Premier League team previews

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Premier League 2017-18 preview – West Ham United

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West Ham truly, truly struggled at times last season. Injuries were abound. There were questions asked of Slaven Bilic.

And yet through all that, they finished 11th. That seems to speak to the depth of the roster and the fantastic, sometimes underappreciated managerial job Bilic did to keep the Hammers afloat despite all the struggles.

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This year, the bad luck should turn around. West Ham shedded the excess fat on the squad and brought in a pair of impact players who should step right into the starting lineup. Marko Arnautovic especially is a fantastic addition, who along with Robert Snodgrass, Manuel Lanzini, Sofiane Feghouli, and Michail Antonio should provide plenty for new signing Chicharito to feast on.

Best, worst case scenarios – Best case, this is a Europa League team. With all the new attacking talent for Bilic to play with, he can rotate players to avoid or deal with injuries. At the back, Bilic will have to find his preferred formation, because the depth will give him headaches – a good problem to have.

Through all the problems last season, the team still finished strong and away from the relegation battle, proving they are not a relegation candidate this season, even if the injury troubles return. Worst-case is probably another early flirt with the bottom third, but ultimately they pull out of it for a 13th place spot.


Best possible XI is…

Hart

Fonte — Reid — Ogbonna

Antonio — Noble — Lanzini  — Kouyate — Arnautovic

Carroll — Hernandez

This is tough, and you can be sure Bilic will rotate plenty. Pablo Zabaleta and Aaron Cresswell will get time in a typical 4-man defensive line, while Robert Snodgrass and Sofiane Feghouli will rotate through on the wings. Diafra Sakho provides striker depth.


[ MORE: 2017-18 PL season preview hub ] 

Transfers In: Marko Arnautovic (Stoke City, $27 million), Chicharito (Bayer Leverkusen, $21 million), Joe Hart (Manchester City, Loan), Pablo Zabaleta (Manchester City, Free).

Transfers Out: Ashley Fletcher (Middlesbrough, $9 million), Havard Nordtveit (Hoffenheim, $8.5 million), Darren Randolph (Middlesbrough, $6.6 million), Raphael Spiegel (Boavista, Free), Stephen Hendrie (Southend United, Free Transfer).

Last season: 

— 11th place in Premier League
— FA Cup 3rd Round (lost to Manchester City)
— League Cup quarterfinals (lost to Manchester United)

Star Player: Chicharito — Last season, West Ham seriously missed a player who could finish chances with Andy Carroll either out or misfiring. Now, they have a guy who can provide that final touch. Chicharito is a top-class striker who will eat up the goals where last season the Hammers failed to find the back of the net.

Last year, West Ham was ninth in the Premier League in chances created. Add Arnautovic to that mix, plus a healthy Snodgrass and Lanzini, and this season could be a big return to England for the Little Pea.

Coach’s Corner: Slaven Bilic — If it wasn’t clear after his first season in charge at West Ham, last season should prove how valuable the 48-year-old Croatian is to the Hammers. Bilic is able to mix and match his tactics to fit who is available and on the field, such an important trait last season when players were dropping like flies. Now, with good squad depth, he’ll need to channel that ability again to get everyone’s best.

PST Predicts: With the creative talent and steadiness at the back, West Ham should seriously improve on last season. They’ll finish more chances, and with Bilic in charge, this should be a top-half team with a shot at a Europa League spot.

Premier League 2017-18 preview – West Bromwich Albion

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West Brom is an interesting case. With Tony Pulis leading the way, the Baggies have not truly flirted with relegation since their 17th-place finish in 2014 that saw them finish just three points above the drop. But with finishes of 13th, 14th, and 10th since then, what exactly defines a successful season for the Baggies?

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Premier League obscurity is not a bad thing anymore. With the massive amounts of cash that come with a spot in the English top flight, a long stretch of bottom-half finishes could see the club amass money to eventually become a major player in the market. Clearly, West Brom is biding its time until the club can make a serious move, although the risky acquisition of Jay Rodriguez proves ambition. However, with teams constantly improving around them, the Baggies did little business this summer, which is worrying.

Best, worst case scenarios – The most Baggies fans can usually hope for is Premier League safety, but did last season’s 10th-placed finish change the expectations? Growth is always what any club hopes to achieve, whether it be short-term or long-term, and now fans will be looking for a top-half spot. The Baggies have just one other Premier League top-half finish ever, coming in 2012/13 just before the relegation scare. It would seem the best-case scenario would be for West Brom to match that achievement with hopes of long-term growth from there.

Worst-case would see this club relegated. There is no true star-power on the squad, and while Tony Pulis has a steady ship currently, it’s not hard to envision a few poor results spiraling things out of control.


Best possible XI is…

Foster

Dawson — Evans — McAuley — Nyom

Livermore — Yacob

Phillips — Morrison — Chadli

Rondon


[ MORE: 2017-18 PL season preview hub ] 

Transfers In: Jay Rodriguez (Southampton, $16 million), Ahmed Hegazy (Al Alhy, Loan).

Transfers Out: Craig Gardner (Birmingham, $2 million), Sebastian Pocognoli (Standard Liege, Free), Darren Fletcher (Stoke City, Free).

Last season: 

— 10th place in Premier League
— FA Cup 3rd Round (lost to Derby County)
— League Cup 2nd Round (lost to Northampton Town)

Star Player: Matt Phillips — With Nacer Chadli struggling for consistency on a team that utilizes the flanks, Matt Phillips is the engine to the machine. With nine assists last season to lead the team in his first season with the Baggies, Phillips is a critical part of a team that doesn’t attack a whole lot.

Unfortunatley, Phillips tweaked his hamstring in preseason, and according to manager Tony Pulis, it could be related to repeated back problems the 26-year-old struggles with. If those two problems keep him out for any significant amount of time, West Brom will have to lean on Chadli, who flashes brilliance at times but also tends to disappear quite often. That was evident last season when he made 31 Premier League appearances, but only completed the full 90 minutes 10 times. This team needs Phillips.

Coach’s Corner: Tony Pulis — Pulis has provided a steady presence wherever he goes. He locks teams down, turns them into a disciplined machine, and grinds out results. West Brom sorely needed his presence when he arrived, and now growth seems attainable. The 59-year-old doesn’t bring an exciting style of play, but occasionally the excitement arrives in the surprising results. Last season, the Baggies took care of business against teams below them and upset Arsenal down the stretch.

PST Predicts: The key this season is to stay healthy and avoiding long stretches of failure. If Phillips is indeed injured for a while, there’s not much depth for the Baggies to fall back on. Most worrying is the nine-match winless run to finish the season last year, which featured seven losses. Often, that can be a harbinger of how things will go the following campaign, especially considering the squad hardly turned over this summer. It would be great to see Tony Pulis take this team into the top half two years in a row, but more likely they will end up looking over their shoulders in 14th.

Premier League 2017-18 preview – Newcastle United

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Newcastle’s not your typical newly promoted side.

After bouncing straight back from relegation and returning to the Premier League, where they spent have spent every season except two since the league’s inauguration in 1992. Both times Newcastle were relegated, they won the Championship and came straight back up.

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This time, they have as experienced a manager as a newly promoted side can have along for the ride. Newcastle proved strong in their bid to keep Rafa Benitez after relegation, and he delivered on his promise to get them back to the top flight. Now, staying there will be another battle altogether.

Best, worst case scenarios – Best-case scenario is that Newcastle returns to its former pedigree as a perennial top-half finisher. That’s not out of the question at all, considering they have a strong side that pulverized the Championship at times. Newcastle can break down any defense, with attacking talent that could surprise the Premier League with its quality.

Worst-case, this team flops hard and battles relegation again. The Magpies’ biggest weakness is facing a team like them, that possesses the ball and storms forward. They lost twice to Fulham last season in Championship play, a team most comparable to Newcastle’s style at that level. Should teams look to replicate this strategy, Benitez would be powerless as he watches his team pinned back and unable to push forward. This team isn’t vastly changed from when they were relegated, and that could prove a major downfall.


Best possible XI is…

Elliott

Yedlin — Lascelles — Lejeune — Dummett

Shelvey — Diame

Ritchie — Perez — Murphy

Gayle


[ MORE: 2017-18 PL season preview hub ] 

Transfers In: Jacob Murphy (Norwich City, $13.3 million), Florian Lejeune (Eibar, $11.7 million), Christian Atsu ($9 million), Javier Manquillo (Atletico Madrid, $5.9 million), Mikel Merino (Borussia Dortmund, Loan).

Transfers Out: Florian Thauvin (Marseille, $12.9 million), Daryl Murphy (Nottingham Forest, $2.7 million), Sammy Ameobi (Bolton, Free), Vurnon Anita (Leeds United, Free), Haris Vuckic (FC Twente, Free), Yoan Gouffran (Goztepe, Free).

Last season:

— 1st Place finish in Championship (Automatic promotion)
— FA Cup 4th Round (Lost to Oxford United)
— League Cup quarterfinals (Lost to Hull City)

Star player: Ayoze Perez — If asked for most important player, I probably would have gone with one of the two central defenders, who anchor this club. Florian Lejeune is a quality addition and will strengthen this defense considerably. However, it’s “star” player and that is without a doubt playmaker Ayoze Perez. The 22-year-old Spaniard can both create and score, and he racked up 12 goals and 7 assists last season in the Championship despite playing 1,400 less minutes than leading creators Matt Ritchie and Jonjo Shelvey. Perez will be a critical part of this Newcastle squad, and he’ll need to blossom this time around after misfiring in his first go at the Premier League campaign the Magpies’ relegation season.

Coaches’ Corner: Rafa Benitez is as experienced as they come for newly promoted sides. He is the only manager in history to have won the Champions League, Europa League, Club World Cup, and Super Cup titles, and he has Newcastle in good hands. While he fell from grace at Napoli and Real Madrid, taking charge of Newcastle is a completely different animal, and he passed the Championship meat grinder with flying colors. Back in the Premier League for a full season for the first time since 2010, Benitez has a quality squad to work with as Newcastle looks to continue its slow build back up.

PST predicts: This is a very deep team, which will be of utmost importance when the injuries inevitably hit. The attacking trio of Matt Ritchie, Ayoze Perez, and new signing Jacob Murphy have plenty of support in Christian Atsu, Siem De Jong, Henri Saivet (should he stay). In addition, the midfield is strengthened by Borussia Dortmund loanee Mikel Marino and Jack Colback. The quality in depth coupled with Rafa Benitez’s guiding means this squad should be comfortably in the Premier League, with a safe bottom-half finish. The only slip could be if the players who failed to keep the club afloat last time perform below standards a second time.

Premier League 2017-18 preview – Manchester United

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Last season was a total enigma for Jose Mourinho at Manchester United. The club, with plenty of squad deficiencies, finished sixth in the Premier League, out of a Champions League spot.

And yet, somehow, Mourinho came out of the previous campaign with three trophies. One of those, the Community Shield, is often cast aside, but even with the other two – the League Cup and the Europa League, a trophy that had eluded Manchester United until last season – Mourinho took a far from stellar Manchester United squad and managed to craft a successful season.

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Now, thanks to specifically targeted summer investment, the squad looks far superior to last year’s, and that has led to higher expectations. The prized possession of the summer is $100 million man Romelu Lukaku, who will take over for Zlatan Ibrahimovic at striker. The aging Wayne Rooney has gone after much fanfare, and instead of replacing the playmaker of days past, Mourinho strengthened the league’s second-best defense even further.

Best, worst case scenarios – Manchester United is suddenly a fearsome club again, at least on paper. The sixth-placed finish last year can be chalked up to not just a squad sporting numerous holes, but also some terrible statistical luck that plagued both Manchester sides all year, and led the Red Devils to miss the top four despite a fantastic unbeaten run. Now, with smart investment, this team is ready to roll, with the Premier League title in its sights.

Worst-case scenario might be just as wild. Jose Mourinho is known for taking clubs to new heights in season two followed by a spectacular implosion in season three. What happens if they skip step two and head right for step three? Romelu Lukaku gets hurt, Mourinho’s whining reaches unforseen levels of annoying, and the team fails to outrun the avalanche as it buries them in Premier League obscurity. We don’t foresee this happening, but it’s a definite possibility, which means there’s some alternative universe out there that will be privy to Mourinho’s blinding season-two Manchester United mushroom cloud.


Best possible XI is…

De Gea

Valencia — Bailly — Lindelof — Shaw

Matic — Herrera

Mata — Pogba — Rashford

Lukaku

Harsh on a very good midfielder in Carrick, plus quality attackers in Ashley Young and Henrikh Mkhitaryan, but this squad is deep and those guys will all get plenty of action. Expect Anthony Martial to rotate in up front and Marouane Fellaini to serve as the prototypical Mourinho closer. If you have a lineup you believe to be better, add it in the comments below.


[ MORE: 2017-18 PL season preview hub ] 

Transfers In: Romelu Lukaku (Everton, $100 million), Nemanja Matic ($53 million), Victor Lindelof ($41.4 million).

Transfers Out: Adnan Januzaj (Real Sociedad, $10 million), Wayne Rooney (Everton, Free), Sam Johnstone (Aston Villa, Loan), Zlatan Ibrahimovic (Unattached, Free).

Last season:

— 6th in Premier League
— Won the Europa League
— Won the Community Shield
— FA Cup 6th Round (lost to Chelsea)
— Won the League Cup

Star player: Romelu Lukaku — While Ander Herrera and Paul Pogba were the heart and soul of the squad last season, Lukaku enters the fray as the outright superstar in the locker room. He’s as much of a pure goalscorer as they come, and he will be weighed on heavily to solve the finishing woes that plagued Manchester United all last season. After finally landing as the main man on a premier club, Lukaku now must deliver what is expected of him, and he has the talent around him to take the Premier League by storm.

Coaches’ Corner: Jose Mourinho — In his second season at Manchester United, now is the time that Mourinho will make his presence known. Last season was all about transitioning to this coming campaign. Much like Pep Guardiola, the slack of the first season in charge has run out, and he must bring Manchester United back to its former days of glory, or find himself without a job. It’s that simple.

PST predicts: This is a very, very deep squad that will be able to successfully navigate multiple competitions and fixture congestion, barring an injury crisis like they had mid-last season. The central defense is five-deep and should be able to cover for any injuries that arise, especially in Mourinho’s defense-first tactics. The midfield has plenty of cover. The only thin area is Lukaku, and he will be expected to carry the load. This is a title-challenging team on paper, and Mourinho’s the man to deliver it. It would be hard to envision them finishing outside the top four, and if they do, it would be a massive disappointment.

Premier League 2017-18 preview – Manchester City

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Pep Guardiola gets his second go-around with Manchester City, hoping to improve on a third-place finish that came down to the wire. The Spaniard has done much work this summer to overhaul the roster and get significantly younger in key areas.

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Last season’s acceptable finish eased some of the pressure that was mounting on Pep Guardiola, but another finish in the same spot this season won’t be taken so lightly. This team expects much more after such a massive summer investment, and anything less than a title will probably seem like a disappointment.

Best, worst case scenarios – Best-case scenario is clear: win the Premier League championship. With such a prestigious manager plus over $280 million spent this transfer window, there’s a clear target. Should those moves gel quickly, they could be one of the most dangerous teams not just in the Premier League but in all of Europe.

However, should it take Pep Guardiola time to mesh the new players together, an early-season sputter could scuttle the season before it even truly begins. Worst-case, this team finishes outside a Champions League spot, and Guardiola likely wouldn’t last long enough to see it come to a disappointing close.


Best possible XI is…

Bravo

Walker — Stones — Kompany — Mendy

Toure — Fernandinho

D Silva — De Bruyne — Sterling

Aguero


[ MORE: 2017-18 PL season preview hub ] 

Transfers In: Benjamin Mendy (Monaco, $68 million), Kyle Walker (Tottenham, $60 million), Bernardo Silva (Monaco, $59 million), Ederson (Benfica, $47 million), Danilo ($35.5 million), Douglas Luiz (Vasco de Gama, $14 million),

Transfers Out: Kelechi Iheanacho (Leicester City, $32.8 million), Enes Unal (Villareal, $17 million), Aaron Mooy (Huddersfield, $10.8 million), Nolito (Sevilla, $10.6 million), Fernando (Galatasaray, $6.2 million), Aleksandar Kolarov (Roma, $6 million), Joe Hart (Loan, West Ham), Jesus Navas (Sevilla, Free), Gael Clichy (Basaksehir, Free), Pablo Zabaleta (West Ham, Free), Willy Caballero (Chelsea, Free).

Last season:

— 3rd place in Premier League
Champions League Round of 16 (lost to Monaco)
— League Cup 4th Round (lost to Manchester United)
FA Cup semifinals (lost to Arsenal)

Star player: Kevin De Bruyne — Sergio Aguero’s rocky relationship with Pep Guardiola and the arrival of Gabriel Jesus has seen the Belgian playmaker rise to the top as Manchester City’s most influential star. He played the most minutes of anyone on the squad last season across all competitions, and he was involved in 30 goals (7 scored, 23 assisted), one fewer than Raheem Sterling‘s team lead. One a team bursting at the seams with both creative and finishing talent, de Bruyne is the glue that holds it all together.

Coaches’ Corner: Pep Guardiola — Despite a solid third-place finish in his first season taking over an aging squad, Guardiola’s first season in charge had largely a disappointing feel to it. The Spaniard brought in players like John Stones and Leroy Sane who either struggled or failed to make a significant impact. After his success at both Barcelona and Bayern Munich made Guardiola one of the most sought-after managers in the world, he must prove he can navigate the Premier League or he may run out his welcome in Manchester.

PST predicts: This team is just flat out too talented to struggle two seasons in a row. Guardiola will figure out how to piece the attacking talent together, rotating Jesus and Aguero through the numerous competitions and working Ilkay Gundogan, Leroy Sane, and Bernardo Silva into the rotation behind them. The central defense is still this team’s weakness, but for all of John Stones’ struggles last season, City still managed the fourth-best defensive record in the English top flight. Kyle Walker is a fantastic addition despite his high price, and Guardiola has managed to get this team significantly younger since he arrived. This is a top-two team, and will challenge for the title.