Last season was an epic two-team battle for the Premier League as Manchester City pipped Liverpool by one point to claim their second Premier League title in a row and their fourth in total. Pep Guardiola’s men won all of their last 13 games to edge the title in what was one of the most exciting title races in years and a week later they made it a clean sweep of all possible domestic honours, landing the FA Cup to add to their Community Shield and Carabao Cup successes.
Liverpool had their own success in claiming their sixth Champions League trophy but it is the Premier League title that most Liverpool fans want to win next season. But with Manchester City strengthening and the fortunes of the likes of Arsenal, Tottenham, Chelsea and Manchester United somewhat conflicting, can anybody come through to challenge City again next season?
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In this article we are going to take a look at the teams who we think will be in contention for the title race this season, as well as a couple that we feel could well spring a surprise and put themselves in the running for perhaps a shock Champions League spot.
Genuine Title Contenders
Pep Guardiola is back and he has already further strengthened his squad with the signing of Rodri from Atletico Madrid and with rumours of moves for other players, notably in the full-back areas, City could come into this season with an even stronger team, and great squad depth, than they had last year.
Given how they have dominated the Premier League in the last two years, amassing 198 points across both years, City look absolutely nailed on certainties to be amongst the front-runners again this season, indeed it would be an incredible shock, not to mention a massive disappointment for the clubs owners and fans, should City fail to finish anywhere but the top two, or ideally top of the table once again.
However, questions remain. Financial fair play questions have been raised and are still hanging over the club and while their league form is scintillating, there is no doubt that the trophy that City owners and fans, and perhaps Pep himself, covets the most is the Champions League.
Make no mistake, City are strong favourites to win the Premier League once again but I feel they will also have an eye equally on landing that elusive Champions League.
Jurgen Klopp’s team fell just one point short of beating Manchester City last season. Liverpool lost just the once all season long, to Manchester City in January, in a game that proved to be the crucial one in the title race. The Reds took just one point from City in the two games they played against them in the league and the feeling is that the Reds need to improve on that if they are to beat City again this season.
With the Reds back line rock solid, Klopp hasn’t felt the need to spend big so far this summer, although there are quiet murmurs of a move for a big name at some point. With a number of younger players such as Harry Wilson, Rhian Brewster and Connor Woodburn coming through, plus Alex Oxlade-Chamberlain back from almost a year out with injury, the Reds may well feel they have added depth to their squad in this way.
While being Champions of Europe for the sixth time was fine reward for a marvellous season, there is no doubt the Reds fans would like the team to win that first elusive Premier League title this year. Just as it did last season, to me it looks like being very much a two horse race again.
Verdict – I can’t see any club breaking the City/Liverpool stranglehold but I think three in a row is so tough for City to achieve, especially with the primary focus being the Champions League so I am backing Liverpool to finally break their Premier League hoodoo this season.
Champions League & Europa League Challengers
Having identified that this is likely to be a two-horse race once again, I feel the more intriguing battle could be for the final two Champions League qualification spots and the Europa League qualification spots and I think this season could well see a bit of a change at the top of the Premier League.
I think Spurs are the best of the rest in the Premier League and by a quite considerable distance. I expect Mauricio Pochettino’s men to be a bit closer to the top two this time around, and put distance between themselves and the team in fourth. However, I still feel they are a couple of players short in the biggest games to push on any further.
Frank Lampard is a good signing as manager for Chelsea, but the loss of Eden Hazard is going to be a huge one for the team to cover. Christian Pulisic is his replacement and the USA star is a talent but he is not Hazard and I think that will be felt in the very big games. This could be a tough season for Chelsea and I think if they do get a Champions League spot, that would be a very good start to his first year as manager for Lampard.
To bridge the gap to the best teams, Arsenal needed some major surgery over the summer but it just has not, at the time of writing, taken place. The Gunners haven’t really added any substance to this squad and if anything, it is older, slower and weaker than last season. Unai Emery is going to have a very big job on his hands to get this team anywhere near the Champions League places.
I also think Manchester United fans could be in for a tough campaign. With so many key men seemingly set to leave the club, or unhappy and wanting away, doubts over the long-term viability of Ole Gunnar Solskjaer and with no Champions League football to entice players to the club, I think this could be a struggle of a season for United and they may well struggle even to land a Europa league spot.
I think Brendan Rodgers has proved his worth at both Liverpool and Celtic and he has already made some very clever moves as Leicester City boss. Youri Tielemans will prove to be one of the buys of the season and if they can hold onto Harry Maguire, or at least replace him with a top defender, then I fancy Leicester to make a real challenge towards the top six and even the top four.
Another team I think are destined for a great year are Wolves. Nuno Santo’s team did superbly well in their first season back in the Premier League last season and they have made some quality signings this summer to strengthen their team still further. I do see Wolves as genuine contenders for the top six this season.