2015/2016 premier league preview

There’s been no summer shake-up at Stamford Bridge. Unusually for them, thus far, they have been reasonably quiet in the transfer market.
Manager Jose Mourinho has taken to casting aspersions on his rivals’ spending sprees, which is a bit rich for a man who hasn’t been shy to splash the cash in his accumulated time with the Blues. 
He acts like an envious curmudgeonly neighbour eyeing up the sleek new cars parked in his street, while he still drives a three-year-old Toyota Corolla.
His mood certainly wasn’t helped by the exit of former first choice goalkeeper Petr Cech to London rivals Arsenal.
One can not help but speculate that he left without the consent of the former Porto supremo whose anger the arrival of Asmir Begovic could not even soothe. In fact, I can imagine Mourinho and owner Roman Abramovich are heading for another falling out, such is the manager’s tetchiness lately.
Another high profile arrival is loanee Radamel Falcao. Last season Falcao had a disappointing loan spell at Manchester United, which did nothing to suggest he had regained the prolific goal-scoring traits that he exhibited at Atletico Madrid.
Mourinho, however, is convinced that he has what it takes to get the best out of the Colombian. But doubts remain. Hopefully for the Setúbul native, his main striker Diego Costa will have an uninterrupted campaign.
Poor discipline and a surprisingly fragile frame limited him to play only 26 league games last year. He still managed to score 20 goals, mind you, and one assumes he can improve on that this season.
But the beating heart of Chelsea is their all-powerful midfield. Led by the ever-improving Eden Hazard – who is now surely challenging Messi and Ronaldo for the title of best player in Europe – and very ably supported by Oscar, Fabregas, Matic and Willian, they have undoubtedly the best midfield in the Premier League.
And behind that midfield awaits the league’s meanest defence, although Mourinho’s continued pursuit of Everton’s young English centre-half John Stones suggests he is thinking about whether captain John Terry’s aging legs can sustain another full campaign.
For now, Chelsea are top dogs and it will take a good team to displace them.
Manchester City
The biggest transfer of the summer so far has been City’s purchase of Liverpool’s Raheem Sterling for £49 million, a record fee for a British player. The protracted drawn out saga threatened to run the entire summer and turn ugly, until sense prevailed and both clubs succumbed to the inevitable conclusion.
The question is whether the promising 20-year-old – with only just under 100 league games under his belt – is the answer to manager Manuel Pellegrini’s problems.
Scoring goals last season wasn’t a problem with the outstanding Sergio Aguero securing the Golden Boot with 26. Losing seven games was a bigger problem for the blue half of Manchester, but there have been no changes in the defensive department.
The only other new arrivals have been Fabian Delph and Patrick Roberts, both attack-minded players. This insinuates Pelligrini is happy that his team can reestablish themselves as a formidable force, but I remain unconvinced and feel that unless defenders are bought they will struggle to hold onto second spot.
This will be Arsene Wenger’s 12th season since his last title success and one would think that if he doesn’t achieve his fourth championship this season, he will be escorted off the premises of the Emirates.
Two successive FA Cup victories have kept the wolves from the door, but the ever patient Arsenal fans will need to see the glint of the Premier League trophy shining in North London to satisfy their thirst for success.
Despite Jose Mourinho’s bizarre rantings about Arsenal’s transfer dealings, it’s really only hot air from the Portuguese diva. Arsenals only purchase thus far has been Cech from Chelsea for £10m.
But what a significant signing it could be. For the first time since the days of David Seaman, Arsenal finally have a reliable keeper. With 7 losses last season, Cech can certainly help improve that statistic.
The much maligned Arsenal defence did much better than most people give them credit for, finishing the season with the third meanest defence. Another major problem for the Gunners has been keeping key players fit. Granted with a clean bill of health they can challenge for the title and finally silence the doubters, once and for all.
Manchester United
In previewing the season ahead, Manchester United are the team with the biggest question marks over them. Last season was a Jekyll and Hyde one for the Old Trafford faithful. On their good days, United were brilliant and exciting to watch, but on their bad days they were gruesome. Van Gaal’s debut season was a testing one for him and he has vowed to do much better.
He’s certainly made a good start by splashing the cash and securing the services of Memphis Depay, Bastian Schweinsteiger, Morgan Schneiderlin and Matteo Darmian to bolster areas that badly needed bolstering.
However, the job is not finished yet. Central defence remains United’s Achilles heel and with Sergio Ramos staying put in Madrid, and Van Gaal’s interest in Valencia’s Nicolas Otamendi apparently over, it doesn’t seem likely that anyone else will be bought.
This is a worry because the current crop of central defenders at Van Gaal’s disposal are just not up to the task. The theory that the acquisition of more defensive central midfielders will help the struggling defenders is a moot one, but doubts linger.
Another worry for United fans is that Ander Herrera does not get lost in the shuffle of new players arriving at the club. The Spaniard was without doubt the best outfield player at Old Trafford last season and I believe he will only get better.
I also believe he has all the credentials needed to become a future captain for the Red Devils. Which brings me to the present occupant of that armband, Wayne Rooney. For reasons that eludes me, Rooney is still accorded the adulation and praise reserved for really great players, which he is clearly not.
In fact, it is at least three seasons that Rooney could even come close to being in that category. His league goal statistics for the last three seasons read 12, 17 and 12. Hardly in the company of Lionel Messi or Cristiano Ronaldo.
And yet the adulation persists. His game has deteriorated to the degree that his first touch resembles that of a clumsy elephant, his shooting ability is embarrassing and his overall awareness and fitness reminds one of a Sunday league player. That last bit might be a bit harsh.
I feel the time has come for Rooney to be dropped and made to fight for his place on merit. Poor Javier Hernandez was shunted off last season by Van Gaal without even being given a chance to show what he could do, while misfit Radamal Falcao was given carte blanche to show his worth and we all know how that turned out.
Chances have also been few and far between for the club’s promising young strikers with James Wilson being confined to scraps and fellow prospect Will Keane considered far enough down the pecking order to be sent on loan to Preston.
So unless a new striker is brought in before the transfer window closes, Van Gaal should leave the overpaid Scouser on the bench and use the other options at his disposal. Otherwise, I can see another season of struggle for United with a top four finish the summit of their achievements, as well as an early exit from the Champions League – both of which would surely spell the end of the Dutchman’s reign down Sir Matt Busby Way.
The great overachievers in the Premier League will aim for a repeat of their fifth place finish last season and I would consider that to be a wonderful campaign if that is the case.
Spurs fans everywhere will be anxiously holding their breath until the transfer window shuts in the hope that striker Harry Kane stays at White Hart Lane.
And if that is the case, the next wish they’ll have is that he can repeat his goal-scoring heroics of last season when he scored 31 goals in all competitions. In fact, it is somewhat surprising that nobody has made an official bid for the 22-year-old striker. Do they know something I don’t know?
Apart from Kane, I can’t see anything in the Spurs team to get too excited about. Christian Eriksen and Erik Lamela can certainly turn it on but are not consistent enough. New additions Kieran Trippier and Toby Alderweireld will help a defence that conceded 53 goals last season, but one feels that goalkeeper Hugo Lloris will have another busy campaign.
I’ll be surprised if they even stay in the top six this season.
The biggest surprise here is that Brendan Rodgers is still the manager. The only conclusion, well apart from the way-out-there theory that Rodgers has secret information on owner John Henry, is that a certain German manager decided to take a long sabbatical. Jurgen Klopp looked a cert to take over from Rodgers until his U-turn.
So with his reprieve secured, Rodgers has decided to do what every manager does after a miserable season: spend, spend, spend.
Helped of course by the money lying in the Anfield coffers from Raheem Sterling’s sale to Man City, Rodgers has bought Christian Benteke, Roberto Firmino, Danny Ings, Nathaniel Clyne and James Milner, but whether they can turn around the Merseysiders’ fortunes is debatable.
Certainly I don’t see the League title returning to Anfield for the first time since 1990, but that’s hardly sticking my neck out. Problems remain with the goalkeeping position; Simon Mignolet doesn’t cut it for me and I feel that Liverpool will do well to finish sixth again.
At one stage last season, the Saints were in a good position to finish in the top four. But a slump towards the end saw them finish seventh.
With the loss of key player Morgan Schneiderlin, many are expecting Southampton to revert back to type and settle for mid-table security. I don’t think so. I believe that Ronald Koeman will learn from his first season in England and improve on that seventh spot.
The arrivals of Jordy Clasie from Feyenoord and Juanmi from Malaga will strengthen an already exciting attacking team. Graziano Pelle and Shane Long will score goals, the defence conceded the second fewest goals last season, they’re well served in the goalkeeping stakes and the Saints will be fighting it out for the elusive Champions League spot rather than dropping the other way.
The Also-Rans
I don’t believe any of the other teams have any chance of reaching the top six. Everton will improve on their 11th place finish and along with Swansea, Stoke and maybe West Brom, fight it out for a top ten spot.
Palace and West Ham have potential for mid-table safety and of the promoted teams I think Eddie Howe’s Bournemouth can surprise a few people and stay up comfortably. Norwich are also well capable of remaining in the top division.
Watford, however, will struggle and, along with Sunderland, Newcastle, Leicester and Aston Villa, will battle it out to stay up.
In summary, although Arsenal will run them close, I think Chelsea will be champions again whilst Southampton will duke it out with the two Manchester clubs for a Champions League place.