With the Premier League recently underway once more, Daniel Evans returns with the second half of his season preview (written ahead of the opening weekend), this time looking at the ten most southernly sides.
The question for West Ham is not whether they can improve, it’s whether they can maintain their form. A good run in the Europa Conference League and the cups, as well a solid top half finish would be ideal. A push for the top four seems like a tall order due to the fierce competition for those places but finishing within the European places is certainly not unrealistic.
Managing to keep hold of Declan Rice will certainly bolster their chances and the signing of Gianluca Scamacca from Sassuolo provides some much-needed depth and competition for Michail Antonio. There are certainly grounds for optimism, especially in Europe, but the competition for places higher up the table will be ominous.
After being handed fourth place last season, Spurs will compete in Europe’s premier competition. They are also expected to retain their position within the top four. With arguably the best attacking trio in the league and a world class manager in Antonio Conte, Spurs are closer to a title charge than a top four battle.
The 14 year quest for silverware is looking more likely to end than ever before
The long-standing weakness of mentality that has permeated the club for decades is also being addressed by Conte who certainly has no tolerance for failure. The club from north London has every reason to be hopeful for the season ahead, and the 14 year quest for silverware is looking more likely to end than ever before.
On a good day Southampton are quality opposition, but on a bad one they can lose by staggering amounts. Closer to the drop than they may think, Southampton can go on worse runs than relegated sides, but usually have strong enough periods to stay comfortably above the bottom three. If they can be more consistent a push for the top half is possible though unlikely due to the amount of competition for those places.
Ralph Hasenhüttl has survived some seriously low moments and Southampton have a strong ability to bounce back. There will be some good and bad moments this season that likely lead to a safe finish, but a squad refresh is needed soon before they drop too low down the table.
Back in the topflight once more, Fulham will be hoping to finally remain in the Premier League. Aleksandar Mitrovic scored a staggering 43 goals in the 21/22 championship season but has often had trouble finding his feet in the topflight. If he can find even a fraction of his championship form, then Fulham will have a serious asset in attack. Fulham are certainly expected to go down, but there is likely to be some scrapping at the bottom of the table so they shouldn’t be ruled out early. They have a great shot stopper in Bernd Leno from Arsenal but have lost Fabio Carvalho, so neither survival nor relegation can be seen as inevitable.
Palace played some scintillating football last season. Patrick Vieira transformed the team’s style of play, turning the Eagles into a real attacking threat. Their 12th place finish was an improvement over 20/21 but was more or less in line with the consistency that Roy Hodgson had maintained during his tenure. The goal for this season will be a top half finish, but they will have to join a long line of hopefuls for those spots.
If Wilfried Zaha can maintain his form and the rest of the young squad continue to develop Palace can continue to push higher up the table. The loss of Chelsea loanee Conor Gallagher certainly hurts the midfield, but there should still be enough within the Palace team to make fans optimistic.
A Champions League spot is more or less nailed on, even if a genuine title challenge is perhaps unrealistic
Chelsea have seen significant internal restructuring since the departure of owner and Putin associate Roman Abramovich. On top of that there have been several key defensive outgoings and numerous transfers lost out on to a team that cannot even register them (Barcelona). This has led to some believing that Chelsea will flop this season, but this seems somewhat reactionary. Chelsea still have an exceptionally strong squad and the additions of Sterling and Koulibaly certainly hasn’t weakened it. A Champions League spot is more or less nailed on, even if a genuine title challenge is perhaps unrealistic.
Brighton achieved their best-ever finish last season, ending the campaign in 9th place. They also finished the season strong with wins over Arsenal (2-1), Tottenham (1-0) and Manchester United (4-0). Manager Graham Potter also has a clear style of play that his team follows efficiently. There have been some key outgoings, namely Bissouma in midfield and Cucurella at left back, but there is certainly no reason to panic. A similarly high finish may not be realistic, but somewhere in and around the top half would not be fanciful.
Brentford will be hoping to avoid second season syndrome
After a solid 13th place finish in their first season after promotion, Brentford will be hoping to avoid second season syndrome that affected Sheffield United in the 20/21 season. Many pundits, commentators, and writers have talked about the effect regarding Brentford, and they do perfectly fit the bill of a team that could be vulnerable to it. The squad is not without talent, but Christian Eriksen’s class undoubtedly had a significant impact on their league finish and without him they will need to rely on less able and experienced talent.
There will be fierce competition in the coming relegation fight and Brentford will hope that they still have enough to steer clear. A decent manager and united fanbase is not always enough, especially if teams begin to figure them out and they are unable to find another route like the Sheffield side suffered.
Bournemouth have an exceptionally hard start to the season but matches against City and Liverpool aren’t where they will pick up the points necessary for comfortable survival. Much like Fulham, Brentford, Everton, Leeds, and Brentford they are faced with the problem of avoiding the drop and unfortunately Bournemouth are placed bottom in many predictions.
Scott Parker proved unable to keep Fulham up 20/21 and while he is certainly a solid championship manager, he has yet to prove himself truly able in the premier league. Despite adding the likes of Marcus Tavernir, the Bournemouth squad is still fairly weak by Premier League standards so will have to maximise their strengths throughout much of the season to stay up.
The fanbase expects, perhaps unrealistically, to reach the very top of English football once more
Arsenal have been in a process of near constant rebuild since the departure of Arsène Wenger in 2018. The fanbase expects, perhaps unrealistically, to reach the very top of English football once more and many believe that Mikel Arteta is the man to do that. The club also seem to feel this and have backed him with enormous funds in back-to-back seasons.
Signings appear to be mostly smart and there is certainly a greater degree of optimism than usual. Arsenal bottled its chance of top four last season, and the clear expectation is to finish in within those spots by the end of this campaign. Whether the still youthful side can maintain its form consistently enough to best the likes of Spurs, United, and Chelsea is hard to call. It’s difficult to imagine Arteta remaining as manager if the Champions League spots are missed again.
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