The carnival of football — English Premier League is back! The much-awaited and popular football league gets underway on Friday night with Liverpool taking on Norwich. EPL over the years have earned the moniker of being the most competitive league in the world and rightly so. After all the battle for top places was so intense last season that 13 time champions Arsenal and record winners Manchester United could only manage fifth and sixth spot respectively on the league table. At the same time,the quality of mid-table clubs have also witnessed a massive surge in the recent seasons, giving the top club a run for their money and making every match a nail-biter.
The 2019-20 season is unexpected to be fought on the similar lines with teams being determined to upset the apple cart and enter the top-six club. We take a look at sides which would lead the charge to break through into top-six:
The summer's most-followed transfer saga was Everton's protracted chase of Crystal Palace's Wilfried Zaha. Despite submitting a bid of 70 million plus James McCarthy and Cenk Tosun on loan, Everton were rejected by Palace even though Zaha put in a transfer request to force a move. With Palace not budging, Everton ended up signing Alex Iwobi from Arsenal on deadline day.
Despite the disappointment of not landing Zaha, Everton had a fruitful transfer window. Only Arsenal (155 million), Manchester City (150 million), Manchester United (145 million) and Aston Villa (125) spent more than Everton's 110 million pounds in the transfer window. The Merseyside club needs to be credited for signing a host of talented players for relatively low prices in an era of inflated transfer fees. The club also cleared a lot of deadwood while also netting upwards of 50 million from the sales of the likes of Ademola Lookman and Idrissa Gana Gueye.
That Everton managed to hold on to last season's stars in Lucas Digne, Gylfi Sigurdsson, Richarlison and Bernard can only be trumped by them signings quality players to bolster their squad. The Blues made Andre Gomes' loan move from Barcelona permanent following his solid showing in the middle of the park last season. They have also roped in the experienced Fabian Delph from City while replacing the influential Gueye with the promising Ivorian enforcer, Jean-Philippe Gbamin.
However, in what may end up being the best bargain signing in the future, the Toffees snapped up 19-year-old Italian striker Moise Kean from Juventus for just 28 million pounds. Everton have struggled with goals upfront ever since Romelu Lukaku's departure two seasons ago but in Kean, they have a talented youngster who can finally be the solution to striking issues. Apart from having an eye for goal, the Italy international can link up well with other attackers while proving to be a handful for defenders with his hold up play.
With ambitious plans to build a new stadium afoot and owner Farhad Moshiri gunning for Champions League football, the upcoming Premier League season presents Marco Silva a golden opportunity to finish in the top four for the first time since David Moyes took them to a fourth-placed finish way back in 2004-05. With Arsenal, Chelsea and United looking shaky, Silva can build on last season’s showing to have a go at the last of the Champions League spots.
After a season and half of turgid football under Claude Puel, Leicester City sacked the Frenchman towards the end of February on the back of a six-match winless run in the Premier League. That paved the way for Brendan Rodgers to return to England after three successful seasons with Scottish giants Celtic. The Northern Irishman’s arrival saw an upturn in performances as the Foxes won six of their last 11 matches which included a 3-0 win over Arsenal and a goalless draw against Chelsea.
Rodgers has bolstered his strike force by signing Ayoze Perez from Newcastle United and the Spaniard will be tasked with sharing the load upfront with the talismanic Jamie Vardy. The pressure will be on Kelechi Iheanacho to finally deliver; another poor season would surely see him being shipped away.
Given the impact he had after joining on loan in January, it was surprising to see none of the top six clubs going in for Youri Tielemans. The 22-year-old Belgian was a breath of fresh air for the struggling Foxes when he was loaned in from Monaco and his 40 million price tag should end up being justified come the end of the season. The 2015-16 champions signed another Belgian in Dennis Praet on deadline day from Sampdoria to compete for the No 10 spot alongside James Maddison.
For all their attacking talent, Leicester's season could end up being undone by their defence. With Harry Maguire departing for greener pastures, the Foxes look woefully short of defensive cover. Wes Morgan and Jonny Evans are on the decline and the likes of Daniel Amartey and Caglar Soyuncu don't inspire much confidence. Rodgers and Leicester might end up regretting not signing a competent defender to replace Maguire.
Under Nuno Espirito Santo, newly promoted Wolves were the surprise package of last season finishing seventh and making it to the Europa League third qualifying round. Backed by super-agent Jorge Mendes, Wolves were always expected to make a strong return to the top-flight but no one could have imagined them ending the season by booking a spot in European football.
With Mendes’ help, Santos bolstered his side by signing experienced Portuguese internationals Joao Moutinho and Rui Patricio while also signing on-loan defender Willy Boly and forward Diogo Jota on a permanent basis. With Moutinho acting as a deep-lying playmaker, Ruben Neves flourished in an attacking midfield role.
However, it was an on-loan player who became the talisman of Santo’s side. Mexican striker Raul Jimenez, loaned in from Benfica, had an instant impact on his arrival to English football. The 28-year-old led the attack alongside Jota as the duo combined for 22 goals and 12 assists in the league. Wolves wasted no time in making his stay permanent and they stumped up 30 million pounds to sign the Mexican on a permanent basis.
Wolves’ biggest challenge in the off-season was to hold on to Santo with many top clubs eyeing the Portuguese tactician. The 45-year-old showcased his tactical nous as he won points against all but one top-six side and it was no surprise that he was among Chelsea’s shortlist of managers to replace Maurizio Sarri.
Wolves had a quiet transfer window as they held on to their stars from last season. Leander Dendoncker, who impressed on loan last season, was signed on a permanent basis from Anderlecht for 12 million. In a bid to curtail their reliance on Jimenez and Jota, Wolves also signed the young Italian forward Patrick Cutrone from AC Milan for just 16 million.
Wolves had the element of surprise last season which allowed them to routinely punch above their weight. That won’t be the case this time around with teams chalking up various strategies to counter their attacking style of play. The prospect of playing the Europa League, though lucrative, could end up harming their league prospects given their reliance on a small group of players.
In the end, it will be down to how Santo manages to balance league and European commitments while also dealing with the weight of expectations.
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Updated Date: Aug 09, 2019 18:07:32 IST