The 2015/16 Barclay’s Premier League season is just days away, and while the spending and the speculation are far from over, the countdown clock to opening day is all but spent. The big boys will fight for glory and the minnows will fight for survival, and to kick off the 2015/16 season preview, The Starting Point takes a look at the clubs to watch in the hunt for glory this season, courtesy of Premier League analyst Greg Hudson.
Club to Win it All: Chelsea F.C.
Jose Mourinho’s men won it all last season, and there’s no reason to think they won’t do it again in 2015/16. They have a seemingly irresistible mix of solid defense anchored by John Terry, quality midfield play in the likes of Cesc Fabregas and Oscar, and clinical attack through Eden Hazard and Diego Costa, and that makes them a danger on their worst days, and a juggernaut on their best.
The summer has been fairly quiet at Stamford Bridge, with the biggest activities being the departures of backup goalkeeper Petr Cech to Arsenal and the return of defender Felipe Luis to Atletico Madrid after an unremarkable year with the London side.
But the relative quietude for Chelsea is more a sign of their confidence than of a lack of initiative. It’s often said that champions who don’t improve don’t remain champions very long. It’s true, but although they haven’t added to their squad, this is a fairly young group of players – goalkeeper Thibault Courtois, defender Cesar Azpilicueta, midfielders Oscar and Nemanja Matic, and both Hazard and Costa are still at-or-before their prime – and they’ve spent the summer gelling into an even better side. A 1-0 setback in the Charity Shield to Arsenal won’t bother them much: they’re still the favorites to win the title – and for good reason.
Dark Horse Title Contenders – Arsenal F.C.
Arsenal were the in-form team of the second half of last season, and they’ll look to continue that hot streak in 2015/16, as star forward Alexis Sanchez begins his second season with the club and home-grown talent Francois Coquelin and Hector Bellerin look to become staples in the fiber of the club.
The biggest action of the summer was the acquisition of goalkeeper Petr Cech from Chelsea, and while he’d been supplanted at Stamford Bridge by young hotshot Thibault Courtois, expect Cech to step right into the Arsenal squad between the sticks and make an immediate impact for Arsene Wenger’s side at the Emirates this season. Goalkeeping was Arsenal’s Achilles heel last term, as both Wojciech Szczesny and David Ospina failed to really bolster the defensive unit.
With Cech in goal, Arsenal can fully commit to the kind of attacking play that saw them finish third last season. That gives the likes of Mezut Ozil and Aaron Ramsey the confidence to get forward and help Sanchez, Danny Welbeck and Theo Walcott with the goals Arsenal need to mount a title challenge.
Most Overrated Club – Manchester United F.C.
Yes, yes, I’m on the Hate United bandwagon. But not really. If you look at Manchester United, you see the single most imbalanced team in all of European football – world class attacking talent in front of a back line with no true leader and a goalkeeper whose days at Old Trafford are numbered – and that number is alarmingly small.
There’s no denying that United have some world class attacking ability. Even with the departures of Angel di Maria and Robin van Persie, the Red Devils still have Wayne Rooney, Juan Mata and Ander Herrera helping create magical moments on the pitch. So when I looked at Man U’s situation at the end of last season – particularly given that they’d be returning to European competition in the Champions’ League – I assumed their top priority would be defensive strength. With Mats Hummels strongly linked to Old Trafford and Chelsea’s Petr Cech available to replace goalkeeper David de Gea, whose move to Real Madrid is somewhat of a foregone conclusion, it seemed compulsory that United make the move to bring world class defending to the Theatre of Dreams, in a necessary attempt to improve a side which allowed five goals to Leicester City last season.
But they didn’t. The only defensive move the team has made has been the addition of fullback Mateo Darmian, which was followed with the departure of long-time right back Rafael. Instead, the side have brought on Morgan Schneiderlin and Bastian Schweinsteiger to improve the midfield, and world-class winger Memphis Depay to add to the goals department. But where is the defense!? It’s a question manager Louis van Gaal has ignored, or else he’s lost the memo. When your top defensive unit includes Chris Smalling, you’re in big trouble. And with de Gea gone in the coming weeks, there’s no way United can mount a serious title challenge. If you want proof that an all-attack-no-defense system doesn’t win the title, just ask Liverpool: they came about as close to pulling it off two seasons ago before it all unraveled at the finish line. Don’t be looking to see Manchester United at the top of the pile this season – unless they make some serious moves between now and deadline day.
Most Underrated Club – Liverpool F.C.
Two seasons ago, the Reds came as close to winning the title as a team can come without a solid defensive unit. Sadly, two years later, that defensive unit hasn’t improved much. But Brendan Rodgers has a much more all-around team now than he had in that (un)forgettable campaign in 2013/14. The likes of Adam Lallana and Lazar Markovic are beginning to come into their own, and Emre Can looks set to finally make a difference for Liverpool in his natural position in midfield. Yes, the team has lost three of its core players in the last 13 months in Luis Suarez, Steven Gerrard and Raheem Sterling. And yes, last season was an unmitigated disaster with Mario Balotelli proving perhaps the transfer blunder of the season and Daniel Sturridge finding the net just four times as he missed three quarters of the season through injury.
But the Reds still managed to finish sixth for Rodgers and the Anfield faithful, and another summer of spending has again highlighted Rodgers’ smart mentality. Joe Gomez is a top defender of the future, and while he’s unlikely to make a big difference now, Nathaniel Clyne is a top fullback and his addition to the back line will make an immediate impact, both at the back and going forward. Roberto Firmino will partner well with Philippe Countinho in the attacking midfield, and young Jordan Ibe will feature a lot in the side after making some breakthrough performances in the preseason. But the move of the summer was the addition of Christian Benteke, a man whose numbers at Aston Villa nearly mirrored those of Luis Suarez in his time with Liverpool and whose strong attacking presence will surely help the Reds with their biggest problem from last term: goals.
They aren’t title contenders. They simply aren’t that quality a side yet. But this is a predominantly young team, one of the youngest in the league, and the talent and creativity is undeniable. Of all the teams that failed to finish in the top four last year, I rate Liverpool as most likely to do it this season.
Stay tuned to The Starting Point for more of Greg’s preseason thoughts as he looks at teams who will be fighting for their Premier League futures in the upcoming campaign – and who might just make it out alive.