2015-2016 League Winner: Leicester City (Previous Season: 17th place)
2016-2017 League Winner Prediction: Impossible to say. Head says Arsenal, heart says Manchester United.
As we come closer to the beginning of football season once more, what better time than now to preview the world’s biggest competition? This year, the teams are stronger and coaching much more formidable. Players have points to prove, teams with no prior success will be yearning to repeat the story of Leicester, and the drama will continue across 38 tense weeks.
Last season, Leicester City did the impossible. Given 5000-1 odds by bookies at the beginning of the season, the Foxes were favorites for relegation and given the longest shot of winning the league in history. Manager Claudio Ranieri took a squad of underdogs and rejects and turned them into the most consistent, hardest to beat, and quite honestly, the best team in the league last year. This year, he isn’t looking to repeat, but merely maintain consistency through a newly expanded campaign of both domestic and European competition. Despite losing key midfielder N’Golo Kante to rivals Chelsea (that is still a weird sentence to see written out), Leicester have strengthened by signing Ahmed Musa for a club-record fee of GBP 16M and are looking to further reinforce through signing both new players and current players to better contracts. I do expect Leicester to put up a good fight this season; however, there is so much quality among the top eight that it will take another miracle for them to repeat a title mount. I won’t be surprised to see them make eighth or ninth, upper table definitely, if they attempt to challenge in Europe. They could perhaps even go as high as sixth if they drop out of the Champions League early and focus on maintaining league form.
The other title challengers are the usual suspects: Arsenal, Manchester City, and Manchester United all top the list of teams that could take home the trophy this year.
Arsenal have signed Granit Xhaka but made no further significant transfer progress – as is tradition. Arsene Wenger, still in charge and still notoriously penny-pinching, may be facing a very important season for his career. He is the longest serving manager in the league and, apart from an invincible season over a decade ago, has been consistently underachieving with a very talented squad. I won’t be surprised to see Wenger leave after this season.
Manchester City have brought in tactical genius Pep Guardiola, poaching the manager from German giants Bayern Munich. To be fair to Guardiola’s achievements, he has walked the Bundesliga for years now and was one of the best managers that Barcelona ever had as well. The problem that most City fans will be complaining about is his, for lack of a better word, creativity in his lineups. Expect to see the Citizens line up without a dedicated defense, five strikers, and still win.
Manchester United, oh my oh my. With Jose Mourinho now at the helm following a turgid two years under Dutchman Louis van Gaal, things are looking up for the Red Devils once more. They have already made large splashes in the transfer market, bringing in Zlatan Ibrahimovic, Eric Bailly, Henrik Mkhitaryan, and are edging ever closer to re-signing Paul Pogba back from Juventus. These four signings fill four holes that desperately needed filled and have been empty for the past four or five seasons now. Being a United supporter will be very exciting this year: with two of the biggest egos in world football now headlining a stagnating club, things are on the up again.
Chelsea have brought in Antonio Conte, the former manager of Italy’s national squad, but it will be a hard go for them this year. After the worst title defense in league history (dropping from 1st to 10th), the team has issues that go much deeper than poor management and team drama that I don’t think will be solved this season.
Tottenham famously collapsed on the final matchday of last season to an already-relegated Newcastle side and failed to finish above Arsenal for the 21st year in a row, a day known as St. Totteringham’s Day . I don’t expect them to mount another title challenge – they were the only serious contenders last season against Leicester (again, a weird sentence to see written out), but lack the consistency and depth that is needed to challenge across Europe and domestically.
If I had to describe my feelings for this year’s Premier League, in one word, it would be this: electric. This year, the league will be an absolute thriller and it will be nearly impossible to make any sort of predictions.