As the 2017/18 Premier League season fast approaches, Richard Jolly provides his team-by-team guide and predictions.
Premier League 2017/18 preview: Team-by-team guide and bottom half predictions
Sam Allardyce’s resignation could be the making of Palace or the breaking of them. The former England manager promises safety. Frank de Boer brings rather more ambition, but also the risk that grander plans will backfire. Yet there is potential. Palace were the most talented team in the relegation battle last season and they have kept Wilfried Zaha. Improve upon a miserable home record and reduce the defeats at Selhurst Park from 11 and there is scope to climb higher in the league, even with a comparatively small transfer budget after Allardyce’s January buys. It gives De Boer less room for manoeuvre, though he has borrowed midfielder Ruben Loftus-Cheek and is clearly targeting defensive reinforcements. It will be instructive how he fares with his predecessor’s players.
Player to watch: Christian Benteke. Benteke averages 14 league goals a season in his time with bottom-half sides, statistics that mean he goes a long way towards keeping them up. The intrigue lies in seeing how a target man will fit into a De Boer side or if the manager, like Jurgen Klopp, wants a different sort of striker.
Signing to watch: Jairo Riedewald. Any manager’s first buy can be a reflection of him. Riedewald, as De Boer was in his playing days, is a left-footed centre-back from Ajax. If the manager will be judged on his protege’s efforts, Riedewald also must compensate for the loss of Mamadou Sakho, who was excellent last year.
Point to prove: Yohan Cabaye. Excelled in his first few months at Selhurst Park but did not justify his sizeable salary last year. With Jason Puncheon the new captain, Luka Milivojevic a revelation after his January arrival and the possibility De Boer will only play two central midfielders, it will be instructive if and where Cabaye features.
Talking point: De Boer’s style of play. The Dutchman’s preference for a passing game means he could be a revolutionary. Palace have been accustomed to having a minority of possession under their British managers. De Boer’s use of a 3-4-3 formation, including Andros Townsend as a wing-back, in pre-season marks another change. Can his players adapt to it?
WEST BROMWICH ALBION
Tony Pulis recorded his highest ever Premier League finish last season but 10th place still felt anti-climactic after West Brom spent an age in eighth and finished with one point from the last 24 available. The summer began badly, too, with influential captain Darren Fletcher decamping for Stoke City. At least Jonny Evans, who inherited the armband, will stay but it has been a frustrating time. While the Egyptian Ahmed Hegazy has been borrowed, Pulis has struggled to sign a first-choice centre-back, leaving West Brom perhaps reliant on 37-year-old Gareth McAuley again. It is a reason why this season promises more of the same: at least, given Pulis’ record, that includes safety. But, considering the style of play will remain uncompromising (and bringing back former manager Gary Megson as Pulis’ assistant is unlikely to improve the aesthetic appeal), will that be enough for the fans and owners?
Player to watch: Salomon Rondon. Operating as the lone striker in a Pulis team can seem a thankless task. The workhorse Rondon went on a 19-game goal drought last season, partly because he was starved of service. It exacerbated a reliance on defenders to head in corners but, when granted the chance, the Venezuelan can be a matchwinner.
Signing to watch: Jay Rodriguez. Pulis finally got a player he wanted to sign last summer. It is a question, though, which Rodriguez he has recruited: the potent winger who scored 15 Premier League goals in 2013/14 or the one sat out 16 months through injury and has never recaptured that form since then.
Point to prove: James McClean. Has developed into a matchwinner at international level but could do with displaying similar form in his club’s colours. The Irishman only got one league goal last season as Pulis preferred Matt Phillips, Nacer Chadli and Chris Brunt on the flanks while McClean was a regular substitute.
Talking point: Can Albion get any younger? They had the oldest average age in the division last season, 29 years 322 days, and it was not just due to McAuley. Pulis tends to sign experienced players but in Jonathan Leko and Sam Field, he has two teenagers pushing for more opportunities if he can shed his short-termist approach.
Stoke had been paragons of consistency, recording three straight ninth-place finishes before slipping to 13th last season. It was a rather joyless affair, and it seems to have had consequences, with Marko Arnautovic decamping to West Ham United. With Glenn Whelan and Jonathan Walters going, Stoke have lost two pillars of their Premier League years, though Darren Fletcher promises to be the most solid of additions in midfield. There is at least one cause for optimism as they should have a fully-fit Jack Butland for the whole year. Yet the fixture list offers concern. Stoke started slowly in the past two seasons. Now their first three home games are against Arsenal, Manchester United and Chelsea. There is the potential for Stoke to be in the relegation zone again. Perhaps that may place Mark Hughes under pressure, if only with the crowd.
Player to watch: Saido Berahino. The January signing was bought with the long term in mind, as Hughes kept saying, but he failed to score in his first 13 Stoke appearances and has now gone 17 months without a goal. With Peter Crouch in his 37th year, it is imperative Berahino fires. It is also a moot point if he can play alone in attack.
Signing to watch: Kurt Zouma. After displaying such promise, the defender is yet to get his career back on track following a cruciate ligament injury. He probably would have remained on the bench at Chelsea. After being borrowed by Stoke, he should play regularly, but may have to replace the influential Bruno Martins Indi if the Dutchman does not return.
Point to prove: Bojan Krkic. The rather fanciful nickname of “Stokealona” rather disappeared after the former Barcelona man lost his place to Joe Allen and was loaned to Mainz last season. Now Bojan is back but, unless Hughes revives the tactic of using the diminutive forward as a false nine, he needs the No 10 role.
Talking point: Can they beat good sides? Previous campaigns have featured morale-boosting triumphs against the top teams. Stoke’s only wins last season came against Sunderland, Hull, Swansea, Watford, Burnley, Crystal Palace, Middlesbrough and Southampton. It meant they had a year featuring barely any highlights, a worrying state of affairs for a mid-table club.
Founded in 1890, Bournemouth recorded their highest ever league finish in 2017. Eddie Howe inherited a club 91st in the pyramid. Now they have come ninth and, realistically, it is hard to improve upon that. Their precocious manager has taken the right approach by seeking to strengthen his side. Bournemouth outscored Manchester United last season but still bolstered their attacking armoury with Jermain Defoe. The more significant additions could be the £20 million (Dh96.6m) centre-back Nathan Ake, who impressed on loan last season, and the £10m Asmir Begovic, to replace the erratic Artur Boruc in goal. If Bournemouth retain their fine passing, feelgood factor, ability to win home games and tighten up in defence, they should be safely in mid-table again.
Player to watch: Josh King. Which is the real King? The player who allied speed with a capacity to terrorise defences as he managed 16 goals last season? Or the quick but inconsistent figure who had only scored 12 league goals in the rest of his career? This season ought to say if last year was a one-off or a sign of things to come.
Signing to watch: Jermain Defoe. The temptation is to say a player who has scored 15 league goals in each of the last two signings will guarantee safety. Sunderland still went down despite Defoe’s fine return and Bournemouth are not shrouded in pessimism the same way. A return to a club he first represented 17 years ago is romantic. It could be productive, too.
Point to prove: Jordon Ibe. Twelve months ago, Ibe was Bournemouth’s club record £15m signing. But he soon lost his place as he was outperformed by cheaper signings like Ryan Fraser and Junior Stanislas. The time when he was the most exciting youngster at Anfield seems distant while Howe, criticised for some of his big buys, could do with a return on his investment.
Talking point: The defence. Bournemouth conceded 67 goals last season, 14 more than relegated Middlesbrough. The previous season, they conceded more than demoted Newcastle. Thus far, they have scored enough goals to compensate. Yet the big-money moves for Begovic and Ake are overdue signs Howe recognises they cannot remain as poor or as porous at the back.
It is becoming an annual routine: stay up, sack the manager. If Quique Sanchez Flores attracted sympathy, Walter Mazzarri’s departure is less likely to be mourned by fans or players, especially after Watford finished last season with six straight defeats. While Marco Silva tasted relegation with Hull, his appointment still felt a coup. The demanding Portuguese ought to add more consistency to a side who had too many off-days. He arrives with an outstanding home record, which bodes well. One task will be tightening up a defence that, while injuries are an explanation, was breached far too many times (68), especially considering a phalanx of decent centre-backs. With Will Hughes and Nathaniel Chalobah arriving, the initial focus has been on the midfield but Watford really need to play with more width. Troy Deeney could do with more support in attack, too.
Player to watch: Roberto Pereyra. While Watford have signed a surfeit of players in recent years, few have seemed as exciting. The Argentine showed glimpses of class after his club-record move from Inter Milan until a knee injury curtailed his season. It will be instructive what Silva can do with a playmaker of such ability.
Signing to watch: Nathaniel Chalobah. A modern footballing tale. Chalobah represented England 97 times at various age groups, played 106 times for six clubs while on loan and started a solitary league game for Chelsea. A permanent move to Watford, where he excelled on loan five years ago, offers an opportunity for a defensive midfielder to finally establish himself.
Point to prove: Isaac Success. Great name, great expectations, but a mediocre first year in England. Mazzarri only granted the Nigerian two league starts and scarcely seemed to trust him. Silva may afford him more opportunities, especially as M’Baye Niang has not been replaced on the flanks. Success’s speed could make him a threat.
Talking point: The mentality. The Pozzo's idiosyncratic business model has been justified, but the revolving door of players feels a reason why too few seem to have an affinity with the club, perhaps leading to some anaemic performances and a disconnect with the support. Watford could do with becoming more spirited and more united again.
For the second time in the last decade, Newcastle bounced back at the first time of asking from a relegation that should never have happened. Yet that might seem the simple part. Last year, Rafa Benitez bought players who were equipped for the second tier, planning an upgrade. Yet most of Newcastle’s premier targets have eluded them and while others – Florian Lejeune, Javier Manquillo, Mikel Merino, Christian Atsu and Jacob Murphy – have arrived, Benitez, who missed out Joe Hart and Pepe Reina, still needs a goalkeeper and, arguably, a striker to bolster a squad with too many Championship players. Managerial prowess ought to keep Newcastle up, but should problems recur behind the scenes, then they could be in the battle at the bottom, especially if they do not improve on a record of just five wins from their last 43 Premier League away games.
Player to watch: Dwight Gayle. The former non-league forward became the first Newcastle player since Alan Shearer to score 20 times in a season last year. But while he chipped in with valuable goals for Crystal Palace, he never proved that prolific in the Premier League, where he has tended to be a squad player.
Signing to watch: Jacob Murphy. At £12m, the England Under-21 international is Newcastle’s biggest summer buy. He has also professed himself a fan of the club which, given their fondness for wingers, should further endear a quick, skillful and unpredictable player to the crowd.
Point to prove: Jonjo Shelvey. The playmaker often looked too good for the Championship last season. Equally, the fact he was playing there is a sign that his considerable potential has not been fulfilled. Besides dictating games, Shelvey has to avoid the kind of pratfalls that have littered his career.
Talking point: Harmony, or lack of it. This has felt a summer of discontent, with the suggestion that the relationship between Benitez and owner Mike Ashley has suffered as they have struggled to recruit. Newcastle’s capacity to self-destruct has resulted in relegation before. They must make sure history does not repeat itself.
Swansea took 29 points from the 19 games involving Paul Clement last season. Display that form over the whole season and they would probably finish eighth. The fact they mustered a mere 12 from the first 19 matches indicated how troubled Clement’s inheritance was. He found a winning formula, but that could be disrupted by Gylfi Sigurdsson’s possible move to Everton. Swansea also lack strength in depth, partly a consequence of mixed recruitment in the last two years, leaving them over-reliant on a small core. The big statement in the transfer market has been the £11m capture of Roque Mesa, the midfielder who played the second most passes in the Primera Liga. He highlights how they hope to play. The probability, though, they will neither be as bad as they were in the first half of the 2016-17 campaign or as good as they were in the second.
Player to watch: Fernando Llorente. Assumes an even greater importance if Sigurdsson goes, and he was significant enough last season. His 15 goals were worth 13 points and the target man adapted immediately to English football. The worry for Swansea is that Antonio Conte, who managed Llorente at Juventus, is an admirer. They cannot afford to lose him.
Signing to watch: Tammy Abraham. Of all the many youngsters Chelsea loan out, Abraham may have the best chance of making it at Stamford Bridge; if, that is, he is given a chance. He scored 26 goals for a struggling Bristol City side. Now a forward reminiscent of Romelu Lukaku makes the step up to a higher level.
Point to prove: Mike van der Hoorn. One of last summer’s underwhelming arrivals. The Dutch centre-back looked out of his depth and, while Clement forged a fine partnership of Alfie Mawson and Federico Fernandez, Van der Hoorn and Jordi Amat remain in reserve. Swansea may need them, and will need them to perform rather better than they have done.
Talking point: Replacing Sigurdsson, if he goes. The Icelander chipped in with nine goals from midfield. His tally of 13 assists placed him third in the division. Realistically, Swansea will not find one player that productive. Several others have to chip in and it is also vital that someone takes over as the set-piece specialist.
BRIGHTON AND HOVE ALBION
When a team has taken 182 points in the last two second-tier seasons, it is evident they deserve a shot at the top flight. Brighton’s return after a 34-year absence became a procession last year, thanks to the low-key management of Chris Hughton. He builds terrific Championship teams but it is a moot point if his methods are as effective at the higher level, where 4-4-2 is less of a fail-safe formula. But Brighton should come up with organisation, unity, defensive solidity and an air of optimism among capacity crowds which should serve them well. While it will be intriguing how the young Chelsea forward Izzy Brown fares, they have few eye-catching arrivals, but the often mild-mannered Hughton showed his ruthlessness in replacing the promotion-winning goalkeeper David Stockdale with the Australian international Matthew Ryan. He may need to excel if Albion are to survive.
Player to watch: Anthony Knockaert. Quite simply the best player in the Championship last season, a mesmerising dribbler with a capacity to score superb solo goals. The Frenchman registered 14 goals and eight assists last season in a manner reminiscent of his former Leicester City teammate Riyad Mahrez.
Signing to watch: Pascal Gross. It may be a poor omen that the German midfielder was relegated with Ingolstadt last season. Yet the reason for his recruitment seems clear: Gross fashioned the most chances – 96 – in the Bundesliga. His teammates secured him a mere three assists, but if he continues to create and Brighton are more clinical, he could be a bargain.
Point to prove: Glenn Murray. One of the best lower-league scorers of the past decade has 142 Football League goals to his name, but only 11 at the highest level. That owes something to a lack of opportunities. This will surely be the last for a player who turns 34 in September but who has been a talisman in both spells at Brighton.
Talking point: The finish to the season. Brighton’s last 10 opponents include Arsenal, Everton, Manchester City, Tottenham, Manchester United and Liverpool. They could do with ensuring they have a cushion on the bottom three before then. It helps that the fixture list looks easier in January and February, but it could be a tough ending.
Burnley confounded virtually every prediction by staying up last season, but they had little margin for error as Tom Heaton made the most saves in the Premier League. Ashley Barnes and Stephen Ward arguably played above themselves, perhaps explaining why Sean Dyche has signed striker Jonathan Walters and left-back Charlie Taylor to compete with each. Jack Cork should replace the suspended, but influential, Joey Barton in midfield but Burnley still lack the kind of prolific scorer they cannot afford as Dyche continues to compete in different markets from rivals. The loss of Michael Keane, while expected, was a grievous blow. Survival this season would be almost as great a feat as it was last year.
Player to watch: Robbie Brady. Bought in January, the free kick he scored on his home debut against Chelsea was a sign of the club record buy’s quality. Burnley could do with more regular signs of it. Brady’s set-piece prowess could be particularly important for a side who are not the most creative in open play.
Signing to watch: Jonathan Walters. Resolutely unglamorous, eternally underrated, relentlessly hard-working and a Republic of Ireland international: Walters has all the DNA of a Burnley player. A cult hero at Stoke, he has the potential to take on the same status at Turf Moor. But he turns 34 in September and Burnley must hope they have not signed a declining player.
Point to prove: James Tarkowski. Keane, Ben Mee and Kieran Trippier are all evidence of Dyche’s ability to improve defenders. Tarkowski, the 24-year-old signed from Brentford 18 months ago, has to learn the quickest. A deputy last season, he is set to replace Everton’s £25m buy Keane as centre-back, charged with standing in for Burnley’s best player.
Talking point: The away form. For much of last season, Burnley seemed likely to stay up without winning on their travels. They eventually prevailed at Selhurst Park but still only took seven points on the road. But as it is unlikely they will take 33 at home again, the Clarets have to find ways to win more away.
By every normal criterion, there are reasons to fear for Huddersfield. They finished last season with a negative goal difference, only scored 56 goals in 46 Championship games and conceded more than relegated Wigan Athletic. Yet something abnormal has happened in Yorkshire and the enterprising, upbeat manager David Wagner may be able to confound expectations again. He has been busy in the transfer market, but if the personnel have changed, the high-tempo style of play will not. Apart from the veteran Dean Whitehead, none of Wagner’s squad have proved themselves in the Premier League. It explains why they are red-hot favourites to go down but Wagner’s record in the transfer market was excellent last season. He needs to prove as astute again.
Player to watch: Jonas Lossl. Huddersfield owed their promotion to a goalkeeper, with Danny Ward’s penalty saves in the shootouts against Sheffield Wednesday and Reading proved decisive. But Liverpool refused to loan the Welshman out again so Wagner, who has prospered when signing from German clubs, has borrowed the Dane Lossl from Mainz.
Signing to watch: Steve Mounie. The 22-year-old striker was an £11m club record buy. If he can replicate a 14-goal campaign for Montpellier in Ligue Un last season, Mounie will be a fine buy but he is otherwise untried in top-flight football and new to England. But Mounie is big, quick and awkward to dispossess.
Point to prove: Tom Ince. He has played Premier League football for two clubs and been on the books of a third, but the winger has never been given a proper opportunity at this level. He should now. There is no doubt he is one of the Championship’s finest attackers. Now to show he has the quality the top flight demands.
Talking point: The start. It is often crucial for promoted clubs to begin swiftly. It is all the more important for outsiders like Huddersfield and who took such momentum from a flying start last season, especially as, with potentially winnable games at the start but a tough final four matches, they need points on the board.