Premier League Top Four: The Contenders

September is almost here and the new Premier League season has finally kicked off. Several teams have strengthened their squad in the transfer window with hopes of securing a UEFA Champions League spot, awarded to the top four teams in the table. As time winds down, here is how competitive teams will stack up.

Fighting for a Spot in Europe

Leicester City: The Foxes’ competitiveness in 2020 all depends on how they will cope with the sale of Harry Maguire. The 2016 EPL champions made £80 million for the English international, a world-record fee for a center back. Still, Maguire’s presence on the back line was key to Leicester’s chances of breaking into the top four, but the Foxes have enough talent on their roster to change their identity following his departure. Leicester probably overpaid for attacker Ayoze Perez from Newcastle when they coughed up £30 million, but they know what they’re getting from the EPL regular. He will play behind Jamie Vardy in a supporting forward role upon Shinji Okazaki’s departure and Kelechi Iheanacho’s underwhelming performances.

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Perhaps Leicester’s most important move of the summer was signing Belgian international Youri Tielemans to a long-term permanent deal after a successful loan spell at the King Power stadium in 2019. The midfielder was receiving interest from top clubs in England, but Leicester still managed to secure his signature. Ricardo Pereira proved himself to be one of the signings of last summer at the right back spot, and Ben Chilwell could be the future of England at the left back spot. Wilfred Ndidi is no Ngolo Kante, but has an extremely bright future as one of the best defensive midfielders in the Premier League, and showed his quality last weekend with a goal against Chelsea. The young James Maddison could be the club’s next maestro, as big clubs in England were looking to snatch him away from the King Power. Leicester has enough to finish in the upper half of the table, and could challenge for an even higher spot if a center back steps up in Maguire’s place.

Wolverhampton: After being promoted last season, Wolves put every team on notice with consistency in every position. Their heavy Portugese squad influence made headlines in last year’s transfer window, and the chemistry certainly paid dividends as they finished in the seventh spot and with a winning record against the EPL top six. They sealed the transfers of Leander Dendoncker and Raul Jimenez this summer, who both impressed in their loan spells last season. Jimenez, a Mexican international, is not flashy but loves to put the ball in the net at a consistent rate, while Dendoncker will likely start for the Belgian Red Devils in the future, being able to play as a center back and also as a defensive midfielder.

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The biggest headline by far for Wolves has to be the signing of Patrick Cutrone for £23 million from AC Milan. The young Italian striker is about to enter the prime of his career, and showed high-level promise at the San Siro. At the age of just 21, Cutrone has already made 90 caps for Milan, scoring 27 times primarily as a substitute. Wolves should give him plenty of opportunities to shine, and this is just the type of signing that manager Nuno Espírito Santo needs in order to break into the top six. Wolves played very well against the Premier League’s best teams last season, and look to continue that form following a draw against Manchester United this past weekend.

West Ham United: Every transfer window, West Ham spends like a top European club and ends up finishing mid-table. This window, the Hammers decided to be a bit more selective on their transfers, while still spending money where they deem acceptable. Longtime strikers Marko Arnautovic and Andy Carroll have departed the club – while they would have done well to receive more than just £20 million for Arnautovic, the player was forcing the move and there was not much that could have been done. Luckily, West Ham quickly replaced the Austrian international with Sebastian Haller, who had a strong season for Frankfurt. The tall French striker played second fiddle to Luka Jovic in Germany, but still managed to score 15 times in 29 caps in 2019, also tallying nine assists. Only Robert Lewandowski had more goal involvement in Germany last season, so there are high hopes that Haller lives up to the £45 million price tag that the Hammers agreed to pay. Pablo Fornals joins West Ham from Villareal, and shows plenty of promise from the attacking midfield spot. He is still young and will take some time to develop, but adds another dimension to West Ham’s attack. West Ham is dangerous in 2020, coming off of stellar seasons from Felipe Anderson on the wing and Lukasz Fabianski in goal. If Issa Diop and Declan Rice continue developing, West Ham could be a serious threat. It will also be interesting to see what Andriy Yarmolenko does with a full season and if Jack Wilshere can break into the squad.

Everton: The other team in Liverpool has been threatening to spend big on a player that will take them to the next level this transfer window. Everton lost Idrissa Gueye to PSG for almost £30 million, who was one of their three best players last season, next to Lucas Digne and Richarlison, but replaced him with Manchester City veteran Fabian Delph and Mainz CDM Jean-Philippe Gbamin. Delph is certainly a downgrade, but brings championship pedigree and will potentially make a difference in changing the team’s mentality. While they know the consistency that they’ll be getting from Delph, Gbamin offers a ceiling that is close to Gueye’s, giving the Toffees some flexibility. Lucas Digne had a career-changing season at LB after failing to make a real impact in previous stints at PSG, Roma and Barcelona.

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Richarlison solidified himself as the real deal after an impressive year with Watford the season prior, scoring 13 times in the league with Everton in 2019. They look to provide some goal-scoring support for the Brazilian international, which will be further bolstered by additions of Moise Kean from Juventus and Alex Iwobi from Arsenal. After failing to secure Wilfried Zaha’s signature, Everton managed to buy Iwobi on deadline day to round out a dangerous front three that features Bernardo and Richarlison. Kean is an affordable and the smart long-term move, especially considering that the purchase did not include a buy-back clause. Everton solidified a permanent move for Andre Gomes from Barcelona, who had a successful loan spell for them last season. Losing Ademola Lookman to RB Leipzig definitely stung, but they made over a 200% profit on a player who only scored four times for them in 48 caps. The Toffees have made the signings that they need to give themselves a chance of breaking into a spot that ensures European football.

Chelsea: Like Arsenal, initial expectations of an uneventful transfer window have been transcended. Their activity has naturally been limited by transfer ban, but they managed to do as well as they could considering the circumstances. Mateo Kovacic signed on full-time for Chelsea after a decent loan spell last season; they may not have made this move permanent if they didn’t have the transfer ban, but the attacking midfielder showed promise all season. Christian Pulisic joins from Borussia Dortmund after Chelsea agreed to purchase him in January, following a loan move to finish the year at Dortmund. He has shown plenty of ability in preseason, but is far from a Hazard replacement. The club also extended Callum Hudson-Odoi after fighting off interest from Bayern Munich, which was key in solidifying the future of the club. The teenager was showing plenty of promise prior to suffering a long-term injury at the end of 2019. Still, the winger has plenty of time to recover and return to form.

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Perhaps the most successful signing came in the form of their manager, as Chelsea appointed former club legend Frank Lampard. This was a great managerial signing for the London giants, but it may have come a bit early, as they didn’t have the opportunity to find a Hazard replacement. Given Chelsea’s history of sacking managers after just one unsuccessful season, Lampard may have been unintentionally set up to fail. The club has good players, especially with the heaps of loanees on their books – but Lampard needs to decide on a striker following Gonzalo Higuain and Alvaro Morata’s departures. Olivier Giroud is a decent option, but would serve the club more efficiently by coming off of the bench. Michy Batshuayi has been very effective in the opportunities that he has been given, but has been shown little belief in his abilities by Chelsea. Lampard has expressed a desire to go with the young Tammy Abraham, who scored 25 goals in 37 caps playing for Aston Villa in the Championship last season. Former Derby attacker Mason Mount has been shown plenty of trust in Lampard’s time so far, given that the gaffer coached him last season. After initially receiving plenty of hate, he was praised for his performance against Leicester City this past weekend after scoring a tenacious goal in the opening ten minutes. The options are there, but without Hazard to bail Chelsea out this season, they are in danger of losing a top-six spot without an elite player on the roster (aside from Ngolo Kante).

Manchester United: In classic Manchester United fashion, the Red Devils were linked with pretty much every big player on the planet, with little to show for it. After being linked with Toby Alderweireld since January, United decided not to bid for the Tottenham defender while his release clause was only £25 million. After the release clause was nullified, United decided to look to Harry Maguire to rebuff their lacking defense. His quality is unquestionable, but Leicester requested a world-record fee for his services, making for extremely high expectations. Maguire was eager for a move to Manchester and will look to secure the captain’s band. Eric Bailly has once again been injured for an extended period of time, leaving United with Maguire and Victor Lindelof to fill out the back line. Backup options of Chris Smalling and Phil Jones have proved unreliable, leaving some doubt over the team’s depth. The Red Devils were in talks with Paulo Dybala and Bruno Fernandes, and both would have been excellent signings. Dybala originally began talks with Tottenham over a transfer, but United quickly became the favorites to sign him after Juventus showed interest for a swap deal involving Romelu Lukaku. The Belgian striker looked set to leave United for Juve after just two seasons with the club, but eventually signed with Inter Milan on an expensive deal.

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Their other successful transfers were Aaron Wan-Bissaka of Crystal Palace and Daniel James of Swansea. James showed plenty of promise in the Championship last season, but may not be ready for Premier League football just yet. His early-season goal may prove to be a curse, given that it should give him more playing time in too early of a stage in his career. Bissaka, on the other hand, put himself on the map last season as one of the world’s most promising right backs, and should come in immediately as a season-long starter. His £45 million is a little bit too steep for a player with only one good season under his belt, but has shown enough quality during the preseason for United fans to rest easy. Like Arsenal, their hopes to finish in a Champions League spot are hinged on how well their defense plays.

Guaranteed Top Six Finish

Arsenal: Arsenal’s transfer window started with an announcement that they would only have £40-45 million of spending money for the entirety of the summer, distressing Gunners fans around the world. Luckily, Arsenal’s board allocated them more funds, allowing them to seal a big money move for winger Nicolas Pepe for a club record fee of £72 million. Dani Ceballos joins the Gunners on a loan move from Real Madrid after he looked poised to join Tottenham on the other side of North London, and heavily impressed with a MOTM-caliber performance in his regular debut. They also signed promising center back William Saliba for £30 million. He will surely be a staple of the Arsenal defense for years to come, but returns to his previous club St. Etienne on a one-year loan deal to start. The French club likely would not have let the deal go through without the Gunners loaning him back, which spells bad news for their defense in 2020. Luckily, they secured David Luiz on a cheap signing; Luiz will look to make an impact in the starting lineup immediately, as the rest of their defensive options are comprised of Sokratis, Mustafi and Rob Holding. Their final signing of the transfer window came in the form of Celtic wingback Kieran Tierney, for whom they were negotiating during the entire summer. He should start immediately, but still needs to prove himself.

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Captian Laurent Koscielny has moved on to Bordeaux, leaving the dressing room without their leader. Players will have to step up and show their love for the shirt in order to fill this spot. While Arsenal’s front three now looks elite, they needed to spend more on their main position of need. The glaring weakness in their roster could leave them susceptible to falling short of expectations, which could mean a finish outside of the top six. Still, this team is going to score plenty of goals, and looks like a much better squad than Chelsea or Manchester United after the first few games.

Manchester City: City’s roster depth is unprecedented in the EPL. Guardiola’s squad purchased Rodri from Atletico Madrid early into the transfer window, solidifying the deep-lying midfield position as Fernandinho and David Silva grow with age. They let Fabian Delph sign for Everton for £8.5 million, and although they could have gotten more money for the first-team regular, he was never in Guardiola’s long-term plans. Vincent Kompany has ended his long stint with the club as its captain, returning to his Anderlecht, his boyhood club, as player-manager. Bayern Munich tried to snatch Leroy Sane away from City for the entirety of the transfer window, and despite confidence from pundits in Germany, the deal never went through. Sane’s major injury in preseason likely played a large part in his lack of movement away from the club, but City will still miss his speed on the wing. The incumbent champions head into the new season as co-front runners with Liverpool to win both the EPL and the Champions League.

Liverpool: Liverpool’s roster features the EPL’s best wingers, wingbacks, goalkeeper and center back. They clearly did not need to edit their squad very much, and Jurgen Klopp had been quoted stating that they didn’t expect to make any big-money transfers during the window. The truth is that they didn’t need to. Sure, they would benefit from bringing on another center back to pair with Virgil van Dijk (young transfer Sepp van den Berg may not be ready), but Fabinho has shown plenty of ability to successfully fill that spot in worst-case scenarios. Selling Dominic Solanke in January for around £20 million was a revelation, given that he only scored once in a Liverpool shirt in 21 appearances as a striker, and they will look to make the same kind of unprecedented profit from selling Welshman Harry Wilson in the next window. With Daniel Sturridge’s contract coming to an end, the Reds opted to turn to Divock Origi as a backup for Roberto Firmino, who scored several important goals at the end of last season. His natural position probably falls on the wing, but his speed and tenacity work well within the Reds’ system. The Champions League winners are ready to compete with Manchester City for the title, and bringing back almost the same team from last season will pay off in regards to the team’s chemistry.

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Tottenham: While Spurs have retained Christian Eriksen and Toby Alderweireld at present, they still have plenty of work to do. Eriksen seemed destined for a big money move to a powerhouse club willing to splash the cash, but he found himself in an awkward position of not being any team’s primary target but also being too good for Spurs to accept any unsuitable offer. Alderweireld could have gone for as little as £25 due to a contractual short-term release clause, until that clause expired at the end of last week. Spurs now value the consistent CB between £40-45, and he seems more willing to re-sign than Eriksen. With one year left on each of their deals, Spurs must make it a priority to re-negotiate their contracts. If the Danish CAM continues to refuse signing an extension, they must consider selling him at a cut-price to avoid losing him for free.

Adding Tanguy Ndombele is surely viewed as a great success, given that he was on plenty of big clubs’ radars and that he was Tottenham’s premier transfer target. He provides the type of quality and creativity from a deeper-lying midfield position that Tottenham has been missing since Moussa Dembele’s departure, and even before then. However, it seems as though chairman Daniel Levy could be up to his same old tricks, refusing to financially commit himself towards moving Tottenham into the elite category. They missed out on top players like Wilfried Zaha and Paulo Dybala amid competition from Everton and Manchester United respectively, and lost to Arsenal on transfer targets like Dani Ceballos and William Saliba earlier in the window. Teams who cannot even promise Champions League football should not be winning the signatures of so many players who have an option to join Tottenham, but therein lays the issue.

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Spurs supporters were sad to see Kieran Trippier leave for Atletico Madrid, but we all knew that he was not the long-term solution, especially after taking a step back last season. Kyle Walker-Peters is a much better wingback than people give him credit for, while Serge Aurier is quality on his day. Pochettino also fancies Juan Foyth in the right back spot, as he impressed from this position for Argentina in Copa America, and should see time at wingback upon his return from injury. Still, none of these players should adequately satisfy the side; Dani Alves was rumored with Tottenham in July, but chose to join Sao Paulo in Brazil. Spurs finally tied the knot on their seemingly inevitable transfers of Giovani Lo Celso and Ryan Sessegnon, but failed to sell Danny Rose, leaving Sessegnon with competition. Lo Celso needed to be signed to a permanent deal, but the club only managed to successfully agree on a loan move. Although their current squad would likely produce European competition in 2021, Spurs would have done well to finish the transfer window in aggressive fashion if they were hoping to catch City and Liverpool in the race for the title.

Table Prediction

  1. Manchester City
  2. Tottenham
  3. Liverpool
  4. Arsenal
  5. Wolverhampton Wanderers
  6. Everton
  7. Manchester United
  8. Leicester City
  9. Chelsea
  10. West Ham United
  11. Bournemouth
  12. Burnley
  13. Watford
  14. Crystal Palace
  15. Aston Villa
  16. Newcastle United
  17. Brighton
  18. Sheffield United
  19. Southampton
  20. Norwich City

 

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