English Premier League 2016-2017 Preview

1) Manchester City
The most-talented squad in the league quit on a lame duck manager last season and barely scraped 4th place as a result. They added the world's best manager in Pep Guardiola while shoring up central midfield (Ilkay Gundogan) and defense (John Stones) in the transfer market. The Premier League title is City's to lose for the foreseeable future. 

2) Manchester United
This summer United added four immediate starters, including the most expensive footballer of all time, and a manager with an exceptional Premier League resume to a squad that finished level on points with 4th place Manchester City last season. Assuming overachievers Leicester City and Tottenham revert toward the mean and Jose Mourinho maintains his hoodoo over Arsene Wenger, United should easily finish in the top four and challenge for the title.

3) Chelsea
Much like Manchester City, the Chelsea squad quit on their manager Jose Mourinho after a dismal start to the season and The Special One was fired for the second time as Chelsea manager. With as deep a squad as any outside of Manchester, new manager Antonio Conte has plenty of talent to work with and should make Chelsea a title contender again in short order.

4) Arsenal
Despite an asinine transfer policy that pushes a threadbare squad to the brink of disaster each season, Arsene Wenger has stubbornly managed to keep Arsenal in the Champions League for 17 years running. If history is any guide, Arsenal will do just enough to secure a top-four finish in what is likely to be Wenger's final season at the helm.

5) Liverpool
Jurgen Klopp's makeover of a team that was headed definitively in the wrong direction just two years ago is nearly complete. With an enviable array of young attackers at his disposal, Klopp's pressing style of play should give Premier League opponents fits for years to come. Questions remain at the back, but if Liverpool can discover some measure of defensive solidity, they will be immediate contenders for the top four.

6) Leicester City
The Foxes shocked the world by winning the Premier League last season and surely there is no chance at a repeat. Even so, Leicester City weren't simply lucky winners; they played like champions from start to finish. While they will struggle to reach such epic heights ever again, especially while playing in the Champions League for the first time, Leicester has a solid team and an experienced manager who should be able to keep them from immediately falling back into mediocrity.

7) Tottenham
After months of desperately clinging to Leicester City's coattails, Tottenham came unglued in an epic second-half meltdown at Stamford Bridge before losing their final two matches to finish below arch rivals Arsenal yet again. Most of their key players then went on to experience similarly harsh letdowns at the Copa America and European Championships in the summer. With no time to rest and recharge after the stress of playing at full-tilt for most of the last year, Tottenham will struggle to cope with their rejuvenated top four rivals as well as a full slate of Champions League fixtures.

8) West Ham United
The Hammers were sneaky-good last year and looked on course to secure a place in the Champions League before sputtering down the stretch with a series of disappointing draws. Unfortunately, the club followed up such a promising season with a fairly bland summer transfer window and another 7th place finish now looks more like a best-case scenario. Moving from the intimately rowdy confines of Upton Park to the cavernous Olympic Stadium will also negate what had been one of the best home field atmospheres in the Premier League.

9) Stoke City
The Potters finished 9th for the third successive season and while they could probably move a couple of places higher if things break right, it seems unlikely they will suddenly mount a serious push for a European place. Gone are the days of having to worry about getting dragged into a relegation scrap, but until the roster's overall talent level improves significantly, Stoke will simply remain among the best teams in the second tier of the Premier League.

10) Southampton
Over the course of three weeks this summer, Southampton lost their manager and then sold their best defensive midfielder, best creative player, and best striker. Such an mass exodus of talent would hamper the prospects of any football club, but after finishing 8th, 7th, and 6th in successive seasons, the Saints are hoping that selling off the club's best assets will help consolidate their position in the top half of the table for the long haul. In the meantime, the club puts their Premier League status at risk while attempting to rebuild their roster on the fly.

11) Watford
As long as Troy Deeney and Odion Ighalo can maintain their scoring record from last season, The Hornets should finish comfortably mid-table. I also see some upside here as Watford maintained the status quo during the summer while also shoring up their squad depth. Several teams around them in the table were forced to sell key players so Watford could rise in the table simply due to attrition.

12) Bournemouth
After barely surviving their first-ever season in the top flight of English football, minnows Bournemouth will look first and foremost to secure a third season in the Premier League. Last September, the team lost star striker Callum Wilson to a torn ACL after just seven games in which he had already scored five goals. The Cherries held their own though and sat in 11th place well into the second half of the season. When it appeared that Bournemouth had secured safety, the team took just one point from their final five matches and sank like a stone. Manager Eddie Howe will hope that having his best players available for a full season will allow Bournemouth to retake last season's high water mark and this time hold onto it.

13) Middlesborough
I've always had a soft spot for Middlesborough so I am thrilled to see them back in the Premier League again. In the early 2000s Boro boasted a fascinating cast of swashbuckling players that managed to reach the 2006 UEFA Cup (Europa League) Final at their peak. The club fell on hard times after that and were eventually relegated, but now they're back and have shown the ambition to remain in the top flight. So far this summer they've added former Premier Leaguers Alvaro Negredo, Brad Guzan, Fabio, Victor Valdes, and Gaston Ramirez to an already deep squad of experienced campaigners. 

14) Everton
Ronald Koeman is a manager whose stock is on the rise after a very successful stint at Southampton, however, his new club is headed in the opposite direction after woefully underachieving last season. Everton is so far planning to run back basically the same exact squad minus their most-talented young player in John Stones who was sold to Manchester City for a hefty sum. The club replaced Stones with (ages as of September 1, 2016) 32-year old Ashley Williams who will play alongside 34-year old Phil Jagielka and 31-year old Leighton Baines in defense. While the midfield boasts several intriguing yet oft-injured young talents, if Everton does not age gracefully at the back, they could find themselves sinking into a relegation dogfight. 

15) Crystal Palace
A popular pick for relegation this season, I think that the impending demise of Crystal Palace is a bit overblown. They have a very supportive home atmosphere and an experienced roster of veterans who have been through the wars at this end of the table. Alan Pardew is a bad manager, but it took him a number of years to take Newcastle down so I imagine Palace survives for at least another season before things go south completely.

16) West Brom
Professional shouter Tony Pulis is the embodiment of a brand of English football that's well past it's sell by date. It's good enough to keep a club in the 21st century Premier League, but it won't ever inspire ambition of achieving more than that. Pulis' repugnant band of knuckle-dragging hatchet men will likely kick and punch their way to 40 points using any means necessary. 

17) Swansea City
After returning to the top tier of English football for the first time since the mid-1980s, Swansea ascended to record levels of success for the club by winning the 2013 League Cup and earning a place in the Europa League. After another season of punching above their weight, the cracks started to show in early 2015 before a disastrous 2015-2016 season where Swansea only avoided finishing much lower in the table thanks to surprising wins over Chelsea, Liverpool, and West Ham in the final month of the season. Even long-serving club captain Ashley Williams jumped ship this summer from an ever-weakening roster, leaving Swansea squarely in the fight against relegation from day one.

18) Burnley
The Clarets were relegated in 2015 after just one season in the Premier League, but will make an immediate return after finishing last season on a 23-match unbeaten run to win The Championship. The club faces an uphill battle to shake the label of a yo-yo club by earning a stay in the top flight. Burnley tends to stick with the players who earned promotion instead of going on a spending spree. It's a strategy that has rarely worked for any promoted club, but with so many bad teams in the bottom half of the Premier League, I wouldn't be surprised if they managed to stay up.

19) Sunderland
For some reason David Moyes decided to return to the Premier League aboard Sunderland's sinking ship and he faces a massive task to keep them up. Big Sam Allardyce worked his hoof-and-chase magic to just avoid relegation last season before deciding to take the England job. Sunderland has a thin squad of mostly Manchester United cast-offs and I just can't see how they're not going to finish at or near the bottom of the league. Maybe Jermain Defoe has one more year of magic and can score enough goals to give them a puncher's chance, but it seems very unlikely. Overall it's a sad state of affairs for one of the biggest football clubs in England.

20) Hull City
The Tigers enter the Premier League with no manager and without even enough professional players to field a full match day squad. Steve Bruce, the most successful manager in the club's history, resigned in July due to ongoing disagreement with management over transfers. While Bruce was making the most of the meager resources at his disposal, the club's ownership was engaging in a ludicrous ongoing dispute with fans over dropping "City" from the club's name in order to rename it Hull Tigers. With no end to the turmoil in sight, Hull City will be fortunate to eclipse Derby County's shameful record of 11 points as the fewest in Premier League history.