And, here we go. 88 days on from the end of the 2018/19 campaign, a shiny new season is upon us. May ten months of wall-to-wall football, jam packed full of incident, drama and non-stop debate begin. Ladies and Gents, The Premier League is back!
Bournemouth will rely on youth more than ever when Eddie Howe’s team begin their fifth successive PL season. Up and coming duo Lloyd Kelly and Jack Stacey have been plucked from the Championship, while 23-year-old Philip Billing joins from relegated Huddersfield. The Cherries have also shelled out on tricky winger Arnaut Danjuma and added Harry Wilson to the ranks, both of whom Howe will be hoping can add competition for places in the forward line. The latter especially will be tasked with providing the goods for top scorer and namesake, Callum, who has committed his future by penning a new four-year deal.
Chris Wilder will lead his Sheffield United side out at Bournemouth on the opening day a proud man. But also determined to enjoy the ride having thoroughly earned the opportunity to manage at this level. The boyhood Blade has worked his way up the football ladder starting out at non-league Alfreton Town, leading Oxford United out of the Conference, winning promotion from League Two with Northampton Town and most impressively, taking the team he supports from League One to the promised land in just three seasons. If he’s still be a Premier League manager this time next season, it’ll eclipse everything that has gone before.
The man loves a promotion but it's all about survival for Wilder this term
David Silva gracing us with his sheer brilliance will be a thing of the past after this season. The Manchester City and Premier League great will bow out at the end of the campaign after a trophy-laden decade at the Etihad. The Spaniard would’ve amassed well over 400 appearances by the time he hangs up his famous number 21 jersey, as well as four league titles, two FA Cups and four League Cups. Can his City teammates deliver the perfect send-off by winning a third consecutive PL? Or, who knows, perhaps Silva will sign off by adding a Champions League medal to complete the set?
Everton football club are doing bits in the transfer window! Even non-Evertonians are getting excited about how Marco Silva’s side are shaping up this year. Paying a mere £8 million for Fabian Delph represents arguably the best bit of summer business and the capture of Jean-Phillipe Gbamin should help fill the Idrissa Gueye shaped hole. The arrival of Alex Iwobi will also galvanise Goodison. But it’s the signing of 19-year-old Moise Kean from Juventus that has really turned heads, with the Italian exactly what The Toffees have been crying out for since the Romelu Lukaku days. Top six gatecrashers?
Frank Lampard, if you had by any chance forgotten, is back at the bridge! The club’s all-time leading scorer has landed his dream job quicker than he and everybody else expected to lead The Blues through, what can only be described as a period of transition. With the club’s best player sold and a transfer ban preventing any incomings, the ex-Derby coach has to go with what he has which isn’t so bad given it includes some of the best young talent in the country. As is forever the case at Chelsea though, it’s whether he gets the time. Given the circumstances, you’d like to think so.
'Super Frankie Lampard' is back at the bridge - how will he fare?
Graham Potter was still managing in the Swedish Allsvenskan a little over a year ago. Now, via the Championship, the former Östersund and Swansea man finds himself a Premier League manager with Brighton. Early season predictions suggest Potter will have his work cut out on the South Coast, particularly if the Seagulls end to last season is anything to go by. But this is a man who has already worked wonders in putting Östersund on the footballing map and stabilising a Swansea side who could’ve spiralled after relegation. Now to make a name for himself in the big time.
Heurelho Gomes was 99% sure he’d retire last term but has shelved those plans to sign a new one-year contract and remain part of Javi Garcia’s squad instead. And why not? The Spaniard has a good thing going at Vicarage Road and has even managed to buck the trend of recent Watford managers lasting barely a season. It’s clear he’s entrusted to lead the club and has been supported in the transfer market after a successful first season. Craig Dawson and Danny Welbeck bring Premier League experience, while long-standing target and record signing Ismaila Sarr brings that X-factor The Hornets had been lacking.
Incomings across the twenty Premier League clubs totalled a whopping £1.4 billion for the summer transfer window. 114 signings were made with eleven clubs breaking their transfer record; Sheffield United doing so four times and Leicester twice incidentally. Arsenal, Aston Villa Man City, Newcastle, Southampton, Tottenham, Watford, West Ham and Wolves also paid more than they had ever before to bring in the player they wanted. Despite supposedly not having much of a kitty, Arsenal were the third biggest spenders of the window (in England), parting with the best part of £140m. Aston Villa, having signed close to a new team ranked second, while Man United trumped everybody by virtue of Harry Maguire’s record breaking £80m deal.
Now team-mates for country and club
Jay Rodriguez has returned to his hometown club, Burnley. The forward left West Brom to make the the move back to Turf Moor and the place where he made his name, seven years after leaving Lancashire. The Clarets faithful will be hopeful the once capped England international can kick-start his career and score the goals to help Burnley into the upper reaches of the division. Sean Dyche’s troops stumbled to 15th last term after never truly recovering from a disastrous Europa League qualification ‘campaign’. Free of that burden this time around, can Burnley make a better start?
Kyle Walker-Peters looks set to feature more frequently for Spurs and fill the right-back berth vacated by Kieran Trippier. The 22-year-old has started all but one of Tottenham’s five pre-season games and has clearly won the trust of his boss. As we know, Poch isn’t one to shy away from putting his faith in youth and so it’ll be interesting to see how Ryan Sessegnon evolves under the Argentinian having completed a transfer from Fulham. The 19-year-old was joined by fellow Argie and highly thought of, Giovani Lo Celso, on deadline day, a deal that just exceeds the £54m paid for Tanguy Ndombele earlier in the window. Statements of intent from Spurs, finally.
Liverpool supporters, despite winning a sixth European Cup, will be wondering what might have been last season had their team been able to find a way past one of Leicester or West Ham post-Xmas. Winning the last nine straight, losing one solitary game in 38 and amassing 97 points still wasn’t enough to pass Pep’s Man City. The Reds have never been closer to ending three decades without a league title and will have to reach the same level of performance if they’re to challenge once more. Can Klopp’s men go again?
Manuel Pellegrini would’ve been content with his first year effort at West Ham, despite losing his perfect record of qualifying for European competition in each of his 12 seasons managing a European club. The Hammers finished the season strong to come in a respectable tenth but the Chilean has lofty ambitions and won’t be settling for mid-table mediocrity this time around. Having spent the best part of £65 million to bring highly rated Spain youngster Pablo Fornals and French front man Sebastian Haller - now the club’s record signing - to the Olympic Stadium, the focus will be on trying to finish as close to the top six as possible.
New rules for a new season is nothing out of the ordinary. But twelve in one hit? Are we returning to a whole new game? The major changes will see a stricter view on handball, allow for goal-kicks to be played to a team-mate inside the penalty area, forbid attacking players from creating havoc in a defensive wall, grant less freedom for goalkeepers when facing penalties, substituted players needing to leave the pitch at the nearest point and managers liable to receiving a yellow/red card for acts of misconduct. Plenty of fun to be had getting used to all this!
A familiar sight this season?
Ole Gunnar Solskjaer stepped into the managerial breach in December aware he was unlikely to be the man leading Man. United into the new season. 14 wins in 19 thereafter and Ed Woodward was left with little choice but to announce the Norwegian as permanent manager. The following sequence of results and end to last season cast doubt on that call. But a perfect pre-season in terms of results has coincided with a productive transfer window in which a troublesome backline has been prioritized and strengthened, finally. Can OGS be the one to finally lift the gloom around Old Trafford.
Pierre-Emile Hojbjerg isn’t an instant pick for your FPL XI but he’s the first on the teamsheet of Saints boss Ralph Hasenhuttl. The centre-mid - once on the books of Bayern Munich - has taken over captain duties at St Marys. And despite being just 23, it’ll be he to lead a promising Southampton team featuring new signings Che Adams and Moussa Djenepo, as well as established names Nathan Redmond, James Ward-Prowse and Danny Ings. With a strong core in place, there’s genuine optimism among the supporters. However, after flirting with the drop for the past two seasons, Saints fans may just be grateful for not having to look over their shoulder.
Quite a few British managers will be plying their trade in England’s top division this year. Having had as many as twelve just four years ago, the number slipped to an all-time low of four last season with Sean Dyche, Eddie Howe, Roy Hodgson and Neil Warnock left flying the flag. But that figure has more than doubled to nine with Chris Wilder, Dean Smith, Graham Potter and Frank Lampard all set to taste Premier League management for the first time, while Leicester boss Brendan Rodgers and newly appointed Newcastle manager, Steve Bruce, complete the set.
Raul Jimenez flourished at Molineux en route to Wolves finishing seventh and qualifying for Europe last term. From his season’s tally of thirteen goals and seven assists, it’s a surprise nobody else came in for him before the club paid the £32m required to sign the Mexican on a permanent basis. The 28-year-old will lead the line once again for Nuno Espirito’s team who’ll have the unenvied task of adjusting to the dreaded Thursday/Sunday schedule. Expect the extra workload to be shared between Raul, Diogo Jota and newest recruit, Patrick Cutrone, a £16 million purchase from Milan.
Steve Bruce can hardly wipe the smile from his face after landing the job he has always dreamed of. Yet, despite having ‘one of their own’ at the helm, waves of Newcastle fans, disenchanted at Mike Ashley’s regime, fail to see the appointment in a positive light. Even Big Mike finding his wallet to fund a summer spree whilst breaking the club’s transfer fee for the second time in a year has failed to lighten the mood on Tyneside. Without having kicked a ball Bruce knows he’s up against it. Will he be afforded the time and patience of the fans to make his mark at St James’?
Local boy Bruce is living his dream but could it all soon become a nightmare?
Teemu Pukki made scoring goals look easy en route to Norwich securing the Championship title in May. 29 times the Finnish striker hit the back of the net but he’ll be aware replicating the same goalscoring exploits in the division above will be a whole lot harder. Just ask Matej Vydra, Danny Graham, Jordan Rhodes and the heaps of others who have failed to make the grade in the Prem. An uninspiring transfer window feeds the narrative of Norwich struggling and it’s hard to make a case for the ultimate yo-yo club surviving beyond this season. Can Pukki break the trend and keep The Canaries up?
Unai Emery appears to have undergone a personal makeover ahead of the new campaign with his new teeth, specs and hair-do. And the Spaniard has been busy in changing the appearance of his squad too. Dani Ceballos, Kieran Tierney, David Luiz and Nicolas Pepe, The Gunners’ new record signing, are four incomings that add instant quality to the Arsenal first XI. In convincing Everton to part with up to £40 million for the erratic Alex Iwobi and shifting their wantaway captain out the door, Arsenal have arguably enjoyed one of their best transfer windows to date. New-look but same old Arsenal? We’ll see.
VAR. Three letters to strike fear in the heart of us all. Yes, Video Assistant Referees will feature in the Premier League for the first time as of this season. Like it or not, there’s no doubt a system which tends to create more questions than answers, will create havoc to begin with. Andre Marriner, the name to remember for future pub quizzes, is the man who’ll make history as the first Premier League VAR. Will football as we know it change forever? We’re about to find out.
Wesley, a £22 million club record signing from Club Brugge, is one of TWELVE new players through the door at newly promoted Aston Villa. Better quality was always needed but the £100m+ spree Dean Smith has overseen resembles that of Fulham last season. And we know how that ended. That said, Tyrone Mings joining on a permanent basis, the surprise arrival of Tom Heaton and acquiring Matt Targett and Jota from Southampton and Birmingham respectively, represents solid business. Crucially, Villa have held onto Jack Grealish and John McGinn, two players who’ll play a key role in Smith’s side keeping their heads above the drop zone.
Grealish will play a pivotal role in keeping Villa up
Xmas time, mistletoe and wine. And football. Would Christmas even be Christmas without a game every few hours? It seemed for some time the much loved festive schedule would be scrapped with a winter break put in its place. But Scudamore and co have seen sense and instead introduced a ‘mid-season break’, to begin this season. The break will see one round of games played over two weekends in February, allowing each club a week off after a typically busy period. The change will be trialled over the next three years and, in the short term, should help the national side ahead of Euro 2020. No excuses this time then, Gareth!
Youri Tielemans only joined Leicester on the final day of the January transfer window. But his contribution was so telling that the prospect of the Belgian returning to the King Power beyond the duration of his six month loan deal seemed unlikely. But remarkably, Leicester faced almost zero competition chasing his permanent signature which, in the end cost £40m. Ayote Perez has also been purchased for a further £30m as Brendan Rodgers plots an attempt to break into the top six. Losing Harry Maguire at the other end may scupper those plans however.
Zaha to Arsenal, Zaha to Everton. Crystal Palace’s prized asset desire to join a ‘big’ club became one of the sagas of the summer window. But despite submitting a transfer request late on and his brother’s best efforts in trying to force a move, the £80m rated player remains at Selhurst Park. It’s the one positive - if you can call keeping an unhappy player a good thing - of an underwhelming summer for Palace who having sold academy product Wan-Bissaka for £50m, chose to spend the grand total of £6m on Jordan Ayew and James McCarthy. Hardly inspiring for Eagles fans.