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Premier League 2022-23 Season Preview: the contenders

How will the Top 6 shake out? Your guess may be as good as mine.

Manchester City v Liverpool - The FA Community Shield Photo by Kieran Galvin/DeFodi Images via Getty Images

Our 2022-23 Premier League team preview wraps up with the Top 6. The big dogs. The teams that are going to fight it out for the title and the European places. Even though the Premier League is strange and unpredictable with weird things happening every season, I really don’t see it ending with anything other than some combination of these six clubs in the top five spots. I think there is a chance one of them slips outside the European places, but I think these teams are clearly a cut above the rest of the league.

Both Manchester City and Liverpool are a cut above the other four. Tottenham, Arsenal, and Chelsea are all pretty close to each other. Manchester United are a bit of a wild card, but at least start out a half step below that second group of three clubs.


Manchester United

Key Players: Christian Eriksen (CM), Bruno Fernandes (AM), Jadon Sancho (LW), Marcus Rashford (CF)
Additions: Lisandro Martinez (CB), Tyrell Malacia (LB), Christian Eriksen (CM)
Losses: Andreas Pereira (AM), Paul Pogba (CM), Jesse Lingard (CF), Nemanja Matic (DM), Alex Telles (LB) Edison Cavani (CF)
Projected Finish: 6th

Why it could be their year: You never know what you’re going to get with a new manager. It could be that Erik ten Hag and his high pressing style (that’s modern football, after all) make an immediate impact.

United have some really good players — Jadon Sancho, Bruno Fernandes (who I think is both overrated and underrated at the same time), and Christian Eriksen. Lisandro Martinez could improve them at the back (but I have my doubts). If they get it right, they’ll win results.

Why it might not be their year: Right now, United have a massive distraction in their locker room — Cristiano Ronaldo. If he’s not released / moved, that’s going to be a dark cloud over the club all season.

I think Erik ten Hag is a solid manager. Odds are he’ll improve Manchester United this season, but they might get off to a slow start getting comfortable with his tactics and finding the best lineup to suit how he wants to play. I don’t think there is much room for error in the fight for the Top 4 this season, so a slow start could be enough to seal your finishing fate early.


Chelsea

Key Players: Reece James (RB), N’Golo Kante (CDM), Raheem Sterling (LW), Mason Mount (AM), Kai Havertz (AM)
Additions: Marc Cucurella (LB), Raheem Sterling (LW), Kalidou Koulibaly (CB), Carney Chukwuemeka (CM), Conor Gallagher (CM, back from loan), Armando Broja (CF, back from loan)
Losses: Romelu Lukaku (CF), Antonio Rudiger (CB), Andreas Christensen (CB)
Projected Finish: 5th

Why it could be their year: They’ve got plenty of attacking talent, even if they don’t have their striker situation sorted (I mean, they’re now being linked to Pierre-Emerick Aubameyang). Armando Broja could be the answer, and if he is, they’ve got a scary attack. And they added Raheem Sterling. No big deal.

That level of firepower means they’re never going to be out of a match.

Why it might not be their year: Antonio Rudiger is no longer at the club. You don’t lose arguably your best and most important player without taking a step back because of it. Koulibaly is a good player. He isn’t Tony Rudiger.

N’Golo Kante is definitely starting to slow down, and they don’t have anybody else on the roster who can do what he does for them. Their defense could be very exposed this season. And while I love Thiago Silva as a player, I don’t know that leaving your 37 year old centerback exposed is a recipe for success.

I’m not sure that it’s a reason they’ll struggle this year, but I just would like to point out that with the addition of Marc Cucurella, Chelsea have nearly £200M worth of left backs at the club. Wild.

I also think that Tommy Tuchel could get the axe midseason. He’s not the new ownership’s guy, and he’s already causing a bit of friction by asking pointedly in the media for more spending and new players.


Tottenham Hotspur

Key Players: Hugo Lloris (GK), Yves Bissouma (CDM), Son Heung-min (CF), Harry Kane (CF)
Additions: Richarlison (CF), Yves Bissouma (CDM), Djed Spence (RWB), Ivan Perisic (LWB), Fraser Forster (GK), Clement Lenglet (CB)
Losses: Steven Bergwijn (LW)
Projected Finish: 4th

Why it could be their year: Antonio Conte is a really good manager. He’s had success everywhere he’s been. He turned around a struggling Spurs squad last fall.

They’ve got arguably the best one-two scoring punch in the Premier League in Son and Kane, added Dejan Kulusevski last season, and Richarlison this summer. That’s a lot of attacking punch.

Why it might not be their year: Antonio Conte is a volatile coach. He could have a midseason meltdown and leave the club.

Both Harry Kane and Heung-min Son are injury risks. In past seasons, Spurs have fallen off significantly when one is missing. They’ve tried to account for that by strengthening their depth, but you don’t lose that kind of talent without missing a beat. So if one or both of those two miss several matches, Spurs will struggle.

The back half of Spurs’ formation, even with the addition of Yves Bissouma, is nothing to write home about. Antonio Conte’s tactics can only cover for so much, and Spurs do not have enough quality in defense. And while Hugo Lloris was one of the best keepers in the Premier League last season, Relying on your keeper to stand on his head is not a viable plan.

Spurs will also struggle if the other Premier League teams figure out that they can only score one goal. On the break, Harry Kane dropping deep, turning, and spinning it into space for Son or Kulusevski to run onto. If you sit deeper and don’t give them that opportunity, they do not have the creativity in the midfield to break you down. Not even close.


Arsenal

Key Players: Thomas Partey (CDM), Bukayo Saka (RW), Martin Ødegaard (AM), Gabriel Jesus (CF)
Additions: Gabriel Jesus (CF), Fabio Vieira (AM), Oleksandr Zinchenko (LB), Marquinhos (RW), Matt Turner (GK), William Saliba (like a new signing, CB)
Losses: Bernd Leno (GK), Alexandre Lacazette (CF)
Projected Finish: 3rd

Why it could be their year: Of all the teams in the Premier League, Arsenal are probably trending in the right direction the most. They’ve got young stars who should only improve, have added Premier League tested talent in critical spots, and looked really, really good in preseason.

I think most people outside of the club and its fans are sleeping on the Gunners. They’re going to be much better than people expect.

Why it might not be their year: The biggest threat facing Arsenal this season is player availability. There are players the Gunners really cannot afford to lose, and those guys may not be available for the entire season.


Liverpool

Key Players: Alison (GK), Virgil van Dijk (CB), Thiago Alcantara (CM), Mo Salah (RW), Diogo Jota (F), Luis Diaz (LW), Darwin Nunez (CF)
Additions: Darwin Nunes (CF), Fabio Carvalho (AM), Calvin Ramsey (RB)
Losses: Sadio Mane (LW), Neco Williams (RB), Takumi Minamino (LW), Markovich Grujic (CM) Ben Davies (CB), Divock Origi (CF)
Projected Finish: 2nd

Why it could be their year: Because right now, any year could be their year. They’re a really good team. They don’t concede many goals, and they score a bunch of ‘em. That’s a pretty good formula.

Why it might not be their year: I’m not sure you can lose Sadio Mane and not miss a beat. He was a critical part of their lethal attacking trio for 6 seasons, notching double digit goals in all of them. Darwin Nunez could be a great attacking replacement, but there will be growing pains. And when the title winner is could push 100 points, you have almost no room for error.

I’ve got questions about Liverpool’s midfield, too. They have strong box-to-box players and ball progressions, but I’m not sure they have the midfield engine and ball-winner that the other top clubs have. The Reds could lose the midfield battle against the other top clubs.


Manchester City

Key Players: Emerson (GK), Kyle Walker (RB), Ruben Dias (CB), Joao Cancelo (LB), Kevin de Bruyne (AM), Erling Haaland (CF)
Additions: Erling Haaland (CF), Kelvin Phillips (CDM), Julian Alvarez (CF), Stefan Ortega (GK)
Losses: Raheem Sterling (LW), Gabriel Jesus (CF), Oleksandr Zinchenko (LB), Fernandinho (CDM)
Projected Finish: 1st

Why it could be their year: As with Liverpool, any year could be their year. They are a juggernaut. They added the best young striker in the world to their attack in Erling Haaland.

I could literally have listed their entire starting XI (and probably their first two subs) as “key players,” they’re that loaded. They paid £100M for Jack Grealish to be a rotational player last season, for goodness sake.

Why it might not be their year: Erling Haaland is a true striker. Manchester City haven’t had that for a while, so they’re going to have to change the way they play a bit. As I’ve said all over this post, there isn’t much room for error at the top of the table. Dropped points during a learning period could make the difference in the end.

They’re a bit thin at outside back, too. An injury to either of Kyle Walker or Joao Cancelo would cause a notable drop in overall quality.

Ultimately, if Manchester City don’t win the league, it probably won’t be because of anything that they did wrong. It’ll be because Liverpool were just slightly better than them.