Premier League 2017/18 Preview – Manchester United

Man united

Image: BBC.co.uk

Last season was a bit strange for Manchester United, as they seemed to underperform but still came out of the season with two trophies and a place in this year’s Champions League. Jose Mourinho has taken his squad and strengthened through the spine. Victor Lindelof has come in from Benfica, and the highly-rated centre-back, who can also deputise at right-back, should form a solid partnership with one of last season’s stand outs, Eric Bailly. After the departure of Zlatan Ibrahimovic, United needed a statement signing up front. Romelu Lukaku is a goal-scorer and will easily hit 20 goals this season, but his streakiness at Everton maybe a slight worry for United fans. Despite his goal in the European Super Cup, the Belgian did miss a couple of sitters. However, the morale effect of signing Lukaku ahead of title rivals Chelsea could be even bigger than his on-field impact. United’s signing of Nemanja Matic from Chelsea could be one of the best signings of the summer. Although the defensive midfielder is not one of the most glamourous signings, his presence in midfield will allow Paul Pogba to roam more freely, instead of being bogged down having to focus on the defensive work. A midfield trio of Matic, Pogba and Herrera will get the best out of all three, with Pogba occupying a role similar to the one that he starred in for Juventus. United’s side is beginning to look like a title-challenging squad, but there is still some concerns that Antonio Valencia is their best option at right-back, whilst their plan B of hitting it long to Fellaini is also cause for concern given the presence of Anthony Martial and Marcus Rashford in the squad. As mentioned in my preview for Manchester City, the Manchester derby in early April will be a key game in determining the final position of both sides, and in United’s case could be the determining factor between mounting a title challenge and settling for a top four finish.

Key Player: Paul Pogba. The Frenchman had an okay first season back at Old Trafford, performing well but just lacking that bit of luck. Only Kevin de Bruyne struck the woodwork more often than Pogba last season, whilst only Jordan Henderson averaged more passes per game. With the addition of Matic, Pogba will be free to focus more on the offensive side of his game, which will inevitably lead to a rise in both goals and assists. There will also be less of a spotlight on the midfielder after the arrival of Romelu Lukaku, as he did suffer from close scrutiny and unrealistic expectations due to his then world record transfer fee.

One to Watch: Axel Tuanzebe. The centre-back made his debut back in January in the FA Cup win over Wigan, and went on to appear in five games last season. He was awarded United’s Young Player of the Year award in 2015, as well as the 2017 Reserve Player of the Year award, and now looks ready to step up and make more of an impact on the first team. With fellow youngster Timothy Fosu-Mensah heading out on loan this season, Tuanzebe remaining at Old Trafford indicates that he will feature more often.

Last Season: 6th

Predicted Finish: 3rd

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Premier League 2017/18 Preview – Everton

Everton

Image: Everton FC

Everton have been making headlines this summer as one of the highest spending teams in the division. After impressing at Sunderland last season, Jordan Pickford has become the most expensive British goalkeeper and will look to be Everton’s long-term solution to their lengthy goalkeeper struggles. Michael Keane impressed for Burnley, and has joined for £30m, bolstering a defence that was badly affected by injuries last season. You have to imagine that Everton will be stronger defensively this season, strengthening two positions that were weak links last season, as well as having a full season of Idrissa Gueye, Tom Davies and Morgan Schneiderlin covering every blade of grass in midfield. Davy Klaassen looks as though he will be the replacement for Ross Barkley, who Koeman has seen as expendable. At just £5.2m, Sandro Ramirez could be one of the bargains of the season, but it could be too early to rely on the 22-year-old to replace the goals left by the departure of Romelu Lukaku. This is where Everton’s problems will lie this season though, and this will probably be the thing that stops them breaking in to the top six. There is no 20-goal-a-season striker in their side, and they struggled for periods last season even with Lukaku in the side. The signing of Wayne Rooney is the anomaly in Everton’s business this summer. Apart from Rooney, Everton have looked to sign young players approaching their peak, with the potential to either grow with the club or sell on for a huge profit. Rooney, although a sentimental signing, doesn’t look capable of leading the line for a team challenging for a top six place, nor is he good enough to sit back and pull the strings from a deeper role, especially if the Toffees are successful in their pursuit of Swansea’s Gylfi Sigurdsson. And the less said about Ronald Koeman’s baffling obsession with Cuco Martina the better.

Key Player: Sandro Ramirez. Everton have no real stand out players this season, but the time that it takes for Sandro to adjust to the Premier League could influence how the Toffees fare this year. A product of Barcelona’s youth academy, and having made 17 appearances for the club, Sandro netted 16 goals in 31 games for mid-table Malaga last season. At just 5ft 9, he will not be a like for like replacement for Lukaku, but once Everton adapt their style of play to suit their new players Sandro will certainly be capable of netting the goals to push the Toffees towards a top six finish.

One to Watch: Liam Walsh. The midfielder was a part of the Everton side that won the Premier League 2, the Under 23 league. The 19-year-old scored 6 goals in 26 appearances and won the competition’s player of the month for February. After Tom Davies’ breakthrough last season, Walsh will be keen to follow suit, however it may be tough for the youngster due to the depth in Everton’s midfield.

Last Season: 7th

Predicted Finish: 7th

Premier League 2016/17 Preview – Everton

koeman_everton

Ronald Koeman will attempt to turn around Everton’s fortunes after a disappointing season under Roberto Martinez. Image: The Telegraph

Everton fans went in to this summer with cautious optimism, with new owners, a lot of money and a new ambitious manager. But this optimism has turned to frustration with only Maarten Stekelenburg and Idrissa Gueye joining the club so far. Ashley Williams looks set to join the Toffees, but rather than pushing the squad forward, he is just a necessary replacement, despite arguably being an improvement on the outgoing John Stones. Everton drastically underperformed last time out, and their season was typified by sloppy defensive mistakes. Koeman would expect to solidify the Toffees’ defence, as his Southampton side had one of the meanest defences in the league during his tenure. Ross Barkley and Gerard Deulofeu could flourish without the pressure of a fragile defence behind them, both of whom created nine goals last time out. Whether or not they keep top-scorer Romelu Lukaku, Everton will need more firepower if they are to once again challenge for a European spot, as Arouna Kone is good enough to be so heavily relied up.

Key Man: Ross Barkley. Barkley had his best season last year, but it went heavily under the radar. The midfielder scored eight goals and created nine assists in a team that struggled to live up to expectation. Should Lukaku leave the club, Barkley will need to step up and prove that he can be the main man at Goodison Park.

One to Watch: Kieran Dowell. The promising midfielder made his Premier League debut on the final day of last season, putting in a man of the match performance in the 3-0 win against Norwich. He was involved in two of the Toffees’ goals that day, but may find it hard to break in to Ronald Koeman’s side with the Dutchman’s questionable approach to youth development.

Last Season: 11th 

Prediction: 10th   

Sentimental Chelsea blow title chance?

Deluded Chelsea fans have forced Roman Abramovich in to surrendering the league title and strip apart a successful team. Since Rafa Benitez was named interim boss last year, fans clamoured for the return of ‘the special one’, with this blinding them from what Benitez achieved.

Mourinho is returning to the Bridge after “[his] worst season as a manager”, where a feud with club captain and Real Madrid icon Iker Cassillas blew up in to a full scale players revolt against him. His touchline antics in Spain, such as poking Pep Guardiola in the eye, led to Andreas Iniesta claiming that “he damaged Spanish football”.

Although rows with the likes on John Terry and Frank Lampard seem unlikely, neither is guaranteed first team football, but nor will they be contempt with a place on the bench all season.

Another thing to look out for is the deconstruction of a potential world-beating side. Mourinho has reportedly told David Luiz, who his touted by many as a future Chelsea captain, that he “will be sold if he doesn’t stick to his role”. Then there is the system, a 4-2-3-1, including 2 hard-working wingers who he expects to track back. This system has already seen the demise of Joe Cole and Luca Modric, who’s careers stagnated under Mourinho. The same fate is likely to affect two out of Eden Hazard, Juan Mata and Oscar. This would rip apart what was looking one of the most fearsome attacks in the world.

One positive of Mourinho’s return though is that we are likely to see Romelu Lukaku playing regularly for Chelsea. Mourinho likes strikers in the ‘Drogba mould’, and Lukaku is essentially Drogba without the diving or petulance.  Although this has led to rumours that Fernando Torres is on his way out of Stamford Bridge, Demba Ba is surely the more likely option to be up for sale. Ba, although a decent Premier League striker who will score 15-20 goals a season, is not the calibre of player needed to challenge for the League and Champions League. Torres, however, showed with his form in last season’s Europa League that he is on the road to recovering his best form.

Torres’ form, as well as Chelsea’s Europa League win and solid 3rd place in the Premier League was down to the management of Rafa Benitez. Benitez’s squad management got the Blues through 69 games last seasons with relatively few mishaps. Chelsea would be in better stead for a title challenge with Benitez at the helm, but the fans’ sentiment forced him out.