The 2016-17 Premier League season looks set to be the most intriguing and perhaps entertaining season ever witnessed in English football. After years of stagnation in the English top flight, which eventually culminated in Leicester City winning the title, multiple English clubs have finally looked to revamp their sporting projects, spending millions on world class players and enlisting the best managers in the sport. 

There is an argument to be made that many of the big clubs on this list, barring Arsenal, have already attempted large-scale reconstructions of their squads in the past 3 years. United, for example, spent upwards of £200 million for Louis Van Gaal, while Tottenham signed a whole host of players to replace £90 million Gareth Bale. Manchester City revamped their squad ahead of Manuel Pellegrini's first season, and also spent big on Nicholas Otamendi, Raheem Sterling, and Kevin De Bruyne last year. Even Arsenal have remodelled their squad around genuine stars in Mesut Ozil, Alexis Sanchez and Petr Cech. 

But those revamps pale in comparison to the large scale changes taking place this summer. Manchester City, Manchester United and Chelsea all changed managers much like they did in 2013, but rather than David Moyes and Manuel Pellegrini, it was Antonio Conte and Pep Guardiola who joined Jose Mourinho in the English top flight. They also meet Jurgen Klopp and Mauricio Pochettino, who, to different extents, have had time to fashion Liverpool and Tottenham into intense, high-pressing sides. 

With an array of fantastic managers (perhaps the best in the history of English football), clubs, on the back of the new TV deal, have spent hundreds of millions of pounds on new players. The Premier League arms race has witnessed the Manchester clubs total over £300 million in net spend, despite their incessant spending in years past, and that's not even including Zlatan Ibrahimovic, who arrived on a free transfer. Liverpool have also, somewhat constructively, added to their squad with Sadio Mane and Georginio Wijnaldum. Champions Leicester have reinforced their squad and added depth for the Champions League. 

But the best measure of the Premier League's pulling power is Paul Pogba. In past years, the most coveted players in the world, be it Gareth Bale, Neymar, James Rodriguez or Luis Suarez, moved to La Liga. If the Premier League keeping hold of Eden Hazard in the summer of 2015 was a good sign, then the signing of Paul Pogba was the equivalent of it flexing its financial muscle. For once, the most coveted player in the transfer market has moved to Manchester United, rather than Real Madrid or Barcelona. This is in no small part down to the influx of managerial talent and the competitiveness of the Premier League. 

Unlike any other league in Europe, there is no shortage of title contenders in England. Up to 7 clubs can effectively challenge for the title. In Europe's top leagues, only La Liga comes close, with a three horse race. Not only does this make the Premier League very attractive, it also makes it incredibly unpredictable. With that said, here are each of the contenders and their stakes in the title race. Their rank denotes Tactical Fouling's prediction on their final league position.

 

7. Leicester City

The defending champions have added some necessary depth to their squad, but circumstances dictate that this season, even a champions league place will be challenge to reach. A comfortable finish below other heavyweights beckons. 

Positive Developments:

Leicester's summer business, apart from the sale of N'golo Kante, has left them stronger than last season. They've added backup all over the pitch, and signed the brilliant Ahmed Musa, whose 2 goals against Barcelona showcased his sheer pace. Musa, who will likely nail down a place in the starting lineup, should enjoy playing against Guardiola's City and Klopp's Liverpool. 

Most importantly, the reigning champions have managed to keep hold of player of the year Riyad Mahrez and star striker Jamie Vardy. With a strong core and an improved supporting cast, Leicester are well prepared for the season ahead. 

Why won't they retain their title or finish in the top 4?

The loss of N'golo Kante will affect Leicester's performances this season. Kante was key in allowing Leicester to line up in a 4-4-2, and that he moved to rivals Chelsea only adds to Leicester's competition. New signing Nampalys Mendy seems to be the right replacement, but this article points out that for Mendy to be an adequate replacement for Kante, he will have to drastically improve on his performances from Ligue One. In other words, he will have to be a bigger revelation than Kante.

It's also hard to escape the fact that Claudio Ranieri's men face a much tougher task this season. Their title victory came when English football reached a new low, and there will be no shortage of tactics to beat Leicester's counter attacking scheme. The Champions League also provides a fixture pileup that could force injuries- something which Ranieri barely had to cope with last season. 

Conclusion

For the fans, a 7th place finish, and escaping the champions league group stage should be a satisfying experience. Leicester are primed.

 


6. Tottenham

Pochettino acted quickly to bolster his midfield and found a striker to stand in for, or potentially complement, Harry Kane. But the negative finish to last season, as well as the added burden of the champions league, mean that Tottenham will struggle to maintain their intense pressing game for an entire season. 

Positive Developments:

The Spurs finally have striking backup for Harry Kane, and have added to their midfield for good measure. Depth has been addressed, and this will help them as they look to navigate the champions league. 

The north London club have also managed to keep their 2015-16 squad intact, a group which should only improve as the campaign progresses. After all, this was also the side that played the best football last campaign. 

Mauricio Pochettino staying on as coach, while widely expected, is also good news for the club. His brand of football and ability to mould young players bodes well for Spurs' future. 

Why will they struggle to finish in the top 4?

Roy Hodgson's decision to take a Spurs core to Euro 2016 looked promising in hindsight, but backfired in the end. Harry Kane, Dele Alli and co looked tired after their exploits at club level, and Hodgson didn't complement their inexperience with his direction. England's defeat, along with Tottenham's poor finish to the previous season mean that Pochettino is tasked with reviving his side both physically and mentally. In a competitive Premier League that will in all likelihood come down to small margins, all these factors will contribute to the Spurs' season. Whether the Argentine's charges will be able to perform consistently at club level after the past few months remains to be seen. 

Conclusion

The Spurs should hit their peak around November, and maintain it till around April. How they cope with Moussa Dembele's suspension, and fixture congestion, at the start and end of the season will define them. Nevertheless, Pochettino's nous should ensure that they make decent runs in all cup competitions, even if they will struggle to finish in the top 4. 

 



5. Arsenal

Wenger's experience, and Arsenal's 2nd place finish last season, would normally lead to a title challenge, especially after the signing of Granit Xhaka. But another summer of relative inactivity in the transfer market, and the emergence of superior managerial talent in the Premier League, points to the Gunners finally dropping out of the top 4. 

Positive Developments: 

The signing of Granit Xhaka further bolsters what is now a dynamic, versatile midfield. The Swiss midfielder had a decent outing at the Euros, much like fellow Gunner midfielders Mesut Ozil and Aaron Ramsey, while Alexis Sanchez was the player of the tournament at the Copa America. Francis Coquelin also guarantees solidity at the heart of midfield, and a Coquelin- Xhaka engine room could give Arsenal some much needed defensive nous and resilience in big games. 

Arsene Wenger also has the added motivation of what could be his last season in charge of Arsenal. The veteran manager will be looking to end his career on a high, and after the capture of Ozil, Sanchez, Cech and Xhaka in consecutive summers, he could finally have the squad to win the Premier League. 

Why will they struggle to stay in the top 4?

The signing of Xhaka has significantly strengthened Arsenal's midfield, but hasn't changed Arsenal's basic requirement- a world class center forward. Wenger continues to frustrate in the transfer market despite having access to the largest transfer kitty in world football. Arsenal will depend on Olivier giroud and Theo Walcott to lead the line. In comparison, Chelsea boast Costa and Batshuayi; Liverpool own a trio in Mane, Origi and Sturridge; City have Aguero, while United have a stable of strikers in Zlatan, Rooney, Rashford and Martial. Even Tottenham have Harry Kane and Victor Janssen. Injuries notwithstanding, Arsenal have the worst strike force among teams that can claim to be 'contenders' this season. 

Xhaka's influence on midfield will mask, but not remove other issues in this side. Wenger hasn't moved to address his side's problems at center back, as the Gunners go into the new season with a familiar injury crisis. The questions of leadership and resilience have died down as the demand for a striker has increased, but should resurface after defeats to direct rivals. 

Conclusion

In a new, competitive Premier League full of proactive managers, it's hard to see Arsene Wenger finally winning another Premier League title. If anything, the glut of modern, world class managers in the league should result in his undoing, especially due to poor results against prominent rivals. After 17 consecutive years in the Champions League, this season could mark the one in which the Gunners miss out. 

For Part 2, which previews the top 4, click here

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Published by Siddharth Ramsundar