Forget the analysts, the journalists, and the pundits, there is nobody who knows their team better than the fans. So for this new Premier League season, we’ve sought out six from the top six to help us make sense of a fascinating nine months ahead.
We, at Matchbook, asked what the changes have been over the summer, who we should be watching for, who is an underrated hero and what they expect this season and much more. And if you can’t find some nuggets to help your Premier League betting out from this lot then you’re definitely not looking hard enough.
There is a wealth of high-quality insight and information here so dive right in after you’ve met the panel.
#ARS: Adrian Clarke is an experienced written and broadcast journalist who also played professional football at every level from the Premier League to the National League. He is a tactical analyst for Arsenal TV and the official Premier League website, as well as a regular presenter, co-host and match summariser for Talksport and Talksport 2. You can find him on Twitter @adrianjclarke
#CHE: Ali Maxwell is a freelance broadcaster appearing on TalkSPORT and Sky Sports regularly as a pundit specialising in the EFL. But his first love is Chelsea and he grew up going to Stamford Bridge. He is the same height as Gianfranco Zola and has the same size backside as Branislav Ivanovic. You can find him @NTT20Pod and @TheMakeleleRole
#LIV: Mark Stinchcombe is not just a regular analyst for Matchbook Insights and an expert on top flight football betting he’s also a passionate Liverpool fan. You can find him tweeting about both his bets and his team on @markstinchcombe.
#MCFC: Jack Heale is an aspiring sports journalist and freelance football writer. He has featured on mcfcwatch.com, outsideoftheboot.com, rugby-league.com and boxtoboxfootball.uk. To keep up with him, follow Jack on Twitter @Jack_Heale.
#MUFC: Alistair Fergusson (@Fergie1975) is a fanatical Manchester United supporter who has followed the club since the early Eighties. He works in television covering the Premier League, which can be a blessing or a nuisance depending on how United are fairing!
#THFC: Bardi is part of The Fighting Cock podcast and its more refined and well mannered sister podcast The Extra Inch. He’s a firm believer that everything in football was done first and better by Italians and that Paulinho could’ve been great, if he was any good. You can follow him on Twitter @BardiTFC or listen to him @Lovetheshirt or @TheExtraInch.
#1 Who should we be watching for this year to have a breakthrough season?
Adrian Clarke #ARS: He’s a pretty big name already, but I can see Henrikh Mkhitaryan stepping his game up to a higher level this season. His sharp movement, high work rate, and positional flexibility will suit Unai Emery’s plans, and from turnovers I expect the Armenian to give opposition sides nightmares. Also look out for new signing Matteo Guendouzi. The frizzy-haired Frenchman passes the ball with beautiful precision and looks to have a bit of fight in him too. There’s stiff competition for places but he has the ability to challenge and overtake some familiar names and he will play more than many expect.
Ali Maxwell #CHE: Callum Hudson-Odoi has filled the Hazard role during pre-season, and has looked the part. Chelsea fans know better than most not to get over-excited about a youth team product that plays well in July, but there’s no doubt that if the new manager is willing to give him a chance, he will impress. The incredible speed at which he moves while dribbling, an ability to go both ways, good vision and his finishing ability mean Hudson-Odoi has got the lot aged just 17. Hopefully, Ruben Loftus-Cheek will also be an important part of Maurizio Sarri’s plans.
Mark Stinchcombe #LIV: Trent Alexander-Arnold started less than half the matches but was involved in nearly every matchday squad and his performances earned him a World Cup place. He’s a local lad which fans love but his ability deservedly sees him as likely first choice. He has a great delivery as well as an eye for goal from set pieces. Naby Keita is still only 23 but he might already be world class.
Jack Heale #MCFC: Eric Garcia and Luke Bolton both shone in pre-season but with a plethora of options in their respective positions, Claudio Gomes could be the one starlet with their clearest path into the first-team. Gomes may not have height on his side, but he certainly makes up for it with such technical ability, positional awareness and tenacious nature to hunt down any opponent.
Alistair Ferguson #MUFC: I’d love it to be the breakthrough season at United for Andreas Pereira. A really talented boy who spent last season at Valencia. Pre-season he’s been one of the positives on our tour and it’d be great if he continued this form into the new campaign.
Bardi #THFC: Lucas Moura is the player I am most excited about. Having joined late in the January window, and having played very little football at PSG, he looked off the pace and struggled to adapt, however, there was enough in his occasional cameo to suggest that after a summer of beep tests, squats and being whipped by Pochettino a real player is in there.
#2 Who do you think might not quite perform up to the level of last season?
Adrian Clarke #ARS: Granit Xhaka finished last season producing the best football he’s delivered in an Arsenal shirt, but the arrivals of Lucas Torreira and Guendouzi means he may see less game time. The Swiss star was a big Arsene Wenger favourite, but is starting again under Emery and if he doesn’t shine in the early weeks he may find himself on the periphery of the starting XI.
Ali Maxwell #CHE: I hope that no-one performs worse than last season, when only a handful of players maintained a high level of performance. Cesc Fabregas has been the squad’s only top class passer of the ball from midfield for a season or two, but the addition of Jorginho, who looks like a brilliant playmaker and an improvement on the Spaniard in terms of strength, pace and stamina, makes me think Fabregas will take on less importance this season. If Sarri switches to four at the back, it’s hard to imagine Victor Moses getting much game time, either in a more ‘conventional’ right back position or as a winger.
Mark Stinchcombe #LIV: It’s difficult to think of someone as Jurgen Klopp is very good at getting the best out of his players. There will be question marks over whether Mo Salah can replicate last seasons goals but based on the data his goal return was as expected. He even missed the most big chances in the league (23), so could actually improve.
Jack Heale #MCFC: Nicolas Otamendi. This call may surprise a few people following a remarkable campaign last year whereby he was a mainstay at the back and was key in the build-up play due to being so adept in possession. However, with John Stones set to play a key role as a result of his tremendous World Cup in Russia and Aymeric Laporte raring to go for his first full season, Otamendi may not feature as heavily which could contribute to a lower standard of performances.
Alistair Ferguson #MUFC: I think that the player who continues to frustrate with his form is Anthony Martial. Sporadically last season he was excellent but would then drop off. His summer moves for a transfer, which may well not be granted, might leave a disillusioned player.
Bardi #THFC: As much as I love Hugo Lloris, I have a genuine fear he may not be as reliable as he once was. Last year a few errors started to appear in his game and even though he remains a fantastic shot stopper, his tactical play, sweeping and distribution are starting to come in for questioning. See the World Cup final for evidence.
#3 Who is the player or players in your squad who people tend to overlook but who is hugely important to the way you play?
Adrian Clarke #ARS: Aaron Ramsey is still under-appreciated. There are not many midfielders at the highest level who can drive a team on in the manner he does, and the Welshman often sets the tempo for how the Gunners play. Without Ramsey’s dynamic runs into the box they would score far fewer goals from crosses as he often occupies defenders to leave others free, and his all-round play has improved hugely. When Ramsey’s not there they miss him.
Ali Maxwell #CHE: We’re yet to see exactly what Sarri’s Chelsea team will look like in competitive football, but given how swiftly Jorginho was signed and how important he was to Sarri’s Napoli side, it’s safe to say he will be vital. Pedro has looked good in pre-season, he’s a player that people don’t consider to be hugely exciting but remains a brilliant footballer and could be key to potential ‘strikerless’ formations.
Mark Stinchcombe #LIV: There’s a few candidates here. Jordan Henderson is seemingly overrated by most people, but he sets the tempo for the side. He averages the most passes per match and his energy is crucial in shutting down the opposition. Roberto Firmino doesn’t get the same plaudits as Salah but he’s arguably more crucial to the way the side plays. He drops off the opposition’s defence to pick the ball up in areas to hurt them and is the first player to begin pressing to win the ball back. Another one who can be missed it Andy Robertson, who provides superb width and his energy getting up and down the flank often means he’s an outlet to switch play.
Jack Heale #MCFC: Nicolas Otamendi and Fernandinho are the most overlooked in terms of their importance to City’s style of play. Otamendi is vital in breaking the opponents first-line of press and making astute passes to break up the opponent’s shape when they are man-for-man marking. Fernandinho has a pivotal role in dictating the tempo of the game through his calmness and expertise in possession. The Brazilian is also fantastic at retaining possession through his ability to understand and apply Guardiola’s system and create angles to move the ball forward.
Alistair Ferguson #MUFC: I still think that Jesse Lingard is so underrated by much of our fan base. He’s had two excellent seasons and has flourished under Jose Mourinho. He plays to the chosen tactical system and has scored some important goals for us. Perhaps his performances at the recent World Cup will change folks’ minds.
Bardi #THFC: Hueng Min Son is genuine box office. He scores, creates, dribbles, shoots off either foot, and can play wide or through the middle. Everyone talks about the obvious players, Kane, Dele and Eriksen, but he is equally as important. He puts our attack on the front foot and creates space for others to thrive in. I’d like to give a shout out to Davison Sanchez also, he showed during the World Cup he is a composed, athletic and extremely wise centre back. He will be a star. Rose, when fit, is one of the best wing backs in the country, he’s direct, forceful and offers us penetration wide, which is something we need against teams that refuse to play football. Ben Davies is good, but Rose changes us for the better.
#4 What do you class the strengths and weaknesses of your current squad and what transfers would make the biggest difference?
Adrian Clarke #ARS: The strengths are easy to identify. This Arsenal side boasts wonderfully talented players in forward areas that can mesmerize anyone inside the final third when everything clicks. When they break at speed, the skill and movement is first class. The weakness is in defence. Individually every member of the back four must improve their decision making to remain in the Spaniard’s plans. I believe the acquisition of a world-class centre back would make a colossal difference.
Ali Maxwell #CHE: If the central midfield duo of N’Golo Kante and Jorginho works as well in reality as it does on paper, that will be an area of immense quality for Chelsea. A motivated Eden Hazard is clearly the team’s most important player. As for weaknesses, it would be nice to have a striker to truly trust in, but now Morata has moved away from the ‘cursed’ 9 shirt, perhaps it’s his year. When it comes to transfers, a lot depends on the futures of Belgians Hazard and Thibault Courtois.
Mark Stinchcombe #LIV: The strengths are really the depth across central midfield and full-backs, with multiple quality players and leaders in all of those positions. The weaknesses are at centre-back, where there is still a position up for grabs, and the lack of a potential lack of a replacement for Firmino. That said if Daniel Sturridge stays fit it will be like another signing as his finishing is world class whilst his link up play is also impressive. After this summers transfers, it’s difficult to think of too many areas of improvement. I would say a long-term partner for van Dijk would make a difference as Lovren and Matip have not impressed but there are very few high-level defenders in world football.
Jack Heale #MCFC: City’s side has an average age of 25.8 and considering how well this side played last year, the worrying aspect for opponents is that they can only get better. Despite strength in depth across the pitch, for the way City play, it’s hard to maintain this level when David Silva or De Bruyne are out of the team as they are the fulcrum as to how the side operates in their ‘free eight roles’. It’s not really an obstacle that transfers could solve within reason as Silva’s replacements have seemingly been found in Phil Foden and his namesake Bernardo Silva. For the case of the Belgian on the other hand, there’s not really a player who would want to sit on the bench every week, who could do and be so influential in every aspect of the game like he is. He is simply irreplaceable.
Alistair Ferguson #MUFC: With the window closing very soon I think that we are short in a couple of areas. I’ve really wanted a top centre back all summer long. We need an international class defender who leads the defence and I don’t think we’ve had that for a few years now. I also think the right wing is an area of concern for us. Willian would be an astute signing, as one of Mourinho’s players from Chelsea suited to his playing style.
Bardi #THFC: Any transfer would be nice. Our biggest weakness is in central midfield. We are carrying a injured Wanyama and Winks, and a tired and off-form Dier as well as a declining Dembele. I have genuine fears about a starting XI at Newcastle with Sissoko as our main guy. Our issues may force Pochettino to play Eriksen deep and further away from the areas where he causes problems for the opposition.
#5 Where do you expect to finish by the end of December and the end of May?
Adrian Clarke #ARS: I fancy new-look Arsenal to make a fairly bright start. The players are bound to be responsive to a new voice in the dressing room with fresh ideas, and this added hunger should help to eradicate the various no-shows we saw away from home. By the turn of the year Arsenal could be entrenched in the top four but whether they are good enough to maintain that form remains to be seen. The competition is stiff. Therefore I predict a third, fourth or fifth place finish.
Ali Maxwell #CHE: At the end of December I expect Chelsea to be third or fourth, with Sarri’s tactics implemented and the team hitting their stride. Last season, Napoli experienced a big drop off in terms of performance levels in the second half of the season. If Chelsea suffer a similar fate, with the potential added distraction of Europa League knockout games, I think the end of the season will see Chelsea scrapping it out for fourth spot.
Mark Stinchcombe #LIV: The minimum requirement given the level of investment will be to challenge for the title. Given Man City finished 25 points clear it will be very hard, so second looks most likely at both junctures.
Jack Heale #MCFC: City have been heavily affected by the World Cup involvement of 16 players, the joint most at the tournament, and with so many key players only likely to be up to full Premier League sharpness by September, this could have a knock-on effect in terms of League position. I expect City to be second by December. However, come the final game week in May, I feel City can be the first side in ten seasons to retain the title under the helm of Guardiola and the players at his disposal.
Alistair Ferguson #MUFC: Well, it depends which day you catch me on! I’m generally quite a positive supporter and look forward to every campaign. The transfer window and the board’s nitpicking over Mourinho’s preferred targets has provoked a dark mood in the boss and amongst the fans online. The negativity is as bad I’ve ever seen on Twitter amongst United supporters. But if we can strengthen with a top central defender and right winger I think we’ll be in the mix, and if not then I suspect it’ll be a battle for a top four place.
Bardi #THFC: Top six by the end of the December and our normal late season charge through January into the spring which will lift us into the top four. Pochettino’s teams always peak physically later in the season, which is why we often have a mini slump in October to November.
#6 What were the biggest lessons from last season in terms of the way the side needs to play?
Adrian Clarke #ARS: The entire culture of the club has undergone a dramatic transformation this summer. Wholesale changes to the coaching staff will have altered conditioning and attitudes, and the arrival of several grizzly-types (Lichsteiner, Torreira and Sokratis) should make Arsenal tougher too. In terms of impact, I’d hope to see significantly more structure to their play both with and without the ball. Standards must be raised, and Emery’s disciplined approach will bring about more individual accountability.
Ali Maxwell #CHE: The appointment of Maurizio Sarri gives the atmosphere around the club a huge lift, as after last season was characterised by the embarrassing deterioration in the relationship between Antonio Conte and the club. Both parties acted stubbornly during a year-long divorce, and the fans ultimately paid the price with a wasted season. That can be put in the past now with a new manager that will attempt to implement an exciting style of play that should see Chelsea play on the front foot.
Mark Stinchcombe #LIV: A new goalkeeper in Alisson. This has been a problem for years and coupled with the signing of van Dijk in January, this should give a boost to the whole team in both ability and confidence, given the way Klopp likes to play out from the back. Alisson is comfortable with the ball at his feet and his distribution is superb. It should have an impact on the amount of goals conceded, particularly from winning positions.
Jack Heale #MCFC: Following a title win, it’s only really some minor changes that are made with additions to bolster the triumphant squad and that’s no different this season at City. Riyad Mahrez is the only renown name to come in and he shouldn’t disappoint. Mahrez excels in one-on-ones out wide, which is what City’s attacking strategy is based around to isolate the opponent and drag others out of position. When not out wide, Mahrez also has the technical quality to operate in the centre of midfield and also as a second striker in the 3-1-4-2 formation, which will be in heavy usage this season.
Alistair Ferguson #MUFC: I think that the main lesson from last season is to take the initiative in games more often. When we went at teams like we did away at Arsenal and Man City we often prevailed. There are games where caution is important, however, there are many times when a fast start concusses teams. United still have a problem in starting games too slowly on too many occasions.
Bardi #THFC: The biggest change will be getting used to a new stadium. Unlike last year we will go straight into playing games at The Tottenham Stadium, whereas at least year we had some Wembley experience to guide us. We were brilliant at home in our last season at White Hart Lane, and many fans expect us to pick up where we left off, but I worry we may have teething problems, both as a supporter base and a team.
#7 What are the biggest changes over the summer and what impact will they have this season?
Adrian Clarke #ARS: Most observers could see that Arsenal were too loose last term. Tactically they were often weak or sloppy – mainly away from home it has to be said – and this made them vulnerable against decent opposition. The Gunners also gave the ball away far too often inside their own half, gifting turnovers in bad areas. This trend has continued in pre-season, but Emery will likely get on top of it.
Ali Maxwell #CHE: The slate has been wiped clean, and any concerns about last season’s style of play disappeared back to Italy with Conte. It would be great to see Chelsea play with a swagger and dominate teams, especially at home against bottom-half opposition.
Mark Stinchcombe #LIV: Game management. 100%. Sometimes in football matches you can’t just keep attacking for 90 minutes and expect to score 3+ every game, so you have to manage the game in crucial moments. Klopp doesn’t seem to have this in his makeup and his attempts are often amateur like taking off an attacking position for a defensive one, inviting the opposition to attack more and shifting the supremacy. Since he took charge of Liverpool, they have surrendered 47 points away from winning positions in the Premier League, which is more than any other team in Europe.
Jack Heale #MCFC: Every team always has something to work on. City’s being to not panic in an intense atmosphere witnessed at Anfield last season whereby the players performed as if they have forgotten everything they had been taught, rushing every pass and movement. Also, to not think any game is dead and buried, specifically referencing the decisive derby where City could have won the League against their arch-rivals. City came in at half-time 2-0 up and lost 3-2. That turnaround showed that the principles of the system must be stuck to whatever the situation and to not take the foot of the gas in any case.
Alistair Ferguson #MUFC: I think the biggest changes at United over the summer were within the coaching team. With Rui Faria leaving we go into this campaign with Kieran Mckenna, Stefano Rapetti and Michael Carrick assisting the boss. It’s uncharted waters for Mourinho who has been with Faria for so long but the fans have high hopes for Carrick’s influence after such a fine United career.
Bardi #THFC: Currently it is exactly the same, which brings both positives and negatives. Our spine has been in place for quite some time now, but there is a fear we may have reached our potential and we need a new injection of class. I think we need a top class central midfielder to lift us to serious challengers, and until that happens a decent run in the CL, top four in the league and maybe a FA cup semi is our goal.
#8 How happy are you with the squad depth and how much better/worse is it than last year?
Adrian Clarke #ARS: Arsenal’s squad looks significantly stronger, and the most pleasing aspect of the changes made so far has been the correct areas being beefed up. The squad needed a ball-winning midfielder (Torreira), someone to provide Hector Bellerin with competition (Lichsteiner), a central defender (Sokratis) and a new keeper (Leno) so the business has been done sensibly and with an analytical edge. I would like one more centre-back and a winger to be added.
Ali Maxwell #CHE: I think the squad depth is fine, the more pressing concern is about how much genuine quality there is compared to the title favourites. With a probable switch the four at the back, you can more or less find two players for every position, but is the squad a level below the likes of Man City and Liverpool in terms of world-class ability? I think so. The futures of players like Willian, Batshuayi are uncertain at this time and I’d welcome the additions of an exciting winger and truly clinical striker.
Mark Stinchcombe #LIV: It’s improved hugely with the arrivals of Alisson, Fabinho, Naby Keita and Shaqiri with the only notable departure in Emre Can. As already mentioned Sturridge will be like a new signing too all being well.
Jack Heale #MCFC: With at least two current, first-team quality players in each position,