After a brief summer hiatus, the Premier League is ready to kick back into gear and with a tightly-packed schedule and a mid-season World Cup to contend with, the 2022/23 Premier League campaign already promises to be unique. Ahead of the carnage, we’ve put our powers of prediction to the test with a look at how the season might develop at both ends of the table.
Manchester City were crowned Premier League champions for the fourth time in five years in May and during that demi-decade span of success, they’ve been averaging a staggering 91.6 points and 97 goals per season.
In truth, we could be witnessing the tightest stranglehold ever placed on the domestic game in England and Pep Guardiola’s white-knuckle clench doesn’t look like loosening anytime soon. So, how do you improve a juggernaut that has been close to note-perfect? You go out and sign football’s hottest property, of course. City notched 99 Premier League goals in 2021/22 and hit the net at least three times in 16 of their 38 assignments while playing without a recognized centre-forward for the most part, so the addition of frenzied finisher Erling Haaland should really set knees knocking.
Finding new ways to enhance an elite outfit can be tough. Last year, City extinguished the money burning a hole in their pocket by signing Jack Grealish for £100m when they already had an embarrassment of riches in his position.
This summer’s move for Erling Haaland feels more like the gravy on the Sunday roast, the final brushstroke on a masterpiece, that rare collection completer you’ve been searching for on eBay for years.
21-year-old Haaland scored an eye-watering 86 times in 89 appearances for a Borussia Dortmund team that blew hot and cold and the prospect of the Norwegian being supplied with chances by Kevin de Bruyne, Riyad Mahrez, Phil Foden, Bernardo Silva and the aforementioned Grealish is a frightening proposition. It could take Haaland a little time to really hit his stride, but once he inevitably adjusts, it’s going to rain goals in Manchester.
Remarkably, with Raheem Sterling moved on to Chelsea and fringe pair Gabriel Jesus and Oleksandr Zinchenko sold to Arsenal, City are actually sitting on a positive net balance for their summer activity so far, which suggests they might have one more major acquisition up their sleeve before August to add to the captures of Erling Haaland and former Leeds midfielder Kalvin Phillips.
Their closest rivals Liverpool have been doing their utmost to keep pace, though their manoeuvre to land Darwin Nunez in a deal that could cost up to £85m felt like a desperate haymaker thrown by a beaten fighter about to hit the canvas. Indeed, the exit of Sadio Mane, who scored in each of the last four meetings between the Reds and City, feels more pertinent.
The best of the rest in England, led by Thomas Tuchel’s Chelsea and Antonio Conte’s Tottenham Hotspur, still can’t hold a candle to City’s consistency and any potential challenge will likely burn out fast.
While it would be misguided to label the 2022/23 Premier League title hunt a one-horse race, City already look a few lengths clear of their closest antagonists and they are odds-on favourites to gallop away with silverware again.
Fulham are English football’s ultimate yo-yo club and the Cottagers are back in the big time this season after a year-long fling in the Championship. The Londoners have been rebounding back and forth between tiers for six years now, either too good or too bad to stay in either division for long. They won just five of their 38 Premier League fixtures when they last holidayed in England’s top flight in 2020/21 and 16 of the squad that crashed and burned so badly then are still with Fulham now as they prepare for another bash on a budget.
Yet again, Fulham have resisted the urge to loosen the purse strings and while the capture of Portuguese international João Palhinha should reinforce the base of their midfield, their only other major acquisition, Andreas Pereira from Manchester United, looks like an uninspired choice based on the schemer’s limp Premier League performances to date.
If reasons for pessimism weren’t plentiful enough already, it’s worth noting that Fulham are currently under the instruction of a failed Premier League manager in Marco Silva. The Portuguese coach was relegated with Hull in 2017, sacked by Watford after just eight months in 2018 and jettisoned by Everton in an even swifter manner a year later – a track record that would make Dave Bassett wince.
Another Premier League campaign almost feels like a fool’s errand for Fulham in their current guise. There seems little interest at boardroom level at least, to really invest in a solid survival bid and this Cottagers collective is almost a carbon copy of the one that went down in 2021. Expect a similar outcome this time around.
Bournemouth are back mixing it with England’s football aristocracy after two years of slumming it in the Championship, though the Cherries look set for a whirlwind return journey rather than an extended stay.
Led by enthusiastic football purist Scott Parker, Bournemouth finished second in the Championship last season behind the club that had sacked the ex-England international the previous summer (Fulham), though Parker’s passion won’t be powerful enough to keep the club afloat unaided. 29-goal Dominic Solanke, marauding Danish midfielder Philip Billing, Scot Ryan Christie and promising winger Jaidon Anthony were among Bournemouth’s most impressive performers last term, though a full dig through their ranks highlights an alarming dearth of overall talent.
Their need for summer reinforcements is stark, however, at the time of writing, only Joe Rothwell and Ryan Fredericks have joined. Both players were signed as free agents and there has been little to indicate that a flurry of further business is imminent.
Confidence in the Bournemouth camp is likely to be fragile then and the Premier League fixture computer has dealt them a cruel early hand. The Cherries face daunting tests against Manchester City, Arsenal and Liverpool inside their first four assignments and a series of heavy early defeats could set the trend for a campaign of struggle.
The bookmakers have made Bournemouth odds-on favourites in the relegation markets ahead of kick-off and the Cherries are unlikely to leave punters out of pocket.
Everton only just kept their heads above water last season, though there is every indication that the
Toffees could sink in 2022/23. Frank Lampard’s Blues lost an incredible 21 of their 38 league fixtures last term – the highest number of defeats suffered in a single campaign since they lost 22 during the 42-game Premier League season in 1993/94.
Their -23 goal difference was their lowest-ever Premier League return (since 1992) and their only response so far to what has been a catastrophic 12 months has been to cash in on star player Richarlison, who was allowed to join Tottenham for £50m. A failed takeover of the club led by former Man Utd chief executive Peter Kenyon has dashed hopes of a clean break from the disastrous ownership of the reviled Farhad Moshiri and the free transfer arrival of centre-half James Tarkowski from recently relegated Burnley, is the club’s only new face this summer.
If his squad is left un-strengthened, Frank Lampard is faced with the unenviable task of trying to squeeze some improvement out of a collection of relegation-standard players and it’s easy to see why the bookmakers have priced the Everton manager as one of the next favourites for the chop. There is, of course, still time to steer the ship in a more positive direction, however, the names listed among Everton’s rumoured transfer targets, are underwhelming at best.
The Blues are pushing to sign another Burnley player in Maxwel Cornet, while £7m-rated midfielder Aster Vranckx, who started just 12 league games last season, has been touted as a possible arrival from Wolfsburg.
Elsewhere, Everton have been failing in their attempts to add some much-needed oomph to their frontline. Their latest fancy, Armando Broja has chosen to join West Ham for the year on loan from Chelsea over a move to Goodison Park.
The current picture looks bleak for Everton and an opening day test against Lampard’s former club Chelsea on Merseyside is far from ideal. A sour start would be difficult to reverse given the prevailing mood around the club and a first top tier relegation since the 1950s could be in the offing for Everton.
Newcastle’s run from January to May in the backend of the 2021/22 Premier League campaign was a foreshadowing surge that hinted at the emergence of football’s next superpower. Backed to the tune of £100m in the winter transfer window, Eddie Howe quickly assembled a winning team in the north east and only three clubs (Man City, Liverpool and Tottenham) collected more points than the Magpies between January 1st and the season’s climax.
Newcastle’s summer splurge was expected to turn heads; though, their outlay has been modest so far, with highly-regarded Dutch defender Sven Botman arriving from Lille and England keeper Nick Pope brought in from Burnley. In a recent interview, Howe admitted that United haven’t closed for business, however, and with further additions promised in midfield and attack, a jump on last season’s 11 th -placed finish is in the works.
With the reliable Pope between the sticks, Botman paired at centre-half with Dan Burn, Kieron Tripper at right-back, the exciting Bruno Guimaraes in midfield, livewire Allan Saint-Maximin on the flanks and Callum Wilson as spearhead, the crux of a good team is there. With another small sprinkling of stardust, that good team could be formidable.
Newcastle pinged about with intensity and energy in the campaign’s final throes and their commitment to Howe’s running game reaped major dividends, particularly at home, where the Magpies pocketed maximum points in seven of their last eight matches.
The Toon Army has been re-energized by the change in ownership at the club and St. James’ Park has become atmospheric again for the right reasons. The bigger the noise, the bigger the chance of that venue becoming a fortress again – just as it was when Newcastle threatened to upset the established order under Kevin Keegan in the early to mid-90s.
The question then, is just how high can the Magpies expect to soar in 2022/23? While talk of a top four push is outlandish, the obstacles between Newcastle and a top six/seven finish look easier to negotiate.
If Newcastle are battling West Ham, Leicester, Brighton and Wolves for 7th spot, then the Magpies look like one of the strongest candidates based on their form in 2022 and Conference League qualification could beckon if the campaign runs favourably. Newcastle have competed just once across the continent since 2007 (Europa League 2012/13) and reaching that platform again has to be the aim.
While the appointment of Erik ten Hag should help to drag Manchester United kicking and screaming into more modern tactical realms, any magic the Dutchman does manage to weave on the training pitch might not be enough to compensate for the rest of the mess he has inherited.
Five teams comfortably outperformed Manchester United in last season’s Premier League and all five of those clubs have done impressive business in the summer market. As per the norm, United have floundered in comparison and while their achingly dull pursuit of Frenkie de Jong persists, little has been done to strengthen elsewhere.
A new understudy for Luke Shaw was signed for peanuts from Feyenoord (Tyrell Malacia), while the decision to chuck approximately £45m at a 5’9” centre half from the Eredivisie (Lisandro Martinez) was another eyebrow raiser. The capture of Christian Eriksen on a free transfer ranks highly for feel-good factor, though you wonder how much of an impact the 30-year-old will have while competing for minutes with Bruno Fernandes.
Paul Pogba, Nemanja Matic, Jesse Lingard, Juan Mata and Edinson Cavani have all departed, leaving gaps in key areas that have so far been left unfilled. United have yet to show any indication that they are hunting for a replacement for Mason Greenwood either, while glaring weaknesses, particularly at right-back and defensive midfield, continue to be ignored.
While those on the inside are insisting that the squad has been “streamlined”, the realists among us would say it’s been severely weakened. United’s injury record in recent campaigns has been poor and it would only take one or two injuries to their paper-thin roster to scupper their chances of success.
Then there is the Cristiano Ronaldo conundrum. The 37-year-old want-away striker wants Champions League football, however, as things stand, he is likelier to return to the United dressing room with his tail between his legs having been turned down by suitor after suitor. Ronaldo’s popularity among his teammates is already thought to be questionable and a return to the fold in the current circumstances could have a major impact on an already fragile environment. How ten Hag handles the Ronaldo predicament will be key and you get the sense that he would jump at the first chance to jettison the petulant manchild.
However, as problematic as Ronaldo is, the veteran still chipped in with 18 league goals in 2021/22 which accounted for over 30% of United’s total Premier League efforts for the campaign. Those goals will need to be replaced somehow and though there is hope that a Ronaldo departure might unlock the latent talents of Marcus Rashford and Jadon Sancho, there are no guarantees it would.
Instead, it’s another problem to add to the stack and major question marks are hanging over just about every department. If top four is the target, United look seriously ill-equipped to take that challenge on and instead a berth in and around the Europa League qualification places looks likelier.
Top Goal Scorer
The Erling Haaland hype train is hurtling forward at attention-grabbing speed and the Norwegian is the Golden Boot market leader and favourite to land the gong in his inaugural Premier League season.
However, the bookmakers’ choice to list Haaland as the Premier League’s apex predator might be a little misguided this early and instead, a safer – if unimaginative – option is favoured in Liverpool’s Mohamed Salah.
The Egyptian attacker has either won or shared the prize in three of the last five seasons and with his future settled and mega-money new deal inked with Liverpool, Salah could reach similar heights in 2022/23.
Salah has scored at least 22 Premier League goals in four of his five campaigns on Merseyside and the prolific 30-year-old is priced generously at odds as long as 9/2 (5.5) to outscore his rivals. No player averaged more shots (4.0) and shots on target per 90 (1.7) minutes than Salah in the 2021/22 Premier League – figures that suggest his 23-goal bounty might have been higher with a little more luck.
The departure of long-term attacking counterpart, Sadio Mane, to Bayern Munich could also have an impact on Salah’s numbers. With the Senegalese flier plying his trade in Bavaria, Salah now stands apart as Liverpool’s main man in the final third.
His seniority status over players like Diogo Jota, Luis Diaz and new signing Darwin Nunez means that more of the Reds’ patterns should move through Salah and while such a deferral to one star player can sometimes be unhealthy, it still tends to happen with this sort of dynamic.
Don’t be surprised then, to see Salah’s individual numbers sky-rocket and with more attempts and more of the ball in general, his goal haul should climb too.
Elsewhere, punters on the lookout for a bigger price might find backing Gabriel Jesus as around 20/1 more palatable. Jesus should revel with a more prominent remit at Arsenal following his summer switch from Manchester City and the Brazilian, backed by an energetic, youthful supporting cast at The Emirates Stadium, he could really blossom in North London.
Despite featuring in fits and starts for Guardiola’s City, Jesus scored at rate of one goal for every 124 minutes played in the Premier League during his stay in Manchester, so it will be interesting to see how he fares as a permanent starter with the Gunners.
Jesus has looked the part in pre-season scoring 7 times in just 5 appearances, including 2 agaisnt London rivals Chelsea, and a hattrick on his Emirates debut. The 25-year-old has already developed some exciting chemistry with young stars Bukayo Saka, Gabriel Martinelli and Martin Odegaard.
Players to Watch
20-year-old Scottish left-back Aaron Hickey had been linked with a list of big-name suitors across Europe before Brentford wrangled him away from Bologna for a modest £14m, in what was considered a bit of a coup for the Bees.
Hickey was an aggressive, dynamic force down the left flank for Bologna in Serie A last season, where the Glasgow-born defender looked right at home against more senior, established pros. The ex-Hearts starlet chipped in with five goals and picked up seven bookings in 34 league starts in 2021/22 and his skill-set looks a good match for the demands of the Premier League.
Southampton appointed former Manchester City Head of Youth Recruitment, Joe Shields, as their new Head of Senior Recruitment on the south coast this summer and a trickle of talent has already followed him south. Among their number was Republic of Ireland goalkeeper Gavin Bazunu, who has all the attributes to be a top-class Premier League stopper.
The 20-year-old – who was named Portsmouth’s Players’ Player and Player of the Season while on loan there last term – has never played a single top-flight minute, though he has already claimed ten caps for his country. With a fondness for producing spectacular reflex saves and excellent distribution in his locker, Bazunu could be a snip for the Saints at £14m.
Leeds have been busy in the summer market, though the acquisition of Luis Sinisterra from Feyenoord for £22.5m is perhaps their most exciting piece of business so far. The Colombian winger played with distinction for De club aan de Maas in 2021/22, scoring 23 times in 49 appearances from the left. Sinisterra notched an outstanding 11 goals in 18 continental fixtures during the same period for Feyenoord, hinting at a step up in performances against higher-calibre opponents.
At 23, Sinisterra is the right age profile to meet Jesse Marsch’s high-energy and hard-running demands at Elland Road, while his ability to beat players should add a fresh dimension to Leeds’ football. Sinisterra made 3.6 dribbles per game on average in the Eredivisie last term – which is exactly twice as many as Leeds’ best performer in that metric Raphinha (1.8), who has since left for Barcelona.