The Premier League kicks off on Friday 13th of August, with Championship play-off winners Brentford at home to Arsenal the curtain raiser. With just a month having passed since the European Championship and Copa America ending, and a handful of players also competing in the Olympics, it has been a manager’s nightmare to organise their squads. Players that went deep into their respective competitions have only just started to return to their clubs. Therefore, expect a number of teams fielded on the opening weekend of the season to change drastically, with players returning and the transfer window still open until the start of September.
With all these factors in mind, the following potential starting eleven for each Premier League team is to reflect once the season has settled down after a few weeks. This will consider expected formations, players returning from post-tournament breaks, new signings, and rumoured signings that seem feasible. It will also leave out players who have long-term injuries who are unlikely to be available for the first part of the season. Part one of this looks at half the teams, with the second part covering the remaining ten sides.
After finishing eighth last season and with no European football to look forward to this season, Arsenal really need to turn their fortunes around. Fans will hope the £50 million signing of Ben White will be a step in the right direction and help to alleviate some of the costly errors from their defence. The signing of 21-year old Belgian midfielder Albert Lokonga has slipped under the radar but may prove to be an astute piece of business. However, it is still expected that Granit Xhaka and Thomas Partey will be the preferred pair in midfield when fit. Mikel Arteta will be hoping Partey can avoid the injuries that made him unavailable for so much of last season and provide a real driving force in midfield.
At the top of the pitch it is unclear exactly how the Gunners will line up. Pierre-Emerick Aubameyang struggled last season after signing a new deal and only managed a disappointing ten league goals, while Alexandre Lacazette has all too often flattered to deceive and could still leave the club if a suitable offer is tabled. It could be another tough season for Arsenal unless additions are made. The number ten role is an area that has been targeted this summer, with Leicester City’s James Maddison linked. Whether Arsenal can afford him, or Maddison himself sees the move as a step up currently, is open for debate, however.
Aston Villa may have lost their talisman, and current England national hero, Jack Grealish, but they still look in very good shape heading into the new season. Dean Smith’s men had a fine campaign in the Premier League last season, finishing 11th. This summer it seems that they had pre-empted Grealish’s £100 million move to Manchester City and started spending the money accordingly. Emiliano Buendía, Leon Bailey, and Danny Ings are all fine signings in the region of £30 million each, and will add a great deal of firepower to collectively replace Grealish’s output. These signings are also signals of intent, with Villa reportedly beating a number of clubs to their signatures.
With the problems in defence and in goal from their first campaign back in the top flight resolved last season, Villa have clearly identified their attack as a priority this summer. Buendía is a serial chance creator, while Ings has scored 34 league goals in the last two seasons. Bailey arrives with a reputation of being a very talented winger from Bayer Leverkusen, with consistency the Jamaican’s downfall. Villa have also boosted their defensive ranks though, with Axel Tuanzebe signing on loan from Manchester United. Whether Villa implement a system that enables Ings and Watkins to play alongside each other remains to be seen, but expect Villa to have another solid season regardless.
Brentford have been the envy of a number of clubs the last few years due to their impressive recruitment. They have signed a number of players, especially strikers, that have been bought for low prices and sold on for huge fees, such as Ollie Watkins, Neal Maupay, and Saïd Benrahma. However, after coming close the two previous seasons, they finally shook the ‘nearly men’ tag by securing promotion to the Premier League; beating Swansea 2-0 in the play-off final.
Thomas Frank’s men played 433 for 37 of their 46 games in the regular Championship season, and are likely to do so going into the season. However, they also have the ability to play a back three in their repertoire. They utilised this formation in the business end of last season, following injury to left-back Rico Henry, including in the decisive play-off games. Sergi Canos, who is typically a winger, deputised at left wing-back effectively but Henry’s injury highlighted a lack of depth at full-back. This lack of depth has only been exacerbated since the end of the season, with right-back Henrik Dalsgaard leaving the club upon the expiration of his contract. New signing Frank Onyeka will partner the talented Vitaly Janelt in midfield but more signings are crucial to Brentford’s chances of having a successful season. They may well be let down by their threadbare squad unless their transfer activity picks up drastically in the next few weeks.
Brighton and Hove Albion
Graham Potter’s men have received plaudits for the way they play. Passing, free-flowing football that is attractive to watch. However, they’re problem has been their lack of sharpness in front of goal. They are often ridiculed for their lack of chance conversion and how high their ‘expected goals’ are in comparison to their actual output. Therefore, it is evident that more firepower in attack is needed. Celtic Striker Odsonne Edouard is heavily linked and is expected to make a Premier League switch which would improve the Seagulls’ options in attack. Neal Maupay is also a striker who knows where the goal is but disciplinary issues have slowed his progress since his move from Brentford a couple of seasons ago. Danny Welbeck’s injury struggles mean he isn’t a reliable source of goals also, so Edouard would be very welcome at The Amex.
Elsewhere, new signing Enock Mwepu could take up a spot in central midfield, with Yves Bissouma heavily linked with a move away. Adam Lallana will look to create from a deeper role, with Leandro Trossard providing the spark further forward. With defender Ben White moving to Arsenal for £50 million it wouldn’t be a surprise to see Brighton spend more before the window closes. They have a reliable back three in Adam Webster, Lewis Dunk, and Dan Burn but depth may be an issue so a central defender could be recruited.
Burnley have only made one signing this summer, defender Nathan Collins from Stoke City, which will no doubt mean that Sean Dyche is expected to pull a rabbit from the hat and keep them in the division with extremely limited resources once more. Whether the Clarets will liven up in the market in the closing weeks of the transfer window remains to be seen, but don’t expect to see much change at Turf Moor. Eventually Burnley’s luck of getting away with minimal investment will run out. Dyche has appeared increasingly weary in the last 18-months when asked about signings, but it is hard to see that many others could keep the club in the league if Dyche were to move on to pastures new.
The squad is solid and Dyche has them playing above themselves week in, week out but the battle hardened squad is in desperate need of refreshing. Dwight McNeil’s youthful exuberance out wide is key to the side, while Chris Wood is the chief goalscorer at the club and his goals will be vital to the club’s survival hopes. Despite the lack of signings you can never write this Burnley side off.
After a huge summer of investment last year, Chelsea are showing no signs of slowing down. Due to Timo Werner’s struggles in front of goal last season, perhaps the only missing piece to the puzzle is an out and out goalscorer. Chelsea have identified this, and are reportedly set to complete the signing of Romelu Lukaku for a fee in the region of £100 million from cash-strapped Inter Milan, seven years after selling the Belgian to Everton.
Aside from Lukaku coming in there is not expected to be too much more in the way of incomings. The focus will be on moving players such as Danny Drinkwater, Ross Barkley, Tiemoue Bakayoko, and even Tammy Abraham, to balance the books. Thomas Tuchel favoured a back three in the majority of him games in charge following Frank Lampard’s departure last season and it is a system that seems to suit the players well. Antonio Conte also enjoyed success with a similar system in his time as manager of the club.
It may well be that with Tuchel’s tactical excellence, and the players in his armoury, that Chelsea can launch a bid for the title on the back of their Champions League winning campaign last time around. The only problem may be keeping everyone happy, with the likes of Hakim Ziyech, Timo Werner, Christian Pulsic, and Callum Hudson-Odoi potentially all having to accept that rotation will be key with the club chasing trophies on all fronts.
Patrick Vieira has taken his first managerial role in English football, replacing 74-year old Roy Hodgson as Crystal Palace boss. The two managers couldn’t be further apart on the managerial spectrum. This is Vieira’s third managerial role, previously having managed New York City FC and Nice, and he is very much at the start of his career in management. Whereas, Hodgson was in his 22nd role and had a wealth of experience to draw on during his four years at Palace. The two are also very different in their footballing philosophies, with Vieira keen to play possession-based, passing football, while Hodgson generally opted for a more cautious, pragmatic approach.
Under Vieira, Palace fans may have to be patient, as the Frenchman looks to implement a shift in playing style at the club. It is expected that he will opt to deploy his team in a 433 formation, with ball players across the pitch. In defence the club have recruited Marc Guehi from Chelsea and Joachim Andersen from Lyon; having spent last season on loan at Fulham. Two players brought in for their ability not only to defend but also to pass from the back. Connor Gallagher has joined on loan from Chelsea after last season on loan at West Bromwich Albion, and 18-year old Michael Olise has also joined from Reading. Both signings bolster the midfield. In attack, a rejuvenated Christian Benteke is likely to lead the line with Zaha to his left. The right hand side is up for debate, and may well be a new signing after the departure of Andros Townsend following the expiration of his contract. Reiss Nelson has been linked with a loan move from Arsenal and Vieira may well use his contacts at the club to secure a deal. Palace lost a lot of experienced heads this summer due to a number of players’ contracts expiring, but this may be the push that was needed for a cultural reboot at the club.
Everton have been very quiet in the transfer window to date, having been busy in last summer’s window. Andros Townsend and Demarai Gray have both joined to increase wide options but elsewhere only back up goalkeeper Asmir Begovic has joined on a free. With Carlo Ancelotti’s switch to Real Madrid, the club’s project to become a side challenging for Europe once more has hit a major stumbling block. The man whose pull undoubtedly helped the Toffees sign the likes of Allan, Abdoulaye Doucoure, and, especially, James Rodriguez couldn’t resist the lure of his former club. After an indifferent first season in England, with flashes of brilliance, Everton fans would have been hoping for more from a settled Rodriguez this season. With his recent comments comparing his situation to that of Sergio Aguero, who signed for Barcelona in the belief that Lionel Messi would stay, Rodriguez claimed the only reason he joined Everton was Ancelloti. Now that Ancelloti is gone it remains to be seen if Rodriguez will stay on Merseyside.
Ancelloti’s replacement was never going to match him in terms of achievements in the game and would subsequently have a tough act to follow. However, the appointment of former Liverpool manager Rafa Benitez, who referred to Everton as “not a big club” in his time at the Reds, is a less than popular decision. If Everton start well under the Spaniard then opinion could soon turn. Signings to reinforce a small squad would be welcomed. Right-back is an area that needs freshening up, with club legend Seamus Coleman nearing the end of his career. Another striker could be brought in to ease the load on Dominic Calvert-Lewin, although Moise Kean may be seen as suitable for this role after a successful loan at Paris Saint Germain. Everton need depth, with a clear gulf in quality between their starting eleven and their bench most weeks.
After a fine first season back in the top flight, following a 16 year absence, Leeds United have been relatively quiet in the transfer market. Their all-action approach was predicted to mean they burnt out towards the end of the season but their 9th placed finish was very impressive.
This summer they have added Junior Firpo from Barcelona to replace the departed Ezgjan Alioski at left-back. However, they have not reinforced any other positions and may have to act swiftly in the remainder of the market to prevent the squad stagnating. Fans will be hoping from more from Spain international Rodrigo Moreno after a first season where he found it difficult to get going. Patrick Bamford needs support to ease the goalscoring burden at the club, having scored 17 goals last season, and Hertha Berlin’s Matheus Cunha could be that man. England Euro 2020 hero, Kalvin Phillips, will anchor the midfield and release the forward players to play expansively and with fluidity. Leeds are sure to be an exciting watch once more this season, and it will be interesting to see if they can adapt to overcome opposition who may have worked them out.
Leicester City enjoyed another strong campaign last season under the guidance of Brendan Rodgers, ending the season by lifting the FA Cup. However, for the second season in a row they threw away a Champions League spot, having been in the top four for the vast majority of the season. The club did qualify for the Europa League however, and will need to add numbers to their squad to cope with the demands of Thursday night football on top of a busy domestic schedule.
Ryan Bertrand has joined on a free, following the expiry of his Southampton contract, and should prove a valuable member of the squad, providing an option at left-back. Highly-rated midfielder Boubakary Soumaré has joined from Lille and it will be interesting to see if the 22-year old can force his way into Leicester’s, already talented, midfield. Patson Daka has also arrived to boost the Foxes’ options in attack and, with pace to burn, will be a nightmare for opposition defenders. 54 goals in 82 league games for RB Salzburg show that he also knows where the goal is. Like Soumaré, Daka may have to bide his time, but will be sure to see plenty of football this season. If Leicester revert to a back three at points in the season then don’t be surprised to see Daka partner either Jamie Vardy or Kelechi Iheanacho, the latter enjoying a fine second half of the last season. He also scored the only goal of the game in the Community Shield victory over former club Manchester City at the weekend.