Somehow, it’s that time again. Listen to the dramatic music, fire up the content generator, and get ready to absorb the hottest footage around – Premier League season is upon us again.
It is not yet clear, of course, what form this edition of the great arrogant football soap opera will take. This, after all, is the fun of it.
As the 20 richest league teams in the world return to the field this weekend, though, there are several questions lingering over it all. How an answer is given will go a long way in determining how things are going.
Will Manchester City beat Manchester City?
The obvious question before the start of any new Premier League season is which team is likely to have won the thing in the end. Unfortunately, in the current incarnation of the championship, this is not a particularly interesting investigation. Manchester City will win it, as they have four of the last five editions, and most likely will do so by greeting a lively but ultimately useless challenge from Liverpool. Although, this time, there is only a small caveat.
The idea that Erling Haaland’s presence will somehow disrupt City’s pace in such a way as to impact the team has been overstated; it could be an awkward marriage for a few months, but both are more than enough to thrive despite that.
Much more important is the fact that Haaland is currently only one of Pep Guardiola’s 16 senior winger players. It would be a risk in a normal season. This one has a big World Cup in the middle, which makes it look like a colossal bet.
Sounds like condemning Arsenal with feeble praise for suggesting that Mikel Arteta’s side won the preseason – mostly because they are – but, amid all the hype and exaggeration, the past few weeks have produced some really encouraging signs for the Spaniard. and his fellow documentary stars.
Gabriel Jesus certainly has the ability to be a transformative signing and his former Manchester City teammate Oleksandr Zinchenko may not be far behind. Arsenal look like a much more complete team than they did a year ago. Not one ready to take on City or Liverpool, perhaps, but one who could end the club’s long exile from the Champions League.
Will Tottenham’s impatience pay off?
The biggest obstacle to Arsenal’s resurrection lies just down the road. Not at Chelsea, where a chaotic transfer window will most likely end in a stronger but somehow less consistent squad, but in a Tottenham transformed by Antonio Conte, the kind of supernova coach coming in, pushes his players to the limit. and then it implodes. The concern when he joined Spurs was that the club had an almost diametrically opposite approach.
Apparently that wasn’t a problem. Tottenham are very much in win-now mode. Ivan Perisic, Richarlison and Yves Bissouma were involved to transform a team good enough to enter the Champions League last year into one that can push for the title. Given the weirdness of the season, that doesn’t seem impossible. The Spurs have a chance under Conte, in fact. He went out of his way to get it.
Manchester United: discuss
In what may have been the purest distillation of modern football imaginable, Cristiano Ronaldo received an ecstatic welcome upon his return to Old Trafford last weekend. Manchester United fans clearly wanted him to know how much he meant to them, even though he made it clear that he doesn’t want to stay in the club.
About 45 minutes later, after being substituted, Ronaldo was leaving the stadium at half-time, against the will of his manager, Erik ten Hag, and apparently convinced he didn’t need to stay.
There has been, believe it or not, progress at Manchester United this summer. Ten Hag is a smart date. The club made a couple of smart signings. But it’s a curious advance, tempered by the fact that United doesn’t seem to have a roster of recruits beyond the ten players Hag knew and loved and undermined by the Ronaldo saga. As things currently stand, he may be forced to stay simply because no one else wants to hire him. How he will manage ten Hag that will define the first months of his reign.
Can anyone break the seal?
In a way, this season should be the best chance since 2016 for a team outside the traditional Big Six to race for a place in the Champions League. The entire campaign will be influenced by the World Cup, and it’s hardly ridiculous to suggest that superpowers – supplied as it is by players headed to Qatar – may be more susceptible to fatigue later on.
Whether a team can emerge from the group, however, is a different matter. Newcastle ended last season with Saudi bankroll high, but this summer was substantially quieter than the LIV golf series. Leicester and Wolves appear to be stagnating. This leaves West Ham – backed by a couple of clever additions – as the only viable candidate. More likely, of course, is that not even David Moyes’ team can keep up with the pace and that at the end of a season different from the others, everything will be exactly as before.