Pre-season results certainly aren’t the be all and end all, but it’s safe to stay Stoke would have rather not lost to second-tier opponents St. Pauli and Sheffield United.
It’s not been a great summer of business for the Potters either. Marko Arnautovic, their most productive attacker last season, has been sold to West Ham, while the exits of Glenn Whelan and Jon Walters brings the loss of two club stalwarts in the same window.
Kurt Zouma is a sound addition on loan, while Darren Fletcher will add experience in midfield, but there’s plenty of work to be done if Stoke are to challenge for the top half.
To put a positive spin on things, Southampton haven’t (yet) been forced to sell any of their key players in the current window. That makes a pleasant departure from the norm for the south coast side, but the summer still can’t be spun as a success – particularly as Virgil van Dijk is now all but certain to leave this month.
The 21-year-old Polish centre-back Jan Bednarek is the sole arrival up to early August. If he’s intended to be a replacement for Van Dijk, it’s a clear step backwards. Southampton should secure another solid mid-table finish, but it’s difficult to argue they look particularly prepared for the campaign ahead.
Burnley may be embarking on their second successive season at this level, but their budget remains among the lowest in the division. While that naturally makes recruitment difficult, it’s still been an underwhelming summer for the Clarets up to now.
Michael Keane’s exit robs Sean Dyche of his star defender, and Burnley are yet to secure a replacement. Jon Walters and Phil Bardsley are both in their 30s and, at best, only slight upgrades on what went before. Questions continue to linger about the team’s creativity.
Chris Hughton’s men were the first Championship side to secure promotion last term, yet they’re probably least ready for the upcoming Premier League campaign. Of the six permanent acquisitions Brighton have made, only three – Pascal Gross, Matthew Ryan and Markus Suttner – improve the first XI, with Chelsea loanee Izzy Brown an unknown quantity at this level.
It’s also a worry that soon-to-be 34-year-old Glenn Murray, who probably wasn’t a top-flight striker even in his pomp, could start the season as the first-choice line-leader. Brighton are likely to be one of the busiest sides in what’s left of the window.
The signing of Alexandre Lacazette from Lyon is a promising one, while Sead Kolasinac provides another option at the back and didn’t cost a penny. Add to that the strength in depth they’ve managed to accrue in recent years and Arsenal would appear to be in a pretty good shape ahead of the big kick-off this weekend.
Incoming players don’t tell the full story, however. Mesut Ozil and Alex Oxlade-Chamberlain are in the last years of their contracts and could still leave, while Alexis Sanchez seems keen for a change as he also approaches the end of his deal. Arsene Wenger insists the Chilean won’t be sold, but the issue will continue to hang over Arsenal until the window closes.
Tammy Abraham and Roque Mesa look like excellent additions for the Swans, who could be moving back towards the possession-based style of play that characterised their early days in the Premier League. There’s not a great amount of depth at the Liberty right now, though, with departing squad players such as Jack Cork, Jordi Amat, Modou Barrow and Borja Baston likely to be missed (even just a little bit) as soon as injuries bite.
There’s also uncertainty surrounding the futures of Fernando Llorente and Gylfi Sigurdsson, which will prove unsettling until a resolution has been found. A fee of £50m for the latter would represent fantastic business from a Swansea perspective, but until the club have decided what to do with such a windfall, they won’t be completely ready for the task ahead.
Newcastle’s promotion from the Championship was never really in any doubt last time out, and most expect them to survive in the Premier League this year. Still, it’s been a frustrating summer in many regards. Despite the signings of Christian Atsu, Mikel Merino, Jacob Murphy, Florian Lejeune and Javier Manquillo, this is a squad lacking in balance and, in some areas, proven Premier League quality.
Another worry for Magpies fans is the seemingly fragile relationship between Rafael Benitez and the board, although the chances of an imminent breakup seem pretty low at this stage.
13. Crystal Palace
A January splurge meant Palace were never likely to spend big this summer, with Jairo Riedewald (£8m) and Ruben Loftus-Cheek (season-long loan) the only arrivals so far. A right-wing-back, back-up striker and centre-back are still required as Frank de Boer shifts to a 3-4-3 formation – that systemic change in itself affects how ready the Eagles are – while it’s imperative that they keep hold of Yohan Cabaye and Christian Benteke, who have both been linked with moves away.
Away from the transfer market, there’s a general feeling of positivity around Selhurst Park at present, which can only aid Palace’s attempts to steer clear of trouble for the first time since promotion.
12. West Brom
It’s hard to work out whether West Brom’s squad is stronger or weaker than it was when the curtain came down on 2016/17. Jay Rodriguez has the potential to be a fine capture, but it’s hard to shake the suspicion that Tony Pulis will be reluctant to start the 28-year-old striker on a regular basis.
Powerful and rugged centre-back Ahmed Hegazy could conversely become a manager’s favourite, but it was a blow to lose Darren Fletcher despite his advancing years. All in all it’s been a rather underwhelming few months for the Baggies, but you can guarantee that Pulis will at least have his players ready in terms of team shape and organisation.
Mohamed Salah is one of the signings of the summer; the Egypt international may have barely made an impression during his last spell in the Premier League, but he’s the perfect fit for Jurgen Klopp’s style of play. Andrew Robertson is an astute addition at left-back, meanwhile, but the Virgil van Dijk debacle means Liverpool haven’t yet landed a new centre-back, which could fatally undermine their chances of challenging for the title.
Elsewhere, it’s not clear whether Klopp has identified an alternative to leading midfield target Naby Keita, who’s staying at RB Leipzig for at least another a year.
It’s been a pretty strange summer for Chelsea, and it’s not immediately obvious where they should rank in terms of readiness. The level of squad depth hasn’t really improved, Antonio Conte has suggested Nemanja Matic was sold against his wishes, while the notoriously disruptive Diego Costa is in limbo.
A more positive reading would focus on the acquisitions of Tiemoue Bakayoko, Alvaro Morata and Antonio Rudiger, all of whom arrived well in advance of the opening day, as well as the retention of Eden Hazard (even if his ankle injury means he misses the start of the season).
Their preparation hasn’t been perfect and Conte still doesn’t seem entirely happy with the group at his disposal, but Chelsea, as champions, are the team to beat.
9. West Ham
For all the talk of the new stadium, West Ham’s recruitment 12 months ago had just as big an impact on their tumultuous campaign as any other factor. This time, Pablo Zabaleta, Javier Hernandez and Marko Arnautovic should prove to be rather safer buys than the likes of Simone Zaha, Sofiane Feghouli and Gokhan Tore were. Also, loanee Joe Hart is a better goalkeeper than both of last term’s custodians, Adrian and Darren Randolph.
The squad’s average age is of some concern from a long-term point of view, but regardless of the merits and demerits of the Hammers’ general approach to recruitment, they do look reasonably set for the season in front of them. Slaven Bilic will be relying on Winston Reid and Angelo Ogbonna to stay fit, however, as a centre-back pairing of Jose Fonte and James Collins doesn’t inspire a great deal of confidence.
Having assembled the Premier League’s most multinational squad in previous years, Watford have turned their attention to homegrown additions this pre-season. Will Hughes and Nathaniel Chalobah also help to reduce the squad’s average age, while fellow midfielder Tom Cleverley has already proved himself a solid addition, and Kiko Femenia on a free represents fantastic value.
Watford didn’t hang around in appointing Marco Silva at the end of last season. Not only was it an intelligent appointment, but the club also boosted their preparedness for 2017/18 by making it an early one.
Spurs are a tricky one to judge. On the one hand, they’ve not added any fresh blood to a squad which wasn’t good enough to win the Premier League last time out, and their starting XI has been weakened with the sale of Kyle Walker to a domestic rival in Manchester City.
At the same time, though, Mauricio Pochettino’s side will surely benefit from the continuity factor, while a number of Tottenham’s most important players – Harry Kane, Christian Eriksen, Dele Alli – are now a year closer to their primes and should, theoretically, continue to improve. With Harry Winks, Erik Lamela, Cameron Carter-Vickers and Kyle Walker-Peters on hand to play bigger roles this season, a lack of transfer activity is far from a disaster.
6. Manchester United
Jose Mourinho will be expected to oversee an improvement in United’s league position this term, with another sixth-placed finish unlikely to be tolerated. The Red Devils certainly seem to be moving in the right direction; the spine has been strengthened with the arrival of Romelu Lukaku, Victor Lindelof and Nemanja Matic, who are all typical Mourinho second-season signings.
Ivan Perisic is both a good player and a curious transfer target, but even if United don’t land the Inter wideman they’ve still got plenty of depth in attacking areas. The defence doesn’t inspire the same confidence, but it’s worth remembering that Mourinho’s strength lies in team shape and collective organisation.
Huddersfield may not stay up, but they’ve given themselves a fighting chance of doing so. Eight new faces had arrived before the middle of July, including Tom Ince, Scott Malone and the exciting Steve Mounie, while two of last year’s loanees (Aaron Mooy and Elias Kachunga) have penned permanent deals at the club.
Pre-season results have been mixed, but the fact that David Wagner assembled his squad early is a huge advantage for such a hands-on coach. A fast start to the season could be enough for Town to keep their heads above water.
Bournemouth have gone under the radar a little this summer, and that’s exactly how Eddie Howe would have wanted it. Nathan Ake’s arrival for £20m caught the eye but there was broad agreement on the merits of such a signing, while Jermain Defoe guarantees goals at this level (even if the wisdom of offering him a three-year contract is questionable). Asmir Begovic is an upgrade on Artur Boruc in goal.
There have been no major outgoings from Dean Court, with Howe lieutenants Harry Arter, Andrew Surman, Charlie Daniels, Steve Cook and Simon Francis set to play prominent roles once more. Bournemouth appear to be in good shape.
3. Manchester City
Pep Guardiola really didn’t seem to rate Manchester City’s full-back options last year. Bacary Sagna, Aleksandar Kolarov, Gael Clichy and Pablo Zabaleta were all jettisoned by the Catalan, who splurged around £125m on replacements in Kyle Walker, Danilo and Benjamin Mendy.
The trio should make a dramatic difference to City’s fortunes, so too goalkeeper Ederson – an able successor to the puzzlingly save-shy Claudio Bravo. Another central midfielder wouldn’t go amiss, particularly given Ilkay Gundogan’s propensity to pick up injuries, but this is now very clearly Guardiola’s team. And the pressure is on.
Poor recruitment contributed to Leicester’s shoddy first half of last season, so Foxes fans must be pleased that the club appears to have learned its lesson. Kelechi Iheanacho could be one of the signings of the summer – there’s a reason Manchester City have included a buy-back clause in the deal – while defender Harry Maguire and midfielder Vicente Iborra are smart additions.
Leicester have managed to keep hold of Kasper Schmeichel and Wilfred Ndidi too, while there’s even a possibility that Riyad Mahrez could stay put having appeared destined for the exit door. With a clearly defined style of play and options all over the pitch, Craig Shakespeare’s charges might be favourites for eighth.
A caveat: ranking Everton first doesn’t necessarily mean they’ve done the best business. Gylfi Sigurdsson, should he join, is dramatically overpriced at £50m, while it’s not entirely clear how Ronald Koeman intends to fit Davy Klaassen, Wayne Rooney and Sandro Ramirez into the same team – if he intends to at all.
Yet the Toffees deserve credit for completing most of their deals early in the window, an often-overlooked benefit which allows the squad more time to gel and gives the newcomers chance to learn the manager’s methods long before the competitive action gets under way. In reality it was essential, what with their first Europa League qualifier having been played on July 27.
For that reason, and because of the extra depth they’ve secured, Everton take top spot.
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