The Premier League is back along with its old cliche: “We could be in for a really interesting season!” But when you think about it we really could be. Many clubs find themselves going into the new season, entering the unknown. In their post treble campaign, Man City will be ready for more glory, however, Arsenal have loosened their purse strings this summer and splashed the cash like never before. Can Arteta’s reinforcements help him conquer the Premier League in attempt two? Burnley’s renaissance led to them steamrolling the Championship but how will Kompany’s innovative tactics compare against better opposition? Chelsea and Tottenham are used to dining at the top table in the Premier League but which Chelsea will turn up this season and if Harry Kane does leave for Bayern, surely their situation can only get worse?
Almost every team, if not all 20 of the Premier League sides find themselves at a crossroads going into the 2023/34 season.
The Gunners took everyone by surprise last season including themselves, it seemed, and were dominant for the majority of the season. In fact they were top of the table for 248 days, the longest ever for a team who then failed to win the league.
However the board have clearly realised just how close they were to the Premier League title as they have got the wallet out, spending approximately €230m. The introduction of Jurrien Timber should improve Arteta’s defence and provide the quality in depth that they lacked towards the business end of the season. The new but familiar faces of Declan Rice and Kai Havertz should also help bolster the midfield in the wake of Xhaka’s exit.
Arsenal probably look the most stable out of the big 6 sides at the moment but we have seen them bottle bigger advantages than the one they have at the start of this season… So can Arteta’s reinforcements help him conquer the Premier League Throne in attempt two?
Aston Villa were another side who surprised a few of us last season when after 13 games and just 12 points Steven Gerrard was given his marching orders. In came Unai Emery transforming Villa from relegation candidates to European Contenders.
With European football secured along with the signatures of Pau Torres, Moussa Diaby, and Youri Tielemans, the Villans look dangerous going into the new campaign and Villa fans will be feeling very excited ahead of their European tour.
Emery is obviously a specialist when it comes to European football, with 4 Europa Leagues and a UCL semi-final appearance under his belt from his time in Spain. However, it will be interesting to see whether or not his side can enjoy the same rich vein of form in the Premier League whilst having their “good ebenings” in Europe as that balance can be tricky to find. Which will they prioritise this season?
Bournemouth were favourites to be relegated last season after disappointing recruitment and those predictions probably would have been proved correct if it wasn't for the wins secured under Gary O’Neils brief tenure. However, much to the disbelief of fans, it wasn’t enough for him to keep his job as Andoni Iraola was appointed as his replacement. Iraola is a Marcelo Bielsa disciple so expect to see plenty of headless football on the south-coast.
However, despite the surprise sacking of O’neill, Bournemouth fans will likely be fancying their chances of survival this season, with quality signings being made. Football manager players will probably be familiar with wonderkid left back Milos Kerkez whilst Justin Kluivert will be looking to finally deliver on the potential his surname implies. Reports also suggest that Castrovilli and Bristol City star: Alex Scott could be making the switch to the Vitality stadium soon.
Will these seemingly shrewd signings ensure the Cherries’ survival or will the sacking of Gary O’neil prove a ludicrous decision?
Since their promotion in 2021, Brentford have recorded a 13th and 9th place finish and have held their own against the big guns. In their first premier league game in 2021, they saw off Arsenal in a 2-0 victory and claimed 21 points from the “big six” last season, including a 4-0 dispatching of Man United.
The Bees netted 58 goals last season with their biggest contributor: Ivan Toney being involved in 24 of them (20 goals and 4 assists). Could the suspension of their talisman, until January, see Brentford struggle in front of goal and thus in the Premier League, despite their recent success?
The man who was keeping them out at the other end, David Raya, has joined Arsenal on a season long loan. Disruption at both ends of the pitch is never helpful.
The Seagulls are probably one of the most exciting sides outside of “the big six” with their knack for scouting young and exciting talent and implementing them into their possession based system. Under De Zerbi’s stewardship, Brighton have earned themselves a spot in the Europa league this season and whilst they have proved they can compete at a high level, they face a similar problem to Villa in finding the balance between the domestic competitions and the Europa League.
De Zerbi could also be about to see his midfield ripped apart with Alexis Mac Allister having already joined Liverpool and Moises Caicedo’s future at the AMEX up in the air. James Milner and Mahmoud Dahoud have been brought in as replacements but with their age and lack of minutes respectively, the Seagulls may not be adequately equipped in the middle of the park. Knowing Brighton, they will probably just pluck another South American wonderkid out from nowhere, but could De Zerbi’s midfield conundrum and participation in Europe see them dip in the Premier League?
When Burnley were relegated in 2022, many rival fans were probably glad to see the back of them with their “boring”, “hoof it long” and “11 men behind the ball” approach. However, Burnley’s renaissance led to them steamrolling the Championship and Vincent Kompany’s side now return to the Premier League with a very different ethos. However, will they miss their star loanees Nathan Tella and Ian Maatsen who have returned to their parent clubs and will Kompany’s tactics hold up against better opposition?
A new manager and an almost new team. Probably the biggest unknown quantity of them all: Chelsea, were diabolical last season. After spending a world record €600m in one season, The Blues finished in an abysmal 12th place. A squad too big for the changing rooms, players who didn’t want to be there, 4 managers… Chelsea were a mess.
However, after an exodus this summer raking in over €250m, the Chelsea squad seems a lot leaner and happier and with Pochettino now at the helm they can only get better…right?
There is seemingly still a long way to go for Chelsea but Pochettino seems to fit the club ethos of developing young talent whilst also having the authority and pedigree that Potter and Lampard probably lacked.
The lack of European football this season could be a blessing in disguise and provide an opportunity for a much needed reset at Stamford Bridge, but which Chelsea side will turn up this season? Can Chelsea earn their seat back at the top table of the Premier league or is it a long road back for the Blues?
One point above Chelsea last season were their London neighbours Crystal Palace, who at one stage, looked like they could also be dragged into the relegation dogfight. However, the sacking of Viera and the re-summoning of Roy Hodgson led to a standard mid table finish for the Eagles.
The appointment of Roy Hodgson does seem like a “two steps forward, one step back” approach by the Palace board, and they probably should have just let him retire in peace, but he does tend to deliver what is expected even if he doesn’t exceed that. The departure of Zaha will leave a huge hole in the dressing room, and Crystal Palace as a whole, so perhaps the familiarity of Hodgson will help maintain some much-needed stability at Selhurst Park.
Everton have led a very charmed life in the top flight these past couple years and they seemingly refuse to take being on the brink of relegation as a wake up call.
If anyone is able to give those Everton players the shake up they need it’s Sean Dyche. Just like the fans, he won’t take too kindly to half hearted displays resulting in points being dropped. However, will players being too scared to face the angry Dalek be enough for them this season?
Arnaut Danjuma and Ashley Young…Despite their experience within the English game and in Europe, they’re not really the kind of signings that you should rely on to keep you in the Premier League. From his time at Burnley, we know that Dyche can work with a shoe-string budget and still produce results but there is clearly a deep-rooted culture problem at Goodison Park. If they are ever truly going to get back to where they belong then things surely need to change higher up?
After a modest 10th place finish, the Cottagers will be looking to consolidate their Premier League status with a similar season. Marco Silva being approached by AL Ahli in Saudi Arabia will have put those plans in jeopardy, but Fulham fans will feel more than reassured after his decision to reject the £40m contract.
Mitrovic, on the other hand, doesn’t seem as invested in the Fulham project and that could be a real problem. Al Hilal were reportedly ready to triple the Serbian’s wages of £120,000p/w but were reluctant to pay the £50m asking price that Fulham demanded. Mitrovic has reportedly joined the ever growing group of players exercising their “player-power”, by refusing to play for the club, after they priced him out of the move. If his threats are to be believed then Fulham will need to replace his 15 goals and assists that he recorded last season.
Raul Jimenez has been brought in for a shrewd £5.5million but since his nasty head injury sustained in 2020, the Mexican has looked a shadow of his former self. Therefore, his signature may not be enough for the Cottagers to replicate their goal tally this season.
Since Jurgen Klopp’s arrival at Anfield in 2015, he has revitalised the Liverpool squad and taken them back towards the summit of world football, enjoying success domestically and in Europe. Last season however, Liverpool's ageing and injury prone midfield were the shackles holding them back from UCL football and furthering their success. Therefore a midfield rebuild has been very much at the forefront of Liverpool’s agenda this summer.
So far we have seen the departures of club Captain Jordan Henderson and Fabinho as they go off to enjoy their lucrative new contracts in Saudi Arabia. Meanwhile, Brighton have continued their recruitment of exotic named, South American wonderkids, by signing James Milner. Arthur Melo has gone back to Juventus after a 13 minute kick-about and Fabio Carvalho has joined Leipzig on loan. Medical room regulars Naby Keita and Alex Oxlaide Chamberlain have also left the club permanently.
On the other hand, Dominik Szoboszlai and Alexis Mac Allister have joined the ranks which is a step in the right direction for rejuvenating the squad. However, with that amount of outgoings and only 2 coming in as replacements, Liverpool could find themselves lacking in depth and experience, bar Thiago. The Red’s are in hot pursuit of Romeo Lavia who impressed for Southampton last year, but seem reluctant to meet the £50m asking price. We have seen Trent Alexander Arnold play an inverted full back role, joining the pivot, and as a 10 for England, but then they’re not adequately equipped at right back. With their opening game against Chelsea just around the corner, surely they need to hurry up and get a few more in?
Every season there’s one team doomed for relegation in the eyes of the fans. This time that team is Luton. However as we all know too well, this is football and anything can happen. Although Bournemouth proved many wrong last season by avoiding the drop so surely it would be blatantly naive to make that same mistake twice?
Just ten years ago the Hatters were playing non league football in the National League or as it was called then: the Conference Premier. Therefore they do come into the Premier League as minnows; a small fish in a humongous pond.
However, as much as people have joked about Kenilworth Road on social media, its quirks and kinks do make it unique in the Premier League. Perhaps that could make it a difficult place for teams to go this season… as Burnley have already found out. Their fixture there has been postponed due to stadium uncertainty.
Bigger miracles have occurred and better fairy tales have been written in the Premier League than Luton staying up this season, so maybe don’t write them off just yet.
All good things come in threes. Manchester City have further asserted their dominance in England by winning the last campaign of their Premier League “three peat” and have finally established themselves as Champions League winners with the most prestigious trio of them all: the Treble.
This season Manchester City will be ready for more glory and will probably be as ruthless as ever. However, with their Captain and clutch-moment king Ilkay Gundogan having left on a free transfer to Barcelona, Mahrez moving to Saudi and Kyle Walker’s future up in the air, it’s safe to say that the sky blue boat has been rocked.
However, Pep Guardiola seems to steady the ship against these harsh currents every summer. He’s lost plenty of captains before such as Kompany, David Silva, Fernandinho and now Gundogan. In fact the Man City arm band has almost just turned into a leaving present for senior players nearing the end of their contracts, and with an array of heirs such as De Bruyne, Rodri, Ederson, Walker (if he stays), lined up behind Gundogan, the German’s departure shouldn’t cause too much of a stir. The additions of Kovacic, Gvardiol and an even bigger confidence boost from winning the Champions league, should also strengthen City’s pursuit of their fourth Premier League in a row - never done before.
The “Citizens” do tend to give teams a head start before blowing everyone out the water but after having to chase Arsenal down for the majority of last season, they might need to start firing straight out of the blocks; especially after the Gunner’s having strengthened even more this summer. Could we be in for another agonisingly close title race between the Master and his Apprentice?
In the 2021/22 season, Man United conceded as many as they scored, an embarrassing goal difference for a club of their stature all things considered. Ten Hag did improve the defensive stats last season with David De Gea even winning the golden glove, despite 4-0 and 7-0 thumpings away at Brentford and Liverpool respectively. This accolade wasn’t enough for the Spaniard to earn himself a new contract though and after over a decade at the club, De Gea has left as a free agent. Therefore Andre Onana becomes the latest ex Ajax man to reunite with Ten-Hag and many fans are raving about his arrival. He has proven himself as a great shot stopper and a top distributor, which is something De Gea lacked, but his erratic tendencies can cause trouble for his team, which is something United fans may need to be wary of. There’s a fine line between a sweeper keeper and a nut case (well maybe not that fine).
Despite conceding as few as runners-up Arsenal last season they still scored 30 less. The attacking situation at Old Trafford clearly wasn’t good enough last season and that was most likely down to the absence of a decent striker. When Ronaldo was frozen out, the second coming of Peter Crouch: Wout Weghorst was brought in with low expectations and still managed to disappoint, scoring 0 league goals in 17 appearances. If it wasn’t for Marcus Rashford’s post World Cup purple patch, the Red Devils could have found themselves much lower down the table.
In search of success in front of goal, Man United seemed to have taken inspiration from their sky blue rivals and got themselves a B-Tech Haaland. Scandinavian heritage, a similar surname and a supposed hammer of a left foot, Rasmus Holjund has been brought in for €75m to help Ten Hag bring the Man City era to an end. However, with just 9 league goals in 32 appearances for Atalanta in the Serie A, Hojlund has a lot to catch up on if he is ever going to compete with the Cyborg-Viking. Manchester United have now spent close to €300m on a front three of Sancho, Antony and Hojlund and so far neither of the two wingers have lived up to their price tag and the new man is apparently nursing a back injury. Surely they can’t rely on Rashford’s output alone?
“Eras come to an end!” - A bold statement from Erik Ten Hag when he joined Manchester United and the Premier League. Last season he laid a relatively subtle foundation to support his claim with a third place finish but now it’s time to progress.
A new era is very much underway at St James’ park and it’s off to an electrifying start. The Saudi takeover has pumped money and belief into a side that was struggling in the bottom half of the Premier League not that long ago. Now the Toon Army find themselves on a European tour in the Champions League for the first time since the 2002/03 season.
Eddie Howe has undeniably exceeded expectations so far by earning a 4th place finish last season but now he has set a precedent for himself. He will likely be rewarded with security for his success last season, but he now needs to continue delivering to progress.
We have seen how promising young managers like Graham Potter have struggled when performing on the main European stage. Therefore, it will be interesting to see whether Howe can cope with his first Champions League Campaign alongside maintaining their position in the league. Although his career so far has risen all the way from League Two, turning it up a gear isn’t something that has ever seemed to phase Eddie Howe, but the Geordies have got a taste for winning now. They will expect big things.
Newcastle have also introduced English talents Harvey Barnes and Tino Livaramento to the squad who provide more of the quality in depth the Magpies will need when competing in Europe and domestically. Meanwhile, the exciting addition of Sandro Tonali to their midfield ranks bestows European experience upon the rest of the squad as they enter uncharted territory. Can Newcastle rebook their place in Europe this season?
Forest caused a stir in the transfer market last season, signing enough players to make Steve Cooper look even more lost as they narrowly avoided relegation. This Summer’s transfer approach has starkly contrasted the previous with less quantity but not necessarily more quality.
Elanga probably looks the most interesting of the signings after showing glimpses of potential at Manchester United but he’ll have to improve on his 0 goals scored last season if he is to aid Forest in their survival bid.
The biggest issue the club face at the moment though is the reported “millions” they owe in unpaid bonuses to players and agents. According to several reports, if they do not resolve this issue immediately they could face legal action.
Turbulence off the pitch is the last thing you need when you’re aiming for Premier League survival but that aside, is the Forest squad strong enough to go again this season?
Sheffield United what are you doing? Since earning promotion via the automatics, the Blades have arguably lost the majority of their best players and the only thing they look threatening of, is falling on their own sword.
Despite offering him the number 10 shirt, significantly higher wages, two separate release clauses and being so certain of his contract renewal that they had already filmed the announcement video, Sheffield United have lost Ilman Ndiaye at the 11th hour. The Senegalese international recorded 14 goals and 11 assists for Paul Heckingbottom’s side in the Championship last season and was undoubtedly their best player, but at the last minute he decided to join his boyhood club Marseille. After losing their starboy in such a heart wrenching fashion, you would have expected Sheffield United to be desperate to cling onto their other assets in hope of their squad not deteriorating any further. However, the hierarchy have also sanctioned the sale of Sander Berge to fellow promoted side: Burnley.
In a world where stupid transfer fees get thrown about left right and centre, Sheffield United seem adamant on selling their players for peanuts. Are they doomed from the get go?
Out of all the “Big Six” clubs, Tottenham are really the only side who haven’t achieved anything in recent years. They came third in a two horse race when Leicester won the league in 2016 and were on the wrong end of one of the most uneventful Champions League finals we’ve seen in 2019. That drought of silverware doesn’t look like it will end any time soon.
Jose Mourinho and Antonio Conte had won a trophy at every single club they’d coached until they took over at Spurs which has seemingly made them a very unattractive club for the top managers. Therefore, they have taken a chance with the relatively unproven Ange Postecoglou, although what is there to lose? They finished 8th last season and have no European football so the aim will undoubtedly be to end their absence swiftly. However, a more steady approach to set up future success and maybe even some silverware would probably be a wiser decision. Knowing Daniel Levy though, he probably won’t have the patience for that.
Spurs are well and truly stuck in a rut and their only shining light from the past few years has probably been the partnership of Kane and Son. Statistically they are the best duo ever in the Premier League combining for 47 goals. However with Son off the pace last season and Harry Kane potentially being let out of Daniel Levy’s basement to join Bayern, Spurs really don’t look that threatening at all without them. How do you replace the second highest scoring Premier League player of all time?
Every year it becomes more apparent that someone needs to hit the reset button at Tottenham if they are ever going to compete for silverware. But when losing Harry Kane is a part of that reset, it makes it even harder.
When else have you seen a fan base enraged with their board so soon after winning a European title? Since winning the Europa Conference League, West Ham have said goodbye to their best player Declan Rice in exchange for a record breaking £105m, and Gianluca Scamacca who never really clicked in Moyes’ system. With a European title under your belt and a bigger one to compete for next season with a war chest of over £100m, West Ham fans were not unjustified in expecting a few replacements to come through the door but so far they have been left massively disappointed.
Manchester City youth star Carlos Borges looked all set for West Ham until Ajax hijacked the deal and secured his signature. Since then there has been no tangible activity from the Irons to talk about. West Ham already struggled in the league last season and their squad has taken a huge hit in losing Rice. They could be in real trouble if they don’t get an adequate replacement in soon.
Moyes is reportedly growing increasingly frustrated with the situation and his dismissal is apparently being discussed by the West Ham Hierarchy but a sacking so close to the start of the Premier League season could be detrimental to a club already in transfer turmoil.
Can a side with a weaker squad, that finished 14th last season, really compete in both the Premier League and the Europa League?
Wolves are reportedly close to breaching FFP regulations and so the budget is tight to say the least. Having an obligation to buy Matheus Cunha for €50m certainly hasn’t helped and is anything but money well spent after he only recorded 2 goals during his loan from Atletico Madrid. Poor Business like this is probably what has led to having to sell their star man Ruben Neves to Saudi Arabia for €55m. Swapping out quality for mediocrity like that will not help Wolves’ case going into the new season.
The lack of incomings will definitely restrict Wolves especially in the attacking department after recording the lowest goal tally in the league last season. Sasa Kalajdzic and Fabio Silva will both return from injury and loan respectively to replace Jimenez and Costa who have both left the club, but they hardly seem like much of an improvement. Kalajdzic comes off the back of a nasty ACL injury sustained just 46 minutes into his Wolves debut last season whilst Fabio Silva returns from two uneventful loan spells at Anderlecht and PSV; still yet to justify the €40m spent on him.
Wolves were fairly poor last season and their squad has only got worse and with Lopetegui reportedly considering his future already, could this be the season that the howlers, Wolves have had in the transfer market, come back to bite them?
Which way to turn?
Clearly there is still time in the Summer transfer window for every club to improve or worsen their squad but with the Premier League looming, integrating players into their ranks becomes much harder, especially for those players preparing for a relegation scrap. Every team is at a crossroads this season but which way will they go? Bring on the 2023/24 Premier League season!
© Joe Davison | The Aftermatch 2023