matched by the Reds finishing outside the top six.

Key man…

Liverpool were the more threatening side in the Champions League final back in May, until Mohammed Salah got injured. That should explain a lot.

Needs to step up…

There has been talk about Sturridge staying. Should that be the case, the forward knows a season of staying fit and consistent is required.

Verdict: The summer investment doesn’t leave them short on quality, depth or confidence. There’s nothing to suggest they can’t end that title drought. 2nd 


Cardiff

Last Season: 2nd (Championship); Top Scorer: Callum Paterson (10) FA Cup: Fourth Round; League Cup: Third Round

This is the season of…

Proving a point. On the face of it, Cardiff should be in the position of minimal pressure, a rather fast-tracked relegation- it has to be said- means they’re just about everyone’s favourites to go down, and also means relegation would be by no means calamitous. But this is a club whose last voyage into the big time ended in tame relegation after a solitary, and they have a manager who’s likely to be written because of his track record in the top-tier. All roads lead to the Bluebirds having a score to settle.

Who’s in…

Cardiff’s transfer raid has been mostly on Championship clubs so far, Bobby Reid (from Bristol City), Josh Murphy (Norwich), Alex Smithies (Queens Park Rangers) and Greg Cunningham (Preston North End) their major additions so far.

Who’s out…

None so far.

The Gaffer (Neil Warnock)…

The former Sheffield United and Leeds United manager was appointed back in 2016/17 to steady the ship Paul Trollope lost control of, but has exceeded expectations in taking them back to the big-time. His record in the top-flight is unenviable, though, something he’ll be keen to put right. Is a qualified referee, but doesn’t practise, and has a long list of spats with people, from officials to players to managers, and even Sean Bean.

Dream season…

Survival is achieved with little fuss, Neil Warnock finally smiles in the big time.

Nightmare season…

2014 reincarnated with another timid Premier League campaign, and Cardiff swap divisions with Swansea at the end of the season.

Key man…

Warnock’s side are likely to primarily set up to be hard to beat, a system in which Sol Bamba will be pivotal.

Needs to step up…

Long gone are Kenneth Zohore’s days of being Cardiff’s transfer laughing stock, but the Dane still needs provide more up front, particularly in this division.

Verdict: A club and a manager with much to prove wouldn’t want for motivation, but there’s a reason why they’re the least-fancied side in this division. 20th

Chelsea

Last Season: 5th; Top Scorer: Eden Hazard (12); FA Cup: Winners; League Cup: Semi-final; UEFA Champions League: Last 16

This is the season of…

Optimism. The second and tumultuous season of the previous title-winning manager has ended with a sacking, a move straight out of the Chelsea brochure, which means the chance to be optimistic is going to creep back to SW6. Antonio Conte will always be held in high regard at the Bridge, but his rein had gotten visibly riotous, and his departure at the end of last season was always inevitable. It’s all change again at the Stamford Bridge dugout, which means a second-season syndrome, but first the initial season of glamour and glory is expected.

Who’s In…

Conte has been unsurprisingly replaced by former Napoli boss Maurizio Sarri, who has brought with him midfielder Jorginho. Whatever plane they were arriving on, it seems Robert Green snuck into it, the veteran English goalkeeper has joined on a free.

Who’s out…

No major departure…yet.

The Gaffer (Maurizio Sarri)…

The Italian banker is the name always likely to arrive after the tag ‘hipster’s choice’. The former Empoli may not have trophies to boast, but his work with Napoli in his three seasons at San Paolo is undeniable.

Dream season...

Typical Chelsea under a new manager: the football is gorgeous, the unbeaten run spell-binding, and the league title triumph inevitable.

Nightmare season…

The exception to typical Chelsea under a new manager (2011/12): The campaign is a stop-gap, their title challenge is over by January, and two months later Sarri heads for the door marked ‘Do One’.

Key man…

The question remains as to whether he will stay, but should he remain Eden Hazard would be the main pivot in Sarri’s side.

Needs to step up…

Yes, it’s Alvaro Morata. Or is it Tiemoue Bakayoko? Or Danny Drinkwater? Or Ross Barkl…oh forget it.

Verdict: Uncertainty over the fate of key players means Sarri would do well to recreate the typical Chelsea new gaffer magic. 5th

Crystal Palace

Last Season- 11th; Top Scorer: Luka Milivojevic (10); FA Cup: Third Round; League Cup: Fourth Round

This is the season of…

Uncertainty, perhaps. Last season’s brilliant survival story shot up optimism for this campaign, but the departure of players, and a lack of additions so far makes things a little tentative so far. Right back and midfield slots need significant reinforcements, and barely any has arrived. Lack of transfer activity cost Frank de Boer dear last season. Clock’s running.

Who’s in…

At least the goalkeeping slot has received a long overdue upgrade, Vicente Guaita joining on a free from Spanish side Getafe. Cheikhou Kouyate has been signed from West Ham.

Who’s out…

The departures of Joel Ward and Yohan Cabaye, whose contracts have expired, leaves holes in key position. Lee Chung-Yung and Damien Delaney have also left.

The Gaffer (Roy Hodgson)…

Has done well to rebuild his reputation with the Eagles after his England debacle, leading them to a survival that had initially seemed like a long shot. The veteran manager surely has the nous to take them further, but needs backing in the market.

Dream season…

The additions come in, and the Eagles, led by Hodgson, challenge for a place in Europe.

Nightmare season…

Additions don’t come, Wilfried Zaha leaves, and having flirted with relegation for a few seasons, Palace finally bite the bullet.

Key man…

Where they would be without Zaha, no one knows. Keeping him is just as important as making new signings, perhaps more.

Needs to step up…

Three goals in 10 months is not a good reading, Christian Benteke needs to regain his form should he stay.

Verdict: Survival, and comfort, isn’t beyond, but a lot rests on Zaha and whether or not the squad sees significant additions. 15th

Everton

Last Season: 8th; Top Scorer: Wayne Rooney (10); FA Cup: Third Round; League Cup: Fourth Round; UEFA Europa League: Group Stage

This is the season of…

Making amends. Last season was a mess, in every way, at Goodison Park- disappointing eighth-place finish, early exit from the cups and from Europe as well, and Sam Allardyce. Long sought-after Marco Silva is the new man, and he’s tasked with cleaning up. The expectations are lower this term, but improvements are a must.

Who’s in…

Richarlison has been reunited with Silva, Everton parting with 40million pounds to get the Brazilian, while Lucas Digne has joined from Barcelona.

Who’s out…

Wayne Rooney’s return to Goodison lasted just one season- a fairly productive one, it has to be said- and the former England captain has moved to Major League Soccer. Davy Klaassen’s hellish time at the club has also come to an end, the Dutchman joining Werder Bremen, while Ramiro Funes Mori has swapped Goodison for Villarreal. Joel Robles has been released.

The Gaffer (Marco Silva)…

After the advances of last autumn, Everton finally have their man. The Portuguese has had two commendable stints with Premier League clubs, but the reality is both ended in disappointment, hence a sense of needing to put things right should be prevalent here.

Dream season…

Glass ceiling shatters: Everton find their way into the top six, and win a domestic cup to boot.

Nightmare season…

Another tame outside the top seven finish is matched by more disappointing cup runs, and they lose to whoever Allardyce takes charge of.

Key man…

Gylfi Sigurdsson had no pre-season last year, joining the club late in the window, and his first season at Goodison was a tad underwhelming. The Icelandic international is just about the only No.10 now left, and may well flourish under Silva.

Needs to step up…

This time last summer, Everton thought they had bagged a bargain in Michael Keane. Performances proved them wrong. The defender played his way out of the England setup last season, he needs to play his way back in.

Verdict: The top six becomes harder to break into with each season, but expectations at Goodison have lowered, minimal action in the market means cohesion is more likely, and the Toffees boast a strong squad. 7th


 

Arsenal

Last Season- 6th; Top Scorer: Alexandre Lacazette (14) FA Cup: Third Round; League Cup: Runners-up; UEFA Europa League: Semi-final

This is the season of…

Change. For the first time in 22 years, the main man in the Arsenal dugout isn’t Arsene Wenger, a situation we’re starting to get used to. This has also resulted in a change in supporters’ perception- they’re entering the season without that sense that things will go up in smoke after winter. Wenger fostered consistency at the club, but the toxicity that accompanied his final couple of years at the Emirates looks to have been erased by his departure. For the first time in a while, Gunners fans can venture into the unknown with optimism, rather than expect the potentially familiar with dread.

Who’s in…

Unai Emery is the new manager at the Emirates, and the Spaniard has wasted little time in making additions, Stephan Lichtsteiner has arrived on a free from Juventus, Lucas Torreira has been acquired from Sampdoria, while defender Sokratis Papasthatopoulos and goalkeeper Bernd Leno have joined from Borussia Dortmund and Bayer Leverkusen respectively. Signing a ball-winning midfielder, an experienced leader, a centre-back and a goalkeeper? Who are you and what have you done with the real Arsenal?

Who’s out…

After two seasons plagued by injury, Santi Cazorla has been released and joins former club Villarreal. Jack Wilshere has also departed, on a free as well.

The Gaffer (Unai Emery)…

His stint at Paris St. Germain wasn’t as successful as the club wanted, but Emery still boasts pedigree, and a knack for blooding youngsters. Well-known for his video reviewing of games, over and over again, he won the Europa League three times in a row with Sevilla.

Dream season…

Emery and Arsenal prove a match made in heaven, Arsenal win the league title for the first time in 15 years.

Nightmare season…

Arsenal begin with a defeat to Manchester City on the opening day, then a loss to Chelsea in the second, and hardly recover. Another tame outside the top four finish is coupled with timid cup displays, and to cap it off, Tottenham win the league title.

Key man…

Pierre-Emerick Aubameyang bagged 10 league goals after joining from Dortmund in mid-season, and there’ll be much expectation as to what he can do with pre-season and a full campaign upcoming.

Need to step up…

Aaron Ramsey continues to bathe in inconsistency, and still won’t convince. Emery stating that the Welshman is a big part of his plans is a huge show of faith from the manager. Time for Ramsey to repay that.

Verdict: The breath of change at the Emirates is welcome, and frankly overdue, but the reality is, unless Emery garners a team greater than the sum of its parts, Arsenal are still comfortably sixth-best in the league. 6th

Bournemouth

Last Season: 12th; Top Scorer: Josh King (8); FA Cup: Fourth Round; League Cup: Quarter-final

This is the season of…

Ambition? Bournemouth have spent each of their three Premier League seasons with a similar theme- bad start, relegation trouble by winter, wonderful form at the turn of the year, then comfortable finish- even though the league positions have varied. There was something a tad underwhelming, though, about last season’s 12th-place finish, like ‘the same old same old is getting boring’. Will Bournemouth give in to ambition and aim higher, or continue with mid-table comfort and avoid what would seem like preposterous expectations?

Who’s in…

It’s been a quiet summer so far at the South Coast, youngster David Brook joining from Sheffield United, and Diego Rico arriving from Leganes to give the left-back spot an upgrade the only new signings…so far.

Who’s out…

No key departure as of yet, loan specialists Benik Afobe, Lewis Grabban and Max Gradel have all been moved on, while goalkeepers Adam Federici and Ryan Allsop have also departed.

The Gaffer (Eddie Howe)…

The should-be Chelsea manager, according to The Sun, Howe continues to occupy the hot-seat at the Vitality stadium. Rumours of interest from other clubs have cooled, but there’s still the sense that it’s only a matter of time before a bigger side comes calling.

Dream season…

The Cherries become the new Burnley and bag a surprise seventh-place finish, with the prize of European football.

Nightmare season…

The Cherries suffer (this is not a thing) Fourth Season Syndrome after Howe is lured away by a relatively bigger club in December, and the campaign is capped off with final-day relegation.

Key man…

There’s more to Josh King’s game than goals, even if he finished as their top scorer in the league with eight last season. Capable of leading the line on his own or acting as the supporting cast, the Norwegian’s versatility is just about Bournemouth’s greatest attacking asset.

Need to step up…

Much was expected of Jermain Defoe, after joining from Sunderland. But four goals last season is underwhelming after 30 in the previous two campaigns.

Verdict:

The fans are starting to expect more, but may well have to make do with more of the same. 13th

Brighton and Hove Albion

Last Season: 15th; Top Scorer: Glenn Murray (14); FA Cup: Quarter-final; League Cup: Third Round

This is the season of…

Continuity. Last season’s survival was as comfortable in the end as it was hard-fought during. Now, Brighton will be looking to plant their foot firmly on the Premier League ground. Survival is still the primary aim, but consolidation is not out of the picture.

Who’s in…

Bernardo has arrived from Leipzig to give the left-back spot an upgrade, Leon Balogun is an excellent addition to the defence as well, while Yves Bissouma has joined from Lille. Up front is where the Seagulls have been most active, though, with Florin Andone arriving from Deportivo, and last season’s Eredivisie top scorer Alireza Jahanbakhsh arriving from AZ Alkmaar. Squad might be starting to seem bloated in that area.

Who’s out…

The departures haven’t been major so far; mostly the lads who were there in the Championship but didn’t quite appear in the top-flight last season, i.e. Conor Goldson, Jamie Murphy, Liam Rosenior, Steve Sidwell and Uwe Hunemeier.

The Gaffer (Chris Hughton )…

Has taken Brighton a long way since meeting them in the lower reaches of the Championship back in 2014/15. His organisational ability is one of the reasons the Seagulls survived last term, more of the same will be expected with a side now used to life in the big-time.

Dream season…

A comfortable top-half finish is matched by an adventurous cup run, and Crystal Palace suffer relegation.

Nightmare season…

The Premier League bubble bursts for Brighton, and they return to the second-tier with a whimper.

Key man…

It’s a tad surprising that there haven’t been rumours of clubs coming in for Pascal Gross, something Brighton wouldn’t complain about. The German remains their creator-in-chief, and with the arrival of more frontmen, the Seagulls may expect to see more joy goal-wise.

Need to step up…

Admittedly Brighton’s style of play shackled him a bit, and playing time wasn’t as much as he would have expected, but Anthony Knockaert will know he’s capable of much more after a rather underwhelming season last time out.

Verdict: No longer venturing into the unknown with the fear of the big guns, Brighton’s summer gives reason for optimism. Consolidation may not come, but survival should be no hard ask. 14th

Burnley

Last season: 7th; Top scorer: Chris Wood (10); FA Cup: Third Round; League Cup: Third Round

This is the season of…

Balance? The allure of playing in Europe is one clubs should always aim for, but Burnley have to play their cards right after finishing seventh last time out. Seventh place means their Europa League campaign would begin from the Second Qualifying Round in July (at the time of writing this, they’ve already drawn a first leg with Aberdeen), which begs the question: do Burnley go for broke in the window, aiming for depth in anticipation of a group stage campaign in Europe (with the dangers of a bloated squad if they don’t get that far), or stick with their rather thin squad (which will be stretched should they go far in the competition)? So far, they’ve opted for the latter, making no signings as of yet, and in previous campaigns they could have the luxury of waiting to see how far they go before acting in the transfer market. But this season, the Premier League’s window slams shut on August ninth, by then they would potentially have a play-off in Europe to play for, and progress from that means group stage campaign from September to December. Risk potential squad unrest or potential squad burnout? Looks like a bit of a conundrum.

Who’s in…

‘So far, they’ve opted for the latter, making no signings as of yet…’. There you go. Does the return of Robbie Brady count?

Who’s out…

The good thing for Burnley is that they haven’t let anyone go either. Well, no one major, that is. Apologies to Dean Marney, Scott Arfield, Chris Long et al.

The Gaffer (Sean Dyche)…

Despite his miracle last season, Dyche still isn’t linked with a bigger club, music to Burnley’s ears. How he fares with the side in Europe will be something to watch out for.

Dream season…

Another season of zero relegation trouble, Burnley also thrill in Europe and stay in the Europa League beyond December.

Nightmare season…

Hull City 2014/15- Control C, Control V. Burnley get dumped out of Europe early on and a season of struggle ends in painful relegation.

Key man…

Burnley are just about the epitome of collectivism, where everyone stands out by no one really standing out, but goalkeeper Nick Pope has become a key figure in the side, earning himself a place in England’s World Cup squad.

Needs to step up…

Again, no one really stands because everyone stands out, but after the chase that he was the subject of last summer, Charlie Taylor knows his second season at Turf Moor has to be significantly better than the first.

Verdict: Europe and transfer inactivity makes things a little certain at Turf Moor, but Dyche and Burnley won’t be fazed by adversity, even if this season won’t be as comfy as the last. 17th


Nigerian goalkeeper Carl Ikeme has announced his retirement from football at the age of 32.

Ikeme, who spent all of his club career with newly-promoted Premier League side Wolverhampton Wanderers, was diagnosed with acute leukaemia in July 2017.

The goalkeeper has decided to quit the game after consulting experts, and informed his teammates of the decision on Tuesday. Ikeme had said he was in complete remission in June, and Wolves chairman Jeff Shi praised the goalkeeper's strength of character in ‘what has been a very challenging time for him’.

Ikeme, who had various loan spells with various English sides joined Wolves as a 14-year-old, back in 2003,

He was a regular for the Midlands club when they won the English League One title in 2014.

He made 10 appearances for the Nigerian national team, who named him as the ‘24th’ member of their 2018 World Cup squad.

 

 


Well, this is awkward. Picture this as a relationship: with the World Cup going on in Russia, Spotkick was too busy with international football, ignoring the side-glances and skirt-hitching of club football, ain’t nobody got time for that. Now, the World Cup is over, routine duty is about to resume, club football is popular again, and we are feeling remorseful after our earlier…what’s that word…shakara. So, how we do convince club football that it has always been in our hearts? We tried meeting it in a public place and expressing our affection; it didn’t work. We tried carrying a music box over our head, playing Whitney Houston’s ‘I will always love you’ right outside its window; still nothing. Well, we’re trying something different once more; this time we are going through its powerful friend; the great Transfer Window. That’s right, the transfer window has been open for a while, big-name moves have already occurred, players have said emotional goodbyes, while some have moved to South-East Asia, but this hadn’t really seen the limelight due to the World Cup. That distraction is over now, and with the Premier League window closing before the season begins, you might see a lot of these terms between the next three weeks:

Opened:

Okay, this is routine, but still. Either a club has opened talks with a key player to extend his contract which expires in less than 12 months, or has opened talks to sign a player from somewhere else. Sometimes it’s even ‘Club X has opened an X bid for player X’, like it’s an auction.

Swoop:

Now we’re getting to the good stuff. You see this when a team supposedly makes a surprise bid for a player, probably playing on the potential tension between him and his current side; or when an expected transfer between a club and player falls through, another team could ‘swoop’ in.

Keen:

Not many things wreak of uncertainty, yet piques our interest, like the term ‘keen’. Player is ‘keen’ on a move, a club is ‘keen’ on a move, or sometimes a player of a club is ‘keen’ on being club-mates with another player. Another term for ‘keen’ might be strongly interested; use that sometimes.

Raid:

Raid. This infernal term is used when one club is reportedly interested in more than one player of another club. Like saying Liverpool will raid Southampton for Players A, B and C…actually they could.

Crunch Talks:

This is a Sky Sports classic, and it’s mostly used for managers. Sometimes, when you see rumours of your favourite team about to hold crunch talks with the manager, you should probably yourself for a new one. Other times, it’s just a load of nonsense.

Tug-of-war:

Thanks to Bleacher Report, we can paint a picture of this. A player is generally the tag-bearer in a tug-of-war, between his current club and his supposed suitors. On guard, and pull.

Hijack:

Really? Hijack? Like a club stealing a march on another to sign a player. To paint a scenario using NBC’s The Blacklist: Picture Samar Navabi in Naples, ‘accidentally bumping’ into Jorginho, who is then stunned with a taser by Donald Ressler and taken away in a van. Then in an abandoned warehouse Raymond Reddington comes along and strong-arms Jorginho into choosing Chelsea over Manchester City. Efficient. 

Renewing Interest:

Oh really? Like there’s a date when your interest in a player expires, and you have to renew to keep being interested?

Poised:

Poised to join… Oh dear, this one’s annoying. That means a certain player is supposedly set to join a club at last. Or not. You transfer lot are full of lies.

Played Down:

This means to refute talk of a supposed transfer, either by a player, or a club. Then the transfer usually happens. Typical.

 

Surely with this, we’ve been able to get back into club football’s good books. Feel free to contribute with transfer clichés of your own. Is it August already?


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