Most people who do predictions tell you why they'll be right. We're here to tell you why we're definitely wrong.
Prediction: Mike Phelan, Hull City
Why this prediction will be wrong: This is the obvious call. We know that Hull are looking for a proper manager; we know that Phelan, who will be in charge at the beginning of the season, is a stopgap. So it stands to reason that Alex Ferguson's former assistant will soon be back in his assistant shorts … until, that is, you look at the fixture list. As well as an injury crisis and a temporary manager, Hull's first seven games comprise Leicester, Manchester United, Arsenal, Liverpool and Chelsea and two potentially awkward away games against Swansea City and fellow newly-ups Burnley. It doesn't take too much imagination to see Hull losing all seven of those, and as such, we don't think many unemployed managers will be returning Assem Allam's calls. Phelan might be in this for the long haul.
Prediction: Either 25 or 4
Why this prediction will be wrong: The Zlatan Ibrahimovic Experiment can only go one of two ways, for such is the power of Narrative. Either he scores loads, and the entire nation is overwhelmed by hashtags and topknots and and refurbished Chuck Norris gags, or he scores hardly any and it all looks a bit silly. The thought that he might just score a few -- say 12 or so -- is simply unconscionable. He is Zlatan! He doesn't do grey areas! Hubris, or nemesis, and nothing in between! So, yeah, it's going to be very peculiar when he scores 12.
Why this prediction will be wrong: Arsene Wenger is in a peculiar situation. He's in the final year of his contract, and hasn't signed an extension yet. Is that because he's genuinely considering retirement or a new challenge in a different country? Is that because Arsenal's board doesn't actually have faith in him? No one knows! And that uncertainty could cause Arsenal to fall apart like Liverpool, Manchester United and Chelsea before them. There's no reason to believe they're immune.
There's also no reason to believe they can't win the title, besides the fact that they're constantly mocked for not doing so. They probably had the best team in the league last year and have added Granit Xhaka, who's very good. As per usual, Arsenal is a center back and a striker away from being serious contenders.
Prediction: Manchester City
Why this prediction will be wrong: Well, of course this prediction is going to be wrong. Manchester United have got Jose Mourinho and Paul Pogba! Chelsea have got Antonio Conte and no Europe to worry about! Tottenham have kept their team together and added squad depth! It's Liverpool's year! Arsenal … well, never mind Arsenal. And Leicester. If we were writing this tomorrow we might have said somebody else. The point is: whoever you predict to win the title this season, you will be wrong, and if you end up being right, then it was only by accident. And that doesn't count.
Prediction: Sergio Aguero, Manchester City
Why this prediction will be wrong: Pep "I Love Possession" Guardiola in the dugout, Kevin "I Love Attacking" De Bruyne behind him, David "I Love Through Balls" Silva off to one side … life doesn't get much better for a striker than having that lot to supply the ammunition, and surely the only thing standing between Sergio Aguero and a 40-goal season is the fact that his hamstrings are cheesestrings. But sadly, his hamstrings are cheesestrings, all beautiful things break, and it'll probably end up being Harry Kane again.
Prediction: N’Golo Kante, Chelsea
Why this prediction will be wrong: Injuries are always a huge threat to players like Kante. Explosive midfielders of his sort always have a short shelf-life, and though he’s very intelligent in reading the game, Conte might — him being a madman and all — ask for him to do too much in terms of running. He’s, by himself alone, an embarrassment of riches and it’s very hard to preserve him when he can do so much. Michael Essien saw the same fate with his cruciate ligament rupture in 2008 and it just piled on from there.
Prediction: Yannick Bolasie, Everton
Why this prediction will be wrong: Because Bolasie's average games are decent enough that he's unlikely to get a reputation for being extremely crap. It's also possible Everton doesn't actually go through with it. But good lord, £30 million for Yannick Bolasie!
Prediction: Dele Alli, Tottenham Hotspur
Why this prediction will be wrong: Alli did not win this honor last year, but it stands to reason that referees will be less lenient with him now that they're wise to his tricks and he's been branded as That Kind Of Player. Alli is, however, an attacking midfielder, and might not get that many opportunities to do red card worthy things. He'd have to be deliberately dirty (which he often is), while defenders often get red cards on accident.
Prediction: Crystal Palace, Hull City, Burnley
Why this prediction will be wrong: Because Alan Pardew is Lord Voldemort and he will surely have some dark magic ready to help him escape the clutches of relegation in the last few games. That is if he makes it to the end of the season. Crystal Palace were mighty close last season to going down to the Championship and they haven’t done much to improve the team this summer — in fact, they’re about to lose Yannick Bolasie instead. Hull City doesn’t have any players and Burnley will suffer the same fate of many first year teams. But Sunderland and Middlesbrough are still there as well, so it will probably come down to luck in the last few matches. Who knows?
Since 1992, the English Premier League has generally been won by four teams -- Arsenal, Chelsea, Manchester City and Manchester United. United have won it thirteen times, Chelsea four times, Arsenal three and City twice. The only intrusion on that top four came first by Blackburn Rovers in 1994-1995 and Leicester City last season.
Leicester’s win especially was nothing short of magical. The team of nobodies, under a manager once described as an eternal bridesmaid, and coming off a year that almost saw them relegated, stole the title as the would-be super-powers rested on their laurels -- it was more whimsical sports film than reality. Yet, it was real and cast a stark light on the struggles of not only those top four, but the struggles of the other big teams. Leicester won it because they were great throughout, but also because everyone who should have won it, struggled badly.
The reaction to Leicester’s win is not a changing of the status quo, but a return to the norm in an extreme way. The big teams have gone all out to make sure it never happens again. The retaliation to the uprising now brings us to the silver age of the Premier League.
The managers of the top teams in the EPL for the upcoming season are: Antonio Conte, Arsene Wenger, Jose Mourinho, Jürgen Klopp, Mauricio Pochettino and Pep Guardiola. The consolidated power of the big six will, for one, improve the quality of play and competition and two, will keep intruders at bay. There will not be another Leicester City anytime soon.
Some will detest this truth due to lack of parity, and that’s an understandable concern. But it’s the nature of a competitive sport that some teams or individuals will dominate the field. The goal is to have enough opportunities for the lesser teams to have relative successes and to create a system that doesn’t actively oppress them. It makes for a more fun competition.
It also creates the avenue for the Cinderella or David vs. Goliath stories. The underdog that comes out from nowhere every decade or so to defeat the more privileged/giant teams. It makes for a good break, a nice little distraction, before we return to normal service -- the rule of the rich and powerful.
This edition of it just happens to include six of the best managers in the world.
This coalition and their brain power mixed with the absurd money flowing through the EPL means that the greatness of the EPL will only be hindered by their collective imaginations. The league can now be as good as advertised.
Conte has brought in N’Golo Kante, who was the best midfielder in the EPL last season, and the heartbeat of Leicester City’s title run and Michy Batshuayi, a center forward from Marseille. Kante for £36 million million and Batshuayi for £39 million.
Guardiola has recruited Leroy Sane, one of the best young players in the world, from Schalke for £50 million. Ilkay Gündogan for £27 million, a much cheaper price caused by his declaration that he wanted to leave Borussia Dortmund, and a 29 year old Nolito from Celta Vigo for £18 million, triggering his release clause.
Mourinho at United seems to be the most ambitious of the bunch. He’s convinced Zlatan Ibrahimovic to join a team that will be competing in the Europa League next season, while bringing in Eric Bailly for £38 million and Henrikh Mkhitaryan, a very underrated attacking midfielder from Dortmund, for £42 million. Oh, and there's Paul Pogba, joining the squad for a price that it is best left unsaid.
At Liverpool, Klopp cheaply acquired both Ragnar Klavan and Loris Karius before splashing money on Georginio Wijnaldum and Saido Mane. The Wijnaldum transfer, for £27.5 million from Newcastle United, would have looked silly in any other year, but when there’s seemingly infinite money in the bank, everything is reasonable.
Pochettino has reinforced his team with Victor Wanyama and Vincent Janssen, and even Wenger, ever the penny-pincher, has gotten in on the act with a £45 million purchase of the young and talented Granit Xhaka.
There is more to come from each manager, each team still has needs and each manager has the money and freedom to fill those gaps, or to reinforce their strengths.
The influx of money does of course help the lower and middle class teams in the EPL. Crystal Palace was also bidding a gaudy amount for Batshuayi before Chelsea intervened and Southampton is signing players from Bayern Munich at the moment. So the quality of the league will increase because the quality of the players is increasing, and while those smaller teams are ran by good and capable managers, the power is still at the top. Everyone got richer, but it still mostly benefited the elites.
That’s not necessarily a bad thing, it’s the way things have always been. The great aspect of it is that while the ultimate outcome is almost predetermined, the competition is going to be more enjoyable which is the overall desire. The league is now at a place where the great teams have the managers, players and resources to be as strong as they wish to be, while those beneath them are now capable of being as good as the best teams in other leagues.
The ultimate challenge of it all is the Champions League, the greatest measure of club footballing power. In the last decade, only two EPL teams have won the competition: United in 2008 and Chelsea in 2012. It’s embarrassing for a league that calls itself the best in the world and has the money to back that rhetoric.
But not since the days of Alex Ferguson, Wenger, Rafa Benitez and Jose Mourinho has there been such a concentration of brainpower at the top. Those days saw Liverpool win the Champions League against AC Milan in 2005, Arsenal make the final against Barcelona in 2006, with Liverpool making the final the next year against Milan again. The year after Mourinho left, 2008, Avram Grant took Chelsea to the final to meet Ferguson’s United. In those four years where all four managers were present, English teams were involved in every CL final and it bled into the next two years after as well.
We’re now on the cusp of another great run like that. It should take about a year for the managers to settle into their new teams, and for Leicester to finish their extended title celebration, and then this fearsome six can not only return the EPL to its former glory, but take it to new heights both domestically and in Europe. After all, the golden age showed the benefits of such fierce competition, and this new era, with the managers, money and quality of players, looks capable of being better than the last.
What comes after the apocalypse? Last season in the Premier League, a thing happened that nobody — not even those few lucky souls that won multiple thousands on their throwaway novelty bets; not really — saw coming. Leicester won the league. Everybody knew the title was destined to be passed around between the same few rich clubs until the launch of the European Super League or the end of time, whichever came first, and everybody was wrong. It was the end of the world as we knew it, and it was kind of great.
So, what now? The suspicion is that the fun will not be allowed to last. That the wounded big beasts will, thanks to their ludicrous concentration of managerial talent and nonsensical amounts of money, will come thundering back to their rightful place, trampling everybody else in their path. Manchester United's mooted nine-figure move for Paul Pogba is the most spectacular example, but perhaps the most symbolic transfer is that of N'Golo Kante. The Frenchman, arguably Leicester's best player last season, has traded a title defense and a Champions League campaign to join Chelsea, presumably on the basis that despite last season, titles and Champions League campaigns are still more likely to turn up in west London than the east Midlands.
He probably isn't wrong. Probably. But in the spirit of last season, let's think about what happens if he isn't. Because last season wasn't just about Leicester strolling to the title by 10 — 10! — clear points. It was West Ham gubbing Liverpool home and away. It was Stoke dissecting Manchester City. It was Crystal Palace and Watford sashaying their way to the FA Cup semifinal. It was Southampton selling a fourth player to Liverpool and finishing three points ahead of them. It was Bournemouth winning at Stamford Bridge. It was even Tottenham — Tottenham! — putting together a title bid. Admittedly, they made a complete Tottenham of it right at the end, but still. Leicester had the consistency to complete their miracle, but throughout the league there was a persistent theme: chaos.
In part, this was connected to the Premier League's ever-increasing television deals, which this season swell from hideous to obscene. As Richard Scudamore noted, "Burnley are now, economically, bigger than Ajax," and though the powers that be at Turf Moor haven't been throwing their money about since coming up, the point is a wider one. This money gives the Premier League's second and third tier clubs the ability both to afford and attract players of hegemony-threatening quality from across Europe and, sometimes, to hang onto those players in the face of notionally bigger clubs.
Last season, Dimitri Payet was the poster boy for this kind of thing, a delightful throwback to the days when nearly every Premier League team seemed to include at least one player capable, when the mood took them, of dribbling past four defenders and chipping the keeper. And with a few weeks left in the transfer window, it's fair to say that a we've already had a few moves into the Premier League's middle tier that might be brilliant and definitely count as interesting, when we consider the individual players and the clubs involved. Fernando Llorente from Sevilla to Swansea City; Sofiane Feghouli from Valencia to West Ham; Steve Mandanda from Marseille to Crystal Palace; Pierre-Emile Højbjerg from Bayern Munich to Southampton; Ahmed Musa from CSKA Moscow to Leicester City (who are champions, yes, but you take the point). Even newly-promoted Middlesbrough are getting involved, picking up Victor Valdés and Alvaro Negredo on loan. And all of the above would be blown into tiny pieces if anything comes of the rumors linking Everton with Wolfsburg's Julian Draxler.
Obviously, resonant names are no guarantee of success. But what was most refreshing about last season wasn't thanks to the impact of a bloated and unsustainable imbalance in world football's finances on the employment market. It was also a question of attitude. It seemed as though something clicked in the Premier League's nearly-but-not-quites last season, a realization that while the bigger teams had to be respected, they could also be inconvenienced, frustrated and, perhaps, defeated. Of the Premier League's notional Big Six — that's both Manchester teams, both north London teams, Chelsea and Liverpool, with apologies to Everton — only one team, Spurs, picked up more points last season than the season before.
This doesn't necessarily always make for the greatest games, from a spectacle point of view; even Leicester, once opponents realized the dangers posed by Jamie Vardy and Riyad Mahrez, switched to a policy of clean sheet preservation, and the joy of their run-in was as much about the achievement as the football. And there is, of course, a pleasure to be gained from watching two or three teams steamroller through a league, in seeing which steamroller is the biggest and bestest steamroller of them all. But there is a different pleasure in a season full of traps and tripwires; with a mid-table full of cocky upstarts, out to tweak the noses of their betters. The pleasure of uncertainty. The pleasure of sporting chaos, with all the associated laughter it brings.
This, after all, is the story of itself that the Premier League has always sought to tell. "Anybody can beat anybody!" It was a persuasive lie; then, when it actually materialized, it turned out to be just as much fun as the advertising promised. The Big Six are desperate for things to go back to the way they were, for the proper order of things to reestablish itself. Let's hope, at the very least, that nobody else makes it easy for them.
After sneaking into second place on the last day of last season, Arsenal will look to make a more sustained title challenge this season and avoid the slumps that cost them points last campaign. With Olivier Giroud up front, it's a known thing that there will be offensive lulls -- the hope is that Arsenal can improve their already-good defense (tied for joint second-fewest goals allowed in 2015/16) and avoid the occasional mental collapses that cost them points last season. If they can do that, and if Granit Xhaka delivers as promised, this could be a really fun season.
Arsenal fans have been screaming for Arsene Wenger to buy a defensive midfielder for a few years now, and all Arsene did was to go out and get one of the better ones available. His presence will free up Mesut Özil, Alexis Sanchez, and Aaron Ramsey to do what they do best -- create lethally quick scoring opportunities for themselves and for Giroud.
All additions: Granit Xhaka, Rob Holding, Takuma Asano
Arteta spent the last few years anchoring Arsenal's midfield, but now he's retired and taken up a coaching role at Manchester City. Throughout his Arsenal career, Arteta was one of those guys who never got enough credit -- he was a tidy passer, a quiet force, and Arsenal were a different team when he wasn't in the lineup.
All departures: Mikel Arteta, Tomas Rosicky, Mathieu Flamini, Welington Silva, Wojciech Szczesny
Arsenal fans are seemingly never in a good mood about the state of their club, and this summer is no different. They desperately want Wenger to buy both a player to complement Giroud up front and another defender. If none of that happens, that'll just be another arrow in the quiver for those who think Wenger should move on. Even the addition of Xhaka may not be enough to quiet Wenger's doubters should Arsenal start slowly this season.
We have a cannon for a logo. And we have Özil, Sanchez, and the rest of what could be the most exciting midfield in England right now.
Arsenal would probably be pro wrestler Becky Lynch -- a fan favorite with all of the tools to be great (the charisma, the look, the physical strength), but too often finds ways to get sucker punched and go down for the count in the big matches. She's always just hovering around the top without quite breaking through to be the champ.
Bournemouth wasn't relegated, that’s the most important thing. No one expected the Cherries to last long in the Premier League: they were boisterous and rambunctious like Blackpool before them, and the fate for small teams who believe they can play attacking soccer in their first season in the EPL is usually a trip back down to the Championship. But they've made it to year two, surviving a mini-collapse in the middle of the season to comfortably stay up.
They’re not out of the woods yet, though. Second seasons are just as trying as the first for small clubs in the Premier League. Though Bournemouth has gone out and made their ambition known with a few eye-opening signings, the truth that they are still one of the weakest teams in England’s top division is inescapable. They may attack well, but only Aston Villa conceded more goals than they did last season. If that trend continues this year, then they will surely be another cautionary tale of a team flying too close to the sun.
The young winger signed a long-term extension with Liverpool at the end of last season before the arrival of Saido Mane and the lure of first team football saw him leave for Bournemouth for a club-record £15 million. Ibe has loads of talent, and even if he often runs into dead-ends when dribbling, his ability on the ball -- especially at full-speed -- is a rare weapon that will fit well with the team’s rampant attacking play.
All additions: Jordon Ibe, Lewis Cook, Lys Mousset, Brad Smith, Emerson Hyndman, Nathan Aké
In an odd twist of events, Ritchie left Bournemouth to sign for second-division Newcastle United. The winger had played for the Cherries for three years, appearing in 37 games last year.
All departures: Matt Ritchie, Tommy Elphick, Lee Tomlin, Sylvain Distin
Fearful. While the situation in defense is alarming, Bournemouth has gone out and spent money on attackers and midfielders, which is as Bournemouth as it gets. The team has always been attack-first, and as that was their biggest strength and savior last season, it could ultimately prove to be their Achilles heel this time around. After all, Ibe, Cook and Mousset can’t do anything about 67 goals conceded.
Do you like attacking soccer? Young players having fun? And do you ultimately enjoy watching idealism fall flat in the face of reality? Then Bournemouth is your club. There will be fun times, they will beat some big teams, Benik Afobe and Ibe will be fun to watch, but the whole campaign is doomed.
Trystane Martell. Oh you beautiful little boy, too busy living in your fantasy world and watching your front that you forgot how important it was to be aware of the back.
Two years ago, Burnley came up to the Premier League after a season of admirable overperformance in the Championship. They approached the top tier in frugal fashion, stuck with their squad, and 33 points later they were relegated, to nobody's great surprise. Fast forward to the present day and it all looks very familiar. So far this summer, Burnley has picked up two players from just-relegated-to-League One Charlton plus an 18-year-old former Manchester United trainee. The contrast with fellow promoted side Middlesbrough, who have expanded their wage bill to accommodate the likes of Víctor Valdés and Álvaro Negredo, is a stark one.
There is, of course, a balance to be struck. They've lost club player of the year Joey Barton, who's decamped to Rangers, but otherwise most of the side that went unbeaten for the final 23 games of last season is still in place, including England's Tom Heaton in nets and top scorer Andre Gray up front. And Sean Dyche's teams know how to keep things tight; only Boro conceded fewer goals in the Championship. Will that be enough? Probably not. But Leicester is the defending champion, so all bets are off.
Guðmundsson comes into the Premier League on the back of a special summer. Though he was relegated from the Championship last season, he played every game he could in Euro 2016 as Iceland charmed their way around France. Maybe we'll hear the thunderclap echoing around Turf Moor.
All additions: Jóhann Berg Guðmundsson, Nick Pope, Jimmy Dunne
Duff's decision to hang up his boots and slip into a tracksuit means that fans of Championship Manager 00/01 can no longer enjoy the real life work of the most even-tempered, consistent right back that a numerical abstraction ever gifted to the world. A sad day.
All departures: Michael Duff, Joey Barton, Matthew Taylor
A principled refusal to pour money into the gaping maw of the transfer market may bring relegation, but it also brings stability. Current chairman Mike Garlick took over in June 2012 with associate John Banaszkiewicz (who stepped down in 2015) and targeted a return to the Premier League while being explicit that they wouldn't "bet the ranch." And with Dyche, who they appointed October of the same year, they've established Burnley as somewhere between the 22nd and 18th best team in the country. Which is pretty decent going, if not particularly exciting.
Another season of hard-working struggle might not appeal too much, but Burnley can cling to the fact that they have the best badge in the Premier League, a fever dream of a crest that features a neon yellow goose with an egg stuck on its foot, mocking a lion, near some bees. It's quite the thing.
King Tommen. Generally inoffensive, almost certainly out of their depth and, from the moment of their ascension, looking very, very doomed.
After winning the Premier League title in 2014-15, Chelsea made history once again in 2015-16, though not the kind to reminisce about fondly for years to come.
The club's worst season for two decades, missing Europe for the first time since 1996-97, and the worst title-defense in Premier League history are just some of the accolades collected by the Blues. Jose Mourinho was set to create a dynasty; he was instead sacked in December, with the club just one point above the relegation zone. Guus Hiddink came back for a second stint to oversee the rest of the season as Chelsea finished 10th.
The job to return Chelsea to the top four has been entrusted to Antonio Conte, the former Juventus player and manager, a man of unbound passion and determination. His task is to translate that to the largely unchanged and unmotivated squad, to rebuild their belief and confidence, and improve upon career-worst seasons from the likes of Eden Hazard, Nemanja Matić, Thibaut Courtois, and just about the entire backline.
This will not be easy.
Convincing Premier League champion Kanté, arguably the league's most important player last season, to give up the opportunity to play in the Champions League for the challenge of lifting Chelsea out of mid-table mediocrity should go down as a major coup for the Chelsea board.
All additions: N'Golo Kanté, Michy Batshuayi, Juan Cuadrado
No one of any measurable impact has left. The club did not pick up the buy-options on either Pato's or Falcao's loan contracts. But Chelsea still have a very large first-team squad at the moment (30+), so more activity is expected in this regard (either sales or loans).
All departures: Radamel Falcao, Alexandre Pato, Marco Amelia, Stipe Perica, Papy Djilobodji, Baba Rahman
Cautiously hopeful. Last season was easily the worst in recent memory, and with so much sustained success over the past couple decades, this was a brand new experience for most of the younger generations.
We're still London's first and finest, don't let anyone tell you otherwise.
This is no time for jokes. As head coach Antonio Conte would say, it's time to work work work, fight fight fight.
Crystal Palace did a reverse-Swansea last season. Before the turn of the year, Alan Pardew’s men were in fifth place, and things looked bright and promising. They had beaten both Chelsea and Liverpool as well, the sky was the limit. Then they forgot how to win a game. After their victory against Stoke City in late December, Palace didn’t win again until early April when they beat Norwich.
They lost Yannick Bolasie and James McArthur to injury, and slowly turned from hopes of European competition to hopes of survival. They finished 15th. One silver lining though, was that they also reached their second ever FA Cup Final against Manchester United. Their efforts mirrored the season as they would start well, scoring through Jason Puncheon before ultimately losing the contest.
Palace has brought in a few players to strengthen their squad, but after losing Emmanuel Adebayor, Marouane Chamakh and Dwight Gayle, they need a striker. Especially after only scoring just 39 goals last season. They really need a striker. Anyone.
Granted, the EPL has more money now than ever, but Palace has gone and spent a club-record £13 million transfer fee on Townsend. To his credit, the winger did score four goals in 12 starts for Newcastle before they were relegated, and Pardew will be looking for him to improve on that form to help with Palace’s struggles in front of goal. He'll be especially needed if Yannick Bolasie departs as is rumored.
All additions: Andros Townsend, James Tomkins, Steve Mandanda
Gayle wasn't spectacular by any means; he only managed three goals last year. But his departure means that Palace now only have Connor Wickham, who scored five goals, and Frazier Campbell, who scored none, at striker.
All departures: Dwight Gayle, Chris Kettings, Alex McCarthy, Marouane Chamakh, Patrick McCarthy, Emmanuel Adebayor, Brede Hangeland, Adrian Mariappa
In Pardew's own words: "I feel we are nowhere near where we want to be at this moment." Palace has been searching for the elusive striker and so far they've come up empty-handed. They tried to sign Michy Batshuayi, but he chose Chelsea. Christian Benteke is looking to leave Liverpool, but apparently not for Palace, and who knows what's still going on with Saido Berahino and West Brom.
If Palace can't find someone to score goals for them, this season will end in disaster. They managed to escape relegation by narrow margins last year, but injuries will happen again, there will be bad runs of form, and if they don't have the personnel to trudge through those, then Pardew may be joining his beloved Newcastle in the second division. If he makes it to the end of the season.
Wilfried Zaha is really good at doing incredible things with the ball at his feet and making the lives of defenders miserable. There's usually no end-product but it is absolutely enjoyable to watch.
Jorah Mormont. There was a time when it looked as if there could be something to Palace, but the situation is looking more dire as time passes. Plus, he looks a bit like Pardew.
Optimism around Goodison Park was sent sky-high in February when billionaire businessman Farhad Moshiri took over Everton and pledged to invest both in the playing squad and the club's infrastructure. That optimism briefly dissipated as results nosedived under Roberto Martinez, but the Spaniard's sacking gave everybody the chance of a fresh start. Everton haven't been as active in the transfer market as we hoped over the summer, despite being linked with more players than ever before. But the arrival of manager Ronald Koeman and director of football Steve Walsh are shrewd additions and ideal building blocks for future success. The is a real feeling among the supporters that this could be the start of an exciting new era.
Given he is the only senior outfield player to join the club to date this summer there isn't much choice! However, he will bring some much needed solidity to Everton's midfield and at £7.1 million is a relative bargain given today's inflated market.
All additions: Ashley Williams, Maarten Stekelenberg, Idrissa Gueye, Chris Renshaw, Bassala Sambou
While Everton got an incredible £47.5 million for Stones and he isn't coming off a great season, he was still one of the club's most talented young players. Everton will almost certainly put the money they got for Stones back into two quality defenders, but as of this moment, he leaves a big hole.
All departures: John Stones, Tim Howard, Tony Hibbert, Leon Osman, Steven Pienaar
There hasn't been so much optimism among Everton supporters in a long time. After decades of under-investment and under-achievement the club finally appears to have some ambitious, competent leadership that could spark a change in fortunes. That excitement is tempered by mild frustration at the lack of signings so far this window. But there is no doubt the club is heading in the right direction and I'm hopeful a little patience now will be richly rewarded further down the line.
Everton is about to go on a journey -- I urge you to come along for the ride.
Jon Snow -- we are back from the dead and ready to reclaim our title of King of the North.
Taking the positives from Hull's preparations for the coming season isn't easy, but at some point somebody's going to get an excellent, helpful book out of all this. Working title: How Not To Prepare For A Soccer Season. As their first game back in the Premier League looms, they've sold one of their most important players to Newcastle, have brought in just one youngster by way of reinforcement, and have lost their manager, Steve Bruce, who resigned in frustration at the state of the club and the lack of investment.
Approaches to Wales' manager Chris Coleman have so far been rebuffed. Former Manchester United cone-wrangler Mike Phelan is in charge for the moment, and a savagely-timed injury crisis -- Michael Dawson, Moses Odubajo, Allan McGregor and Alex Bruce will all miss the beginning of the campaign -- mean that Hull's squad, already slim, is dangerously emaciated. Their opening run of fixtures are brutal: they start against champions Leicester, then the following six games include Manchester United, Arsenal, Liverpool and Chelsea. By the time their injured players return and their new manager finds his feet, it may all be too late.
Mannion is the key addition by default -- Hull have, at the time of writing, bought nobody else -- and, at 18, is young for any player and practically fetal for a goalkeeper. So he probably won't be playing much in the way of senior soccer this season. Still, he is a highly rated prospect, and he chose Hull over, reportedly, Liverpool and Stoke City, in part thanks to a very positive meeting with … Steve Bruce. Oh dear.
All additions: Will Mannion
When a player is poached by an undeniably bigger club, all a club can do is hold up their hands and then try to spend the money as well as they can. When he's happy to drop down a division, however, then that's a concern. And for all that Rafa Benitez's Newcastle can pay Diame's release clause and offer decent wages and prospects, it's not a great look when the man who scored the goal to win promotion to the Premier League decides that, on balance, he'd rather be back in the Championship.
All departures: Mohamed Diame, Sone Aluko, Ryan Taylor
Moderately on fire. Last time Hull City were in the Premier League, events on the field were rather overshadowed by the attempts of their owner, Assam Allam, to change the name of the club to The Super Hull Thunder Tigers. Fans protested, the FA said "nope," and Allam invited his critics to "die as soon as they want" and put the club up for sale. Nothing's improved. Season ticket sales are apparently at a record low, and the club have taken the wildly unpopular decision to stop offering concessionary prices to children and seniors. Empty seats and protests are expected.
There are few guarantees in this world, but deciding to support Hull City this season, in this state, is a cast-iron, titanium-plated, adamantium-boned, one million per cent proof, utterly impregnable, locked-in-a-box-and-buried-twenty-miles-beneath-the-bottom-of-the-ocean insurance policy against the prospect of ever being called a glory hunter.
Leicester City shocked the world last season when they raced to the top of the Premier League table and, defying all the odds, stayed there to win the title for the first time in club history. It was a thrilling season, but also one that's put a giant target on their backs.
Now the Foxes have to figure out how to stay at the top of the pyramid, knowing that now everyone is gunning for them. Leicester certainly have the quality to stay successful, but the pressure is on them in a way it never has been before. Last season they were the Cinderella story, the tale of rags to riches that inspires and amazes the masses. Now they're the defending champions and the expectation is there to enjoy similar success. That's not going to be easy, but this Leicester side is not one to back down from a challenge.
As seen against Barcelona in International Champions Cup preseason play, the Nigerian forward makes Jamie Vardy look heavy-footed in comparison. His excellent finishing and Champions League experience will be vital for the club going forward as they look to build off last season's successes.
All additions: Ahmed Musa, Nampalys Mendy, Bartosz Kapustka, Ron-Robert Zieler, Luis Hernandez
Kante was a huge part of what made Leicester's midfield tick last season. Wherever they needed him, there he was -- crashing the box, retaining possession, screening the back line, marking players out on set pieces, the works. Kante filled many roles, all ably. Losing that reliable presence is a massive blow for Leicester, and even if Mendy does well, he'll be hard-pressed to replace everything Kante did for the Foxes.
All departures: N'Golo Kante, Andrej Kramaric, Mark Schwarzer, Jacob Blythe, Ryan Watson
The Leicester City fanbase is still jubilantly celebrating their title triumph last season, but they're also cautiously concerned about the upcoming season. Leicester's success created a huge task for them going forward: replicating success. That's never easy, especially coming from where they did before their title run, and whether or not they can live up to that expectation is something that no one is sure about just yet.
Well, it's bit late to jump on the bandwagon now ... but Leicester is a hard-working club in a blue-collar city in the heart of England. From the beloved owners (weird, right?) to the fans and on down to the team and staff, their is a unity that you will not find at ANY other team.
The only reasonable choice is Ygritte, because last season Leicester City proved once and for all that We Know Nothing. Let's just hope the Foxes end up better than she did.
Last season, Liverpool gambled on giving Brendan Rodgers one final chance to get the club back on track. It didn't pay off. What followed was the arrival of managerial superstar Jürgen Klopp and a wild ride of a season that at times promised everything before somehow, in the end, not amounting to much of anything. It was by turns frustrating and enthralling and joyful and miserable. And now it's time to do it all over again.
Only following a full offseason for Klopp to stamp his mark on the side in the transfer market and on the training pitch, hopefully with a little more of the enthralling and joyful. New signings have arrived, bringing pace and the promise of more goals. The players have sweated through three-a-day training sessions. Expectations are high for Klopp's high-octane approach to fully take hold as England's sleeping giant and, without any European distractions, to just maybe push them on to their first title of the Premier League era.
No matter what happens next, at the very least it promises to be entertaining.
Sadio Mané represents the biggest outlay, and Joël Matip was a defensive star in the Bundesliga who should help shore things up at the back, but Karius in goal looked set to be the key addition this summer. The club's other key signings strengthened positions that already had depth; Karius strengthened a weak point. Or he was meant to, until he broke his hand, meaning he'll spend the first two months of the season sidelined.
All additions: Sadio Mané, Joel Matip, Loris Karius, Georginio Wijnaldum, Ragnar Klavan, Alex Manninger
He isn't gone quite yet, but wherever the Belgian striker ends up — likely for around £30 million — and whenever the move does finally goes through, it's going to be the club's key departure a year after Rodgers made him his No. 1 target. Things at Anfield went just about as well for the player as they did for the now ex-Liverpool manager.
All departures: Jordon Ibe, Joe Allen, Brad Smith, Martin Skrtel, Jerome Sinclair, Sergi Canos, Lawrence Vigouroux, Joao Carlos Teixeira
Some fans remain fixated on the lack of a so-called marquee signing this summer, but for most the mood is bullish heading into Klopp's first full season in charge and the hope is that as in 2013-14, a lack of European soccer will help lead to improved domestic results.
Jürgen Klopp will hug you and scream at you and then possibly hug you again for good measure. He's not only one of the most highly regarded managers, he's one of the most entertaining. Plus he drives his teams to play up-tempo, high-pressure, attacking soccer and that should mean things are just as entertaining on the pitch as off for Liverpool this season. For those who enjoy clubs with a history of winning shiny things and cities with a history of not liking Margaret Thatcher, Liverpool's got you covered on that front, too.
Bojack Horseman, because ever since the glory years there's been nothing but depressing results and (accusations of) substance abuse and always finding new and inventive ways for everything to end badly but this is totally gonna be their year. But probably not.
Last season Manchester City performed poorly in the Premier League, but the struggles of other top teams allowed the Blues to finish 4th (on goal difference). That ended Manchester City's four-year run of finishing in the top two in the Premier League. The season was characterized by struggles against top sides, with the Blues failing to defeat a single other top-five side and recording just a single win over any top eight team. Pep Guardiola takes over as manager with high expectations, but the team isn't dramatically changed from the underachieving side of last season.
In Sane, Manchester City acquired a young pacey winger who can score goals. He has worked his way into the German National Team setup and was in the squad for Euro 2016, and is considered one of their brightest young attacking stars in the making.
All additions: IIkay Gundogan, Aaron Mooy, Nolito, Leroy Sane, Alexander Zinchenko, John Stones
The depth Demichelis provided at center back and defensive midfield will be missed once the Champions League and domestic cups roll around. Demichelis certainly wasn't a star by any means, but he had an important place in the side and one that can't be replaced with just any player, as his veteran experience played a key role in his value to City.
All departures: Martin Demichelis, Richard Wright
Optimism, perhaps misplaced considering the Blues are an aging squad that was run over all too easily by the better Premier League sides last season, even at home. But Pep Guardiola's record of success makes folks believe.
We have great colors and fans who support irrespective of results!
Only one name springs to mind: Kylo Ren. The arrival of Pep Guardiola as their mentor-slash-evil-overlord gives them almost limitless potential, but they've long been prone to fits of form that could creatively be called "petulant," much like the console-killing fits Ren has when things don't go his way.
Unfortunately for Manchester United, the remarkable tenure of Sir Alex Ferguson led to dangerous delusions of exceptionalism. After his retirement in 2013, the club bizarrely turned to Premier League mid-table specialist David Moyes; "we’re Manchester United," was the only plausible explanation for a decision that, in retrospect, smacks of sublime arrogance. Less than a year later Moyes was gone, the club attempting to right the wrong by turning to the wily old Dutchman Louis van Gaal. His authoritarian approach was well-suited to the demands of managing one of the world’s biggest clubs, but his football was slow and stifling, and chants of "attack!" reverberated around Old Trafford for the two years of his tenure.
An FA Cup win in May wasn’t enough to save van Gaal from the disappointment of missing out on a Champions League spot, and he was sacked just hours after lifting the trophy. It was only then that United’s hierarchy then made the decision they should have made three years ago, appointing Ferguson’s old friend and rival José Mourinho. The Portuguese coach may head into his debut season at Old Trafford on the back of a disappointing season at Chelsea, but he remains an undeniably elite manager. He’s got the charisma and nous to lead United back to the top of the table, and if history is anything to go by, the improvement should be swift.
After four outstanding seasons at Juventus, the French international has been signed for a world record transfer fee by the club that let him walk away for next-to-nothing back in 2013. The 23-year-old could well claim to be one of the very best midfielders on the planet at present, and he should add both defensive steel and attacking drive to an area that has recently been United's Achilles' heel.
All additions: Eric Bailly, Henrikh Mkhitaryan, Zlatan Ibrahimović, Paul Pogba
At the time of writing, all departures are reserve players.
All departures: Victor Valdés, Nick Powell, Guillermo Varela
There’s no doubt that the supporters are truly optimistic for the first time in a while. United has hired an outstanding new manager and shown a willingness to spend big in the transfer market. There’s every reason to think that a title challenge could be on the cards for the first time since Ferguson’s departure. There are still some small concerns, such as Mourinho’s poor track record with nurturing young talent, but these long-term worries have rather taken a back seat among a fanbase starving for a swift return to domestic success.
We could well waffle on about the culture of the club, of its unique commitment to nurturing youth, attacking soccer and triumph over adversity. But we recognize that like almost everything and anything of value in the modern age, questions of the club's collective identity have come under the control of a corporate elite; so much so that it can be quite hard to separate real, tangible history from the desire to flog a few more manufactures in emerging markets. And so instead, we'll just say that we've got José Mourinho and Zlatan Ibrahimović (to say nothing of Paul Pogba): if that won't entertain, nothing will.
Pikachu. Both are universally recognized and a little scarier than they look.
This season marks Middlesbrough’s return to the Premier League after an absence of seven years. In an eventful intervening period they’ve been through four different managers, narrowly avoided relegation to the third tier and suffered promotion playoff heartbreak, but that all changed as incumbent boss Aitor Karanka led the side to automatic promotion from the Championship.
Questions were asked and eyebrows raised upon Karanka’s arrival over two years ago -- some reasonable, some less so. Not only was he the first non-British manager in Boro’s history, but he’d never before taken charge of a senior team in his own right, having spent the previous few seasons as assistant to a certain José Mourinho at Real Madrid. However, Karanka soon proved the doubters wrong, building a team from back to front and winning promotion on the back of a thoroughly impressive defensive record.
Middlesbrough chiefs have latterly restructured the club’s backroom arrangements -- including the hiring of former Zenit St. Petersburg sporting director Victor Orta -- and they appear to be reaping the rewards. They’ve bought well over the summer, and there’s optimism that their impressive organisation both on and off the field will enable them to survive in the top flight.
Though one-time wonderkid Viktor Fischer and former Manchester City striker Álvaro Negredo were more headline-friendly signings, it’s arguably the addition of midfielder Marten de Roon from Atalanta that has been Boro’s most impressive business. The Dutchman arrived for a fee reportedly in the region of £12 million after a season as one of Serie A’s most impressive defensive midfielders, and he’ll add some much-needed bite to Karanka’s outfit. Still only 25, he could well go on to become a Riverside favourite
All additions: Brad Guzan, Jordan McGhee, Álvaro Negredo, Gastón Ramírez, Victor Valdés, Bernardo Espinosa, Antonio Barragán, Viktor Fischer, Marten de Roon
Boro have so far managed to hang onto all of the players that played a part in their promotion campaign, with only fringe members of the squad having been allowed to depart.
All departures: Jonathan Woodgate, Rhys Williams, Connor Ripley
Things are looking very healthy. Chairman Steve Gibson gambled on Karanka’s ability to lead Boro back to the Premier League, and backed him with a string of big signings in the Championship. With promotion leaving the club in line for a slice of the gigantic top-flight-TV-money pie, any fleeting financial concerns have now evaporated. Boro’s recruitment team has signed shrewdly over the summer; all that remains is for the players to do the business on the pitch.
The North East is widely held to be the real bastion of football in England, and the town of Middlesbrough epitomizes the North Sea spirit: home matchdays are perhaps the one galvanizing force for a town enduring considerable economic strife. They’re a true community club, still owned by local lad Steve Gibson, the man who saved the team from administration in 1986. And if that's not enough, they’re a team with a history of exciting and exotic soccer: Juninho and Gaizka Mendieta are two of the most notable players with whom the club fell in love, and vice versa. Having made a few intriguing signings again this summer, they should be more than worth watching.
Charmander. They look much scarier from the back than the front, though don’t underestimate the threat they can pose.
The 2015-16 season saw Southampton improve on their final league position for the sixth year in a row, something their fans could certainly get used to. Their slow climb up the table ever since they earned promotion to the Premier League has been a joy to watch develop, with Southampton becoming one of the most reliable and quickly-improving teams in the league.
Southampton fans have, however, also gotten used to something far less enjoyable -- losing players and coaches during the summer transfer window. Like with Mauricio Pochettino before him, manager Ronald Koeman left the Saints for a so-called "bigger club" – despite Southampton finishing well above Everton in the final Premier League standings. Money talks, and that’s why Saints lost a further three key players this summer in Sadio Mane, Victor Wanyama and Graziano Pelle -- losses that have become almost numbingly common for Southampton fans to deal with.
However, the appointment of new manager Claude Puel appears to be encouraging, while the signings of Bayern Munich’s Pierre-Emile Hojbjerg and Norwich City’s Nathan Redmond are exciting. There's increasingly little room to improve compared to the bigger EPL clubs ahead of them in the table, but Southampton are again poised to try to do just that.
Southampton lost Mane, who was one of their few direct threats with load of pace. Redmond is the perfect replacement for such a loss and has looked great in preseason friendlies so far. Redmond has a long ways to go before he can make the same kind of impact Mane did for Southampton, but he has the raw skills and the potential to be excellent -- now it's just a matter of Southampton making sure he gets there.
All additions: Pierre-Emile Hojbjerg, Nathan Redmond, Jeremy Pied, Alex McCarthy
It would be easy to say Mane, but Wanyama is the bigger loss. He has long been immense in the midfield, though his attitude problems and lack of discipline left Saints fans wanting more. Wanyama is a talented player who always seemed like he wanted to leave for a bigger club -- and despite those talents, the only real shame here is that Southampton couldn't get a bigger transfer fee for him than they did.
All departures: Sadio Mane, Victor Wanyama, Graziano Pelle, Juanmi, Gaston Ramirez, Kelvin Davis, Paulo Gazzaniga
Southampton fans remain fairly optimistic. By now, they're used to summer upheaval and attitudes to Saints are totally adaptable to whatever happens after three consecutive summers of change. There are a few fans out there who are frustrated at the lack of spending from the Saints' board so far, considering the new influx of TV and outgoing transfer money coming back into the Saints coffers. But, the mood remains largely positive with Puel now in charge.
Southampton is the classy underdog. Every summer sees the bigger fish in the Premier League pond poach their products from one of the world's best youth football academies and one of the world's best scouting networks. Despite that, Saints still manage to defy expectations and improve on their previous season. They play attractive football and like to give young players a chance -- what's not to love?
If Southampton was a wrestler, it would be Daniel Bryan. Technically proficient and one for all the neutrals to root for as the classy underdog.
As we head into the fourth year of Mark Hughes' rule of the Stadium Formerly Known As Britannia, it seems fair to conclude that things are satisfactory. Three consecutive ninth-placed finishes tells a pleasing story of stability and security, while the football has evolved in both sophistication and aesthetic appeal. There used to be a shameful, sadistic pleasure in watching Tony Pulis' gang of barbarians upsetting their betters; now, when Bojan, Marko Arnautovic and Xherdan Shaqiri click, Stoke City can be genuinely thrilling to watch.
The question for this season, then, is whether Stoke can turn achievement into over-achievement. Nobody's expecting them to "do a Leicester," as it will forever be known, but Southampton, West Ham and Everton have all taken squads of similar quality into Europe since Hughes took over. Greater consistency will be the key, particularly at home, where last season they trounced both Manchester clubs but lost to Watford, West Brom and Crystal Palace. They could also do with a reliable, first-choice striker; last season's top scorer was Arnautovic, with 11.
Buying a player after an impressive international tournament is often a dodgy idea, but Mark Hughes, like all self-respecting Welshmen, didn't want the summer to end. And so in from Liverpool comes Euro 2016 superstar Allen, still only 26 and priced at a mere £13 million, which in these hysterical times looks like something of a bargain. He's presumably been bought to dovetail with Gianelli Imbula, the record signing who arrived last January, and the bearded Welshman's tidy passing should improve Stoke's midfield.
All additions: Joe Allen, Ramadan Sobhi
Sidwell has taken his furrowed brow down to the Championship and Brighton and Hove Albion, and fans of hardworking, scampering midfielders will be sad to see him leave. But to be fair, he was getting on a bit, so in the grand scheme of things it was probably best for both player and club for him to move on and Stoke to find a new player -- like Allen! -- to take his place.
All departures: Steve Sidwell, Peter Odemwingie
Pottering on nicely, if you'll excuse the pun. In an business as chaotic as football, keeping hold of the same manager for a fourth year amounts to something admirable, and as noted above, Stoke have been stable in terms of results while improving in style. The squad is a little unbalanced, however, with a few aging professionals that need to be moved on. And should they continue to bounce along in mid-table, it remains to be see how long all parties -- particularly the ambitious Hughes -- remain happy with that state of affairs.
Over the last few seasons, Stoke have become a kind of rehabilitation club for continental talents that have found their career swerving vaguely off track. Bojan, Shaqiri, Arnautovic, Ibrahim Afellay … it seems likely that none of them expected to find a stage in Staffordshire, but all have done pretty well. So if you've an interest in redemption, this is the club for you.
Haunter. Because they've evolved from G(h)astly.
Sunderland only barely survived the relegation race last season, and now thanks to Sam Allardyce bolting for the English national team, they're without the man who saved them. David Moyes is a manager with a long history of keeping questionable sides up in the Premier League, but his last two managerial jobs (Manchester United and La Liga's Real Sociedad) were just this side of disastrous.
Their offseason activity has been limited otherwise, only just making their first signing in the first week of August. With how things are shaping up, it's going to be a tougher battle than ever to avoid relegation, but Sunderland aren't exactly strangers to having to scrape and claw these days.
Also their only addition of the summer so far, Djilobodji is nonetheless going to play an important role for Sunderland. He had a solid second half of last season with Werder Bremen to rebound from playing all of one minute with Chelsea before that, but now he's with a club where he can and should play a big role. His athleticism brings them something in central defense that Sunderland lacked before, and that will be an important factor for them this season.
All additions: Papy Djilobodji
The right back was only at Sunderland on loan last season and got off to a slow start at the Stadium of Light, but once Sam Allardyce arrived and saw Yedlin's value, he really started to blossom. Losing his pace and drive and attacking contribution on the right flank is going to be a bitter blow for Sunderland, because they don't have another player who can replace it. (It should be noted there's still a chance he returns, though.)
All departures: Emanuele Giaccherini, Santiago Vergini, DeAndre Yedlin, Yann M'Vila, Ola Toivonen, Steven Fletcher, Danny Graham, Valentin Roberge
Things are, in a word, shaky. The club is in a transitional period they didn't want to be in thanks to Allardyce's sudden departure, with Moyes scrambling to rebuild the team in his image with very limited time to work. Fans are nervous and anxious, hoping that this isn't the season that Sunderland finally fails to make a great escape and wind up dropping into the Championship.
Sunderland may not be all that good, but what they do have going for them is a compelling story. The Black Cats' now-annual battles against relegation make for constant drama and make every single match meaningful: every win could be THE win that saves Sunderland, and every loss makes the following match all the more tense for the meaningfulness that any losing streak has. It's not easy by any means, but the joy of their successes make it worth the effort.
That's easy: they're Magikarp. There's a lot of frustrating flailing and not always being enjoyable. With a huge and dedicated fanbase, there's a monster in there somewhere, but it'll take a lot of work to bring it out.
The Swans finished midtable, as they are wont to do, but last year saw them flirt with the prospect of relegation in the first half. The excitement of returning to the Championship seemed isolated to just Garry Monk though, who was fired before the dream could be realized. In came Francesco Guidolin as his replacement, a manager so out of left field that now-former captain Ashley Williams had no qualms in admitting that he had to search his name on Google to find out more about the man.
Unknown or not, he helped to right the ship before it sank. And eventually Swansea City went from battling relegation to a comfortable 12th place finish, ten points above the drop zone. This year, they have already lost their best striker in Andre Ayew, which is a big problem considering that they had one of the worst attacks (a total of 42 goals) in the EPL last season. They’ve tried to remedy this by signing Fernando Llorente, who scored a whopping four goals last season in La Liga. They've also just lost Williams, to Everton.
It’s a high hope, but someone must have it, and the hope is that Llorente will be able to help solve the problem that is Swansea’s attack. 42 goals in a full season is just not enough, but with Llorente representing a pretty significant upgrade up front, they should be able to score a few more.
All additions: Fernando Llorente, Leroy Fer, Mike van der Hoorn
Other departures like Gomis and Paloschi will hurt the Swans, but none of them were as influential as Ayew was last season. He was the one consistent threat in their attack and always had to be accounted for, but with him gone to West Ham there's now a gaping hole in Swansea's lineup.
All departures: Ashley Williams, Alberto Paloschi, Eder, Bafatimbi Gomis, Daniel Alfei, Andre Ayew
Relief? Avoiding relegation was clearly massive, and Guidolin has proven in his half-year that he is at least competent in getting the best out of the players available to him. A full year of his ideas can prove fruitful. Then again, it's not clear if there's any plan for replacing Ayew and Williams adequately.
Because Jefferson Montero has a knack for twisting defenders inside out, and Gylfi Sigurdsson only scores goals that are pretty.
The Dorne storyline. Once a big part of the conversation when Oberyn was flaunting his beauty and way with words, it quickly became very boring and distracting. Now it’s struggling to become relevant again as many people are prepared to write it off completely.
Tottenham Hotspur had, by virtually every possible metric, an amazing season in 2015-16. The horrific irony of that first sentence is that they had their best-ever Premier League finish (third), were legitimate title contenders, and still somehow managed to end the season in the most hilariously Spursy way possible. Tottenham endured a draining and title-defining draw with Chelsea, went winless in their last four matches, and ended the year with a 5-1 loss to already-relegated Newcastle, meaning they were pipped to second place by hated arch-rivals Arsenal.
That stung, but there's a massive amount of optimism heading into this season. Under manager Mauricio Pochettino, Tottenham have coalesced around a talented, young (and some would say slightly naughty) core of players including Golden Boot winner Harry Kane, English bromancers Dele Alli and Eric Dier, playmaker Christian Eriksen, rising star Erik Lamela, and the best back line in English soccer last season. Spurs don't need a flashy and expensive new signing. What they need is depth so that they can compete in both the Premier and the Champions League and prove last season wasn't a fluke.
With their direct rivals all spending huge amounts of cash to improve their squads, the challenge – and pressure – to succeed is greater than ever. But with all the good vibes coming out of north London this summer, who would doubt this year that Tottenham can pull it off? (Answer: probably everybody.)
Tottenham desperately needed someone to back up and rotate with Harry Kane, who played in 50 games last season in all competitions. They got that in Janssen. The Eredivisie's top scorer last year with AZ Alkmaar, he's a young, tireless worker who knows where the back of the net is. He won't play in every match, but he'll help ensure Kane's legs won't fall off halfway through March.
All additions: Vincent Janssen, Victor Wanyama
One of the interesting things about this year's Tottenham team is that they've managed to keep the band together. At the time this was written, the only players expected to leave are ones who didn't really feature that much last season.
All departures: Alex Pritchard, Federico Fazio
Spurs fans are proud of what the club has accomplished, happy with their squad ... and nervous as hell. Tottenham's title run was wonderful, but it was also contingent as much upon the unprecedented underachievement of Manchester City, Manchester United, and Chelsea as it was on Spurs' performance. There's a very distinct possibility that Tottenham could improve their squad this summer and still finish fifth in the table. So the goal, as it is every year if you're a Tottenham fan, is fourth place and qualification for the Champions League. Anything more than that is gravy.
Supporters were also concerned to learn that head of recruitment Paul Mitchell and chief scout Rob Mackenzie both left the club right before the start of the season, though it's not clear exactly why they left yet or how the club plans to replace them.
Spurs are young and dynamic, play exciting and progressive football with a bit of a nasty streak, and are doing it without spending metric tons of cash. Do you like teams that claim your heart and then cruelly smash it into tiny pieces on the regular? Welcome to Tottenham Hotspur.
Bronn of the Blackwater. They're a bit dirty, quickly rose far above their station, and ultimately were denied their just reward.
Watford spent much of last season outpacing expectations, though a late-season swoon ultimately cost them a top-half finish. Still, they proved that they're a solid team, and one worth taking seriously as they prepare for their second season in the Premier League.
Their biggest change from last season is in the arrival of Walter Mazzarri, who is coming off a disappointing spell at Inter, but was wildly successful at Napoli before that. The Italian manager has long sought a chance to prove his ability with an English club, and now that chance is here -- and now we get to see if his conservative-looking but rapid-striking tactical style will make Watford the ultra-competitive side fans will hope it can be.
While Kabasele isn't the highest-priced player Watford brought in this summer -- that would be the wonderfully-named Isaac Success -- he will probably be the most important. The Belgian central defender is a very good fit for what Mazzarri asks for from his back line, with good athleticism and tactical know-how to help shield his goalkeeper. He's making a big jump from the Jupiler Pro League in Belgium, though, so he could be facing a rocky adjustment to life in England.
All additions: Isaac Success, Christian Kabasele, Brice Dja Djedje, Jerome Sinclair, Camilo Zuniga
The versatile attacking midfielder was a frequent starter for Watford last year, plugging whatever hole in the attacking third that the Hornets needed him to. While his talent is theoretically easy to replace, his versatility and high-effort style would have been valuable to have on the bench for the grind of the Premier League, especially working under a manager like Mazzarri.
All departures: Miguel Layun, Almen Abdi, Jose Manuel Jurado, Juanfran, Gabriele Angella
Watford are in a bit of a state of transition, but feelings around the club are generally positive. Bringing in Mazzarri is a bold move and a statement of intent by club ownership, and they're hoping to take a big step forward this season.
If you want to support an up-and-coming club that's far from a popularist, "hipster" choice, Watford is the club for you. They've got fun players like Odion Igalho, tough players like Mario Suarez, and a high-energy, wildly entertaining manager in Mazzarri. They're hungry and eager and ready to break out, so get your ticket now before the bus gets full.
The obvious pop-culture figure to compare Watford to would be the Pokemon Beedrill, but let's not be obvious. Let's instead turn to WWE superstar Dolph Ziggler, the eternal hard-working underdog. Now, Dolph has enjoyed more success in his WWE career than Watford have had in the EPL, but the comparison is definitely there: always having to scratch and claw and battle and scrape to get to where they want to be, and stealing the show when they manage to have runs of success.
Last season, West Brom finished 14th in the Premier League, which on the surface seems perfectly respectable. That finish was achieved, however, on the back of a peculiar run of results: after taking ten points from four games in February and early March, they failed to win another game all season, provoking boos from fans and even a few scattered mutterings of "Pulis Out." Such are the consequences of Pulisan pragmatism: if the results don't come, then there's nothing much else hang your patience on.
We can probably assume that despite the grumbling, and despite the addition of pacey winger Matt Phillips, manager Tony Pulis has not had a sudden conversion to the cause of all-out attacking. The defense will be staying solid and the midfield will, by and large, be reinforcing that solidity. So buckle up for another roller coaster season of keeping it tight, trying to nick a goal on the break, and maximizing set pieces. Still, there'll probably be at least one highly amusing win against somebody like Arsenal, so that'll be fun.
In Phillips' last two adventures in the Premier League, with Blackpool and Queens Park Rangers, the season ended in relegation both times. Pulis, meanwhile has never been relegated, as a player or a manager. Which means that this season at West Brom is a simmering paradox which will almost certainly end up tearing a hole in the fabric of space/time and sucking the entire West Midlands into an alternate dimension.
All additions: Matt Phillips
If you look up the word "mercurial" in the dictionary, you won't find a picture of Sessègnon. That's not how dictionaries work. But nevertheless, one of the Premier League's most confusing and confounding talents has been released, and is currently without a club. At times he was one of the most terrifying forwards in the entire league, capable of slicing through even the most carefully constructed defenses; at others, he basically didn't exist. You can see how that might frustrate Pulis.
All departures: Stéphane Sessègnon, Victor Anichebe, Anders Lindegaard
To employ Pulis is to embrace a certain kind of unspectacular stability, and since he took over at the Hawthorns in January 2015, they've been stable and unspectacular. As noted above, this isn't particularly exciting for many of the fans, but it should be remembered that West Brom, at an institutional level, aren't too far removed from the Steve Clarke-Pepe Mel-Alan Irvine experiment. And that was far too exciting for all the wrong reasons.
It looks very much like West Brom are set for another season of competent, lower midtable security. This may not sound too exciting, but if anybody's looking for a low maintenance football club to follow, one that you can check in on every week or so without feeling worried that you're missing anything, then the Baggies are for you.
House Throstle -- words: "Boing Boing" -- has been minding its own business for thousands of years, thank you very much, and wants nothing to do with any of these squabbling kings. Or queens. Or dragons. These defenses aren't going to fortify themselves.
It’s great time to be blowing bubbles. Not only are the Hammers moving into a new stadium, saying hello to the 60,000 seat Olympic Stadium, but the team will also be competing in the Europa League this season thanks to a Manchester United FA Cup win and a seventh place finish. Granted, they they were in contention for a Champions League spot until the latter parts of the campaign before falling off, but any European soccer is more than anyone expected of the team.
After finishes of 13th, 12th and 12th, West Ham parted ways with Sam Allardyce and brought in Slaven Bilic. He took over a team that was considered a possible relegation candidate, but instead finished with three club records for a Premier League season: most points (62), most goals scored (65), and fewest games lost (8).
It will be hard to replicate the successes of last season, but with a ton of more money to spend and a new stadium, West Ham’s future looks very bright.
The Hammers broke their club record fee a week before the start of the season by paying £20 million to sign Ayew from Swansea City. Ayew's biggest value is in his versatility -- he can play on the left, right, central attacking midfield or even up top if he has to. The 26-year-old Ghanaian had a very solid scoring record at Marseille and bagged 12 goals for the Swans last season.
All additions: Andre Ayew, Sofiane Feghouli, Gökhan Töre, Havard Nordtveit, Arthur Masuaku, Ashley Fletcher
After 243 games for the Hammers, Tomkins left West Ham for Crystal Palace in a £10 million deal this summer. It will be up to Angelo Ogbonna and Winston Reid to fill the massive hole left by Tomkins, unless management comes to their senses very quickly -- and fans will definitely be hoping that they do after how shaky West Ham's other defenders were last season
All departures: James Tomkins, Emmanuel Emenike, Alex Song, Joey O’Brien
Optimistic but harrowing. Ayew was a big signing, and there might be more to come. Yet Manuel Lanzini, Aaron Cresswell and Gohkan Töre have all suffered significant injuries that could jeopardize the start of the season.
The other fear is a regression. Last season saw West Ham overachieve in every possible category and that high can only last for so long. West Ham are almost definitely not going to be in the race for a Champions League place, and probably will not qualify for the Europa League either. But the league is always full of the unexpected, so who knows?
Either because Dmitri Payet is a real life wizard, or because "Forever Blowing Bubbles" is the best team song ever. Definitely not because of Green Street Hooligans.
Samwell Tarly. New leadership led to a more prominent role in the narrative, but it won’t be long before they’re kicked back down to the gutters and reminded just how small and weak they are.