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On the run-up to 2017–18 Premier League’s August 11 kickoff, three contributors weighed in on last season’s fourth-, fifth-, and sixth-placed sides’ chances of success.

Liverpool — Michael Teoh

  • Why you should support them

Liverpool have a formidable attacking lineup, and if new £37.8 million signing Mohamed Salah can recreate his preseason form of four goals in six games, the Premier League may be in for another rampant, swashbuckling Reds side à la Sturridge/Suárez 2013–14. With Salah and Sadio Mané providing incredible pace and dribbling down either flank and Philippe Coutinho and Roberto Firmino providing incision and creativity down the centre — not to mention Adam Lallana’s immense attacking pressing and Daniel Sturridge’s striking expertise — Liverpool should improve on last season’s 78 goals scored. New addition Dominic Solanke, who helped England win the FIFA U-20 World Cup and claimed the cup’s Golden Ball this summer, also provides good competition. 

  • Why you shouldn’t support them

Liverpool’s defence is a perennial problem. Though the goalkeeping and right back departments look solid, the team cannot rely on these areas to save them. At left back, James Milner seemed prone to lapses last season, and the 31-year-old may have trouble keeping up with the Premier League’s speedier wingers. Alberto Moreno has enjoyed a good preseason, but fears over his concentration and positioning remain. New signing Andrew Robertson needs time to settle into the defence, and should problems at centre back continue, he might not have the experience necessary to sufficiently help his team.

Just like last season, Liverpool’s main choices at centre back are Joe Gomez, Ragnar Klavan, Dejan Lovren, and Joël Matip. The lack of quality at the heart of defence is worrying for a Liverpool side that conceded 42 last season. Any additions would have already missed the crucial preseason, meaning it’ll be difficult for them to gel with the squad and recover match fitness — the last thing an already shaky Liverpool defence needs.

  • Best player

Sadio Mané. Though it may be easy to heap praise on Coutinho for his moments of magic, the Brazilian can sometimes fade from games. Mané may not have the same sparks of sheer brilliance as Coutinho, but he provides a rapid and consistent threat on the wing. He reads the ball well, can hold up play smartly, and can unlock defences with his pace and dribbling skill. With Salah expected to terrorize defences on the other flank as well, Mané may be able to have an even greater impact on the Liverpool team this season than last.

  • Why I support them

It was a pair of mind-boggling volleys from Captain Fantastic himself, Steven Gerrard, that called my attention to Liverpool. Even without a strong knowledge of the Reds, Gerrard, or the importance of that 2006 FA Cup final, the celebrations from the fans and players, as well as the bewilderment in the commentators’ voices, clued me in on how special the club is. Although Liverpool are entering their sixth season since their last trophy, an exhilarating 2013–14 season led by Brendan Rodgers’ Sturridge/Suárez strikeforce and two cup finals in Jürgen Klopp’s debut 2015–16 season show that Liverpool are not too far from the forefront of the modern game.

  • Prediction

Third. Much like the 2013–14 season, Liverpool’s attack is very promising and its defence is worrisome. Despite this, the expected backline this season looks more secure than the nightmare we saw for much of 2013–14, so expect the team to concede fewer than the 50 they did that season. The caveat to this is that Liverpool now seem to have no out-and-out goal machine to compare to Sturridge/Suárez — who scored a mind-boggling 52 goals between them in 2013–14 — despite their current attacking riches, including Firmino, who is still acclimating to his role as a main striker. It took five players — Coutinho, Mané, Firmino, Divock Origi, and Lallana — to achieve 52 league goals last season.

While promising attacking youngsters Ryan Kent, Solanke, and Benjamin Woodburn have shown during preseason that they are ready to step up if called upon, injuries to Liverpool’s defence can expose their frailties, so their season looks to depend upon how well Klopp can maintain their freshness. In his first season at Liverpool, he guided the team to the Europa League final and League Cup final but suffered a poor domestic season, finishing eighth. Even without the distraction of Europe last season, Klopp & co. struggled for form domestically after the new year, a big concern for the Reds.

As it stands, third place is a realistic expectation, but if Liverpool crash out of their cup runs early, expect them to put on a good challenge for second. Conversely, if they stick around in Europe and the domestic cups’ latter stages, they could easily slip into fourth or fifth.

Arsenal — Kevin Kapenda

  • Why you should support them

Arsenal will look to win the Premier League this year, and after going five seasons without having a prolific striker in their ranks, they unsurprisingly signed French international Anthony Lacazette from French club Lyon for £47.7 million. Lacazette has scored at least 20 domestic goals every season since 2014–15. England is not France, of course, and he will need time to adjust, but getting to 20 in his first season and building on that beyond 2018 is what will be expected of him, especially if he’s to start for France at the 2018 World Cup. Arsenal is also expected to boost their squad with either of the French-speaking Riyad Mahrez or Thomas Lemar, as well as long-term target William Carvalho of Portugal.

  • Why you shouldn’t support them

If you’re new to the game and are looking for a team to support, the Gunners might not be the club whose jersey you’ll wear with pride all year. Not only have they failed to lift the Premier League trophy in 13 years, the club’s spending policy has not remained competitive with clubs like Manchester City or PSG, who regularly spend hundreds of millions on players each summer. This lack of investment in acquisitions is often frustrating for fans of thrifty clubs like Arsenal. When Arsène Wenger continuously claims his squad is strong enough to compete, as Manchester City, Chelsea, and Manchester United are unveiling six to eight players every two years, it can be difficult to remain committed to Arsenal. If you do become a fan, don’t expect Arsenal to spend £199.8 million on a transfer fee for the next Neymar Jr.

  • Best player

Aaron Ramsey. Alexis Sánchez, who has scored 53 goals in three seasons, is certainly deserving of this honour but may not be a part of the club by the time you read this. Because of this uncertainty, I believe Aaron Ramsey — not Mesut Özil — is Arsenal’s best player. Since the 2013–14 season, Arsenal have won three FA Cups, two of which were hard fought. In those two finals, Ramsey scored the winning goal, catapulting Arsenal to a 3–2 victory over Hull City in 2013–14 and a 2–1 victory over Chelsea in 2016–17. Before 2014, Arsenal had gone nine years without a trophy, something fans of rival teams never fail to mention. ‘Rambo’ Ramsey’s the best because he saved Arsenal fans from another decade of torment.

  • Why I support them

Arsenal was the only team in which I saw myself represented while growing up. If you’re a French-speaking African, odds are you’re either an Arsenal fan or you root for national teams featuring the club’s players, such as France, Ivory Coast, Cameroon, or Morocco. Soccer may be the world’s game, but that doesn’t mean its biggest competitions and stadiums have always been inclusive of all people. Since Arsène Wenger became club manager in 1996, Arsenal have set the standard for diversity and countering anti-Black sentiment in European soccer. This is why I support the club through thick and thin.

  • Prediction

Third. In the 2016–17 Premier League campaign, Arsenal finished fifth, missing out on the Champions League or a top-four finish for the first time since 1995–96. In my opinion, there is no reason why Arsenal can’t get back to the top four after this major blip. They ended the season in excellent form, winning five out of five in the league and defeating both Manchester City and Chelsea as clear underdogs to lift their third FA Cup in four years. Therefore, I am predicting Arsenal will finish third in 2017–18, far removed from the league race, but still above some pretty good clubs.

Manchester United — Daniel Samuel

  • Why you should support them

Romelu Lukaku is the world-class striker Manchester United desperately needed last season. The former Everton striker and 2016–17 Golden Boot runner-up swapped places with Wayne Rooney to provide manager José Mourinho with a top attacking target. Prior to the announcement of his signing with United, Lukaku promptly threw an early Fourth of July rager with Paul Pogba in Los Angeles on July 2 and was cited by police for excessive noise. His partying felt like the appropriate actions of a vacationing striker negotiating to play with one of the richest clubs in the world. The incident underlines one of the key facts for Mourinho to acknowledge: the relationship between Lukaku and Pogba — arguably the club’s best two players — has the potential to make or break the 2017–18 season.

  • Why you shouldn’t support them

Rooting for Manchester United is a difficult task in 2017. There’s a multitude of reasons why people choose not to support United, one of the most hated clubs in the world. The easiest argument would be to criticize how the Red Devils use their considerable wealth to buy the best players in the world, a practice that’s common among the richest soccer clubs. Recent history hasn’t been kind to Manchester United. Many supporters have been turned off by Marouane Fellaini’s outrageous antics, and every interaction between Mourinho and the media is a study of how ridiculous the size of a manager’s ego can be. Furthermore, United’s best player, Paul Pogba, is one of the most polarizing players in the world. Rooney is gone, and Chelsea clearly has the best collection of talent in the league.

  • Best player

Paul Pogba. Let me apologize for his atrocious dabbing celebration, as he’s only 24-years-old. But what Pogba lacks in maturity, United’s £94.5 million man makes up for in raw talent as one of the best midfielders in the world. There’s no doubt to how talented Pogba can be, but the narrative constantly surrounding the French international is whether he’s able to achieve a sustained period of success. He had a few stellar seasons at Juventus and played a key role in France reaching the Euro 2016 final. The addition of Lukaku presents Pogba with a proven striker to target. For United to even dream of hoisting the league title in 2017–18, the club will need a full season of Pogba in top form, creating key chances for forwards but also finding the back of the net himself.

  • Why I support them

My interest in soccer began with the 2006 FIFA World Cup and peaked with David Beckham’s historic move to the MLS in 2007. At the age of 10, supporting Manchester United felt like the natural thing to do. Everyone I knew in the predominantly Portuguese school I attended spoke fondly about Cristiano Ronaldo’s supreme talent and often debated whether or not he could eventually become better than Luis Figo. During the final weeks of the school year, the sheer spectacle that was the 2006 World Cup resulted in the entire school being situated in the gymnasium, empty classrooms, or the library huddled around a television screen or projector to watch Ronaldo’s exploits.

The decision to support United was confounded because I couldn’t stand then-Liverpool striker Fernando Torres, and Chelsea didn’t seem like an acceptable option because of John Terry — even though his scandalous episodes with Wayne Bridge and Anton Ferdinand came afterwards — but only reinforced my decision to root against Roman Abramovich’s Chelsea.

I was immediately stunned by the seemingly insurmountable skill and pace Ronaldo wielded. His departure to Real Madrid in 2009 was a massive blow, but United still had Wayne Rooney, who, regardless of Ronaldo’s achievements, was easily my favourite United player. In his prime, Rooney was ridiculously versatile, and he could star anywhere in the midfield or attacj for United and help dictate the course of any match.

  • Prediction

The club will have its second full season with players like Eric Bailly, Henrikh Mkhitaryan, and Pogba, and Mourinho as club manager. Zlatan Ibrahimovic is gone. Luke Shaw will begin the season still on the mend. Juan Mata is healthy. Marcus Rashford turns 20 in October. Pogba and former Chelsea midfielder Nemanja Matić should form a formidable pairing in the midfield. And Everton’s Wayne Rooney is scheduled to make his return to Old Trafford on September 17.

Chelsea is still great, Liverpool has been steadily improving, Harry Kane has been almost unstoppable and won the Premier League Golden Boot the past two seasons for Tottenham, and Manchester City manager Pep Guardiola has spent a ton of cash acquiring full-backs Kyle Walker, Benjamin Mendy, and Danilo over the transfer season to bolster his club’s backline.

Could 2017 be the year Manchester United return to glory? Beyond just stating the facts, is there any way to truly know?

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