With the excitement of the World Cup in the rearview mirror, focus has returned to club action and the start of the Premier League season is less than two weeks away.
Having voted to close the transfer window early this summer, bringing deadline day forward to slam shut before the first ball of the 2018/19 Premier League campaign is kicked on August 10, clubs in England’s top flight will know exactly what they have to work with – at least until January, that is.
While a few more deals may yet be done, little time remains for major business to be completed, so we already seem to have a clear picture of what shape Premier League sides will be in when the new term starts.
Manchester City strolled to the Premier League title last season, setting multiple records and doing so with swaggering style. Pep Guardiola’s men are overwhelming favourites to repeat the trick this term at $1.72* with UBET, halving boosted their squad further with the £60million club-record signing of Riyad Mahrez from Leicester City.
Jurgen Klopp’s Liverpool are expected to be City’s closests challengers. Last season’s Champions League finalists have built on a year of progress on the pitch by spending big on the key signings of goalkeeper Alisson, midfielders Fabinho and Naby Keita, and utility attacker Xherdan Shaqiri.
It’s been 28 years since the Reds were champions of England, but they enter the 2018/19 season in perhaps their strongest fettle since their last title triumph and are priced at just $6 to end their drought come May.
Manchester United finished closest to neighbours City last season, although the two rivals were separated by a record 19-point margin. There is discontent brewing at Old Trafford this summer, however, where Jose Mourinho is growing frustrated at his side’s lack of transfer activity. With Brazilian midfielder Fred the only major arrival thus far, it seems unlikely the Red Devils will narrow the gap at the top.
Tottenham Hotspur, too, have as yet declined to sufficiently strengthen, leaving the ever-impressive Mauricio Pochettino to pull another rabbit out of the hat to maintain a place in the top four as Spurs move into their new stadium.
Could United and Tottenham’s inaction re-open the top-four door to Chelsea and Arsenal? Both welcome new managers in Maurizio Sarri and Unai Emery respectively, backed with some astute purchases such as Jorginho, a £57million arrival at Stamford Bridge from Napoli, and Lucas Torreira, the gifted playmaker Arsenal have picked up from Sampdoria.
While once again the Premier League’s top six positions will be near impossible to infiltrate for a side not already a member of the established elite, the race for Europa League qualification is shaping up nicely.
Everton have spent big for the second summer in a row, with their headline move the one that reunited new boss Marco Silva with former Watford charge Richarlison for up to £50million. West Ham United have also spent big, and for once they appear to have spent well, with the club-record arrival of Felipe Anderson from Lazio, for a fee which could rise to £41.5million, particularly impressive.
Burnley punched above their weight last season to finish seventh, and those below them with bigger budgets will anticipate leapfrogging Sean Dyche’s men from Turf Moor. But the Clarets, while not stretching themselves in the transfer market, have retained their key players, meaning a repeat of last term’s overachievement cannot be dismissed as a realistic possibility.
Frustration reigns at St. James’ Park though. Newcastle United boast one of Europe’s most astute tacticians at their helm, but once again Rafa Benitez has not been furnished with the amount, and quality, of signings to help the Magpies build on a miraculous top-half finish.
Towards the bottom end of the table, promoted Fulham and Cardiff City would surely take a 17th-place finish now if offered, while the likes of Southampton, Huddersfield Town and Brighton & Hove Albion will be targeting top-flight survival.
Second-tier champions Wolverhampton Wanderers, however, can afford to harbour loftier ambitions. The Black Country side romped to the Championship crown last season with relative ease, thanks largely to services of a string of players, such as the magnificent Ruben Neves, more befitting of a team battling for European honours.
And Wolves have added to their already Premier League-worthy squad this summer with the captures of European champions Joao Moutinho and Rui Patricio, with last season’s loan star Diogo Jota joining permanently.
As such, Wolves are priced at $2.10 with most bookmakers to finish in the top half of the Premier League in 2018/19.