I’ve always been a terrible soccer player. I knew so much as early as kindergarten, when I once got so frustrated with my inability to use my feet to score in my town’s little 5-year-old youth soccer league that I picked up the ball, dashed away to the other end of the field, and tossed the ball into one of those tiny yellow nets. Apparently this was against the rules, so I said in Stewie Griffin-esque fashion, “to hell with my soccer career!” and rode off into the sunset.
My opinion of soccer, though, has changed drastically over time, especially after recently spending five months in England. Once apathetic, I’m now a passionate follower. Making this conversion was rather easy, too. From the constant chants of “Come on you Spurs!” at Tottenham’s White Hart Lane to a Champions League match between Arsenal and Bayern Munich; and from English National team action at Wembley to watching title-winning football at Stamford Bridge, the home of Chelsea, it was impossible for me to resist the authenticity of the English Premier League (nor Spain’s La Liga, for that matter, as watching Real Madrid battle Atletico Madrid at the Bernabeu was arguably my favorite experience of them all).
With this new-found passion for the sport, I figure it’s time I put my limited knowledge to the test, considering the Premier League opens up today with Arsenal taking on the 2015-16 champions, Leicester City. Here are my predictions.
The Top Four
Even though I’m a bandwagon Chelsea fan, my objective take is that the defending champs will regress this season. The main reason why is because they outperformed last year according to expected goal value (EGV). Expected goal value uses distance and nearby defenders to calculate the approximate odds of a goal being scored on any given shot, and Chelsea had the largest disparity between their actual and expected goal total (+22.4). That’s the highest discrepancy of any team to finish in the top four over the past five seasons. And to show the significance of this, two recent teams that had similar disparities, both Manchester City (+19.2) and Liverpool (+22.0) in 2013-14, regressed by 16 and 45 goals respectively the following year.
Chelsea is likely to see a similar decline this season, particularly since they’ll now have Champions League obligations that they did not have to account for a season ago.
Unlike all of their rivals, the Spurs didn’t spend a dime upgrading their squad during the transfer window. The good news, though, is that their excellent core of Harry Kane and Deli Alli is still in tact. That means Tottenham is still likely to be in title contention once again after a second consecutive top-three finish, but do they have the reinforcements to put them over the top? I’m skeptical, especially since they’re also in for a statistical regression based on their actual and expected goal discrepancy last season (+15.4).
2 Manchester United
Jose Mourinho’s side should be more prolific in 2017-18. After a league-high fifteen draws last year, Man U acquired Everton striker Romelu Lukaku, which could potentially put them over the top. He’s already an early favorite to win the Golden Boot (presented to the leading goal-scorer). Plus, in contrast to Chelsea and Tottenham, Manchester United was one of the league’s top under-performers last year. That is, they should’ve scored more goals based on their EGV, so they could be in line to get lucky this season. And if all of their offseason acquisitions work according to plan, they’ll win their first title since 2012-13.
1 Manchester City
However, I’m picking Man U’s cross-town rival to claim this year’s trophy. Manchester City already had a lot of things going for it, namely a terrific offensive unit with the likes of Sergio Aguero, Raheem Sterling, and the young Gabriel Jesus. Then they went out and spent close to $300 million during the transfer window and signed new fullbacks to improve their defense, such as Tottenham’s Kyle Walker.
But the most notable addition should be in goal. Man City had the second-worst Expected Save Value (a very similar statistical as EGV; it just measures goalie performance specifically) last season, so they spent $34 million on former Benefica goalie Ederson (yes, his name is just Ederson), who posted an 0.79 goals against average in 74 matches with his former club. If he stabilizes the defense, which I think he will, Man City’s fantastic offense will guide Pep Guardiola’s squad to the top of the Premier League.