Competitive balance is what’s supposed to make the Premier League great. While the same teams, for the most part, dominate at the top year after year, there hasn’t been a repeat champion since Manchester United won three straight in 2009. Compare that to Germany where Bayern Munich have won six straight titles, Italy where Juventus have won seven straight, or France where PSG has won five of the past six. While there hasn’t been a title race that’s gone down to the wire since 2012, at least it was hard to predict who would win it at the start of the season.
That no longer exists. Manchester City are going to win the league this year. You know it, I know it, everybody knows it. They probably won’t hit 100 points again, and the gap between first and second will likely be smaller than last season, but at the end of the season City will be lifting the trophy again and at no point during the season will that fact be in doubt (Old Takes Exposed here I come!).
What Pep Guardiola has done at Manchester City is effectively turn the Premier League into the Bundesliga. We know who’s going to win it and we know there won’t be a title race, but the beauty of the Premier League (and the Bundesliga) is that everything else will have a race. The rest of the league is going to be a lot of fun.
The betting markets this year have clearly put the league into two sections. There’s the ‘Big Six’ who will be competing for the top four, and the ‘Little 12’ who will be fighting to stave off relegation. Only Everton and Leicester City are stuck in the middle, drastic long shots to finish in the top four or be relegated and seemingly on the way to another mediocre season.
The race for the final three Champions League spots has the potential to either be thrilling, or a case of multiple teams seemingly trying to throw it away.
Liverpool spent a lot of money this summer to bolster a squad that got its act together last January and were easily the second best team in the league over the latter half of the season. According to pretty much every pundit out there, they’re the only ones who may be capable of mounting a title challenge. They should improve on their 75 point performance from last year and anything in the low to mid 80’s, which will more than likely be good enough for second place.
The biggest question comes from the remaining four teams, each of whom are filled with question marks. Not only are last season’s runners up Manchester United big time regression candidates, but they enter the season with Jose Mourinho entering his third year. Things this summer could not have gone much worse, with Mourinho already complaining about anything and everything, while throwing the current players in the squad under the bus. There’s so much turmoil at the club it’s impossible to know if Mourinho will even make it to New Years Day in charge of the club.
United won 81 points last year largely on the back of David De Gea having a historically good season. This summer they did almost nothing to improve their squad, which could be argued didn’t need improving, just better tactics. They weren’t the only club to sit pretty this summer. Tottenham became the first Premier League club in history to not buy or sell any players in the transfer window.
As a fan of the New York Mets, let me be the first to tell you that the “we had injuries but now we’re healthy so our team will definitely be better” strategy is not a good one, as injuries will happen again. Having said that, they have a very young team, the majority of which are about to enter their prime. By default they’re still one of the top three teams in the league.
That leaves us with Arsenal and Chelsea. Both teams changed managers this summer, with Chelsea waiting until hilariously late in the summer to do so, and neither club made any moves that objectively make them any better. Is it possible that both these teams simply just needed a different manager to get more out of their players?
It sure is, but it’s also almost just as likely that things blow up in their faces and they become a dumpster fire. When push comes to shove we could have a situation where the team who finishes fourth gets that spot not because they earned it but because, well someone has to finish fourth.
The real party this year is going to be at the bottom of the table. Once again Premier League teams spent a record amount of money this summer, but this time it was mostly the clubs at the bottom who were doing it.
Teams like Bournemouth and Burnley have found recent success by making few signings and relying on the players who got them promoted to keep them in the Premier League but other than Huddersfield, who barely survived the drop last year, no one else seems to be employing that strategy.
Burnley are coming off a season where they finished seventh, their best ever finish. They did it with a combination of great defense and a whole lot of luck. The team scored just 36 goals all season and were on the fortunate side of opponents missing a whole lot more good chances than should be expected (they finished with a lower xG than their opponents in half their wins).
This year the relegation battle is going to come down to whether teams spent their money wisely or not. Did the newly promoted teams get too reckless with their signings that the new players will disrupt the team and what got them to the Premier League? How will the rest of the clubs signings fit in. Will they make them better or just join the list of high profile busts?
Last season will be remembered for the amount of managers who lost their jobs at the bottom of the table. With the amount of money in the Premier League, teams are too scared to be relegated leading to many clubs pulling the trigger on their manager extremely early in the season. The result of that were many clubs changing their styles to play boring, play-not-to-lose football, rather than playing to win.
Based on this summer’s signings, many teams will come out looking to take the game to their opponents. That’s a great sign for fans but how patient will club owners be with their managers if a string of results go the wrong way?
Only time will be able to answer that question but there’s one thing we know for sure: City may win the league but the rest of the league will be a helluva lot of fun to watch. Let’s get at it!