⦁ Only six teams have won the Premier League (PL) since it was reduced to 20 teams in 1995/96: Man Utd (11), Chelsea (5), Man City (5), Arsenal (3), Leicester City and Liverpool
⦁ 27 of 29 PL champions had finished in the top three the previous season – nine were defending champions, 12 had been runners-up and six had been third
⦁ 23 of the last 25 runners-up had finished in the top four the previous season, with 11 being defending champions
⦁ Since 1995/96, only six teams have finished in the top three having been lower than fifth the previous season (Chelsea in 2013 and 2017, Liverpool in 2014, Leicester in 2016, and Man Utd in 2018 and 2020).
⦁ 18 of the last 25 defending champions have finished in the top two
⦁ Since 1998/99 all 11 PL teams that have reached a Champions League final the previous season have finished in the top four
Last season’s title went to the final day, while at the other end, the final relegation spot wasn’t decided until then either. A fierce battle for the last Champions League spot ensued between North London rivals Tottenham and Arsenal, Chelsea couldn’t close the gap on the top two, while Man Utd floundered first under Ole Gunnar Solskjaer and then Ralph Rangnick.
This season may see the top sides benefit from the increase to a maximum of five substitutes, while there will be additional challenges with a winter World Cup starting in November, before the season renews on Boxing Day. Some squads will have greater involvement in Qatar, and it remains to be seen if a mental reset occurs over that period, effectively killing off some team’s momentum.
Man City (1.7), Liverpool (4.2), Tottenham (15.5), Chelsea (19), Man Utd (42), Arsenal (51)
Pep Guardiola and Jurgen Klopp have built two of the best Premier League sides ever to dominate recent years, winning each of the past five titles between them, and despite the overhaul at Tottenham and a potential challenge from Chelsea, it’s difficult to see the gap being breached.
Across the past four seasons, the only time City and Liverpool didn’t both make the top two came in 2020/21, with Liverpool suffering from a crippling injury list concentrated at centre-back. In each of those other three seasons, the gap between second and third was 15 points at a minimum, even reaching 25 points in 2018/19.
Further evidence of the distance the other teams have to make up can be found in expected goal difference. Man City (+1.75) and Liverpool (+1.58) both held comfortable records last term, which inevitably meant that when they did slip up defensively, the attack was there to bail them out with more chances, as they held significantly better xGF than their rivals.
There was also a substantial drop off from Chelsea (+0.82) to North London duo Tottenham (+0.53) and Arsenal (+0.40), whereas the rest of the field was way behind. It is however worth noting that Tottenham were competitive with Chelsea in this regard after Antonio Conte took the job (+0.91).
Man City have in fact led the way for xGD per game in each of the last five seasons, with Liverpool second on four occasions and never slipping below the 0.7 mark. Chelsea’s title triumphs in 2014/15 and 2016/17 saw them post +0.85 and +0.8 figures respectively, as it would appear that’s the rough sort of threshold you’d have to meet, in order to stand any kind of chance of competing for the title.
The last time a team won three league titles in a row was Man Utd (06-07 to 08-09) and in fact, Man City are the only ones to secure back-to-back titles since then. Only a Liverpool triumph in 19-20 has prevented Man City dominance in recent times, with Pep Guardiola aiming for a fifth title in six seasons.
Man City (1 *position last season)
Man City have spent much of the last couple of seasons playing without a recognized striker, but the tactical shift necessary to bring the best out of Haaland shouldn’t be too hard to achieve. Guardiola has worked with a traditional number nine previously in Robert Lewandowski at Bayern, and although Haaland can’t expect to be afforded so much space on the counter as at Dortmund, he’s just as deadly at poaching goals in congested areas and potential injuries are the only concern surrounding the Norwegian.
Highly rated youngster Julian Alvarez has also joined to offset the departures of Raheem Sterling and Gabriel Jesus, but with Kalvin Phillips effectively replacing the ageing Fernandinho in City’s squad, there’s little need for major surgery. A replacement at left-back for Oleksandr Zinchenko is needed, with the club clearly keen on Brighton’s Marc Cucurella, but it is probably only a matter of time before the Citizens have their final squad in place.
Liverpool have also tinkered with their setup and although it’s disappointing to see Sadio Mane depart for Bayern, it was always going to be difficult for the club to tie down both Mo Salah and the Senegal international. The recruitment team at Anfield have gotten it right time and again in recent seasons, and it may well prove smart business over the long term with Luis Diaz making an instant impact when joining the club in January.
There’s understandably much attention on £85m man Darwin Nunez, who notched up 32 goals across the Portuguese league and the Champions League last term. The Uruguayan didn’t impress too much in his first couple of outings before a four-goal haul against Leipzig set pulses racing, while Fabio Carvalho has been snapped up from Fulham to add depth after the departures of cult hero Divock Origi and Takumi Minamino. Should Nunez hit the ground running, Liverpool will be in a far better place to wrestle back the title.
Top 4 Contenders
w/o Man City & Liverpool: Tottenham (2.75), Chelsea (3.25), Man Utd (6.5), Arsenal (9)
Top 4: Man City (1.03), Liverpool (1.14), Tottenham (1.68), Chelsea (1.8), Arsenal (2.8), Man Utd (3.1)
After winning the Champions League, Chelsea were expected to close the distance on Liverpool and Man City last term, though in the end finished 19 points adrift of first place and 18 from second. There’s been plenty of upheaval with the club under new ownership, though they’ve remained competitive in the transfer market with key deals for Raheem Sterling and Kalidou Koulibaly. However, with plenty of departures as well, they appear to be a team that’s largely standing still.
The defence was always going to be reshaped this summer with Antonio Rudiger and Andreas Christensen leaving for the Spanish giants on free transfers. Koulibaly provides a genuine world class replacement, but there’s more work to be done with Cesar Azpilicueta turning 33 in August and Thiago Silva 38 in September. Ben Chilwell’s return to fitness is a major boost however, though high-quality back-ups for the former Leicester man and England teammate Reece James on the other flank remains a problem to be solved.
In midfield, Connor Gallagher can expect plenty of opportunities this term with N’Golo Kante starting to struggle with injuries and Jorginho lacking mobility, while Saul Niguez’s forgettable loan spell came to an end. However, aside from further defensive reinforcements, Chelsea’s biggest concern rests in attack where Sterling is not a like-for-like replacement of Lukaku. As things stand, Sterling, Mason Mount, Kai Havertz and Timo Werner are likely to have to carry the goalscoring burden, and there’s little to suggest that any of them will suddenly turn prolific.
The 11 draws Chelsea had last term was the most of anyone in the top eight and without the addition of a clinical striker, it’s unlikely they can bridge the gap to City and Liverpool. Sterling should work well in Tuchel’s set up, with his intensity and work rate key factors, though the England wide man will never be an absolutely clinical player, but a reliable source of pressure and invention nonetheless.
Daniel Levy has finally opened the chequebook for Antonio Conte and with a proven winner at the helm, Tottenham fans have plenty of reasons to get excited. Additional strength in depth should benefit the club with five substitutes now available under new rules, while a return to Champions League football should enable them to attract better talent.
As ever, Heung-min Son and Harry Kane’s partnership in attack is crucial, with the duo having now built that relationship over seven years together. They’re the deadliest duo in Premier League history for goal combinations, where one provided the assist and the other finished off the chance.
The star duo were amongst the top four scorers in the division last term, with the South Korean joint-top with Mo Salah, and the arrival of Richarlison for big money means the attack is in excellent shape. Dejan Kulusevski (now a permanent signing) and Lucas Moura provide strong competition, while new wing-back Ivan Perisic is capable of playing across the front three if extra cover is required.
In addition to Perisic, the arrival of Djed Spence means the wide areas are in better shape and central defence has also seen a key new addition. Clement Lenglet didn’t exactly thrive at Barcelona and saw his game time much reduced last season, but he’s demonstrated enough across his four years with the Catalans and a year and a half with Sevilla before that to give encouragement. He should slot in alongside Cristian Romero and Eric Dier at the back, while the captures of Yves Bissouma in midfield and back-up goalkeeper Fraser Forster wraps up an impressive transfer window.
The Gunners missed a huge opportunity to return to the Champions League for the first time since 2016/17 and although summer business has been hugely encouraging, there is still quite a gap to be bridged. Liverpool and City’s standards are unattainable, Man Utd can’t be as bad this season under Erik ten Hag, while Tottenham have strengthened the squad massively, so the competition should also prove fiercer.
Mikel Arteta is building around a core nucleus of younger players with the likes of Martin Odegaard, Bukayo Saka, Emile Smith Rowe and Martinelli expected to carry the attack. However, it’s hard to ignore the manner in which they crumbled under pressure last term when a return to the top four was within their grasp.
19-year-old Marquinhos is one for future, but the club have strengthened their first 11 with moves for midfielder Fabio Vieira and Man City duo Gabriel Jesus and Oleksandr Zinchenko, while the return from loan of William Saliba improves the depth at centre-back. The Man City captures represent excellent news for the Gunners, with both entering what ought to be their peak years.
Jesus in particular has caught the eye in pre-season, while Zinchenko’s versatility ensures that Kieran Tierney’s injury record isn’t quite such a compromising factor.
Man United (6)
It would appear that the only way is up for Man Utd, who have fresh optimism under Erik ten Hag following a disastrous season. Ralph Rangnick won just 10 of his 24 league games, contributing to Man Utd’s lowest ever points tally in the Premier League (58), but it’s not as though the squad lacks talent having finished second as recently as 2020/21.
Erik ten Hag won three league titles at Ajax and took them on a memorable Champions league semi-final run, but the step up from the Eredivisie is a big one. Pre-season has been hugely encouraging however, including a 4-0 drubbing of Liverpool, with ten Hag seemingly stamping his authority over a dysfunctional squad.
The new boss’ ability to coach and improve players could reap rewards amongst players already at the club, with the likes of Marcus Rashford and Anthony Martial improving their prospects in pre-season. New signings have been made in left-back Tyrel Malacia, centre-back Lisandro Martinez and Christian Eriksen, though a long pursuit of Frenkie de Jong doesn’t appear any closer to bearing fruit.
Of course, the big elephant in the room remains Cristiano Ronaldo’s future, with the Portuguese superstar seemingly intent on a move to a side competing in the Champions League. The club can ill-afford to let the 37-year-old go however, with a lack of high-quality alternatives available with the likes of Robert Lewandowski, Erling Haaland and Darwin Nunez having already been snapped up this summer. It's now been nine years since a Man Utd forward hit 20 league goals, with Bruno Fernandes and Ronaldo reaching 18 in the past couple of seasons respectively.
Although further additions appear highly likely, the squad depth hasn’t been boosted with a number of departures this summer. The likes of Juan Mata, Jesse Lingard and Nemanja Matic were only bit part players in any case, but with a lack of forwards at the club, Edinson Cavani also needs replacing. Paul Pogba divides opinion, though clearly Eriksen will effectively replace the World Cup winner as a back up to Bruno Fernandes.
Big 6 Conclusions
Given the distance the other teams have to make up on City and Liverpool, at a time where neither is standing still, it’s hard to look past their stranglehold on English football continuing. Circumstances could see one or the other have a poor season, as in 2020/21 when Liverpool endured an injury nightmare, but it doesn’t seem feasible that it could happen to both at the same time.
Man City are clear favourites after landing Erling Haaland, whereas Liverpool’s new forward still has questions to answer, and at least in the short term, Darwin Nunez is a downgrade on strong Ballon d‘or contender Sadio Mane. With that in mind, the prices for the title outright don’t hold such great appeal, and the market w/o Man City and Liverpool is more appetizing.
Arsenal are outsiders in this regard and that’s understandable as despite some good signings, they’ll struggle to keep up with teams spending just as much. A youthful squad that crumbled when the pressure was on last term are difficult to rally behind with enthusiasm, and squad depth still remains an issue, with the likes of Tottenham, Man Utd and Chelsea having stronger benches to make use of the new five substitutes allowance.
Erik ten Hag certainly has his work cut out at United, but while improvements should be noticeable, it’s an uphill task for the Dutchman and a cloud lingers over Cristiano Ronaldo’s future. Given the lack of high-end marksmen available on the market now, and with seemingly no suitors for the Portuguese ace, this season looks set to be one of transition and the Red Devils will ultimately be reliant upon ten Hag’s coaching prowess to be competitive behind the top two sides.
Chelsea have of course had their own mini-revolution this summer, but with departures in key areas, they don’t appear to have moved forward at all, despite the captures of Raheem Sterling and Kalidou Koulibaly. Thomas Tuchel clearly knows how to set up defensively and it’s helped the Blues reach six finals during his time at the club already, but with the most stalemates amongst the top eight in the table last term, a lack of a clinical number nine looks set to hamper their chances.
Tottenham’s summer has been an excellent one and in Antonio Conte, they certainly possess a manager with the right mentality. The attack in particular is in phenomenal shape, but arrivals elsewhere also leave them a tasty prospect, while the club holds the best record beyond Liverpool and City since Antonio Conte walked through the door.
Recommendation: Tottenham w/o Man City and Liverpool @ 2.75
Best of the Rest
w/o Big Six: Newcastle (3.5), West Ham (5.5), Leicester (7), Aston Villa (8), Brighton (9)
Top 6: Newcastle (3.75), West Ham (5.5), Leicester (6.5), Aston Villa (6.5)
Top Half: Newcastle (1.4), West Ham (1.67), Leicester (1.8), Aston Villa (1.85), Brighton (2.3), Palace (3.5), Wolves (3.8)
Newcastle may be backed by serious financial muscle, but the club appears to be playing a long game and are prepared to be patient in order to bring in the right players, whilst avoiding extortionate transfer fees. Quality has of course been added, with defenders Kieran Trippier, Matt Targett and Dan Burn joining last season, along with Bruno Guimaraes, Chris Wood and Joe Willock further forwards. This summer has seen steady progress with Nick Pope and Steve Botman further strengthening the rearguard, and it would be no surprise to see the Magpies make further additions.
Despite being far from the top clubs yet, Newcastle’s record since Eddie Howe walked through the door has been quite remarkable, with any relegation fears swiftly quashed. Only the top five finishers held better records across the 27 games that Eddie Howe was in charge for, whilst in 2022 alone, just Liverpool and Man City picked up more points as Newcastle recorded 38 from 19 games.
Maintaining that kind of form seems unrealistic, but it’s clear Newcastle are a steady outfit that will improve with additional quality brought into the ranks, particularly further forwards having shored up the defence. The evolution on Tyneside looks set to be a slow burner rather than a sprint to the summit, but they appear likely to secure a top-half finish.
West Ham (7)
David Moyes’ side put in another solid showing last term, building on a sixth placed finish the year before, and the Hammers look a reasonably steady outfit determined to keep hold of their best players. They did however see their league form drop off last term, as they prioritized the Europa League, but as a result ended up missing out on another Europa League campaign. The Conference League might not be given the same reverence, with squad players more likely to contribute there, but they have added some depth this summer.
There have been a few departures with Mark Noble retiring, Andriy Yarmolenko leaving at the end of his contract and Alex Kral returning to Spartak Moscow at the end of his ultimately disappointing loan spell. However, goalkeeper Alphonse Areola has signed permanently, midfielder Flynn Downes has joined from Swansea, though the bulk of West Ham’s budget has been used elsewhere.
Moroccan international Nayef Aguerd has been one of the best central defenders in French football over the past couple of seasons, and brings experience playing in European competition playing for Rennes. Further, 23-year-old forward Gianluca Scamacca managed 16 league goals for Sassuolo last term and is a welcome addition, especially with Michail Antonio now 32 and struggling to maintain fitness over long periods.
Leicester have become accustomed to success in recent years, as aside from their 2015/16 triumph, the last five seasons have seen them finished 9th, 9th, 5th, 5th and 8th. Last season was viewed as a disappointment though, failing to build on the upward trajectory. A spate of injuries throughout the season didn’t help, but just seven clean sheets across the season demonstrated an inability to defend and there are questions being asked of Brendan Rodgers in this area.
Wesley Fofana returned at the back end of last term and should be important for them this season, though the Foxes only registered one clean sheet in the seven games he played on his comeback, even if they did only lose the once. However, with 34-year-old Jonny Evans managing to feature in just 18 league games and Caglar Soyuncu enduring a prolonged period of poor form for both club and country, the team certainly needs reinforcements.
Alarmingly, new signings are yet to materialize, while at the other end of the field Jamie Vardy is now 35 and missed 21 league games through injury last term. He still reached 15 goals, entering double figures for the seventh consecutive campaign, but a reliance upon the talisman needs to be addressed.
Aston Villa (14)
Villa’s season ended in disappointing fashion with just two wins from their final 11 outings, with six defeats, and they’ll be seeking a top-half finish this time around. A potential key to their prospects this season could lie in the dugout, where Neil Critchley has taken up the assistant role following two successful years at Blackpool, first getting them to the Championship and then keeping them up. His predecessor, Michael Beale, had a large influence in training and tactics, so Critchley’s input could prove valuable to Steven Gerrard.
Last term, Villa largely relied upon width from full-backs after Coutinho joined in January, in order to get both him and Buendia into the side. However, pre-season has seen a variety of formations utilized, and with Leon Bailey impressing, a trio of Coutinho (who excelled for Liverpool cutting in from the left), Buendia and Bailey could provide ample supply for either Danny Ings or Ollie Watkins up front. New captain John McGinn and youngster Jacob Ramsey provide further attacking threat, alongside new recruit Boubacar Kamara in midfield. Meanwhile, at the back, Diego Carlos should either replace or extract the best out of Tyrone Mings.
There’s certainly enough quality at Villa that being sucked into a relegation scrap ought not to be a concern. However, a push for a top-half finish is the best they can hope for and there’s plenty of competition to make the cut.
Brighton are about to enter their sixth consecutive season in the top flight and having finished in the bottom six for the first four campaigns, last time around they exceeded expectations by landing a club record ninth spot. That the Seagulls are barely being mentioned as a potential relegation candidate speaks volumes for the work Graham Potter has carried out on the south coast.
That doesn’t mean that there aren’t any issues to address, as aside from keeping Marc Cucurella out of the clutches of Man City, replacements are needed elsewhere. Yves Bissouma’s sale to Tottenham may mean more chances for 20-year-old Moises Caicedo, but top scorer Neal Maupay has failed to reach double figures in either of the last two campaigns and an alternative source of goals is badly needed.
Although Brighton appear to be in safe hands, whether they can kick on remains doubtful and much will depend if their scouting department can get it right. They’ll hope new recruits Julio Enciso and Simon Adingra can contribute, but at 18 and 20-years-old respectively, it’s a bit much to ask them to hit the ground running.
Home form also remains a concern for the Seagulls. A 4-0 drubbing handed out to Man Utd in May was their first victory at the Amex in 2022, with only last season’s bottom four holding worse record on their own patch. However, they were as high as fifth in a table of away results, so Potter won’t be unduly concerned.
Crystal Palace (12)
Patrick Viera’s encouraging debut season at the helm gives ground for optimism at Selhurst Park, though the first half of the campaign was better when Connor Gallagher was in red-hot form. They’ll hope Eberechi Eze can return to the kind of form he enjoyed before long-term injury, and having landed top target Cheick Doucoure from Lens, concerns over veteran James McArthur’s fitness are alleviated at the base of midfield.
The Eagles had a major clear out last summer and recruited well to fill major holes, particularly at centre-back, with Chris Richards being added this summer from Bayern to compete with Marc Guehi and Joachim Andersen. Sam Johnstone provides strong competition for Vicente Guaita and Jack Butland between the sticks, though right-back remains a glaring omission as the club continues build.
With less reliance upon talisman Wilfried Zaha, Palace are certainly less vulnerable than before. Still, the Ivorian produced his best-ever tally of 14 league goals last term as opponents had other threats to concern themselves with, especially the exciting Michael Olise. Zaha’s future does however remain up in the air with just 12 months to go on his contract, while the Eagles still lack a reliable marksman with Odsonne Edouard (6), Jean-Philippe Mateta (5), Christian Benteke (4) and Jordan Ayew (3) failing to prove prolific.
Wolves may have secured another mid-table finish, but there’s not a lot of optimism heading into the new campaign and with an unexciting brand of football on display, poor results could see frustration vented early on from the support base. Defensive solidarity has been further enhanced with Nathan Collins signed from Burnley, but aside from that, Wolves’ transfer business has been limited to making Hee-chan Hwang’s loan deal permanent, while a score of players have returned from loan spells elsewhere.
The team also has an unhealthy reliance still upon 35-year-old Joao Moutinho, while up front Raul Jimenez hasn’t been the same force since his horrific skull injury, and Fabio Silva has been shipped out having failed to live up to his price tag. In fact, only the relegated trio scored fewer goals last term, while it was the same a story a year earlier as the relegated sides and Burnley were the only ones to produce smaller numbers.
With just three wins from their final 14 games last term, including nine defeats, this doesn’t appear to be a team headed in the right direction. Further, without any attacking reinforcements, beyond the return of Adama Traore from Barcelona, it’s difficult to get excited about the season ahead.
Best of the Rest Conclusions
Since Leicester’s unbelievable triumph in 2015/16, usual order has been resumed with four of six subsequent seasons seeing the traditional Big 6 finish as the top 6. Leicester replaced Arsenal in that bracket in 2019/20, while the Foxes and West Ham made the cut in 2020/21 at the expense of the North London duo. However, with Newcastle’s revolution a slow burner and Leicester struggling to recruit, while Arsenal, Tottenham and Man Utd are all strengthening, it’s difficult to back anyone to break into the top six. West Ham are the ones most likely to manage the feat, but with the price for them to make the top 6 the same as them to be the best of the rest behind the big 6, the latter holds greater appeal. Meanwhile, having managed five consecutive top-half finishes, Leicester appear well placed to make the top 10 once more.
Recommendation: West Ham w/o Big 6 @ 5.5
Leicester Top Half @ 1.8
Relegation: Bournemouth (1.58), Nottingham Forest (2.4), Fulham (2.42), Leeds (3.3), Brentford (3.75), Southampton (4), Everton (5), Wolves (6.5), Crystal Palace (8.4), Brighton (10).
Bottom at Christmas: Bournemouth (5), Nottingham Forest (5.5), Fulham (6.5), Southampton (9), Brentford (11), Leeds (13), Everton (13)
Fulham (1 * Championship)
Fulham played some wonderful football on the way up to the Prem, bagging 106 goals and finishing with a +63 goal difference, compared to next best Bournemouth (+35). Manager Marco Silva does possess Premier League experience, but his spells at Hull, Watford and Everton don’t inspire total confidence and the club are understandably amongst the favourites for the drop.
The loss of Fabio Carvalho to Liverpool leaves a massive void to fill, though the club haven’t been idle and new additions have arrived. Defensive midfielder Joao Palhinha joined from Sporting CP and the more attacking minded Andreas Pereira from Man Utd, while there have been moved for Swiss right-back Kevin Mbabu and winger Manor Solomon from Shakhtar Donetsk.
However, the ace in the pack is undoubtedly star striker Aleksandar Mitrovic, who smashed the Championship record with 43 goals last term. He may only have grabbed three goals in Fulham’s last top-flight outing, though he only started 13 games that season and has proven his pedigree before. He managed 11 top-flight goals back in 2018/19 for the Cottagers and 26 in the Championship the following season, while he’s since become Serbia’s all-time top scorer with 46 goals from 74 caps.
Fulham have operated as a yo-yo club, but with a reliable source of goals, should stand a better chance than their promoted rivals to avoid the drop.
Bournemouth (2 * Championship)
Bournemouth have spent two seasons in the Championship but still retain a significant core of players who were there when they were relegated. However, business has been limited this summer with right-back Ryan Fredericks joining from West Ham and midfielder Joe Rothwell from Blackburn on free transfers, as the Cherries aren’t matching their promoted rivals in spending.
Much of their hopes will pin upon Dominic Solanke, who registered a 29-goal haul in the Championship last term. That was a massive upturn following 15 the previous season, but Solanke is yet to really impress in the Premier League. He managed just three goals from 32 appearances in 2019/20, though at least Bournemouth brough in Welsh international Kieffer Moore in January, who at 6ft 5in will offer a physical alternative.
Bournemouth actually posted the best defensive record in the Championship last term, though there remains a suspicion that they’ll get found out at the top level. The club are short on numbers at centre-back, with captain Lloyd Kelly (23) and Chris Mepham (24) forming the most experienced duo, while there simply aren’t enough players at the required level to keep the Cherries afloat without greater spending.
Nottingham Forest (4 *Championship)
Nottingham Forest are back after a 23-year absence from the top flight, and have certainly made a splash this summer with the capture of Jesse Lingard. The former Man Utd midfielder could provide a huge boost to their survival prospects if he can replicate the form he showed at West Ham, but he’s not the only fresh face at the City Ground.
Goalkeepers Dean Henderson and Wayne Hennessey have both arrived on loan and provide welcome Premier League experience in a key area. The full back areas have been addressed with Neco Williams a solid acquisition, in addition to Omar Richards (Bayern Munich), Giulian Biancone (Troyes) and Harry Toffolo (Huddersfield). There’s further strengthening in the middle with Moussa Niakhate joining from Mainz, while Huddersfield have also been raided for midfielder Lewis O’Brien, though the other key signing Forest have made this season is in attack. Taiwo Awoniyi has arrived from Bundesliga outfit Union Berlin having scored 20 goals across 52 appearances over the last two seasons, with 15 of them coming last term, so Steeve Cooper will hope the Nigerian international can provide a frequent source of goals.
Although splashing the cash, Forest have also seen departures, most notably full-back Djed Spence, who returned to Middlesbrough following his loan before being sold to Tottenham. This squad does however badly lack top-flight experience, and it would appear they’re banking on Lingard enjoying his best form to keep them up.
Leeds survived on the final day with a win over Brentford, but optimism is in short supply with star duo Kalvin Phillips and Raphinha sold to Man City and Barcelona respectively. Marcelo Bielsa was always going to be a tough act to follow, but Jesse Marsch will now have to really put his own stamp on the team having helped shore them up defensively upon arrival.
That’s especially the case given the departures of their two best players, with Kalvin Phillips leaving for Man City and Raphinha getting his dream move to Barcelona. Both brought in significant transfer fees, but while the club have reinvested the money for a number of new arrivals, the jury remains out as to whether it’s been well spent.
Right-back Rasmus Kristensen and midfielders Tyler Adams and Brendan Aaronson have arrived from Red Bull affiliated clubs, while winger Luis Sinisterra joins from Feyenoord and Marc Roca from Bayern. A lack of depth was an issue last term, but although these signings help address that concern, whether the star duo sold can be effectively replaced in the first eleven appears unlikely. In addition, Patrick Bamford saw his game time severely limited through injury last term, as the club still needs an alternative solution.
Everton survived under Frank Lampard last season, but not convincingly as they took just 20 points from his 19 games in the dugout. He will at least have the fans on side to begin with having shown some passion for the cause last term, with resentment from the terraces being largely directed at the boardroom, though the acute reality is that the club have spent plenty of money in recent seasons without getting anywhere on the pitch.
So far, the most significant arrivals have been James Tarkowski from relegated Burnley on a free, as well as Dwight McNeil from the same club for around £20m. However, any pleas from Lampard for further reinforcements are likely to fall on deaf ears, with the club posting losses of over £100m in each of the past three years. That leaves little wiggle room in the market, so this should prove another season of struggle and the best the Toffees can really hope for is to avoid such a sticky end to the season.
The squad is undoubtedly weaker following the sale of Richarlison to Tottenham, making it an absolute must that the club keep hold of youngster Anthony Gordon, who was a rare beacon of light last term. The midfield lacks quality and depth, while Richarlison’s departure also means there will be a heavy goalscoring burden on Dominic Calvert-Lewin’s shoulders.
Lampard is yet to really convince so far in his managerial career, effectively meeting expectations at Derby before being thrown in at the deep end with Chelsea, with his successor Thomas Tuchel demonstrating what a real top-level manager can do. His teams have especially failed to convince defensively, with only four teams conceding more goals than Everton following his arrival in the hot seat. Moreover, his Chelsea side conceded 1.35 goals per game, compared with the records of Antonio Conte (0.93), Maurizio Sarri (1.03) and Thomas Tuchel (0.81) in the Premier League.
Ralph Hasenhuttl has been in the job for three and a half years, but although a lack of investment has inevitably prevented the Austrian from taking the team forwards, it’s hard to get excited about the Saints’ prospects going forwards. Armando Broja’s loan spell has ended with the Albanian returning to Chelsea, leaving a hole in attack, though it’s not the only issue. Keeping hold of set-piece specialist James Ward-Prowse is a must, though Joe Aribo has been signed from Rangers and is capable of playing in a variety of roles in midfield or attack.
Elsewhere, business has been limited to bringing in youngsters, with forward Sekou Mara arriving from Bordeaux, centre-back Armel Bella-Kotchap from VfL Bochum and Man City duo Gavin Bazunu (goalkeeper) and Romeo Lavia (defensive midfield).
Those four are all 20-years-old or younger, but there must be doubts as to whether they can stand up to the test of top-flight football in the here and now.
A major concern must also be the capacity Southampton have to capitulate under Hasenhuttl. They conceded at least three goals in a quarter of their matches last season, while six outings saw them lose by a minimum three-goal margin. It’s hard to forget the two 9-0 drubbings they’ve received under Hasenhuttl either, to Leicester in October 2019 and Man Utd in February 2021.
The Saints have often put together protracted poor runs together under current management, ending last term with just a single victory across their last 12 games, including five defeats from the last six as they drew the other. With four of their first five games against Tottenham, Leicester, Man Utd and Chelsea, a bad start to the campaign is entirely plausible and so Hasenhuttl deserves his billing amongst the favourites to leave their post first.
The Bees enjoyed a brilliant debut campaign, but after a stellar start, the club was heading south in the table before the arrival of Christian Eriksen handed them a timely boost to avoid being dragged into a relegation scrap. Many were surprised to see them do so well, but like Sheffield Utd, who finished ninth in 2019/20 before a dismal rock-bottom finish in 2020/21, it shouldn’t come as a surprise if they can’t replicate that achievement.
Much of Brentford’s recent success has seen them compete in the market with shrewd, data-driven moves. Free transfers for Lazio goalkeeper Thomas Strakosha and Burnley centre-back Ben Mee have strengthened the defence and brought in experience, while money has been spent elsewhere. Promising Scottish right-back Aaron Hickey turned down Bayern to join Bologna two years ago and had been linked with Arsenal, while Keane Lewis-Potter has also arrived to provide competition to Yoane Wissa and Bryan Mbeumo in supporting main man Ivan Toney.
Toney made it into double figures last term, but a lack of output elsewhere has to be a concern, particularly with Eriksen opting to ply his trade at Man Utd.
The relegation field is wide open with as many as 10 teams potentially in danger of being dragged into such a battle. The promoted trio inevitably lead the market, and at least one team coming up invariably goes straight back down. It’s happened in 27 of the past 30 years, and with Fulham’s 90-point haul in the Championship the joint-lowest tally to win the title since 2012/13, there’s reason to think promoted clubs might struggle even more this term.
Bournemouth and Nottingham Forest are the favourites to go down, which is understandable given their lack of real quality, especially compared to Fulham, who can at least boast a reliable source of goals in Mitrovic.
Bournemouth and Fulham both also have hard starts to the campaign, with the latter having to face Liverpool, Tottenham and Chelsea within their first seven outings. With the World Cup interrupting the season, positions on Christmas Day will be settled in November, and so the Cottagers look well placed to be bottom come the festive period.
Brentford must guard against second-season syndrome, Everton and Frank Lampard have plenty of convincing to do, while Southampton and Leeds registered just nine victories last term, with only the relegated trio fairing worse in that regard. Potential changes in the dugout could freshen up a team however, and the likes of Everton, Southampton and Leeds may be quicker to switch to an alternative than the promoted trio.
Recommendation: Fulham bottom at Christmas @ 6.5
Erling Haaland (4), Mo Salah (6), Harry Kane (8), Darwin Nunez (15), Gabriel Jesus (17), Heung-min Son (17), Cristiano Ronaldo (26), Raheem Sterling (36), Jamie Vardy (50)
The threshold for winning the golden boot in recent years has been set at 22 or 23 goals, with every winner or joint-winner since 2018/19 producing one of those two outputs. From 2011/12 to 2017/18, all seven seasons required a minimum of 25 goals, with 29 or more required on four occasions.
Cristiano Ronaldo paved the way for wide forwards to jump into the reckoning during his first spell at Old Trafford, and while he’s a one-of-a-kind player, certainly there has been a trend towards a front three sharing goal contributions, rather than a traditional number nine grabbing all the goals himself. Indeed, the last five seasons have seen the likes of Mo Salah, Sadio Mane and Heung-min Son pick up the award or share it.
Inevitably, Erling Haaland leads the market, boasting an outstanding record with 85 goals in 88 games for Dortmund in all competitions, bagging 20 in 21 caps for Norway so far, while racing to 23 goals in 19 Champions League matches. It’s hard to look past those raw numbers and the service he’ll inevitably receive from the likes of Phil Foden, Jack Grealish, Kevin De Bruyne, Bernardo Silva and Riyad Mahrez, though he will have to adapt to Pep Guardiola’s methods. Dortmund typically play on the counter and he won’t receive the same kind of space to run into when at City, but it shouldn’t prevent him from being deadly in and around the box.
A possible negative is his injury record, and City will hope the World Cup break the Norwegian will get can alleviate the usual burden of English football over the festive period. However, there are further reasons beyond any period of adaption, a short price and potential injuries to shy away from the favourite.
Man Utd's Robin van Persie in 2012/13 was the last time someone from the title winners also secured the golden boot, with City of course favourites to make it a fifth title in six years. Further, a foreign player has never won the golden boot in their first season in English football, though some have come close with the likes of Fernando Torres (07/08) and Ruud van Nistelrooy (01/02) finishing second.
Unlike at Dortmund and with the national setup, Haaland won't be the sole man responsible for getting the goals either. In the last six years, there hasn't been a title winner whose top scorer bagged more than four goals than the club's next best, while it’s not common for a title winner's top scorer to have scored more than a third of their team's goals, with this happening five times in the premier league era, with the two most recent examples Ronaldo (07/08, 38.8%) and Jamie Vardy (15/16, 35.3%).
With that in mind, those who think Haaland is going to be just gobbling up all the chances rather than being challenged with improving his link up play are probably wide of the mark. Teams need multiple threats to avoid becoming predictable, and for all his obvious talent, the Norwegian is just too short a price to rally behind.
Liverpool have of course added their own central striker this summer, beating off competition from Man Utd to land Darwin Nunez from Benfica. The Uruguayan bagged 34 goals in 41 appearances across all competitions last season, including 26 from 28 league games, though he did only manage five the year before as he took time to adapt. He’ll certainly get chances to fill his boots playing for Liverpool, but could face more rotation than some of the others in contention for the golden boot with the likes of Roberto Firmino and Diogo Jota still at the club.
Teammate Mo Salah looks a much better prospect and like Haaland, the Egyptian will get a break this winter as he won’t be at the World Cup. His form certainly took a dive after playing at the Africa Cup of Nations mid-season last time around, with Egypt going all the way to the final before losing to Sadio Mane’s Senegal. Indeed, he bagged 16 goals and 10 assists before leaving in January, whereas he only managed seven goals and four assists upon his return.
Salah has only recently turned 30-years-old and is as fit as ever, while with a new contract under his belt, he should be expected to maintain his very high and consistent standards. Since arriving at Anfield, his worst return was 19 league goals in 2019/20, as he’s bagged 22 at a minimum in each of his other four seasons.
Heung-min Son shared the award with Salah last time around and the South Korean has hit double figures in each of the past six Premier League seasons. His best two returns have come in the last two campaigns, hitting 17 goals in 2020/21 and 23 last time out, but it’s understandable that he lags behind Harry Kane in the betting.
The England captain has grabbed at least 17 goals for eight consecutive seasons, though it’s noticeable that the three times he dipped below 20 goals have come in the last four years. However, he should have better service this year with Tottenham strengthening in the transfer market, and such sheer consistency makes it inevitable that he’ll be in the running.
Cristiano Ronaldo can certainly boast consistency throughout his career, though it remains to be seen if he stays at Man Utd, or whether Erik ten Hag will play him every game when you consider he turns 38 in February. Having missed their pre-season tour to seek a move away, he may also have to start to the season on the bench, while his output has been slowly declining in recent years, even if his tally last term was impressive all things considered.
Although Gabriel Jesus has had Arsenal fans purring in pre-season, the 25-year-old still has some convincing to do, having not always ben the most clinical. He may have seen game time limited at Man City amongst so many stars, but he’s only hit double figures in one of the past four campaigns, though he is an unselfish player who has also picked up some assists. However, that may be to his detriment as far as the golden boot is concerned, and despite some creative talent at Arsenal from Emile Smith Rowe, Martine Odegaard and new boy Fabio Vieira, it would be a surprise if the Brazilian could muscle his way into the picture.
Raheem Sterling was also on the move this summer from City, but while he continues to post impressive numbers for England, his lack of natural finishing ability leads to plenty of frustration. At 27-years-old, he should now be in his absolute prime, but although he’s reached double figures in each of the past five campaigns, he’s only once reached 20 goals, while the last two seasons have seen him post 10 and 13 goals respectively.
Leicester’s hopes still pin on Jamie Vardy, who will turn 36 in January, but although the searing pace largely remains, there must be some concern after injuries limited his appearances last season. He still managed 15 goals from 25 games, matching his tally from the previous season where he played 34 times, but it’s a far cry from the kind of numbers he was posting before, having scored 18 at a minimum in four of the previous five campaigns.
Mo Salah and Harry Kane have both won this award three times, while Haaland is a proven monster, though the Liverpool and Man City star attractions hold a clear advantage over the rest of the field with neither going to the World Cup this winter. Haaland and Nunez are both entering their first season in English football, while it’s doubtful Gabriel Jesus or Raheem Sterling can find the consistency to keep up with the pack. Vardy and Ronaldo aren’t getting any younger, and although Heung-min Son provides an interesting alternative, it’s Salah who gets our vote over Kane with the England man set for a prolonged appearance in Qatar.
Recommendation: Mo Salah @ 6
Kevin De Bruyne (6), Trent Alexander-Arnold (10), Heung-min Son (11), Jack Grealish (13), Bruno Fernandes (15), Harry Kane (17), Erling Haaland (19), Christian Eriksen (21), Mo Salah (21), Phil Foden (21)
Given their extraordinary output, Liverpool and Man City will inevitably dominate the favourites to get the most assists. Much interest inevitably surrounds Erling Haaland, with the likes of Jack Grealish, Phil Foden and especially Kevin De Bruyne likely to see more of the chances they create converted.
De Bruyne registered his best ever goals tally with 15 strikes in last season’s Premier League, but he dipped below his usual standards for assists with just eight to his name. However, the Belgian playmaker endured a slow start to the campaign coming back from injury, and we’d expect him to be dealing more in assists this season with City now possessing a traditional striker for the first time in a couple of years.
De Bruyne actually equalled Thierry Henry’s record of 20 assists back in 2019/20 and is a far stronger candidate than teammates Phil Foden and Jack Grealish. Foden has improved his output, with five assists in each of the past two campaigns, as well as nine goals in both as well. However, those numbers are a long way off the standard required.
Grealish managed 12 assists for Villa in 2020/21, but while he should improve on just three goals and three assists for City last term, especially in his second season under Guardiola, it’s difficult to see him catching up with the real big hitters in this department. Foden and Grealish could also suffer from rotation, with De Bruyne less likely to be left out as often.
Mo Salah led the way last term, narrowly edging out teammate Trent Alexander-Arnold, but although the Egyptian has reached double figures for assists in four of his five seasons at Anfield, he’s primarily a goalscorer. Both Andy Robertson and Alexander-Arnold have delivered from the wide areas for Liverpool, and the duo may fancy their chances even more with a physical presence like Darwin Nunez in the box.
Both Robertson and Alexander-Arnold have hit double figures for assists in three of the last four seasons, though it’s the England international who has edged it with slightly more assists in 2018/19, 2019/20 and 2021/22, while producing the same tally in 2020/21.
Chelsea’s full-backs get in on the act as well and it was noticeable hoe Romelu Lukaku struggled when Reece James and Ben Chilwell spent time on the sidelines. However, replacement Sterling isn’t someone who thrives on balls into the box and so it’s difficult to see James and Chilwell posting quite the same numbers.
Man Utd have added some creativity to the ranks with the signing of Christian Eriksen, though he may struggle to get the minutes with Bruno Fernandes also at Erik ten Hag’s disposal, amid questions as to how the two could feature together.
Fernandes himself only registered six assists last term, down from 11 the previous campaign, so it’s difficult to see either of the Man Utd men topping the assist charts.
Heung-min Son has been a consistent provider, especially for Harry Kane, but the 30-year-old tends to get both goals and assists withing usually challenging for top honour in either. Kane certainly has the capacity to turn provider, most notably dropping deep to link pay under Jose Mourinho, managing 14 assists in 2020/21. He managed nine last term, though his next best tally was seven back in 2016/17.
Given the sheer number of goals City and Liverpool rack up, it would be a surprise if the top assist maker didn’t come from one of those clubs and inevitably, Kevin De Bruyne and Trent Alexander-Arnold lead the way. The arrival of new strikers could well benefit both as well, though at the larger price, the Liverpool man holds greater appeal. Indeed, the 23-year-old came second in two of the last three seasons, and has actually provide 44 assists over the past four campaigns, compared to De Bruyne’s 42.
Recommendation: Trent Alexander-Arnold @ 10
Frank Lampard (6), Ralph Hasenhuttl (6), Jesse Marsch (9), Brendan Rodgers (10), Bruno Lage (13), Marco Silva (13), Scott Parker (13)
Of the three promoted clubs, only Nottingham Forrest’s Steve Cooper appears to be safe from expectations, though there’s greater interest with those who survived the drop last term. Southampton, Everton and Leeds all finished in the bottom six, but elected to keep faith with their managers, though Ralph Hasenhuttl, Frank Lampard and Jesse Marsch all need to get off to a decent start to alleviate concerns.
Jesse Marsch had a tough act to follow in Marcelo Bielsa, but there was at least some evidence of the backline tightening up. It remains to be seen how long the Leeds hierarchy will give the American to prove himself, though he did enough last season to suggest he’ll outlive at least one of the other under-pressure managers.
Although it’s difficult to read too much into pre-season results, Everton’s 4-0 humbling at the hands of MLS side Minnesota Utd has to be a concern. That’s especially the case when considering the starting line-up was something close to the Toffees’ best, featuring the likes of Jordan Pickford, James Tarkowski, Abdoulaye Doucoure, Anthony Gordon and Dominic Calvert-Lewin.
Ralph Hasenhuttl has been in charge of the Saints for three and a half years now, and while investment has been limited, there appears to be little in the way of progress. They can tend to be quite a streaky outfit, finishing last season with just a single win across 12 matches, including five defeats from their last six. A fast start could be crucial given the fixture list, with the Saints’ opening five games against Tottenham (A), Leeds (H), Leicester (A), Man Utd (H), Chelsea (H).
Bournemouth have already had three managers since Eddie Howe departed following relegation, with Scott Parker the only one to see out a full season so far. He may however be aided by lower expectations, especially compared to Hasenhuttl and Lampard.
Brendan Rodgers has done some sterling work at Leicester and so it may be a bit harsh to see him in the running, though defensively Leicester were a mess last term and that will have to be addressed. Still, injuries played their part last term and the Foxes actually finished the season quite well, finishing eighth despite looking set for a lower position for most of the campaign.
At Hull, Marco Silva joined a team rock-bottom of the table that had lost 13 of 20 matches, and while he oversaw an obvious improvement, the club ended up relegated. That performance saw Watford secure his services and he performed well, before interest from Everton came along and the team’s results started to wane. At Everton however, a bright start faded and this appears to be a fairly consistent theme, so when Fulham hit a bad patch this season, as they inevitably will, it remains to be seen of Silva has the necessary skills to get them out of a hole.
Bruno Lage has now had a full first season at the helm, but although the club started well and were subsequently never in any relegation danger, the style of playing was hardly aesthetically pleasing and his side will need to recapture form if they’re to keep the fans onside. A poor end to the season has to be a major concern, as well as a lack of goals, but the club aren’t too likely to pull the trigger early if relegation seems a remote possibility.
Lampard and Hasenhuttl are certainly the ones to keep an eye on and a poor start from either should seal their fate. However, the Saint’s tricky set off opening fixtures, combined with some extended poor runs during Hasenhuttl’s time in charge, suggest that the Austrian is work backing for the chop.
Recommendation: Ralph Hasenhuttl @ 6
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