40 Things For The New Football Season

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1) More Friday night Premier League games 
There were 12 throughout last season and it’s expected that there will be more this year. The season starts for the first time on a Friday with the Arsenal v Leicester match and with Monday night games still numerous it’s going to be more common than ever to have the weekend’s football stretched out over a full four days. In the 2010-11 season Liverpool only played nine of their 38 league games on a Saturday and it would be surprising to see someone play fewer this season.

2) Spurs at Wembley
If the league last season was only based on home games then Spurs would have won the title by two points. White Hart Lane was a fortress. But this season Tottenham will be playing all their home league games at Wembley while White Hart Lane is being redeveloped. Their record there for Champions League games last season was pretty poor and a lot of their fans are not looking forward to it. It’s always great to be in cup finals, but as a stadium Wembley has always been a pretty soulless place, lacking in atmosphere and for a team to play a whole season at what is a neutral venue, it’s really not going to help the progression of Tottenham from perennial also-rans to genuine top-four/title contenders that we’ve seen over the last few years. Add to that, the fact that the Wembley pitch is six percent bigger and much longer than the one at White Hart Lane and it adds a new dynamic to Spurs’ style of closing down space for opponents and pressing high up the pitch. They’ll need to settle into their temporary home pretty quickly.

3) Goals at Old Trafford
Last season Old Trafford saw fewer goals than any other stadium, which considering the talent at Man United is quite staggering. United themselves only scored 26 times at home, which is fewer than relegated Hull City, West Brom, Swansea, Leicester and others. If they are going to do anything other than bore their supporters again, then Mourinho will have to take the tactical shackles off. Having Lukaku instead of Ibrahimović should mean more mobility up front, but it’s not the lack of players, it’s the lack of attacking desire – and that comes from the manager. But the good news for United fans is that Mourinho is usually far more effective in his second season.

4) Referee Mike Dean
The FA rubbish the notion that some refs are stricter than others, insisting that they all apply the rules of the game equally. But last season ref Mike Dean handed out 111 yellow cards – none of the other 18 Premier League refs can top that. One off season? No, the previous season Dean topped the yellow cards tally among all 19 refs with 107. The season before that he gave out 117 yellows and again, no other ref gave more. Guess who handed out most the season before that. No, it was actually Phil Dowd, but Dean was second with 99 yellow cards. Mike Dean loves booking people, he just loves it.

5) Jordan Henderson
The Liverpool captain has often seemed like one of those players who seem to be a jack of all trades and a master of none and it’s hard to see what he does in the side. But the team missed him with that long-term foot injury as always seems that Liverpool play better with him, and perhaps this is why:- Last season he averaged 85.7 passes per game – the most of any player in the Premier League – and 3.7 successful tackles per game which is the second best behind only Gueye of Everton. He wins the ball, he gives the ball, he wins the ball, he gives the ball. That’s what he does, and it’s no small thing. Having him back will be big for Klopp.

6) Five English teams in the Champions League
In recent seasons, English teams have been largely underwhelming in the Champions League and it’s a long way from the era 2005-2008 when there was at least one English team playing in the final. This season, however, there will be five England teams in the competition, provided Liverpool can get through their tricky play-off. Perhaps this might be the year that English sides make a decent showing in the latter stages, but that will also have a knock-on effect in the Premier League. Big squads have never been more essential.

7) Idrissa Gueye at Everton
While a mini-revolution has been taking place at Everton, with first-team players leaving and players bought (almost certainly for the first XI) coming in, it’s easy to forget one of their underrated stars from last year. Last season Idrissa Gueye averaged more tackles per game than any other player in the division and while the Senegalese isn’t quite at the standard of N’Golo Kanté, he’s pretty good facsimile.

8) South coast rivalry 
One of the little side stories of this season will be the South-coast rivalry, with Southampton Bournemouth and Brighton all in the Premier League. The Southampton versus Bournemouth games were both decent last season so it’s nice to have a third team in the mix. Also, Brighton and Crystal Palace are, weirdly, huge rivals so watch out for that game. They first meet at the Amex Stadium in November.

9) What now for Leicester? 
After winning the title as 5000-1 outsiders, they went on to finish 12th last season, but had a decent run in the Champions League. So what now? Consolidation as a mid-table side, relegation battles, or can they build something there? Kelechi Iheanacho is a really good signing from Man City and Harry Maguire looks solid, but will need to start well as Robert Huth is out until October. The futures of Demarai Gray and Riyad Mahrez are, however, uncertain at the time of writing and this could be a much more significant season for Leicester than people think.

10) Sergio Aguero
Last season he had the best minutes per goal ratio of any Premier League player ever with a goal every 110 minutes. (minimum of 15 goals) so even accounting for the fact that he often misses parts of the seasons injured, he still manages to score regularly when playing. And last season he became only the fifth player to score 20+ goals in three consecutive Premier League seasons (after Kane, van Nistelrooy, Henry and Shearer). There hasn’t been a lot of talk about him over the summer, but he’s still brilliant and if he can stay fit, he could be the difference between Man City winning the title or not.

11) Players banned for diving
This season the Premier League will be handing out two-match bans for players who dive.  If a player is thought to have dived to win a penalty or get another player sent off, the incident will be reviewed by a three-man panel consisting of an ex-player, ex-manager and ex-referee. The player in question will only be charged if there is a unanimous decision from the panel. But given that the FA will only review cases brought to their attention, we can expect lots of highlighting of dives, suspected dives and even debatable penalties as opposing managers, fans and media alike do their best to get players banned for taking an easy tumble in the box. Expect to see the media and fans via social media at their loudest every Saturday evening picking apart every incident when a player goes down in the box and trying to get the FA to hand out a ban for diving.

12) Everton without Romelu Lukaku
He scored 24 league goals last season and that accounts for 42 percent of the total that Everton scored in the Premier League, so that’s a big ask for the rest of the team to fill in and plug that gap and an even bigger ask if you expect one striker up front to replicate that return. However…

13) Sandro at Everton
The 22-year-old Sandro who has been brought in to replace Lukaku, was seen as little more than a Barcelona cast-off but had a brilliant season in 2016/17 with Malaga, scoring 16 in 31 games. Those in the know when it comes to Spanish football have been “blown away” by his rise over the last few years and for €6million (a release clause) he could turn out to be one of the bargains of the summer.

14) Ander Herera
Ander Herera made the most interceptions of any midfielder according to WhoScored and Man Utd played much better once he became a first-team regular. He can be snidey little player at times but Mourinho likes that and he embodies the Mourinho way pretty well. One of the most underrated players in the division.

15) Arsenal fans and Wenger
He recently signed a two-year deal and when Arsenal play their 21st league game of the season, Wenger will break Alex Ferguson’s record of 810 Premier League games as a manager. But the FA Cup win last year was little more than a plaster over the gaping would of disharmony among the Arsenal fans. While it appears that slightly more are happy for him to stay, it won’t take much more than a tepid start to have the crowd turn on him, banners come out, messages get embarrassingly trailed behind planes and post-match fume on Arsenal Fan TV. Warning: video contains swearing and excessive use of the word “Blud”.

 

16) Christmas period with more games than ever
Largely due to the season finishing early to accommodate preparations for the World Cup in Russia next summer, the Christmas period is set to be even busier with five dates allocated for Premier League fixtures between December 15 and the New Year. On top of that, there’s also a match on January 1, too and then it’s the FA Cup 3rd round five days later.

17) Man City’s full backs
Full backs have become the second-wave of attackers in recent seasons and Pep Guardiola’s tactical plan seemingly depends on having decent ones. So City spent over £100m on Benjamin Mendy and Kyle Walker and their numbers look decent. According to Opta, Mendy fired in 57 crosses from open play in the Champions League last season, which is more than any other player. While only three defenders in the Premier League created more chances than the 39 that Kyle Walker set up last season.

18) Huddersfield’s first season in the Premier League
They were first team to be promoted in Premier League history having conceded more goals than they scored in their promotion campaign. They’ve bought in Danish centre-back Mathias Jørgensen to help shore up the back, Tom Ince to add some legs in midfield and broke their club record with the signing of 6ft 3in striker Steve Mounié from Montpellier, but if Huddersfield are going to stay up it will be the system that saves them. Manager David Wagner is a good friend of Jurgen Klopp and his team plays a similar system. It’s just a case of whether they will have the nerve to stick with it away to bigger sides. Wagner once took his players on a bonding tour of Sweden, where they had to survive with only basic equipment for a few days – it could turn out to be ideal preparation for this forthcoming season.

19) Nemanja Matic freeing up Paul Pogba
Nemanja Matic is perhaps the most Mourinho signing Man United could have made but the big effect he has on the team is freeing up Paul Pogba to move forward. Matic provided seven assists for Chelsea in the Premier League last season, so it’s not as if he isn’t creative, but by taking on more of the defensive responsibility we would start to see Pogba as he was in his final season at Juventus.

20) Virgil van Dijk – wherever he may be 
At the time of writing he’s still at Southampton, but he’ll either have an awkward rehabilitation back into the side he’s indicated he doesn’t want to play for any more, or will be granted the move he wants to Liverpool. Although Southampton would rather sell him to Chelsea, a club he doesn’t want to play for. Either way, once he’s over his current injury he’ll be a key figure for whatever team he ends up at, having won more tackles and aerial duels combined (327) since he joined the Premier League than any other centre-back according to Opta.

 

21) Benitez back in the Premier League 
One of the best tactical managers of the last two decades surprised a few people by taking the job at Newcastle, but he’s been given control and has brought them back up at the first time of asking. But being Benitez, and being Newcastle, we wouldn’t be surprised to see them challenging for a top-six place or Benitez falling out with owners and quitting by October. Either case is just as likely.

 

22) Rooney at Everton
It wasn’t the homecoming that perhaps Everton had hoped for with many Everton fans none too pleased at his signing. With all the new players coming in and the potential for a record signing of the brilliant Gylfi Sigurgsson, it’s hard to see where Rooney is going to fit in. Last season he was ponderous and guilty of slowing down attacks and giving the ball away far too often, so it will be interesting to see how often he plays, and how the crowd reacts if he doesn’t discover a huge upturn in form.

23) Arsenal in the Europa League
It will seem strange to see Arsenal playing on Thursday nights in the Europe League, but that will also push many of their league games to the Sunday. For some reason, teams struggle with the Thursday-Sunday schedule, although ostensibly it’s no different to Wednesday-Saturday, and Arsenal will have to get used to the less glamourous European ties. On the plus side, they won’t have to face Bayern Munich again and are a pretty decent bet to win the Europa.

 

24) New football Podcasts
In one of the shock transfers of the summer, James Richardson (along with Iain Macintosh and producer Ben) left the much-loved Guardian Football Weekly podcast to set up a new one – The Totally Football Show – leaving the Guardian to give his old job to middling Max Rushden. Meanwhile, The Telegraph have launched their Total Football podcast and The Set Piece Menu (with the excellent Rory Smith) is always a solid listen.

 

25) Fernando Llorente at Swansea
His goals were worth 13 points to Swansea last season, and only Diego Costa won his team more points. Along with teammate Gylfi Sigurgsson he was one of the best players in the division not at a top-six club and hanging onto the pair of them is vital for Swansea. But if you like an old-fashioned number nine, then Llorente is a great player to watch.

26) The David Squires cartoon
A new one every Tuesday and regularly brilliant.

27) FA Cup fume in January
The FA have decided to cram as many games as they can into the Christmas period (see No16) leaving managers having to overplay some of their team, so don’t be surprised to see more managers that ever put out a second string in the FA Cup third round in early Jan. Traditionalists and sections of the media/fan bases will complain, but really it’s the FA who created the fixture pile up in the first place to try and give their England team more time to prepare for the World Cup at the end of the season. Because an extra week together will really make all the difference between England winning the World Cup or not, right?

28) Burnley’s second season syndrome
Despite incredible home form, their away form last seasons was truly abysmal. While they impressed many by winning 10 matches at Turf Moor, and ended up on 40 points, that was largely down to a solid back four anchored by Michael Keane. Now that Keane has gone to Everton, they might need to be a bit more adventurous on the road if they are going to survive to see a third straight season in the top flight.

29) Big season for Raheem Sterling
A big year for Sterling with a World Cup at the end of it and a bit of pressure to improve in the Man City team, but the stats show that last season he was the only Man City player to hit double figures for both goals (10) and assists (15). It would be going a bit far to say he was underrated, but in that City team it’s easy to not get recognition among all that attacking talent.

30) Everton’s tough start
Every year there’s a team that gets handed a tough start to the season and this time that fate has befallen Everton. After a more-than-winnable trip to Stoke on the opening day they follow a Europa League game with a trip to Man City, then off to Croatia for the return leg of the Europa play-off, then away to Chelsea, home to Spurs and away to Man United. Ouch.

31) Calls for VAR
With the Video Assistant Referee (VAR) system being used in various places over the summer – to varying effect – we can expect pundits to be calling for its introduction every time that the ref gets a decision wrong. The Premier League have said it won’t be introduced until the 2018-19 season at the earliest but that won’t stop the endless discussions about decisions that would have gone differently if we had it now.

32) Morata at Chelsea
Alvaro Morata’s goals won Real Madrid 13 points in the La Liga last season and only Cristiano Ronaldo won more for the side (15) than that. It’s not that his signing has gone under the radar, but there hasn’t been the fanfare that perhaps he deserves. At 10-1 to be the top scorer in the league, it seems many are underestimating him.

33) Philippe Coutinho
According to the press this morning, Barca are either preparing a huge bid or have given up hope of signing him, but Liverpool fans have long suspected that he would leave them at some point. (Smart money was on before the 2018 World Cup). With him pulling the strings behind Mane, Salah and Firmino, Liverpool should have a great forward line and it’s worth noting that he has scored 15 league goals from outside the area since joining Liverpool – which is more than any other Premier League player. Enjoy him while you can, this could well be his last season in England.

34) A big relegation field
According to the bookies, the relegation battle this year will comprise a big group, with Huddersfield, Burnley, Brighton, Watford, Newcastle, Swansea and Palace all having odds of 5/1 or shorter to be relegated. Then West Brom, Bournemouth and Stoke on 6/1. The cliché goes that a relegation battle starts on the opening day of the season, but this year it’s especially true for seemingly more teams than usual.

35) Alexandre Lacazette
For all the hype over Kylian Mbappe, he only scored 15 of Monaco’s 105 goals last season, while Alexandre Lacazette was a lot deadlier, scoring 28 in 30 Ligue 1 games and 37 in 45 overall. And with his goal totals for the last four seasons reading 37, 23, 31, 22 it seems that Arsenal may have finally found that prolific goalscorer they’re after.

36) A decent title race 
No team has retained the Premier League title since 2009 (nine seasons ago) and despite all the moans that it’s a money-obsessed closed shop, it’s actually never been more competitive for the title. That’s not to say that one team won’t run away with the title, but it’s not easy to predict who it might be. Compare that to Germany where Bayern Munich are 1/5 odds on favourites for a sixth straight title, Serie A where Juventus are 4/6 odds-on favourites for a seventh straight title and La Liga where after Real Madrid and Barcelona the third favourites are Athletico Madrid at a lengthy 33/1. And in Scotland it’s hard not to feel that Celtic wrapped up the title with that opening day win and are 1/10 on for their seventh straight title.

37) Will Hughes at Watford
There was a time when the likes of Arsenal and Liverpool were after Derby’s Will Hughes as the England under-21 player looked like being the next big English midfielder, but after being out for the best part of a season with injury he fell off the radar of the top-six clubs. Still only 22 thought he was looking back to his sharpest at the end of last season and at £7.75m could well prove to be the bargain of the summer.

38) Christian Eriksen’s creativity
Spurs have scored the most goals of any team over the last two seasons in the Premier League and last season Spurs averaged 17.6 shots per game – only Bayern Munich averaged more than that in Europe’s top five leagues. But significantly a lot of that was down to Eriksen pulling the strings and his 15 assists last season was the most by any Tottenham player in a Premier League season.

39) The Carabao Cup
Yes, the League Cup has a daft new sponsor. And sure, fewer and fewer people care about the League Cup, but we still love the chance to see the fringe players in a competitive game, and a bit of early mid-week cup action is not something we’re going to ignore. Often, those early rounds are the only chance you’ll get to see the younger players in action.

40) The Top Four
We know there’s no trophy for it and talk of a top-four finish is already boring, but it’s worth noting that Arsenal finished fifth last season with 75 points, which is a new record-high points total for a team finishing fifth. It’s harder than ever to get into the top four and has never been so much of an achievement. And with six teams expected to finish top four it’s going to be a huge theme all season.

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