EPL 2018/2019 – The Mindfulness Preview
No team has successfully defended the EPL title since Manchester Utd back in 2008, so needless to say it’s a big ask. Despite this I feel City are well positioned to win consecutive league titles as their team is just so strong. Everyone talks about the amount of goals they score but lets not forget they also had the strongest defence in the division last season, they’re a complete unit on and off the ball.
The biggest concern for City will be the potential for Fernandinho to run out of gas. The Brazilian defensive midfielder is 33 now and the world cup did him no favours in terms of getting a nice summers rest. Guardiola missed out on the signing of Jorginho during the summer transfer window, the Catalan coach will hope it doesn’t come back to haunt him.
In terms of ante-post betting, I backed City to win the title @ 1.80 a couple of weeks ago. There’s no significant juice in the price as their actual valuation should be 1.67 – 1.54 in my view. However I have hedged the selection with a smaller bet on Liverpool @ 5.4, I find it hard to believe that there will be a team that finishes above both City and Liverpool this season.
Liverpool are like a fine dish that Jurgen Klopp has been preparing for years, a delicious dish, full of flavour, with the caveat that everyone chokes at the end. The question is can they finally turn that quality into trophies this season? The summer transfer window has been a good one with the arrival of GK Alisson and CM Keita in particular. Fabinho replaces Can in the DM/utility role while Shaqiri can emulate Coutinho’s ability to score out of nowhere but that is perhaps where the comparison should end.
Essentially Liverpool have all the ingredients to win the EPL but I am always slightly concerned about Klopp’s propensity for style over substance. You don’t play heavy metal on full-blast for every given occasion, sometimes you’ll get a headache, or even worse, concussion. Backing them for the EPL title @ 5.0 isn’t the worst bet you could make but you are quite exposed if you don’t have City on side in some form.
Mourinho’s ability to out-fox opposition managers in individual games is offset by the clubs faltering acquisitions in the transfer market. Brexit has recently been described by Danny Dyer as a ‘mad riddle’ but Mourinho could be forgiven for thinking the same of his disjointed Man Utd side.
The signing of defensive midfielder Fred from Shakhtar Donetsk should prove helpful with his bravery and vision while in possession. The hallmark of previously successful Utd teams was to play the ball forward incisively while under pressure and Fred typifies this. But the team needs more as Utd are still lacking in the full-back positions, while the balance in the wide forward positions is still a concern. Their attempts to sign a centre-back during the window are well documented but the fact that this failed to materialise is all a bit Keystone Cops. Pre-season has been poor from Utd with Mournho’s whining perhaps at an all time high in an attempt to lower expectations and manage psychology.
Despite this you can never completely discount the Portuguese tactician, they did finish 2nd last season, albeit 19 pts behind City. The concern is that rivals Liverpool have made advances in the summer window while Utd have floundered. The Red Devils are more like Frankenstein’s monster at present, the fans will be hoping this season doesn’t turn into a complete horror show. I think Utd and Liverpool can both run closer to City this season but it will still be difficult for them.
Maurizio Sarri replaces Antonio Conte at the helm and it will be interesting to see how the change in manager works out for the team. As abrasive as Conte was, there is no doubting that he is a winner. The same cannot yet be said of Sarri who despite his best efforts, could not break the stranglehold of Juventus in Serie A.
Sarri has always been a coach I’ve admired but to come to England and win the title in his first season will be a big ask. Yes, other managers have done it, but Sarri will prioritise implementing his preferred playing style above other concerns. Expect to see a 4-3-3 module with high octane players such as Kante and Kovacic either side of Jorginho in the midfield 3.
Chelsea’s weakness is in the centre-forward position. I like Alvaro Morata, but at 25 years of age he still lacks the qualities of a complete centre-forward. I don’t think his journeyman career has helped in that regard. I’m sure he will improve with age as most classic centre-forwards usually produce their best work in their early thirties. Ultimately Chelsea have been unable to find an immediate replacement for Diego Costa and it’s a problem for them, they were the lowest scorers in the top 6 last season.
No such issues for Tottenham as Harry Kane is one of the best centre-forwards in world football today. Tottenham’s first eleven is very strong and a match for any team in the division but they lack squad depth compared to their EPL rivals. While the imminent move to New White Hart Lane is unlikely to drastically affect the team on the pitch, it may hinder their progress off it in the short term. The summer window has been devoid of reinforcements and frankly Tottenham could become exposed if they sustain injuries to key players.
Mauricio Pochettino is one of the best coaches in the world for developing young players and managing a side with limited resources. The problem for him is that the odds are against Tottenham going the extra hurdle and actually winning silverware as the club is pretty much operating at it’s peak relative to it’s current resources. Perhaps this will change in the mid to long term when New White Hart Lane starts to pay dividends. Until then expect Pochettino to compete strongly but ultimately fall short at the business end of the campaign when that relentless schedule starts to bite.
A change in tack for Arsenal under new coach Unai Emery maybe welcomed by many Arsenal fans but I do not see a radical shift towards being title contenders as things stand. The team will be grittier and meaner on the pitch with the signings of Lichtsteiner, Sokratis and impressive defensive midfielder Lucas Torreira. Aubameyang is an excellent centre-forward and should continue to shine in the EPL.
The main concern for Arsenal will be a lack of creativity from midfield. Wilshere and Cazorla have not been replaced as Torreira doesn’t construct play in the same way. I think we will see an Arsenal side that is hard to break down, hard to beat and very dangerous on the counter-attack but they will not make the game as they did during the Wenger era.
So a new coach and a new era for Arsenal but they remain an incomplete team with one key weakness simply being exchanged for another. I do expect them to make a better fist of challenging for the top 4 this season and I also think they are better value than Chelsea to win the Europa League as Emery is a proven winner in that competition.
Sam Allardyce did a pretty good with an unbalanced and disjointed Everton squad last season. The club finished 8th and had the 7th best home record in the division. This was not enough for the Goodison unfaithful however and now it is the turn of the enigmatic Marco Silva to carry the weight of the clubs lofty ambitions. In my view Silva is a coach with potential but nothing beyond that as he simply hasn’t stayed at an EPL club long enough for his class to be proven.
The club itself has been fairly busy in the summer transfer window with a slew of redundant no. 10’s being sold off and a slew of left-wing forwards being bought in. Some decent players have been acquired to address the problem areas although Everton still look light in those central midfield positions. Morgan Schneiderlin’s performances in particular have dipped in recent seasons so Idrissa Gueye is left to carry the team on too many occasions. I like the energy of Tom Davies but he is still only 20 and needs to be given time to hone his craft. Maybe Besic or new signing Andre Gomes will step up to the plate, time will tell.
Overall Everton have plenty of quality but the squad is still slightly unbalanced in my view. Richarlison, Bernard and Lookman all play in the same position which may create tensions in the dressing room. Perhaps more strikingly, they still lack a classic no.9 who can hold the ball up and bully defenders. They certainly have players who can come off the bench and exploit tired opponents at the tail end of games. Unfortunately no target man may mean plan b proves elusive when plan a fails.
The good news for Everton is that the signings they’ve made should help improve their away form, they only won 3 away from home last season. Better results on the road will help them to pressurise Arsenal for that last European place.
Big things are expected by the fans and board alike, Silva must deliver.
Leicester will have to carry on without star man Riyad Mahrez after his transfer to ManCity. The good news for Leicester fans is that they made a swift replacement in the form of James Maddison. The midfield prodigy signs from Norwich and it will be interesting to see how his career progresses in the EPL. Rachid Ghezzal also signs from Monaco to help cover the departure of Mahrez. Jonny Evans is a solid acquisition at centre-back and should speed along the quiet and dignified retirement of Wes Morgan. The signing of right-back Ricardo Pereira from Porto is somewhat of a coup and should be an excellent addition to the team in my view.
Generally speaking I don’t see much difference in Leicester this season, Maddison may not be equal to Mahrez in the short term but Claude Puel’s side are capable of another top half finish. I do not agree with the view that they are a team in decline, their squad is strong and still contains winners.
We backed Palace top half finish at a massive 7.0 last season but the selection was scuppered on the last day with Newcastle beating Chelsea by a 3 goal margin. Palace have arguably underperformed in recent seasons given the size of their wage bill but at least the team is looking strong under Hodgson.
The biggest concern for Palace will be the absence of Ruben Loftus-Cheek who returns to Chelsea. The England international was adept at linking play for Palace’s attacking combinations last season. Perhaps German prodigy Max Meyer can step up to the plate, his vision, technique and agility will add quality to the Palace midfield. AM/FW Jordan Ayew joins on-loan from Swansea and his attributes will also prove useful in covering the departure of RLC.
After a few seasons assembling a squad of decent players, Palace can now be viewed as a complete team. Defensively strong with the centre-back partnership of Tomkins & Sakho, but also dangerous going forward under the coaching of Hodgson and Lewington. I don’t envisage any problems for the red & blue army this year. I have them finishing above West Ham due to greater team integration while also facing less pressure from fans. That being said; Everton, Leicester, Palace and West Ham are in a kind of mini-league and I don’t see much between them.
Palace’s top half finish odds of 3.25 are not worth taking in my view due to fierce competition. However, if Palace have a slow start and we get a drift to 5.0 or longer in said market then it’s worth a punt. Palace are the value play in w/o big 6 market @ 15.0 (Betvictor).
West Ham Utd
Manuel Pellegrini replaces David Moyes at the helm of West Ham in a move which suits their ‘glamorous’ ambitions. The signing of Felipe Anderson is an interesting one, he was wanted by all of the big European clubs a few years ago but his career has gone off the boil since then. There’s no doubting his ability, if he performs to his potential he will be a great signing for the Hammers, if not, another dim memory in the dustbin of history. Yarmolenko also has quality and perhaps will prove more reliable in the wing-forward positions. Jack Wilshere will look to resurrect his career at his boyhood club, the complete midfielder is now only excellent on the ball, poor without it.
Expect West Ham to score a lot of goals but also expect them to concede a lot. Manuel Lanzini is out of action for the foreseeable future and the remaining attack minded players make little in the way of defensive contribution. Their games will probably see-saw wildly and should provide great entertainment. The fans and owners will be expecting a top-half finish, maybe even pressuring Arsenal.
Like Marco Silva, Pellegrini must deliver.
Nuno Espirito Santo crushed the English Championship like a grape last season, no mean feat. The team boasts Portuguese internationals such as GK Rui Patricio, DM Joao Moutinho and CM Ruben Neves. Going forward, Diogo Jota and Adama Traore are burgeoning talents and can be a menace at EPL level.
Expect Wolves to be well-drilled and hard to beat this season, they are capable of taking points off the big boys and should have no trouble consolidating in the prem. The only potential vulnerability that I can see is in the centre-forward position. Mexico international Raul Jimenez will probably be the man on point, he has good quality and ability but will need to settle into the league quickly otherwise Wolves may find scoring goals a bit more tricky at this level. Goal tallies from their crucial wing forwards are also likely to drop in the EPL.
The markets seem to have them priced correctly with a bottom half finish slightly odds on. Some might be tempted to get involved with their juicy relegation odds at 9.0 but not me as I believe there are worse teams in this division at a similar price. Wolves should cruise to a lower mid-table finish this season.
Slavisa Jokanovic finally gets his chance in the EPL and his Fulham side were certainly impressive at the business end of last season. The core of Fulham’s team is pretty decent and shouldn’t have too much trouble retaining their EPL status this year.
Fulham have more quality in the final 3rd than a lot of their supposed relegation rivals. Sessegnon and Schurrle in particular should be a menace at this level. The jury is still out on CF Mitrovic mind, he really needs to step up to the plate if Fulham want to avoid a dogfight. I feel there is some momentum at the club right now so a lower mid-table finish is possible for them. Relegation odds of around 3.0 seem to be in the right ball park, anything longer than that starts to become slightly generous imo.
Brighton & Hove Albion
It was a textbook season for Brighton in 2017/2018. Chris Hughton made some shrewd acquisitions, The Amex was made a fortress and Glenn Murray made double figures… I am of course talking about the amount of goals he scored.
The key question is; will it be second season syndrome for the seaweeds? In my view probably not. Hughton continues to make decent additions under the radar, Yves Bissouma beefs up the midfield, Leon Balogun provides good backup for the Dunk / Duffy partnership while Alireza Jahanbakhsh looks to have some great attributes in the wing forward positions. The signing of Martin Montoya at right-back is also impressive.
Brighton should be a tough team to face once again with the Amex being a difficult place to visit. Back in the day they used to shit in the away dressing rooms, now they actually pickup points at home, now that’s what I call progress!!!
The only caveat for Hughton is that his team were rock bottom of the EPL away table in 2017/2018, Brighton may want to address that to avoid putting all their eggs in the Amex basket.
Ah Newcastle Utd, vomiting in a fireplace never felt so profitable. Perennial skinflint Mike Ashley knows how to rake in the quids and so Newcastle fans should not be surprised that the summer window has been quiet for them. Ashley has one job at Newcastle, gauging how far he can squeeze the personnel budget without Benitez leaving.
I never felt Newcastle were in danger of going down last season with Benitez in charge, even with a shoestring budget and underwhelming squad. The fact he got them a 10th place finish was a job very well done.
If Rafa stays, we can expect a lower mid-table finish for the magpies. If at any point in the near future he leaves then Newcastle’s relegation odds of 6.0 must be backed without hesitation.
Burnley have Europa League football to contend with this season largely due to the success of their innovative Pope Funnel tactics. Manager Sean Dyche must again receive credit but I don’t think he has been all that pleased with the clubs transfer activity this summer.
Their defence is extremely robust which makes relegation unlikely, particularly with Dyche at the helm. However, underinvestment in the playing squad and European football means they are unlikely to replicate a top half finish this time around.
Burnley nicked a lot of 1-0’s last season, being on the right side of fine margins in 2018/2019 will be more difficult for them in my view. Will they be looking over their shoulders this time around? Dyche will surely prioritise the league if the schedule starts to bite.
For me this is the most glaringly obvious pricing error for EPL ante-post this season. We’re getting 8.0 for a Southampton relegation this year, markets are telling us there is just an 12.5% chance of them going down. What’s more, their top half finish odds are shorter than Palace’s and this is simply laughable.
Southampton have been shedding quality players for a while now and it’s starting to hurt them. Attacking midfielder Dusan Tadic has left in the summer window and frankly the club has done very little to address the ongoing issues it has in the centre-forward position. Gabbiadini will never be a prolific goal scorer at this level and Charlie Austin is injury prone. Yes Vestergaard is an important signing at centre-back and Elyounoussi may be a decent replacement for Tadic but generally the squad is treading water.
Accurate relegation odds for Southampton would be more like 4.0. I’m happy to back them to go down at 8.0 and then hedge it with Southampton to survive if at any stage they start to flirt with the dogfight. The loan signing of Danny Ings could prove crucial while Mark Hughes is a good manager at this level and ultimately I expect them to survive.
There is no I in team and no club represents this better in the EPL than Bournemouth. Eddie Howe’s side are not overly reliant on one individual and that is perhaps why they maintain durability at this level. Goals and assists come from all areas of the pitch and the team always seems tenacious enough to get a goal when required.
Despite this, I do think their relegation odds are slightly generous @ 6.0, competition to avoid the drop will be fierce again this year. I think odds of around 4.0 would be more accurate for Bournemouth here.
Despite the departure of Richarlison, Watford still have enough quality to survive at this level in my view. They are aided by decent home support at Vicarage Road but I think their EPL status will be put to the test this season.
The obvious concern is manager Javi Gracia, it’s not that I think he’s a poor coach, he’s simply an unknown quantity. He never stays at a club long enough to accurately assess his abilities, we are somewhat in the dark as to whether or not he will get the most out of his squad.
The Watford relegation odds have shortened too much for me to get involved. They were 4.0 a few weeks back but dropping to 3.0 leaves me disinterested quite frankly.
The daggers are certainly out for Huddersfield this season. Many believe they do not have the quality to survive at this level but having a good coach, hungry players and defending from the front can count for a lot, even in the EPL. Incoming transfers may not be big names but they’re always in line with how the team plays, no square pegs in round holes here.
A repeat of 28 goals scored and 37 pts accrued may kill them off this time round but don’t be too surprised if they manage to survive somehow. Huddersfield’s cohesion, motivation and determination will last for 38 games, the same cannot be said of every team in the EPL. Relegation odds for David Wagner’s side look to be in the right ball park so not bet here.
First off I agree with Stevie Day that Neil Warnock is an underrated manager, I’m glad to see him back in the EPL but this season will be a massive challenge for him. The team is how you would expect it to be: low on possession, physical, aggressive, long balls, crosses in the box, strong attacking / defending set-pieces, direct counters.
Will it be enough to survive at this level? I’m not sure, their defence will be very vulnerable against the division’s top teams and I am less confident they can take points off the big boys compared to their relegation rivals. Let’s not forget that Warnock took an average looking championship side to a 2nd placed finish, they performed to the very limits of their potential. Summer reinforcements have not looked like they will take the team to the next level. I fear for them despite Warnock’s abilities as a manager.
The ray of light for Cardiff is the example set by teams like Burnley. Sean Dyche has demonstrated you can take an under resourced championship team and establish them in the premier league but it’s a big ask.
Cardiff’s relegation odds of 1.7 are not worth taking in my view. I suggest looking at their odds after the first 3 league games (Bournemouth, Newcastle, Huddersfield). A good start for the bluebirds may then present an opportunity in the relegation market.