After just four games, the Premier League is already fulfilling high standards, and even outperforming high hopes set in stone for the season.
Last year’s season was mesmerising, a season in which we probably won’t see again. However, this season promises to have something that last season lacked; an open race. Although it was incredible Leicester pulled off such a superb title win, it became rather foreseeable that they would win it in the last month or so. Spurs made a late charge to stop them, but this was very short lived. All the usual ‘big teams’ fell short of the mark fairly early on, and looked shadows of their usual selves.
What went wrong?
Manchester City had problems with their makeshift defence that looked obsolete without the captain, Vincent Kompany. This meant Eliaquim Mangala, Nicolas Otamendi, and Martin Demichellis had to fill the void. Mangala, who signed from Porto in 2014 for a hefty £42 million price tag has struggled to settle , Otamendi was a new signing from Valencia so took time to adapt, and Demichellis’ lack of pace allowed many teams to exploit City. Mangala and Otamendi once played together at Porto, however there was no sense of chemistry between the pair whatsoever. £50 million man, Raheem Sterling was a shadow of the player that he was at Liverpool, his poor finishing hurt City on many occasions. But of course, the biggest miss was Sergio Agüero. Injuries kept him out on the sidelines for yet another season, as he struggled to catch a break and last for the whole season. His goals are vital to City’s success, and without him; the team looks lost.
Manchester United had to deal with Louis Van Gaal’s team selection arrogance for a second season running which led to drastic issues. With players like Anthony Martial and Juan Mata glued to the bench you wondered where the creativity would arise from? The answer to that is , it didn’t. Many Manchester United fans got fed up of his ‘boring’ style of football which saw The Red Devils only muster a measly 49 goals all season, just one more than Sunderland, who finished one place above the relegation zone. United were playing it around the back far too often and just didn’t look willing to attack, 0-0 score lines become something the Old Trafford faithful became accustomed to. United’s laissez- faire approach stopped them from netting many goals for the duration of the season.
Arsenal came close, very close , in second place. However, with all the other big sides in the league faltering, this was the chance for Wenger’s men to seize the moment, capture the opportunity , bring the premier league trophy to the Emirates. They couldn’t do it though, they lost out to a side which just survived relegation the year before. Arsenal were top for a fair amount of time, the key moment was when they defeated Leicester 2-1 at home in February. After this match, the pendulum looked as if it was swinging in Arsenal’s favour. The Gunners become complacent however and the Foxes raced past them in the league along with Spurs, sending Arsenal down to 3rd . Although, a 5-1 final day slaughtering of Tottenham on relegated Newcastle’s behalf, saw Arsenal leapfrog their bitter rivals in dramatic fashion as they ruled 4-0 victors over Aston Villa- extending Arsenal’s record of finishing above Spurs in the league , which now marks 21 years since their noisy neighbours finished above them.
Liverpool looked set for a promising season under Jürgen Klopp, who replaced Brendan Rodgers in October. Things started well, The Reds became the team for the big occasion, overthrowing teams in their own backyard. A 3-1 win at Chelsea kicked things off, they then followed this on in November with a 4-1 triumph at the Etihad, not to mention a 6-1 rout at Southampton. Liverpool – the team for the big occasion , but not the small occasion. This has cost Liverpool many times over the years, the problem being picking up points against the weaker sides in the division. Defeats to Watford, Newcastle, Crystal Palace, and Swansea to name a few, cost the Reds vital points. Not only this, maintaining leads appeared to be an issue, 2-0 leads against both Tyneside clubs (Newcastle and Sunderland) which were both wiped out and brought level to 2-2, four points dropped just on those two occasions.
These factors exemplified the overriding issue ; the defence. Liverpool have had a frail back line for a few seasons and have struggled to improve it. Alberto Moreno was a complete liability in left back, costing the Reds many points. The Reds had an inability to see games out . In addition to this, Klopp had adopted a Rodgers side one month into the new season, it wasn’t his side. He had to get used to the players he had to work with and determine who was best suited to his plans, something that can’t just happen overnight.
The biggest demise of all though, was of course ; Chelsea. An opening day 2-2 draw at home to Swansea marked the beginning of a torrid time ahead. There was also the major controversy of the Eva Carneiro situation. During the Swansea game, Carneiro ran on to treat the injured Eden Hazard, but was yelled at by Jose Mourinho in the process. Mrs Carneiro would then go on to leave and sue the club, as she didn’t appear to do anything wrong at all. This only the start of more disasters to strike. Chelsea found themselves near the relegation zone by Christmas after losing numerous games to the likes of Bournemouth, West Ham, Crystal Palace and Southampton. The champions of the previous season, had turned into relegation battlers.
The star players of the title winning squad all looked like they had left and had been replaced by counterparts. Eden Hazard- player of the year, managed a pathetic 4 goals for the entirety of the campaign. John Terry, Cesc Fabregas, And Branislav Ivanovic had completely lost their way. The special one was producing some not so special results and it started to seem that his players were turning on him. This idea stemmed because, many were left bemused as to how players could change so differently in the space of a few months. Mourinho was eventually sacked by Christmas and was replaced by former Blues boss, Guus Hiddink. Results started to improve and they managed to climb up the table slowly , reaching an extremely disappointing 10th place finish by the end of the season, the worst title defence in history.
Why this season is different
However, this season looks to be quite the opposite. All the big teams have regrouped and have strengthened well.
Both Manchester clubs have replaced their mangers – bringing in two managerial titans. Jose Mourinho has filled Louis Van Gaal’s vacancy, a terrific appointment. It’s fair to say the fear factor had every last drop squeezed out of Old Trafford, which was installed in Sir Alex Ferguson’s era. United has turned into a side that are no longer a force to be reckoned with, and into more of a side that lacks a driving force and team spirit. But, by initiating a change like this, there is one major difference that Mourinho possesses , and what United lacked ever since Ferguson departed.
Yes, he had a poor spell with Chelsea recently, but he has won the league wherever he has gone. He knows how to win. This winning mentality that he will implement will guide United along the path to success. Many have tipped the Red Devils to win the league this season, with the signings that Mourinho has made, it’s understandable. The biggest name of course being the world’s new most expensive player; Paul Pogba. With £90 million being splashed out on him, United landed their man who was previously theirs. At such a young age he is still to reach the peak of his powers, so there is plenty more to come from the Frenchman, although so far he has not light the league alight by any stretch of the imagination.
The big names kept on coming! Zlatan Ibrahimovic signed on a free transfer. Like Mourinho, wherever he has gone, he has brought success. Henrikh Mkitarayan also made the switch to Manchester, a highly skilled midfielder who was key for Borussia Dortmund last year, notching up a stupendous 19 goals and 24 assists. Finally, Villareal’s Eric Bailly was recruited to tighten up a somewhat shaky back line . I am expecting big things from Mourinho’s men this season, as they look superb already. Despite losing the Manchester Derby , United has won three out of the three opening games . I believe United will challenge for the league.
On the other side of Manchester, Mourinho’s arch rival is in town, and is ready to rain on his parade! Pep Guardiola has filled the void of Manuel Pellegrini. ‘The Engineer’ had a successful 3 years at City , however a change was needed. The arrival of Guardiola is an extremely exciting prospect for not just City fans, but the whole league. The Spaniard’s renowned ‘Tiki Taka’ football will encapsulate just what he has to offer. After such successful spells at Barcelona and Bayern Munich, winning 21 major trophies, I have no doubt Guardiola will bring huge success, in my premier league predictions blog , I tipped the Sky Blues to win the league- which already seems highly probable after they have taken maximum points thus far.
He has also competed some top quality signings. The biggest being the capture of Everton’s John Stones for £50 million. Not to mention, Borussia Dortmund central midfielder, Ilkay Gündogan, Schalke’s talented youngster, Leroy Sané , Nolito from Celta Vigo, and Claudio Bravo in goal. Guardiola has made his mark on a side that had plenty room for improvement. One major alteration he constructed is the departure of Joe Hart. Many Manchester City fans were angered by this as Hart has been at the club for 10 years ( he has been out on loan on a couple of occasions in that time however ) and has been a top class keeper for a long period of time now.
However, Guardiola made it clear in his plans that it was imperative to have a goalkeeper who is good with their feet, something he believed Hart didn’t cut the bill for. Claudio Bravo of Barcelona is the man who has been selected as the new number one. The signings he has made have already gelled well and it looks certain that the Sky Blues will better their 4th place finish of last season.
Jürgen Klopp has had a chance to fully strengthen his side and work with them over pre-season. The signings he has made have been efficient, but effective. The biggest and best signing is the capture of Sadio Mané from Southampton, for a fee potentially rising to £36 million. Mané has already scored 2 goals in the first 4 league games , and has also grabbed one assist. The Senegalese winger’s electrifying pace has inflicted destruction. Joel Matip , a purchase which went under the radar , is a terrific piece of business by Klopp, especially on a free transfer.
The former Schalke man is a giant at the back, an almighty 6 foot 6 tall he stands in defence, which has proved important for a mostly small Liverpool back line. With no European football to hold the Reds back and force fatigue to be a prominent issue, Klopp’s men will be bursting with energy. This will help the Reds in the long run when games start to come thick and thin. They have the quality, the manager, the fans, but do they have the consistency? That is the only tipping point which could hold them back slightly, as shown by beating Arsenal 4-3 , then losing the next game 2-0 to Burnley.
Like with both Manchester clubs, there has also been a change at the helm at Chelsea. Hiddink was only at Stamford Bridge on a temporary basis, and has been replaced by Antonio Conte. Conte was previously with the Italian national side and Juventus. The Italians are known for defending of the highest standard, something Conte has made obligatory to employ. The Blues look much more secure at the back compared to last season , which is more than certainly down to Conte’s arrival. Diego Costa and Eden Hazard appeared revitalised under the guidance of the new manager, this was imperative for Chelsea due to the sheer woefulness of the previous season, which sent the Blues into disarray. Not only this, impressive signings such as N’Golo Kante – who was instrumental in Leicester’s historic title win have tightened up the side and added a backbone. Many have compared the role which Kante will play to that of Claude makelele- who featured in Jose Mourinho’s indestructible 2004/05 side that won the league.
Further to this, Michy Batshuayi of Marseille has already impressed after his arrival from Marseille. A couple of goals to his name in the premature stages of his Chelsea career will only give him and the team confidence going forward. Finally, the return of David Luiz is an interesting one, and one which could go one of two ways. After letting the Brazilian depart in 2014 to join Paris Saint Germain for £50 million, it came as a bit of a shock that he was bought back for £30 million, especially after numerous shaky performances at the bridge. Despite this, Chelsea will be up there in the running for the league, it must remain vital for Chelsea’s key men to sustain high level performances.
Chelsea’s North London rivals Arsenal have also upped their game. The Gunners were one of the only sides to actually perform well last season. A 2nd place finish the outcome of the 15/16 season, a slight feeling of disappointment lingered around the Emirates however. The biggest issue for Arsenal was goals, with only Giroud being their out and out striker whenever he went on a bad patch of form the goals seemed to dry up. Arsene Wenger has taken to this issue and has recruited Deportivo’s Lucas Perez. With 17 goals and 8 assists in the league last season, he looks to be a signing which will bolster the Gunners’ frontline.
Another signing Arsenal fans have been crying out for over a long period of time now, is a new centre back. Wenger chose Skhodran Mustafi, the world cup winner from Valencia, for an estimated £30 million fee. There was one more noticeable signing which Arsene Wenger made at the very beginning of the window- Granit Xhaka. A leader in the middle of the pitch, he captained Borussia Mönchengladbach last season and had a brilliant Euro’s with Switzerland. The Gunners always manage to find a way of finishing inside the top four, even if they haven’t played amazingly well, with these additions; it looks even more likely they can continue their pursuit of finishing there, but also challenge for the league. They are not firm favourites, but they are in the running.
Finally, the outsiders, Tottenham Hotspur. A disappointing 3rd place finish last season seemed unthinkable when they beat Stoke 4-0 away , leaving them just 5 points behind the leaders , Leicester , with 4 games to go. However, they lost the plot in the final matches and fell adrift. Nonetheless, it was still a brilliant season for Spurs , who are usually more accustomed to a 5th/6th place finish, having only been in the Champions League once before.
This high flying season was mainly down to the goal scoring prowess of Harry Kane, and the dynamic duo he created with Dele Alli. Kane’s 22 goals beat his tally of 21 from the previous season. Spurs completed 4 signings in the window which will help them add depth to their current squad. Vincent Janssen, who bagged 27 goals and 4 assists in 32 games for Az Alkmaar in the Dutch League last season was signed for £17 million and will provide Kane with a striking partner. Southampton’s mass exodus over the past few seasons continued, as Victor Wanyama, the Kenyan midfielder made the switch to White Hart Lane. Most notably however, was the deadline day deal of Moussa Sissoko from Newcastle. It appeared that the Frenchman was signing for the Toffees, conversely he changed his mind at the last moment. A £30 million capture saw him join up with Mauricio Pochettino’s men.
All of the big sides have strengthened on a large scale, which has increased the quality of each sides team collectively. With the new arrivals of some of the biggest managers in world football like, Antonio Conte, Pep Guardiola, and Jose Mourinho, this adds to the already brilliant list of managers in the league, such as Jürgen Klopp, Mauricio Pochettino, Arsene Wenger, and Claudio Ranieri. This will only make the competition even fiercer than it already is.
The big sides have noted their failings from last year and are looking for vengeance. With all the teams looking back to their best and hungry for success, this year looks as if it will be tantalisingly close and will conjure up some truly unforgettable moments.
By Tom Cavilla, 18 years old.