The Big Kick Off: All you need to know about the Premier League 2019
The long and agonising wait is finally over. The Premier League is back, and we can now look forward to ten months of drama, controversy, joy and heartbreak. Of course, the steady stream of transfer rumours and highlights of meaningless pre-season friendlies is a nice stop-gap as we attempt to secure our football fix in any way, shape or form, but there’s no substitute for the real thing.
With the start of any new campaign comes a renewed sense of optimism from every set of supporters who all believe this will be their year. It won’t, of course, but that’s the beauty of it. Before a ball has been kicked, we can all dream. It’s only in October, when your team is yet to win a match, or even score a goal, that reality begins to bite.
For now, though, it’s all about sunshine and positivity. Yes, that new striker you’ve signed will hit the ground running. Of course your new goalkeeper isn’t past his best, and your manager? Well, if anybody knows what he’s doing, it’s him, don’t panic.
So, what can we expect this season? Can Manchester City, Treble winners last time out, be stopped from recording a third consecutive Premier League triumph? Liverpool, who finished just a point behind Guardiola’s men last season having lost only one game, look like the most realistic challengers, but can one of the chasing pack surprise us and enter the mix?
Everywhere you look there is intriguing sub-plots. Chelsea, third-place finishers last season, are now under the stewardship of club legend Frank Lampard, who is still relatively new to the management game, having watched star man Eden Hazard sign for Real Madrid.
Manchester United finished last season dreadfully but now Ole Gunnar Solskjaer has had a full pre-season with his team, what can we expect from the Red Devils? Surely it can’t get any worse for them.
Rafa Benitez has been replaced by Steve Bruce at Newcastle United and the Toon Army aren’t happy, but will the local boy be able to get the fans back on side? You probably wouldn’t put your life on it. And what about the newly-promoted teams? Norwich City and Aston Villa will feel as though they are back where they belong, while Sheffield United manager Chris Wilder will undoubtedly be licking his lips at the prospect of pitting his wits against the likes of Pep Guardiola, Jürgen Klopp and co. Why wouldn’t he be?
There is only one place to start, though, and that’s right at the top. Man City, as ever, will take some stopping. They may have only finished a point ahead of Liverpool last season, but had Kevin De Bruyne not missed a big chunk of the season through injury, it’s likely the margin would have been more significant.
Replacing departed skipper Vincent Kompany is crucial. The Belgian was the cornerstone of the team for ten years and led by example both on and off the pitch. Even with him in the side, City could still look vulnerable defensively, so his loss will be felt. Going forward, however, Guardiola has an embarrassment of riches from which to choose. Sergio Aguero or Gabriel Jesus to lead the line, with Raheem Sterling, Leroy Sane, Bernardo Silva, David Silva, De Bruyne and Phil Foden fighting for a supporting role. It really is a frightening prospect. Champions League winners Liverpool will fancy their chances of coming out on top for the first time since 1989/90. The Reds, at the time of writing, haven’t made any big-name additions, but having missed last season through injury, the return of both Alex Oxlade-Chamberlain and Adam Lallana will be a boost, while young striker Rhian Brewster can expect to be given a chance to impress following the departure of Daniel Sturridge.
Rodri has joined man city
The first-choice front three of Sadio Mane, Mohamed Salah and Roberto Firmino is as good as any attack in the world, while the presence of Virjil Van Dijk and goalkeeper Allison ensures they are far more difficult to break down than in previous years.
With Chelsea, it’s difficult to know what to expect. A new manager, no Hazard and no opportunity to bring in any fresh faces. In truth, it doesn’t sound great, but Christian Pulisic was signed in January and has looked sharp during pre-season, while the fact they were banned from signing players means Lampard is likely to give some of their promising young talents, such as Mason Mount and Tammy Abraham, an opportunity to shine.
Chelsea still possess a talented squad and restoring N’Golo Kante to his natural position, in front of the back four, will immediately make them a far tougher proposition. Both Callum Hudson-Odoi and Ruben Loftus-Cheek will miss the start of the season through injury, which is a big blow for the Blues, but once they return the team will look a lot stronger.
Having been beaten in last season’s Champions League final, Tottenham’s long wait for a trophy continues, but Mauricio Pochettino’s side will be buoyed by the fact they will be playing a full season at their own ground for the first time since 2016/17. Make no mistake, that could prove crucial.
The addition of talented Tanguy Ndombele is a smart piece of business, with the Frenchman set to add an element of steel, as well as technical quality, to the Tottenham midfield, while Harry Kane’s inevitable flow of goals will be as important as ever. The strides the club has made under the guidance of Pochettino is obvious but at some point, surely, a piece of silverware must be acquired.
For both Manchester United and Arsenal, to borrow a phrase from a huge ‘90s hit by D: ream, things can only get better. Both sides ended last season in woeful fashion, missing out on Champions League qualification in the process, and their fans won’t tolerate a repeat this time around.
Understandably, both have strengthened, with United adopting a youthful homegrown approach by signing Harry Maguire, Aaron Wan Bissaka and Daniel James, while Arsenal have captured Dani Ceballos on loan from Real Madrid and Nicholas Pepe from Lille. Will those signings have the desired impact? Quite simply, they have to.
In the pick of the opening round of fixtures, United host Chelsea at Old Trafford, before Solskjaer’s side travel to Wolverhampton Wanderers, where they lost twice last season, a week later. As starts go, it’s a tricky one for them.
Wolves, following a solid first season in the top flight, will be looking to kick on and Nuno Espirito Santos’s side, along with Everton, Leicester City and West Ham United, are the most likely to put pressure on the top six.
And what about the players? Which new additions are likely to have us on the edge of our seats this season?
The acquisition of Spanish midfielder Rodri will only serve to make Manchester City even stronger. The former Atletico Madrid man is seen as the long-term replacement for Fernandinho, but that doesn’t mean we shouldn’t expect his impact to be immediate. Guardiola was full of praise for his new signing following their pre-season win over Yokohama, saying: “I can assure you we have an incredible holding midfielder for the years he is here.”
Arsenal’s loan signing of Ceballos is an exciting one. Real Madrid manager Zinedine Zidane has stated that the move is simply about the player being given more minutes on the pitch, indicating that he sees his future in the Spanish capital, but an impressive showing in England may change that. Only time will tell, but in the short term he will be expected to step into the shoes vacated by Aaron Ramsey, who has joined Juventus.
Of the new additions further forward, it would be unfair to compare Pulisic to Hazard, the man he has been brought in to replace, but the American can play, there’s no doubt about that. Quick, technically strong and with the ability to go past defenders, the former Borussia Dortmund man is an exciting talent.
West Ham have made a couple of additions which could make them a real threat, with attacking midfielder Pablo Fornals and striker Sebastien Haller signing from Villarreal and Eintracht Frankfurt respectively. Both players are highly rated and if they hit the heights expected, the Hammers could surprise a few people.
Everton have captured highly-rated Italian striker Moise Kean while Newcastle have secured the services of Joelinton from Hoffenheim, with manager Steve Bruce backing the 22-year-old to be a “big hit.”
Looking further down the league, it’s difficult to predict which three teams will be relegated. Obviously, for the newly-promoted sides, simply staying in the division will be viewed as a success.
Aston Villa, who secured promotion courtesy of a play-off final win over Derby County, have invested heavily. The likes of Tyrone Mings, who has been signed on a permanent basis after impressing on loan last season, and Matt Targett will strengthen the back four, while Wesley Moraes, a powerful goalscorer brought in from Club Brugge, could prove to be a real handful for Premier League defenders. It appears as though Dean Smith has recruited intelligently, and Villa fans have plenty of reasons to feel optimistic going into the new campaign.
Patrick Roberts has joined Norwich on a season-long loan from Man City and the 22-year-old will be eager to hold down a regular place in the side given what has been a stop-start career so far. The attacking midfielder is a huge talent, though, and could be a key figure for Daniel Farke’s side.
Sheffield United, back in the Premier League after a 12-year absence, have made a few additions to their squad, with the most eye-catching being the acquisition of controversial midfielder Ravel Morrison, who came through the ranks at Manchester United before going on to play for West Ham.
Morrison was seen as the most talented player in a Man United youth team which also included Paul Pogba and Jesse Lingard, but as yet he has failed to deliver and was most recently playing for Ostersunds in Sweden. As a free signing, it’s probably worth the gamble, and we wait to see if it’s one that pays off for The Blades.
Of the rest, Brighton and Southampton narrowly avoided the drop last season so could be in trouble again, while the likes of Burnley, Bournemouth, who have signed talented youngster Harry Wilson on a season-long loan, Crystal Palace and Newcastle will hope they can produce the levels of consistency which ensure they don’t get dragged into the battle to stay up this season.
And what about the managers? We all know about the qualities of Pep, Klopp and Pochettino. But it promises to be a huge test for those such as Lampard, Dean Smith, Wilder and Farke who are managing in the Premier League for the first time. And there are some, such as Unai Emery and Solskjaer, who are under huge pressure before a ball has even been kicked.
Can the Man City juggernaut be stopped? Will Ole still be at the wheel by Christmas? We can’t wait to find out.