Premier League 2017-18 team previews

AP Photo/Jae C. Hong

Is it now or never for Pep Guardiola at Man City?

2 Comments

$215 million in transfer fees last summer.

$262.5 million so far this summer.

What needs to happen at Manchester City in Year Two of the Pep Guardiola era to call him a success? And is there anything that could doom the Catalan man to life outside of the Etihad Stadium.

[ MORE: 2017-18 PL season preview hub ] 

The boss enters his sophomore campaign without a trophy, and for all of his purchases there’s a solid chance that only four of his opening day starters will come from that group (Kyle Walker, John Stones, Ederson, Danilo or Benjamin Mendy).

Heavy is the head that wears the crown as the purported top mind in football management, especially when there are Phil Jackson implications to this third go-round: Guardiola dominated at Barcelona and Bayern Munich with two of the deepest and best teams in the game, and significantly less competition on the table.

If he can’t do it this season at Man City — and we’re talking a PL win, UCL win, maybe multiple pieces of hardware — could it be two-and-out?

That seems a bit nutty, but consider what the hierarchy at Man City has seen from its managers in recent years. Manuel Pellegrini won the league in his first season. Roberto Mancini won the FA Cup in his first full season and claimed the league in his second.

Now that’s not to say Guardiola’s 2016-17 debut in blue was poor; City finished third, and looked stylish for much of the campaign. They scored three or more goals in 12 Premier League matches, beat Barcelona once in the UEFA Champions League before falling to Monaco, and came within extra time of an FA Cup Final.

But a deeper dig shows that Guardiola had a reverse-Klopp season. Whereas Liverpool’s German boss thrived against top PL competition but wilted against lesser lights, most of City’s failings came against the big boys.

[ MORE: Marquez in drug trafficking ring? ]

Two losses to champions Chelsea. A loss and a draw versus Spurs and the same against Liverpool. A win and a draw in the Manchester Derby and against Arsenal.

That’s 10 of 30 points from a master tactician. He undoubtedly is, but how big of a liar can the numbers be when it comes to Guardiola? One of the things we heard last season was, “Wait until he has all his guys!” Well, after another summer, it looks like Vincent Kompany, Yaya Toure, Raheem Sterling, Kevin De Bruyne, Sergio Aguero, and David Silva are good money to keep places in the team, and perhaps Fernandinho, too.

All of this is moot if you, like me, think Man City is going to have an outstanding year, win at least one Cup, make a deep UCL run, and contend for the Premier League crown deep into the Spring. Heck, City has convincing XIs if Guardiola divided his charges for PL and UCL competition.

But that’s the rub for Guardiola. Aside from the rising level of the league’s elite, there is no reason City shouldn’t do very, very well this year. And if they don’t, would it be crazy to imagine his dismissal from the Etihad? We probably won’t have the chance to realistically see it, but the bar is high for a man who last season missed out on a league title for just the second time in eight campaigns.

Premier League 2017-18 preview – West Ham United

Getty Images
Leave a comment

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.

[ LIVE: Stream Premier League live ]

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

Getty Images
Leave a comment

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?

[ LIVE: Stream Premier League live ]

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 – Watford

Mark Robinson/Getty Images
Leave a comment

Like many of the teams towards the bottom of the Premier League table last season — and in most years — Watford had the classic killer combination of a lack of offensive firepower and an equally disappointing struggle of allowing goals.

[ LIVE: Stream Premier League live ]

Marco Silva has been brought in to help Watford improve upon its 17th place finish from 2016/17, and with several key additions in the midfield the Hornets just might be able to climb the PL table in the Portuguese manager’s first season with the club.

Best, worst case scenarios – Watford will likely be lumped in with many of the usual mid-table suspects, which isn’t the worst thing in the world. If the Hornets can find another stable goalscorer alongside Troy Deeney up front, then perhaps the squad can make a push into the upper half of the table, which is likely the team’s ceiling. The club has also been reported to be close to a deal with young Brazilian Richarlison, and if successful, the 20-year-old Fluminense attacker could be a promising piece to the squad.

Worst-case scenario might just see Silva’s side drop down to the Championship. It’s not far-fetched considering how close Watford was a season ago to falling into England’s second flight. There were major concerns defensively last season, with the club allowing 68 goals in 38 matches, and as mentioned above, Deeney really didn’t have much support in the goalscoring department. He was the only Watford player to crack the 10-goal mark, and that’s something that must change in 2017/18 if the Hornets are to stave off relegation.


Best possible XI is…

Gomes

Janmaat — Kaboul — Britos — Holebas

Doucoure — Chalobah

Amrabat — Cleverley — Pereyra

Deeney


[ MORE: 2017-18 PL season preview hub ] 

Transfers In: Nathaniel Chalobah (Chelsea, Undisclosed), Daniel Bachman (Free agent), Kiko Femenia (Alaves, Undisclosed), Will Hughes (Derby County, Undisclosed)

Transfers Out: Juan Carlos Paredes (Emelec, Free), Mario Suarez (Guizhou Hengfeng Zhicheng, Undisclosed)

Last season:

— 17th in Premier League
— FA Cup 4th Round (lost to Millwall)
— League Cup 2nd Round (lost to Gillingham)

Star player: Troy Deeney — As stated above, Deeney was the only player to crack 10 goals last season. This is a squad that desperately needs somebody to finish chances, and at this very moment, it appears Deeney is the most likely candidate to do so.

Coaches’ Corner: Marco Silva — Say what you will about Silva’s performance at Hull last season, but there really wasn’t much to work with for the Portuguese boss or the Tigers roster. This isn’t a terribly different scenario for the manager, but the club has added some solid pieces this summer, such as Chalobah and Femenia. He’ll certainly have his work cut out for him, and Silva will have to keep a sharp eye out for more additions during January if he is to keep this team afloat.

PST predicts: Goals have been hard to come by for Watford, and at the end of the day that’s what keeps you in the Premier League. The Hornets squeaked by last season with just 40 goals to get them into 17th place, but it’s hard to say if that will be enough again in 2017/18. At the risk of sounding like a broken record, somebody other than Troy Deeney has to emerge on the goalscoring-front, and it has to start earlier rather than later in the season because that could spell doom for Silva and this squad.

Premier League 2017-18 preview – Tottenham Hotspur

Elsa/Getty Images
2 Comments

Heading into 2017/18, Tottenham actually enters the Premier League season as a bit of an underdog after opting to go quietly into the summer without hitting the transfer market hard.

[ LIVE: Stream Premier League live ]

While the likes of Chelsea, Manchester City and others went after several of the game’s biggest names and talents, Spurs continued to build its team with youth, and now it’s time to see if Mauricio Pochettino‘s choices have paid off as Tottenham seeks out a PL title.

Best, worst case scenarios – Best-case scenario is quite simple for Spurs… win the Premier League. There were moments last season that showed this team is quite capable of doing so, and the club’s run to end the year was nothing short of spectacular had it not been for a Chelsea side that proved to be a little too much. The talent is there in the squad, and Pochettino is a more-than-capable manager. The task is simply putting it all together.

However, things could come back and haunt Pochettino, such as the club’s lack of spending this summer. Alvaro Morata, Romelu Lukaku and Alexandre Lacazette are just a few of the PL’s top signings of summer, but all have one thing in common; they didn’t land at Spurs. At worst, Tottenham is a top-five or six team, but they’d certainly be disappointed to take a step back after their success in 2016/17.


Best possible XI is…

Lloris

Trippier— Vertonghen — Alderweireld — Rose

Dier — Wanyama

Lamela — Alli — Eriksen

Kane


[ MORE: 2017-18 PL season preview hub ] 

Transfers In: N/A

Transfers Out: Kyle Walker (Manchester City, $58 million), Federico Fazio (Roma, Undisclosed)

Last season:

— 2nd place in Premier League
— Eliminated in Champions League group stage
— Eliminated in Europa League Round of 32
— League Cup 4th Round (lost to Liverpool)
— FA Cup semifinals (lost to Chelsea)

Star player: Harry Kane — There’s really not much the England international can’t do, and Spurs will be relying on him once again this season to be one of the Premier League’s most-dangerous goalscorers. Kane has amassed the 30-goal mark in two of the last three PL campaigns for Spurs, with his 2015/16 total falling just short at 28. There’s no question who this team looks to when they need a goal, and it’s number 10.

Coaches’ Corner: Mauricio Pochettino — Since 2009/10, the worst Tottenham has finished in the PL is sixth. Barring something completely unforeseen, it’s hard to imagine Spurs falling out of that range this season. The Argentine manager has done everything right since arriving at the club in 2014. He’s brought a clear philosophy about raising youth and relying less on spending big in the transfer market to satisfy club needs, and guess what? It’s working.

PST predicts: Say what you will about Tottenham’s transfer market philosophy, but this team is still quite good when looking at past performance and the way the current roster is structured. Could a move or two in January help? Sure. However, there’s no reason Spurs cannot finish top four once again in 2017/18 and contend for the Premier League crown.