Premier League: Can Liverpool end Manchester City's hegemony to win maiden title?

Going by expected goals (xG) statistics, Manchester City performed as expected last season while Liverpool overachieved — in terms of goals scored, conceded and points gained.

Liverpool gave Manchester City a run for its money last season, but ultimately fell short of a maiden Premier League title by one point.   -  Getty Images

Will Champions League holder Liverpool finally land its first Premier League title this season or will Manchester City become only the second club in history to win three consecutive titles?

And what of the others? North London rivals Tottenham Hotspur and Arsenal have both broken their transfer records in the summer, Chelsea — under a transfer ban — has to cope with the departure of Eden Hazard while Manchester United, usually at the centre of every big transfer rumour, has spent most of the transfer window trying to keep hold of its key players.

The mid-tier clubs have all spent the money well but can they break the top 6 hierarchy?

Contrasting transfer windows

City and Liverpool have approached the summer transfer window on contrasting notes. While the Blues have broken their transfer record to sign Rodri from Atletico Madrid, the Reds have spent only a pittance on two teenagers.

A year after the failed pursuit of Jorginho, Pep Guardiola, the Manchester City manager, has finally landed an heir to Fernandinho. With the defensive midfield the “weakest” position in Pep’s squad, he has addressed that and could end up upgrading the league’s second-best defence with a player plus cash swoop of Joao Cancelo.

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Rodri's move from Atletico Madrid made him Manchester City's record signing, eclipsing what the club paid for Riyad Mahrez last summer.   -  Getty Images

 

Liverpool manager Jurgen Klopp, on the other hand, seems content with what he has at his disposal — a squad that gets strengthened by the return of Alex Oxlade-Chamberlain and Harry Wilson from injury and loan respectively.

READ | Lukaku, Luiz, Iwobi, Lo Celso and more: Relive the Premier League transfer deadline day

While both Pep and Klopp's pre-season training has been hindered by their players' participation in the Africa Cup of Nations and the Copa America, it has been especially difficult for the German as five of his best players — goalkeeper Alisson Becker, midfielder Naby Keita and attacking trio of Sadio Mane, Mohamed Salah and Roberto Firmino — have had little rest while Xherdan Shaqiri is just returning from a summer spent nursing a tear in his calf.

Despite playing its pre-season games without Sergio Aguero, Fernandino, Ederson, Gabriel Jesus and Riyad Mahrez, City has won three and lost one, on penalties, with no drop in defensive stability, creativity or goals scored. Liverpool, on the other hand, lost four on the trot before coming from behind to defeat Lyon.

xG metrics and relative performances

Going by expected goals (xG) statistics, Manchester City performed as expected last season while Liverpool overachieved — in terms of goals scored, conceded and points gained. Similarly, Spurs and Arsenal did well while Chelsea and Manchester United underperformed.

Here’s a look at last season’s first 6 teams:

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Liverpool had its best season ever in the Premier League and that shows in the xG metrics. While Manchester City set the bar high in 2017-18, it is remarkable that Pep Guardiola managed to extract the same level of performance for a second successive season to seal back-to-back title wins.

RELATED | Liverpool season preview

Both City and Liverpool were so good last season that even if they both drop to their expected points tally (91 and 83 respectively), they would have still finished in the same positions in the table.

City might have performed well over two seasons but how have the other champions done in the season after?

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Looking at the league winners over the last four years along with Tottenham in 2016/17 — where it outscored all teams, conceded the least and finished second to only a record-breaking Chelsea, there is a pattern about teams which outperform their xG.

Apart from City last season, every other team which outperformed its xG crashed the following season. Each team has its own reasons, with Manchester United suffering from Mourinho’s tantrums before sacking him to Leicester’s team being picked apart, but the commonality has been the drop.

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While teams generally do not outperform their xG consistently, Juventus has been an outlier. For the last five years, it has managed to exceed its xP on an average of 15 points every season. The season under Maurizio Sarri (2017-18) where Napoli almost broke Juventus’ grip on the Serie A title, the Old Lady bettered its xP by 21 points. Carlo Ancelloti-led Napoli finished 12 points worse off but still stayed second last season while Juventus hit the 90-point mark again to win its eighth straight title.

Will Liverpool be the Napoli or Juventus of 2018-19?

Best of the rest

Spurs went through two transfer windows without signing anyone, was troubled by Harry Kane’s injury in the middle of the season and had to agree with Son Heung-min’s participation in the Asian Games to avoid losing him to military service for two years. Despite that, it managed to make it to its maiden Champions League final and was the best-of-the-rest until the final days of last season. Since then, Tanguy Ndombele has been signed for a club-record £53.7 million and it could break that again if it succeeds in its pursuit of either Giovani Lo Celso or Bruno Fernandes. With Keiran Tripper moving to Atletico Madrid and Danny Rose expected to leave too, the club needs to find able replacements as full-backs play an important role in Mauricio Pochettino’s system.

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Spurs broke its transfer record twice this summer, first for Tanguy Ndombele (in picture) and then for Giovani Lo Celso.   -  Getty Images

 

Arsenal, supposedly working with a budget of just £45 million, has found ways to strengthen its squad without exceeding that limit. Nicolas Pepe might have signed for a club-record £72.9 million but the deal has been structured in a way where Lille gets paid only £20 million right now with the rest paid in parts over the next few years. While the club now has an enviable attack, an already weak defence has been further hit by Laurent Koscielny’s refusal to join the club’s pre-season in a bid to force an exit. If the club fails in its pursuit of Kieran Tierney, Unai Emery will be hoping for his attack to outscore its opponents every game if the Gunners aim to secure a top-four spot, something they haven’t done for three years now.

RELATED | Manchester United season preview

The summer started on a disappointing note for Chelsea. Eden Hazard became Real Madrid’s freshly minted galactico, Sarri has been poached by Juventus and FIFA’s two-window transfer ban was confirmed. Roman Abramovich then took the unusual step of appointing an unproven but widely-loved Frank Lampard, a move that has improved the spirits of players and fans alike. The high-pressing, quick passing style in the pre-season could rejuvenate a Stamford Bridge crowd that spent most of its energy booing Sarri’s tactics last season.

Gone to Spain: Eden Hazard’s move to Real Madrid is a big blow to Chelsea.   -  GETTY IMAGES

 

The ‘youth-centric revolution’ forced on the club has seen Mason Mount, Tammy Abraham and Reece James get a place in the first-team squad while the transfer ban gives second chances to Kurt Zouma and Michy Batshuayi. Much is expected of Christian Pulisic, who walks into the sizeable void created by Hazard’s departure. Anything more than a top-four finish could be an overachievement for a manager in his first stint at the highest level.

Manchester United has spent most of the transfer window fighting to keep hold of Paul Pogba and Romelu Lukaku. While the Red Devils did well to sign Aaron Wan-Bissaka early in the window, they wasted weeks trying to negotiate a deal with Leicester for Harry Maguire before finally agreeing on the fee the Foxes initially quoted.

While Paulo Dybala’s arrival depends on Lukaku’s move to Italy, it now needs to sort out a midfield which significantly lacks creativity — even if Pogba stays put.

The middle zone

On paper, the mid-tier clubs have all spent their money on the right players. Breaking its transfer record for the third successive summer, West Ham United might have finally found a striker in Sebastien Haller who can turn the club into a genuine contender for a European spot. Leicester made most of the uncertainty caused by Rafael Benitez’s Newcastle departure to pick up Ayoze Perez, following it up with a club-record deal to turn Youri Tielemans’ impressive loan spell permanent and has planned for Maguire’s departure with a move for Brighton’s Lewis Dunk lined up.

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Liverpool attacking trio of Roberto Firmino, Mohamed Salah and Sadio Mane have had little rest and this could tell on their performance.   -  Getty Images

 

Wolverhampton Wanderers has held on to the stars who helped it to a record-seventh place in the table and brought in Partick Cutrone from AC Milan to share the goalscoring burden with Raul Jimenez.

RELATED | Premier League transfer window recap: Five best signings

Everton fought off West Ham to sign Andre Gomes on a permanent deal, brought in Fabian Delph and found an able back-up to Jordan Pickford in free agent Jonas Lossl. The club has also moved swiftly to replace Idrissa Gueye with Mainz midfielder Jean-Philippe Gbamin. With a £29 million acquisition of Moise Kean, anything less than a top-seven finish will be seen as an underachievement.

Newly promoted Aston Villa has spent close to £120 million, only bettered by Manchester United in the league, on 11 players while Norwich City has built its squad largely on loan deals and free transfers with a grand total of £1.5 million spent so far.

Sheffield United has stayed between the two, spending £62 million on nine players but with a healthy mix of youth and experience.

All three teams will be hoping to emulate a promoted Wolves side which finished seventh last season rather than Cardiff City or Fulham which got relegated straight away.