Your cheatsheet guide to the 2016-17 Premier League, which starts on Friday

The 2017-18 Premier League season begins on Friday, when Arsenal welcomes Leicester City on the day’s only game. It’s the return of arguably the most popular soccer league in the world, and it’s expected to be a wild, competitive season with teams like Arsenal and Manchester United looking much improved. Now, some of this information the most hardcore of soccer fans will know. But for those looking to be in the know, aiming to sound knowledgeable about that other kind of football, soak this all in like you’re cramming for your college final:

The favorite

It’s got to be Chelsea, that team that doesn’t have much of a history and is only relevant now due to Russian money. The reigning Premier League champs return most of their squad and have added Alvaro Morata in attack, an overrated yet quality striker who joined from Real Madrid. It’s not the sexiest team in the world, but what it accomplished last season shouldn’t go unnoticed. Now in the Champions League, we’ll have to see if Antonio Conte’s men can do it again, balancing both competitions. 

Title contenders

There aren’t many contenders, usually just a handful. Kind of like in the NFL. There’s Chelsea, of course, constant underachievers Arsenal, Manchester United aiming to return to glory, Chelsea 2.0 in Manchester City, Tottenham and Liverpool. You can bet the champ will come out of that group, but Tottenham hasn’t brought in anybody good to boost its squad. The Spurs still have a lot of quality, but have other teams done enough to pass them?

Relegation candidates

The three bottom teams at the end of the season in May go down to the second division, and the three newcomers who were promoted from the Championship (second division) are most likely to go back down. Those are Brighton, Huddersfield and Newcastle, with the latter the most likely to survive because he has a good manager and some quality throughout the starting lineup. 

Usually at least one of them sticks. But other teams who will likely be in the relegation battle are Watford, Burnley, Swansea, Crystal Palace and probably Stoke City. Teams that are decent but have little chance contending for anything other than Premier League survival. 

Top newcomers

There are plenty of new players on new teams, and there are some super-high expectations. The two biggest moves of the summer have been strikers — Alexandre Lacazette from Lyon to Arsenal and Everton’s Romelu Lukaku to Manchester United. These guys are far and away the best players at their position for their club and will be expected to deliver 20-plus goals. They are young, ambitious, talented and have the potential to be grouped among the best young strikers in Europe this season.

Looking for midfield newcomers? Keep an eye on Tiemoue Bakayoko of Chelsea. The defensive midfielder joined this offseason from Monaco and could (once looked at as impossible) make the Blues even more defensive, pairing with N’Golo Kante in the middle. He’s rugged and just annoying for midfielders to deal with.

At the back, head up to Manchester where City has again splashed the cash like Ricky Jarrett at the casino. A year after spending more than $60 million on central defender John Stones who isn’t all that great, the team has paid $230 million this offseason on defenders and a goalkeeper, with former Tottenham Kyle Walker arguably the most high profile. Walker and Stones are both English national team players, a national team that hasn’t won anything since the 1966 World Cup …

New rule

As Sky Sports points out, there is one big new rule — the retrospective ban for diving, and that could lead to a two-match ban if found guilty. You know, it’s that thing people dis the NBA on — flopping is what it’s called here. 

Also, no more cool pitch designs like at Leicester City. It’s got to be horizontal lines, which makes sense but is silly at the same time.

Americans

There are plenty of Americans in the Premier League season. Here’s who and what to expect.

Geoff Cameron, Stoke City – In a central defensive midfield role, Cameron has been an important player for the club over since joining in 2012. He’ll be expected to start a good majority of the games and be a physical presence in the middle.

DeAndre Yedlin, Newcastle – In a great spot under Rafa Benitez, Yedlin performed very well last season and is ready for his Premier League return. But can he beat out Javier Manquillo for the right back job?

Danny Williams, Huddersfield Town – If you can’t beat them, join them. After losing to Huddersfield Town in the promotion playoff with Reading, Williams joins the Terriers for their long-awaited Premier League return. The former Hoffenheim man was fantastic for Reading last season in the middle and will be tasked with frustrating the opposing team’s creators all match long.

There’s also Emerson Hyndman at Bournemouth and Cameron Carter-Vickers at Tottenham, but both are super young and probably won’t have big roles this campaign.

Predicted top four

  1. Arsenal (probably won’t happen but Lacazette is just so good)
  2. Manchester City (Could win it if the defense improves)
  3. Chelsea (Pretty boring team to be honest. Will put UCL over PL)
  4. Tottenham (A ‘darkhorse’ to win it but didn’t add anything)

Before you call me crazy, remember these are just predictions. Is it likely Arsenal wins the league? No, but I love Lacazette and have felt Arsenal is a star striker away from contending. With Mesut Ozil and Alexis Sanchez in attack, the Gunners could certainly win the league.

My apologies to Manchester United (Zlatan Ibrahimovic > Lukaku) and Liverpool (no Philippe Coutinho, no chance), but it isn’t happening. 

How it will probably play out

  1. Manchester City (Just so freaking talented and should score plenty)
  2. Tottenham (If it ain’t broke…)
  3. Chelsea (Bored already)
  4. Arsenal (Back to normal)

Liverpool also has a chance if it does hold on to Coutinho or if new signing Mohamed Salah goes nuts. Manchester United is expected to finish in the top four, but a collection of talent doesn’t win you matches. They had 15 draws last season, and that did the team in. Not enough quality in attack outside of Ibra. 

Predicted relegated teams

18. Swansea City (Could lose star midfielder and would be done)
19. Brighton (It was nice seeing you)
20. Huddersfield Town (Great story, could stick but probably won’t)

Predicted top scorer

Lacazette, 26 goals. He’ll get at least 20 in all competitions. 

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Alexandre Lacazette is expected to deliver big up top for Arsenal. 
Getty Images

First coach sacked

Mark Hughes, Stoke City. I had to pick somebody. 

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