Top 10 Premier League storylines

1 Comment

Finally, the moment we’ve all been waiting for since Manchester City hoisted the Premier League trophy nearly three months ago.

With the Citizens projected favorites to top England again in 2018-19, 19 other clubs will be gunning for Pep Guardiola‘s side.

Will the Manchester giants be able to sustain their brilliance from a season ago? How will some of the other big clubs’ spending cut into the Citizens’ success?

It’s time at Pro Soccer Talk to take a look at 10 of the most pressing storylines heading into the new season, which kicks off on Friday.

WATCH LIVE: Transfer Deadline Day show, August 9 at 11 a.m. ET on NBCSN and online via NBCSports.com 


1. Is Man City possibly better than last season?

Guardiola and Co. set so many records in 2017-18 it’s honestly hard to keep track of their brilliance. With a squad that already features world-class talents in Kevin De Bruyne, Leroy Sane and Sergio Aguero, what did the Spanish manager decide to do this year? The club added another one of the PL’s top attackers in Riyad Mahrez, which provides the team with a further embarrassment of riches up front.

It’s a tremendous dilemma to have, but how Guardiola manages to fit Aguero, Mahrez, Sane, Raheem Sterling, Bernardo Silva and others into regular lineups will likely determine how the club does not just in the PL but in Europe as well.


2. Who challenges the Citizens?

It’s easier said than done to dethrone a champion, and even some of the other big six clubs in England did well to bolster their rosters, it remains to be seen whether or not it will be enough to topple Man City.

Of Tottenham, Liverpool, Manchester United, Chelsea and Arsenal (last season’s second through sixth-place finishers), the Reds are certainly the biggest winners this offseason with the signings of Fabinho and Naby Keita to upgrade the team’s midfield.

Meanwhile, Spurs has yet to make a signing. Man United is in turmoil between a number of strains with manager Jose Mourinho and several of his players. See, Paul Pogba and Anthony Martial. Also, Chelsea and Arsenal each have new managers (which we’ll discuss later).

It’s not impossible for one of these teams, or perhaps a team like Everton, who has gone transfer-happy again this summer, to contend for the title, but for right now, it looks like a two team race at the top with City and Liverpool.


3. Which newcomer(s) shakes up the PL?

Cardiff City, Fulham and Wolves each earned promotion to the top flight earlier this year, and now it is up to them to stay in the PL with the likes of England’s elite.

Both Fulham and Wolves have spent heavily this summer, particularly the latter, who have signed an entire Portuguese contingent led by goalkeeper Rui Patricio, Benfica’s Raul Jimenez (Mexico) and Atletico Madrid attacker Diogo Jota.

[ STREAM: Watch every PL match live ]

While spending doesn’t always lead to success, it certainly shows initiative from these clubs that they are in it for the long haul, it could very well end up with sustained time in the top division.


4. How does Spurs do with its current squad?

Nobody can question Mauricio Pochettino‘s brilliance as a manager, but at a certain point he and his staff might have to accept the fact that they’ve gone as far as possible with their current squad.

With just a day left in the transfer window, Tottenham has yet to sign a single new player, although Aston Villa’s Jack Grealish remains a coveted asset by the team.

Finishing runners up a season ago probably isn’t a failure when you consider just how good Man City is/was, but Tottenham’s shortcomings in the UEFA Champions League and other club competitions has to make many wonder if they’ve peaked with this roster.

Harry Kane will always score his goals. Heung Min Son, Dele Alli and Christian Eriksen are tremendously gifted players in the attacking third. The team boasts a strong back line, led by Toby Alderweireld and Jan Verntonghen.

However, the rest of the PL is only getting stronger, and if Spurs couldn’t get over the hump before, it looks like the team’s ascent towards the top will only get more challenging.


5. Who adjusts better with a new manager; Arsenal or Chelsea?

Last season did not go according to plan for either club, and subsequently changes were made in the managerial department.

For Arsenal, the departure of Arsene Wenger may have been a bit overdue, but the club’s lack of success in 2017-18 cannot be solely attributed to the Frenchman.

Chelsea’s issues with Antonio Conte boiled up rather quickly, despite having won the PL two seasons ago. That led to his sacking this summer, and the arrival of Maurizio Sarri, who has already seemingly won over the players enough to keep the majority of those linked with moves away from Stamford Bridge.

The Blues arguably have more talent, and the squad seems to have bought into Sarri’s approach, which is more “football first” than Conte. The Italian doesn’t focus on the transfer market or any other phases outside of what goes on within the confines of the pitch.

Meanwhile, Unai Emery has inherited a Gunners team that has bulked up in the offseason, particularly on the defensive side of things. Stephan LichtsteinerSokratis Papastathopoulos and goalkeeper Bernd Leno could aid Arsenal massively on the back end, while the club also managed to pick up one of the biggest risers of the summer in Lucas Torreira after a stellar World Cup for Uruguay.


6. Which club steps into the top-6 race?

Everyone knows who the perennial powers are in England, and in most of the five major leagues across Europe, for that matter.

If you’re not named Arsenal, Chelsea, City, Liverpool, Man United or Spurs, your chances of winning the PL are usually quite slim.

Taking Leicester out of the equation during their magical run in 2015-16, only one club has won a PL title in the Premier League era that wasn’t one of those six previously-mentioned teams (Blackburn Rovers in 1994-95).

Clubs have Everton and Leicester have shown a willingness to spend, just as newcomers Fulham and Wolverhampton have done this summer, but long-term success in England is often hard to come by.

The Toffees are probably the safest bet to have a shot at cracking the top six, but then again, that’s a task that’s easier said than done.


7. Is Jose Mourinho on thin ice at Old Trafford?

For as brilliant of a manager as Jose Mourinho is, he certainly has a way of wearing out his welcome.

And in a very quick manner, too.

Instead of giving the requisite praise to Paul Pogba following the player’s World Cup title with France, Mourinho went after his midfielder, calling for him to replicate those performances during the PL season.

While much of what Mourinho said was tame, it makes one wonder why he would go after one of his biggest stars, especially because it has set up a 24-hour period that could see Pogba exiting United for the second time in six years.

The results have been a struggle for Mourinho in PL play since taking over in Manchester, and if he manages to continue to alienate his players it might not be long before he’s looking for another job.


8. Will West Ham take the next step?

Since the conclusion of last season, only Liverpool has spent more money on new players than the Hammers — who have shelled out an astonishing $117 million this window.

It’s easy to forget that this team was seventh just two seasons ago during the club’s final season at Upton Park, however, last season was a bit more of a struggle despite a hefty spending spree that brought in players like Javier Hernandez and Marko Arnautovic.

This summer, the Hammers are at it again, and with bigger names incoming. Andriy Yarmolenko and Felipe Anderson could be game-changing additions to the Hammers attack, while Łukasz Fabiański and Jack Wilshere are steady pieces in their own right.


9. Younger faces make push for bigger roles

We’ve seen clubs thrive when using their younger talents. Just take Spurs as an example, with a squad mostly made up of talents under the age of 25.

Now, we’re seeing a bit more of a trend and willingness from managers to give their youngsters a run out in order to prove themselves.

At Man City, it’s Phil Foden. At Chelsea, new manager Maurizio Sarri sees something special in Callum Hudson-Odoi.

In a league where stars are so prevalent, it’s easy to get caught up in the Harry Kane, Mohamed Salah and Eden Hazard hype train, but it’s the next generation of stars that ultimately carries the league going forward, so it’s nice to see these types of players making their way up the pecking order.


10. Tracking the Golden Boot race

We’re at a stage now where there are so many quality goalscorers in the PL that it’s honestly hard to keep track of them all.

And even though Harry Kane, Romelu Lukaku and Sergio Aguero are the traditional goalscorers in that category, there are many others, including Mohamed Salah from last season, that are more than capable of winning the Golden Boot.

If Kane can do it again in 2018-19, he’d become the third player in the PL era to win the Golden Boot on three separate occasions, a truly remarkable feat.

Will Tottenham rue not spending big this summer?

AP Photo/Kirsty Wigglesworth
Leave a comment

With respect to the possible addition of Jack Grealish, Tottenham Hotspur is betting big on previous years worth of squad construction in its bid to finish Top Three for the fourth-straight Premier League season.

It’s no one in, no one out for the North London side this season, at least it is with two days left in the transfer window. And while Spurs have done a fine job building up depth from within and without, matching their previous heights seems a fairly wild proposition.

WATCH LIVE: Transfer Deadline Day show, August 9 at 11 a.m. ET on NBCSN and online via NBCSports.com 

Forget for a minute that Spurs first two matches could see them severely short-handed — Mauricio Pochettino claims he won’t start just returning World Cup stars that aren’t match-fit — and Tottenham is counting on its two-deep, to borrow an American football term.

Will they regret it? Good question.

It can be head-spinning for a Spurs supporter to take a look at the summer. Consider that Pep Guardiola claimed the days of big buys were over, only to break Man City’s transfer record via Riyad Mahrez. Jose Mourinho is angry that United hasn’t landed more of his targets, despite buying Diogo Dalot and Fred. Chelsea added Jorginho, Arsenal flipped its defense, and Liverpool bought every available player on Earth.

Spurs did last season well, winning a brutal Champions League group with Borussia Dortmund and Real Madrid. They finished third in the Premier League and ran to the FA Cup semifinals before losing to Manchester United.

And Pochettino did a fine job working his depth last season, sometimes taxed a bit by injuries. Eighteen players played 18 or more times, with four more playing eight-plus matches.

Let’s say Toby Alderweireld and Danny Rose leave, while Grealish arrives in London from Aston Villa. Pochettino gets a number of players, including Lucas Moura and Davinson Sanchez, who will have more comfort in his system.

Yet remember the 2017-18 table.

2. Man Utd — 81 pts
3. Spurs — 77 pts

4. Liverpool — 75 pts
5. Chelsea — 70 pts
6. Arsenal — 63 pts

Spurs had the benefit of Liverpool and Arsenal playing in European finals, and both the Gunners and Chelsea were largely underachievers with monumentally screwy managerial situations.

Pochettino (AP Photo/Matt Dunham)

And here’s how it shook out for Spurs in head-to-head matches against their Top Four rivals:

Man City – loss at home, loss away
Chelsea – loss at home, win away
Man Utd – loss away, win at home
Arsenal – loss away, win at home
Liverpool – win at home, draw away

That’s 13 of 30 points, and the same team coming back. Perhaps United slips, and maybe City, too. Or maybe there’s better home comfort, and Spurs erase gaps.

But with nine World Cup semifinalists adjusting to a late vacation and a number of relatively affordable players waltzing to other clubs — See: Xherdan Shaqiri, Alfie Mawson, Max Meyer, Alireza Jahanbakhsh — could Spurs be made to pay dearly by a spate of injuries, at least compared to their rivals? Ask Liverpool of last season, and take a look at how they spent their offseason.

Transfer Rumor Roundup: Arsenal target Torreira; Evans signs for Leicester, and more

Getty Images
Leave a comment

Ahead of the World Cup, Arsenal is getting in touch with a potential breakout star.

According to multiple reports in Italy, Arsenal has begun negotiations to sign Sampdoria’s Uruguayan holding midfielder Lucas Torreira. The 22-year-old started all but two Serie A games for Sampdoria last season, his second season at the club, and it was also his breakthrough into the Uruguayan National Team, where his performances earned him a place in the World Cup squad.

[LATEST: 2018 World Cup news]

The reports state that Torreira comes with a nearly $30 million release clause and that Napoli are in the driver’s seat to sign him, but it all depends on Manchester City’s protracted negotiations for Napoli midfielder Jorginho. Arsenal coach Unai Emery has been reportedly looking at a number of new signings across Europe, especially at defensive midfield, which is where Torreira would slot in.

Here are some more transfer news and notes from across the Premier League and Europe:

(more…)

Transfer rumor roundup: Latest on Grealish, Kluivert; Darmian to Juve

Photo by Andy Astfalck/Getty Images
Leave a comment

As Thibaut Courtois is linked with a Chelsea exit and Alisson mentioned as a replacement, the Roma goalkeeper’s agent has shot down a link to Real Madrid.

[ MORE: Zlatan displeased with LA effort ]

“The idea he already has an agreement with Real Madrid is completely false. I don’t see how Cafu could know more than I do on the matter,” he said.

So what might not be completely false? Let’s rumor run.

A sale of Jack Grealish would be helpful for Aston Villa as it looks to balance its books and avoid running afoul of Financial Fair Play.

Grealish, 22, is said to be interesting to a number of big names teams including Arsenal and Manchester United, but a $53 million price tag is said to hang from the player.

Sky Sports says Leicester City is mulling a bid for Grealish as they perceivably move on from Riyad Mahrez (linked often with a $75 million momve to Man City).

An attacking midfielder who also can operate on both wings, Grealish overcame immaturity issues to score three times and add five assists in the Championship last season.

— Di Marzio reports that Justin Kluivert, son of Dutch legend Patrick Kluivert, is set to leave Ajax for AS Roma to the tune of $17-23 million.

Justin, 19, scored 10 times with five assists in Eredivise play this season, featuring mostly on the left wing. Despite his tender age, he boasted the league’s ninth-best rating according to WhoScored.

— Manchester United may have found a buyer for right back Matteo Darmian, with Juventus ready to spend $16 million on the Italian. Darmian, 28, played every position across Jose Mourinho’s back line, but was limited to 17 appearances running 1,105 minutes last season.

Three things learned: Aston Villa v. Fulham

Getty Images
Leave a comment

Fulham sealed promotion back to the Premier League on Saturday as the 10-man Cottagers beat Aston Villa 1-0 in the Championship playoff final at Wembley.

Tom Cairney‘s strike midway through the first half was enough to send Fulham back to the top-flight and leave Villa heartbroken.

Here’s a look at what we learned from a tense battle in the heat at Wembley.


FLUID FULHAM FIT FOR TOP-FLIGHT 

Since December Fulham’s fluid, attacking style of play saw them go on an incredible run of just one defeat in 24 games as they just missed out on automatic promotion with a defeat on the final day of the season.

The Cottagers’ silky play won them the playoff final as Slavisa Jokanovic’s men stuck to their playing philosophy with Tom Cairney pulling the strings in midfield, Aleksandar Mitrovic a handful up front and teenager Ryan Sessegnon floating about to cause havoc. They dropped deeper in the second half as Villa went at them but still had good chances and always looked dangerous on the break, even when they were down to 10-men after Denis Odoi picked up a second yellow card.

With their brave style of play, Fulham will add panache to the Premier League.

You can expect special things down by the banks of the River Thames at Craven Cottage as American owner Shahid Khan will no doubt splash the cash to take them to the next level after they dropped out of the big time in 2014. They will be desperate to solidify themselves back in the top-flight.

Fulhamerica is back and on that note U.S. men’s national team center back Tim Ream had himself a heck of a game at the heart of Fulham’s defense at Wembley to help seal the deal.


SESSEGNON SENSATIONAL

You can understand exactly why the biggest clubs in England have been chasing Sessegnon for many years.

The 18-year-old was the Player of the Season in the Championship and he was involved in the key moment in the final as the Fulham academy graduate has been the main reason they’re back in the Premier League.

Sessegnon finished the season as Fulham’s top goalscorer with 17 goals and there were many pushing for him to be included in England’s World Cup squad this summer. He has all of the talent available to flourish as a wide forward in the top-flight and after Matt Targett‘s arrival in January he has been pushed further forward from left back and has thrived.

There’s no doubt that Sessegnon is destined for big things but now he has the fairtyale end to a fairytale season for him at Fulham.


VILLA’S EXPERIENCED HEADS RATTLED

Villa’s experienced defense boasts Ahmed Elmohamady, John Terry, James Chester and Alan Hutton and in a massive game at Wembley they were rattled early on and Villa couldn’t quite drag themselves back into the game.

Steve Bruce‘s side had the second-best defensive record in the second-tier this season and they kept Fulham from opening them up for most of the first half but one lapse in concentration was exploited by Sessegnon and Cairney as Hutton stepped up, Terry was caught out and Villa conceded.

To be fair to Bruce’s side they dragged themselves back into the game impressively after a turgid first half display and were easily the better team after the break with Jack Grealish pulling the strings.

Grealish (who could well have been sent off) squandered two good chances either side of half time with a rising shot in the first half and then a header he should’ve done better with in the second, while the English playmaker also danced through Fulham’s defense before being denied by Marcus Bettinelli.

Villa have made significant progress this season under Bruce but you have to wonder if he and most of this Villa squad will be around next season, especially after a year of struggle off the pitch for Bruce as he lost both of his parents within a few months.

If Bruce sticks around then Villa will be one of the favorites for promotion next season.