The interesting rankings: Can Mourinho hold it together?

LONDON, ENGLAND - MAY 26: Fulham players celebrate with the trophy during the Sky Bet Championship Play Off Final between Aston Villa and Fulham at Wembley Stadium on May 26, 2018 in London, England. (Photo by Robbie Jay Barratt - AMA/Getty Images)
LONDON, ENGLAND - MAY 26: Fulham players celebrate with the trophy during the Sky Bet Championship Play Off Final between Aston Villa and Fulham at Wembley Stadium on May 26, 2018 in London, England. (Photo by Robbie Jay Barratt - AMA/Getty Images) /

The Premier League returns this Friday, with Manchester City favorites to win another title. But which team is the most interesting?

The Premier League returns this Friday, when Manchester United host Leicester at Old Trafford. We already know who the title favorites are, but which teams are going to be the most interesting to follow in 2018-19?

20. Southampton

Southampton are perhaps the only side outside the big six who don’t really have themselves to blame for their current bout of sub-mediocrity, having had their best players and managers ruthlessly plucked away from them every year for the past decade. Last season, it finally caught up with them, and now their manager is Mark Hughes, who isn’t that bad, but is certainly not that interesting. Sofiane Boufal is a wizard, and I eagerly await the day he fulfills his promise, but there’s not much else to get excited about at St. Mary’s. Will this be the year their strikers finally score some goals? Probably not.

19. Watford

Watford are alway a little bit interesting, on account of they get a new manager and an entire new squad of players every summer, but they jumped the gun this year, firing Marco Silva in January for flirting with Everton a little too brazenly for his own good, and bringing in the perfectly bland Javi Gracia as a replacement. They’ve only bought six players so far this window, and one of them already played for them last season. They’ll probably be fine, but will anyone care if they aren’t?

18. Bournemouth

Bournemouth enter their fourth consecutive season in the top flight in 2018-19, kind of a remarkable feat given how many of their players used to play in League One. Their commitment to playing an attacking, possession-based game is also commendable, but they’re a lot more nice than they are interesting. Outside of the continued development of Lewis Cook, there’s not much here to grab the attention.

17. Cardiff

Neil Warnock is a crazy man, and should provide a healthy dose of stupid nonsense throughout the course of the season. “Warnock claimed in his autobiography that minutes after the final game of the season, actor and Blades fan Sean Bean burst into his office, blaming Warnock for the team’s relegation in a “foul-mouthed tirade” while Warnock’s wife and daughter were present.” So reads the best line of Warnock’s Wikipedia page. The fun ends there, unfortunately. If Cardiff stay up, they’ll do it playing some of the least enjoyable soccer in the division.

16. Leicester

Riyad Mahrez’s departure hurts Leicester’s interesting quotient. Watching Jamie Vardy finish chances was always less fun than watching Mahrez create them, and while Demarai Gray and Kelechi Iheanacho could pick up some of the slack, it won’t quite be the same. It doesn’t help their manager is Claude Puel, who is so boring Southampton once fired him for finishing eighth and leading them to a League Cup final. On the plus side, there’s no player in the world I’d rather watch stand completely still than Harry Maguire, who still plays for Leicester as of this writing. A truly compelling presence.

15. Tottenham

There are good reasons that Tottenham do nothing while their rivals rack up hundreds of millions of dollars worth of transfer fees, like that they don’t have hundreds of millions of dollars to spend. And while they remain an excellent team who should be good for another top four finish and run to the Champions League knockout rounds, they’re the same team they were last season. The new stadium might make things a little more interesting, but not by much.

14. Brighton

Brighton were, for my money, the most pleasantly surprising team in the Premier League last year, riding a superb defense and the final-third quality of Pascal Gross to a comfortable mid-table finish. They’ve been busy in the transfer market again this summer as they attempt to consolidate their Premier League status. They’re unlikely to be the most expansive team in the league, but in a division filled with organizational incompetence, their understated, intelligent approach to business is refreshing.

13. Huddersfield

Huddersfield — tiny little plucky Huddersfield — survived their first season back in the top flight since the ‘70s by the skin of their teeth. It was, by all accounts, wonderful. They also scored only 28 goals as David Wagner’s much-publicized high press was replaced by a much less exciting defensive block. They could do it again, they might do it again, but if they do it again, it certainly won’t be any more exciting.

12. Burnley

Burnley defied all expectation last season, riding a characteristically stubborn defense to a seventh-place finish and a spot in the Europa League qualifying rounds. They were slightly more attacking than they had been the season before, but not so much anyone would be tempted to call them an attacking team. Sean Dyche is always entertaining, but there are no unsettled questions about his team, on or off the pitch. We know what we’re going to get. The only question is whether it will continue to be successful.

11. Newcastle

The “will Mike Ashley buy any players before Rafa-Benitez loses his mind?” routine may not be as compelling as it once was, but with Benitez heading into the final year of his contract, it’s still enjoyable enough. There was something perversely thrilling about watching the Spanish manager figure out how to build a team without any strikers last season, and the 10th-place finish he managed was impressive under the circumstances, but no one would call Newcastle the most exciting team in the league.

10. Manchester City

Pep Guardiola’s side enjoyed the best single season in Premier League history in 2017-18, finishing on 100 points with a plus-79 goal difference. They should be at least as exciting this year with the addition of Mahrez and the introduction of a fully fit Benjamin Mendy at left-back. Then again, for all the beautiful attacking play, it gets a little repetitive watching the same team win 7-0 every week.

9. Crystal Palace

Palace had a wild 2017-18, losing their first seven games without scoring a goal, firing their manager after four matches, handing Roy Hodgson his shot at redemption following an ugly end to his time as England manager and persisting with Christian Benteke despite the fact he missed 99 percent of his shots. They also have Wilfried Zaha, who will be fun no matter what else is going on, and Andros Townsend, who will be funny no matter what else is going on, and Mamadou Sakho, who is the greatest, and Max Meyer, whose attempt to regain his wonderkid status will by either good-interesting or sad-interesting, but interesting all the same.

8. Everton

Last season was supposed to be Everton’s coming out party after an eye-catching spending spree in the summer transfer window. Alas, Wayne Rooney and Gylfi Sigurdsson weren’t the solution to the problems at Goodison Park, and the whole thing fizzled out in the fiery wreckage of Sam Allardyce’s enormous ego. Marco Silva must now fix the mess. The Portuguese manager has shown real potential in brief stints at Watford and Hull, not to mention his time in Greece and Portugal. There’s talent in this Everton team, even if it is a little incoherently assembled. Watching Silva attempt to make sense of it all will be one of the more fascinating storylines of the season.

7. Liverpool

Liverpool seemed to find the perfect balance between good attack and bad defense last season, which made them probably the most consistently exciting team in the league on the pitch (City’s best was better, but their defense was just too competent to be fun). The Reds have also made a significant splash in the transfer market this summer, bringing in Naby Keita, Fabinho, Xherdan Shaqiri and Alisson. The expectation now is a title challenge. The stakes have been raised at Anfield.

6. Wolves

Wolves make their long-awaited return to the Premier League this season, having spent the past two years buying every Portuguese international ever to have the misfortune of signing a contract with Jorge Mendes. That approach has been both very unpopular and very successful, and the team now boast an intriguing combination of youth, in the form of Ruben Neves and Diogo Jota, and experience, in the form or Joao Moutinho and Rui Patricio. It could be spectacular. And if it isn’t, they can always swoop for Cristiano Ronaldo in the January transfer window. Exciting stuff.

Next. The Premier League 50: Ranking the best players in the top flight. dark

5. Manchester United

Jose Mourinho doesn’t do third seasons, is the thing about Jose Mourinho, and so it came as no great surprise to see that he spent the summer ahead of his third season at Manchester United throwing various players under various buses, and generally lamenting his sizable misfortune at having to manage the world’s wealthiest club. United have some real meltdown potential this season; they could also challenge for the title if they can land another center-back, Alexis Sanchez gets back to his best and Paul Pogba shows up. Anything could happen, basically, and it’s all very compelling.

4. Arsenal

Arsene Wenger is no more. Well, he’s not dead, but he’s not the Arsenal manager either. That honor goes to Unai Emery, last seen babysitting Paris Saint-Germain to their customary Ligue 1/unsatisfying Champions League exit double. Arsenal’s squad remains pretty good, and they’ve done some intriguing business over the summer, bringing in Sokratis, Lucas Torreira and a few others. They also have the possibly very redundant, but also possibly very good attacking quartet of Pierre Emerick Aubameyang, Alexandre Lacazette, Henrikh Mkhitaryan and Mesut Ozil. How’s it all going to fit together? How will Emery handle the pressure? Will Stan Kroenke take full control of the club? Your guess is as good as mine.

3. Fulham

Fulham have had quite the summer, signing the likes of Jean Michael Seri, who seemed to be on his way to Barcelona this time last year, and Premier League and World Cup winner Andre Schurrle. They’ll join Ryan Sessegnon, the most intriguing teenage prospect to arrive in the Premier League since, well, maybe since Dele Alli, which wasn’t really that long ago, come to think of it. Even so, his development is going to be fascinating to watch. Fulham are also committed to an open, attacking style of play, and might just have the squad to pull it off.

2. Chelsea

Chelsea have traded in one fiery Italian manager for another this season, as Maurizio Sarri replaces Antonio Conte in the Stamford Bridge dugout. Whether that turns out to be an upgrade remains to be seen, but we do know Sarri’s preferred style of play is a lot more interesting than Conte’s. At last we may see the likes of Eden Hazard, Willian, Pedro and Cesc Fabregas given some real attacking freedom. Jorginho’s arrival should also help the transition, while the switch to a back four seems likely to mean a return for the wackiest version of David Luiz. Like Manchester United, Chelsea have some real meltdown potential this season. Also like Manchester United, they could challenge for the title. Unlike Manchester United, they might actually be fun to watch.

1. West Ham

Andriy Yarmolenko and Felipe Anderson at West Ham? That’s interesting. Jack Wilshere at West Ham? A little sad, but also a little interesting. A full season of Marko Arnautovic as a number 9? Definitely interesting. Idiot owners, Davids Sullivan and Gold, and the worst stadium in the history of stadiums? That’s not interesting, really, but it provides a dramatic, looming sense of doom, which is interesting. At the center of it all Manuel Pellegrini, Mr. Dignified himself, who seems an odd fit for such a ridiculous club. And yet here we are. This is going to be fun.