How will your favorite team and players fare this season?
Last season, England was blue as Chelsea won the Premier League title with one of the best records in league history. Following an unbelievable summer transfer window where money flowed like water, the race for the trophy should be an exciting one. Here are the SQ predictions for how the league table will turn out along with who the biggest stars will be.
Player Of The Year: Paul Pogba
Look past the personal emoji, dabbing, and crop circle hair styles. What you’ll find is that Pogba, a “flair” player, did an awful lot of the dirty work that kept Manchester United in the top four race until the final month of the season. If the expectation was that Pogba would come into the league as a Ferrari –– scoring 40-yard goals and doing outrageous celebrations –– he seemed to be more of a Porsche Cayenne: less flashy, but much more practical.
Pogba dominated the center of the park. He was the second-best midfielder at winning aerial duels, fourth in passes, 24th in interceptions, 17th clearances, and tied for 26th in tackles won. Thanks partly to his telescopic legs and large build, he wins balls that other players think are safely theirs, and uses that build to fend off defenders while he finds the best pass. He also displayed a positional understanding that was beyond his years, especially for someone deployed in three different midfield roles in as many years.
At the business end of the pitch, the raw numbers were a let down. Pogba only managed five goals and four assists in 30 matches. However, the underlying numbers suggest that, with a bit more luck, the French #6 should have a massive season in the final third. Pogba was 17th in created chances last season, while the next best central midfielder was James Ward-Prowse at 32nd. He also showed an impressive ability to take on premier league defenders, finishing ninth in “successful take-ons” (dribbling a defender one-on-one). The above combined to mean that, despite only being on the books for four assists, he was 19th in the league in expected assists at 5.6.
From a goal-scoring perspective, Pogba was exceptionally unlucky. He underperformed his expected goals tally by 1.5 goals (6.5 vs. 5), but his robbery was likely greater as his world class technique and shot power turn opportunities that would yield a low-return in expected goals for others into legitimate scoring chances. Pogba was also one of the players most penalized by the woodwork (six times, second in the league).
So, yes, we didn’t see the earth-shattering performance that some were expecting last season. Instead, we saw the foundation of something potentially more profound. Paul Pogba is a 24-year-old who, in a “down year”, was one of the best midfielders in the Premier League in every area of the game. While other players, like Kevin de Bruyne, may have a bigger impact going forward, the all-around performances of Pogba, combined with his ability to deliver in the final third, make him our pick for player of the year. (John Ray)
Top Scorer: Harry Kane
After winning back-to-back Golden Boots, Harry Kane has a leg up on the competition to be the Premier League’s leading scorer. Not only is Kane a remarkable talent, but much of the Spurs attack funnels through him. Tottenham have one of the best attacking midfield trios in the Premier League playing behind Kane in Dele Alli, Christian Eriksen, and Heung Min Son, and Kane knows how to get on the end of the chances they create.
Despite not being the most explosive athlete on the pitch, Kane has all the tools of a goal scoring machine. He is a tireless worker, averaging 10.7 km a game, has remarkable short burst speed, and has the ability to push defenders off the ball to create open space to shoot. Kane is an elite finisher, having converted on 26% of his shots last season. He can score with either foot, his head, and is Tottenham’s first choice at the penalty spot. If Kane can maintain his form from the last two seasons, it’s likely that he’ll be the league’s top scorer once again. (Bobby Brooks)
Impact Transfer: Alexandre Lacazette
They wanted him last year, and now they’ve got him. Alexandre Lacazette has finally arrived at the Emirates, and expectations are high. I have no doubt in my mind that Arsenal’s new number 9 will notch at least 15 goals this season. But the question in everyone’s mind is whether he will score over 20 and propel the Gunners to their first Premier League title since 2004. Now, let’s take a look at the hype that prompted Arsene Wenger to dish out a club-record fee of £52.7m.
15, 27, 21, 28. In the past four seasons, Lacazette failed to reach 20 goals just once; pretty damn impressive for a 26-year-old. To be fair, Ligue 1 has not been the strongest league in recent years, but his best moments as a Lyon player indicate that he’ll have no trouble finding the net in England.
Why is that? Well, Lacazette has the speed and trickery to make up for his somewhat small stature. In the clip below (six minutes in), Laca takes a Bergkamp-esque touch with his weaker left foot to spin past his man and set up an easy finish, which he absolutely smashes home. This touch can only be described as class, and any highlight video will tell you that it was no fluke.
Against Chelsea in the Community Shield, Laca showed a clear footballing intelligence and ability to adapt to Premier League defenders. Instead of getting muscled off the ball by Cahill and David Luiz, he chose to makes runs in behind or make a quick lay-off and spin past approaching defenders. You can see a perfect example of this here.
Laca’s teammates failed to find him on his run, but that chemistry will develop over time. When it comes to his finishing, well, one can look at the Chelsea match again. After a simple one-two with Welbeck, Lacazette was unlucky to hit the post with a curling shot from the edge of the box. He was unable to score in that game, but that moment really sums up the elegance, skill, and instinct that defines the French striker’s play and makes him such a good fit for Arsenal’s style.
Whether Lacazette will have the ruthless mentality and confidence to assert himself on a better team in a new league remains to be seen. Diego Costa certainly had it, despite his lesser technical ability. The finishing, skill, and goal-scoring instinct are all there, but fans know all too well that these qualities don’t guarantee success in a new league. During his time at Lyon, Laca had swagger; that’s for sure. That swagger might just push him and Arsenal towards a Premier League title. (Brian Kang)
Young Player Of The Year: Gabriel Jesus
No other Premier League newcomer can claim to have made a splash to match that of the young striker last season. Newly arrived from the club Palmeiras in his home nation of Brazil, Jesus made his Manchester City debut on the 1st of February away against West Ham. The then-19-year-old scored and registered an assist in a 4-0 drubbing of the Hammers, earning man of the match honors from Sky Sports and instantly becoming a favorite among his new club’s supporters. This match was no flash in the pan for Jesus either, as he went on to net a remarkable seven goals and four assists in a mere 10 league matches for City (only eight of them starts).
Jesus’ rookie campaign, as impressive as it was, could have been even better had he not broken his right foot within two weeks of his debut, forcing him to the sidelines for over two months. Without this serious setback, Jesus seems likely to have taken away the first-string striker role from City’s veteran attacking superstar, Sergio Agüero, and their continued battle for manager Pep Guardiola’s attention will be worth watching this season. The fact that City were willing to sell their other top striker prospect, Nigeria’s Kelechi Iheanacho, to Leicester City this summer demonstrates the confidence they have in Jesus to take up the mantle full-time when Agüero either hits a run of poor form or gets injured (which is unfortunately somewhat expected).
This season, look for Jesus to carry on right where he left off, and even secure Young Player of the Year honors in the process. Though it is true that the 19 other PL teams have now had a full summer to study up on how to defend the pacey, nimble striker, his positioning and finishing ability are up there with the best in the league. The Brazilian often does not even need to switch into high gear when making attacking runs, as his impeccable spatial awareness and the timing of his movements allow him to gain that crucial first step on the opposition back line.
Given the absurd glut of creative talent playing behind and on either side of him in the City offense (Kevin De Bruyne, Bernardo Silva, Raheem Sterling, and Leroy Sané to name but a few), we believe that Gabriel Jesus finds himself in the perfect position to show the world that Brazil’s best active goal-scorer may not be that mononymous Parisian after all. (Lucas Morel)
SQ Premier League XI
GK: David De Gea
Another Premier League season brings a whole lot of new: new players, new teams, new ambitions and aspirations. However, you can be sure of one constant: David De Gea is going to be a rock at goalkeeper for Manchester United. Having won three consecutive goalkeeper of the year selections, De Gea needs to contend for a fourth if United has any shot at competing for the Premier League title. Despite big moves in the keeper department from the “noisy neighbors” and improvement from other challengers (Thibaut Courtois, Hugo Lloris, etc.), De Gea has a good shot at improving his already impressive individual trophy cabinet. (Vijay Shivakumar)
DEF: Kyle Walker
Walker should thrive with his new team. Pep Guardiola paid big money this summer to bring his ideal right back to Man City. Walker will use his immense pace to bomb up and down the pitch. He’ll be sending in a ton of crosses and trying to win the ball back quickly in his own end on the wing, similar to how Dani Alves played for Pep at Barcelona. Walker was one of the best fullbacks in the Premier League last year at Tottenham and has the potential to have an even better campaign this season under Pep. (Kevin Luo)
DEF: Laurent Koscielny
The 31-year-old veteran is entering his seventh PL campaign in North London, and remains one of the most capable and intelligent central-defenders in the Premier League. The Frenchman led or tied for the team lead among all Arsenal center backs in tackles won, aerial duels won, clearances, and blocks, while also committing a mere 20 fouls in over 2,800 minutes of Premier League action last season.
Koscielny plays with the poise of Steve McQueen in a high-speed chase, a trait that makes him arguably Arsenal’s most valuable player at times. If he stays healthy enough to marshal the back-line effectively in Wenger’s new three-at-the-back formation throughout the season, the Gunners will be in a good place defensively. (Lucas Morel)
DEF: Toby Alderweireld
The Belgian action figure has gone from being a peripheral right back in Spain to one of the Premier League’s best performers at center back. Alderweireld is athletic, intelligent, and composed with the ball at his feet. In many ways, this skill set allows him to be the perfect modern center back, both keeping a tight defensive line and contributing higher up the pitch. (John Ray)
DEF: César Azpilicueta
Azpilicueta, like Alderweireld, is emblematic of the shift from the big and burly defenders of Premier Leagues past (think Chris Samba & Brede Hangeland) to center backs that are smaller, more mobile, and more versatile. His all action performances allowed him to storm up the pitch one moment, and provide cover for David Luiz the next. (John Ray)
MID: Paul Pogba (see above)
MID: Kevin De Bruyne
£55 million. That’s how much Manchester City dished out for the Belgian; yet, he’s been worth every penny. Football is full of frustrating players who look like Ronaldo dribbling past their man, then like a deer in headlights once they’re in space (seriously, look up Adama Traore). KDB is the exact opposite. De Bruyne isn’t very fast, athletic, nor skillful, but his end-product is world-class. His decision-making, finishing, and passing are impeccable, which is perfect for a coach who tells his players, “My job is to take you up to the last third, your job is to finish it”. De Bruyne, whose work-rate is also top-class, is a dream player for any manager, and for Chelsea, the one that got away. (Brian Kang)
MID: N’Golo Kante
It took way too long for everyone to realize how important N’Golo Kante is to his team. Leading Leicester to an improbable title two years ago, and solidifying Chelsea’s central midfield in their title run last year, it is clear that Kante is vital to any success that his team earns. Kante is in a class of his own in terms of playing as a box-to-box midfielder with his excellent tackling ability and unparalleled defensive intensity and intelligence. Kante is not going to light up a scoreboard, but he will do everything that Antonio Conte demands to keep shape and win the ball back. Kante is a no-brainer to be included. (Mark Philipson)
MID: Alexis Sánchez
Undoubtedly the biggest snub of last season’s team of the year, Alexis was one of the best players in the EPL recording 24 goals and 10 assists. Even with the signing of Alexandre Lacazette, Alexis is still the main man for Arsenal, and will be expected to deliver even with transfer rumors looming over his head. There’s no telling where Alexis will be next season, but for this year Alexis will be important for any chance Arsenal has at contending for the title. Whether it is his incredible vision, long runs, or extra bit of flair, Alexis will be one of the most exciting players in the league once again. (Mark Philipson)
FOR: Harry Kane (see above)
FOR: Romelu Lukaku
Imagine coming off a 25 goal season where you were voted in the Team of the Year for the first time, and people still doubt whether you could lead the front line of a big club. That’s where Romelu Lukaku stands today, but to his credit he thinks he can get even better. And he should, considering he moved to a team that created the fourth most chances in the Premiership last season, but somehow scored fewer goals than Bournemouth.
That 25 goal mark should be a minimum for Lukaku given that the skill of the players playing right behind him is better than what he had in Merseyside the last few years. Lukaku should have Manchester United near the top of the goals scored column and, more importantly, near the top of the points table. (Vijay Shivakumar)
SQ Premier League Table
1. Manchester City
Too talented and too deep. Money does not seem to be a concern as City spent over £200mm this summer bolstering their defense and adding firepower to their offense. They also bring back Ilkay Gundogan who had limited minutes last season. The main concerns will be if City’s defense gels and if Guardiola has some flexibility in his tactics, which sometimes were problematic last season. City is the only team in the EPL equipped to challenge for the title and make a long UCL run. If it all comes together, City will be lifting the trophy in May. (Mark Philipson)
2. Manchester United
After an underwhelming first season under Jose Mourinho, Manchester United are out to prove that they are still title contenders spending over £140m for their transfer targets this summer. Needing a new target man due to the injury of Zlatan Ibrahimovic, United have cashed in on last season’s Premier League second top goalscorer, Romelu Lukaku, as well as former Chelsea midfielder Nemanja Matic and former Benfica center back Victor Lindelof.
A finish outside the top four such as last year’s performance is unacceptable for this squad that has both depth and quality. History is also on the Red Devil’s side as Mourinho has been crowned league champions in every second season he has had with a club (FC Porto, Chelsea (twice), Inter Milan, Real Madrid). However, with the likes of crosstown rivals Manchester City also strengthening their squad with major summer signings, the 2017/2018 title race seems to be a tight one. (Jeremy Park)
It might be surprising to see last year’s title winners dropping to the third spot in our rankings for next season. After Chelsea moved to the three back last season under new manager Antonio Conte, they were one of the most dominant teams in Premier League history. They won’t concede a ton of goals, especially with N’Golo Kante controlling the midfield in front of the back line. However, with Diego Costa likely returning to Atletico Madrid and Eden Hazard being sidelined for the first couple of months, there are serious questions as to whether or not Chelsea will be able to score enough goals to win the title again this season. (Kevin Luo)
It is a make or break season this year for Arsenal. With Alex Oxlade-Chamberlain, Mesut Ozil, and Alexis Sanchez all in their last years of their contracts, Arsenal risk losing any or all of them if they do not mount a serious title challenge this year. For the first time in over two decades, Arsenal will not be in the Champions League. This will mean that their focus will be entirely on the Premier League. This summer Arsene Wenger brought in French striker Alexandre Lacazette for a club record £53m and Bosnian left-back Sead Kolasinac on a free transfer.
While these are good transfers in needed areas, the central midfield still needs bolstering given the injury problems that Jack Wilshere, Aaron Ramsey, and Santi Cazorla all have. If they make one or two more key signings, Arsenal can perhaps finally play well all throughout the year and once again make the Champions League or finish even higher. (Pearman Clarke)
Spurs will be looking to build on their excellent performance last season, finishing second. They allowed the fewest goals in the EPL and will look to continue their good form in Wembley Stadium, where they will be playing home games. Wembley poses new challenges, being a wider field making it more difficult to press high for 90 minutes.
Additionally, losing their right back Kyle Walker means Kieran Trippier will have big shoes to fill. Not to mention, Kane, Alli, and Eriksen will have to carry the load considering there were no big name signings from the North London club. They are capable of contending for the title, but in an even more competitive EPL, they will just miss out on a UCL bid. (Mark Philipson)
Jurgen Klopp could be facing pressure this season as expectations become greater. After sliding into the top four and looking like title contenders for much of last season before losing Coutinho to injury and Mane to the African Cup of Nations, Liverpool couldn’t quite contend with Chelsea who looked unstoppable. With that being said, they notched wins against top clubs last season and they certainly have the talent to contend with any of the top six.
They must stay healthy to have a chance to keep the pressure on. Not to mention, Klopp will want a UCL run into the knockout stage, which might be difficult given a playoff match against surging Hoffenheim. Missing out on the top four coupled with an early Champions League exit could leave Klopp on the hot seat, but they have the talent to compete, without a doubt. (Mark Philipson)
Everton have arguably had the most eventful transfer window of any Premier League club. The Toffees lost winger Gerard Deulofeu, center mid Tom Cleverley, and most importantly the league’s second top scorer last year Romelu Lukaku. Though those are detrimental losses, they did manage to sign wide back Cuco Martina from Southampton, center mid Davy Klaassen from Ajax, goalkeeper Jordan Pickford from Sunderland, and strikers Wayne Rooney from Manchester United and Sandro Ramirez from Malaga.
Though losing Lukaku will be a heavy loss, perhaps Wayne Rooney can rediscover his striker’s instinct in a new system. If anyone is to challenge the dominance of the top six teams, it would be Everton. Their final standing will be determined by how quickly their new signings can gel together. (Pearman Clarke)
8. Leicester City
Coming off of their inspiring once-in-a-lifetime title run in the 2015-16 season, the Foxes of Leicester City regressed to the mean hard in the 2016-17 campaign, coming in 12th place in the Premier League. Losing their best player, French midfield maestro N’Golo Kante, to Chelsea during that summer’s transfer window definitely contributed to the team’s struggles, but lackluster seasons from star forwards Riyad Mahrez and Jamie Vardy (who combined to score 22 fewer league goals in the 2016-17 season than they had the season prior) kept the team from coming anywhere near reaching the top four.
This season, despite continued rumors surrounding Mahrez and a potential departure to either Arsenal or Roma, the squad’s other transfer moves this summer have us feeling more optimistic about their 2017-18 possibilities. Bringing in the touted young striker Kelechi Iheanacho from Manchester City, as well as a solid central midfielder in ex-Sevilla man Vicente Iborra, gives Leicester some of the talent and well-rounded depth that they missed so desperately last season. Will they win the title again? No way. Could they crack the top six? Stranger things have happened. (Lucas Morel)
9. West Ham
Following a strong finish to the 2015-16 campaign, the Hammers were a trendy pick to rise up the Premier League table last season. However, overall inconsistent play and the turmoil surrounding star Dimitri Payet caused West Ham to have a disappointing season. With a more stable roster headlined by Mikhail Antonio and new additions Chicharito Hernandez, Marko Arnautovic, and Joe Hart being brought into the side, expect West Ham to find themselves in the top half of the Premier League again. (Kevin Luo)
The Saints have enough talent to have a campaign like they did last season when they finished eighth in the Premier League. However, with a new manager in town and the potential transfer of captain and star defender Virgil Van Dijk, Southampton may struggle with their early season identity. Much of their success will depend on the development of youngsters James Ward-Prowse, Nathan Redmond, and Mario Lemina, their new signing from Juventus. They’ll also be looking for Manolo Gabbiadini to maintain his form he displayed after coming to the Premier League from Napoli last winter. (Kevin Luo)
The Toon Army is back in the Premier League after a Rafa Benitez-inspired squad pipped Brighton to the EFL Championship title. Despite missing out on a number of transfer targets, Newcastle should secure a mid-table finish due to the strength of their squad alone with Premier League veterans Jonjo Shelvey, Matt Ritchie, and Dwight Gayle leading the way for the Magpies. Newcastle secured a third place finish in 1993-94 after being promoted to the Premier League, and although that seems very unlikely this time around, the Toon Army would gladly welcome the safety of mid-table. (Vijay Shivakumar)
The Cherries turned some heads last season recording impressive results and finishing in the top half of the league playing a free-flowing brand of football. Bournemouth also brings back Nathan Ake who was on loan last season, and signs Jermaine Defoe who promises to bring goals to the club. The biggest question marks will be their defense and their away record, both of which did not allow them to compete against the top clubs. Nonetheless, Bournemouth will be a fun team to keep an eye on this season with young star Joshua King leading the line. (Mark Philipson)
13. Crystal Palace
Crystal Palace have plenty of attacking talent in Christian Benteke, Wilfried Zaha, and Andros Townsend. However, last season, they had a major coaching carousel and an incredibly shaky defense. If new manager Frank De Boer can bring some continuity and defensive discipline to the club, perhaps their offensive stars can lead Palace to a solid season. Another X-factor for the Eagles will be new defender Jairo Riedewald, a youngster from Ajax who’s familiar with De Boer and already has Premier League fans buzzing. (Kevin Luo)
14. West Brom
Tony Pulis had West Brom looking like a potential darling last season, playing most of the campaign in the top half of the table. They’ll look to build on that success and get into the top half again but will probably struggle due to their lack of consistent star power. They’ll be hoping for Chris Brunt, Matt Phillips, and newcomer Jay Rodriguez to carry quite a load in regards to playmaking and controlling the game against the big boys in the league. (Kevin Luo)
15. Stoke City
The Potters, despite a flurry of arrivals and departures in this summer’s transfer window, have not done much to suggest that they will improve upon last season’s 13th place league finish. To their credit, they have gotten markedly younger: aging players like Jonathan Walters (33), Shea Given (41) and Glenn Whelan (33) have made way for the likes of Eric Choupo-Moting (28) and Kurt Zouma (22, albeit on loan from Chelsea). However, letting key forward Marko Arnautovic go to West Ham may end up hurting them more than expected, as the top half of the Prem added a lot of firepower overall. If Stoke want to move into the top eight, they’ll need to prove that the best offense is a good defense, which seems unlikely to happen. (Lucas Morel)
After a disastrous season that saw two managers sacked, most fans of the Welsh club will be bracing themselves for the worst this year. If Gylfi Sigurdsson leaves, then relegation seems almost inevitable. Even if Everton paid Swansea’s £50m valuation, what player (of similar quality) would join what looks like a sinking ship? Paul Clement drastically improved Swansea’s defensive record, but history tells us that the quality up front is often what decides relegation. Fernando Llorente was that clutch, clinical striker at the end of last season, but who will create those chances for him? Only time will tell. (Brian Kang)
Every team that joins the Premier League from the Championship is in for somewhat of a rude awakening. However, Brighton have a decent chance of surviving this season at the top level. They scored goals at a tremendous rate for most of last season and are led by three of the Championship’s best players from last season: Lewis Dunk, Glenn Murray, and Anthony Knockaert. If these three can rise to the challenge, expect Brighton to see another season in the Premier League. (Kevin Luo)
Watford finished off last season in utterly horrendous form and just avoided relegation. This season, they may not be so lucky. While they have some players who could play on top half clubs like Troy Deeney, they’re kind of all over the place, especially in the back. The biggest question for this club is how long it will take them to implement new manager Marco Silva’s new system (if they’re ever able to). If Silva isn’t able to provide some structure to this team on the pitch, he could be seeing the same fate as his Hull side faced last season. (Kevin Luo)
Burnley were a tale of two clubs last season. They were a top-half-of-the-league team at home and a League One side on the road, acquiring only seven out of a possible 57 points. This season, they’ll struggle mightily to repeat their relegation avoiding performance from last season due to the losses of one of the best young defenders in the league, Michael Keane, and their best attacking player, Andre Gray. (Kevin Luo)
Huddersfield, having finally gained promotion to the Premier League, are total underdogs. They can’t come close to competing with the big boys of the league, or even their newly relegated brethren, and their quality of talent shows it. The Terriers, boast a name befitting of their underdog status. The team’s underdog appearance is further bolstered by its manager, David Wagner, the lone American manager in the Premier league. Wagner himself struggled to gain playing time on the US national team.
The Huddersfield offense will likely need some of its coaches plug, as top strikers Elias Kachunga and Nahki Wells are not expected to put the ball in the back of the net much. The defense should be the team’s strength as top defenders Christopher Schindler and Tommy Smith figure to be productive tacklers. Huddersfield’s prospects for the season look bleak, but very few people believed that Huddersfield could even make it to the top flight of British soccer for the first time since the 70s so perhaps they can shock the world again. (Bobby Brooks)
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