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2019-20 English Premier League season Preview – Can City make it three in a row?

Only one team has managed to win three Premier League titles – Manchester United under Sir Alex did it twice (1999-2001) and (2007-2009). For a serial winner like Pep Guardiola, equaling the achievement of the legendary Scotsman will be one of the targets for the season. The Premier League title race last season went down to the wire; it did not eclipse the 2011-12 season race where Manchester City won their first title with the last kick of the season but it served as a reminder on why the Premier League is the numero uno in Europe. City beat Liverpool to the title by a point but the point difference between the Reds and third place Chelsea was a jaw dropping 25 points. Can the other members of the top six close the gap on these two? Video Assistant Referee (VAR) will be making its debut in the Premier League this season to ensure that critical and important decisions are not missed by officials.

MANCHESTER CITY

Retaining the Premier League title last season was probably the biggest challenge Pep Guardiola has encountered in his entire managerial career till date against a never relenting Liverpool team that pushed City all the way. The Citizens started the season a level lower than the previous one; they had big wins and dominated games but not in the manner they blew opponents away in 2017-18. The defending champions dropped points in two draws in the first 15 league matches then hit a slump losing three matches in four games by the season midway point. Perhaps the loss at Newcastle on match-day 24 was the turning point, the champions went on a 14 games winning run and manage to hold off closest challenger Liverpool to retain the title. City enter the new season as the Kings in the country with all domestic titles including the Community Shield won on Sunday – they are the team to beat. They are now without former inspirational captain – Vincent Kompany and are yet to replace him with a few days left in the transfer window leaving them short in central defense. Rodri’s arrival from Atletico Madrid is the big money acquisition at the Etihad for now while the João Cancelo – Danilo swapped deal is still ongoing. The club have re-signed Angeliño from PSV Eindhoven for £5.3m, having sold the left-back to the Dutch club 12 months ago. The future of Leroy Sane is still up in the air with Bayern Munich tagging him as a dream signing for them according to Nico Kovac. Kevin De Bruyne and Bernardo Silva have been the standout players from City last two title-winning seasons. De Bruyne’s return is massive boost but keeping Guardiola as manager means the Citizen can win the title for the third season in a row and cement their reputation as the best of the Premier League era.

LIVERPOOL

How do you get 97 points, lose one in 38 league matches and still end up without being crowned champions? It’s all about margins and ifs. Liverpool had several last season and it ended with league disappointment but the Champions League glory in Madrid did help to compensate. In 116 of the previous 119 seasons in the top flight, Jurgen Klopp’s team point total last season would have been good enough. However, when you have a rival like Manchester City, converting draws against Leicester City at home and away at West Ham, Manchester United and Everton into victories could see them secure a first league title in three decades. Liverpool have progressed steadily under the German tactician each season and the 22 point increase from the 2017-18 season is a pointer to the direction the Merseyside outfit is headed. The triumph is Madrid would have helped ease the pressure to deliver on Klopp and giving the club management a sense of unification and belief in their manager. We have seen tremendous improvements in the squad – Andy Robertson, Trent Alexander-Arnold, Joe Gomez are prime example of players to benefit from the German teacher. Defensively, Liverpool took a giant step. They conceded 22 league goals and 38 in 53 games in total. No goalkeeper preserved more clean sheets than Alisson, who kept 21 in his debut term in English football. The £140m shelled on Virgil Van Dijk and Alisson Becker is proving to be shrewd pieces of business. The main men last season will be the main men again; having the best keeper, central defender, left-back and strike force in Europe will give the Reds confidence they can have another go and possibly win it. How Klopp manages the extra games – UEFA Super Cup and FIFA Club World Cup to an already congested schedule will determine their chance in the campaign.

CHELSEA

If Frank Lampard’s coaching career is equally as good as his playing one for Chelsea, the Blues might be in a successful era under the guidance of the club’s all-time leading goal scorer. Lampard threw his hat into management about a year ago as Derby manager and came very close to securing Premier League football for the Rams. With the Sarri Blue romance coming to end earlier than anticipated and a two window transfer ban, the Chelsea job was clearly not that appealing to top managers leaving the Stamford Bridge directors with limited options. Chelsea have turned to a managerial novice to lead them through this difficult path, the Blues won the Europa League title last season, were League Cup finalist and finished third in the league but the quantum of work to be done is clearly obvious. The 2017 Premier League champions finished 26 points behind current champions Manchester City, star player Eden Hazard has traded London for Madrid and the club cannot sign players leaving Lampard to work with resources already at the club and returning loanees. Christian Pulisic’s deal was done before the transfer ban and Mateo Kovacic loan was converted into a permanent transfer. Chelsea managed a paltry 63 league goals last season and Hazard scored 25% of it. With those goals gone, who amongst Oliver Giroud, Tammy Abraham, Michy Batshuayi, Pedro and Christian Pulisic will step up? Hudson-Odoi is still recovering from an achilles injury to leave the Chelsea legend with the inconsistent Willian and Pedro as chief creator for the team. The biggest question on the lips of every Blue supporter is how Lampard deploys N’Golo Kante. We have seen throughout preseason that his preference is a 4-2-3-1 system rather than Sarri’s 4-3-3. Chelsea have to be patient with Lampard; there will be no hiding place for the new Blues coach in this transitional period for the club. A top-four finish is the best as they can hope for.

TOTTENHAM HOTSPUR

The focus in the Premier League title race last season was always on Manchester City and Liverpool, but at one stage Spurs genuinely looked like dark horses for the trophy. They then went on a run of five games without victory in February and March and the fixture congestion with the Champions League in April saw their top-four hopes hanging in the balance. Despite winning just one of their last five, they clung on to clinch fourth, just a point ahead of rivals Arsenal. Spurs have now finished in the top four in the last four seasons to assert themselves as one of the league’s top sides. The highpoint of 2018-19 season was the dramatic run to the Champions League final in Madrid. Spurs rise to elite status is well earned, Mauricio Pochettino has done a phenomenal job in North London and the new stadium is just one of the several positive milestones achieved under the Argentine while remaining competitive on the pitch. A trophy or two will help ease the suffering of fans but they need to be realistic. They are competing in an environment where big spenders like Manchester City and United can get their targets. Spurs were six points worse off than the 2017-18 but the real concern for Pochettino will be seeing his team winning just three of the last 12 league matches last campaign. After two inactive transfer windows, Spurs made a statement acquisition with the £65m arrival of Tanguy Ndombele from Lyon. The Frenchman is one of the most exciting additions to the Premier League this summer with Spurs shoring up their midfield options with the closest thing to Mousa Dembele they’re likely to find. Moussa Sissoko finally lived up to his price tag last season with his powerful displays. Harry Kane is still the key player for the Lily Whites and keeping him fit would be a priority for them while Son Heung-Min steady terrific displays would be welcomed more this season as well. If the North London club can add extra quality with links to Paulo Dybala, Philippe Coutinho, Giovanni Lo Celso and Ryan Sessegnon to the squad, there is no reason why Spurs cannot challenge for the title or at least win a silverware this season having come close last time.

ARSENAL

It was a transitional season for the Gunners and it ended in disappointment – losing the Europa League final to Chelsea and finishing behind Tottenham Hotspur on the league table once again. It is quite evident that Arsene Wenger wasn’t Arsenal’s problem and that a change of guard in the dugout isn’t the only problem at the club. All the excuses given for last season would not be tenable for Unai Emery this term. Missing out on Champions League would have impacted Arsenal’s finances but the Spanish manager has been backed with funds – the club broke its record to sign Nicolas Pepe for £72m. The former PSG boss has a lot to prove this campaign despite the record signing but does the current Arsenal squad have enough quality to set them on course for Champions League return? After the opening two defeats to Manchester City and Chelsea aside, Arsenal enjoyed a tremendous 14-game unbeaten run into December but the pressure dropped over the winter months and the Gunners returned to an all too familiar pattern of inconsistency. The Gunners lost 10 league matches and conceded 51 goals last season to emphasize where the problem truly lies for Emery and his team. Interestingly, the club signed highly rated William Saliba then loaned him back to Saint Etienne. Club captain Laurent Koscienly ended his nine year stint with Arsenal to join Bordeaux for €5m to leave Emery short at back. Celtic’s Kieran Tierney and Juventus Daniele Rugani are targets for the club. Dani Ceballos has joined on a season loan deal from Real Madrid to provide quality in the attacking midfield. The Gunners look top heavy at the moment, with time running out to close deals, Emery will hope they can bring him new reinforcements in defense. The margins between success and failure are fine margins as we saw last season when Arsenal finished one point behind rivals Tottenham, Emery will need to find a settled approach this season rather than improvise like he did last term. A top four finish is within reach if the defense is improved but then, the Europa League represents another route back to the Champions League.

MANCHESTER UNITED

Six seasons after Sir Alex Ferguson retired, Manchester United still look like a lost club searching for the right direction under the fourth manager after the Scotsman. Manchester United enters the new season as one of the unpredictable teams in the Premier League. The Red Devils finished sixth last season in a campaign filled with drama from the start. Former manager Jose Mourinho moaned all summer about lack of signings and how it would be difficult to consolidate on the second place finish of 2017-18. In hindsight, the Portuguese was right but he cannot absolve himself of blame. His well-documented issues with Paul Pogba saw the team struggle badly on and off the pitch until he was fired. His successor had a mixed bag, starting off brightly before finishing tamely. Ole Gunnar Solskjaer has overseen clear-outs within the club and the academy but transfer business has been slower than expected. The focus seems to be on signing young players but United must hope their new recruits hit the ground running. The Premier League will show no mercy while the fresh crop attempts to blossom. Pogba’s future is still undecided; the French player has expressed his desire to leave the club. In the meantime, interested part Real Madrid are yet to come up with the money required for the deal which leaves the former Juventus man stuck with his current employer – a situation neither party truly wants. Romelu Lukaku’s future is another the Norwegian needs to resolve with time running out in the event the Belgian moves on. Daniel James, Aaron Wan-Bissaka and Harry Maguire are the new faces at Old Trafford with the latter arriving for a fee of £80m. It’s tough to take an accurate read on Solskjaer following his opening stint in the dugouts at Old Trafford. He will hope for sustainable performances and results from the start of the season because the slump at the end of last season was pretty embarrassing. Manchester United finished 32 points behind their neighbors City last season. They had the worst defense in the top-six group and were fifth in attack in the same group. It is an unenviable job for Solskjaer who has stated it would be “miraculous” if United compete this season. Will he still be in charge come the end of the season?

OTHERS

Wolverhampton Wanderers enjoyed a campaign as new birds with thriving under less pressure and they finished seventh to secure a European spot. Just like Burnley the season before last, it could be difficult to repeat last season’s seventh-place finish, given the busy schedule Europe may bring – but with Nuno in charge, anything’s possible. Everton fans want silverware, 24 years without one is far too long so Marco Silva will have to prioritize the cups. Silva has been trying to recover the team from the dreadful campaign before his era by improving the squad quality. The combination of Moise Kean and Richarlison would be important for the Toffees. Leicester City have lost a key component of their tight group but ensure they got significant money for him. Keeping Ricardo Pereira is important right now while hoping Ayoze Perez can help relieve the pressure on Jamie Vardy will see the Foxes produce another good season. With Brendan in charge, no level of ambition is out of reach. Pellegrini continues to attract quality players to West Ham. The Hammers supporters will hope for similar return on the £69m spent on playmaker Pablo Fornals and striker Sébastien Haller as they got from Felipe Anderson. Troy Deeney remains key as leader and figurehead for Waford. Keeping Abdoulaye Doucoure is as important as convincing Tom Dele-Bashiru to joined them and reject a new deal at Manchester City. Current boss Javi Gracia has quietly gone about turning the Hornets into a real force in the Premier League. Crystal Palace have found stability under Roy Hodgson but without a prolific goal scorer and best player Wilfried Zaha pushing for a move to a bigger club, this could yet be the toughest test for the league’s oldest manager having lost Wan-Bissaka already. The Eagles cannot afford another slow start. Once again, Newcastle United have been in the news for the wrong reasons. How did the Magpies board allow Rafa Benitez leave? Mike Ashley is the owner but he is perceived as the number one enemy at the club. Regardless of the financial outlay provided to new boss – Steve Bruce, the Toon Army have been penciled as one of the candidates to go down. Transfer funds have been restricted at Bournemouth due to the new training complex being funded, but Eddie Howe, the Cheeries have a manager who has operated in tougher situation at the club and saw them through. The South Coast club has earned their status in the Premier League and should definitely be fine for the season. After the highs of 2017-18, Burnley endured an inconsistent 2018-19 season scrapping for points to ensure safety. The Clarets are amongst the club whose manager is the reason for them staying in the top flight. Sean Dyche’s team conceded 39 goals in 2017-18 and almost doubled that figure the following campaign shipping 68 goals.  Ralph Hasenhuttl radical vision can help improve Southampton’s fortune and possibly see them fight for more decent finishes rather than scrap for survival. Most of his players believe in him and that should bode well for the Saints. Chris Hughton’s post-season sack raised eyebrows among neutrals leaving new manager Graham Potter requiring a magic wand to improve the club’s fortune. Brighton & Hove Albion need another striker; relying on 35 year old Glenn Murray could be suicidal.

Jack Grealish of Aston Villa and Dean Smith celebrate with the Sky Bet Championship Play-off Final Trophy st Wembley Stadium. (Photo by Harriet Lander/Copa/Getty Images)

Norwich City are back in the top flight after three years absence. Daniel Farke’s attacking philosophy paid off handsomely in the Championship, the Canaries won the championship with a never-say-die attitude that saw them over 20 points from losing position across the campaign. 12 years after their demotion to the second tier of English football, Sheffield United are back in the Premier League. The Blades are one of those tipped to go down and Chris Wilder has been brutally honest about their chances. However, with the support of half the city, United will fight for every ball and every point. Will that be enough? 12 months after the play-off heartbreak, Villa found joy and success on the same route to back to the pinnacle of English football. Aston Villa mean business, the club has spent over £80million in new signings this summer. Talented midfielder Jack Grealish is the star player in this team and his passing accuracy and ball movement would be crucial in midfield for Dean Smith. The ability to blend new acquisitions with the old ones quickly will be important for a manager whose preferred system is 4-1-4-1. Villa will equally aim to avoid the errors made by Fulham last season.

The 2019-20 Premier League season will provide exhilarating and amazing moments. We shall be previewing matches from this league as part of our FESIG focus weekly. The entire season odds are available on our sports shop. Simply visit Babaijebu.ng and place your bet on all Premier League games.

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