The Wildcard’s 2017-18 Premier League Team By Team Preview


Last Season: Fifth / 75 pts

Key Player: Now, it all depends on Alexis Sanchez, doesn’t it? No doubting he wants to leave and his contract is done after this season. The Chilean is damn near essential to their top four hopes and they need him in top form.

Best Signing: If Sanchez does cop out, however, Alexandre Lacazette has already shown glimpses that he’s got something special about him. He’ll score goals. Sead Kolasinac is an old fashioned bruiser like the Gunners could really use as well.

Big Question: Why is Theo Walcott still at this club? More importantly, are the two consecutive Wembley victories over Chelsea a sign of a growing steel in this team or, you know, typical Arsene/Arsenal dong just enough to maintain the usuals?

Sack-O-Meter: Arsene Wenger will never be sacked. But he might retire after this new two-year extension. Anticipate plenty more #WengerOut dramas from the fans if things go bad.

Expectations: Need to get back in the top four. Ideally would like to re-sign Ozil and Sanchez too. Usually good for an FA Cup final, it’ll be interesting to see if they prioritise the Europa League.



Last Season: Ninth / 46 pts

Key Player: Steve Cook is good enough to play for England. There, I said it.

Best Signing: Fair play to Nathan Ake and Asmir Begovic – two needs filled there – but getting Jermain Defoe is a killer statement. Also, having spent a heap of cash on young players last time for little reward, expect one or two of them to really bounce back this season.

Big Question: Is there anyone out there that doesn’t like Bournemouth? They have a young, passionate manager, they play attractive football, they’re proper underdogs and they’re from a lovely part of England. Good for them.

Sack-O-Meter: The only way the Cherries are parting with Eddie Howe is if he’s poached by a bigger club (or maybe the national team). They love the bugger and for good reason.

Expectations: Depends on how well certain players kick on. Best case scenario they look to finish top half and make a cup run. Worst case scenario and seventeenth will be good enough.


Brighton & Hove Albion

Last Season: Promoted

Key Player: Anthony Knockaert was the best player in the Championship in 16-17, he got an award for it and everything (beat out Chris Wood, the bastard!).

Best Signing: No idea at this stage but Davy Propper was always a strong player in Holland. Should be fun to see Aussie goalie Matt Ryan between the sticks as well.

Big Question: Are they ready for this? Brighton’s promotion has been a few seasons coming as they’ve crafted a positive, competitive team. But that team’s got crap-all Premier League experience. A slow start will be hard to recover from.

Sack-O-Meter: Chris Hughton has done a great job so far but there’s no safety among promoted managers. Something like half of them don’t see out the season. There are stats on that somewhere.

Expectations: Stay in the top division. They worked hard enough to get here.



Last Season: Sixteenth / 40 pts

Key Player: There are no standouts in Burnley, they’re a proper team by every measure. Having said that, Tom Heaton and Ben Mee’s leadership and prowess are essential to their fortunes.

Best Signing: Yo, Jack Cork is quality. Didn’t know why Southampton let him go and I don’t know why Swansea have let him go. He’ll go good in what looks a decent (if a little lacking in star power) midfield.

Big Question: Why is this team so relentlessly… English? Don’t they know it’s 2017 and England hasn’t won a major senior tournament since 1966? Add in their Irishmen and a Welsh lad and they can name an XI with combined nationalities that even looks like a 1966 selection.

Sack-O-Meter: Considering that Sean Dyche is their best hope, nah they’re not gonna dump him. Not unless things get quite ugly.

Expectations: Second season slump on the way here. Gotta solidify.



Last Season: Champions / 93 pts

Key Player: When Eden Hazard can play at the level he did for most of last season (and their previous title winning season) there are few that can touch him. Such incredible balance and control while moving at a crazy pace… shame about the season in between, aye?

Best Signing: Yeah, about that. Chelsea’s transfer work has some serious question marks about it. It’s not just the multitude of loans but they’ve sold off some real depth in that squad. Antonio Conte’s a bit pissed they let Matic go to a rival (as he should be) while Nathaniel Chalobah, Nathan Ake, Dominic Solanke all leaving hardly inspires confidence among the rest of that youth system. But they still got Alvaro Morata and for cheaper than United paid for Lukaku so that’s something.

Big Question: Antonio Conte says this is gonna be his toughest campaign as a manager. Their squad might be weaker now. Nobody has retained the Premier League title in the last eight seasons. Are the Blues ready for this? You’d imagine there are a few more signings to come, surely.

Sack-O-Meter: Nah, Conte will be fine, struggles or no struggles. He has a way of getting the best out of players and Chelsea are still frightening every other side. Only way Conte leaves is if he quits. And… he might. It’s not out of the question. In fact he’s done it before.

Expectations: They won’t be able to do what they did last time but as long as they keep touch in the title race then they’re in with a chance.


Crystal Palace

Last Season: Fourteenth / 41 pts

Key Player: Wilfried Zaha can do some incredible things and some infuriating things. The more of the former, the more games this team can win and if he and Christian Benteke can get the combo down then watch out.

Best Signing: Jairo Riedewald made his first team debut at Ajax for Frank de Boer and now they’ve been reunited again. He was also a part of the Ajax lot that made it to the Europa League final against Man Utd – full of ability this dude.

Big Question: Are they possibly trying to run before they can walk with the whole reinvention of the team here? Remember who their last few gaffers were…

Sack-O-Meter: Frank de Boer only lasted 85 days at Inter Milan and his style of management is a fair distance off that of Big Sam’s so best watch this space if they start slow.

Expectations: Get younger, get more exciting but don’t get relegated.



Last Season: Seventh / 61 pts

Key Player: They sold him. But then they bought Wayne Rooney which is great for marketing in the very least. Wazza’s still got some gas in the tank, it’s gonna be good to watch. Very sentimental too.

Best Signing: Wayne Rooney is Wayne Rooney but he’s gonna take a month or two to get into his rhythm. On the other hand, Michael Keane is a perfect addition to that defence, an area that they really needed a bit of youth in too.

Big Question: One of the biggest of all the big questions: How will Everton cope without Romelu Lukaku banging goals away up top?

Sack-O-Meter: Ronald Koeman is doing everything right so far, on the pitch and off it. Doubt too many Everton fans think, given his history, that he’ll be around for the long term but he’s not leaving until he gets a better gig.

Expectations: Break the wheel. Break the top six. Doubt it’ll happen but that’s gotta be the plan.


Huddersfield Town

Last Season: Promoted

Key Player: You can always swap this category and the next. Former Porto striker Laurent Depoitre has been burying them in preseason and if, as a promoted team, you have somebody who can put away the half chances then you’ve got a full chance at staying up.

Best Signing: It was basically a formality, yet getting Aaron Mooy’s contract on the permanent makes for good business for all parties involved. Let’s see if he can keep it up in the top flight.

Big Question: From nineteenth in the Championship to the Premier League in the space of a year. How the hell can they possibly be good enough to survive? David Wagner reckons they’re the biggest underdogs the PL has ever seen.

Sack-O-Meter: David Wagner is Jurgen Klopp’s best mate. He’s a lot like him in the way he picks his teams and he’s a popular man, just like his mate. Funny how quickly that can change with some stinkers.

Expectations: Don’t go down. Don’t go down. Don’t go down.


Leicester City

Last Season: Twelfth / 44 pts

Key Player: Everybody knows what Vardy and Mahrez can do and Kasper Schmeichel deserves a mention here too but Danny Drinkwater is such a good player for the Foxes. A canny midfielder with a masterful passing range sure helps. Don’t sleep on his new CM partner Wilfred Ndidi either.

Best Signing: Oh man, Kelechi Iheanacho on a permanent basis? You’ve gotta be joking City allowed that to happen (buy back or no buy back). Can play him with Vardy or instead of Vardy and he’ll get that ball into the back of the net either way.

Big Question: If 2015-16 was the best of Leicester and then 2016-17 was mostly the worst of Leicester… then what’s 2017-18 gonna give us? Something in the middle? Hey and is Riyad Mahrez going to Roma or not because the Foxes still kinda need him?

Sack-O-Meter: Craig Shakespeare replaced a man beloved in the town only months after Ranieri had won the title so… never say never. Granted, he’s got plenty of credit in the bank starting out.

Expectations: Who bloody knows with this lot?



Last Season: Fourth / 76 pts

Key Player: Depends if Coutinho stays or goes. They still don’t have a killer striker (sorry Sturry) and can use a whole new spine since we’re at it. Another GK, another CB (van Dijk?) and another CM (Naby Keita?) too. So… the key player is Jurgen Klopp, obvs.

Best Signing: It’s probably Mo Salah, yet another speedy, entertaining attacker. He’s getting trumped if Virgil van Dijk comes to town though. Best defender in the PL and exactly what they need. He’d be there already if they didn’t want him so much that they cheated a little.

Big Question: Liverpool’s two best seasons lately have come without European footy and now they’re back in the Champions League. Can Klopp find the balance with what’s still an unbalanced squad? And can Jordan Henderson stay fit?

Sack-O-Meter: Despite some very knee-jerk Klopp Out calls last time (they saw how much fun Arsenal fans were having and wanted a bite of it), Jurgen Klopp’s job is as safe as safe gets.

Expectations: Top four and Champions League knockouts. A trophy would appease the Scousers something grand too.


Manchester City

Last Season: Third / 78 pts

Key Player: In terms of influence it’s probably Vincent Kompany because when he’s fit there’s a huge difference in that defence. Also going forward they have so many damn options anyway.

Best Signing: The most necessary signing was Ederson in goal. Could take a young keeper a year or two to settle though. All those fullbacks look fine and effective. Spare a thought for Bernardo Silva though, that guy is insanely good.

Big Question: Gabriel Jesus or Sergio Aguero? Yeah, that’s a nice dilemma to have. There are also proper questions about the Pep Project, it’s success rate in England, the cost of the project, the imbalance of the squad, etc. But Pep’s a genius and this squad is stacked. Benefit of the doubt there.

Sack-O-Meter: There’s pressure on Pep Guardiola but considering City are more or less shaping their entire squad around the man they shaped their entire club to sign… Pep will get all the room he needs.

Expectations: The world, chico, and everything in it.


Manchester United

Last Season: Sixth / 69 pts

Key Player: You heard it here first that Paul Pogba, with a full preseason under his belt, is going to have an absolute ripper. If he can figure out how to finish then there’ll be nothing he cannot do on a footy pitch.

Best Signing: It’s gotta be Romelu Lukaku. The lad can be a clumsy player at times but what he does well he does brilliantly. Goals will flow. Nemanja Matic is a controversial signing but despite it all he will help them.

Big Question: Were all those home draws last season a bit of a fluke or is Mourinho’s defensive mindset setting them up to struggle again? Ten draws out of 19 home games cannot be repeated. Luckily Lukaku’s quite good at battering bad teams and to be fair it wasn’t the creativity but the finishing that cost them most of those points.

Sack-O-Meter: It’s Mourinho’s second season. That’s always the most successful one. Check back next season for a considerably more superstitious take but he’s a lock in 17-18.

Expectations: Title challenge, a trophy or two. Champions League quarters (at least). The usual stuff.


Newcastle United

Last Season: Promoted

Key Player: They’ve still got most of the guys who were with them when they went down so there’s lotsa Prem quality in there… just maybe not enough. Big fan of Jamaal Lascelles who was made captain last season.

Best Signing: Despite the promises, they’ve hardly made one. Christian Atsu and Florian Lejeune can do some things but the Toon better hope their best signing is yet to come.

Big Question: What in the absolute hell is going on here!? Rafa Benitez showed great faith to stay with them in the Champo and he took them back up with the trophy. He demanded signings, as the squad required, and Mike Ashley and mates agreed to clear funds. Yet nothing more has happened. Dudes they’re linked with are signing elsewhere and the other two promoted sides are getting signatures so what’s up with Newcastle?

Sack-O-Meter: They can’t sack him because they’re already reaching for Rafa. But Benitez has threatened to quit before and if they can’t fulfil his necessary demands then he might just walk away.

Expectations: Make some signings, get established back in the PL.



Last Season: Eighth / 46 pts

Key Player: Dunno, check Liverpool’s transfer wishlist and pick the next one off the top. It woulda ben Virgil van Dijk but it sounds like he’s outta here so how about Manolo Gabbiadini? Scored six goals in his first four games and then none in his eight. They need First Impression Gabby.

Best Signing: Gotta be the new boy Mario Lemina, don’t it? Coming in from Juventus you’d hope he’ll be good. Club record fee too but that doesn’t mean so much these days.

Big Question: Assuming van Dijk does leave… it’s the same question as every season. Can Southampton maintain a top half production while selling their best players every year?

Sack-O-Meter: I dunno, I get the feeling that Claude Puel’s dumping had more than mere results behind it so Mauricio Pellegrino oughta be okay as long as he sticks to the typical Saints identity. Which he will: big reminisces of Pochettino with this bloke.

Expectations: Play some young bucks and hopefully finish eighth.


Stoke City

Last Season: Thirteenth / 44 pts

Key Player: Ryan Shawcross has had a mortgage out on this title for a few years but the last two seasons he’s had a couple injuries, perhaps not been the same. Good thing for the indomitable Jack Butland in goal then.

Best Signing: Getting Darren Fletcher on a free is huge but I’m kinda fascinated by how Kurt Zouma goes on loan here. Real head-scratcher from Chelsea’s point of view.

Big Question: Why did they sell Marko Arnautovic? The price surely wasn’t enough to force them to. To be fair, he and Xherdan Shaqiri never quite mixed so now the Swiss man oughta get more freedom and first dibs on set pieces.

Sack-O-Meter: Potentially rather high. Mark Hughes has done his best to turn around the Dirty Stoke reputation and it hasn’t exactly worked. They don’t look to have strengthened enough and Sparky has to be a lil worried at the mo’.

Expectations: Probably got a lot more to do with how they play rather than whether they win. If they can get Saido Berahino going then that’s a big one.


Swansea City

Last Season: Fifteenth / 41 pts

Key Player: Right now it’s Gylfi Sigurdsson by a distance but that could change with one more bid from Everton. Without his canniness in attack they woulda been buggered the last two seasons.

Best Signing: Roque Mesa had better be decent at the base of that midfield. As a sneakier bet, Tammy Abraham is getting plenty of hype and the 19 year old forward should get some opportunities with the Swans here on loan.

Big Question: Can Paul Clement’s footballing genius overcome the fact that they’ve actually got a rather weak squad? It worked last time, young Alfie Mawson coming in to settle the back four and Fernando Llorente proving enough of a poacher to make them count at the other end. She’ll be tough work for the Swans this campaign.

Sack-O-Meter: After he kept them up, nobody wants to sack Paul Clement. They like him, they want to see him do well. But if relegation is still a likely thing come the turn of the year then they’re not gonna hesitate to give PC the flick.

Expectations: Improve on the last term and things’ll be rosy.


Tottenham Hotspur

Last Season: Second / 86 pts

Key Player: Of course it’s Harry Hotspur. Two-time reigning Golden Boot winner and everything. Plus I don’t know if you knew this but… [whispers]: he’s one of their own!

Best Signing: Did they sign anyone? Doesn’t look like it. With Spurs it’s more about who they didn’t sell and they didn’t sell Eric Dier despite some big pressure from Man United. Kyle Walker’s the only first teamer that’s left and he was on his way out already.

Big Question: Wembley Stadium? Wasn’t too comfortable for them there in the Champions League last season and now they’re playing all their home games there.

Sack-O-Meter: Absolutely nil. Mauricio Pochettino is in this one for the long haul – short of Barcelona or Juventus giving him a call. Which won’t happen, don’t panic.

Expectations: Another title race though nobody will get upset at them if they don’t take the title again, even after two second place finishes in a row. Just a matter of proving they can stick with the big cats after the big cats all strengthened. Not embarrassing themselves in the Champions League again would be nice also.



Last Season: Seventeenth / 40 pts

Key Player: Troy Deeney as always. He’s the main striker and the heart of the club amidst all that change. One of only two players in the first team squad that were Hornets prior to mid-2014 and Tom Hoban’s an academy grad.

Best Signing: The worry is that for a team with so many varied and vast incoming transfers since they got promoted, Watford are a bit of a mish-mash of a squad. But they’ve kept on adding players in big numbers and some of the new ones are seriously exciting. Nathaniel Chalobah and Will Hughes are two of the best young English midfielders out there. Andre Gray is a goal scorer. The Brazilian Richarlison is another curious one but Hughes gets the nod.

Big Question: Is this the season that Watford finally lay the platform? Quique Sanchez Flores and Walter Mazzarri had great moments and terrible moments and now Marco Silva’s inherited a slightly unstable team. Gotta shape that into some sorta identity, some sorta plan that won’t see them starting again next season.

Sack-O-Meter: Watford must’ve had one helluva powerpoint presentation to sell Marco Silva on the club with plenty of others out there desperate to nab the man who almost performed a miracle with Hull. He’s safe as houses.

Expectations: Top fifteen at least, with a few memorable wins and enough from those young signings to feel that the club is moving forward, rather than trying to steady itself again.


West Bromwich Albion

Last Season: Tenth / 45 pts

Key Player: Take your pick between Ben Foster, Jake Livermore and Matty Phillips. Eh, let’s chuck Jonny Evans in there too, why not.

Best Signing: Umm, Jay Rodriguez is an England international looking to get his career back on track after injuries. Something to work with there. WBA ain’t done much, though.

Big Question: What kind of a hole will Darren Fletcher leave in that midfield? He’s only one of the most underrated Premier League players of the last 15 years and he was pretty marvellous for West Brom in his time there. Presumably they’ll find some Northern Irishman to replace him.

Sack-O-Meter: Tony Pulis knows his way around a football club. Moving on.

Expectations: How about this time they get to 40 points and then don’t completely surrender the rest of the season?


West Ham United

Last Season: Eleventh / 45 pts

Key Player: Anyone who can pull off a Dimitri Payet impersonation will do well. That midfield’s a bit scrappy but their attacking mids are decent. Michail Antonio, Andre Ayew, Robert Snodgrass, Manuel Lanzini, Marko Arnautovic, etc. Gotta give some love to Winston Reid, but.

Best Signing: Mate, they’ve made a couple. For their sake better hope it’s Javier Hernandez because they need the goals.

Big Question: London Stadium. Will it be a little homelier this time around? Their record there wasn’t actually as bad as it was made out to be – it was pretty stock standard for a bottom half team. Problem was they were so good at Upton Park the campaign before and all that psychic goodwill evaporated in a cluster of bad performances, sloppy atmosphere and unruly crowds.

Sack-O-Meter: A bad start and Slaven Bilic is immediately under the pump. If he settles into the season he should be fine. Hey, he made it through last time.

Expectations: Top half… but they probably won’t manage it. Hammers fans should be happy enough as long as they get a couple wins over the big six teams and avoid a relegation battle.

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