2016-17 Premier League Preview – The Contenders

The Premier League season is fast approaching, and as clubs look around frantically to improve their squads I am going to assess how they are shaping up before the new season. This season promises to provide plenty of excitement, and after Leicester City’s historic title win last season the field is more open than ever. In the days leading up to the start of the season I will be looking at all twenty teams in depth, beginning with those sides who I think are in the hunt for the title. Enjoy.

Arsenal

Manager: Arsene Wenger
Captain: Laurent Koscielny
Ground: Emirates Stadium
Last Season: 2nd
Top Scorer: Olivier Giroud (16)
Most Assists: Mesut Ozil (19)
Prediction: 4th

Squad

Goalkeepers: 1. Wojciech Szczesny, 13. David Ospina, 26. Emiliano Martinez, 33. Petr Cech.
Defenders: 2. Mathieu Debuchy, 3. Kieran Gibbs, 4. Per Mertesacker, 5. Gabriel Paulista, 6. Laurent Koscielny, 16. Rob Holding, 18. Nacho Monreal, 21. Calum Chambers, 24. Hector Bellerin, 25. Carl Jenkinson.
Midfielders: 8. Aaron Ramsey, 10. Jack Wilshere, 11. Mesut Ozil, 15. Alex Oxlade-Chamberlain, 17. Alex Iwobi, 19. Santi Cazorla, 29. Granit Xhaka, 34. Francis Coquelin, 35. Mohamed Elneny.
Forwards: 7. Alexis Sanchez, 12. Olivier Giroud, 14. Theo Walcott, 22. Yaya Sanogo, 23. Danny Welbeck, 27. Serge Gnabry, 28. Joel Campbell, 32. Chuba Akpom, Takuma Asano.

Arsenal had a fairly strong season last time around, but while they did finish second they never really looked like mounting a serious challenge for the title. Not much has changed since, with Arsene Wenger staying fairly quiet in the transfer market. Granit Xhaka has been brought in from Borussia Monchengladbach, and he will be one of the leading candidates to match up with Aaron Ramsey and Mesut Ozil (pictured) at the heart of a very strong midfield. Up front, Wenger is looking to add another striker, but Olivier Giroud’s strong form at Euro 2016 may convince him to stick with the French target man. Petr Cech has a very solid defence in front of him, and Arsenal are not likely to concede too many goals.

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The Gunners have a strong all round team and could lift the trophy come the end of the season, but they have not changed much and they may struggle to keep up. They have consistently finished in the top four over a prolonged period of time, and while they maintain a constant presence in the Champions League they have not really looked like lifting any silverware besides their two recent FA Cup wins. Ultimately, winning the title is not something which they expect to do anymore, and as such the big changes which would be required to match the biggest clubs are not being made. Arsenal will definitely be around the top of the table at the end of the season, but a title win looks highly unlikely.

Star Player: Mesut Ozil

Ozil is at the centre of Arsenal’s team, providing plenty of chances for the strikers with his ability to put good balls in behind the defence. The German star led the Premier League for assists last season, and he was just one short of breaking the Premier League record for most assists in a single campaign. He can also hit the scoreboard himself, and his brilliance in attack will prove crucial as Arsenal look to contend for the title once more.

Key Player: Laurent Koscielny

With Per Mertesacker out for five months it will be up to new captain Koscielny to be the rock at the heart of the defence alongside Gabriel Paulista, who is still relatively inexperienced. He has been in good form, and if that does not continue in the early stages of the season Arsenal could have some major problems down the track.

One to Watch: Hector Bellerin

Bellerin is still only 21, but he has firmly set himself at right back in Arsene Wenger’s team. He has incredible pace and he was the only Arsenal player named in the Premier League team of the season at the end of last campaign. He was left on the bench by Vincente del Bosque at Euro 2016, but he has plenty of potential and should develop further this season.

Likely team (4-2-3-1): Cech – Bellerin, Koscielny, Paulista, Monreal; Ramsey, Xhaka; Cazorla, Ozil, Sanchez; Giroud.

Chelsea

Manager: Antonio Conte
Captain: John Terry
Ground: Stamford Bridge
Last Season: 10th
Top Scorer: Diego Costa (12)
Most Assists: Cesc Fabregas (7)
Prediction: 5th

Squad

Goalkeepers: 1. Asmir Begovic, 13. Thibaut Courtois, 27. Jamal Blackman, Bradley Collins.
Defenders: 2. Branislav Ivanovic, 3. Papy Djilobodji, 5. Kurt Zouma, 6. Baba Rahman, 20. Matt Miazga, 24. Gary Cahill, 26. John Terry, 28. Cesar Azpilicueta, 30. Michael Hector, 34. Ola Aina, 37. Jake Clarke-Salter, 39. Fankaty Dabo, 43. Fiyako Tomori, Todd Kane, Kenneth Omeruo, Alex Davey.
Midfielders: 4. Cesc Fabregas, 7. N’Golo Kante, 8. Oscar, 10. Eden Hazard, 11. Pedro, 12. John Obi Mikel, 15. Victor Moses, 16. Kenedy, 17. Juan Cuadrado, 21. Nemanja Matic, 22. Willian, 29. Nathaniel Chalobah, 31. Christian Atsu, 33. Cristian Cuevas, 36. Ruben Loftus-Cheek, 41. Charlie Colkett, Danilo Pantic, Isaiah Brown, Jordan Houghton, Lucas Piazon, Marco van Ginkel, Mario Pasalic, Marko Marin.
Forwards: 14. Bertrand Traore, 18. Loic Remy, 19. Diego Costa, 23. Michy Batshuayi, 42. Tammy Abraham, Dominic Solanke, Patrick Bamford, Islam Feruz.

After the high of a title win in 2014-15 Chelsea crashed back down to earth in a spectacular manner last season. Jose Mourinho was sacked after a shocking run of results in the first half of the season, and Guus Hiddinck was only able to get them as high as ninth place. Antonio Conte has come in to replace Hiddinck as manager, and the former Italian coach has already set about making his mark on the team. Michy Batshuayi has come in from Marseille, and the midfield has been bolstered by the signing of N’Golo Kante from title winners Leicester City. Conte has one of the best tactical brains in world football, and he is likely to use his trademark 3-5-2 formation with his new side. The formation will give Chelsea a massive defensive boost, and it should give Conte plenty of opportunities to use the squad depth he has at his disposal.

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While the arrival of Conte is sure to boost Chelsea’s chances of lifting the title, they will need plenty of improvement across the board. Thibaut Courtois will be looking to show the form he showed at the Euros, and the defence will need to lift in order to protect him. Eden Hazard (pictured) was incredibly disappointing last season, and if Chelsea are to win everything they will need him to regain his best form. Diego Costa is likely to retain his place up front despite an average season, and he will be looking to lift. If these players show some dramatic improvement then Chelsea will be very tough to beat, but there is no guarantee that this lift will occur. Conte is likely to need some time to adjust to his new surroundings, and another title is highly unlikely.

Star Player: Eden Hazard

Hazard has incredible technical ability, and when he is at his best he is incredible to watch. He can tear a team apart with his ability to dribble past defenders, and he is one of the top players in the Premier League when he is on his game. He struggled last season, and Chelsea fans will be hoping he can regain his touch.

Key Player: Cesc Fabregas

Fabregas was trained in the Barcelona academy, and his ability to distribute the ball from the centre of midfield is exceptional. He creates plenty of chances for the strikers, and while Conte will be looking for him to do this he will also be looking for more defensive solidity. Fabregas is the team’s main link between defence and attack, and Chelsea need him to be in top form.

One to watch: Kurt Zouma

Zouma moved to Chelsea from Saint-Etienne in 2014, and he will be groomed over the course of the season as a replacement for John Terry, who is approaching retirement. He may take Branislav Ivanovic’s place in the heart of defence as Conte looks to revert to a back three, and while he is unlikely to be a regular starter he is sure to get an excellent chance in the first team.

Likely team (3-5-2): Courtois – Ivanovic, Cahill, Terry; Azpilicueta, Fabregas, Kante, Willian, Hazard; Costa, Batshuayi.

Leicester City

Manager: Claudio Ranieri
Captain: Wes Morgan
Ground: King Power Stadium
Last Season: 1st
Top Scorer: Jamie Vardy (24)
Most Assists: Riyad Mahrez (11)
Prediction: 6th

Squad

Goalkeepers: 1. Kasper Schmeichel, 12. Ben Hamer, Ron-Robert Zieler.
Defenders: 2. Richie de Laet, 5. Wes Morgan, 6. Robert Huth, 15. Jeff Schlupp, 17. Danny Simpson, 18. Liam Moore, 27. Marcin Wasilewski, 28. Christian Fuchs, 29. Yohan Benalouane, 30. Ben Chilwell, Luis Hernandez.
Midfielders: 4. Danny Drinkwater, 8. Matty James, 10. Andy King, 11. Marc Albrighton, 13. Daniel Amartey, 22. Demarai Gray, 26. Riyad Mahrez, 33. Gokhan Inler, Hamza Choudhury, Nampalys Mendy.
Forwards: 9. Jamie Vardy, 16. Tom Lawrence, 20. Shinji Okazaki, 23. Leonardo Ulloa, Ahmed Musa.

To call Leicester City’s historic title win last season a miracle would be an understatement. Under the guidance of experienced Italian manager Claudio Ranieri the Foxes exceeded all expectations, starting the season at the top of the ladder and holding on despite the odds. They have kept many of their stars from last season with the exception of N’Golo Kante’s departure to Chelsea, and while they may still lose Riyad Mahrez (pictured) they should line up much the same come the start of the season. Wes Morgan and Robert Huth are very solid down back, and new recruit Luis Hernandez should provide excellent cover in the case of injury. Danny Drinkwater is solid in midfield, and Mahrez is likely to provide plenty of goals and assists as he did last season. Jamie Vardy has a great eye for goal, and he will be ably complemented up front by Shinji Okazaki and Ahmed Musa.

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Leicester have been fairly active in the transfer market over the break, but they have not really improved their side and could struggle to keep up with the bigger clubs. They may be Premier League champions, but Leicester are still a comparatively small club, and their chances of lifting the trophy again are incredibly slim. They are a good side and should stay in the hunt, but if Mahrez departs it would cause huge problems. Ranieri is an exceptionally smart coach and could take his team to another title, but it is highly unlikely to happen.

Star Player: Riyad Mahrez

Mahrez, like so many of his teammates, came out of nowhere last season to set the Premier League alight. He scored 17 goals and assisted 11, showing great skill as he led his team to the title. Now one of the most sought-after players in Europe, the Algerian winger is sure to be tightly marked as Leicester look to go back-to-back.

Key Player: Wes Morgan

Morgan has plenty of experience, having played over 350 times for Nottingham Forest and having won over 180 caps for Leicester. He is the captain and it will be his job to marshal the defence, ensuring that not much gets through. He was at the top of his game last season, and he will need to return to his best if Leicester are going to get anywhere this time around.

One to watch: Nampalys Mendy

Mendy may not be well-known in England, but he is a top quality midfielder and he is an ideal replacement for the departed Kante. He has drawn comparisons with Chelsea legend Claude Makelele, and he came very close to joining Manchester United before swapping Monaco for Nice. He is still young, but he has plenty of experience and should slot effortlessly into Leicester’s midfield.

Likely team (4-4-2): Schmeichel – Simpson, Huth, Morgan, Fuchs; Mahrez, Drinkwater, Mendy, Musa; Vardy, Okazaki.

Manchester City

Manager: Pep Guardiola
Captain: Vincent Kompany
Ground: Etihad Stadium
Last Season: 4th
Top Scorer: Sergio Aguero (24)
Most Assists: David Silva (11)
Prediction: 2nd

Squad

Goalkeepers: 1. Joe Hart, 13. Willy Caballero, 45. Ian Lawlor, 54. Angus Gunn.
Defenders: 3. Bacary Sagna, 4. Vincent Kompany, 5. Pablo Zabaleta, 11. Aleksandar Kolarov, 20. Eliaquim Mangala, 22. Gael Clichy, 28. Jason Denayer, 30. Nicolas Otamendi, 50. Pablo Maffeo, 53. Tosin Adarabioyo, 69. Angelino.
Midfielders: 6. Fernando, 7. Raheem Sterling, 8. Samir Nasri, 15. Jesus Navas, 16. Ilkay Gundogan, 17. Kevin de Bruyne, 18. Fabian Delph, 21. David Silva, 25. Fernandinho, 35. Oleksandr Zinchenko, 36. Bruno Zuculini, 42. Yaya Toure, 59. Bersant Celina, 62. Brandon Barker, 75. Aleix Garcia.
Forwards: 9. Nolito, 10. Sergio Aguero, 14. Wilfried Bony, 72. Kelechi Iheanacho.

Manchester City were disappointing last season, barely scraping past Manchester United on goal difference to sneak into the Champions League. Manuel Pellegrini is gone, and former Barcelona and Bayern Munich manager Pep Guardiola has been drafted in to replace him. He has inherited an excellent squad who are more than capable of taking home the trophy, and new additions Nolito and Ilkay Gundogan should slot effortlessly into the first team. Kevin de Bruyne and David Silva will provide plenty of chances for Sergio Aguero (pictured) up front, and Yaya Toure will combine with Fernandinho and Gundogan to provide solidity in midfield. Aguero is a proven scorer at both club and international level, and he will cause plenty of problems for opposition defences.

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Manchester City have the attacking power to penetrate any defence in the league, but there are still some defensive problems. Vincent Kompany and Pablo Zabaleta are very strong players, but Guardiola is still in need of another centre back. Nicolas Otamendi is not young, and the idea of using Fernandinho as a defender may not work. Similar issues exist at left back, where neither Aleksandar Kolarov nor Gael Clichy are sustainable long term options. Joe Hart is an experienced keeper, but he is nowhere near the best in the Premier League and lets in a number of unnecessary goals. Manchester City are the best attacking side in the Premier League and will be in the hunt, but their defensive issues may prove costly.

Star Player: Sergio Aguero

Aguero is a goal machine, having scored 102 Premier League goals in 150 games since joining Manchester City in 2011. He has plenty of place and an incredible eye for goal, and he provides plenty of problems for defenders. If Manchester City are to win the title they will need him to perform, as it is his ability to score which keeps them in the hunt every season.

Key Player: Yaya Toure

Toure has developed into one of the best midfielders in the Premier League, and his ability to anchor the midfield while providing the occasional goal will be key as Manchester City look to push for the title. He has plenty of experience at the highest level, and Guardiola will be hoping he can step up to take Manchester City to the next level.

One to watch: Kelechi Iheanacho

Iheanacho’s first season in the Premier League was a massive success, with the 19 year-old Nigerian playing 26 league games and scoring 8 goals. He still only has one season of professional football under his belt, and he will only continue to improve as he looks to take on a greater role under Guardiola. He is an exciting prospect and he will be great to watch.

Likely team (4-2-3-1): Hart – Zabaleta, Fernandinho, Kompany, Kolarov; Toure, Gundogan; Silva, de Bruyne, Nolito; Aguero.

Manchester United

Manager: Jose Mourinho
Captain: Wayne Rooney
Ground: Old Trafford
Last Season: 5th
Top Scorer: Anthony Martial (11)
Most Assists: Wayne Rooney (6)
Prediction: 1st

Squad

Goalkeepers: 1. David de Gea, 20. Sergio Romero, 32. Sam Johnstone.
Defenders: 3. Eric Bailly, 4. Phil Jones, 5. Marcos Rojo, 12. Chris Smalling, 23. Luke Shaw, 33. Paddy McNair, 36. Matteo Darmian, 38. Axel Tuanzebe, 43. Cameron Borthwick-Johnson, Tyler Blackett.
Midfielders: 8. Juan Mata, 14. Jesse Lingard, 15. Adnan Januzaj, 16. Michael Carrick, 17. Daley Blind, 18. Ashley Young, 21. Ander Herrera, 22. Henrikh Mkhitaryan, 24. Timothy Fosu-Mensah, 25. Antonio Valencia, 27. Marouane Fellaini, 28. Morgan Schneiderlin, 31. Bastian Schweinsteiger, 44. Andreas Pereira.
Forwards: 7. Memphis Depay, 9. Zlatan Ibrahimovic, 10. Wayne Rooney, 11. Anthony Martial, 19. Marcus Rashford, 48. Will Keane, James Wilson.

Manchester United were disappointing last season, finishing fifth in the league and exiting the Champions League in the group stage. Victory in the FA Cup was not enough to save Louis van Gaal, and Jose Mourinho has come in to replace the Dutchman. He has added Zlatan Ibrahimovic and Henrikh Mkhitaryan (pictured) over the off-season, and French midfielder Paul Pogba looks set to join the club for a world record fee. Mourinho is sure to add some much-needed solidity to the defence, and with the potency of Ibrahimovic and Anthony Martial in attack there will not be any shortage of goals. Mkhitaryan will provide plenty of chances for the strikers, and Mourinho has many good options in the centre of the park.

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Manchester United have some excellent players all over the park, but they do not have any obvious starters in defence. Chris Smalling has not been in the best of form recently, and Phil Jones is not necessarily the right option either. This uncertainty in defence is a serious problem, and it could leave David de Gea with plenty of work to do. Wayne Rooney is listed as captain, but with the new arrivals he is no longer good enough to command a place in the starting line-up. He has been playing in attacking midfield, but Mkhitaryan is a better player who will have a greater impact. This leaves Mourinho with a serious selection dilemma, one of many he could face over the course of the season. Even still, Manchester United have the quality to win the title, and if Mourinho gets it right they could be unstoppable.

Star Player: Henrikh Mkhitaryan

Mkhitaryan has been brought in from Borussia Dortmund, where he developed into one of the best playmakers in the world. He led the Bundesliga for assists last season, and he is able to find the back of the net as well. He has brilliant technical ability and he will open up plenty of space for the strikers with his pace and his effective passing.

Key Player: David de Gea

Manchester United were minutes away from losing de Gea at the start of last season, but a failure to hand in paperwork proved to be a blessing in disguise for the Red Devils. The Spanish keeper has since developed into one of the best in the Premier League, and if Manchester United are to overcome their defensive weaknesses he will need to be at his best.

One to watch: Marcus Rashford

Manchester United have many great prospects coming through, but none are as exciting as Rashford. He scored after just three minutes on his international debut, and made two substitute appearances for the English at Euro 2016. He is still only 18, and he is sure to make plenty of progress over the course of the season.

Likely team (4-2-3-1): de Gea – Darmian, Smalling, Bailly, Rojo; Herrera, Blind; Mata, Mkhitaryan, Martial; Ibrahimovic.

Tottenham Hotspur

Manager: Mauricio Pocchettino
Captain: Hugo Lloris
Ground: White Hart Lane
Last Season: 3rd
Top Scorer: Harry Kane (25)
Most Assists: Christian Eriksen (13)
Prediction: 3rd

Squad

Goalkeepers: 1. Hugo Lloris, 13. Michel Vorm.
Defenders: 2. Kyle Walker, 3. Danny Rose, 4. Toby Alderweireld, 5. Jan Vertonghen, 16. Kieran Trippier, 21. Federico Fazio, 27. Kevin Wimmer, 32. DeAndre Yedlin, 33. Ben Davies.
Midfielders: 6. Nabil Bentaleb, 8. Ryan Mason, 11. Erik Lamela, 12. Victor Wanyama, 15. Eric Dier, 19. Mousa Dembele, 20. Dele Alli, 22. Nacer Chadli, 23. Christian Eriksen, 24. Alex Pritchard, 25. Josh Onomah, 28. Tom Carroll, 29. Harry Winks.
Forwards: 7. Son Heung-min, 9. Vincent Janssen, 10. Harry Kane, 14. Clinton N’Jie.

Tottenham exceeded all expectations last season, challenging for the title and only finishing third after a bad run of results late in the season. They unearthed new stars in Dele Alli and Eric Dier, and they have developed Harry Kane (pictured) into one of the most dangerous strikers in the Premier League. Vincent Janssen has been added to the squad from AZ Alkmaar after he netted 27 times in the Eredivisie, and the Dutch youngster is sure to provide plenty of excitement for Spurs fans. Christian Eriksen, Erik Lamela and Alli are sure to create plenty of opportunities for the strikers, and goalkeeper Hugo Lloris is backed up by an excellent defence. Fullbacks Kyle Walker and Danny Rose were rare bright spots in England’s campaign at Euro 2016, and Belgian centre backs Toby Alderweireld and Jan Vertonghen are sure to provide plenty of solidity.

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Tottenham have an excellent squad, but they are still very young and inexperienced. Alli, Kane and Dier have only burst onto the scene in recent times, and before Janssen’s explosion in the second half of last season he was virtually unknown. Vertonghen suffered an injury at the Euros, and he is in doubt for the early parts of the season. Dier is likely to move into defence to replace him, but he has been playing as a midfielder for some time now, and he may struggle to adjust. Spurs have a lot of players in their starting line-up who are not yet proven at the highest level, and some of their young stars could crash back down to earth over the course of this campaign.

Star Player: Harry Kane

Kane has become a scoring machine, scoring 49 goals in the last two Premier League seasons and breaking down defences with power and pace. He was disappointing at the Euros, but he is an incredibly consistent scorer and he is likely to return to form very quickly. He is a strong presence up front for Spurs, and he will require plenty of attention from opposition defences.

Key Player: Toby Alderweireld

Alderweireld is a key presence in the Tottenham defence, and he has formed an incredible combination with fellow Belgian international Vertonghen. He is very experienced at the highest level, and he is capable of filling any defensive holes that may appear. He was a constant presence last season, and he will need to ensure that not much gets through.

One to watch: Vincent Janssen

Janssen burst onto the scene over the second half of last season, becoming the first player in 52 years to score 20 Eredivisie goals after the winter break. He is still only 22, and while he may take some time to adjust to the improvement in opposition he has developed well and has the potential to be a massive success.

Likely team (4-2-3-1): Lloris – Walker, Alderweireld, Vertonghen, Rose; Dier, Alli; Lamela, Eriksen, Chadli; Kane.

World champions matched in scoreless draw

Germany and Poland have played out the first goalless draw of Euro 2016 at the Stade de France, as neither side could break the deadlock despite some golden opportunities. Arkadiusz Milik came closest to scoring just after half time when he missed the target with an open, close-range header, while Germany dominated possession and territory and had plenty of chances. The first half was lifeless, and while Mario Gotze could have scored with a header and Toni Kroos had a brilliant chance inside the area neither side really looked like hitting the scoresheet. The game was devoid of energy, and while Poland were sitting back in defence the Germans never looked like penetrating their solid formation.

Even still, Poland needed to show some more flair in the second half, and Milik had the best chance of the game less than a minute after play resumed. Kamil Grosicki made a good run down the right wing, and his cross travelled across the German goalmouth into a dangerous position. Manuel Neuer was out of the equation, and Milik only needed to get his head to a good cross to put the chance away. He could only manage a glancing blow, and Germany received a massive let-off. The missed opportunity breathed new life into the game, and shortly afterwards Gotze had a chance when he found the ball inside the box. He was closed down well by Michal Pazdan, and Lukasz Fabianski could make an easy save. Milik had another shot after Robert Lewandowski played a close range free kick in his direction. He missed the target with his attempt, but he may have caught Neuer out of position had he found the bottom corner. Lewandowski went one-on-one seconds later, but Jerome Boateng was able to slide in late and block the shot.

Poland were pushing hard, but the game was still on fairly equal terms. Grosicki found Milik in the box, but the Ajax forward could not connect properly with the ball, missing yet another brilliant chance. Germany pushed back, and Mesut Ozil made better use of his opportunities when presented with a similar chance at the other end. His shot was dangerous, and Fabianski did well to tip it over the bar. The Germans took back the initiative, but excellent attacking positions were not enough for them. Andre Schurrle, Kroos, Thomas Muller and Benedikt Howedes all missed good chances, and Germany were unable to make the most of dominance in possession. Grosicki’s free kick came incredibly close as it travelled just over the bar, and no player would come closer for the rest of the match.

Saint-Denis – Stade de France
Germany 0
Poland 0
Referee: Bjorn Kuipers (Ned)

Germany (4-2-3-1): Neuer – Howedes, Boateng, Hummels, Hector; Kroos, Khedira; Muller, Ozil, Draxler (Gomez 72); Gotze (Schurrle 66).
Poland (4-4-2): Fabianski – Piszczek, Glik, Pazdan, Jedrzejczyk; Blaszczykowski (Kapustka 80), Krychowiak, Maczynski (Jodlowiec 76), Grosicki (Peszko 87); Milik, Lewandowski.

Top 5
1. Mats Hummels (Germany)
Hummels was the sole change made to the German side as he made his return from injury, and he showed very positive signs. His work curbing the influence of Robert Lewandowski was excellent throughout, and he was able to cut off a lot of Poland’s attacks before they were able to reach the final third. He was at the top of his game and he looks to be in good touch.
2. Kamil Grosicki (Poland)
Grosicki created the best chance of the game with his cross to Milik just after half time, and he continued to cause problems before he was replaced with three minutes to go. He was able to play from both the left and the right, and aside from setting up some great opportunities he nearly scored late with a free kick. He could have easily been a match winner, and his class shone through.
3. Michal Pazdan (Poland)
Pazdan was excellent at the back for the Polish, and his work cutting off German attacks was crucial. He made several key stops on the edge of the box, and he played a big role in ensuring that Mario Gotze did not score when presented with a wonderful opportunity. He was strong defensively, and will take plenty of confidence from his performance.
4. Mesut Ozil (Germany)
Ozil struggled to get himself into the match early, but as others on the field began to tire he became a massive problem for Poland. He created plenty of chances for the German forwards, and came agonisingly close to scoring himself when his shot from the top of the area was well-saved by Lukasz Fabianski. He looked like a big threat, and was the biggest problem for the Polish defence.
5. Toni Kroos (Germany)
Kroos was in control in the centre of midfield, and his ability to win and maintain possession of the ball was one of the main reasons for Germany’s dominance of possession throughout. He had some very good chances, and was unlucky to miss the goals after being played through by Muller. He had a strong game, and showed excellent form.

2015-16 UEFA Champions League Preview – Group F

Teams: FC Bayern Munich, Arsenal FC, Olympiacos FC, GNK Dinamo Zagreb

FC Bayern Munich (Germany)

Manager: Pep Guardiola
Captain: Philipp Lahm
Ground: Allianz Arena, Munich
Qualified: Bundesliga, 1st
Best Champions League Finish: Champions (1973-74, 1974-75, 1975-76, 2000-01, 2012-13)
2014-15 Champions League: Semi-Finals

Form Guide

Bayern swept to a seventh league title in ten seasons by a comfortable margin, and they further asserted themselves as the superior side in Germany through their Champions League performance, where they were knocked out by Barcelona in the semis. They have made good progress over the summer transfer window, picking up Chilean superstar Arturo Vidal alongside Douglas Costa, and the side should be as strong as ever.

Strengths

Bayern have had incredible success in the league, and Manuel Neuer is solid as a rock in goal. Douglas Costa joins Franck Ribery, Arjen Robben, and Mario Gotze in attacking midfield, and Thomas Muller and Robert Lewandowski provide scoring options up front. Vidal will hope to provide compensation for the loss of Bastian Schweinsteiger in midfield, and Xabi Alonso, Thiago Alcantara and Javi Martinez will also be able to combine well. Philipp Lahm, David Alaba and Juan Bernat are all very strong fullbacks, and they can contribute to the midfield and attack, and Lahm and Alaba can and have been used in the centre of midfield. Mehdi Benatia and Jerome Boateng are very strong in the centre of a solid defence.

Weaknesses

Benatia is a very good player, but he has not yet proven himself at Bayern, and the loss of Dante to Wolfsburg will hurt, possibly more than they imagine. During their win over Leverkusen they used a three-man defence of Lahm, Alaba and Bernat, which does not seem particularly solid. Some of the best players in the team are getting older, and this is not great for the team. There is plenty of immediate depth, but if Bayern are forced to delve much deeper into their squad then they will struggle. After a couple of disappointing semi-final exits the pressure will be on Bayern and Guardiola to progress further, and this could be a burden upon the team.

Star Player: Manuel Neuer

Neuer’s performance in the World Cup affirmed his standing as one of the best goalkeepers in the world, and in a team full of stars he is a cut above. He has been the best keeper in Germany for years, and he has been crowned German footballer of the year and best goalkeeper in the World Cup. With him in goal Bayern will be incredibly tough to defeat.

Key Player: Xabi Alonso

Alonso has vast experience playing for both Liverpool and Real Madrid, and now that Schweinsteiger has departed for Manchester he will be in charge of the midfield. Much of Bayern’s success could rest upon how they cover for the loss of the German captain, and Alonso’s performance is critical as a result.

Arsenal FC (England)

Manager: Arsene Wenger
Captain: Mikel Arteta
Ground: Emirates Stadium, London
Qualified: Premier League, 3rd
Best Champions League Finish: Runners-up (2005-06)
2014-15 Champions League: Round of 16

Form Guide

Arsenal were solid last season without being extraordinary. They are showing signs of improvement, however, and a second consecutive FA Cup added to the silverware that Arsene Wenger has won with the club. After years of finishing fourth and needing to qualify for the Champions League they finished third for a second consecutive season, although in the Champions League they went out to Monaco on away goals.

Strengths

Arsenal have a very strong and versatile attack which allows Wenger to use plenty of different combinations. Up front, Olivier Giroud is a taller option, while players like Alexis Sanchez, Alex Oxlade-Chamberlain and Theo Walcott add plenty of pace to the set-up. The midfield is strong as well, with Aaron Ramsey, Mikel Arteta, Jack Wilshere, Francis Coquelin, Santi Cazorla and German World Cup winner Mesut Ozil all very good options. Down back, Per Mertesacker and Laurent Koscielny shore up the centre of defence, and there is good competition for a starting place on the flanks between Kieran Gibbs, Nacho Monreal, Mathieu Debuchy and Hector Bellerin. Petr Cech has come in from Chelsea and is still a great keeper, and he is backed up by David Ospina.

Weaknesses

Arsenal have plenty of squad depth, but the side lacks a consistent set-up. Olivier Giroud and Theo Walcott have been used almost interchangeably, and given how different the two players are this could create difficulties for the midfield when adjusting their delivery. With so many options all around the park Arsenal have only one area which has remained fairly solid in the defence. Gabriel Paulista is currently  replacing an injured Mertesacker, and Bellerin seems to have upstaged Debuchy, but neither of these players has much Champions League experience and this is a worry. Coquelin and Arteta are not the strongest players in the centre of midfield, and although the former has played all five games this season he is not very experienced.

Star Player: Alexis Sanchez

Arsenal shelled out big money to bring in the talented Chilean from Barcelona, and in his first season at the Gunners he did not disappoint. In the league he managed 16 goals without playing as a centre forward, and he scored 25 times in all competitions. He has plenty of European experience from his time in Spain, and he could be brilliant this season.

Key Player: Mesut Ozil

Ozil burst onto the scene at the 2010 World Cup, and in 2013 Arsenal paid 42.5 million pounds to bring him in from Real Madrid. He will almost certainly be Arsenal’s main creator this season, although two assists in the first 5 matches is not brilliant. He has the potential to be a real danger, but he has previously been shut off by tight man-marking, and he will need to get around this.

Olympiacos FC (Greece)

Manager: Marco Silva
Captain: Giannis Maniatis
Ground: Georgios Karaiskakis Stadium, Piraeus
Qualified: Superleague Greece, 1st
Best Champions League Finish: Quarter-Finals (1998-99)
2014-15 Champions League: Group Stage

Form Guide

Olympiacos swept comfortably to their fifth consecutive league title, defeating Panathinaikos by 12 points and further asserting their stranglehold upon Greek football. They were drawn into a tough Champions League group, and despite winning all of their home games their poor form away from home eventually cost them a spot in the last 16. They did go through to the Europa League, but they lost to Ajax in the round of 32 after losses home and away.

Strengths

With Brown Ideye coming in from West Brom the attack is as strong as ever, and the Nigerian should combine well with Jimmy Durmaz and Alejandro Dominguez. Dominguez was dominant in the Greek league last season, netting 15 times and leading the league with 11 assists. Alfred Finnbogason, Felipe Pardo, Pajtim Kasami, Alan Pulido and David Fuster are also capable of finding the net, and there should be no shortage of goals. Giannis Maniatis, Luka Milivojevic and Esteban Cambiasso shore up the midfield, and the defence is strong, only letting in 23 goals last season. Roberto is solid in goal, and his back four of Omar Elabdellaoui, Manuel da Costa, Dimitris Siovas and Arthur Masuaku should ensure he doesn’t have too much to deal with.

Weaknesses

Olympiacos are not facing much tough competition, and last season 3 of the 18 sides suffered serious financial troubles and were simply no match for Olympiacos. This lack of real competition could mean that all but a select few players are ready for the rigours of playing against Bayern and Arsenal, two of the biggest clubs in the world. Maniatis is injured and may miss a large part of the group stage, and some questions remain about personnel. Siovas is more a converted midfielder than centre back, and while they win most of the time while at home their performances away could well cost them. Last season they lost all their games away, and a repeat of this would almost certainly rule out any prospect of progressing.

Star Player: Esteban Cambiasso

Cambiasso has moved around a bit over the past couple of years after leaving Internazionale, where he won 5 Serie A titles and the Champions League. He has great experience, and he has played 94 European matches for Inter and Real Madrid. He brings this experience to the table for Olympiacos, and will no doubt play a key role with the injury to Maniatis.

Key Player: Alejandro Dominguez

Dominguez scored 15 goals and assisted 11 last season, and he will slot into Marco Silva’s side as a traditional number 10, most likely playing in behind Ideye. It will be interesting to see how he can provide for Ideye and the other forwards, and he has a heavy burden on his shoulders as the main creator. If he can deliver then Olympiacos will do much better in a tough group.

GNK Dinamo Zagreb (Croatia)

Manager: Zoran Mamic
Captain: Domagoj Antolic
Ground: Stadion Maksimir, Zagreb
Qualified: Prva HNL, 1st (defeated CS Fola Esch, Molde FK and KF Skenderbeu Korce in qualifying)
Best Champions League Finish: Group Stage (1998-99, 1999-2000, 2011-12, 2012-13)
2014-15 Champions League: Third Qualifying Round

Form Guide

Dinamo breezed through to their tenth consecutive Prva HNL title without losing once, and so they progressed to the qualifying, where they beat Fola Esch. They went on to play Molde in the third qualifying round, where they edged out their opposition on away goals, and they progressed to play Albanian champions Skenderbeu Korce. Josip Pivaric’s 93rd minute winner gave them an edge for the return leg at home in Zagreb, and a 4-1 win ensured qualification.

Strengths

In El Arbi Hillel Soudani the Croatian champions have a player who can consistently find the back of the net, and he scored three goals in the play-offs against Skenderbeu, with one the equaliser in the first-leg win in Albania. Marko Rog, Marko Pjaca and Angelo Henriquez regularly found the net, and Dinamo will hope that Chilean striker Junior Fernandes and Armin Hodzic can chip in as well. Ivo Pinto, Leonardo Sigali, Jeremy Taravel and Josip Pivaric make up a solid back four, and former Portuguese number 1 Eduardo starts in goal. Paulo Machado, Domagoj Antolic, Arijan Ademi and Goncalo are all options in the centre of the park.

Weaknesses

As evidenced by their ten straight league titles, Dinamo do not come up against very strict competition in Croatia. In the past they have failed consistently to make the step-up to the Champions League, and there is no real difference in the side this time around, apart from the loss of striker Duje Cop to Malaga. Henriquez and Fernandes may be players who have played at Europe’s biggest clubs, but neither was able to break into the first team, and they can’t compete with teams like Bayern and Arsenal. They are trying to improve every time they play in the Champions League, but improvement is not happening and they failed to qualify for the group stage in 2013 and in 2014.

Star Player: El Arbi Hillel Soudani

Soudani is a winger who scores once every two games for Dinamo and Algeria. He has had experience playing against the best, and he won the Taca de Portugal with Vitoria de Guimaraes, scoring an equaliser in the final against Benfica. He has become a regular at Dinamo, and if he can keep popping up on the scoresheet at timely moments then he could make a real impact.

Key Player: Paulo Machado

Machado came to the club in 2014 after two successful seasons with Champions League rivals Olympiacos, and his experience could prove helpful. He will be responsible for shoring up the midfield, but Dinamo will also look for him to provide chances for the forwards. It will be crucial to Dinamo’s success for him to manage both, but it will be tough.

Prediction

Dinamo will almost certainly struggle, and it is difficult to see Bayern and Arsenal failing to progress to the knockout stages. Arsenal are good, but Bayern just have too much star power and should finish first. Olympiacos are unlikely to score a spot in the last 16, but they are good at home and could sneak a couple of wins against the top sides.
Prediction: 1. Bayern Munich, 2. Arsenal, 3. Olympiacos, 4. Dinamo Zagreb.