City look formidable as they attempt to end 10-year curse.
No club has retained the Premier League title since 2009 but, in that past decade, rarely have any begun a campaign looking as strong as current champions Manchester City.
If ever a team looked capable of ending that wait for a back-to-back winner, it is the outstanding Pep Guardiola-inspired side that powered to glory last term.
City were in a class of their own as they claimed the title with a record 100 points, scoring 106 goals and winning 32 matches in the process.
They finished 19 points clear of the field and immediately made clear their determination to stay that far ahead by spending £60 million on Riyad Mahrez from Leicester City.
With the ever-hungry Guardiola not standing for complacency – and a squad packed with youth and talent – the rest of the competition face a formidable challenge.
Coming off the back of a World Cup, squad depths will be tested in the early month of the season. Of those rivals, Liverpool perhaps look the best placed to halt City’s march.
Jurgen Klopp has built an exciting and powerful side of his own that proved their ability by beating City en route to last season’s Champions League final. Their problem has been a lack of consistency.
As eye-catching as the Reds were last spring, their strength beyond a core group was questionable and their cause was undermined by dropped points against teams heading for relegation in Stoke City and West Bromwich Albion. Klopp has taken steps to address this in a busy summer of transfer activity.
Naby Keita, Xherdan Shaqiri and Fabinho should add quality but it is the arrival of Roma goalkeeper Alisson Becker that could hold the key to their success. Without a title since 1990, recent history is not on their side, but after a number of well-documented blunders, Loris Karius’s place in the team looks to be over with the arrival of the Brazilian international keeper.
Alisson’s world-record transfer fee for a goalkeeper would have raised eyebrows, but his performances could be the difference between a top-four finish and challenging for the Premier League.
The London challenge comes with some new faces after managerial changes at Chelsea and Arsenal.
For Chelsea, this is nothing new. Maurizio Sarri is the 12th manager appointed at Stamford Bridge since Roman Abramovich bought the club back in 2003. The Italian has earned widespread plaudits for the football he has overseen at Napoli and he inherits a strong squad that has won two of the past four titles.
For Arsenal, it is a step into the unknown following the exit of Arsene Wenger after 22 years. Things may have gone stale in the latter part of the his reign, but it remains to be seen if Unai Emery is the right man to freshen them up. He has managed under pressure at Sevilla and Paris St-Germain, but launching a whole new era will be a sizeable task.
Manchester United finished second last season, marking a considerable improvement on sixth the previous year, and manager Jose Mourinho will have firm ideas on how they can make the next step and dethrone neighbours City.
They may not play the most exciting football, but they know how to get results. The arrival of Fred should allow Paul Pogba, now a World Cup winner, the freedom to push further forward and shine.
Tottenham Hotspur will hope to add some of that steel to their exciting side and come of age after four years of threatening to claim a breakthrough trophy. However, given the crux of their starting team featured in Russia, getting off to a fast start will not be easy for the north-London club.
Of the rest, Everton and West Ham United will expect improvement under new managers Marco Silva and Mauricio Pellegrini respectively, but Burnley may find it tough to replicate last year’s heroics.
Unlike when David Moyes replaced Sir Alex Ferguson after he ended his 26 years at Manchester United by winning the title in 2013, there is minimal pressure on Unai Emery to follow suit at Arsenal.
For the first time in more than two decades, Arsenal head into the new Premier League season facing the unknown.
Emery is the new man in charge, but will be working in a different role, having been appointed as head coach in May. As a distant sixth place was Arsenal’s final finishing position under Wenger, any improvement on that, given the quality of rival clubs fighting at the top end of the league, will be well received. But perhaps the Spanish manager is setting his sights a little higher.
“I think the quality is high here, and I think together we will work with this quality and the details in the tactics,” he said. “They will go with my ideas and work with my ideas every day, and this will help them to do these things on the pitch.’’ Asked to discuss his tactical approach, Emery’s opening gambit was simple: “I want to win.’’
There has been a relative overhaul of the squad, as areas of weakness highlighted by many over the past two years have been addressed.
Goalkeeper Bernd Leno will challenge Petr Cech for the gloves, experienced defenders Stephan Lichtsteiner and Sokratis Papastathopoulos have been added to a questionable back line, and the midfield guile of Lucas Torreira signals the intent of the club moving forward.
Still, dislodging Manchester United, Liverpool and Tottenham for a top-four finish is a tall order and would be seen as a great achievement. For Chelsea, who also finished outside the top four, Champions League football is the minimum requirement.
Appointed a day after Antonio Conte’s departure was announced, Maurizio Sarri will have to be a diplomat with both the Chelsea board and players uneasy at lurching from one mess to another.
Playmaker Eden Hazard has for some time been pondering extending the contract which runs until 2020 amid interest from Real Madrid, while Thibaut Courtois’s future is also in doubt.
Chelsea may cash in on both players and, in a change of tact, may finally be prepared to give youth its chance, despite signing midfielder Jorginho from Napoli.
Sarri may be more willing than previous Chelsea bosses to promote the likes of Ruben Loftus-Cheek and Callum Hudson-Odoi to the first XI.
Chelsea are already playing catch-up after finishing fifth, 30 points behind runaway champions Manchester City last term. Sarri needs to get to work quickly – and have the support of the club and the players. Otherwise, the Blues risk falling further off the pace and speculation that the Italian will be sacked will begin. For that is the way of life at Chelsea.
Across London, Mauricio Pochettino prepares for life at Tottenham’s new stadium.
As soon as Pochettino issued an apparent ultimatum to chairman Daniel Levy at the end of last season there was always a sense that this would be a defining summer for Spurs. Pochettino went off script after delivering a third successive top-three finish and told Levy to “be brave and take risks” in order for Spurs to really challenge for trophies.
Levy quickly tied the Argentinian down to a new five-year deal, and followed it up with a bumper salary cap-breaking new contract for Harry Kane, with Dele Alli and Christian Eriksen also expected to sign on soon. But with no new signings, and nine players involved in the entirety of the World Cup, Spurs are left facing an uphill struggle to retain their top-four position, let alone challenge Manchester City, for whom Liverpool and Manchester United appear to be main rivals, for the title.
If any of the big six do falter, then West Ham will hope they can fill a European place. Optimism has replaced fans’ anger at the London Stadium after owners David Sullivan and David Gold were true to their word in providing Manuel Pellegrini with a war chest.
West Ham have spent more than £100 million on players this summer, including Felipe Anderson from Lazio and Andriy Yarmolenko from Borussia Dortmund, while Jack Wilshere has joined from Arsenal on a free transfer.
One note of caution: Everton spent similar amounts of money this time last year and, instead of fulfilling predictions of a Champions League push, they were fighting relegation for half the season.
Cardiff boss happy with his lot as Fulham and Wolves splash the cash.
If Marmite made football managers then Neil Warnock’s face would be grinning out from the jar on breakfast tables throughout the country.
Love him or loathe him, there is no arguing with his record – eight promotions.Three of those have been to the top flight, and Warnock, at the age of 69, feels he has unfinished business.
“I haven’t had a fair crack of the whip in the Premier League,” he said, after having taken Sheffield United (2006) and Queens Park Rangers (2011) into the promised land before being relegated and sacked, respectively.
The challenge he has this season is staying there.
Warnock displays his passion on the touchline – berating the referee, linesmen, his own players, and opposition players and managers – in a way that often infuriates fans of his opponents but delights the supporters of his own club. With no huge war-chest to play with Cardiff are, by and large, sticking by the players who got them into the Premier League.
Four players have been signed from Championship clubs so far in Josh Murphy (Norwich), Greg Cunningham (Preston), Alex Smithies (QPR) and Bobby Reid (Bristol City).
“Our budget is just over half of what Huddersfield’s is, to give you some comparison,” he said. “But that’s not going to disappointment me. We’ve got a good groups of lads and I’m bringing in players to fit into that, I won’t disrupt it.”
Warnock, however, must surely be casting an envious eye to fellow promoted clubs Fulham and Wolves, who are outspending more established Premier League rivals.
Fulham have enjoyed a fantstic summer. The club-record arrival of Jean Michael Seri from French side Nice for a reported £25million raised eyebrows, especially amid reported interest from Barcelona and Chelsea. Fulham also added his Nice team-mate Maxime le Marchand as they looked to bolster a squad which had looked a little thin.
Not any more. Andre Schurrle has penned a two-year loan deal from Borussia Dortmund, while goalkeeper Fabri has joined from Besiktas.
Their transfer dealings are far from over with a permanent return for Aleksandar Mitrovic struck in a £25million deal with Newcastle United.
However, keeping hold of Tom Cairney and English wonderkid Ryan Sessegnon has been just as important.
Wolves already had a formidable squad – put together in large part thanks to links with super agent Jorge Mendes – that romped to the Championship title, and have since been linked with what seems to be every Portuguese player going.
They have signed a few, as well, and two in particular, goalkeeper Rui Patricio and midfielder Joao Moutinho, will go a long way to ensuring their survival and possibly more.
That will leave Huddersfield, and impressive manager David Wagner, who pulled off a miraclous escape with points at Manchester City and Chelsea, having initially stuttered after a promising start, needing to beat the odds again.
With a potential Europa League campaign to contend with after an outstanding season in which they finished seventh, Burnley are going into the season in precarious shape.
They have yet to sign anyone and will struggle to punch above their weight again with the same squad asked to play extra games. Boss Sean Dyche admits his team may be priced out of the league in future due to “crazy” transfer fees.
Harry Kane came home from Russia with the Golden Boot, but you can be certain it will still be bugging him that he failed to retain the Premier League version last term.
The Tottenham Hotspur and England talisman had been the top-flight’s top scorer in back-to-back seasons before being trumped by Mohamed Salah’s record-breaking campaign, when the Egyptian scored 32 goals, the highest ever tally in a 38-game Premier League season.
Kane only finished two goals behind and continued an upward curve of improvement from 2014-15. It was the first time he had hit the 30-goal mark and, on more than one occasion, made no bones about the fact he compares his numbers to Lionel Messi and Cristiano Ronaldo.
Not many players, if any, compare themselves to two of the best players to have ever played the game, but Kane has the stats to back it up, having beaten Ronaldo’s La Liga tally in each of the past two seasons.
Salah had an incredible season, but there is always the danger it was a flash in the pan. The Liverpool forward had never enjoyed a campaign as prolific as his debut season at Anfield, whereas Kane has scored more than 20 league goals per season for four consecutive years.
He is the most consistent striker in the country and is worthy of his 9-4 favourite tag with William Hill to retain his Golden Boot title.
Of the other contenders, Sergio Aguero and Gabriel Jesus are likely to be rotated at City and will therefore be at a disadvantage in terms of the number of games they will play, while Jose Mourinho’s tactics at Manchester United may well restrict the chances afforded to Romelu Lukaku.
For those not attracted by Kane’s admittedly short price, boost the odds in the top goalscorer/winner market by adding Manchester City to the selection.
Pep Guardiola does not tend to let up after one title and, barring Liverpool, their rivals have done little this summer to suggest they are about to close the gap to the record-breaking defending champions.
A City title win, combined with Kane as top scorer, is available at 9-2.