A little over two months since Chelsea lifted the trophy aloft, the Premier League will return on Saturday with 20 clubs brimming with ambition to make their mark on the world’s richest league. And after a near-procession of last season’s title race, Chelsea’s challengers have strengthened over the summer to promise a more intense fight for the championship. Meanwhile, at the bottom, the battle promises to be just as fierce to avoid missing out on the riches from the biggest ever broadcast deal next season.
Here’s how the table should look come the climax of the campaign next May:
1. Chelsea (Odds to win title, via OddsChecker, 7/4)
Having last season showed they could be both the most entertaining team in the division and then the most resilient, Chelsea rightly begin the new season as favorites to retain their crown. While they haven’t added to their squad as much as Jose Mourinho surely would have liked, and there is a risk of both staleness and a lack of depth, they still have the best coach in the Premier League and an elite playmaker in Eden Hazard to guide them to the title.
2. Arsenal (4/1)
After a fine second half to last season and retaining the FA Cup, Arsenal enter the season with more optimism than they have in close to a decade. However, doubts remain about whether they can truly produce when it matters most, while the squad is still short of top-class quality up front and of depth at the base of their midfield.
3. Manchester United (5/1)
Having returned to the top four, nothing less than a title challenge will do for Louis van Gaal in his second season in charge. The signings so far have been impressive, particularly in midfield, but a lack of depth up front and a failure to upgrade defensively may cost them a real tilt at becoming champions.
4. Manchester City (11/4)
Given their anemic title defense last season, an overhaul looked to be required at the Etihad. Instead, Manuel Pellegrini has remained in charge, while Raheem Sterling and Fabian Delph are the only major arrivals on the playing side. With a suspect defense and a midfield that needed reinventing, City could be left with little choice but to make radical changes next summer.
5. Liverpool (25/1)
Off the back of a disappointing sixth-place finish, Brendan Rodgers kept his job, but knows there will be no second chances should things go wrong this campaign. While significant money has again been spent, little has been done to address the team’s propensity for calamity at the back. Rodgers’ coaching acumen is set to be put to the ultimate test.
6. Tottenham (100/1)
A fifth-place finish in Mauricio Pochettino’s first season in charge offered moments of encouragement, but unless he is given considerably more backing in the transfer market the club has little chance of breaking into the top four. It is doubtful, too, whether Harry Kane can repeat the heroics of his incredible breakthrough season.
7. Southampton (250/1)
Having overcome the loss of key players to finish a superb seventh last season, Southampton could be set to do similar this time around. The hugely influential Morgan Schneiderlin and right-back Nathaniel Clyne have departed, but Dutch midfielder Jordy Clasie and Portugal international Cédric Soares look like encouraging replacements. Ronald Koeman’s side will still have to cope with the extra demands of the Europa League.
8. Stoke City (1500/1)
On the back of a second successive top-half finish under Mark Hughes, Stoke are a club with ambitions to kick on yet further. While they have thus far failed to lure Swiss star Xherdan Shaqiri, the arrival of Glen Johnson and another two players from Barcelona -- Ibrahim Afellay and Moha El Ouriachi -- to join the fit again Bojan Krkic mean Stoke should be a side worth watching.
9. Everton (250/1)
After the optimism of near qualification for the Champions League in his first season in charge, Roberto Martinez’s side floundered to an 11th place finish last term. Although the absence of Europa League distractions will aid their cause this time around, a lack of any significant activity in the transfer market and the looming specter of Chelsea’s pursuit of John Stones mean it could be another difficult year.
10. Swansea City (1500/1)
One of last season’s surprise packages, Swansea flourished in the first full season in charge of young coach Garry Monk. Having added the talented Ghanaian attacker Jordan Ayew, there is reason to think it could be another strong campaign.
11. Crystal Palace (2000/1)
Having looked doomed for relegation, Palace enjoyed a sensational run to finish 10th following the arrival of Alan Pardew. While it will be difficult to quite repeat that form, the signing of Yohan Cabaye from Paris Saint-Germain is surely the transfer coup of the summer, while they have so far crucially kept hold of attacking danger man Yannick Bolasie.
12. Newcastle United (2000/1)
Desperately fortunate to escape relegation last season following the calamitous reign of John Carver, owner Mike Ashley appears to have been scared into getting out his checkbook to ensure there is no repeat. In have come Dutch midfielder Georginio Wijnaldum and young Anderlecht pair Aleksandar Mitrovic and Chancel Mbemba. Crisis is always a possibility at St James’ Park, but there should be less drama this time around.
13. West Ham (1500/1)
An element of the unknown pervades around West Ham after they decided to dispense with safe pair of hands Sam Allardyce and appoint their former defender Slaven Bilic as manager in their final season before moving into the Olympic Stadium. An early start in the Europa League may take its toll, but Bilic has previously proven himself a good organizer of sides and the club have made some interesting signings, not least France international Dimitri Payet.
14. West Brom (2000/1)
Tony Pulis steered the club clear of danger after taking over during last season, and, while they likely won’t provide a great deal of entertainment, the former Stoke City manager should ensure safety once more. Following his disappointing season at Liverpool, new signing Rickie Lambert could well prove a useful foil for last season’s top scorer Saido Berahino.
15. Norwich City (5000/1)
Despite only coming up through the Playoffs last season, there is reason to think that Norwich will fare the best of the promoted sides. There is plenty of Premier League experience in their ranks and in 34-year-old Alex Neil they have a potential rising star of the managerial ranks.
16. Sunderland (3000/1)
Following another near escape last season, one could be forgiven for wondering if there’s simply something in Sunderland’s DNA ensuring they’ll never kick on and justify the Stadium of Light’s average attendance of close to 50,000. The man who led them to survival, Dick Advocaat, has been persuaded to stay on, but it would take a leap of faith to predict that it won’t be another season of struggle.
17. Aston Villa (2000/1)
Having only finished one place above the drop last season, alarm bells should be ringing around Villa Park following the departure of the spine of their team in the shape of Christian Benteke, Fabian Delph and Ron Vlaar. With Tim Sherwood’s motivational approach already appearing to lose its impact at the end of last season, a nervy campaign could lie ahead.
18. Watford (5000/1)
Despite having four different managers and a squad heavy on loan players, Watford surprised many last season to earn a return to the top flight after an eight-year absence. They will have to confound the doubters once again having again changed managers, bringing in Spaniard Quique Sanchez Flores, and overhauling much of the squad. With some quality players added to the squad, there is some hope that they can survive.
19. Leicester City (2500/1)
Dispensing with the man who led them to a great escape last season was not in itself a bad move, given the fractious personality of Nigel Pearson. But replacing him with veteran Italian coach Claudio Ranieri was an odd choice, and, having also lost influential veteran midfielder Esteban Cambiasso, Leicester have a slim chance to survive this time around.
20. Bournemouth (5000/1)
The elevation to the top flight for the first time ever, and with a stadium boasting a capacity of just over 11,000, is a wonderful story. And in Eddie Howe they also have a manager of real acumen. But, while they may cause a few memorable upsets early on, the elevated level of the Premier League may prove just too much for a limited squad.