The 2015/16 Premier League season is less than a week away and there’s plenty to look forward to as always. Chelsea will be looking to hold off the pack of contenders to take away their title in Manchester City, Arsenal, and Manchester United. Their title winning margin of 8 points could have been higher last season such was the way in which they seemed to be set in cruise control for much of the season. There’s no doubt they are the ones to beat this season and with Arsenal, City, and United all strengthening, that gap of 8 points is sure to be cut which should make for a season where we’re on the edge of our seats the whole way through.
*All odds taken from Sportsbet.com.au as at 2/8/15
The Title contenders
Clearly Chelsea will head into the new season as the ones to beat having largely cruised to the title in 2014/15. They burst out of the blocks winning their first 4 games scoring 15 goals in the process and stayed at the top for the rest of the season. They slowed down in the second half of the season where they only scored 32 goals compared to 41 in their first 18 games but that was perhaps just typical Mourinho tactics of taking a defensive approach to games. Knowing that they are now being chased, Mourinho will surely not change his approach but I’m sure he’ll be looking for more goals. Diego Costa is a scoring machine but cannot be relied upon in a fitness respect so bringing in his old teammate from their Atletico Madrid days could be a masterstroke. Falcao only scored the 4 goals for Man United last season and really hasn’t shown his best form since that knee injury before the World Cup. At Atletico back in 2012/13 they combined for 31 goals from 27 games and if Falcao can look to add say around 8-10 goals this season then it could mean another title for Chelsea.
Chelsea have one of the most complete sides in the league right now and although the competition will close the gap, I don’t think it will be enough to stop from winning another title.
2014/15 finish: Champions
Predicted finish 2015/16: Champions
Title odds: $2.50
This could be the year that Arsenal make a real statement in terms of fighting for the title. For me the signing of Petr Cech can’t be underestimated and it’s one that could prove to be decisive in the title race this season for the Gunners. Last season they finished 12 points off eventual winners Chelsea and whilst the acquisition of Cech won’t necessarily account for that gap, it’s probably safe to say he’ll add a few points whilst Chelsea may be pulled back down a little with Man City & Man Utd also chasing hard. There were a few games for Arsenal, particularly early in the season, where they should’ve picked up a few more points with draws against Leicester, Hull, and perhaps Everton hindering their chances of pushing into a top 2 finish. I think the other key thing to remember with Arsenal is that they’ll have a fit Walcott raring to go along with a somewhat better rested Mesut Ozil. Ozil had a big summer before last season coming off the World Cup and looked a little weary throughout the season so he could be in for a huge 2015/16.
Arsenal will be up there this year as per usual but the difference is that this year they should be up in contention for the title.
2014/15 finish: 3rd
Predicted finish 2015/16: 2nd
Title odds: $5
2014/15 was a poor season on a number of fronts for Manchester City perhaps in many ways highlighted by their ability to lose games that title holders shouldn’t. Losing to Stoke in their 3rd game of the season put them on the back foot in the fight with Chelsea and they really didn’t recover from that. Losing away to West Ham in game 9 and succumbing to a draw away at QPR a few weeks later and from there they were going to struggle to overcome the Chelsea machine that just kept on winning. Compared to their title winning season in 2013/14 they just seemed to fall away little and perhaps it wasn’t helped with regular absences through injury to the likes of Kompany and Toure. It’s easy to forget that in that season Yaya Toure notched an incredible 20 goals with Aguero also receiving plenty of scoring support through Dzeko who notched 16 himself. It just felt as if they weren’t as ruthless last season and they definitely needed some fresh blood in the team. The signing of Raheem Sterling, transfer fee aside, is a good one that will add another attacking threat to the already scary line-up they have to the likes of Toure, Silva, and Aguero. I can see Man City being a lot hungrier this season as they look to bounce back from losing their title but the competition just got stronger in Arsenal and Manchester United. It’s going to be a long fight this season and whilst they’re capable, I think City might just fall short of winning another title.
2014/15 finish: 2nd
Predicted finish 2015/16: 3rd
Title odds: $3.6
There is huge optimism amongst Manchester United supporters this season but they should be careful to not allow their expectations to grow too quick. They’ve had an incredible transfer window thus far in particular with the acquisitions of Memphis Depay, Schneiderlin, and Schweinsteger. That trio alone for me speaks excitement, strength, and experience which is exactly what they need this season. A combination of injuries and a lack of ideal personnel for LVG’s plans perhaps held United back last season but they still did well enough for a top 4 finish which has allowed them to attract that little bit of extra quality through Champions League. With so many fresh new faces though comes a wave of caution. It’s certainly not as drastic as perhaps the influx of big money signings we’ve seen at Tottenham and Liverpool in previous seasons but it does show it takes time for players to gel together so it won’t happen instantly. For me though it’s a question of whether this year is a genuine title contending year for United or whether it’s a consolidation year to remain in the top 4 and push on for the title in 2016/17. I’m sticking with the latter here but I do expect United to be a much more formidable outfit this season, particularly with Rooney to play up front.
The added pressures of European football this season could take some adjusting having not had to deal with it last season. That combined with an influx of new faces may take them some time to adjust so I’m a bit wary of expecting a higher push up the table than 4th this season.
2014/15 finish: 4th
Predicted finish 2015/16: 4th
Title odds: $5
Top 4 chance
A regular 5th place finisher, Tottenham will be looking to kick on this season with particular focus on fixing a leaky defence. The addition of Toby Alderweireld who spent last season on loan at Southampton (a side boasting the 2nd best defence last season) should add some stability for Jan Vertonghen in the heart of defence. Equally, Kieran Trippier provides strong competition for Kyle Walker at right back who struggled through last season coming off a lengthy injury. Other areas of the team are less of a concern with Tottenham the only side to have 3 players score 10 or more goals last season whilst their midfield has been culled down to provide more stability when rotations are required.
Tottenham should have a pretty strong season with Pochettino having plenty of time now to drill the players how he wants. Top 4 is a realistic possibility though with competition for places so fierce, they may just have to settle for 5th.
2014/15 finish: 5th
Predicted finish 2015/16: 5th – Can easily drop further down if they don’t invest in some strikers quickly and if their defence improves drastically on last season there’s no reason they can’t fight for top 4.
The fight for top 4 is getting tougher every year as the depth in competition from 4th to 8th gets closer each year. It’s hard to not forget that this side almost won the title in 2013/14 scoring an incredible 101 goals, just 1 behind eventual champions Manchester City. I think the thing some may forget though is that their defence was horrible and they also let through 50 goals compared to Manchester City whom only let 37 through. When you concede that amount of goals, it makes it very difficult to win the title even if you have Suarez and co bagging goals at will. Last season they conceded almost as many (48) but having lost Suarez to Barcelona and Sturridge to injury, they just didn’t have the scoring freedom with just the 52 goals. The recruiting of Benteke for this season is a bit of a gamble for the price they paid but he’s a proven scorer in the top flight and I think he’ll score 17-20 goals for them this season. The addition of Firmino too will add plenty of attacking flair and goals but he’ll need time to adjust to a new league which is not easy. My problem for Liverpool this season is they don’t seem to have addressed their defensive issues. Nathaniel Clyne is a great buy and he’s excellent going forward, but he won’t necessarily stop the goals at the back.
I’m not yet convinced Liverpool will break back into the top 4 this season. They seriously need to address their defensive issues either through the transfer market or perhaps different tactics but until they do they’ll find themselves sitting outside the top 4 once more. On the flipside, stability through minimal changes at the back may be just what they need but we’ll have to see how the season plays out first.
2014/15 finish: 6th
Predicted finish 2015/16: 6th – If they click early then watch out but feels like the first half of the season will be a transitioning period as Rogers finds his best XI.
Pushing for Europa League
Expect Swansea to have a similar season to that of 2014/15 where they’ll likely finish in that 7th to 9th range with Southampton the danger of being pulled back a little with the added pressure of Europa League fixtures. Swansea are certainly a team on the rise and under Gary Monk they should at the very least maintain their position from last season. Their style of play means they’re difficult to break down so if they can build on that and add a few more goals to their 46 last season then they are well on their way to not only keeping their position but possibly moving up further. The addition of Andre Ayew adds some depth in attack and could be one of the more shrewd signings of the season.
2014/15 finish: 8th
Predicted finish 2015/16: 7th – Should be about the same as last season but could jump ahead of Southampton given their busier schedule.
It was easy to doubt Mark Hughes when he first took over Stoke and I was one of them. He’s certainly proved a lot of people wrong and he’s changing the face of this Stoke side in a great way. They’re last two seasons they’ve recorded their best ever points tallies and there’s no reason they can’t improve on that again in 2015/16. Personnel wise they’ve lost N’Zonzi & Begovic which is a blow, but the acquisition of Van Ginkel (on loan) and Butland should ease those losses. Additionally they’ve added experience through free agency through Glen Johnson and perhaps the most impressive signing so far in Ibrahim Afellay who should add plenty in attack. Stoke will have another strong season and could be a surprise move further into the top 10 battling with Swansea & Southampton.
2014/15 finish: 9th
Predicted finish 2015/16: 8th – a team on the up!
enty to be optimistic about for Southampton despite the loss of some big names. I’m not sure they’ll have as strong a year as last year where they were looking capable of a top 4 finish and with Europa League football they may fall away slightly if not man managed properly. The signings of Clasie is an excellent acquisition whilst Stekelenburg on loan provides experienced cover for the injured Forster down back. Equally the loan of Caulker should soften the blow from losing out on Toby Alderweireld to Tottenham. The loss of Schneiderlin I don’t think can be underestimated. There’s plenty of talent and quality at the club still but his departure will still have a short term impact.
2014/15 finish: 7th
Predicted finish 2015/16: 9th or lower unless they can navigate their way through the Europa League and cover effectively for the loss of Alderweireld and Schneiderlin.
Mid Table battle
It’s difficult to pinpoint how Everton’s season will go this year. Last season was certainly a shocker where they only won 5 games from their first 20 and at stages they were languishing down in 14th where relegation was becoming possible. It might be easy to say that with no Europa League this season that they should bounce back, but for me I don’t see it being that simple. The possible sale of John Stones to Chelsea or Manchester United spells danger to me. They simply don’t have enough depth down back as it is and it’s also an aging backline. If they don’t bring in some readymade cover in that 23-28 age bracket then they could be in for another long season. Lose John Stones without a replacement lined up and it could end up a longer season than last year once injuries hit, because they will hit.
2014/15 finish: 11th
Predicted finish 2015/16: 10th – Surely can’t have as disastrous a start as last season?
Things weren’t going so well for Palace in the first half of last season. They were sitting in the relegation zone halfway through the season but then in stepped Alan Pardew. Incredibly things turned around winning 10 of their last 18 games to finish in 10th. And with that finish comes a lot of excitement and perhaps a little expectation along with that for the new season. So far in the off-season they’ve done things right with particular mention of the acquisition of Yohan Cabaye form PSG who’ll add experience and even a few goals from midfield. They’ll need to be really careful now though that they don’t get too far ahead of themselves because this league can change drastically. Last season was certainly a stunning finish but they’ve shown even the season prior that they have fight to finish in 11th. All they need to do now is break further into the top 10 but with the competition so tight already they may just have to settle for just outside it.
2014/15 finish: 10th
Predicted finish 2015/16: 11th – can they sustain their strong second half of last season?
The season ahead for Newcastle seems to have a great sense of optimism about it. There’s a new manager which will breathe life into the existing squad whilst the additions through the transfer market will only add to the excitement a fresh start will give the club. Two major signings in Mitrovic & Wijnaldum are certainly a sign of intent and support of the new manager. They add to a nucleus of players in the likes of Krul, Sissoko, Coloccini, and Tiote that give plenty to think optimistically about. What could unravel them early is the tough start to the season. They face the likes of Southampton, Swansea, Man Utd, Arsenal, Chelsea, and Manchester City in their first 8 games. If they can get through that with some competitive performances then they should be able to build towards a 10th -13th finish which would be a great result on last season.
2014/15 finish: 15th
Predicted finish 2015/16: 12th – Should improve on last season given they are finally spending a bit of cash.
Massive season for West Ham for a number of reasons. It’s their last season at the Boleyn Ground, they’ve got a new manager, and depending if they qualify for the Europa League, they’ll have that to navigate through as well. As it stands they’re on the back foot in terms of qualifying for the Europa League having drawn 2-2 at home to Astra Giurgiu in the first leg. In terms of transfers they certainly haven’t mucked around by bringing in some quality players in the likes of Dimitri Payet and Angelo Ogbonna. Payet in particular is a fantastic signing given he recorded 7 goals along with 21 assists for Marseille last season so should add plenty of creativity for them this season. it’s easy to forget that after 15 games West Ham were in 3rd last season but they dropped off rapidly winning only 4 of the last 23 games for the season. There’s a lot to like about West Ham but there’s uncertainty as well with untried players and an untried new coach in the Premier League so whilst I don’t think they’ll be battling relegation, I don’t think they’ll be pushing much higher either.
2014/15 finish: 12th
Predicted finish 2015/16: 13th – Making Europa league could push them further down.
Fighting to avoid Relegation
Villa will be hoping this season is one where they’re not in the heat of another relegation scrap. Last season they were just a game away from dropping and in 2013/14 they were only 5 points ahead of the drop. A major problem for them though has been scoring goals with just 70 goals over the past 2 seasons and they’ve just lost Benteke who scored 23 of them from 54 games. Like a number of sides they’ve been busy in the transfer market perhaps thanks largely to the big fee they received for Benteke. Whilst selling one player and reinvesting in a number of players doesn’t always equal instant success, for Villa I think it will work. They’ve brought in some quality players thus far that should pay dividends later in the season and into 2016/17 once they settle in. Expectations won’t be high for Villa this season but they should be able to better their finish last season giving them plenty to build on for following seasons.
2014/15 finish: 17th
Predicted finish 2015/16: 14th – if Sherwood can integrate his new signings quickly, then they have the quality there to survive and improve on last season.
Last season saw the Baggies finish in 13th but it was perhaps the emergence of Berahino that was the key to their season after the 21 year old bagged 14 goals in the league. It’s a great base for him to build on for the season but it also means he’ll be given more attention so it’ll be interesting to see if he can produce a similar output this season. Perhaps that’s where the addition of Rickie Lambert will take some of the pressure off and give them another avenue to goal being a proven EPL goal scorer. What they need though more than anything is to develop some creativity from midfield because they can’t rely on scoring from dead ball situations all the time. In saying that, Pulis only took over halfway through last season so it’s a fresh start for the season ahead. What they need for that fresh start is some more depth and to hold onto Berahino. That will give them the best chance to maintain their position from last season at a minimum. At the moment though it feels like the sides around them are doing more to improve so I wouldn’t be surprised if they dropped a place or two.
2014/15 finish: 13th
Predicted finish 2015/16: 15th
The Canaries won promotion through the playoffs having been relegated from the top flight in the 2012/13 season. Winning promotion on the first attempt since being relegated isn’t the easiest thing to do but they’ll know what they need to do to stay up this season. They have plenty of top flight experience still through the likes of Hooper, Jerome, Redmond, Dorrans, Ruddy, Bassong, and the list goes on. It doesn’t necessarily mean they’re a sure thing to stay up but it gives them an advantage over Bournemouth and Watford as a start. They’ve also been conservative in the transfer market without going overboard. Andre Wisdom on loan is a solid signing and adds some depth at the back as does Mulumbu and Brady to midfield. If players such as Redmond can take that next step up and Jerome can translate his Championship scoring ability (21 last season) to notch at least close to double figures with support from Hooper, then they are well on their way to staying up.
2014/15 finish: 3rd in Championship – won through via the playoff
Predicted finish 2015/16: 16th
There’s talent in this team and enough to be excited about that they could do enough to survive. They’ll no doubt play with plenty of excitement in attack that could just surprise a few sides, but they’ll need to be more accountable in defence with the step up to the top flight otherwise they’ll be just ripped apart. The recruitment of Distin, whilst past his best, could be a crucial addition as his experience will add a bit more steel to their backline. Perhaps more crucially will be their ability to transfer their goal scoring ability into the top flight. Last season in the championship they put through 98 goals with 4 players getting to double figures for the season. The difficulty though is transitioning this into the top flight. Burnley in their promotion year put through 72 goals but in the EPL last season they only managed to score 28 times. If they can manage to up that scoring rate and get a few good results in their first 6-8 games then that could give them some momentum.
2014/15 finish: Championship Winners
Predicted finish 2015/16: 17th but could be touch and go with the likes of a Sunderland or Norwich for that final place in the bottom 3.
The black cats have been flirting with relegation for a number of seasons now and only narrowly escaped last season by 3 points. Last season they again struggled for goals scoring just 31 last season after scoring 41 goals in each of the 2 previous seasons. Thus far they’ve done little to address that problem with a couple of additions defensively in Kaboul from Tottenham and Matthews from Celtic who whilst will help out their defence, they won’t score many goals. The addition of Jeremain Lens does add some creativity and goal scoring ability from midfield and they’ll be looking to him to settle in quickly. They still have proven scorers in Defoe and Fletcher but I don’t think they can rely on those two alone this season to survive the drop. The positive though is they have a favourable start to the season with Leicester, Norwich, and Aston Villa in their first 4 games. Their Christmas schedule though looks scary with a run of games including Arsenal, Chelsea, Man City, and Liverpool that could make or break their season if they don’t have points on the board before that.
2014/15 finish: 16th
Predicted finish 2015/16: 18th – not a certainty to drop by any means but just can’t see where the goals are coming from
Leicester had a stunning turnaround late in the season to survive last season. They were dead last after week 13 and remained there till week 31. Their turnaround in saw them win 7 of their last 9 games that ultimately saw them finish in 14th. They shouldn’t be complacent for the season ahead though because they can’t rely on that short stint of results to survive another full season. So far they’ve been pretty quiet in the transfer window with the only notable inclusions being Christian Fuchs from Schalke as well as Okazaki from Mainz. It adds to a squad in need of some more quality, particularly with Esteban Cambiasso moving on. I think their next problem is then how do they manage the likes of Ulloa, Vardy, Nugent, Kramaric, and Okazaki in their side. All add different things but they can’t all play together and what they really need to do is strengthen the middle of the park. At the moment I can’t see them staying up unless they spend some money.
2014/15 finish: 14th
Predicted finish 2015/16: 19th – If they add some more players their chances will improve.
Watford haven’t been in the top flight since 2007 but they have a lot of work to do if they want to stay up. They’ve certainly not been shy in the transfer market so far adding around 10 players but they need to be really careful now of not overdoing it. Spending money at the lower end won’t necessarily drive you to safety and that’s one of the reservations I have about this side. The addition of Capoue is probably their best signing thus far and should add muscle to their midfield. Similarly Behrami from Hamburg will add some experience and shouldn’t have much issue settling in given his stint at West Ham from 2008-2011. Beyond those two, the rest of their signings may bring different qualities but have no Premier League experience so they will not only take time to settle but also to gel. That could spell disaster early on and with Everton away, Southampton at home, and Manchester City away in their first 4 games, they could be on the back foot very early and might not recover.
2014/15 finish: Championship runners up
Predicted finish 2015/16: 20th
Top Goal Scorer
Injury prone which adds an element of risk but both still managed to take out the top scorer with an incredible 26 goals from 33 games.
Set to play up front with plenty of quality behind and beside him that should mean a season of 18+ goals is very realistic. If United get going early then he’s a value shot at winning top scorer
Diego Costa ($6)
Will certainly miss games this season given his hamstring injury history. The unknown of Falcao makes this a bit riskier than Aguero.
The Smokey – Benteke ($15)
He’s a proven goal scorer at EPL level at a side battling relegation for a few years now. If he can at minimum produce that same form for a much more attacking side then he’s a great shot here at $15. Harry Kane is another option at $15 but he might struggle to live up to the same heights of last season.
Team to keep the most clean sheets
Chelsea are the obvious choice here given Mourinho’s tendency to play defensively however Arsenal’s recruitment of Petr Cech seems big value to me. Last season they kept 12 clean sheets with a bit of shuffling between Ospina and Szczensy and they gave away some silly goals that should have had this tally higher. Cech is quality and should help to increase that tally. Similarly Manchester City are another option here having kept 14 clean sheets. Last season they were inconsistent defensively but if they can keep injury free, specifically Kompany, then they are a good shot too.
Best Bet: Chelsea at $1.9
Best Value: Arsenal at $6 or Manchester City at $5
Outside of looking at the newly promoted sides here, Leicester seem the most likely for me to drop this season. They haven’t done enough in the transfer market yet and I don’t trust them to be more consistent this season. Their backs against the wall finish to last season was incredible, but you can’t rely on that sort of drive at all times. Of the other Premier League sides from last season, you could also argue a similar approach for Sunderland and Villa. Sunderland have brought a few good players in but not yet convinced they have the goals in them just yet. For Villa the amount of players they’ve brought in could backfire so they need to gel quickly.
Leicester to drop at $3.75
Sunderland to drop at $2.88
Villa to drop at $3.75
Top 10 finish
There’s two teams I like in this market being Stoke and Swansea. Both finished in the top 10 last season and there’s no reason they can’t do so again. They’ve both strengthened in the transfer market so there’s plenty to be optimistic about. There are two teams could pose a threat to this in Everton and Palace. Everton are a top 10 side but had a bad year last year so could certainly turn it around whilst there is plenty of optimism about Palace as well which for me is risky.
Best Bet: Stoke to finish top 10 at $2
Next Best: Swansea to finish top 10 at $2.4
PFA Player of the year
It’s difficult to go past the likes of Eden Hazard last season and he’ll no doubt have another big impact on the season ahead. Competition again may come from Harry Kane if he can emulate last season’s feats whilst Alexis Sanchez is another that will be up there. Aguero if he can stay fit for the majority of the season may be an option as well. For me I can’t go Hazard as he’ll be in amongst the goals and will surely show plenty of individual brilliance along the way.
Best Bet: Eden Hazard at $5
Smokey: Someone who could have a ripper of a season is Wayne Rooney. He can be a little off a times but he’s going to have a great number of chances on goal this season playing up front. At $15 it could be worth a little dabble.
Team to score the most goals
Manchester City won this last season by 10 goals ahead of Chelsea with 83. They averaged 2.32 goals at home and just over 2 away from home all despite losing the title by 8 points. Chelsea are of course a threat to this but with Mourinho focusing a bit more on defence they will probably fall short on this. They averaged just 1.89 goals at home last season whilst conceding less than 0.5 goals per game. They have the firepower but Man City tend to be a little more rampant when they click. Arsenal are another option, especially if they sign a top quality striker in the Benzema mould. They average 2.15 goals at home but with goal scoring options like Walcott back to fitness I think we can expect that to increase. Add in a rested Ozil and there’s a lot of options alongside Sanchez and Giroud.
Best Bet: Manchester City at $2.37
Next Best: Arsenal at $4.5 or Chelsea at $4.5.