Premier League 2018-19 Preview: Manchester City - Southampton

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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

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