We were always going to go big for this season, and really it doesn’t get any bigger than prising away Eugene from his corporate desk and desktops littered with graphs and trends to give his thoughts on the 2016-17 Premier League season. And boy, how he’s brought his A game!
By Eugene Awori
After a summer of feigned penchant for international football, the English Premier League is finally here! In two days, defending champions Leicester City (I never imagined I’d ever say that) will march into the KCOM Stadium ready to serve a barbarous welcome to the newly promoted Hull City, kicking off yet another ten months of delectable entertainment.
Didn’t we all hope the biggest upset in sports history would at least breed restraint as far as fans’ optimism is concerned? How wrong we were! Arsenal fans, for the umpteenth time, have sworn to bring the coveted trophy to North London. United fans, until reminded they won’t even be hearing the Champions League anthem this season, are pandering up their treble hopes.
Away from the delusional optimism of football fans, you’ve probably waded through enough lengthy pieces of classical whataboutism from pundits telling you what will happen this time round. I will choose to trudge and different lane and instead tell you exactly what won’t happen this time round.
Manchester United will not win the league
The last few weeks have reminded us something we had missed since Sir Alex Ferguson exited the scene, the unfounded egotism of Manchester United fans (where would we live if they were even half as successful as, say, Real Madrid?). Breaking news Red Devils, the only thing you’ll be winning this year is the world’s pity.
Make no mistake, United have done so well in the transfer window that their fans don’t know whose shirt to purchase. The rest of the footballing world is busy calling Zlatan Ibrahimovic old and Paul Pogba overrated while secretly adding them to their fantasy football squads.
We need little introduction to what Jose Mourinho can do with a team when his board delivers his transfer wish-list. Zlatan, at 33, found the net 17 more times than any other player in Ligue 1 last season and the return of Luke Shaw stabilizes last season’s most rotated defence while adding electric pace to an ever destructive United left flank. Yet a fundamental problem still lurks amidst this apparent perfection. Expectation.
Mourinho has already spent €173 million this transfer window. This is €42 million more than Louis van Gaal’s average annual spend and €108 more than David Moyes’. Money aside, the outspoken gaffer is desperate to prove a point to among others Roman Abramovic, a section of forgetful Chelsea fans and of course Arsene Wenger that he still is the Special One. But what will add more pressure to an already simmering United dressing room will be an ill-advised attempt to prove to neighbouring Pep Guardiola who the best manager in the game is.
On the pitch, Paul Pogba will have to hear from the English media during every game that he doesn’t score a 35-yard header, or nutmeg the linesman in a buildup or save a penalty. The Old Trafford crowd will be a lot more impatient and will anticipate more than Moyes’ Champions League quarter final appearance or LvG’s FA Cup win. These expectations won’t be met. At least not this season.
Arsene Wenger will not lose his job
I am likely to get into trouble with my boss Fabian for making this call but Le Prof will be Arsenal’s manager next season. And many more after that. Before you fill my DM with insults, perhaps you want to know why I think Arsene will keep his job. He will earn it.
If you want a picture of how forgetful football fans can get, look no further than the sensational writing off of the only top English club that had a ‘good’ campaign last year. Everyone has written off the club that was literally hurtling away with the title, only to be kind enough to hand it to a hungrier Leicester side.
I have always maintained that Arsene is one of the few actual football coaches left in the game, at least at the top level. Hate him or loathe him, I won’t be shocked if he gets more out of Mo’ Elneny than United will ever get from Paul Pogba (if you don’t include the shirt sales and vines please).
Arsenal is without doubt the most stable top club in England today, with near-veteran players in virtually all positions. While everyone else will be crossing their fingers a new manager or a host of new marquee and gamble signings works out, Arsenal fans won’t have to. Granit Xhaka is a decent addition to an already world class midfield and with him and Santi Cazorla anchoring the pack, Alexis Sanchez and Mesut Özil will have their best season yet. Wenger in!
Conte will not have a job in April
Talking of countable football coaches remaining in the game, Antonio Conte undoubtedly makes the cut. Despite winning a hat-trick of Scudettos with the Old Lady of Turin and losing only 1 competitive game with Italy, nobody can be good enough for the Chelsea job and, like all nine before him, he’ll fall short.
I can’t remember a Chelsea manager inheriting a harder task since Claudio Ranieri took over Gianluca Vialli’s depleted cup double heroes. And this poor, thin Chelsea squad will be the end of him.
Watching Chelsea’s pre season, you couldn’t help but notice the club has only one decent defender – the injured one, Kurt Zouma. Cesar Azpilicueta may run all he wants but he’s far from the modern full-back Chelsea need. Branislav Ivanovic isn’t half the full-back he was two years ago while Zlatan, Jamie Vardy, Sergio Agűero et al can hardly wait for their turns against Gary Cahill and John Terry.
N’Golo Kante may be an enviable addition to Chelsea’s midfield. However, Cesc Fabregas lacks the consistency to take advantage of this new piece of steel. Eden Hazard looks in the mood this time round but Diego Costa and new addition Michy Batshuayi are likely frustrate him with their cancerous ball control and schoolboy finishing, respectively. Not even the absence of European duty will be enough to resurrect Chelsea from the footballing purgatory and save Conte’s job.
Pep won’t have any fans left in May
Perhaps the most exciting thing about English football this season is the sudden influx of big names. Forget the world class players who’ve resisted the glorious allure of Spain and Bavaria for England’s inclement weather. In Pep and Jose we are blessed with two of the most decorated managers still in the game.
I find the arrival of the former the most exciting. To many, it should settle the debate on who between Sir Alex Ferguson and Pep Guardiola is the greatest manager of all time. If this be the case, then I am afraid the man with an unmatched 1.5 trophies per season for eight years has made a disastrous move.
Few things are as admirable about Pep as his work ethic and an unwavering belief about how football should be played. In addition to challenging everything we knew about center backs, central midfielders and center halves, he’s shown us it’s no crime to switch formations multiple times in the first half of a game.
However, Pep’s fanatics often underestimate one thing that has always worked for him – a club with an identity. Forget the quality of sides he inherited and the funds he had to cannibalize his opponents, Barcelona and Bayern Munich are clubs with a rich history of winning. Winning everything.
He will find a very different atmosphere at City. He is coming to a club where the big name players barely belong, they’re here for business. And when business isn’t doing so well, a single shot on target over two legs of a Champions League semi-final isn’t so bad. He’s coming to a club where a 60,000 capacity stadium can’t sell out on a Champions League night. Finally, he’s coming to a league where you can’t even predict who your main rival is going to be at the outset.
Klopp will not spare any cups
Jose, Pep and Conte have stolen all the headlines as far as new managers go. Eddie Howe, Aitor Karanka and Claude Puel also lead a pack of dark horses expected to light up the league with upsets. However, I struggle to see a manager who’ll excite his fans more than Jurgen Klopp.
Kloppo as they fondly call him at the Kop hasn’t had a summer as glossy as his peers, and he will pay the price in the league. I do not fancy Liverpool to break into the top four, mainly because with his bunch of indistinguishable players weaned on mid-table’s modest ambition, he will take until January to figure out his best starting XI.
However, you can expect the Reds to lift at least one domestic cup as well as make it to the 2017-18 Champions League courtesy of a Europa League win. That’s what a great manager can do with a pedestrian squad.
There will be no surprises
To the last thing that won’t be happening this season – surprises. Last season was full of them, from then defending champions flirting with relegation to a bunch of contemptible Midlanders high on Thai yoga making a joke of every other EPL side.
However, I don’t see much in the way of surprises this time round. The big boys have had their egos bruised and changes have since been rung. West Ham will finish fifth and Leicester will descend back to their rightful eighth place, but these aren’t exactly what you call surprises. Please let us know what you think will not happen in the comments section below!
When the writer isn’t hosting podcasts for The Dug Out, he works as a Finance & Investment Actuary.