2019-20 Premier League season preview

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10 players set for breakout seasons in 2019-20 PL

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Every season, a handful of previously unknown — or even unexpected — players turn in performances of the highest quality and find themselves being talked about as the Premier League’s latest “breakout player.”

This will undoubtedly be the case again in 2019-20, but will it be? Here are 10 players primed to reach new heights over the next 10 months…

[ MORE: 2 days to go until new PL season: Is it a 2-horse race again? ]

Miguel Almiron, Newcastle United — Here’s the thing about the former Atlanta United star: he can really play. It didn’t take long for the Paraguayan to flash his skill and promise after moving to Newcastle last January. Now, try to imagine what he can do with a full offseason and preseason under his belt… if only the departure of Rafa Benitez doesn’t derail this freight train.

(Photo by Mark Runnacles/Getty Images)

Mason Mount, Chelsea — With the Blues suffering through a two-window transfer ban, new manager Frank Lampard will have no choice but to rely upon a handful of academy players, beginning with the 20-year-old midfielder with whom he worked at Derby County last season. Eight goals and five assists in a solid haul for a teenager, and Mount has made the most of his every chance this preseason.

Reiss Nelson, Arsenal — After a season on loan at Hoffenheim (seven goals), Nelson faces an uphill battle for playing time in a thoroughly stacked Arsenal attack, but he’s got the complete package, plus the versatility, required to force his way into regular minutes.

Lloyd Kelly, Bournemouth — Smart clubs in the PL’s bottom half will have done extensive scouting on EFL Championship players ready to make the jump to England’s top flight, only to be held back by employment at a smaller club. Lloyd Kelly can play left back and center back, and he was outstanding for Bristol City last season. He’s one of a few potential answers to the question “who’ll be the next $60-million British defender?”

(Photo by Robbie Jay Barratt – AMA/WBA FC via Getty Images)

Max Aarons, Norwich City — How does a PFA Championship Team of the Year, EFL Team of the Season and EFL Player of the Year campaign sound for a potential breakout star? Norwich City’s Max Aarons achieved all of the above last season, at the age of 18 and 19, in his first season as a professional.

Morgan Gibbs-White, Wolverhampton Wanderers — The same age as Aarons, Gibbs-White is already a seasoned professional with three seasons under his belt. Now that Wolves are on the path to the Europa League group stage, Nuno Espirito Santo will be forced to rotate his team far more than last season, and he undoubtedly find that Gibbs-White is a handy option in midfield.

Moise Kean, Everton — Kean is fairly well known among those who follow the rest of Europe somewhat closely, but PL-only fans are in for a real treat when the 19-year-old Italian attacker gets his feet under him at Goodison Park.

Youri Tielemans, Leicester City — How Tielemans tumbled this far down the transfer pyramid (all due respect to Leicester, of course) is truly a mystery. It’s not as though he was unknown in any way, or that he’s untested in the PL (he spent the second half of last season on loan to the Foxes), or that any number of PL club could have used a midfielder of his caliber.

(Photo by Plumb Images/Leicester City via Getty Images)

Declan Rice, West Ham United — Sure, Rice announced himself onto the PL stage last season, but 2019-20 feels like the time when he’ll go from “good young player” to “how much will Man City or Liverpool or Man United have to pay for him next summer?” West Ham being more consistent as a team and pushing for top-seven wouldn’t hurt Rice’s stock one bit.

Phil Foden, Manchester City — Is this the year Foden finally pushes his way into Pep Guardiola‘s regular rotation? We’ve been waiting for him to do so for two seasons now, yet he won’t turn 20 years old until after the 2019-20 season ends. Central midfield is still relatively thin at Man City, though that hasn’t stopped Guardiola from refusing to rotate and give Foden chances in the past.

2 days to go until new PL season: Is it a 2-horse race again?

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On the evidence of the 2018-19 season, Manchester City and Liverpool appear set to dominate the Premier League for many years to come.

[ MORE: 2019-20 season preview: Manchester City ]

Both squads are full of brilliant, ambitious players on the younger side of their respective careers, and between them they have two of the best managers in the world. That’s a surefire recipe for success, and just some of the reasons so many fans and pundits alike are predicting another neck-and-neck title race between Man City and Liverpool.

But — and stick with us here — what if there were other sides in the PL who could mount a title challenge of their own? Does such a thing exist as we count down to two days until the start of the 2019-20 PL season? If so, what would such a club’s path be to doing the near-unthinkable and close the 25-point gap between second and third?

[ MORE: 2019-20 season preview: Liverpool ]

Chelsea finished third last season which would make them the logical place to begin such a discussion, but they have since seen Eden Hazard depart for Real Madrid and begun a two-window transfer ban. Christian Pulisic arrived after signing last January and Mateo Kovacic made his loan deal a permanent one. Other than that, a handful of previously loaned players, most notably center forward Tammy Abraham, have returned and will fill out the holes in the squad. Frank Lampard, who has one season of managerial experience, replaced Maurizio Sarri. All of that adds up to far too much instability and uncertainty. Verdict: not a threat.

Tottenham Hotspur finished fourth and reached the Champions League final last season, and they have neither a transfer ban (self-imposed or otherwise) nor a new manager this season. It’s a promising start, at least. Tanguy Ndombele should be the answer to many of Tottenham’s problems in midfield, though it remains to be seen how quickly he’ll take to the PL and Mauricio Pochettino‘s system. For Spurs to make a real challenge, Harry Kane would have to avoid ankle ligament injuries for the first time in his career, Dele Alli would have to return to his very best of two and three seasons ago, Daniel Levy would have to pull off another one or two signings in the next 24 hours, one of Juan Foyth or Kyle Walker-Peters would have to become a lockdown defender at right back, and Spurs would likely have to bow out of the Champions League early to focus on the PL. That’s a lot of ifs. Verdict: probably not, but maybe, but probably not.

[ MORE: Is Man City’s defense strong enough, or deep enough? ]

Arsenal finished fifth last season, and the Gunners have spent aggressively this summer. Unfortunately for their title dreams, they’ve done nothing (again) to address their perennial achilles heel: the defense. Nicolas Pepe might very well be brilliant from day one, but Arsenal were hardly short on dynamic attackers when the summer began. William Saliba might be a long-term stalwart at center back, but he won’t move to London until next summer. There should be every hope alive inside Arsenal fans’ hearts that they’re the third-best side in the PL this season, but a title challenge? Verdict: also not a threat.

Manchester United finished sixth last season, and they might be lucky to avoid a more embarrassing outcome this time around. The signings of Harry Maguire ($97 million) and Aaron Wan-Bissaka ($57 million) addressed two positions of need in the most expensive ways possible, but each is far from a sure thing to be great. As of this moment, the only transfer activity in the midfield — another major area of weakness — was the departure of Ander Herrera. There’s also the ongoing, and seemingly never-ending, Romelu Lukaku saga, which will either see the Red Devils lose a starter or retain a thoroughly unhappy player. Verdict: no chance.

So, who you got: Man City or Liverpool?

Is Man City’s defense strong enough, or deep enough?

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Manchester City’s chances of repeating (again) as Premier League champions in 2019-20 appears to hinge upon the performances of one unit in particular: the defense.

[ MORE: 2019-20 season preview: Manchester City ]

It’s a rather thin unit which could have probably used reinforcements during the summer transfer window, but with barely 24 hours to go before the window closes, that’s a largely moot point. They are who they are, and they’ll kick off their quest for a third straight PL title against West Ham United on Saturday (Watch live, 7 a.m. ET, on NBCSN and NBCSports.com).

Thanks in large part to Aymeric Laporte proving himself worth every last penny of the $65 million he cost, and in smaller part a renaissance of health from Vincent Kompany, Man City shaved four goals from the conceded column in defending their 2017-18 PL crown (when they conceded 27 times) with another triumph in 2018-19 (23, one more than Liverpool).

[ MORE: 3 days to go until new PL season: Will Man City 3-peat? ]

Now, though, Kompany is gone after taking over as player-manager at Anderlecht, and Man City went against conventional wisdom and signed no one to replace his on-field production, let alone his off-field leadership. If paying $97 million for Harry Maguire was their best, or only, option, perhaps they are better off going this route.

Given the personnel that Pep Guardiola has at his disposal, he faces one of two — or, potentially two of two — unsavory options for how to line up his defense.

  1. In a back-three, he’ll have just one backup (Nicolas Otamendi, most likely) for three positions, likely to be occupied by Laporte, John Stones and Kyle Walker
  2. In a back-four, he’ll have three options who fit (Laporte, Stones, Otamendi) for two positions and one who’ll be forced out to right back (Walker), at which point he’ll still have just one backup

[ MORE: Will big-spending Spurs be Premier League title contenders? ]

If Benjamin Mendy can stay healthy for a full season, the full backs are likely to be a non-issue; Joao Cancelo should lock down the starting spot at right back after arriving at a bargain price; Angeliño is the wild card of the bunch; and Oleksandr Zinchenko has been up to the test when called upon in the past.

With all of that said, Man City’s safest path to having one of the PL’s best defensive records yet again lies ahead of the backline. When — not if, but when — they’re able to dominate possession each and every game, City’s midfield and forward line will squeeze the life out of opponents and leave the three, or four, at the back with precious little to do.

[ MORE: Man United to fine Lukaku for missing training without permission ]

Defensive midfielder Fernandinho was arguably City’s most important player in 2018-19 but he began to show signs of slowing down toward the end of last season, so they were wise to sign Rodri from Atletico Madrid for $78 million. It’s true that Kompany’s departure leaves a broad hole in the backline, but Rodri, along with the embarrassment of attacking talent ahead of him, should more than make up for his absence and give City a real shot at back-to-back-to-back PL titles.