Here we go. It’s finally time for a sport other than baseball to be back on TV. Sure there is MLS, but as much as I love it, it cannot touch English soccer. So without further ado, here are your 2015 English Premier League predictions.
Everyone is sticking with Chelsea but I don’t have as much faith there. The Blues need a little bit of reliable depth up top. Diego Costa only appeared in 26 games last season. Loic Remy and Ramadel Falcao are super talented but they have injury issues of their own. Falcao also looked fairly underwhelming last season with English giants Manchester United. I don’t buy Chelsea staying healthy enough all season to seal the deal.
Instead, I am picking Arsenal to hoist the League trophy for the first time since 2003. Arsene Wenger’s side has it all. A talented top 11, great midfield depth and a world class goalkeeper. Arsenal’s midfield could consist of Aaron Ramsey, Mesut Ozil, Francis Coquelin and Alex Oxlade-Chamberlain while still having Santi Carzola, Jack Wilshire (if healthy) and Mathieu Flamini on the bench. Those are seven quality starters right there in the midfield. They will be servicing some top notch strikers in Alexis Sanchez, Theo Walcott, Olivier Giroud and Danny Welbeck. Welbeck looked shaky last season but Sanchez and Giroud were among the top 10 forwards in the league. This team is going to have an endless supply of offense.
On defense, Per Mertesacker, Nacho Monreal, Kieran Gibbs and Laurent Koscielny anchored the group with youngsters Callum Chambers, Hector Bellerin (although Bellerin looks slated to start ahead of Gibbs this season) spelling them occasionally. Not to mention veteran Mathieu Debuchy is still there to provide some reliable depth. Arsenal truly bolstered their attack though after signing Petr Cech from Chelsea. He only faced 18 shots last season but he only allowed 2 goals across his 7 appearances. Consistent goalkeeping was something Chelsea desperately needed and David Ospina provides an excellent alternative when Cech needs an off day. In my mind, this is the most complete team and they have the depth necessary to survive the rigors of a long season.
Champions League: Chelsea, Manchester City, Tottenham Hotspur
That is not a typo. Manchester United is not being listed here. That’s due to a handful of things. One being the improvement from Tottenham this offseason. Toby Alderwiereld comes to White Hart Lane in hopes of repairing this Tottenham defense. Paired with Belgian teammate Jan Vertonghen, the two will be the spine of the defense in front of Hugo Lloris. With Eric Dier and Danny Rose handling the wings, Tottenham should improve on their 53 goals allowed just a season ago. Up top still feature the rising star Harry Kane and the midfield is chock full of options. Tottenham will get a shot at the top teams in Europe next year.
I already mentioned that I didn’t have total faith in Chelsea’s attack but I still recognize that they are a top team. They will finish second behind Arsenal in a close title chase. Eden Hazard will look to build off a very successful season last year as he plays alongside Cesc Fabregas, Willian, and Nemanja Matic. This team is anchored by Thibaut Courtois with a solid defense in front of him. However, the question marks of Ramirez and Juan Cuadrado paired with the lack of reliable depth behind Costa should be a little worrying. Any injuries could send this team spiraling. Well by Chelsea standards. Overall though, it will be a return to the top European competition once again.
It almost seems like City has been forgotten heading into this season. They finished second just a season ago and had the league’s best goal difference. However, departures from James Milner and Eden Dzeko probably did not instill confidence. Still Man City has the league’s top goal scorer in Sergio Aguero returning and the additions of Raheem Sterling and Fabian Delph. That certainly gives the midfield some new energy and creativity it might have lacked previously. On defense, Vincent Kompany needs to rediscover himself and shake these nagging injuries but Joe Hart is still between the posts which means that City will always have a chance to win. Wilfred Bony will also be a nice addition, offering even more scoring to an already potent City attack.
Europa League: Manchester United
I was very tempted to drop them even lower but I will leave them at five. This has all the makings of a down year for United. Di Maria already left. Goalkeeper David De Gea could be next and that would leave a huge void in the Manchester starting 11. Rooney is coming off a year marred with injury and United are lacking goal scoring options past him. However, it is still Manchester United and the additions of Morgan Schneiderlin, Memphis Depay and Bastian Schweinsteiger will bolster the midfield. Those two plus Juan Mata and Ashley Young make the midfield a strength. The real concern is the potentially leaving De Gea, the lack of depth behind Rooney and the constant rotation on defense. If things start to go South for United, they might continue to do so.
Europa League Qualifying: Southampton, Liverpool
If I had decided to drop United down, it would have been in favor of the upstart Southampton. Sure they lost Schneiderlin, Clyne and Alderwiereld but this team allowed the second fewest goals just a season ago and those players already have replacements in Cedric Soares and Steven Caulker. They will also be getting Jay Rodriguez back on offense. Graziano Pelle looks like he might take the next step as well as he already opened his scoring account this season in Europa League play. Southampton need more goals in the worse way. Fraser Forster should still hold down the fort in goal after having a phenomenal season a year ago. He allowed just 21 goals in 30 games and recorded 13 clean sheets. Those are the types of things that will carry Southampton through the long slog that is a Premier League season.
For Liverpool, every year is supposed to be their year. However, I just don’t see it in this team. Adding Nathaniel Clyne and James Milner are huge additions but losing Raheem Sterling hurts this midfield a lot. The defense looks fairly strong but had a poor showing last season in front of Mignolet. There will certainly be some addition by subtraction with Mario Ballotelli headed for the door in attack. This team still lost leading goal scorer and captain Stephen Gerard which makes me wonder just how good Liverpool’s offense will be heading into this season. The highest remaining scorer on the team is Jordan Henderson with only six league goals. That will certainly spell some trouble for the Reds but this group is still more talented than most of the league. They will do just enough to keep themselves in the European picture.
Relegation: Sunderland, Leicester City, Watford
That does in fact mean that two of the clubs that just got promoted will be staying in the Premier League. Sunderland is completely deficient of attacking options after Connor Wickham left for Crystal Palace. Jordi Gomez and Adam Johnson will be missing time with injury and legal trouble respectively. There are still a handful of really talented players on this team with Stephen Fletcher and newly added Yann M’Vila at the forefront. Unfortunately, if Sunderland cannot find a way to score, and they couldn’t last year with Connor Wickham on the team, then won’t be able to earn the points needed to avoid relegation.
Leicester City look decent last season, finishing in fourteenth place. They scored a decent amount with Leonardo Ulloa leading the attack. However, defense was a constant issue. Leicester allowed the fourth most goals last season in Premier League play. The addition of Yohan Benalouane should provide some improvement to this defensive unit but not enough to salvage their season and avoid relegation.
Then there is Watford. They have so guys who lit up the Championship last year in Tory Deeney and Matej Vydra, but it was the Championship. When they have to play against a team every week who is most likely more talented than them at all three levels of the pitch, I think Watford will struggle. The midfield gets a boost from Tottenham transfer Etienne Capoue but otherwise this midfield looks fairly week. With Joel Ekstrand expected to miss extended time recovering from an ACL injury Watford is going to be heavily outgunned most of the season.
Thoughts on those in between
Everton once again misses out on Europe this season but they take another step in the right direction, moving up to eighth. Stoke City should remain in the top ten as should Crystal Palace. West Brom will be a decent side this year but not consistent enough to make a push towards the top of the table. Aston Villa and West Ham will be battling against relegation all season but should survive. Norwich City will surprise some people and clear relegation by a bit more than most would expect this year. Bournemouth is no joke either with Matt Ritchie leading the way. Newcastle have improved enough to not be a top relegation candidate but not enough to push into the top half. Swansea will benefit from the addition of Gylfi Sigurdsson but they will only go as far as he can take them. It should be a great Premier League season, once again dominated by the same top seven.
Here are the predicted final standings for the 2015-2016.
3. Manchester City
4. Tottenham Hotspur
5. Manchester United
9. Crystal Palace
10. Stoke City
11. Swansea City
12. West Bromwich Albion
13. Newcastle United
14. West Ham United
15. Norwich City
16. Aston Villa
19. Leicester City