Gabriel Jesus’s appetite for goals pre-season has been voracious – I’m struggling to contain my excitement. So is he the the real McCoy? From what I saw of him at City I wasn’t convinced he was our 20+ goals solution, but I’m fast becoming a believer.
Key players/weak links William Saliba may be unproven but he has this languid, unruffled aura that makes me wonder if we’ve finally found our defensive guvnor. Also eager to discover if Edu has unearthed another diamond in Marquinhos. As for weaknesses, hopefully Oleksandr Zinchenko will leave us less dependent on Kieran Tierney’s fitness. Now if only we could land Youri Tielemans, he could prove pivotal.
Best and worst away trips Great to have Craven Cottage back with its riverside setting, Archibald Leitch facade and corking away-end atmosphere. Worst? Still the London Stadium.
First-choice XI Ramsdale; Tomiyasu, Saliba, Gabriel, Tierney; Partey, Vieira; Saka, Ødegaard, Martinelli; Jesus.
Two players from the past who would slot right in Patrick Vieira would be an instant fix for Xhaka’s limitations. And Dennis Bergkamp, for the artistry.
We will finish 3rd; Top four 1 Man City 2 Liverpool 3 Arsenal 4 The Deplorables; Bottom three 18 Fulham 19 Nottm Forest 20 Bournemouth; First manager sacked Frank Lampard.
Bernard Azulay onlinegooner.com; @GoonerN5
How am I feeling? A bit “meh” actually: the two early high-profile signings were good statements and we seem to have two decent players for every position. Which is all fine and dandy, but I’m not sure the manager was any nearer knowing his best team in May than when he started six months earlier. It’s a big three months for Steven Gerrard: we have a relatively easy start and if we’re 15th in October the natives might just get a bit restless. Top 10 and a cup run would be my idea of a decent season but I sense it’s optimistic.
Key players/weak links Diego Carlos and Boubacar Kamara have top-level experience; Archer could be exciting up front; Cash is mustard, and Ramsey will be wrongly overlooked by the England manager until at least North America ‘26 because he doesn’t pass the ball backwards enough at a big club. As for weak links: Watkins is great but unlikely to be a 20-a-season man, and Ings’ pace has gone.
Best and worst away trips Everton is worst for view and best for noise and general craic – it’s a shame they’re moving.
First-choice XI Martínez; Cash, Konsa, Carlos, Digne; Ramsey, Kamara, McGinn; Coutinho; Watkins, Archer
Two players from the past who would slot right in Dwight Yorke up top, a 9 and a 10 rolled into one, and Paul McGrath. As the young ones say: “Defending? Completed it mate.”
We will finish 10th; Top four 1 Man City 2 Liverpool 3 Tottenham 4 Arsenal; Bottom three 18 Fulham 19 Bournemouth 20 Wolves; First manager sacked Frank Lampard
We still need to strengthen in a few areas – many fans feel uneasy with the lack of signings. So we’ll need a siege mentality, but Scott Parker has developed a style that’s probably better suited to the Premier League than the Championship, where we struggled against teams who sat back and defended deep. And we have a good balance: players with top-flight experience and points to prove, and some emerging talents.
Key players/weak links The ones with pedigree are Lerma, Cook, Billing, Kelly and Smith – all of whom need to have big seasons. Dominic Solanke’s goals will be key. And, as well as the returning David Brooks, watch out for Jaidon Anthony, Jordan Zemura and Mark Travers as three emerging youngsters who were all massive for us in winning promotion. The worry is central defence and how we’ll set up – will we stick with the attacking formation that won us games in the Championship or go ultra-defensive with a back five? We fear the latter.
Best and worst away trips It’ll be emotional seeing Eddie Howe again. The worst trip is Arsenal: library-quiet, a terrible low-slung view, and we never pick up points there either.
First-choice XI Travers; Smith, Mepham, Kelly, Zemura; Christie, Cook, Lerma, Anthony; Billing; Solanke
Two players from the past who would slot right in Former loanee Rio Ferdinand, plus George Best – but in his prime, not the version we had at the fag-end of his career.
We will finish 17th; Top four 1 Man City 2 Liverpool 3 Tottenham 4 Chelsea; Bottom three 18 Fulham 19 Brentford 20 Leeds; First manager sacked Frank Lampard
Jeff Hayward Back of the Net podcast
I’m feeling good about what’s to come. We showed the Premier League last season that not only can we play good football but we can hold our own when big players are injured. We’ve also made some key signings who will make us stronger once they bed in.
Key players/weak links David Raya is a brilliant sweeper-keeper, Christian Nørgaard is critical in the Brentford machine and Aaron Hickey is the full-back we’ve been looking for since Henrik Dalsgaard left for Denmark two seasons ago: a quality defender who can play on the left or the right, is good with his feet and can pick a pass. And teenager Yehor Yarmoliuk, signed from Dnipro, was described as “an incredible talent” by our Ukranian football expert on our Beesotted podcast. Exciting. As for weaknesses, our defensive display in the Wolfsburg friendly wasn’t great, but taking Ben Mee on a free looks a smart move.
Best and worst away trips I loved Newcastle last season: friendly, great city, great atmosphere. Also looking forward to going back to The City Ground this season: beautiful by the river with lots of great pubs. Chelsea isn’t top of my list, though. Hard to get a drink as an away fan within a mile of the ground …
First-choice XI Raya; Ajer, Jansson, Pinnock; Hickey, Nørgaard, Lewis-Potter, Henry; Mbuemo, Toney, Wissa
Two players from the past who would slot right in Hermann Hreidarsson for passion and solidity. And Saïd Benrahma, if managed well, is a genius who can pull a rabbit out of the hat. Thomas Frank knows how to make him tick.
We will finish 12th; Top four 1 Liverpool 2 Man City 3 Tottenham 4 Arsenal; Bottom three 18 Fulham 19 Nottm Forest 20 Bournemouth; First manager sacked Frank Lampard.
If we carry on our fabulous form from the end of last season, this one will be great. And we’ve now added Deniz Undav, who scored 25 goals for Tony Bloom’s Union SG in Belgium’s top-flight last season. We’re such a well-run club it’s almost unthinkable that we won’t get even better. Exciting times.
Key players/weak links It would be incredibly sad to see Marc Cucurella go to Man City, but our squad is stuffed with talent. Moisés Caicedo looks well capable of filling Bissouma’s boots, and last year’s young player of the season, Jeremy Sarmiento, should be great. As should 18-year-old Julio Enisco, bought from Libertad, who already has five Paraguay caps. The only weak link is the reliably terrible Southern train service to the Amex.
Best and worst away trips Best is Villa Park for atmosphere and pubs. Worst is Selhurst: atrocious facilities; repetitive, zombie-like singing and – just as you breathe a sigh of relief at the end – you get kettled by police en route to another Southern train.
First-choice XI Sánchez; Dunk, Webster, Veltman; Cucurella, Caicedo, Gross, Lamptey; Mac Allister, Undav, Trossard
Two players from the past who would slot right in Dan Burn back from Newcastle, and the humble Spaniard Iñigo Calderón who took the club and city to heart from 2010-16. What a dream if he and Bruno were to manage us should Potter ever leave.
We will finish 8th; Top four 1 Liverpool 2 Man City 3 Arsenal 4 Tottenham; Bottom three 18 Crystal Palace 19 Nottm Forest 20 Bournemouth; First manager sacked Frank Lampard.
I’m optimistic: we’ve always delivered over the last 25 years, whatever is thrown at us. This is the start of a new era with new owners and a new approach – it’ll hopefully lift us after the impact of the sanctions last season. Bring it on.
Key players/weak links Sterling, Mount, Koulibaly, Silva and Kovacic are key. Koulibaly should provide the leadership and drive we lost with Rüdiger leaving, and I’m expecting more new faces before the window closes. We also have Conor Gallagher and Ethan Ampadu back: they should carry on their progress. We still need a replacement for Lukaku, though, and our home form has to improve: we need to get back to the fortress Stamford Bridge used to be.
Best and worst away trips I have a soft spot for old grounds – Everton is one of the best: tight with great volume. The worst by far is the London Stadium – it’s just not a football ground.
First-choice XI Mendy; Silva, Koulibaly, Chalobah; James, Chilwell, Kanté, Kovacic; Sterling, Havertz, Mount
Two players from the past who would slot right in John Terry and Didier Drogba: leaders who gave everything.
We will finish 3rd; Top four 1 Man City 2 Liverpool 3 Chelsea 4 Tottenham; Bottom three 18 Everton 19 Brentford 20 Fulham; First manager sacked Frank Lampard.
Paul Baker in memory of Trizia Fiorellino
It’s been a strange pre-season, with half the squad on the Covid-delayed Australian tour and the other half playing EFL teams in the south-east. However, most of the transfer targets have been signed in good time and the forward line in particular looks good.
Key players/weak links Signing Cheick Doucouré was always the top priority, and we got him at a great price. Chris Richards from Bayern gives us the option of a back three, while Malcolm Ebiowei adds yet more attacking flair. A full pre-season for Eberechi Eze looks like it has paid dividends, too. The biggest doubt is how we fill the void left by Conor Gallagher: he’ll be a huge miss so finding a way to replace that forward energy is crucial. And an injury to Guéhi or Andersen would be a big problem – but Richards’ signing goes some way to addressing this.
Best and worst away trips Best is Fulham: close by, old school ground, and we usually win … Worst: West Ham, a soulless athletics venue with away fans split into two sections, one of them perched on scaffolding. Awful.
First-choice XI Guaita; Clyne, Guéhi, Andersen, Mitchell; Doucouré, Schlupp, Eze; Olise, Mateta, Zaha
Two players from the past who would slot right in Andy Johnson, with his pace and killer instinct, would bag a hatful in this side. And Yohan Cabaye would be devastatingly effective too.
We will finish 10th; Top four 1 Man City 2 Tottenham 3 Liverpool 4 Chelsea; Bottom three 18 Everton 19 Fulham 20 Bournemouth; First manager sacked Eddie Howe.
Chris Waters @Clapham_Grand
It’s extremely difficult to be optimistic: the squad that narrowly escaped relegation was stronger than the one we have now. Lampard having a full pre-season is a positive, but this is a team with a questionable defence (especially from dead balls), a lack of creativity, and where are the goals coming from? It’s the result of years of mismanagement and appalling recruitment.
Key players/weak links Tarkowski seems very impressive, based on his performance at Blackpool (!). Pickford will keep maturing, Mykolenko and Patterson should show their promise, and signing McNeil from Burnley gives us much more balance and attacking threat down the right. Weak links? Still midfield, creativity and scoring.
Best and worst away trips Best is Fulham: just a good old-fashioned away game, and it’ll be interesting to see their new stand. The worst, need I say, is our former ground, Anfield.
First-choice XI Pickford; Tarkowski, Mina, Godfrey; Mykolenko, Allan, Doucouré, Patterson; Gordon, Calvert-Lewin, McNeil
Two players from the past who would slot right in Dixie Dean for goals, and Alan Ball. He had it all.
We will finish 14th; Top four 1 Man City 2 Liverpool 3 Arsenal 4 Tottenham; Bottom three 18 Southampton 19 Fulham 20 Bournemouth; First manager sacked Ralph Hasenhüttl.
The Esk TheEsk.org; @TheEsk
Our last two ill-prepared dalliances with the top-flight mean we’re desperately hoping for third-time lucky. Third-time competent would be a start. Marco Silva masterminded a goal-laden promotion campaign and deserves the chance to push on. The fans are wishing for that too: a chance. A balanced, integrated squad is a must. In recent seasons our scattergun, late-in-the-window recruiting left us lagging; this time it looks more promising, even if some talks have been bouncing on longer than Partygate.
Key players/weak links Mitro is key. A fit, confident and motivated Aleksandar Mitrovic will score at any level. The marquee signing of João Palhinha looks a masterstroke, and Manor Solomon’s pace and trickery should be a perfect fit. Youngsters Jay Stansfield and Tyrese Francois could be involved, as might Luke Harris – only 17 but scoring for fun for the U-23s. The weak spot? We need a solid, pacy centre-back partnership.
Best and worst away trips Best is Forest, if only for the riverside location. Worst: Newcastle. You need binoculars and vertigo tablets.
First-choice XI Rodák; Mbabu, Adarabioyo, Ream, Robinson; Palhinha, Reed; Wilson, Pereira, Solomon; Mitrovic
Two players from the past who would slot right in The ever-dependable Aaron Hughes for his clever reading of the game and general tidying up. And Moussa Dembélé: poise and strength in midfield.
We will finish Top 17 please; Top four 1 Man City 2 Liverpool 3 Tottenham 4 Chelsea; Bottom three 18 Leeds 19 Nottm Forest 20 Bournemouth; First manager sacked Jesse Marsch.
David Lloyd @DMLTOOFIF
We’ve got a new coach, new tactics and half a new team, so there’s a feeling of starting again. I’m naturally nervous, though. Since a quick “sorry about all that” last season, the owners have been silent about what’s happening next, but better-than-last-time should be achievable. Now Jesse Marsch has his own squad, with three Red Bull alumni, he should deliver better football than he managed during the rescue mission of spring.
Key players/weak links Tyler Adams and Marc Roca are stepping in where Kalvin Phillips used to roam. Both look good; we’re counting down to Roca’s first red card. There are high expectations of Brenden Aaronson; a full season of Pat Bamford could be key; and Joe Gelhardt looks ready for a big season. The weak link is left-back. We only have one, Junior Firpo, and he’s injured, and nobody likes him.
Best and worst away trips The best is any in the Championship, where Leeds could take 8,000 to some grounds. It’s less than half that now in this league.
First-choice XI Meslier; Kristensen, Koch, Cooper, Firpo; Adams, Forshaw; Harrison, Aaronson, James; Bamford
Two players from the past who would slot right in We have a vacancy for a quick, hard-working left-back, so Mike Whitlow. As for the other, is it too soon to say Raphinha?
We will finish 14th; Top four 1 Man City 2 Liverpool 3 Tottenham 4 Arsenal; Bottom three 18 Everton 19 Fulham 20 Bournemouth; First manager sacked Frank Lampard.
Daniel Chapman thesquareball.net; @MoscowhiteTSB