With unproven managers at Chelsea and Manchester United and a possible David Luiz-Shkrodan Mustafi center back partnership at Arsenal, there are scenarios in which the seas part and a new team finishes in the Top Six for the first time since Chelsea and Liverpool crashed out of the picture in 2015-16.
Wolves will like their chances, having made Raul Jimenez and Leander Dendoncker permanent members of the team and buying Patrick Cutrone, Pedro Neto, and Bruno Jordao from Serie A.
But they’ll face a loaded fixture list thanks to the Europa League (assuming they don’t exit at the hands of Armenia’s Pyunik in the third qualifying round or a similar foe in the playoff round). The first group stage date is sandwiched between Chelsea and Crystal Palace on the league docket, the second between Watford and Man City.
That’s a test of depth, one of which most of their players are taking for the first time.
Then there’s Everton, which has amassed some serious experience and guile even amongst its youngsters. Moise Kean arrives from Juventus, while Andre Gomes, Djibril Sidibe, and Fabian Delph are no strangers to silverware.
If Jean-Philippe Gbamin can quickly adapt to the league to combine with Delph and provide 75 percent of what Idrissa Gana Gueye gave the club, look out.
West Ham is another interesting one: Issa Diop was a revelation at center back and the club is close to keeping a hold of Felipe Anderson.
The Irons have finally added their prototypical center forward and should be nice and settled at the London Stadium. The question is whether West Ham can rewrite their organizational reputation this season.
There are arguments to be made for Watford and even Aston Villa, but those seem a bit farfetched unless the Hornets are seriously out-scouting the rest of the world.
So we’ll finish with Leicester City, who needs to hope that Jamie Vardy can keep holding off the hands of time and youngsters Youri Tielemans and Wilfred Ndidi can take a hold of the team to take the next step as stars.
But the question of how they’ll replace Harry Maguire is a real one, as is the big Brendan Rodgers effort: Can he focus the club the way he did when Liverpool had a Europe-free year in 2013-14, and take advantage of the fixture list to ride into the top tier?
There are 25 players in each Premier League squad, but who will not only star for their respective clubs but also elevate themselves to the upper echelons of the league this season? With the Premier League campaign officially set to begin this week, we continue our look ahead to the upcoming campaign with an overview of the top players at each position across the league.
All summer down, just one week to go. It’s almost here.
With seven days remaining until the start of the new Premier League season, we take a look at the likely candidates for the Europa League spots. Finishing seventh in the table often earns a club a spot in the Europa League, as it did for Wolverhampton Wanderers last campaign in the club’s return to Premier League action.
Thanks to an impressive – and surprising – seventh place result last season, Wolves are currently involved in Europa League qualifying, blitzing past Northern Irish side Crusaders 5-1 on aggregate. That has set them up with a two-legged matchup against Armenian club Pyunik Erevan, with potential victory putting them into the playoff round.
So, who could challenge for seventh place next season? Will it be Wolves again, building themselves as perennial contenders? Will it be someone who just missed out last season? Or will it be someone new who makes a significant jump from last season? Here are the likely candidates.
Obviously, having secured seventh last year, Wolves are a strong candidate to find themselves back in the Europa League. They appear better equipped than many of the mid-table sides of the last few years to wind up in European play, as last year’s qualifiers Burnley appeared overmatched by the additional fixtures and heavy travel.
This Wolves team is deep and dangerous, and Raul Jimenez has carried his spectacular form with him through the summer and straight through to this season. The Mexican international already has a pair of goals, scoring a brace in the 4-1 clincher over Crusaders on the road.
While the club didn’t add much new other than 21-year-old striker Patrick Cutrone from AC Milan, they spent big to keep Jimenez and Leander Dendonker around permanently, securing long-term squad squad strength. Wolves challenged every Premier League side last season and could win on any given day, meaning they should be right in the thick of things again this coming season.
The Toffees finished eighth last season, missing out on European play by a measly three points. While they still have holes to fill, Everton has done well to secure Andre Gomes permanently, and they picked up a quality addition in Fabian Delph, a player transformed by Pep Guardiola. If they can get Moise Kean over the line, the Toffees would have to be considered one of the more improved Premier League sides at great transfer value.
The Toffees can only make the jump, however, if they improve against the top sides. Whereas Wolves felt threatening on any given day, Everton was poor against the Premier League’s best teams. They made a charge down the stretch by beating Chelsea, Manchester United, and Arsenal all in a row through March and April, but otherwise found little success against those finishing in the top six.
The Foxes have been a firm mid-table side ever since shocking the world by winning the Premier League title, and it speaks to the club’s front office that they have not faded after that fateful season. Selling Harry Maguire will provide the club with a massive windfall despite the departure of a spectacular player and rock-solid base, and should they figure how to reinvest soon, Leicester City could see a return to European play.
The loss of Maguire will be softened by smart additions in Caglar Soyuncu and Filip Benkovic, both of whom could make a legitimate run at a consistent place in the starting lineup despite their young age. Benkovic especially is a bright prospect and could help the Foxes hit the ground running.
The permanent acquisition of James Maddison will help maintain their 51-goal haul from last season, and if Kelechi Iheanacho can finally make the leap to a dangerous, everyday Premier League striker, this could be a dual-threat club.
West Ham United
A 10th place finish last season was somewhat disappointing for a Hammers squad that bursted with talent but struggled mightily with consistency. The club suffered through four separate winless runs of three matches or greater, with a four-match losing streak to start the season and a three-match losing streak in early April giving their final table position a somewhat false negative. Still, there is no doubt that Manuel Pellegrini must keep the ship steadied this season if West Ham wishes to challenge for a spot in Europe.
West Ham secured one of the glitzier signings of the summer by swooping in for striker Sebastian Haller whose 20-goal haul for Eintracht Frankfurt last season catapulted him towards the top of the striker wish lists for many clubs. With a pair of goalkeepers brought in on free transfers to give Lukasz Fabianski and Adrien something to think about, the club did well to target needs.
Still, the loss of Marko Arnautovic will be felt, and if Pablo Fornals can’t adequately replace the Austrian, there will be something missing from West Ham’s attack that could threaten any attempt at improved consistency.
On the outside looking in:
Watford – a dangerous squad at times but has been absent in the transfer market this summer
Bournemouth – didn’t do enough this offseason to fix massive defensive issues.
Crystal Palace – another team capable of pulling out a result on any day, but they have done next to nothing this summer except extend the Zaha saga, leaving them extremely vulnerable
Southampton – A much-improved side that was brought down last season by a brutal start to the campaign, but even if they avoid the early slump the leaky defense was not addressed this summer.
Below is a look at the top 10 names who could be moving, and why, with some huge transfer fees involved.
1. Paul Pogba (Man United) Transfer fee: $150 million Reason: Pogba wants a new challenge and his inconsistent displays and fact he has an initial two years left on his current contract means United can now make a profit on him. United have said that want to keep him, but that is probably just to keep his transfer value high. Things haven’t worked out for Pogba at United, and everybody should now go their separate ways. Possible destination(s): Real Madrid, Juventus Will it happen? 90 percent chance
2. Aaron Wan-Bissaka (Crystal Palace) Transfer fee: $70 million Reason: Wan-Bissaka has told Palace he wants to move on, and at 21 years of age he will see this move as being a ‘once in a lifetime’ opportunity. Palace will loathe to sell him, but realize that after a stunning first full season in the PL, his value may never be higher than it is right now. A future England international, Wan-Bissaka’s pace and power make him the perfect modern full back. Possible destination(s): Manchester United Will it happen? 90 percent chance
3. Christian Eriksen (Tottenham) Transfer fee: $60 million Reason: Eriksen is another player who has come out and said now feels like the right time for a change. And he has excelled at Spurs over the past six seasons, with many believing he is underrated when it comes to Harry Kane, Dele Alli and Son getting the plaudits at Spurs. A move to Spain beckons as he has just one year left on his current contract, hence the relatively low transfer value. Possible destination(s): Real Madrid, Barcelona Will it happen? 95 percent chance
4. WilfriedZaha (Crystal Palace) Transfer fee: $100 million Reason: Like Pogba and Eriksen, Zaha gave an interview after Palace’s season saying he wants to win trophies and play in the Champions League. That will alert plenty of clubs across England and Europe. Palace won’t want to lose both Zaha and Wan-Bissaka, but it seems likely both could force away moves. The Eagles weren’t as over-reliant on Zaha last season as they have been previously, but losing his pace and power to their counter-attacking play would be a huge blow. Possible destination(s): Tottenham, Liverpool Will it happen? 60 percent chance
5. Harry Maguire (Leicester City) Transfer fee: $112 million Reason: At the age of 26, Maguire is about to enter his prime and has been loyal to Leicester as Man United chased him last summer. The England international has enjoyed another stellar season for club and country and his marauding runs have continued. Both City and United want to sign him but Leicester have put a $100 million price tag on his head to try and put off potential suitors. After seeing the impact Virgil Van Dijk had at Liverpool, both Man City and Man United will be thinking Maguire could do the same for them. Possible destination(s): Man United, Man City Will it happen? 70 percent chance
6. Romelu Lukaku (Man United) Transfer fee: $75 million Reason: Not a regular starter at United anymore despite 42 goals in 96 games for them. Lukaku has been overtaken by Rashford and Martial, and he has been speaking positively about Serie A and Inter Milan’s new coach Antonio Conte. Is that a coincidence? Nope. His game would suit the Italian top-flight well, and if United want to get back the majority of the $90 million they paid Everton for him in 2017, now is the time to sell as Lukaku will spend most of next season on the bench under Solskjaer. Possible destination(s): Inter Milan Will it happen? 90 percent chance
7. James Maddison (Leicester City) Transfer fee: $75 million Reason: He flourished in his first full season in the PL after joining Leicester from Norwich for $25 million last summer, and no player created more goalscoring opportunities than Maddison. Currently with the England U21 side, Maddison’s future will be sorted out later in the summer. He may spend one more season at Leicester under Rodgers, and with Maguire a wanted man too, Leicester are unlikely to sell two of their stars this summer. Maddison, 22, will be playing for one of the top six teams very soon though. Possible destination(s): Man City, Man United, Tottenham Will it happen? 60 percent chance
8. Issa Diop (West Ham) Transfer fee: $75 million Reason: At just 22 years of age Diop’s first season in the PL went very well indeed. West Ham’s previously porous defense was shored up largely thanks to his partnership with Fabian Balbuena and Diop is now a man in demand. The French center back joined West Ham from Toulouse for $27.5 million last summer and they could be looking at a huge profit, but are under no pressure to sell. Diop knows he would be a guaranteed starter at United, which could turn his head, and his turn of pace and supreme aerial ability set him apart. Possible destination(s): Man United, PSG, Barcelona Will it happen? 60 percent chance
9. Toby Alderweireld (Tottenham) Transfer fee: $32.1 million Reason: Spurs handed him a one-year contract extension last summer, but that meant Alderweireld could leave for just $32.1 million this summer. A clause inserted into his deal stacked the cards in his favor, and at the age of 30 the Belgian international has one more big move left in his career. With Davinson Sanchez and Juan Foyth around, there could be a changing of the guard in Spurs’ defense this summer. Pochettino will not want to lose Alderweireld, but Spurs can’t pay him what other clubs can. Possible destination(s): Barcelona, Man United Will it happen? 80 percent chance
10. Mesut Ozil (Arsenal) Transfer fee: Loan Reason: This just isn’t going to work, is it? Mesut Ozil doesn’t fit into Unai Emery‘s system at Arsenal and unless Emery goes, Ozil’s future with the Gunners isn’t looking bright. The best he can hope for next season is regular run outs in the Europa League on a Thursday night. He’s the highest-earner at the club, so getting somebody else to pay all of his $440,000 per week wage is going to be tough. The best Arsenal can do is to pay a chunk of Ozil’s wages and loan him out for this season. He still has another two seasons on the monster contract he signed in January 2018 and seems happy to stay at Arsenal. On his day his talent is undoubted, but he just doesn’t fit into Arsenal’s new system at all. Possible destination(s): Besiktas, Fenerbache, Galatasaray Will it happen? 50 percent chance
Other notable PL players to keep an eye on this summer: