Kicking off a big season
PREMIER LEAGUE PREVIEW
T he wait is nearly over as the Premier League returns this weekend after a summer that saw big-name managers arrive and transfer records being broken. Ahead of the big kick-off our chief sports writer Adrian Back sat down with some 7DAYS sport gurus to find out their predictions for the upcoming campaign.
ADRIAN: There has been plenty of big transfers so far, but which do you feel has been the best piece of business? MIKE:
Speak to any Manchester United supporter and they will hope that the free transfer of Zlatan Ibrahimovic will be the best business deal of the summer - but with a reported salary of $265,000 it’s not exactly cheap is it?
For me, Chelsea’s signing of midfield enforcer N’Golo Kante from champions Leicester City is a great deal. He’s that good he’s like having an extra player and he will allow players like Eden Hazard and Oscar to really shine.
Zlatan’s in the Premier League finally, N’Golo Kante’s move to Chelsea was good business by Antonio Conte, while Saido Mane could shine for Liverpool.
But the signing of the summer for me was Leicester retaining top scorer Jamie Vardy and keeping him away from the bright lights of Arsenal. Top deal Claudio.
It’s easy to have your head turned by the obvious big names (Zlatan for free?!) but there have been a lot of other interesting movers that could make a big difference at their new clubs.
Keep your eye on the exciting young talent that Southampton snapped up from the Bundesliga for just $15.5m - Pierre-Emile Hojbjerg - and I’ll be hoping for good things from former Saints star, Victor Wanyama who moves to Spurs for a thrifty $14.2m.
ADRIAN: Do you think Leicester can shock again or will it be one of the established big clubs? MIKE:
I would love to see Leicester retain their title, but I think the other ‘big’ clubs will be too strong of a force.
Pep Guardiola’s Manchester City should be the favourites, but you can’t write off Chelsea under Antonio Conte.
I can’t see Leicester getting anywhere close to what they achieved last year but then again all of the usual suspects are still in transition and Chelsea are still short of a goalscorer or two. I fancy Tottenham to push Man City hard.
While most of us would love to see an underdog do it again, I think last season was an anomaly.
It was such a shock to the system for the big clubs that I believe they will come out all guns blazing to restore the natural order of things.
The two Manchester clubs in particular are not messing around - welcome to the Pep and Jose show…
ADRIAN: There are plenty of big characters on the touchline this year, but which manager are you tipping to steal the headlines this campaign? MIKE:
All eyes will be on Manchester this season. Pep will get City playing well, but there will be lots of pressure on Manchester United boss Jose Mourinho.
Jose won’t just steal the headlines – he will be the headlines. But maybe not always for the best reasons. It should be a fascinating battle between all the bosses. BARRY: They will all make headlines at some stage during the season – and I include Slaven Bilic of West Ham in there too.
But this season will be all about Guardiola. Whether he succeeds in delivering silverware in his first season or fails, it will be interesting to see how he copes in English football.
The Jose Mourinho-Juan Mata saga might well overshadow everything else however.
CLAIRE: I’d love to come up with something other than the obvious here but umm… Pep and Jose - obviously! Two massive characters at two absolutely massive clubs, it’s hard to imagine a week when they won’t lead the back pages. Also keep an ear out for Slaven Bilic if his charismatic Euro 2016 punditry was anything to go by…
ADRIAN: How long will we have to wait for the first manager sacking - and who do you think will it be?
MIKE: The promoted clubs will always find it tough to get results – and I know it’s a cliché, but it’s a results business. The one boss I fear for is Tony Pulis at West Brom. He’s a good manager, but his team may struggle this season.
BARRY: There’s a few managers who have a really tough job on their hands this season.
Tony Pulis will be up against it at West Brom, especially with new owners heading in.
Francesco Guidolin at Swansea is another who could struggle, as could Alan Pardew at Crystal Palace.
But my tip for first on the chopping block is Walter Mazzarri at Watford.
It will be just desserts for the Hornets following their treatment of Spaniard Quique Sanchez Flores last season.
Tricky territory this as just one
CLAIRE: year ago, Claudio Ranieri was the favourite for the sack… look how that turned out.
I’ll plump for Walter Mazzarri at Watford by the New Year. It’s his first managerial job in the UK and his boss is not the most patient - the club has had a high turnover in the dugout as well.
ADRIAN: Looking at the newlypromoted teams – Burnley, Hull and Middlesbrough – do you think any of them can survive and who are you tipping for relegation?
It’s going to be a long slog for these
MIKE: three teams. As well as West Brom and Sunderland, I think the newly-promoted sides will go straight down.
BARRY: Hull are in turmoil, heading into their Premier League return without a permanent manager and no new players on board. I can only see them heading in one direction. Burnley, sadly, just won’t be able to compete as much as Sean Dyche will get the best out of his team.
Middlesbrough have the best chance of survival. Boss Aitor Karanka has seemingly put aside his differences with the club and has done a lot of business in the summer. The key will be how quickly can they gel.
CLAIRE: Most clubs struggle with the transition to the top flight and it won’t be easy for any of them. I’d say Boro have the best chance of staying put - they’ve been away the longest but they’ve had more money to spend to bridge that gap.
ADRIAN: Finally, who is your one player to watch this season?
Eden Hazard. He was pretty much MIKE: non-existent for the majority of the season under Mourinho at Chelsea. But he came good at the tail-end of the year and with Conte now in charge at Stamford Bridge, Hazard will be the main man once again.
BARRY: Anthony Martial. Forget the Premier League’s record arrival – and Zlatan (sorry Ibra). I will be watching Martial this season. He’s had one year to get used to the Premier League following his ridiculous $81 million move from Monaco.
He’s already been sulking after losing his No. 9 shirt to Zlatan so how will he react?
Mourinho doesn’t take passengers so Martial will have to put in the work if he wants to remain at Old Trafford. Also, I’m keen to see how Jordan Rhodes does at Boro now he has his chance in the big league.
CLAIRE: Paul Pogba. He has so much to prove and it will be fascinating to see, 1. how any player lives up to that gargantuan price tag and 2. what stupid haircut he comes up with each week.