This piece is part of a preview series where we speak to journalists covering Europe’s top leagues. In this edition, we talk to WhoScored’s Ben McAleer as he shares his thoughts on the upcoming Premier League season.
Title winners and Champions League qualifiers:
Title winners is a tough one to call, I feel. Manchester City will be there or thereabouts once more, but Liverpool have strengthened impressively in key areas and are likely to be their nearest challengers. However, City have the more settled squad and should top the table come May. Themselves, Liverpool and Manchester United are set to be finish in the top-3 and I feel Chelsea may pip Tottenham and Arsenal to fourth.
Best player and Golden Boot winner:
Mohamed Salah enjoyed a wonderful debut campaign for Liverpool and has the means to replicate that stunning season, though opponents will know how to keep him in check this time around. Kevin de Bruyne will run him close for the best player gong, but if Chelsea, as expected, can keep Eden Hazard, I think we’ll see him enjoy his best season to date in England. As for the Golden Boot winner, Harry Kane is in with a shout, but a well-rested Sergio Agüero could take the gong this time around. His mins per goal return (one goal every 93.8 mins) was excellent and if he can stay injury free, he could pip Kane and Salah to this accolade.
Best players under the age of 23 to watch out for and those who could have a breakout campaign:
Phil Foden could be one of the young stars of the season. He’s highly rated at Manchester City and elected against representing England U19s this summer to instead go on the club’s pre-season tour, which has gone down well with Pep Guardiola. Wilfred Ndidi continues to shine and there is more to come from the Leicester star. The Foxes’ indifferent form saw his performances fly under the radar somewhat, but the 21-year-old is one of the Premier League’s best ball-winning midfielders. Finally, Angus Gunn is one to keep an eye on. Southampton spent big to sign the 22-year-old goalkeeper and he made the second most saves (139) in the Championship last season and could go on to be a revelation on the south coast.
Arsenal have long needed a ball-winning midfielder and they finally addressed that problem position with the capture of Lucas Torreira from Sampdoria. He may not be the most physically imposing, but neither is N’Golo Kante and he’s perhaps the best in his role in football. The tenacious Uruguayan will quickly establish himself as a fan favourite at the Emirates, both through his all-action displays in front of the defence and his knack for the spectacular goal.
Bournemouth could struggle this term. The impending arrival of Jefferson Lerma is an upgrade on Eddie Howe’s midfield options, but he’s previously shown loyalty to the trio of Dan Gosling, Harry Arter and Andrew Surman and that could impact the Cherries. Huddersfield enjoyed a hugely impressive debut season in the Premier League, and David Wagner deserves immense credit for the Terriers’ performances, but they too could struggle. Finally, Cardiff City’s squad doesn’t look equipped to stave off the drop. The potential return of Marko Grujić on loan would boost Neil Warnock’s squad, yet it could be the Bluebirds, Bournemouth and Huddersfield who drop back into the Championship.
Possible over and under achievers:
Brighton have made some solid signings in the transfer market, with Alireza Jahanbakhsh the standout acquisition. They finished just four points off the top half of the table last time out and if they can improve their defending from set-piece situations, they have the means to close the gap between themselves and the top-10, even with those around them strengthening adequately. Burnley massively overachieved last season to finish seventh, but a repeat looks unlikely. The lack of summer business at the time of writing is a concern, with the Clarets’ capture of Ben Gibson and Joe Hart their only summer signings so far, despite the possibility of a debut in the Europa League group stages. Nick Pope’s shoulder injury is a huge blow and a lack of new signings before the deadline could come back to haunt Burnley.
Possible managerial revelation:
Fulham have added key new faces to the squad, with the captures of Jean Michaël Seri and André Schürrle both stand out arrivals. A new left-back is essential before the close of the window, but Slaviša Jokanović has a very good squad at his disposal. They’ll need to hit the ground running, yet they have a quality squad that played some very nice football last season, particularly on their way to playoff success after a slow start. Having led Watford to the Premier League in 2015 before his departure, the 49-year-old will fancy his chances in his debut campaign at the helm of a top-flight English team. He and the Cottagers could thrive.