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20 Burning Premier League Questions Answered

The most important queries heading into the new season

Getty Images/Ringer illustration
Getty Images/Ringer illustration

Soccer never sleeps. It barely dozes. The Premier League is back, just weeks after the end of the 2016 European Championships. Below, Ryan O’Hanlon and Chris Ryan answer 20 questions about this exciting, wide-open competition. And also check out their 20 Premier League questions podcast on Channel 33.

1. Which teams will finish in the top-four places?

Chris Ryan: (1) Manchester City, (2) Manchester United, (3) Liverpool, and (4) Tottenham

Ryan O’Hanlon: (1) Manchester City, (2) Arsenal, (3) Tottenham, and (4) Liverpool

2. Which teams will be relegated?

C.R.: Hull, Crystal Palace, Burnley

R.O.: Hull, Swansea, Burnley

3. Who wins Young Player of the Year?

C.R.: Paul Pogba, Manchester United

R.O.: POGBA, Manchester United

4. Who wins Player of the Year?

C.R.: Sergio Aguero, Manchester City

R.O.: Kevin De Bruyne, Manchester City

5. Could a team "do a Leicester" this season?

R.O.: If by "doing a Leicester" we mean "getting outshot over the first 36 games and still winning the league by 10 points," then no. I don’t think that’ll ever happen again. But if there’s a lower-table team that can suddenly put up the shot-quality numbers of a top-seven team, then maybe it’s Bournemouth. Even though their best player, Callum Wilson, missed most of the season, they actually outshot their opponents in 2015–16. If they can build on that, don’t be surprised if they jump into the top 10.

6. Wait, couldn’t Leicester "do a Leicester"?

R.O.: I want them to be the Kansas City Royals. I want them to prove the numbers wrong. And I want them to easily win the league again. But math doesn’t care about what I want. If Riyad Mahrez stays, they might still have the best player in the league, but even if he repeats last year’s Zinedine Zidane impersonation, and even if Leicester puts up better underlying numbers than they did last year, they still could finish in seventh.

7. Convince me that this is finally Arsenal’s year?

C.R.: Maybe they try to win one for Le Gippér? This will probably be manager Arsène Wenger’s last season. His deal is up in 2017, and he has started publicly contemplating his professional mortality in increasingly existential terms (he also flirted with the England national team job, before it went to his tactical polar opposite, Sam Allardyce). A fatalist might see this as a season-long senior week for Arsenal players, maybe with an Alexis Sánchez transfer drama scuttling team harmony, or a "Jack Wilshere Offers Out Pensioner in Pub Punch-up" Daily Mail scandal somewhere on the horizon. But maybe, just maybe, what Arsenal needs is a little bit of sentiment. Maybe they can send Wenger out in the same fashion that Alex Ferguson, his greatest rival left: with a league title. They eked out one of the least-inspiring second-place finishes in league history last season; just imagined if they were inspired.

8. Is missing out on European competition the new playing in Europe?

R.O.: First it was Liverpool in 2013–14, followed by Manchester United in 2014–15, then Leicester last year — in each of the past three seasons, a team on the Nigel Farage–approved, domestic-only schedule has finished in the top four. With the talent margins so tight among the top-six teams this season, fewer games for Chelsea and Liverpool should be enough to push one of them into the Champions League next year.

9. Will Antonio Conte revive Chelsea?

C.R.: He will certainly scare the shit out of them.

This is a Chelsea team that hilariously finished the 2015–16 season in 10th place. They had a goal differential of six, and saw their managerial savior get canned, more or less in disgrace. But the Blues added N’Golo Kanté, and still have Cesc Fàbregas, Willian, Diego Costa, and, most importantly, Eden Hazard. And those players now have the Italian version of Sergeant Hartman, shall we say, motivating them. Two questions: Can they score enough (I’m looking at you, Diego Costa’s hamstrings)? And will the notoriously moody group break or blossom under Conte’s methods? If it’s the former …

10. Which top-six manager has the least job security?

C.R.: Conte. Because Roman Abramovich really does not give a shit. Do you really think the guy who has burned through (among others) Claudio Ranieri (lol), José Mourinho, Luiz Felipe Scolari, Carlo Ancelotti, André Villas-Boas, and Rafa Benitez, only to get back to his first love, Mourinho, and then fire him again … you really think he is tripping over Conte? You think he’s scared of some yelling? Besides, Wenger is likely in his last year, Liverpool’s Jurgen Klopp and the Manchester twins (Pep Guardiola and Mourinho) are bulletproof, and Tottenham’s Mauricio Pochettino is more likely to leave on his own accord for a PSG-level club (or to manage his home country of Argentina) than he is to get canned.

11. Which 2015–16 team will see the greatest slide?

R.O.: Their best player is almost 30. Their best goalscorer is Andy Carroll. Their new stadium is going to zap their home-field advantage. Their keeper … well, he’s actually pretty good. But West Ham are not going to outperform their expected goal differential by 18 again. Slaven Bilic should’ve joined Iron Maiden when he had the chance.

12. What 2015–16 team will see the greatest gain?

R.O.: When Pep Guardiola first met Gael Clichy, the Frenchman had never kicked — and possibly never even seen — a soccer ball before.

A month later, he’s a tactical omnivore.

If Guardiola can turn Fabian Delph’s Best Friend into an inverted fullback, he shouldn’t have a problem turning Manchester City into Premier League juggernauts.

13. If you could make a realistic addition to the league before the transfer window shuts on August 31, who would it be?

C.R.: Juventus’ Leonardo Bonucci. The Italian champs are sitting on a mountain of Paul Pogba money, so they don’t need to sell. But if they were in the mood, I’d offer up Manchester City as a buyer. City recently bought John Stones, so it’s hard to imagine them splashing out for a sweet-passing, 29-year-old Italian roadblock who’s never played in the Premier League, but has actually punched his own mugger in the face … wait a second, they should DEFINITELY BUY THIS GUY.

Pep Guardiola has called Bonucci one of his favorite players. It would be great to see him get a chance to coach him.

More likely to happen, and still exciting: French striker Alexandre Lacazette to Arsenal.

14. Are we talking about Alex Ferguson’s flair and proclivity for youth? Louis van Gaal’s conservatism? José Mourinho’s caginess? How will the Reds play this season? Will the real Manchester United please stand up?

R.O.: They’ve been standing; fifth place is right about where they’ll end up again. The oddsmakers have United as second favorites for the title, and any team that adds the 57 goals and 40 assists of Zlatan Ibrahimovic, Henrikh Mkhitaryan, and Paul Pogba in one summer is going to be better than they were the year before, but there are eight other lineup spots that need to be filled for Premier League, League Cup, FA Cup, and Europa League games. Over the last two years, their injury list has been longer than the Dead Sea Scrolls, and after banishing Bastian Schweinsteiger and holding playing time just beyond little Juan Mata’s reach, José Mourinho might not have a squad capable of absorbing all of those games while playing at a title-winning level.

15. Is this the year England finally doesn’t get embarrassed in the Champions League?

C.R.: I really, really like the looks of Manchester City’s 12–1 Champions League odds, but the answer is no. As long as English teams have to compete hard against more than half of their own league, play two domestic cup competitions, and keep trucking through the busy holiday schedule while most leagues take weeks off, it’s hard to imagine a Premier League team putting its name on the trophy any time soon.

16. Can Liverpool and Tottenham play in the red all year and not fade at the end?

R.O.: No team that presses as hard as either of these two has ever won the Premier League, but I’m also not sure the Premier League has ever seen two teams that work their press in such a coordinated and sophisticated way. Without the winter break you’d get in Spain or Germany, it’s much harder to maintain such a frenetic playing style in England, but both Liverpool’s Jurgen Klopp and Tottenham’s Mauricio Pochettino have had enough time to (1) get their players in better shape and (2) build squads that aren’t as reliant on a core of 11 players who will inevitably get injured due to the kind of shape their managers ask them to be in. Both clubs could fall off over the last few weeks of the season, but their highs might be so high that it doesn’t even matter:

17. Is Paul Pogba already the best player in the league?

C.R.: No, it’s a healthy Sergio Aguero.

18. Which new Manchester City player should we get excited about?

R.O.: Despite all the kids they brought in, Ilkay Gundogan is the guy you want. When healthy, the 25-year-old is an elite midfielder — as good at moving the ball downfield as anyone in the world, and a free safety who picks off passes at an incredible rate. Except, he’s never played more than 26 league games in a season, and he just dislocated his kneecap in May. With a fully functioning Gundogan, City look like the best team in England. Without him? Well, they still might be, but it’s not quite as clear.

19. Who are the bookies wrong about?

C.R.: Leicester. They could very easily be in 10th place, so 28–1 is actually a compliment.

20. Outside of Manchester, which summer signing will have the biggest impact?

C.R.: N’Golo Kanté.