Foxes, Mancs, and New Places: A Brief Premier League Preview
Written by: Faizan Malik, UCLA Radio Sports Member
After a long three months the Premier League returned this past weekend and this season bodes to be one of the most exciting of all time. With one of the most tumultuous summers in recent years, fans of the English top flight have been left with a number of burning questions.
How will Leicester City fare?
Leicester City shocked the world last year, when Claudio Raineri led the Foxes to their first and only top flight title. They won the league by playing a pragmatic yet beautiful counter attacking style. Leicester have had a melancholic summer amid transfer rumors surrounding Jamie Vardy, Riyad Mahrez, and N’golo Kante. While Vardy and Mahrez remain in Leicester for now, Kante joined Chelsea for £30 million. The Foxes loss to Hull City this past weekend illustrated how Kante’s loss will affect Leicester. Without Kante acting as the engine of their midfield, they looked vulnerable in the middle. Drinkwater especially looked out of place without his usual midfield partner. Although Leicester bought Ahmed Musa, who should provide a lot to the team if he can gel well with Vardy, they haven’t added much depth to their thin squad. The additional Champions League matches will take their toll on the Foxes and cost them some domestic success. Fortunately for Leicester, they have Claudio Raneiri at the helm. With Raneiri’s quality, I expect Leicester to finish anywhere from 6th to 10th depending on how the Foxes deal with the added pressures of European football.
How will Manchester United’s high profile signings perform?
In July, the Red Devils signed Zlatan Ibrahimovic, one of the most prolific strikers in the world. The next day, they bought Henrikh Mkhitarayan, the Bundesliga Players’ Player of the Season, from Borussia Dortmund. A month later, Manchester United overshadowed both of these impressive additions by signing Paul Pogba for a world record £89.3 million. At times last year Manchester United were lamented as a boring side that lacked creativity. With the addition of these three players and Jose Mourinho as the new manager, the Mancs will be anything but boring. Mkhitarayan, at least on paper, should be able to make a seamless transition to Premier League having previously played in the similarly physical Bundesliga. Furthermore, Mkhitarayan thrived under Dortmund’s direct play, which should help him adapt to Mourinho’s infamous counter attacking tactics. Mourinho helped develop Hazard into one of the best wingers in the world and I have no doubts that he can do the same for Mkhitarayan. Zlatan Ibrahimovic, like Mkhitarayan, has the tools to play well in England. On Sunday, Ibrahimovic had a dream debut against Bournemouth, scoring from 25 yards out. He has the physicality to deal with the toughest tacklers in the league, while he also has the technical skills to create goals for himself. Unless his age finally catches up to him, I fully expect Ibrahimovic to bag around 20 goals and a few assists. Despite being perhaps the most hyped of Manchester United’s recent arrivals, I believe Paul Pogba will initially struggle to adapt to life in the Premier League. Despite starting most game for Euro 2016 runners-up France, his performances were relatively anonymous and hardly representative of his price tag. Pogba performs best as an advanced midfielder, but Mourinho, like Didier Deschamps, may choose to play him in a deeper midfield role. I expect Paul Pogba to start his Manchester United with a bang, scoring a screamer, but then hitting a bad midseason slump. Manchester United fans have nothing to worry about though as Pogba is still just 23 and can only improve. United paid for his potential rather than his current quality.
Can the three newly promoted clubs avoid relegation?
Middlesbrough, Hull City, and Burnley all returned to Premier League action. While Middlesbrough haven’t been in the top flight since 2009, Hull City and Burnley have developed into yo-yo clubs that are constantly relegated and promoted. Middlesbrough have made a statement of intent by bringing in some big names like Alvaro Negredo and Victor Valdes who boast international experience and quality. Additionally, Gaston Ramirez and Stewart Downing, know the ins and outs of the Premier League and will seamlessly transition to life in the top flight. Out of the three promoted teams, Middlesbrough have the strongest side on paper and should be able to steer clear of relegation if they perform to their ability. Hull City, on the other hand, look sure favorites to go right back down to the Championship. Although they managed to beat Leicester on the opening day, Hull City only had 13 available players. Furthermore, the club is in the process of being sold and doesn’t have a manager. Without any semblance of stability on or off the field, Hull will find it difficult to survive the Premier League. Burnley will also struggle this season in the Premier League due to simple lack of quality. Besides George Boyd, the team reeks of mediocrity. Sam Vokes and Andre Gray formed a formidable strike partnership last year in the Championship, but I’m not convinced they have the quality to perform in the Premier League. They couldn’t create many chances in their defeat against Swansea City on Saturday. Unless they bring in some new faces, Burnley won’t survive this Premier League season due to a lack of skill.
Quick Fire Predictions:
League Champions: Manchester City
Champions League places: Manchester City, Manchester United, Liverpool, Arsenal
Relegated: Hull City, Burnley, Sunderland
Best Signing for value: Zlatan Ibrahimovic
Breakout Season: Alex Iwobi
Golden Boot: Harry Kane
Golden Glove: De Gea
Originally published at uclaradio.tumblr.com.