Soccer

Premier League Preview: Part One

The top tier of English soccer includes some of the most storied teams in the world, and with the new television deals that kicked in last season, it is the richest of Europe’s soccer leagues. Many of its foremost clubs happen to be undergoing major transitions at the moment, and the unpredictability of both the on- and off-the-field action makes for a season of opportunities for existing fans and an exciting crash course for new converts. The once-in-a-lifetime title upset by minnows Leicester City last year will not be replicated in the foreseeable future, but with new coaches bringing fresh outlooks to the stale squads of last season, the competition won’t lack for drama and intrigue.

Some teams used their time and money wisely, filling gaps in their squads and bringing in needed reinforcements. Others were not so successful and will have to wait until upgrades become available. So with the summer transfer window drawing to a close, here’s a look at some of the key moves to watch during the 2016-17 Premier League season, including new coaches and domestic transfers. Stay tuned for Part II, in which we’ll discuss outlooks for the newly promoted clubs, Middlesbrough, Burnley, and Hull City, as well as the wealth of exciting new players freshly imported from leagues abroad.

 




Pep and Jose

 

The Managers

Pep Guardiola (Manchester City)

After coaching Barcelona through their golden era between 2008 and 2012 and establishing himself as a godlike figure in the soccer world, Guardiola moved on to the German superclub Bayern Munich. He swept up the Bundesliga title for all three seasons of his tenure, but showed his fallibility in underwhelming Champions League performances. He will face a much more level playing field domestically this year, but his winning attitude and legendary man management will inevitably place City in the conversation for the championship.

José Mourinho (Manchester United)

Always a controversial figure, the former Chelsea boss has been gunning for this job since the retirement of United mainstay Sir Alex Ferguson three years ago. His patience now having been rewarded, Mourinho and his headline signings have already made an immediate and extreme impact on United’s tactics, instilling discipline and drive into what seemed like a hopelessly lethargic squad just a few months ago. Be sure not to miss his sideline antics – the first matchup with crosstown rivals Man City is coming up Saturday, September 10, and will be a good indicator of how well Mourinho can hold up to external and self-imposed expectations.




Antonio Conte (Chelsea)

Conte is similar to Mourinho in his organized, defense-first approach, as can be seen through his recent work at Juventus and the Italian national team, but he has no problem playing a more aggressive attacking style when appropriate. His level-headed demeanor will be a benefit to Chelsea after a tumultuous season characterized by infighting and dysfunction. The talent is still there to make a title run, especially without the need to divert resources to European competition, the Blues having finished in tenth place in their campaign as defending champions.

Ronald Koeman (Everton)

The Dutchman’s two seasons in charge of Southampton proved his ability to punch above his weight in a very difficult, competitive league. The sense of purpose that he brings will be a breath of fresh air for the Toffees’ faithful after the Roberto Martinez era of mismanagement. Uncertainty surrounding the futures of Everton’s young stars, as always, will be a major complication in the coming years, but if anyone can guide them to success in the near-term, it’s Koeman.




Claude Puel (Southampton)

The Saints’ new boss comes in with a long history of success as a player and manager. A championship in the French Ligue 1 with Monaco, Manager of the Year honors with Monaco and Lille, and dramatic results with every team he’s coached encourage optimism about Puel’s ability to prosper at one of England’s best-run clubs.

David Moyes (Sunderland)

A polarizing figure, Moyes will be met with skepticism by many, if not most, Premier League viewers. Sunderland barely escaped relegation last season, mainly thanks to the steady hand of now-England head coach Sam Allardyce. Those are some big shoes to fill, and we all remember what happened the last time Moyes inherited a squad from an established and respected guru.




Walter Mazzarri (Watford)

After making the rounds in Italy, most recently with Inter, Napoli, and Sampdoria, the occasional nicotine junkie is in unfamiliar territory as the successor to Quique Sanchez Flores. Watford’s savvy moves in the transfer market have flown under the radar, but Mazzarri’s continuing need for an interpreter could inhibit his connection with the team.

 

Kante

 

The Transfers

John Stones (Manchester City, from Everton)

With Vincent Kompany’s health in seemingly permanent doubt, Guardiola needed a fresh defender with pace to fill out the back line. At a time when there’s a dearth of elite defenders on the market, City were lucky to sign the up-and-coming English star.




N’Golo Kanté (Chelsea, from Leicester City)

Considering the trend of impressive upstart squads throughout Europe being plundered by the elites, Leicester were fortunate to hold onto most of their core contributors, but they will deeply mourn the loss of Kanté. Many experts believe that the 25-year-old Frenchman was the key to Leicester’s surprise championship, and Chelsea’s irrefusable offer, though excellent news for the worn-out West London side, could spell disaster for the reigning champs.

Yannick Bolasie & Ashley Williams (Everton, from Crystal Palace & Swansea City, respectively)

Hailing from the Democratic Republic of the Congo, Bolasie is a quick and gifted forward whose skills flourished under Alan Pardew, and his £30 million ($39.7 million) price tag will certainly help Palace to replenish. Williams, the long-time captain of Wales’s sole Premier League representative, will add some needed defensive stability after the sale of Stones. Both signings should help the club to improve upon their 11th place finish in 2015-16.




Leroy Fer (Swansea City, from Queens Park Rangers)

Fer made an immediate contribution to what will likely be a long and difficult relegation battle for the Swans. His experience will be invaluable in the face of a deluge of talent entering the league this season.

Jordon Ibe & Marc Wilson (AFC Bournemouth, from Liverpool & Stoke City)

Former Liverpool boss Brendan Rodgers has always had high praise for Ibe, but Jurgen Klopp has opted to move the young English winger permanently to the southern coast. Wilson, with 177 Premier League appearances under his belt, will provide some much-needed experience for a team that remarkably managed to stay in the top division last season despite a plague of injuries. Also keep an eye out for the 20-year-old American midfielder Emerson Hyndman, newly signed from Fulham.




Joe Allen (Stoke City, from Liverpool)

For the past three seasons, coach Mark Hughes has led his team to a ninth-place finish in the league, and he should take the opportunity to expand on that solid foundation. The recent signings of Xherdan Shaqiri and Bojan Krkic legitimized Stoke as a serious player in the international market, and though the unanticipated acquisition of the diminutive Welsh midfielder doesn’t answer any of Stoke’s defensive questions, it does add to their already considerable creative firepower.

Georginio Wijnaldum & Sadio Mané (Liverpool, from Newcastle United & Southampton)

Liverpool spent the offseason carrying out a major reshuffle. Klopp looks to bolster his midfield with the addition of Wijnaldum, a deceptively small Dutchman who with Newcastle has shown a consistent ability to take control of chaotic situations. The sale of Christian Benteke to Crystal Palace frees up space for the Senegalese winger Mané to supplement the goal tallies of Daniel Sturridge, Philippe Coutinho, and Roberto Firmino.




Victor Wanyama & Moussa Sissoko (Tottenham Hotspur, from Southampton & Newcastle United)

Wanyama exited Southampton Football Club with a heartfelt address to teammates, staff, and “the most important part of every club, the fans.” The Kenyan will be an effective addition to an extremely young Spurs midfield, providing the security the backline will need in their first Champions League campaign in six years. Mauricio Pochettino gave a last-minute green light to the perhaps excessively priced Sissoko, believing that he will provide pace on the wing and add an extra dimension to the attack.

Andros Townsend & James Tomkins (Crystal Palace, from Newcastle United & West Ham United)

Townsend was the unlucky sacrifice of a rapidly evolving Tottenham midfield last season and will be glad to avoid a year in the Championship (England’s second division), not to mention returning to the infinitely more pleasurable lifestyle of London. Tomkins didn’t have to move quite as far, transferring his defensive services over from fellow Londoners West Ham. Townsend’s arrival and that of the aforementioned Christian Benteke should help to assuage the Eagles’ woeful goal output of late.




Nathan Redmond (Southampton, from Norwich City)

The 22-year-old forward impressed at the end of the 2015-16 season, ending up with six goals on a relegation team. With a stronger supporting cast and Graziano Pelle out of the picture, Redmond should shine this year.

Andre Ayew (West Ham United, from Swansea City)

The extremely generous Ghanaian winger proved his worth at Swansea and will be a key loss for them, but he will provide depth to a formidable West Ham attack led by French superstar Dimitri Payet.

Nacer Chadli (West Bromwich Albion, from Tottenham Hotspur)

Like Townsend, the 27-year-old Belgian has fallen victim to the abundance of midfield talent at White Hart Lane. This is a great pickup for West Brom, who scored a pitiful 34 goals in 38 games last season, the second least after trainwreck Aston Villa with 27.




Daryl Janmaat (Watford, from Newcastle United)

The versatile Dutch fullback is one of many important players to abandon Rafa Benitez’s sinking ship – Newcastle have made an extraordinary 42 transfers this summer following their brutal relegation campaign – but Janmaat will be an asset to an improving Watford squad.

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