By Dillon Friday, Carden Hedelt, Josh Naso and Eddie Maisonet
As hard as it is to believe, the 2015-16 Barclays Premier League starts this weekend after an offseason that lasted about as long as a Ronda Rousey Fight or DeAndre Jordan’s stint as a Dallas Maverick.
Chelsea seeks to defend its title with a lineup that remains virtually unchanged. Meanwhile, Manchester United loaded up as did crosstown rival Manchester City. And then there’s Arsenal, which has fans dreaming of the club’s first championship since the Invincibles thanks to a dominant close to 2015. The title chase should be as good as its been in years. Of course, the league itself never disappoints.
TSFJ’s Footyheads Josh Naso, Carden Hedelt, Dillon Friday, and the Editor-in-Chief, Eduardo Edson Arantes do Nascimento Maisonet III share their thoughts on the upcoming campaign.
Mostly Like To Finish In The Top Four
The time is now for the Gunners to make their run at a title. They finished third in the league last season, while also taking home the Community Shield and the FA Cup. Last weekend, Arsenal captured this season’s Community Shield as well, defeating the reigning league champion Chelsea 1-0. Last season’s strong performance, especially at the end of the season, combined with the addition of a quality goalkeeper, a rare commodity in North London, has Arsenal fans dreaming of a title, and rightfully so.
The Blues ran away with the title last season, and will be formidable again this year. Health will be the biggest concern for Chelsea, as they lack depth, particularly up front where they will rely on Radamel Falcao and Loic Remy behind Diego Costa. This is particularly concerning with Costa already battling hamstring issues. Although Costa was incredibly effective for Chelsea last season, he missed significant time with injury and is starting the 2015-16 campaign at less than 100%.
The presence of Eden Hazard, arguably the best player in the Premier League, will ease concerns for now, but Chelsea must stay healthy in order to make a run at back-to-back titles.
City were the runner’s up to Chelsea last season after winning the Premier League in 2013-14. They will look to their prize signing, 2014 Golden Boot winner Raheem Sterling, to help them try to reclaim the title from Chelsea. Sterling looks to bolster an already threatening offense, one that lead the Premier League in goals scored last season. If Raheem can show some consistency, City’s offense becomes downright frightening.
After a disastrous 2013-14 run that saw United fail to qualify for a European competition for the first time in 23 years with a 7th place finish in the Premier League, Louis van Gaal was hired to right the ship. He was able to return the Red Devils to relevancy with a 4th place finish and Champions League berth last year. Van Gaal looks to build on that success and continue the upward trend this season, and has brought in a slew of new players to help him do so. Bastian Schweinsteiger, Memphis Depay, and Morgan Schneiderlin headline the group hoping to help United improve on last season’s revival.
Most likely surprise team to crash the Top 4: Southampton
So which team has a chance to surprise us and break into the Champions League stranglehold held by our expected top 4? Tottenham has finished in the top six for six straight seasons, but their best chance to break through is behind them with players like Luka Modric and Gareth Bale long gone. Liverpool, always lurking, has regressed since their superb season and dramatic title chase in 2013-14. Everton took advantage of Liverpool’s run and Man. U’s stumble in 2013-14 to finish 5th, but fell back to 11th in last season’s campaign.
So we’ll go with Southampton, who hung with the big boys for much of the season before finishing in 7th, 10 points off the pace for a Champions League spot. They ended up with a plus-21 goal differential, by far the best of any of teams outside of the top four. If they catch a couple breaks, they could flirt with a top four finish.
Most likely striker to score all the goals: Sergio Kun Agüero
You have no idea how much the EIC wanted to put Alexis Sanchez here, but the smart money (bookmakers in particular) point towards Manchester City’s Sergio Aguerro winning the golden boot for most goals in the Premier League. Aguerro, now wearing the legendary #10 kit that just screams that “NOW I WILL SCORE ALL THE GOALZ” unlike the #16 kit where he won the Golden Boot in 2013-14 and has the highest goals per minute ratios in the history of the Premier League.
Yep, Agüero’s probably going to score all the goals again this season.
Mostly likely manager to get sacked: Brendan Rodgers
It seems like more than two years ago when Brendan Rodgers’ Liverpool was atop the Premier League standings late in the season, with Luis Suarez running rabid (literally) through Premier League defenses, Steven Gerrard rolling back the years and there being some semblance of a defense. All it took was one season to undo nearly all the good work Rodgers did in the 2013-2014 season. Suarez bailed, Gerrard got caught by time and the defense, with much maligned Dejan Lovren playing the part of a £20 million mistake alongside Mario Balotelli, the last-minute panic buy at striker who couldn’t adjust to Rodgers’ high tempo, pressing style (nor did the manager adapt to the player, it’s a chicken-egg thing). Losing 6-1 at Stoke in the season finale left a bitter taste in the mouths of all Liverpool fans, who saw Gerrard depart with a whimper of a consolation goal.
Rodgers isn’t a completely awful manager but expectations are high for him after what looks to be a successful summer transfer window, albeit no additions looking to start in the center of defense — and Rodgers looking to give the team’s best central defender, Mamadou Sakho, the old heave-ho by benching him for the season opener for Lovren. His tactics and his confusing tendency to play certain players could be his downfall, especially given Liverpool’s unforgiving opening slate. They play at Stoke, at Arsenal and at Manchester United before October, when it gets downright brutal: at Everton, at Tottenham, home to Southampton and at Chelsea. Liverpool are going to struggle to find points at the beginning of the season and with former Dortmund boss Jurgen Klopp waiting in the wings, Rodgers could be sent packing by November.
Most likely kit you’ll want to buy that’s not of your team: West Ham’s away kit, Spurs’ away kit
Some teams have glorious home kits. For Arsenal’s and Manchester’s fiery reds, there’s Chelsea and Everton’s royal blues. From Norwich’s green and yellow and Newcastle’s stripes, tradition is guaranteed to be on the pitch every weekend of the season. However, the away and alternate kits always show the inventiveness of the squad as they tweak with colorways and designs. Some are awesome, some or not so much.
It was hard not to put Chelsea’s white away kits here (but the EIC is an Arsenal fan, so very easy), but they’ll be doing a whole lot of winning (most likely) this season. Therefore, take a lot at the most beautiful thing West Ham United will produce all season. Go Hammers.
Also, kudos to Tottenham Hotspur and Under Armour for designing a new away kit that looks like the back of a lot of socks Under Armour produces. Very well done Spurs, kudos.
Sidenote, after reviewing these choices, it’s obvious that the EIC has an appreciation for light blue colors. Weird.
Most likely manager to go full Paolo Di Canio: Slaven Bilic
One of the things we underappreciate as American viewers of the Premiership is the cast of characters who would be jettisoned if they played professional sports in the United States. For starters, you have Luis Suarez who has bitten three opponents during games and yet remains one of the biggest stars in the game. Then there’s fireworks enthusiast Mario Balotelli, postgame-shower-smoker Wojciech Szczęsny, and the outspoken, red-card-waiting-to-happen Joey Barton.
But no man could ever match former West Ham star and Sunderland manager Paolo Di Canio when it came to pure nuttiness. Di Canio was a brilliant player — equal parts skill and determination. As a manager he rescued the Black Cats from relegation to close the 2012-13. He celebrated each key victory with wild-eyed glee that bordered on insanity.
Di Canio followed up that performance by bringing 14 new players including Jozy Altidore. The unabashed Fascist (Di Canio, not Jozy) was sacked by October.
West Ham United manager Slaven Bilic brings a Di Canio-esque nature with him to London. After leading the Croatian National Team for six years, Bilic landed at Turkish club Besiktas following a stint in Moscow. Besiktas nearly beat Arsenal for Champions League qualification last summer before eliminating Liverpool in the Europa Cup.
Bilic was the inspiration for the run through Europe. He’s also an accomplished rock star and a noted socialist. You can bet that any time the Hammers take the pitch, one camera will always be fixated on Bilic.
Most likely team to sneak up on your squad and ruin your weekend: Stoke City
It shouldn’t be too big a surprise for anyone who watched a lot of Premier League last season that Stoke City is better than you might think. They beat Manchester City thanks to Mame Biram Diouf going coast-to-coast and defending then thrashed Liverpool 6-1 on the last day of the season. But they’re still just Stoke to a lot of people. That’s probably what Liverpool thought going into the Britannia Stadium last year.
Don’t get it twisted: Stoke will fuck you up. They defend well (that game against Manchester City was a 1-0 win and City, although dropping off the pace of recent years, should be able to get one against Stoke) then can counter lightning fast. Did we mention that they have Bojan Krkic? You know, the guy who was going to be the next Messi for a while at Barcelona? And Marko Arnautovic, who struggled last season, but is still really freaking good?
If Stoke manager Mark Hughes plays a front three of Krkic, Diouf and Arnautovic together and they really click, it wouldn’t be a huge surprise for each of them to have 10-15 goals at the end of the season. Hell, he can rotate them and still get that kind of production.
Don’t sleep on Watford either. They might have just been promoted but they have a mix of players who could raise their games in the Premier League and have raided some good teams around Europe to add some depth.
Most likely teams destined for relegation
We still can’t wrap our heads around this: teams that finish in the bottom three go to the Championship next season. Oh well. It’s a neat irony. Here are the three clubs we believe will be in hot water come next May.
Poor Brad Guzan. It seems each year Villa sinks closer and closer to relegation only to scrape to survival. Something’s got to give at some point. Now that the Villains have lost their best player in Fabian Delph and fellow mediocre clubs improved, this is the year Villa goes down.
AFC Bournemouth not only made noise by winning the Championship a season ago but also by securing Ghanaian winger Christian Atsu on loan from Chelsea soon after. A lot of people like Bournemouth to stay up in the Cherries’ first-ever campaign in the Barclays Premier League. We don’t. There’s just far too much ground to make up.
Another newly promoted side, Watford comes in with much of the same fanfare as Bournemouth. The club plays a high-pressing game that gives opponents fits. However, two of the three promoted teams from last year couldn’t survive season one. Leicester City made a mad dash at the end to avoid relegation. Watford goes down, Norwich City stays up. The Canaries have been here before.
Most likely fight fans want to see but won’t: Wenger vs. Mourinho
Arsene Wenger and Jose Mourinho don’t like each other. Wenger, the kindly elder statesman of the Premier League managers, put his paws on Mourinho last year in a touchline scuffle. The hostilities continued at this year’s Community Shield, when Wenger’s Arsenal beat Mourinho’s Chelsea 1-0, followed by Mourinho ducking a handshake from Wenger and tossing his loser’s medal into the crowd.
We’re not here for ducking handshakes. We want fisticuffs.
It’s not going to happen on a sideline, but let your imagination run wild on how these two would square off. My personal favorite is a steel cage wrestling match.
Arsene Wenger climbs the turnstile and, as he turns to grin to the audience, Mourinho springs up from the canvas to knock his opponent to the ground. Mourinho pummels Wenger in the corner for a few seconds then turns to the crowd to receive the cheers cascading down from all corners of Wembley Stadium. Wenger drags himself to his feet and looks dazed as he takes a few steps toward Mourinho, who turns on him and strikes a savage blow. But Wenger doesn’t wince, doesn’t stagger. He stands strong. Mourinho clocks him again, and again Wenger isn’t fazed. The joy turns to sudden panic as Mourinho strikes Wenger again and again, but they only seem to embolden his opponent. Mourinho puts all of his strength into one final punch, sure to send his opponent to the mat. As it flies, Wenger catches the punch and bellows in Mourinho’s awestruck face. Wenger releases the fist and counters with a staggering blow, followed by another, and another, a barrage that would leave no man standing. The Wembley crowd has turned into his favor now and roars as each punch connects. Mourinho stays on his feet by will alone, his pride alone keeping him standing against the flurry of French fists. Each blow gets harder and harder and harder…
The match ends with Mourinho hitting Wenger in the balls. Mourinho seems like a guy who would totally punch another guy in the balls. I’d still watch it though.
Most likely young player you’ll become a fan of: Memphis Depay
Good God, that name alone sounds cool as hell. It sounds like a name Nicholas Cage’s character would use in a remake of Gone in 60 Seconds where we randomly find out that the protagonist has a grandson in the future who steals hovercrafts to save the world. Anyway, the man who is described as cocky, fast and fun by those in Europe is the Dutch international who is being leaned on to bring Manchester United back to prominence. Sound like a Cristiano Ronaldo a bit or nah? See for yourself.
What did we miss in our 2015-16 Premier League Primer? Let us know your thoughts and predictions in the comments section, as we prepare to dive into another season of football in England.
Because you love TSFJ as a staff, record label, and as a *bleeping* crew!