The Premier League season of 2016/17 promises to be gripping, enthralling, and well-played from beginning to end. In short, it will be everything 2015/16 was not.
The season just past didn’t want for head-scratching moments after Leicester defied the odds to win their maiden league title. But there was a distinct lack of quality throughout — like browsing Vox or stepping into a Chipotle. Just consider the following assessment of the major teams, delivered with my characteristic delicacy and tact.
Arsenal criminally underperformed after Christmas. Man City were utterly dismal for the most part. United suffered under Louis Van Gaal’s renowned “philosophy.” Chelsea choked under pressure, finishing in a miserly mid-table position.
Next season has the potential to be better for many of these clubs. Man City, after last season’s shenanigans, have installed the thinker Pep Guardiola. Guardiola has been at two mega-clubs, Barca and Bayern, and maintained the vastly higher standards expected there.
His credentials are still heavily debated — naysayers argue that he only succeeded thanks to the players at his disposal. So Man City will be his real test: to turn a team who’ve serially under-performed into a mega-club. His name alone will attract quality, with the big names already coming. Ilkay Gundogan and Pierre Emerick Aubameyang are reportedly in talks.
With his philosophy in place, and star quality flowing in from all over Europe, Man City will open the eyes of the league next season.
Across that northern city, Manchester United boast their own new man at the helm. Jose Mourinho is no stranger to the Premier League. A controversial figure at the best of times, he promises to take United back to where they were just four short years ago— the pinnacle of English football.
Since his sacking, the Premier League felt like it was missing a jigsaw piece, a stalwart. Mourinho’s press conferences and post-match interviews were a thing of beauty, whether it was blaming the ref or the ball boy (see Crystal Palace in 2014) or whatever other glorious hissy fit, he seldom disappointed.
Mourinho promises to bring his defensive, counter-attacking tactics to the Theatre of Dreams, an approach from which he seldom deviates. He has history with Pep Guardiola, too, which will make the eagerly-anticipated Manchester Derby even more exciting. With him at the helm, and his successful experiences in the league, United will once again be a force to be reckoned with.
Then there’s the small matter of Chelsea. After a dreadful campaign, in which a 2-2 draw with Tottenham served as the high point, something needed to change. That change was Antonio Conte.
The revolutionary former Juve manager has no shortage of controversy associated with his name. He was the manager at the time Siena were accused of match fixing, which sullied his reputation for a long while, but he was duly cleared of any involvement. More importantly, however, he is a superb manager.
He drove Juventus out of the wilderness and turned them into a force again, leading them to four Series A titles, with formations even this veteran correspondent didn’t know existed. He now guides an average Italy side, bereft of stars in attacking positions, through Euro 2016, already dismantling a star-studded Belgian.
Conte promises to bring his shrewd tactics to Chelsea next season, something they sorely need. His tactics will make Chelsea a team incredibly difficult to break down, and if he can revitalise a dormant Eden Hazard and Diego Costa, a league title may just beckon.
My beloved Tottenham will also play as a team to look out for. They just about fell short towards the latter stages of the season, after an incredibly encouraging six months. It was evident they were bereft of back-up players, hence the attempts to sign Vincent Janssen and Victor Wanyama, which have been stepped up in recent weeks.
They arguably will have a huge advantage over the aforementioned teams due to the fact they have been together three years with Mauricio Pochettino. With a few more back-ups recruited, and more consistency in the latter end of the season, they should field a competitive team.
Less said the better about Liverpool, who threatened to emerge into a Jurgen Klopp-monster at times last season, but never fulfilled their potential. With a few more signings, they should push for the top four. But who really cares?
Of course Leicester cannot be ignored. Everyone is expecting them to fall away next season, but then they were expected to do so after every game last season. A bit like Donald Trump! They are a wild card in 2016/17, and could win the league or finish fourteenth.