City A.M. football columnist Trevor Steven previews the 2023-24 Premier League season and discusses who will lift the trophy, who will earn Champions League football and who will face relegation.
Saudi Arabia’s spending spree to attract a host of big name players to its domestic league has grabbed the headlines this summer, and it’s certainly something I wouldn’t have foreseen happening 12 months ago.
But I’m excited about the imminent return of the Premier League, which gets underway on Friday. With Declan Rice at Arsenal, Mason Mount at Manchester United, Alexis Mac Allister at Liverpool and Sandro Tonali at Newcastle United, there has been some really interesting movement at the big clubs.
The competition remains unpredictable in many ways. Although they have been champions in five of the last six seasons, you can’t say with any certainty that Manchester City will win it again, and I think Arsenal and United will push them. I’m just hoping it’s a close fight, but I believe we will get that.
Premier League title race
Treble winners City are of course the favourites. They have the winning gene, epitomised by players like Kevin De Bruyne. To have that expectation of success and trophies among so many individuals is almost a head start.
I was surprised that Ilkay Gundogan was allowed to leave, given how brilliant he was at the end of last season. But I think it shows that Pep Guardiola is treating this as a new beginning. If you keep exactly the same team that won it all last year there is bound to be drop-off. I can’t imagine the playing style will change much, but City may need time to find a new identity.
Arsenal finished the season on a downer of sorts but there were so many positives about their progress under Mikel Arteta, and in adding more first-team players in Rice, Kai Havertz and Jurrien Timber he has addressed some of their shortcomings.
Havertz didn’t fit in at Chelsea but is a starter for Germany and already looks a different character at Arsenal. No one knows what Rice’s ceiling is yet but in Arteta he has a coach who can help him get there. It’s been a positive summer at the club, they look strong, and they are my second favourites for the title.
United won the Carabao Cup last term but showed their soft underbelly in the Europa League, where they were made to look average by Sevilla. In fairness to manager Erik ten Hag, who doesn’t mince his words, he is toughening them up.
Mount is a really good buy who brings energy and can lead the press. In Andre Onana they have signed a goalkeeper who can change the way they play. Questions remain at centre-forward, however.
Rasmus Hojlund is young, direct and has an eye for goal but that’s all you can say at this stage. The £64m fee will bring pressure, as will inevitable comparisons with Erling Haaland. Ten Hag believes he will cope; time will tell.
Supporters will see United as challenging for the title and if they continue to progress at the same rate as last year, they could be there or thereabouts. But they may be missing a signing that takes them from a team that wants to compete to one that definitely will.
Liverpool had a poor 2022-23 but improved towards the end and, with a squad that has been refreshed over the summer, can be so much better. I’m looking for more impact from Darwin Nunez, now that he is familiar with the demands of the Premier League, in what is shaping up to be a big season for Jurgen Klopp.
They should have a stronger squad than either Chelsea or Tottenham Hotspur. I’d put those two in a similar bracket. Both have new managers and all sorts of question marks hanging over them.
New Chelsea manager Mauricio Pochettino knows English football from his time at Spurs and Southampton and has a collection of good players but that offers no guarantees and he still has to get the balance of the team right. Pochettino needs time to build the new Chelsea. If he does it quickly enough they could creep into the top four.
Tottenham’s summer has once again been dominated by Harry Kane’s future. Ange Postecoglou’s arrival has been overshadowed by that uncertainty but the Australian coach showed at Celtic that he can achieve success by bringing in new players that he rates. It still feels very early in a new cycle for Spurs, though.
I really like the business done by Newcastle as they look to build on last year’s surprise fourth-place finish. In Tonali and Harvey Barnes they have made big improvements in key areas. St James’ Park has become a fortress again and worth a few points on its own.
Eddie Howe’s big challenge is balancing the demands of playing in the Champions League and Premier League. Newcastle and Liverpool look to me like the strongest candidates for fourth place but European football could yet prove a hindrance to the Toon.
Premier League Relegation
I’m sorry to say that I think Luton Town’s long-awaited return to the top-flight will be short lived, while I can’t see Sheffield United staying up either.
Burnley have gone under the radar somewhat due to the assuredness of manager Vincent Kompany, who seems to have a great relationship with his players. I think they’ll make Turf Moor a tough place to go and could be a surprise package who largely avoid the relegation scrap.
That leaves one more place in the bottom three, which I think will be a four-way fight between Wolves, Everton, Bournemouth and Nottingham Forest. It pains me to say it, but Everton have been battling the drop for two years and until they prove otherwise I think my old team will be doing it again.
All four of these teams can take points off clubs higher up the table but the challenge will be stringing together consecutive wins because the Premier League is so strong now.