The 2016-17 English Premier League season promises to be a drama-filled doozy. Unlike the German Bundesliga, Italian Serie A or French League 1, where Bayern Munich, Juventus and PSG are respective locks to host league trophies, the Premier League is wide open. Not even La Liga, which boast an engaging three-horse race between Real Madrid, Barcelona and Atletico Madrid, can match the sheer spectacle the EPL will likely provide, and we have previous minnow Leicester City to thank for it. Their surprising title run last year has given rise to renewed hope to teams and their fans alike . Throw in an offseason chock-full of intriguing transfers for every club not named Hull City (ugh), and many top clubs like Manchester City, Chelsea, Manchester United transitioning to new high-profile mangers, this season promises to be one for the ages. So, without further ado, here are my predictions for this year’s Premier League season!
Predicted Order of Finish
1. Manchester City
Reason for optimism: The brilliant Pep Guardiola leading a team with the predicted EPL top scorer in Aguero, speedy wings and a defensive pair of Stones and Kompany, what’s not to like? Throw in Sane, Nolito and a still improving Sterling and it is hard to find a true area of weakness. Hello champions! Key Question: Can Aguero and Kompany finally stay healthy and lead City back to the top?
Reason for optimism: New manager Conte, fresh off of a brilliant Euros campaign, reignites Hazard and gets great seasons out of defensive veterans Terry and Ivanovic, who are helped by strong defensive midfielderss in Matic and Kante. Brilliant. Key Question: Was last year an aberration or a sign that a massive player overhaul is needed?
Reason for optimism: The tremendous Mauricio Pochettino builds off an inspired 2015-16 season and rides the trio of Kane, Alli, and Lamela to again challenge for the title. Key Question: Can Kane, who is the focal point of everything the Spurs do, rebound from an exhausting 2015-16 season and poor showing at the Euros?
4. Manchester United
Reason for optimism: Love him or hate him, but installing an established EPL winning manger in Jose Mourinho and giving him his Christmas wishlist of Ibra, Pogba, Mkhitaryan and Bailly, along with a healthy Shaw, have the Red Devils loaded with talent. Key Question: How does Mourinho handle Ibra, who needs to be the man, and Rooney, the now overrated face of the franchise?
Reason for optimism: In a word, Klopp. His attacking style, coupled with new players that fit his system like Mane, is ready to take the EPL by storm, especially without European competition to distract. Key Question: Can the Reds outscore opponents, who could have again have a field day against a still unproven defense?
Reason for optimism: The Gunners have the advantage of consistency, in terms of both world class talent and long-term manager, that should give them an edge of other still evolving teams. Key Question: Cech is a great goalkeeper, but is he so great that he can make up for a decimated defense?
Reason for optimism: A new yet established EPL manager in Koeman, a new yet established EPL defender in Williams, a new yet inconsistent forward in Bolaise, and a new look Deulofeu, what’s not to like? Key Question: Can Barkley take the next step to stardom and have the breakout season his club needs him to have?
8. Leicester City
Reason for optimism: Yes losing Kante was a blow, but Leicester begin this season with arguably more talent than last year after adding Musa and Mendy, as well as the possibility of featuring the uber-talented Gray. Key Question: Can the defense, which unlike last season has been extremely shaky during preseason, hold up for a season that has added Champions League fixtures?
Reason for optimism: Not only has the diamond attacking system that new manager Puel incorporated proven a tremendous success during preseason already, it has highlighted the talent of players like Tadic and Redmond. Key Question: It’s all about Tadic. As the focal point of the team, can he gain the consistency that he has always lacked?
10. West Ham United
Reason for optimism: Payet forms a consistent and formidable partnership with Ayew and Feghouli that more than makes up for a weakened defense. Oh, and Carroll looks renewed, which is shockingly important. Key Question: Can a team that exceeded expectations last season come close to matching last year’s success while dealing with the pressure of expectations?
11. Stoke City
Reason for optimism: The addition of a still improving Allen to help connect the midfield with enigmatic talents in Shaqiri and Arnautovic could give Stoke real firepower. Key Question: Will a new 3-5-2 formation that emphasizes pushing forward from the back put world class goalkeeper Butland under too much pressure?
12. West Bromwich Albion
Reason for optimism: Hope for a great season under a manager always starts with defense, but an offense that is spearheaded by an invigorated Berahino and the promising Leko and Phillips could provide real offensive sparks. Key Question: Can Pulis trust the youngsters to move the team forward, or will he again fall back on “safe” veterans too much?
13. Crystal Palace
Reason for optimism: With Pardew fully embracing change, through new players like Townsend and Tomkins (and Benteke?) and removing long-term Jedinak as captain, Palace could truly surprise, or fully implode, this season. Key Question: Can all the new talent gel quickly enough or will inconsistency reign once again?
14. AFC Bournemouth
Reason for optimism: All that talent on the field, in the likes of players like Ibe, Wilson, Ake, Mousset and Gradel, will give manager Eddie Howe many options in which to surprise and frustrate opponents. Key Question: Will a consistent and reliable starting XI emerge?
Reason for optimism: That defense. Led by Friend, Boro used defense to earn promotion and it, paired with talents Fischer and Negredo to push the offense, gives this team true potential. Key Question: Is defense enough for a team that is the true antithesis of Liverpool, who score first and defend second?
Reason for optimism: Manager Mazzarri has a glut of talented, albiet unproven midfielders in Success, Amrabat, and Doucoure that can help serve up the surprisingly formidable duo of Deeney and Ighalo. Key Question: Like Bournemouth, can a reliable starting lineup take shape?
17. Swansea City
Reason for optimism: Aside from the Mr. Creative, i.e. Sigurdsson, there is hope in Wales due to the tactics of Italian manager Guidolin, who is capable of getting the best of out his players, like preseason superstar Routlege . Key Question: Can Llorente and Amat more than make up for the losses of key players Ayew and Williams?
Reason for optimism: David Moyes, his time at Manchester United aside, is a great manager that will need to be at his absolute best in order to keep this collection of mediocre talent working together. Key Question: Can Moyes, or any manager, take the current lack of talent that makeup Sunderland’s squad and avoid relegation?
Reason for optimism: Iceland. If Burnely are to avoid relegation, they will need to rely and the Icelandic duo of Vokes and Gudmundsson to inspire a squad that needs to be united in order to succeed. Oh, and players like Heaton, Flanagan, and Gray can help manager Dyche keep their heads above water. Key Question: Is there enough talent?
20. Hull City
Reason for optimism: None. A team with no manager and no squad additions simply has no chance. Key Question: Can they win without a bench?