Welcome to the 2016/2017 English Premier League
Every season in the EPL promises heated competition, and the 2016/17 campaign is no different.
At the start of the season in August, there was six or seven teams who lined up at the start who had realistic aspirations of winning the title. Money had been spent in the transfer market and each of the contenders were stronger than the previous year.
Chelsea had hired a new manager for 2016/17, and it was Italian international manager Antonio Conte who took the reins at the London club. It wasn’t just Conte who had arrived at Stamford Bridge (the home of Chelsea) in the summer though, as N’Golo Kante also signed for the Blues.
Kante was considered the lynchpin of Leicester City’s title-winning side of 2015/16, and the tireless French midfielder was pivotal to everything that Leicester did. So it was a huge signing for Chelsea to ensure Kante was playing in the blue of Chelsea.
It has proved a crucial signing, as Chelsea currently sit on the top of the EPL table with a ten point cushion between them and second place. With 11 games to go, Chelsea are odds on to go on and secure their fifth EPL title, with no teams seemingly able to match their level of consistency.
Fellow London club Tottenham Hotspur fought with Leicester in 2015/16 for the title, only to fade away with the last few games of the season remaining. Spurs boss Mauricio Pochettino has built a strong side with some exciting young talent, and the experience of a challenge at the top of the league will stand them in good stead for this season.
The surprise for Spurs has been the prodigious talent of Dele Alli. The 20 year old was crowned the Young Player of the Year last season, and the attacking midfielder has carried on where he left off. Alli has scored 16 goals in all competitions so far, and he has linked up well with Harry Kane, the English striker who is currently top of the scoring charts. With a solid defence, dynamic midfield and lethal attack, Spurs are once again proving they are worth a punt in the bookies.
Manchester City were perhaps the biggest movers in the summer. The news regarding Pep Guardiola joining City as manager broke in the previous season, which meant that the manager at that time - Manuel Pellegrini - knew his time at the club was finished before the season had finished! It meant a limp and underwhelming campaign by City’s recent standards, but former Barcelona and Bayern Munich boss Guardiola promised optimism.
His time at Barcelona produced arguably one of the greatest teams in history, so expectations were high this season. At the time of writing, Pep’s team lie in third position and in prime position for a Champions League spot, but Pep will want more from his team. City have one of the most effective strikers in world football in the form of Argentine Sergio Aguero, and in the summer he purchased England winger Raheem Sterling, Spanish attacker Nolito and German wideman Leroy Sane amongst others. Sprinkle in the genius of playmakers Kevin DeBruyne, David Silva and the talents of Yaya Toure - and fans would have expected a title challenge. The odds for City winning the league now are slim when faced with the efficiency of Chelsea, but Pep and his team can still push them close, and may represent the nearest challengers for the end of this season - and the beginning of next season.
Liverpool are a giant of a team. A proud history, a fervent amount of support and they have a manager in Jurgen Klopp who has engineered great teams in Germany. Klopp arrived at the home of Liverpool (Anfield) last season, but it is this campaign in which we are seeing the fruits of his efforts. Klopp’s teams are known for their levels of fitness and not allowing their opponents a second to settle. At times during matches this season, they have been unplayable, but they have shown a soft underbelly too. Against fellow contenders for a Champions League place, the Reds have shown steel and ruthlessness, but against teams which they are expected to vanquish, they have stumbled. It is evidence of the inconsistency which Liverpool cannot shake off, but also the strength of the EPL. Every team can harbour hopes of victory, no matter who they play.
Klopp has some real entertaining players in their ranks, but none are more integral than Phillipe Coutinho. The Brazilian is capable of turning a game with one swish of his boot, and his recent injury which saw him out of the team also coincided with Liverpool dropping points. Liverpool may entertain, but they ship goals at an alarming rate. They have rotated goalkeepers to try and rid themselves of this weakness, but it seems that whilst they score a hatful of goals, they also concede nearly as many. A wise bet when Liverpool play is for both teams to score. Will they make the Champions League? The odds for this speak of uncertainty!
Arsenal have consistently finished in the top four of the EPL in every full season of manager Arsene Wenger’s tenure. The Frenchman is the longest serving manager in the EPL by quite some distance - he has been at the club since 1996 - but this London club are in a state of confusion and doubt. Wenger is in the last season of his contract and has not stated whether he will extend his stay. There is also a section of Arsenal’s fanbase which are fed up with the Gunner’s lack of ambition. Whilst Arsenal have been consistent, they have not been in contention for the title since 2008 - and haven’t won it since 2004.
Arsenal do have the players to achieve success however. They have Alexis Sanchez in their team, who is capable of great things, and German Mesut Ozil is considered one of the finest attacking players of his generation. This club do seem to suffer when playing their fellow big teams though, and are sitting just outside the top4 spots in the league right now. If Arsenal are to continue their ever-present record in the top 4 this season, then they must return to some semblance of form. Do they stand a chance? Their record speaks for itself, so the lucrative odds placed on them may be worth a shot!
Manchester United have been fighting to recover their place atop the pile in the EPL ever since legend Sir Alex Ferguson retired. They have now hired Jose Mourinho as boss, and it seems as though they are heading in the right direction. They may be sitting in 6th place in the EPL right now, but Mourinho is not one who is used to failure.
The former Chelsea, Inter Milan and Real Madrid boss normally wins at every club he arrives at, so their lowly position will not sit well with him. He has recruited well last summer, and no signing has had a bigger impact than Sweden striker Zlatan Ibrahimovic.
Ibrahimovic is of a similar vein to his manager - they are both winners. The striker has won in every country he has played in - Spain, Italy, Holland and France - and he has done everything in his power to see United rise up the table. His goals and overall strength have been one of the main weapons for the Red Devils, and they have already won the League Cup this season. Can United make the Top 4? It seems a straight fight between all of the teams mentioned above, and bookies are offering odds which match this uncertain and exciting race.
Just as exciting in the race for glory, is the battle to stay in the EPL. Every team has been buoyed by the ludicrous amounts of money that all clubs receive through the TV rights deal, and it has seen even the smallest clubs chuck cash at players that in the past they could only dream of.
So who is going to escape the trapdoor?
Bottom of the table lies Sunderland. The North-East club have been hanging onto their Premiership status for many seasons, but this campaign may just be their last in the top flight. Former Everton and Manchester United manager David Moyes is at the helm of Sunderland, but he has so far been unable to change the fortunes of the club.
They do have one of the most lethal strikers in the competition in their side though, and Jermain Defoe has been at his best which has given the Black Cats a little bit of hope. 14 goals is a great return for a striker playing for the bottom side in the league, but they are six points away from safety in the table, and bookies are offering some long odds on them escaping.
There is then Middlesbrough, Hull City and Crystal Palace who are scrapping for survival, with Swansea City and unbelievably, Champions Leicester City just above the dreaded drop zone. It makes for an exhilarating showpiece every matchday, and the odds for each team to claw their way to safety are here to pore over. Each team has a chance, so bet wisely!
There are many other teams who all have many arrows to their quiver, and they have all claimed scalps against the so-called ‘bigger teams,’ which means that the risk involved in betting on a Premiership match is high, but the rewards can be great too!
The EPL provides an unrivalled spectacle each week, and the level of drama that unfold with each match makes it the best domestic league to follow. Sit back and enjoy!
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