Six Premier League clubs will start the season with a new manager in charge, and that’s on the basis that current favourite Sam Allardyce is snubbed for the England managerial position.
Chelsea, Everton, Manchester City, Manchester United, Southampton and Watford all begin the new Premier League campaign with a sense of extra-mystery lurking.
Antonio Conte is fresh from his Euro 2016 disappointment with Italy, and has already taken over the Cobham training ground. His high level of ambition was demonstrated by his negative attitude towards Italy’s exit from the international competition, despite making it into the latter stages with a poor Azzurri side, well on paper at least.
Conte’s strength is making a team play like a team, and having a system that makes it hard for the opponents to break down. We saw in the Euro’s how his 3-5-2 worked wonders for their defensive record, but with the less mobile John Terry and Gary Cahill it could force the Italian into the market for a new centre-back.
We know already that N’Golo Kante has joined Chelsea from Leicester City and Michy Batshuayi has signed on the dotted lines of a five-year deal. But it would probably take another strong defensive signing for Chelsea to turn into real title contenders. I expect them to move quickly to secure this signing however.
Meanwhile there is also ‘noveau-riche’ Everton who begin the season with a managerial change, and are set to spend big this summer following Farhad Moshiri’s investment into the club. It was felt that Ronald Koeman was the right man to take the Merseyside team forward after they sacked Roberto Martinez.
Everton are yet to make any major outfield additions to their squad, but with an open cheque book and renewed hope that they can hang on to John Stones, Ross Barkley and Romelu Lukaku, then it would just need a season of learning to play the Koeman way before we can expect to see Everton challenging again for the top four.
There’s also the little reported happenings within Manchester, where Pep Guardiola and Jose Mourinho are set to clash as rivals once again, with Pep wearing the blue of City whilst Mourinho finally gets the chance to take the helm at Old Trafford.
Both of these teams have signed big, with City signing Ilkay Gundogan and Nolito, and United bringing in Zlatan Ibrahimovic and Henrikh Mkhitaryan. But that’s not expected to stop the Manchester giants, and we could easily see both clubs spend £100 million each on new talent, as they look to battle each other for the Premier League title this season.
With all the transfer glitz and managerial box office moves that have taken place, Southampton and Watford have gone under the radar, and that will suit them both perfectly.
Southampton have already been dealt the blow of losing their manager, Victor Wanyama and Sadio Mane, although they have bought well in relegated Nathan Redmond and Pierre-Emile Hojbjerg from Bayern Munich.
But their biggest test will be how well Claude Puel, their new manager, adapts to the balancing the Premier League and European football. Having only managed in Ligue 1 for Nice, Lille, Lyon and Monaco, he could get some shocks adjusting to the English culture.
Yet with the Saints already bringing in £64 million through selling talent, such as the departure of Graziano Pelle to China, they have a lot of money to make the squad and suit the philosophy that Puel wants his new Southampton side to adopt.
Meanwhile at Watford, the managerial change of Walter Mazzarri replacing Sanchez Flores was more expected, with the Italian being lined up for the job in January, despite it not being announced until the end of last season.
He was scouting his new team whilst the players were unaware that he would be the next Watford Head Coach, and it will be this attention to detail that could allow for an easy transition at Vicarage Road. Yet that starting eleven needs reinvigoration having been in poor form since January, with many teams learning how to cope with their troublesome strike-force.
Equally, that defensive back four needs heavy investment to be cut out for the Premier League, and I expect it will be the leaky defence that will prove to be the Hornet’s downfall.
There were fears that club captain Troy Deeney would leave the club for Leicester in a £30 million deal, but having signed a new deal, many at Watford will feel comfortable about the upcoming season and hoping they can push on from their bottom-half finish.
But I expect that it will be Arsenal who capitalise this season with the big team’s all changing managers. They’ll need time to adjust their philosophy, but Arsenal know how they play, and if they move quick in the transfer market to solve the odd position that needs strengthening, then it would be no shock to see them end their long wait for a Premier League trophy.
Likewise, Liverpool will be helped with their first pre-season under Jurgen Klopp and having no European football, but that could be the downfalls of Leicester and Spurs who will be putting a lot of effort into their Champions League campaigns, which could see them lack the momentum to make that same impact in the domestic league.
2. Manchester City
3. Manchester United
6. Tottenham Hotspur
8. Stoke City
9. West Ham United
10. Leicester City
12. Crystal Palace
13. Swansea City
14. AFC Bournemouth
17. West Bromwich Albion
18. Hull City