We’re now just a couple of weeks away from the start of the 18 Premier League season and the excitement levels have reached ten on the Richter scale. It’s a time of year for hope and optimism as supporters of each team weigh up their club’s transfer business and hope for a successful league season.
Last season proved to be the closest race for a top-four finish yet, with six clubs competing until the very end of the campaign to qualify for Champions League football. In fact, Arsenal, who missed out on fourth place by a solitary point, accumulated the highest ever points total for a team finishing outside of the top four.
Manchester United, who are more suited to finishing at the top end of the table, had to settle for a sixth-placed finish, although entering the Champions League via their Europa League win was a nice consolation. Liverpool, Manchester City, Tottenham, and Chelsea, who won the league, ended up claiming the Champions League spots.
This season should prove to be even harder to finish in the top four, especially after Everton’s £85m foray into the transfer market. But which teams look most likely to claim a place in Europe’s elite competition?
Race for Fourth
Seven teams, in Arsenal, Manchester City, Liverpool, Chelsea, Tottenham, Manchester United, and Everton, will realistically have desires of clinching a top four spot. Unfortunately, seven doesn’t go into four, and three of these teams will be left disappointed.
The sports betting news is currently all about who will finish in the top four this season, with bookmakers currently favouring Manchester City, Chelsea, Manchester United and Tottenham to take the coveted positions.
Of course, that could all change and there is still over a month to go before the transfer window closes. Let’s take a look at which teams look like they could end the season in the coveted Champions League places.
Last season was the first time the Gunners missed out on a Champions League spot since 1998. Manager Arsene Wenger’s incredible 18-year run of top four finishes came to an end as they missed out on fourth place by one point.
Arsenal have added prolific striker Alex Lacazette to their squad this summer, after completing a club record £52m deal for the French international. They will hope his goals can fire them back to the Champions League but surely the Gunners’ hopes rest on their ability to keep Alexis Sanchez at the Emirates next season.
A top-four finish is a minimum expectation for Chelsea, who comfortably ran out as Premier League champions last season. However, the last time Chelsea defended their league title, they ended up finishing ninth and will be wary of history repeating itself.
The Blues have spent big on Spanish striker Alvaro Morata, who is seen as a replacement for the outgoing Diego Costa. Much of Chelsea’s success will come down to the Spaniards’ ability to replicate Costa’s goal tally of 20 league strikes last season. Midfielder Tiemoue Bakayoko has also joined for £34m along with the £29m signing of Germany defender Antonio Rudiger.
The Toffees are surely a dark horse in the race for fourth, but significant spending this summer means they’ll be in with a shout. It’s been 12 years since Everton last finished in Champions League spots, and they’ll be hoping the return of prodigal son Wayne Rooney can provide the spark they need.
Along with Rooney, highly rated defender Michael Keane has been brought in from Burnley for a cool £25m, while Goalkeeper Jordan Pickford, Dutch ace Davy Klaassen and Spanish striker Sandro Ramirez joined for £25m, £23m, and £5m respectively. Big things are expected from the Everton fans.
The season ended on a high for Liverpool, as they finished in the top four for just the second time in eight years. After pipping Arsenal to fourth place by one point, the Reds were quick to strengthen their squad with the capture of Egyptian winger Mohamed Salah for club record fee of £39m.
It looked like they were on the verge of completing deals for sought-after centre back Virgil van Dijk and energetic midfielder Naby Keita. However, both transfers have gone quiet lately, and Liverpool face missing out on a second successive season in the Champions League if they don’t get those deals over the line or find suitable alternatives.
It could be argued that Manchester City’s third-place finish last season was disappointing. While most clubs would love to finish in the top three and experience Champions League football, the arrival of Pep Guardiola signalled so much more.
They’ve been quick to rectify last season and have so far spent £200m, with the cheque book likely to open a few more times before the transfer window closes. Full backs have been all the rage for City, with Kyle Walker, Benjamin Mendy, and Danilo signing for a combined fee of £116m. Attacker Bernardo Silva and goalkeeper Ederson have also come into the squad.
You could say that Manchester United are still going through a transitional period after Sir Alex Ferguson’s retirement in 2013. Since then, they have only finished in the top four once in four attempts. Even last season’s world-record signing of Paul Pogba for £89m couldn’t bring them league success – although they did win the Europa League and EFL Cup.
This year, fans expect more, and Jose Mourinho knows he has to deliver – his second season at a new club usually ends up being his most productive. The £75m purchase of Romelu Lukaku will go some way to replace departing Zlatan Ibrahimovic’s goals, but Utd are arguably two players short from a full squad.
Tottenham defied all expectation last season as they finished second in the league and played some best football in the country. Whether or not they can build on that success will come down to their move into a new stadium.
Spurs will play their home games at Wembley next season as they fund the £800m move to their new stadium in a year’s’ time. Kyle Walker has already departed for pastures new, and Tottenham can’t compete with those around them in the transfer market. Manager Mauricio Pochettino will have to work his magic again.