With the transfer window closed for Premier League incoming transfers, below is my current projection for where teams will land this season. Obviously this is cheating a bit with four games already in the books, but I’ve never understood making predictions before you know what teams will actually look like.
Key Additions: Diogo Jota, Thiago
Key Losses: Dejan Lovren, Rhian Brewster
Obviously there’s no doubt that this Liverpool team is flawed and has already given away points they would have expected to take against Villa. So why do I think they still manage to repeat?
Everyone else is flawed too, and most of the challengers have the same defensive deficiencies that Liverpool has shown so far this season
Despite not being at their best, they’ve still managed to take 9 points
They’re still owning shots - they’ve logged the most shots per game so far this season while giving up the second least
Obviously the key concern for Liverpool so far has been their defending and goalkeeping. First, they have to hope that Adrian can at least perform as an average keeper until Alisson returns. That’s an easy one to point to, especially after errors leading directly to goals.
However, Liverpool has to get a better performance defensively from the team as a whole; that was the key differentiator for this team last year compared to the other leaders, and they have to get it back. While limiting shots, too many of those have been in high danger situations.
Teams have started to find ways to adapt to the high press style that Liverpool plays, as well as the space that leaves behind their very offensively-minded fullbacks.There’s going to continue to be a ton of pressure on the center backs if Klopp doesn’t adjust to that, and they’ll need to perform better. I’m basing this on an assumption that both will happen - Klopp will adjust a bit, and the center backs will find their groove.
2.) Manchester City
Key Additions: Rúben Dias, Nathan Aké, Ferran Torres
Key Losses: David Silva, Leroy Sané, Nicolas Otamendi
Man City seems to have all of the problems that Liverpool has, just more pronounced. Consistency was lacking for the team last year; they actually ended up with a better goal difference than Liverpool last season, but gave up points they should have taken with ease.
At times Pep has already looked very unsure that the current team, and particularly the defenders, can play his preferred style. He played two holding midfielders against Leicester to help the defenders, and then followed that up by moving Fernandinho into a back three against Burnley in a cup match.
Meanwhile, we’ve seen other teams adapt to Man City and avoid pressing Ederson; that has allowed opponents to avoid putting themselves at a numerical disadvantage when Ederson breaks the press. This is still a team that holds possession and passes as well as anyone in the league, but it’s hard to see them overcoming the weakness defensively to be consistent enough to win the league.
Key Additions: Pierre-Emile Höjbjerg, Sergio Reguilón
Key Losses: Jan Vertonghen
Right now Spurs players seem to be buying into Jose Mourinho’s system. That may eventually stop being the case like it has been eventually at his other stops, and it often doesn’t make for exciting soccer, but it positions Tottenham well to return to the Champions League. It will be interesting to see what the club looks like when Bale is able to come into the squad, and Spurs have to hope that their roster can avoid some of the injuries that have become too common for them.
Key Additions: James Rodríguez, Abdoulaye Doucouré, Ben Godfrey
Key Losses: Moise Kean (Loan), Morgan Schneiderlin
This is clearly the first spot where I’m going out on a real limb, and maybe it’s overreacting to early season success. I’ll be writing a longer article specifically on what’s different about Everton, but the additions of James Rodriguez and Abdoulaye Doucouré went a long way to addressing the biggest weaknesses of last year’s team. I don’t think Everton had enough depth to mount a true title challenge, but the weaknesses around them could allow them to hold on to a Champions League position. It would help if they could upgrade from Pickford in January as well.
Key Additions: Timo Werner, Kai Havertz, Hakim Ziyech, Edouard Mendy, Ben Chilwell. Thiago Silva
Key Losses: Pedro, Willian, Ross Barkley (Loan), Ruben Loftus-Cheek (Loan)
Chelsea should be able to keep a Champions League spot with their attack, but I trust their defending and goalkeeping the least of any of the teams at the top of the league. If Edouard Mendy is healthy and can hold down the GK spot to the level they expect, then I anticipate Chelsea would take one of the Champions League spots.
It will be interesting to see how Lampard handles his attacking options once Christian Pulisic is back as well, since both he and Werner prefer to play from the left-side. It’s always nice to have depth, but not ideal to have two of your best options overlapping and potentially limiting at least one’s effectiveness..
6.) Manchester United
Key Additions: Donny van de Beek, Alex Telles, Edinson Cavani
Key Losses: Andreas Pereira
Man U has one of the most talented teams in the league; unfortunately, they also appear to completely lack any sense of structure to the team at all. Against Tottenham, Maguire and Bailly routinely let Kane collect the ball with acres of space between them and the midfield, and all of that space provided plenty of room for Lamela and Son to run into. Things like that are why United has ranked only 14th in the league in shots per game so far despite all of their offensive talent and creativity, and have given up the second-worst shots against per game in the league.
I’d like to see them improve at CB and LB in the January window, and they have the options available to play a more defensive midfield if needed, but ultimately none of that matters as long as Ole Gunnar Solskjær is managing the club. Even putting them in a Europa League spot is assuming a change will be made in time to turn the season around somewhat, though their transfer strategy might still prevent a turnaround.
7.) West Ham
Key Additions: Saïd Benrahma, Craig Dawson, Vladimir Coufal
Key Losses: Grady Diangana, Felipe Anderson (Loan)
In contrast to Man United, West Ham so far have looked like a team well setup to play to their strengths and hide their shortcomings. It’s easy to assume the Leicester City win was the outlier, but so far it seems like despite a tough starting slate the exception to their form was actually the Newcastle loss. The Hammers have both the fifth most shots and fifth fewest shots against through four games; by xG and expected points, the Hammers would be third in the league so far.
Clearly a key to that so far has been Michail Antonio continuing his success from the restart. Almost everyone focuses on Antonio’s physicality and strength, but his soccer smarts are clearly underrated. His ability to work his way into space is a part of his game that he’s made significant advancements in, and has been on consistent display in the past few months. He demonstrated it against Leicester, identifying the space early to get in position for a cross from Aaron Cresswell.
The Hammers have missed on a lot of their big signings in recent years, but have somewhat offset that with some great bargain signings recently. However, they need to see one of those bigger signings start paying dividends - Sébastien Haller. While Antonio’s been great, the Hammers have to be worried about depth and Antonio has had injury trouble throughout his career. Haller has scored some impressive goals in his short time at West Ham, but they need him to work his way back into more playing time. That added threat could be what pushes West Ham into Europe.
8.) Leicester City
Key Additions: Wesley Fofana, Timothy Castagne, Cengiz Ünder
Key Losses: Ben Chilwell
Leicester was the most impressive team in the league through three games, but there are significant concerns:
Injury troubles are already mounting, and this isn’t a team that can afford to bring in a ton more depth while also handling a European campaign
The team’s attack still runs significantly through Jamie Vardy, and age will eventually catch up
Brendan Rodgers has a style of play he loves, and West Ham showed a template for defeating it. Other teams are going to learn from that, and Rodgers will have to find a way to adapt
I could easily see Leicester making the Champions League with some of the talent they have and the results they showed early on; however, I think some of that was luck and will balance out with Rodgers’ stubbornness to leave them out of Europe.
Key Additions: Thomas Partey, Gabriel, Willian
Key Losses: Emiliano Martinez, Mattéo Guendouzi (Loan)
Arsenal has somehow managed to turn their talent into the second-fewest shots per game so far this year. They’ve managed three wins, but the West Ham game in particular could have easily gone the other way. The move for Thomas Partey was impressive, but it’s hard to imagine Stan Kroenke contributing any additional funds to get the team over the hump in the next window. It certainly can’t help that they’ve significantly reduced their scouting staff.
Key Additions: Fábio Silva, Nélson Semedo
Key Losses: Diogo Jota, Hélder Costa, Matt Doherty
Wolves have been mediocre on both ends so far this season, losing the possession battle and ranking in the mid-table for both shots for and against. Fabio Silva is an outstanding signing, but I’m just not sure he can replace the production of Diogo Jota this season. Wolves have struggled to score, including against a woeful Fulham team, and I think those struggles will continue too much to have the same success as last year.
Key Additions: Ibrahima Diallo, Kyle Walker-Peters, Mohammed Salisu, Theo Walcott (Loan)
Key Losses: Pierre-Emile Höjbjerg, Harrison Reed, Mario Lemina (Loan)
Southampton always seems to exceed expectations, so I wouldn’t be surprised at all if they were challenging for a spot in Europe. They’re a well-disciplined team that understands what’s expected of them; the problem is that they struggle to convert their chances. I can’t see them getting enough scoring from anyone besides Danny Ings to land much higher than this.
Key Additions: Jakub Moder, Michal Karbownik, Andi Zeqiri
Key Losses: Anthony Knockaert, Aaron Mooy
Brighton has had a tough starting slate but has still managed to turn in some impressive performances, especially defensively. This club seems to always feel like they could go down at any time, but I think the clubs below them just have more holes this season.
Key Additions: Rodrigo, Diego Llorente, Raphinha, Robin Koch
No team has been as exciting to watch so far this year as Leeds - the problem for them is that it applies to both ends of the field. Leeds has surprisingly only been middle of the road at generating shots so far, but is dead last in shots against. I think Bielsa is a good enough manager to keep them up, but this team is going to struggle to stop anyone all season.
14.) Aston Villa
Key Additions: Ollie Watkins, Bertrand Traoré, Emiliano Martínez, Matty Cash, Ross Barkley (Loan)
Villa was a bit lucky to stay up last year, but made strong additions and are well-rounded enough to avoid getting sucked into the relegation battle this season. The Liverpool game is clearly an anomaly, and I don’t expect them to suddenly be European contenders, but they don’t need to be yet. The key for me will be not needing everything to go through Jack Grealish; so far, he’s still been involved in over 50% of their goals. As talented as Grealish is, they need a more diversified attack.
Key Additions: Rhian Brewster, Aaron Ramsdale, Oliver Burke
Key Losses: Callum Robinson
Sheffield was the surprise of last season, but have struggled to get going this year. The defense is still there - they’ve given up only six goals in four games, including playing a man down for almost the entire match against Aston Villa. The problem is that this team simply can’t generate offense. There are early indications that teams have figured out the innovative style they play, and we saw signs of that during the restart as well. One goal through four matches simply isn’t good enough, and I’m not sure who they can depend on for more. It can’t be a case of always waiting for set pieces to help, especially if you can’t generate the pressure to generate many. I can easily see this squad going down; while they’ve added attacking talent, much of it might be too young to depend on for safety.
Key Additions: Callum Wilson, Jamal Lewis, Ryan Fraser
Key Losses: Danny Rose (End of Loan)
Newcastle has struggled with both shot creation and shot prevention so far, but has demonstrated the ability to finish their chances. This is going to be a team that depends on old-school stereotypical English football to win, using Wilson and Carroll as their threats up front. It won’t work all the time, but I think they’ll be able to do enough to stay up. The biggest problem here is the ownership situation, which makes improvements unlikely.
17.) Crystal Palace
Key Additions: Eberechi Eze, Nathan Ferguson, Nathaniel Clyne, Jack Butland
Key Losses: Alexander Sörloth
Crystal Palace has been very willing to let teams play into them so far this year, generating less that 40% of possession. However, they’ve demonstrated the ability to use that to their benefit and get on the counteract, particularly against Man U. The concern for me is how much of that success continues to go through Wilfried Zaha. His consistency will be important, as will just his willingness to stay with Palace all year and stay healthy. I’m not sure they can generate enough of a threat without him keeping up this form.
Key Additions: Dale Stephens
Key Losses: Jeff Hendrick, Aaron Lennon, Ben Gibson (Loan)
Sean Dyche always has this Burnley club ready to defend and play their style, and because of that it’s hard to really imagine them ending up in the relegation zone. However, so far this year that defensive strength has already been put into question with four goals against Leicester and three against Newcastle. Meanwhile, Chris Wood is effective but I’m not sure who they go to for chance creation or to get additional goals.
19.) West Brom
Key Additions: Grady Diangana, Karlan Grant
Key Losses: Oliver Burke, Nathan Ferguson, Jonathan Leko
Slaven Bilic will get this team to compete, and they’ve shown an ability to threaten down the wings already. The problem is that they just do not create nearly enough chances (6.8 shots per game) or have enough depth to mount a serious challenge. I could see this team being back up and in a better position soon, but I don’t think they survive this year.
Key Additions: Ruben Loftus-Cheek (Loan), Mario Lemina (Loan), Harrison Reed
Fulham has shown some flashes, but they just can’t seem to defend enough to see them staying up. They don’t have the offensive talent like Leeds to overcome that, and while there’s some luck involved with not having a point yet I can’t see it turning around enough to avoid going back to the Championship. This club needs a sound plan for where they plan to be moving forward. They obviously want to be a consistent Premier League club, but have looked completely unprepared in both recent trips back.