The Premier League 2016/17 - It all kicks off this weekend!

It only seems like yesterday since Wes Morgan lifted the Premier League trophy aloft for surprise package Leicester City, yet here we are at the start of another exciting Premier League season.  If the summer transfer activity is anything to go by, we should be in for an even more exciting campaign than the last, with a number of teams looking to be serious contenders to follow the Foxes as Premier League champions. Leicester surprised the footballing world last season by storming to victory for their first Premier League title.  Relegation candidates at the start of the year, Claudio Ranieri's team got the points they needed for survival before Christmas and then charged on to win the league by 10 points.  The Italian masterminded his team's path to victory brilliantly, always deflecting the focus away from his players who kept their focus on gaining the points needed to win the Premier League, while ditching his "Tinkerman" tag by only using a select band of players during the course of the season - 17 players received a medal for their part in Leicester's triumph, which is low by modern Premier League standards, but not as low as the 14 medals given to Manchester United in 1993-94. Not surprisingly, Leicester's star players were the focus of many stories about moves away from the King Power Stadium, so the club have done remarkably well to keep hold of many of their star players at the time of going to press, only losing N'Golo Kanté who decided the bright lights of London were a bigger draw than the Champions League by joining Chelsea after Euro 2016.  However, Leicester's owners wouldn't be complaining too much, having made over £26million in profit on the player with the transfer.  The champions managed to secure top scorer Jamie Vardy and goalkeeper Kasper Schmeichel on new contracts, and have bolstered their squad for the tough campaign ahead with the signings of pacy striker Ahmed Musa and exciting Polish midfielder Bartosz Kapustka.  Ranieri has been cautious in his expectations again this year, claiming that the team's objective is to beat relegation, but with the squad he now has at his disposal, a top half finish looks very likely for the defending champions. The Premier League lost Newcastle United, Aston Villa and Norwich City at the end of the 2015/16 season, and they have been replaced by Championship winners Burnley, runners-up Middlesbrough and Hull City who were promoted via the playoffs.  Hull's pre-season has been one of turmoil, losing manager Steve Bruce just weeks before the start of the year, due to issues with the club's ownership and lack of activity in the transfer market.  The club is temporarily being looked after by Mike Phelan who was Bruce's assistant, but they face an uphill struggle to remain a Premier League team at the end of the season, a fact not helped that their opening game is at home to champions Leicester. Burnley once again showed that under manager Sean Dyche they are an excellent Championship side and won the league in the final couple of games ahead of Middlesbrough and Brighton to return to the top flight at the first time of asking.  Led by attacker Andre Gray who bagged 25 goals for the Clarets, Burnley will look to finally secure a second season on the bounce in the top league while sticking to their principles of good passing football. The north-east gained a quick replacement in the Premier League for Newcastle in the shape of Middlesbrough, with Aitor Karanka's team finishing 2nd in the Championship last term.  A very cosmopolitan looking squad, Middlesbrough have plenty of talented players in their ranks including experienced Premier League campaigners Stewart Downing and Fábio da Silva.  New signing Álvaro Negredo (joined on loan from Valencia) will look to prove he is one of the top strikers in Europe after a miserable time while at Manchester City between 2013 and 2015. 7 of the teams in the Premier League will kick off with a new manager at the helm, with the managerial merry-go-round being one of the big talking points of the summer, perhaps more so than the transfers of players.  Despite finishing 4th and winning the Capital One Cup, Manchester City parted ways with Manuel Pellegrini and appointed Pep Guardiola, arguably the biggest name in management today.  Determined to finish better and finally crack Europe, City have spent big this summer, bringing in striker Nolito, German pair Ílkay Gundogan and Leroy Sané and central defender John Stones from Everton for a cool £47.5million.  Guardiola is said to continue his spending before the window closes so there could be more players arriving at the Etihad in the coming weeks. Across the city, the two most protracted stories of the summer were finally brought to an end, with the appointment of the Special One, José Mourinho as the new manager of Manchester United, and the world record transfer of French midfielder Paul Pogba.  Mourinho takes over from Louis van Gaal who ended his two year stint at the helm with an FA Cup win, and will look to bring his unique brand of managerial magic to Old Trafford and put the Red Devils back at the summit of English football.  United have splashed out over £100million this summer, bringing in defender Eric Bailly from Villarreal, attacking midfielder Henrikh Mkhitaryan and probably the only ego to compete with Mourinho, in the shape of Zlatan Ibrahimovic.  The Swedish striker got his United career off to a great start heading in the winner in the Community Shield against Leicester last week and he will look to add a Premier League title to his array of winner's medals. Down in London, Chelsea installed Italian Antonio Conte as manager and will look to improve on last season's 10th place finish, and with no distractions of European football to contend with, the Blues will hope to have the squad in place to challenge at the top again.  As well as Kanté, Chelsea have brought in Belgian striker Michy Batshuayi from Marseille who scored 29 goals while playing for the French giants so he should be a good foil to Chelsea's main forward Diego Costa.  North London rivals Arsenal and Tottenham battled it out to be runners-up last year, with the Gunners prevailing after Tottenham slipped away in the final few games after being the main challengers to Leicester for most of the season.  Rumoured to be Arsène Wenger's final year in charge at the Emirates, it has been a quiet summer for Arsenal in terms of transfers, with only the acquisition of Swiss midfielder Granit Xhaka to speak of.  Arsenal will need to sign a few more players, particularly in central defence and another striker if they are to finally land their first title since 2004 though they still boast a quality squad capable of finishing high in the league.  Spurs were one of the exciting teams of 2015-16, and Mauricio Pochettino enhanced his reputation as one of the best young managers in the world.  Tottenham will again look to their England international trio of Harry Kane, Dele Alli and Eric Dier to lead the way, and with the likes of Hugo Lloris, Érik Lamela, Christian Eriksen, Kyle Walker and new signings Victor Wanyama and Vincent Janssen backing them up, Spurs will be one of the top challengers in the Premier League again this term. Up on Merseyside, Jürgen Klopp gets his first full season in charge of Liverpool, and he has already stamped his authority on the Reds, bringing in a number of new players this summer including striker Sadio Mané from Southampton and midfielder Georginio Wijnaldum from Newcastle and without the hassle of Europa League football this season, look to Klopp's side to have a better campaign than last year.  Across the park Everton have a new manager in the shape of Ronald Koeman who joined the club after guiding Southampton to 6th place last year.  The Toffees have had big money invested into them this summer and along with the sale of Stones to Man City, have bolstered their squad with the signing of Wales captain Ashley Williams from Swansea with many more players due to arrive at Goodison in the coming days.  With one of the most experienced and balanced squads in the league, Everton should improve on last year's disappointing 11th place, though with the amount of quality running through the Premier League this season, they could easily play better and finish worse off. After Koeman's departure, Southampton brought in Claude Puel to steer the Saints on their quest for success on the domestic and European front.   Having lost the likes of Mane, Pelle and Wanyama it will be a struggle but losing players hasn't held the Saints back before such is the depth of talent in their academy. The Premier League's final representative in Europe, West Ham United, play their first season away from Upton Park as the tenants of the London Stadium.   Slaven Bilic's entertaining side will look to repeat last year's success and take a few more scalps on the way to another top half finish.  They will be boosted by a bigger capacity and a stronger squad that includes Andre Ayew who joined the Hammers from Swansea as well as keeping star player Dimitri Payet. Swansea retained manager Francesco Guidolin but lost the services of Ayew and Ashley Williams.  They have signed a top striker in Fernando Llorente to lead the attack but expect a tough season for the Swans. For the first time no team will represent the city of Birmingham in the Premier League, so battling for Midlands supremacy will be Stoke City and West Bromwich Albion.  Stoke had a great season last year finishing 9th and will hope to do even better this time.  They have signed Joe Allen from Liverpool and have held onto the likes of Bojan,  Shaqiri and Arnautovic.  West Brom have a reputation for being a survival specialist and they have the right man in charge in Tony Pulis to stay up again. Sunderland beat the drop last year thanks to the brilliant coaching of Sam Allardyce who was rewarded with the England job and his replacement at the Stadium of Light is the experienced David Moyes, who will look to bounce back after unsuccessful stints with Manchester United and Real Sociedad.  The Black Cats have a small squad but have added defenders Paddy McNair and Donald Love from Manchester United as well as the loan signing of Adnan Januzaj from the Old Trafford side too. Last season's runners-up in the FA Cup, Crystal Palace found goals hard to come by towards the end of the season and will need a top quality striker to take the burden off Connor Wickham up front.  They have signed Andros Townsend who played well despite going down with Newcastle but will need more if they are to avoid being involved in a relegation battle. Two of the sides that were promoted two seasons ago to the Premier League, Watford and Bournemouth, both had decent returns to the top flight and are back again for another crack at England's top league.  Watford finished in mid-table and reached the semi-finals of the FA Cup, but it wasn't enough to keep Quique Flores in charge of the Hornets.  He has been replaced by Walter Mazzarri, the former Inter Milan manager.  Watford will look to the likes of captain Troy Deeney and Nigerian duo Odion Ighalo and Isaac Success to get the goals they need for survival.  Bournemouth's first season in the top flight saw the Cherries finish in 16th while winning the admiration of many pundits for their open style of play.  Exciting young manager Eddie Howe again leads the south-coast side and with the additions of Jordon Ibe and Brad Smith from Liverpool, they will be hoping for a higher finish in their sophomore season in the Premier League. Last season was one of the most exciting and closest Premier League's ever, and with the increase of TV money and new investment into the elite clubs of England, it should be an even better one this time which would be great for the 25th season of the Premier League.