4. TOTTENHAM HOTSPUR
Last season – Spurs bid farewell to White Hart Lane by proving their recent ascent has been no fluke. They spent 17 of the last 18 weeks in second place, where they would eventually end up, and they were the only club that truly challenged Chelsea for the Premier League title. Harry Kane led the league in scoring with 29 goals, while Tottenham conceded a league-low 26 goals to secure a second straight season in the Champions League.
Key transfer notes – Tottenham hasn’t bought any players yet on the transfer market, and the only sale of note was fullback Kyle Walker, who fetched a ludicrous $65 million from Manchester City. Manager Mauricio Pochettino has put pressure on club to spend money, going so far as to say Tottenham cannot hope to compete for the league title without new signings. It remains to be seen if his comments will have any effect.
FC Yahoo take
Henry Bushnell: How impressive do Spurs have to be, and for how long, to allay suspicion that their success is bound to dry up? The belittling of their achievements is dumbfounding. Combine 2015-16 and 2016-17 into one season, and Tottenham would sit atop the Premier League table by 10 points. Spurs compiled the best goal differential in the league last year by a margin of eight. What more must they do to garner due respect?
Pochettino has established himself as one of the very best managers in the world and has built around a young core of players who are only just now coming into their primes. Kane recently turned 24. Christian Eriksen and Heung-Min Son are 25. Eric Dier is 23. Dele Alli is 21. Keep going down the list, and on the surface, there is absolutely no reason to expect regression. Below the surface, there might be: advanced metrics suggest Spurs overachieved last season, and the lack of depth could end up being problematic. But none of the big six is without flaws; depth could still arrive via the transfer market, and Tottenham should, at the very least, manage a third consecutive top-four finish.
Leander Schaerlaeckens: Unlike other clubs, Tottenham has opted to use its newfound TV wealth to keep its exciting young core together. Last summer, it tried to add a few pieces. The acquisition of Victor Wanyama was a success. Those of Moussa Sissoko, Vincent Janssen and Georges-Kevin N’Koudou were decidedly not. This summer, Spurs adjusted by… not buying anyone at all, in spite of the departure of Walker to Manchester City. Holding onto your hand makes sense when you have a strong one. But while everyone else has continued to stock up, Spurs remain an injury to a key player or two away from an unraveling season. Especially considering that the Champions League will take a heavy toll. Besides, this team still hasn’t quite conquered decades of being Spursy.
Betting odds (via SkyBet)
Win Premier League – 10/1
Relegation – 1000/1
Shahan Ahmed: 5 | Ryan Bailey: 4 | Alex Baker: 5 | Henry Bushnell: 3 | Joey Gulino: 4 | Leander Schaerlaeckens: 5
Last season – Chelsea’s yo-yo of success and chaos swung upward once again, with manager Antonio Conte engineering the club’s fifth Premier League title with a tactical shift to a back three following a September humiliation against Arsenal. The Blues leaned heavily on the same first-choice XI for much of the season, with Diego Costa and Eden Hazard combining for 36 goals, and the fresher legs due to a lack of Champions League football helped them outpace the field and stay in first place the final 28 weeks of the season.
Key transfer notes – Strong reinforcements arrived at every level, with Alvaro Morata at striker, Tiemoue Bakayoko in the midfield and Antonio Rudiger in the defense. The sum total was about $165 million for those three deals, but Chelsea made over $100 million of that back by offloading loanees made permanent (Juan Cuadrado, Nathan Ake), questionable fits (Nemanja Matic) and surplus goods (Asmir Begovic). If Costa leaves, which seems likely since Conte told him he wasn’t part of the club’s future, Chelsea may actually come out ahead in summer spending.
FC Yahoo take
Joey Gulino: Chelsea may be thin, but the club is thick on Premier League title-winning experience, and this year’s first-choice XI actually projects to be even more indefensible and impermeable than it was last season. Morata will adjust well to the English game, while Bakayoko and N’Golo Kante are instantly the best midfield pairing in the league and Willy Caballero’s free transfer will help spell Thibaut Courtois in net. The biggest question, perhaps, is if this Chelsea squad can withstand Conte’s relentless fire, considering it basically revolted against something similar with Jose Mourinho in 2015. I suspect it won’t, I suspect the Blues aren’t done spending, and I suspect they win a third Premier League title in four seasons.
Henry Bushnell: There were many reasons and underlying trends behind Chelsea’s rise to the top of the league last year, but the Blues enjoyed two unique advantages that have since evaporated heading into 2017-18. One was Costa, and his ability to turn one point into three by conjuring up a goal out of nothing. The second was the club’s lack of involvement in a European competition. Chelsea played just 47 total games last season, compared to Manchester City’s 56 and Manchester United’s 64. This allowed Conte to thoroughly implement a new tactical system mid-season. In conjunction with injury avoidance, it also often allowed him to play an unchanged first-choice lineup in the Premier League week in and week out. Conte handed more than 85 percent of his team’s EPL minutes to 11 individuals, and over 93 percent of them to 13 specific players. Both rates were significantly higher than those of any English team that had to balance the league with European forays:
Chelsea’s squad, as currently constructed, is too thin to cope with the rotation that the Champions League necessitates. The depth will be tested early, with Hazard and Bakayoko already dealing with injuries. Chelsea will have a hard time replicating last season’s consistency, fitness and league dominance.
Betting odds (via SkyBet)
Win Premier League – 4/1
Relegation – 2500/1
Shahan Ahmed: 3 | Ryan Bailey: 2 | Alex Baker: 3 | Henry Bushnell: 4 | Joey Gulino: 1 | Leander Schaerlaeckens: 4
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