With fall comes the return of one of the most popular sports leagues on the planet: the English Premier League. While this may seem a bit niche, in 2015, NBC Sports inked a six-year agreement to give it Premier League rights, in a deal worth about $1 billion. With demographic trends pointing towards an increased American affinity for top-flight European football, here goes my preview for the 2019–2020 Premier League season already underway.
Liverpool is fresh off a victory over Premier League rivals Tottenham in the UEFA Champions League Final, adding a sixth European title to its trophy cabinet. However, the spot reserved on the shelf for a Premier title is still gathering dust, as the Reds haven’t hoisted a league title since 1990. High-energy manager Jürgen Klopp’s side brings back a near-identical roster to its 2018-2019 season that posted 97 points in a losing effort to Manchester City. Leading this charge is back-to-back Premier League Golden Boot winner Mo Salah and co–Golden Boot winner Sadio Mané. Liverpool also benefit from UEFA Men’s Player of the Year Virgil Van Dijk, an enormous central defender with superb defensive ability. The biggest hurdle for the Reds will be depth in the lineup, as mounting serious European and League campaigns at the same time put heavy pressure on player fitness and health. Despite this, Liverpool is my pick as Premier League champions.
Manchester City is defending champions after edging out Liverpool by a point in last year’s title race. The Citizens are led by Catalan boss Pep Guardiola, and the team has posted back-to-back titles with a flowing style of attack that punishes opposing defenses. Just four games into the current campaign, his side has posted 14 goals, 11 of which have come from the foot of Sergio Agüero (6) or Raheem Sterling (5). The advanced statistics back City for a third straight title, with the website FiveThirtyEight giving the side a 59 percent chance to lift hardware. It is difficult to see any club other than Liverpool challenging City for a title.
Top Four Finishers
If the above clubs finish one and two as I expect, there are two more Champions League spots available for the remaining clubs.
My third place choice happens to coincide with the club I support, the Arsenal Gunners. The Gunners enter a second season under the direction of Spainard Unai Emery, who led the club to a fifth-place finish last year. However, an unexpectedly strong transfer window saw former Lille winger Nicolas Pépé arrive at the Emirates for 73 million pounds, beating out other major European clubs for his signature. Arsenal also secured the services of Real Madrid midfielder Dani Ceballos on loan along with veteran center back David Luiz from Chelsea. If a suspect defense can hold up until the return of speedy outside back Héctor Bellerín and new signing Kieran Tierney, a fearsome front three of Alexandre Lazacette, Pierre-Emerick Aubamayeng, and Pépé could put Arsenal back in Europe’s most prestigious competition.
My fourth-place choice is an upstart selection, and one I make after watching the first few games of the season. Leicester City will qualify for the Champions League after missing out on the top four every season since its historic title run. The side is bolstered by its record signing of Belgian midfielder Youri Tielmans, who has impressed so far in the Prem. Much of the club’s success will depend on the form of its poster boy, English star Jamie Vardy. If the 32-year-old’s output keeps pace with other elite Prem strikers, it could be a year to remember for the Foxes.
Two normally competitive clubs will massively disappoint their fans in league play this campaign. The first is Chelsea, headed by club legend Frank Lampard. The Blues have looked uninspired out of the gate and are clearly missing their best player in recent years, newly signed Real Madrid man Eden Hazard. Although Chelsea’s youth has looked strong, with brilliant performances by Tammy Abraham and Mason Mount, I predict a finish outside the top six.
The other club that will fall short of its goals is Manchester United. Despite spending lavishly on Harry Maguire to bolster a weak back line and winger Daniel James’ early season heroics, the Red Devils have only five points from the first four matches.
While I could see Chelsea or Manchester United snagging either of the fifth or sixth spots in the table, it is more entertaining to guess at Wolves or West Ham taking a step forward and grabbing a spot in European competition. Wolves finished seventh last year in the Prem and managed to qualify for the Europa league. The Portuguese-heavy side will need to find some consistency in order to finish in the top six, but it is possible. West Ham spent big during the summer, and brought in Frankfurt’s Sébastien Haller, who has netted three times already in just three games. If its attacking force can maintain this production, it could give Prem centre backs fits all season long.
Jack Leger can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.