By CHRISTOPHER GUMINA
LONDON – (Special to Digital Sports Desk) – The English Premier League season is underway and, despite being only three weeks into the 2019-20 season, there’s been no shortage of drama among the teams vying for the top spot in the league.
With just enough perspective from a fortnight and a few days of review, this season preview will go “in-depth” into each of the four main contenders for the league trophy, with a look at the realistic prospects for 2020 EPL champions.
Manchester City were the prohibitive favorites going into the Premier League season and still are today. The back-to-back title winners are looking for a three-peat, and relying on world class players such as Kevin De Bruyne, Raheem Sterling, and Sergio Aguero to continue Man City dominance. Pep Guardiola, widely regarded as the finest manager in soccer, has turned the club into an attacking juggernaut, capable of ruthlessly destroying any team set before it.
Manchester City’s depth is so good that former Manchester United manager Jose Mourinho recently recognized that his former rival’s reserves would have a chance to compete for the league title. While this may be hyperbole, it is true that Man City recently spent $79.8 million and $74.1 million on defensive midfielder Rodri and right-back João Cancelo, respectively, both of whom will likely spend large portions of this season on the bench, and thus demonstrating the quality of the Man City first team.
Over the past two seasons Man City have broken almost every conceivable Premier League record and unless they are hit with a devastating spate of injuries, it is hard to see them failing to lie the Premier League trophy yet again.
Despite Manchester City’s dominance over the past two years, if any team can beat them in 2019-20, it will be Liverpool. Last season, Liverpool finished second in the league with a staggering 97 points. This point total is the third highest in Premier League history, and yet only netted them a second place finish to Manchester City.
Liverpool actually led Man City in the league by as many as seven points, before losing to City 2-1 in what turned out to be the most important game of the season. That loss cut their lead over Man City to just four points, and allowed their rivals to eventually overtake Liverpool and cruise to the title.
If Liverpool is to have any legitimate chance in the league this year, they will need to play mistake free Futbol, as even a single slip-up could cost first place in the end. The team boasts arguably the best defender in the world in Virgil Van Djik, who is playing in front of the arguably the world’s best goalkeeper, Alisson Becker.
Liverpool also possesses an attacking trio to rival any other team in the league, comprised of Sadio Mané and Mohammed Salah, who both scored 22 goals in the league last year, tied for the most among any player. The final member of the trio, Roberto Firmino, is a creative player who can score or assist given even the slightest bit of space. While Man City is the team to beat, Liverpool are talented enough to take the league if City grows complacent
While Arsenal defines a team that, certainly, has an outside shot to win the league this year, the Gunners occupy a place among the second tier of contenders. Through three games they have wins against Newcastle and Burnley, before a 3-1 loss to Liverpool this previous weekend.
Arsenal are led by one of the best attacking lines in the league. The pacey Pierre-Emerick Aubameyang netted 22 goals in last year’s campaign, tied for top in the league. Fellow striker Alexandre Lacazette contributed 13 goals and 8 assists of his own, while Nicolas Pepe, recently bought from Lille for $91.2 million, hopes to make an immediate impact.
If the quality of players in the Arsenal defense matched the quality of attackers, Arsenal would be set up for success in the league. However, Arsenal’s defenders are sorely lacking in any real quality. Ainsley Maitland-Niles, a typical midfielder, has been forced by injuries to deputize as a right back, and his unfamiliarity with the position is obvious every time he takes the field. David Luiz was signed this summer from Chelsea to be a solution at center back but, against Liverpool, he made two costly and shocking errors which were directly responsible for Liverpool’s second and third goals. Until Arsenal shores up their defense, they will be let playing second fiddle to the likes of Liverpool and Manchester City.
Tottenham are a team on the rise, having recently moved into a new, state-of-the-art stadium and overtaken Arsenal in recent years as the superior team in North London. They have one of the premier coaches in world soccer, Mauricio Pochettino, and boast Harry Kane one of two or three best strikers in the world. The summer transfer window saw Tottenham bring in midfielders Tanguy Ndombele and Giovani Lo Celso. Coupled with the likes of proven stars Christian Eriksen and Son Heung-min, as well as ascendant player Dele Alli, this Tottenham team is overflowing with talent and should be in the conversation for the top team in the league.
However, Tottenham’s recent performances have not been indicative of the highly-rated talent at the club. The Spurs started off the season with a win but then drew 2-2 against Man City in a game that City could’ve won by three or four goals with a bounce one way or the other. Most recently, Tottenham lost 1-0 to a Newcastle team that will be lucky to come in 16th place in the league. Against Newcastle, Tottenham couldn’t create a single chance until Eriksen was substituted onto the field.
The lack of consistency is an issue for the club, as Eriksen wishes to leave the team and move to Real Madrid. Without Eriksen Tottenham theoretically still has the players to challenge for the league title, but these players are not performing as they typically have. Ultimately, if this team does not play up to the level that its talent says it should, they will have no chance of even finishing in the top three of the Premier League.