Saturday, September 23, 2017

Premier League Preview Part 2: European Positions

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We are two weeks into the 2017-18 English Premier League season. And believe it or not, it is quite easy to see a few tendencies already. Some streaks will not maintain and some teams will eventually break out. But with only 20 games being played out of a total of 380, we have enough evidence to predict which teams will go where once it’s all said and done.

In the second part of our preview, we will take a look at the race for European spots. With Champions League and Europa League places up for grabs, now it’s the time to look which sides have the biggest chances to represent England at the continental stage in the 2018-19 campaign.

Who’s Going to the UEFA Champions League?

Due to the change of format in the UEFA Champions League in the 2018-19 season, England will send the top four teams in the EPL to Europe’s biggest tournament. And as we covered in the first part of our detailed season preview, it is worth mentioning the likely teams that will grab Champions League spots for the 2018-19 campaign.

Manchester United, Manchester City, Chelsea, Liverpool and Tottenham once again appear as the top teams in the league. Granted, some of them did not start very well. But these tendencies tend to normalise in the long-term scenario. On paper and taking the first two weeks of the season as a benchmark, it seems Man. United, Chelsea and Manchester City appear as locks for the top three. In fact, they are 1/5, 8/15 and 1/8 to finish in the Top 4 this season, respectively.

The fourth spot for the Champions League, however, is certainly up for grabs.

Liverpool are a team to consider as well, and they are 6/5 to conquer a UCL berth this season. But everything will depend on what happens with Philippe Coutinho. Keeping the Brazilian starlet is key for their aspirations, and losing him could potentially transform The Reds into nothing more than a Europa League side in terms of quality. Yes, they still have Mohamed Salah, Roberto Firmino, and Sadio Mane. But Coutinho is the engine that keeps them going.

Tottenham can’t be left out of the conversation, however, as they are 4/6 to make a second straight trip to the Champions League next season. Despite their lack of activity in the transfer market, the Spurs maintain the core that made them one of the top teams in the Premier League only a few months ago. The arrival of Davinson Sanchez might not be a game-changing singing, but it gives the team some much-needed depth at the back. And let’s be honest: as long as the Spurs have Harry Kane, Christian Eriksen, Dele Alli and Mauricio Pochettino on the bench, they should be fine.

The Strange Case Of Arsenal

Before taking a look at which teams will make it to the Europa League, it is necessary to say something about Arsenal. The Gunners are probably one of the most inconsistent teams in the league, and that is what makes them so hard to predict. But markets love them, as Arsene Wenger’s men are 1/1 to finish in the Top 4 this season.

If we take a look at their squad, there is no doubt they look like a threatening unit. After all, not many teams in the world can feature an attacking line with the firepower Arsenal have. Alexandre Lacazette, Mesut Özil and Alexis Sanchez are some of the best players in the world, and they also have talented elements such as Theo Walcott, Danny Welbeck, Olivier Giroud and Granit Xhaka.

However, their biggest problems lie in midfield and defence. They are constantly outmuscled in the middle of the pitch, and they lack a physical presence to control the opposing playmakers. Chelsea have N’Golo Kante, Manchester United have Nemanja Matic, and Manchester City have Fernandinho and Yaya Toure, for instance. Arsenal have… Francis Coquelin.

Defensively they are not very good either. Sure, Petr Cech remains one of the best goalkeepers in the Premier League, but he is not the dominant shot-stopper he was back in his glory days. And even though Laurent Koscielny, Per Mertesacker and Shkodran Mustafi form an admirable trio of centre-backs, neither can be considered a “world-class” defender. The absence of a true stalwart on the defensive end could doom Arsenal’s aspirations of improving from last year’s campaign. Especially if we consider other clubs such as Manchester United and Manchester City improved substantially.

The Battle For The UEFA Europa League

Although the access list for the UEFA Europa League will be confirmed by the end of the year due to the format changes, we already know the fifth-placed team will secure a berth in the competition. But England is not going to have only one representative. The FA Cup and EFL Cup winners will also receive a spot. But for now, we can focus on the fifth position in the standings. And after two weeks of action, it’s safe to say things are not as easy as one might think.

The Favourites

As we stated earlier, Liverpool, Arsenal and Tottenham appear to have an edge in the battle for a Europa League spot. But things are far from certain, because a few matches on a negative run could be the difference between playing in Europe and staying at home.

Who Could Sneak Into The Conversation?

The Europa League spot will not be a three-team conversation, however. There are several teams who can sneak their way into Europe’s second biggest club competition. Here are some likely candidates:

Everton

Everton have the potential to be one of the biggest surprises in Europe this season. Ronald Koeman has assembled a competitive squad, and added some-much needed experience and quality with the presence of Wayne Rooney. The former Manchester United star, however, is only one part of the puzzle. The Toffees added several new faces (as we will analyse below) to make them a team with serious Top 5 potential.

Huddersfield

Okay, it is quite hard to go from the Championship to the Europa League in just one year. And maybe this is all hype after Huddersfield won their first two games of the season. But who can’t say this might be their year? The recently-promoted side has experts dazziling with their play, and their play has been nothing short of sensational. Lots of things would have to break their way to even think about them getting into the Top 6 o Top 7 this season. However, the potential for an upset is right there. And there is no question they kicked off the season on the right note.

Southampton

If we judge things purely from a talent standpoint, few smaller teams in the Premier League are as deep as Southampton. Names such as Cedric Soares, Virgil van Dijk, Wesley Hoedt, Nathan Redmond, Fraser Forster and Steven Davis give the club a good foundation looking towards the future. Keeping van Dijk is key, though, as the Dutch defender might move to Liverpool before the transfer window ends. But if they can keep their core together, there is no doubt they finish in the Top 10 in the standings. And if a few things go their way, it would not be a shocker to see The Saints in Europe come next year.

Leicester City

Getting into the UEFA Europa League would be a sort of best-case scenario for Leicester City. They have been an up-and-down team over the past two years, though, winning the Premier League in 2016 but barely avoiding relegation earlier this year. Despite their inconsistencies, The Foxes showed a substantial upgrade since Craig Shakespeare was appointed to replace Claudio Ranieri. And if Leicester keep their core of Riyad Mahrez, Jamie Vardy, Wes Morgan and Wilfred Ndidi together, a European berth is not out of the question. As they taught us before, the talent is there.

One Team To Watch: Everton

As we mentioned above, Everton are one of the teams to keep a close eye this season. Koeman has assembled a great collection of talent, and The Toffees currently have several players who could feature on better, bigger sides right now. Their influx of new players during the summer was nothing short of remarkable. They lost Romelu Lukaku, but signed Rooney, Jordan Pickford, Sandro Ramirez, Michael Keane, Davy Klaassen and Gylfi Sigurdsson, just to name a few. And those names add to a squad that already featured Leighton Baines, Ross Barkley and Morgan Schneiderlin.

This enormous amount of talent has led Everton to become a sleeper to conquer a Champions League berth. In fact, The Toffees are 8/1 to finish in the Top 4 this season.

For what is worth, big things are expected from both Sigurdsson and Rooney. The Icelandic playmaker is 1/1 to score over 8.5 goals. Meanwhile, Rooney is 9/4 to score between 12 to 14 goals this season.

Most of Everton success will depend on whether Koeman can make the signings gel quickly. But the potential is clearly there. And unless things go completely south, the Goodison Park outfit should feature in Europe next season. They have too much talent to not do so.

Interesting Betting Odds To Watch

Manchester United, Chelsea, and Manchester City are 1/5, 8/15 and 1/8 to finish in the Top 4 this season, respectively.

Liverpool are 6/5 to conquer a UCL berth this season. But keeping Philippe Coutinho would be key for their aspirations. So far, the Brazilian is 1/1 to join FC Barcelona before the transfer window shuts.

Tottenham are 4/6 to make a second straight trip to the Champions League next season.

Arsenal might be inconsistent, but the markets love them. The Gunners are 1/1 to finish in the Top 4 this season.

Everton could quite a sleeper on the Champions League battle, as they are 8/1 to finish in the Top 4 this season.

Big things are expected from both Sigurdsson and Rooney. The Icelandic playmaker is 1/1 to score over 8.5 goals. Meanwhile, Rooney is 9/4 to score between 12 to 14 goals this season.

ABOUT THE AUTHOR

Juan Pablo Aravena


A freelance writer and sports analyst with almost five years of experience in the industry before joining SoccerNews, Juan Pablo Aravena is based in Chile and currently contributes to several publications and websites including SoccerNews, 12up, and Sports From The Basement, while also working as a fantasy beat writer for RotoWire, as a database editor for EA Sports, and as a football analyst for SmartOdds and InsideFutbol. His areas of focus are Serie A, Bundesliga, Premier League, LaLiga, and Ligue 1, but he has also written about MLS and South American football in the past.

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