2018-19 English Premier League power rankings: City favorites to repeat, but Liverpool hope to end the drought
With the European football leagues getting underway this week, The Barber's Chair is taking a look at each of the major soccer leagues across the pond to see how each club stacks up this season. Yesterday, Jonathan Ramos examined the top tier in France, Ligue 1. Today, Vijay Vemu looks at arguably the most popular league in football, the English Premier League.
Premier League Power Rankings
One of the world's best leagues, the English Premier League, kicks off on Friday with Leicester City facing off against Manchester United. It's the beginning of a great soccer weekend (including Arsenal vs. Man City) and hopefully a fun EPL season. Let’s rank the 20 clubs and in the end, I’ll release my entire table predictions.
Class 1: Title contenders
Last year we saw Pep Guardiola’s Manchester City take the crown by the throat, ending the title race by Christmas. Their second-half spell wasn’t as dominant as their start, but it was enough to get the job done and win their third EPL title of the decade. Now with an invigorated squad filled with summer signings like Riyad Mahrez, City are favorites to repeat.
Pep retains the majority of his key players and will get a healthy Benjamin Mendy to fill in at left back this season. Sergio Aguero and Gabriel Jesus are going to be goal poachers with Kevin De Bruyne, Leroy Sane, and Raheem Sterling providing service. However, the title chase will be closer with one team, in particular, having an amazing summer in the transfer market: Liverpool.
The Reds had a fantastic season in 2017/18 and got even stronger in the summer, adding the duo of Naby Keita and Fabinho to shore up the midfield. Both players fit right into Jurgen Kloop's system, with the former having a great motor to press. Sadio Mane, Roberto Firmino, and Mo Salah all come back healthy as well. Liverpool even went out and spent money on a quality keeper in Brazil's Allison, who sures up the backline and makes the Reds a dangerous contender in the Premier League. One question worth asking given Klopp’s system: will they run of steam in the second half of the season? If that happens in the middle of a serious title chase, we could see another Liverpool collapse.
Any year in the Premier League is a toss up, but with City being so far above everyone else and Liverpool improving, it’s hard to talk yourself into another big club being a title contender. At least right now. I expect the race to be pretty close, but for now, these are my two teams.
Class 2: European contenders
I’m just gonna get this out of the way right now... I don’t see Burnley making a push like they did last season. Sean Dyche’s team did a fantastic job of playing park-the-bus soccer and making the Europa League out of it. They made great use of set pieces and defended like crazy, but we know what happens when you mix a Europa League run with trying to compete in the Premier League. Ask Southampton and Everton; it creates a disaster in one competition or another. The Clarets are going to naturally have to make a sacrifice about which competition to care for; but even if they solely focus on the Premier League, they will need another monster season to qualify for Europe.
As for who will actually be competing for European qualification, expect the rest of the big guns to be competing for Champions League. Manchester United manager Jose Mourinho’s comments have made things especially wild around Old Trafford. The whole thing regarding Anthony Martial raised a few eyebrows but thankfully there are people at United who realize his value. Making Marcus Rashford the number 10 is a big deal; hopefully, he can get more playing time this season. Mourinho has a lot of decisions to make attacking wise and if he can’t get it right, he may be on his way out.
Antonio Conte is finally out at Chelsea, and the Blues have brought in their man from Napoli. Maurizio Sarri will bring an exciting style to Stamford Bridge and hopefully convince Eden Hazard to stay with him by getting more attacking help. Adding Jorginho to boss the midfield along with N’Golo Kante is a big boost. Chelsea fans hope Sarri can make Alvaro Morata look at least 20% of what he was last year. I think if Morata is given a chance in Sarri’s system, he will have a fine season. But one man who is on his way out is Thibaut Courtois. Chelsea reportedly have his replacement lined up in Kepa, but it means even more shuffling defensively. You also have to wonder how Conte’s back three now fit with Sarri’s 4-3-3 system. Marcos Alonso will have real problems playing as a full-time left back.
No movement in the transfer window have left Tottenham fans mad as there have been barely any incomings to the club. Losing Toby Alderweireld and Moussa Dembele won’t ease any of the tension. Spurs still have a super talented squad and manager Mauricio Pochettino will have his guys ready to go. Harry Kane will still be smashing in goals and the likes of Heung Min Son, Christian Eriksen, and Dele Alli will provide a ton of offensive support, but they needed an upgrade on their squad to take the next step into title contention. Sadly for Spurs fans, there was no upgrade at all.
Arsene Wenger is finally out and Unai Emery is in at Arsenal. The Gunners have a potent attack with Pierre Emerick-Aubameyang and Alexandre Lacazette up front. Emery will have to figure out make the two strikers together instead of what happened last season when the latter was moved out to the left wing and looked all out of sorts. The midfield got a boost with the addition of Uruguay’s Lucas Torreira. He can be a good cover in front of Arsenal’s shaky backline and will look to be their backbone in midfield. It’s a project that Emery has got in his hands. Wenger left him a depleted squad, and it'll take a couple of years for Emery to get his type of players. Expect another topsy-turvy year from the Gunners.
Another team I would like to throw in for Europe contention is Leicester City. Even after losing Mahrez, they made some smart signings in Ricardo Pereira, Richard Ghezzal, James Madison, and Danny Ward. All of those signings strengthen a talented and dangerous squad with Jamie Vardy still up top, and Ndidi and Vicente Iborra solid in the midfieldl. Getting Jonny Evans to play in the back will help the backline depth, especially if Harry Maguire leaves (which he might this transfer window or next).
Class 3: Mid-table
The team who will get the most eyeballs here will be Wolves. Like Newcastle last year, they are easily a mid-table team and won’t be fighting for their lives this season. They brought in a lot of quality players in the past two years, and the way they ran the Championship showed they can make some noise in the table. I know it’s ambitious to put them in the top 9 but you can argue given the troubling summers the three teams behind them in the list, it’s not unreasonable. Crystal Palace had a good end to the summer and given the chaos in the middle of the table, if they keep Zaha they will be fine.
Newcastle has had a very troubling summer with Rafa Benitez expressing his concern for the lack of transfers. It’s not out of reason for them to be in the relegation race when the season comes to a close, but I think Benitez is a talented enough manager to pull them out of it.
Fulham will be fun too and they kept their best young players, which bodes well for them staying up. Everton is a toss up under Marco Silva; they could be in contention for 7th, but given how their pre-season has gone it seems they are in a fight for 10th place again. West Ham hope their signing of Felipe Anderson will be a big boost for them; he's a smart purchase who can spark the Hammers offensively like Dimitri Payet did a couple of years ago.
Class 4: Relegation Zone
There are two teams here who are good bets to land in the relegation zone: Huddersfield and Cardiff City. Both clubs, talent-wise, don’t have enough firepower to stay in the Premier League. It was a miracle that Huddersfield stayed up last year, and this year will be even harder for them. They’ve made some signings which could help them stay up, so it’s an automatic drop but it’s hard to see them trying the same thing they did last year and have it work.
The last relegation spot will come between Brighton and Southampton. Much like Lille in France, Southampton's drop in quality has been shocking and sad to see. The Saints were once in the Europa League, now they are fighting for their Premier League lives. They are going to have to rely on a young core to get them out of this. Bournemouth is also in here but Eddie Howe can get the job done, much like Rafa at Newcastle.
Full table prediction