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  • Chris Sobey

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2018/2019 Premier League season and Domestic and European Cup competitions Preview

As mentioned last week the 2018/2019 Premier League and EFL seasons get underway soon and the EFL Championship, League One and Two seasons commence next weekend. The action kicks-off on Friday night with the now traditional Championship fixture and the honour goes to Reading and Derby who face each other at the Madejski Stadium at 8pm. The Premier League starts on Friday 10thAugust at 8pm, United host Leicester City at Old Trafford and the question on many fans lips leading up to the match could be, will Harry Maguire be playing in red or blue this season? I’ll give a quick round-up and rundown of some of the main transfers for the Premier League, assess some of the team’s chances in relation to promotion and relegation and I’ll also provide something similar for the EFL Championship.

Reigning Premier League champions Manchester City have been quiet in the transfer market, culling some of the squad and sending out younger players on loan and their only signing so far is long-term target Mahrez from Leicester City. This tells me that Guardiola is more than happy with his current squad and first team, and with another seasons experience under their belts they will no doubt improve again this season. Apart from maybe Liverpool, the rest of the chasing pack are not at the same level as City at present, and it looks like they will retain their title with something to spare again.

City were Manchester United’s nemesis again last season and United could only manage second, nineteen points behind their city rivals. They did win the Europa League and reach the FA Cup final but fans, the board and owners expect better and success is measured by winning the Premier League and/or Champions League. Mourinho has not sealed any major signings so far this summer and has brought in three players, 21 year old Portuguese defender Dalot from Porto, Brazilian creative midfielder Fred from Shakhtar Donetsk and keeper Lee Grant from Stoke.

Mourinho hopes Fred will provide more creativity in midfield and there will at least be plenty of competition with an already talented bunch that includes Pogba, Sanchez, Lingard, Fellaini, Matic, Martial, Mata and Herrera. United will no doubt be in contention for the title, but they need to make significant improvement if they are to match City at present. The best they can hope for in the league is second again and they may add further silverware by winning a domestic cup.

Spurs have been involved in virtually no transfer activity so far this summer but with an already strong and talented squad, which is now firmly part of the big six, and midweek Champions League football at Wembley again, there might be an element of sentiment from Pochettino along the lines of ‘if it ain’t broke don’t fix it’. That seems like a perfectly feasible strategy as building and developing team unity, character, consistency, understanding and a winning mentality is clearly part of Pochettino’s philosophy and this should result in further improvement from his talented squad, both on the domestic and European front.

Liverpool were the Citizens main rivals last season and while they could not match their consistency over a full season, they did better them in the Champions League by reaching the final. They also had the better of them in their league and cup encounters last season, beating them home and away in the Champions League, and of course their seven goal thriller at Anfield in the Premier League. Klopp has been busy in the transfer market bringing in four new faces and culling his squad by releasing and loaning out younger players for experience. Kopp has strengthened in midfield and at the back, signing Brazilian midfielder Fabinho from Monaco, Brazil’s first choice keeper Becker from Roma, which does not bode well for last season’s first choice keeper Karious’ future, midfielder Kieta from RB Leipzig and Shaqiri from Stoke.

These new squad additions will no doubt help improve the squad and first team further, and provide more strength in depth to help improve their consistency across all domestic and European competitions. If this transpires they should be pushing City all the way and may close the league gap further. However, the best I think they can hope for is second place and their best chance of winning silverware should be the Champions League again and maybe a domestic cup.

Chelsea are a club in transition again after manager Conte left the club during the summer and he’s been replaced by another Italian, veteran and former Napoli manager Maurizio Sarri. Sarri made his name by taking Napoli within touching distance of winning the Serie A title last season and he looks like a shrewd acquisition, who has top-flight league and European Cup experience. Apart from releasing and loaning out a host of players, there’s been very little activity for Chelsea in the transfer market.

Sarri has brought in one player, and it’s no surprise he’s Italian and from Napoli. Jorginho is a technically gifted midfield play-maker, he played a pivotal role in Napoli’s success last season and he will add further quality and strength in depth to already world class Chelsea midfield. Chelsea look well set to begin improving again with the arrival of Sarri and I expect they will finish in the Champions League places this season, and will no doubt be serious contenders for the Europa League, which carries with it an automatic Champions League place.

Arsenal are entering a new era after the 22 year reign of legend Arsene Wenger ended last season. The club quickly replaced Wenger with Spanish manager Unai Emery, formerly of La Liga heavyweights Sevilla and Valencia. Emery wasted no time in putting his plan in to action and he’s been shrewd so far, firstly by culling an over inflated squad by releasing fourteen players, then addressing the most crucial team weakness under Wenger, the defence and goalkeeper. He’s brought in some experienced defenders from top-fight clubs, like Swiss defender Lichtsteiner, who played for Juventus the last seven seasons and Greece international defender Papastathooulos from Bundasliga heavyweights Dortmund. He's also added defensive strength in midfield by signing defensive midfielder Torreira from Sampdoria, who impressed for Uruguay in the World Cup.

Emery worked miracles in his previous managerial roles and if he can bring that kind of magic to Arsenal, he will soon become a club favourite. However, it's going to take time for him and the players to get used to each other, his style of management and the pace and style of the Premier League. There should be an improvement on last season, possibly in the shape of qualifying for the Champions League or domestic cup success, but i don't think they'll be challenging for the title this early in to Emery's reign.

Outside the top-six the promoted clubs and teams who finished in the bottom half, but survived relegation, have not surprisingly been the busiest in the transfer markets. Some of the well-established Premier League clubs like Burnley, Everton, Bournemouth and Crystal Palace are so far sticking with last season’s squads, less a few sold, released or loaned players. Brighton and Huddersfield, who finished fifth and sixth bottom respectively, have been the busiest in the transfer market bringing in nine and seven players respectively, but at the expense of thirteen former players from Brighton and nine unwanted or loaned out players from Huddersfield. Both teams surprised a lot of people by staying up after being promoted but life won’t get any easier in the top-flight and I fear one of them will be going down this season, which I think will be Huddersfield.

The rumours around Leicester defender and England hero Harry Maguire leaving the club before the transfer window closes could be true, as manager Claude Puel has already purchased two defenders, John Evans from West Brom and Ricardo Pereira from Porto. They are yet to replace Mahrez but they have a decent number of forwards, albeit not world class ones, apart from maybe Vardy. Inheacho has the potential to be a replacement for Mahrez in terms of goals and match winning performances, if he can get a good run in the team as he’s a skilful and a natural goal scorer. However, they will miss Mahrez’s quality, creativity and goals dearly this season and unless they find a suitable replacement and partner for Vardy, they may struggle to compete offensively with a lot of teams this season.

Newcastle manager Benitez looks like he’s going to have to make do with the majority of last season’s squad this season as there’s no signs owner Mike Ashley is going to hand him any substantial transfer funds. He’s managed to bring in a couple of players, keeper Dubravka, midfielder Sung Yeung from Swansea and Brazilian winger Kenedy returns on loan after a successful spell last season. After a poor start to last season, Newcastle improved as the season progressed and as their talented and young squad became closer and more unified, they ended the season playing some decent and attractive football. If they can build on that and improve again this season, they should be safe and a mid-table finish looks likely again.

Mark Hughes and Southampton have been lively in the transfer market and Hughes wasted no time in culling and streamlining the squad, to make room for new arrivals. Not surprisingly as a former forward himself, Hughes has brought in more attacking payers than defensively minded players. Like, promising young attacking talent in the shape of offensive midfielder Stuart Armstrong from Celtic and Norwegian International forward Mohamed Elyounoussi from Basle. Hughes has also added strength in depth at the back signing England under 21 keeper Angus Young from Man City and 25 year old Danish International centre back Jannik Vestergaard from Borussia Monchengladbach.

Southampton were lacking a creative edge offensively from midfield last season and Hughes will hope new signings Armstrong and Elyounoussi can provide the extra spark in that area. They will also need to tighten things up at the back if they want to stay clear of the relegation fight this season. They do have the personnel to achieve this, however, this is dependent on Hughes and his team getting them ready and organised, and I’m not sure defending has ever been Hughe’s strong point as a manager, which is a concern. If Hughes does not get this aspect of his team right from the start, they are only going to struggle again this season, and if that’s the case, relegation is not out of the question.

Burnley, Crystal Palace and Everton have so far not been active in the transfer market much and it looks like they will be sticking with last season’s squads. They all looked well equipped and settled enough to achieve similar finishes to last season, if not marginally better. However, Burnley, who have a relatively small squad, will need to be vigilant if they qualify for the Europa League proper, as balancing the two can be a precarious job, as it puts significant extra demand on first team and squad players, who are usually only used to competing on the domestic front.

After a slow start, managerial changes and the threat of relegation for most of last season, Watford and West Ham both survived thanks to finishing the season strongly. Watford manager Javia Garcia and West Ham manager Manuelle Pellegrini have both been active in the transfer market this summer, bringing in six and seven new faces respectively. Garcia has added new quality and strength in depth at the back by bringing in Espanyol Spanish defender Navarro, Italian defender Masina from Bologna and keeper Ben Foster from West Brom. He’s also added further quality in attack with the addition of Barcelona Spanish winger Deulofeu and Swedish International winger Kema from Ostersunds.

Pellegrini has added quality and strength in depth throughout the team. At the back he’s brought in talented English right back Ryan Fredericks from promoted Fulham, French defender Isa Diop from Toulouse, Paraguay defender Fabian Balbuena from Campeonato Brasileiro Serie A side Corinthians and Polish International keeper Fabianski from Swansea. In midfield and attack he’s brought in midfielder Jack Wilshere from Arsenal, the talented Ukraine International forward Andriy Armalenkjo from Borrussia Dortmund and finally the highly rated Brazilian attacking midfielder Felipe Anderson from Lazio, who is a club record signing.

Both teams have decent squads with strength in depth and West Ham’s new arrivals sound very promising, especially offensive talent Armalenko and Anderson, who along with Arnautovic, Lanzini, Chicharito, Carrol, Ayew, and Sakho will add extra punch upfront and in midfield, which makes them good contenders to stay up and finish around mid-table and possibly achieve domestic cup success if they really excel. Watford will also no doubt improve from last season and Garcia should be able to steer them towards a mid-table finish.

Finally, the three promoted teams Wolves, Cardiff and Fulham have all brought in new faces and talent to help improve their chances of survival. Wolves have been the busiest in the summer transfer market and manager Nuno Santo has brought in seven players covering all areas of the pitch. Defender Willy Boly from Porto FC, striker Leo Bonati from Al Hilal and Ruben Vinagre from Monaco, were all instrumental in Wolves promotion last season, and as a reward they have all been handed permanent contracts after successful loan spells at the club. Portugal International keeper Patricio also arrived from Sporting CP and adds world class talent in goal, while Mexican International forward Raul Jiminez arrived on loan from Benfica and will add further quality in attack.

Cardiff’s budget is clearly very limited having only made four new signings, all from Championship clubs, and Fulham are in the same boat only adding two new players, who are both French and from Nice. Of the three, Wolves look best placed to achieve survival, while Cardiff and Fulham will have achieved a minor miracle if either survive the drop.

From a betting perspective, I like Liverpool (7/5) in the ‘Without Manchester City’ market, as they are well positioned to emerge as City’s main rivals next season. I also think Liverpool (14/1) are overpriced for the Champions League, considering their history and record in Europe, as well as their form in the competition last season, which was exceptional at times. I also think Chelsea are decent value to win the Europa League under the stewardship of new manager Sarri, as they have an abundance of world class talent in their squad and have a proven track record of success in cup competitions.

Finally, I think Cardiff are the most likely to be relegated but rather than back them at odds on to be relegated, I think there may be some value in backing Neil Warnock in the ‘Next Manager to Leave’ market, because if they are languishing in the relegation zone, or close to it heading in to Christmas, and there is no sign of improvement, there’s a serious chance the board and owners will want to address the situation as soon as possible and replace Warnock.

2018/2019 EFL Championship and Domestic Cup Competitions Preview

The 2018/2019 EFL Championship and League One and Two seasons kick-off next weekend starting Friday night with the traditional Championship fixture. Paul Clement’s Reading and first-time manager Frank Lampard’s Derby County get the honour of kicking off the new season at the Madejski Stadium and it will be interesting to see how Lampard fares in his first ever match as a professional manager.

The Championship winners market is headed by two of the three relegated Premier league teams, Stoke are favourites to win the league and West Brom are second favourites. The Potters have kept most of the squad that was relegated but they lost influential forward Shaqiri to Liverpool. On paper their, squad is more than talented enough to win this league, but I’m not sure if manager Rowett has enough experience to handle a squad of players who were used to playing in the Premier League, and all the benefits that come with that privilege.

West Brom ended last season well under the stewardship of caretaker manager Darren Moore, who has now been given the role permanently, and this is his first professional football management job. Not Surprisingly they’ve lost a few first team players this summer, defender Johnny Evans to Leicester City, keeper Ben Foster to Watford and James McLean to rivals Stoke. There’s also interest in striker Rondon from Newcastle and midfielder Jay Rodriguez and defender Craig Dawson from Burnley. While losing the experience and quality of players of this ability is a negative, the Baggies still have a decent squad of players, who are more than capable of succeeding in this league and winning promotion. The only thing they may need to address is adding another quality keeper or two, a proven striker at this level if Rondon is sold, and a few more attack minded and/or creative players to add more quality in attack and goals.

Middlesbrough finished fifth last season and are expected to go well again, now the experienced Tony Pulis has had a full season and pre-season with his squad. He hasn’t brought in any major new signings so far and in addition to limited funds, he is probably happy with the quality and team spirit of his squad and confident he can push for promotion again this season. Nottingham Forest finished in the bottom half last season but the appointment of experienced Spanish manager Karanka and funds for him to buy new players, which he has been busy doing this summer, has lead to continued support for them to win the Championship.

Karanka’s major signing was 21 year old talented Portuguese midfielder Joao Carvalho for £13,2 million and he’s also added further quality in attack with the addition of Bournemouth striker Grabban, winger Gil Bastiao Dias from Monaco and Algerian striker Hillal Soudani from Dynamo Zagreb. Karanka knows the Championship well from his time at Middlesbrough and with a talented, strong squad at his disposal they are more than capable of mounting a serious title challenge and justifying their market support.

Leeds, Aston Villa, Swansea and Derby are next in the betting, with not much separating them. Aston Villa finished fourth, Derby finished sixth last season and they both lost in the play-offs against Middlesbrough and Fulham respectively. After approaching financial ruin, Aston Villa have been saved. They are now under new ownership and the billionaire owners have reportedly invested heavily in the club. There have been no new arrivals due to the club takeover but manager Steve Bruce should at least not have to sell any of their best players, if they can offer them attractive enough packages to stay. With so many significant things happening off the pitch during the summer and with no new signings or arrivals to strengthen the squad, it’s uncertain how the Villa manager and players are going to respond on the pitch. Until we do know, I think its hard to predict how they are going to fare and where they will finish come the end of the season.

Relegated Swansea and new manager Graham Potter, who rose to fame after taking provincial Swedish outfit Ostersunds from obscurity to the top-flight, are in the process of streamlining the squad and so far, there have been no new arrivals. Their performance this season looks like it may depend on how many of their best players end up leaving the club before the season gets going in earnest. If they can keep most of their best players they will have a realistic chance of promotion as they’ve got plenty of talented and experienced players in the squad, who should excel at this level. However, all of this is of course dependent on how well Potter adapts to managing a bigger club in the Championship.

There’s been a lot of press interest in Derby in the build-up to the start of the new season due to the appointment of former England and Chelsea star Frank Lampard’s appointment as manager. He’s been quiet in the transfer market up to now bringing in three players, Dutch winger Florian Jozefoon from Brentford and two players on loan. England youth international, midfielder Mason Mount from Chelsea, who was on loan at Vitesse last season scoring 14 goals, and Wales winger Harry Wilson from Liverpool, who spent the season on loan at Hull last season. With the addition of the three new signings and an already experienced, talented and strong squad for this level, there’s no reason why Derby shouldn’t be challenging for promotion again this season but this will of course all depend on the inexperienced Lampard’s ability and skill to manage the team successfully.

Other Championship teams who maybe challenging for promotion come the end of the season are Leeds, who are expected to do better under the stewardship of the vastly experienced Marcelo Bielsa, who has managed at the top flight level on the league and International front. Millwall and Bristol City both impressed last season and have the potential to improve on their eighth and eleventh place league finishes respectively. Millwall manager Neil Harris and Bristol City manager Lee Johnson have both been strengthening their squads during the summer and they have more potential new signings in the pipeline.

Millwall just missed out on the play-off’s last season and they proved to be one of the most difficult teams to beat in the league, ending the season going unbeaten in thirty four of their forty six league matches. If their new signings and arrivals bring about further improvement I can see them making the play-off’s this season, especially if they don’t have to many domestic cup distractions in the new year. Bristol City lit up the League Cup last year knocking out four Premier League teams in a row, including Manchester United at the quarter final stage, and it took eventual winners and Premier League champions Man City to stop them at the semi-final stage, but only just scraping through 3-2.

If manager Lee Johnson can bring about further improvement and consistency from his talented and experienced squad then they could well be challenging on the domestic cup front again this season and if they really excel, they could well be pushing for promotion come the end of the season. Of the promoted teams I think League One champions Wigan are best placed to stay up and possibly challenge for a top-half finish and promotion. They’ve strengthened their squad during the summer, they’re still in the hunt for further talent and if these new signings bring about further improvement, they could be a force to be reckoned with and a dark horse this season.

From a relegation perspective newly, promoted Rotherham may once again struggle to compete at this level, and Bolton, Reading, Birmingham and Hull, who all finished in the relegation battle, will need to bring about significant improvement if they are going to avoid the drop this season.

Tune in on Friday when I will provide some brief thoughts on some of the EFL League One main promotion contenders, any teams who could be facing the threat of relegation come the end of the season and any other interesting news, stats or season long bets I unearth.

Selections:

2018/2019 Premier League

Huddersfield to be relegated (5/4)

‘Next Manager to Leave’ Neil Warnock (10/1)

2018/2019 European Cup Competitions

Liverpool to Win the Champions League EW (14/1)

Chelsea to Win the Europa League Win (8/1)

Championship

Millwall ‘Top Six Finish’ (6/1)

Wigan Championship Winner EW (40/1)


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