This season’s Premier League kicks off on Friday night with shock 2016 champions, Leicester City, visiting record EPL winners, Manchester United, a potentially good game but nothing close to the main fixture of the first Super Sunday that sees Arsenal and its new coach, Unai Emery, face the stiff test of Pep Guardiola’s Manchester City at the Emirates Stadium.
Man. City became the first team in the English top flight to hit the 100-point mark on the way to a commanding title win last season, and Guardiola is not in any mood to relinquish the title or his team’s dominance of the league just yet, going by the signing made.
With a luxurious forward line, Man. City still deemed it necessary to finally get Riyad Mahrez from Leicester for north of £60 million.
Mahrez scored 12 goals and provided 13 more in the league last season – despite the fact he had a slow start last season and missed a handful of games early in 2018 due to interest from the Etihad.
His signing makes that luxurious forward line available to Guardiola even more formidable. Coupled with the reality of Leroy Sané having a full holiday after shockingly being left out of Germany’s World Cup squad and the likes of Sergio Agüero the Silvas – David and Bernardo – having short World Cup campaigns, Man. City would still have a starting line-up stronger than most other EPL teams by Sunday.
That says a lot for a team which could be without Kevin De Bruyne, Raheem Sterling, Vincent Kompany, John Stones and possibly Fernandinho for a few weeks in the league due to an extended campaign in Russia with their respective national teams. Other teams saw Man. City’s fear factor, however, and raised it a challenge of their own by doing some business in the transfer market.
Liverpool brought in goalkeeper, Alisson from AS Roma to fix the goalkeeping headache, as well midfielders Fabinho and Naby Keita to add more agility and better counterattack capabilities.
Xherdan Shaqiri also joined from Stoke City to serve as a capable and experienced back-up to the club’s lethal front three of Mohamed Salah, Sadio Mané, and Roberto Firmino.
Liverpool were the only team that looked nearly capable of beating City on multiple occasions – three convincing wins in the second half of last season pay testament – and judging by the cohesion already showing in the team ahead of the new season, the Reds look the best bet to actually beat Man. City to the title; a feat which would validate manager Jürgen Klopp’s project and end a long wait for a 19th league title at Anfield.
Somehow, Liverpool now lie ahead of Manchester United and Chelsea in the odds for the title despite Man. United finishing second last season and Chelsea winning the FA Cup and putting up a late but futile charge to end in the top four last season.
The Blues have since parted company with manager, Antonio Conte, and first-choice keeper, Thibaut Courtois, with Maurizio Sarri replacing Conte and bringing midfielder, Jorginho, with him from Napoli as well as replacing Courtois with £71.6 million man, Arrizabalaga Kepa from Athletic Bilbao.
Other than a dramatic transfer window, Sarri has had to endure late arrivals of key men, Eden Hazard, N’Golo Kante, and Willian from their World Cup break, and brought a new system – 4-3-3 and possibly 4-2-3-1 – to Chelsea. Meaning it could take a bit for Chelsea to settle in, by which time the early pacesetters could have opened quite a gap.
Meanwhile, Man. United traditionally should be among those pacesetters but a preseason devoid of many first-team players and lack of transfers in after Fred’s acquisition left much to be desired in manager Jose Mourinho’s pragmatic point of view – to the point that he refused answering the question of the club’s title chances this season.
The Red Devils depended largely on David De Gea’s saves to earn valuable points last season, but that may not be the case this season following a dire World Cup for the Spanish keeper.
Seeing as United boss, Jose Mourinho, has pretty much the same squad that finished second last season, he could look on the bright side and believe a little more push would see the team do better this term.
Knowing Mourinho, however, he would hate the fact he has been unable to strengthen his squad like other rivals have, and would use the slightest chance to state just that during the season.
Hence, Chelsea not likely settled into Sarri-ball and United being United, Arsenal could see an opening for a return to the top four having finished sixth in the last two seasons.
Arsenal parted company with Arsène Wenger after just under 22 years, ushering a new era with Unai Emery which could see the Gunners show more hustle off-the-ball and be one of the teams to watch thanks largely to strike duo, Pierre-Emerick Aubameyang and Alexandre Lacazette building on their partnership as many wait to see just how Emery would use both men.
The Gunners have also strengthened in midfield with the signing of Lucas Torreira while also trying to address defensive frailties with the experience of Stephan Lichtsteiner and Sokratis Papasthatopoulos, as well as German goalkeeper, Bernd Leno.
All of which make Sunday’s game against Man. City one to look out for as it serves an immediate test for the Gunners and would point out how well or not Emery’s Arsenal would perform over the course of the season.
Tottenham Hotspur as well played some exciting attacking football last season only to fall short on all fronts last season; relinquishing a lead to lose in the FA Cup semi-final, finishing third in the league, and losing at home to Juventus after doing the hard work in the first leg and taking the lead in the second leg of the Champions League round of 16.
Spurs, however, look like a club that would fall just short of achieving its ultimate goals yet again, no thanks to a number of factors including the uncertainty clouding the future of arguably its best defender, Toby Alderweireld.
There is also the matter of Harry Kane still set to be burdened with scoring a chunk of the goals (not that he’s complaining), and keeping a squad that runs out of steam at one crucial stage of the season from doing so again or risk losing ground on the pacesetters.
Overall, City are firm favourites to retain the title. Liverpool could run them close as could United if the Red Devils put together a consistent run of form. The London trio of Chelsea, Spurs and Arsenal on their part look like they would have to wait another season to challenge for the title.