It’s felt like forever and a day, but the Premier League is back. While attention will largely be directed to the top of the table, with fans expecting another titanic title-race between Manchester City and Liverpool – the fight for survival will also prove intriguing.
Here, we analyse the five sides that are most likely to scrap it out on that front.
Chris Wilder’s side played dynamic and exciting football as they earned promotion last campaign, but can they make the step up to the Premier League? Their team is full of potential, but with a much higher standard of opposition, things will be far from straightforward for them. The Blades have recruited well, with Ireland star Callum Robinson joining, as well as Ravel Morrison and Oliver MacBurnie. Many expect them to be relegation fodder and a likely candidate to go down.
If they can make Bramall Lane a fortress and pick up points at home, then it will make life a thousand times easier. A good start is imperative also, but the fixture list hasn’t been too kind, with away trips to Chelsea, Bournemouth and Everton as well as facing Liverpool in the opening two months. They may surprise a few, but it is difficult to see them mustering up enough points for survival. No pushovers, but not exactly world-beaters either.
An opening day hammering by Liverpool was a bad start but the Canaries will face Manchester City and Chelsea in the opening five fixtures. They are good going forward, with hitman Teemu Pukki firing on all cylinders last campaign, and a solid midfield base with Mario Vrancic, Marco Stiepermann and Tom Trybull. Full-back Max Aarons will also be one to watch.
Not many are giving Daniel Farke’s men a chance but having won the Championship by five points last season they will be no pushovers. They are a team lacking in Premier League experience, but with the right blend of youth and setting up correctly, they could spring a surprise or two. They will need to beat the teams around them to stand a chance, but a club of Norwich’s calibre belongs in the Premier League, it’s simply a question of whether or not the players do.
Brighton & Hove Albion
The Seagulls struggled last year, and the sacking of manager Chris Hughton sent shockwaves throughout English football – given he massively overachieved with a squad lacking in both depth and ability. They have brought in Neal Maupay, Aaron Mooy and Adam Webster, all players certainly at Premier League level, but Brighton’s problem will be finding the net. Maupay was fantastic for Brentford at Championship level, but there is no way that form will replicate itself against the big sides. Their away form will also need serious improvement.
It will be interesting to see what approach new boss Graham Potter will adopt, but before a ball has been kicked, it doesn’t look all too promising at the Amex.
Every year Burnley are named among the relegation favourites but grind out enough results to see themselves through. Sean Dyche is a mastermind for keeping teams out of trouble, and in fairness to the Clarets, they comfortably avoided the drop last time out.
However, when comparing their squad with the rest of the league, as well as their budget and recruitment, Burnley look in a spot of bother. A major injury to a key player is something that has the potential to derail the side, and teams have wised up to their approach, with Turf Moor not quite the fortress it was in years gone by. Dwight McNeil looks an interesting prospect, as does the loan acquisition of Danny Drinkwater, but Burnley will certainly be one of the sides teetering on the edge come March and April time.
The loss of Rafa Benitez cannot be understated. Steve Bruce is no bad manager, but what the Spaniard achieved in his time on Tyneside was extraordinary, given the circumstances he operated under. Joelinton and Alain Saint-Maximin are signings that display ambition, but the coup of Andy Carroll suggests the contrary. With a relatively aging squad, and the fans far from inside, Bruce needs a good start unless uproar could unfold. Ayoze Perez was instrumental last campaign, and his goals will need replacing – as well as Solomon Rondon.
Things have the potential to get ugly at St. James’s, and there is no doubt that Newcastle have many obstacles to overcome in order to make this season a success.
Verdict: Norwich, Sheffield United and Brighton.