Time for the Premier League
The new season begins tonight as newly-promoted Brentford take on Arsenal in their first ever Premier League game and their first in the top-flight since 1946/1947.
Just 33 days have passed since the country were left heartbroken after England lost on penalties against Italy in the Euro 2020 final.
Now it’s time for the bread and butter of the Premier League. It is set to be a thrilling and compelling season with fans back in the stadiums and another season of twists and turns.
It has been a strange summer of spending with many of the top clubs once again opening their cheque-books but plenty of the bottom-half sides have been careful and cautious following the effects of the pandemic.
Manchester City will be looking to defend their crown and win their fourth title in five seasons and the prospective signing of Harry Kane would tip things in their favour. They did win the league last year without a recognised no.9 but that’s not a pattern you want to repeat.
The £100 million signing of Jack Grealish strengthens their attacking options and gives them a direct and dynamic player. He made 10 assists in the league last season and he was ranked second for chances created from open play and third for chances created.
He will not be the sole creator like he was at Aston Villa and it will be intriguing to see how Pep Guardiola utlilises and finds a role for a maverick who likes to take many touches and draw defenders to the ball.
Chelsea, who beat City in the Champions League final, and also on two other occasions last season, should present the biggest threat to the reigning champions. The signing of clinical striker Romelu Lukaku will add another dimension to their play and guarantee 20+ Premier League goals.
Thomas Tuchel’s side were profligate last season, creating the most chances in the Premier League but converting just 9% of their chances – the 13th best in the Premier League.
Lukaku scored 24 Serie A goals last season and also made 11 assists to help Inter Milan win the Serie A title. He became a more mature and multi-faceted striker, improved by manager Antonio Conte.
If City are unable to prise Kane away from Tottenham, then Chelsea can pip them to the title.
Man United and Liverpool outsiders
Manchester United and Liverpool are the only other two sides who can challenge.
Ole Gunnar Solskjaer’s side finished a distant second last season but have had a good window, signing the wonderfully talented Jadon Sancho who scored 37 goals and assisted 41 goals in his last three Bundesliga seasons.
Raphael Varane is a proven winner, and at 28, should add experience and forge a good understanding with Harry Maguire.
But United’s issues are in midfield; they lack a dynamic holding midfielder who can break up play and control the game. Scott McTominay is a good box-to-box player but he lacks the passing range and positional play to play as the no.6, while Fred can be effective at breaking up play but is limited.
If they can acquire another midfielder before the transfer window ends, then they could be involved in the title race.
Liverpool have signed talented defender Ibrahima Konate from RB Leipzig and have Virgil van Dijk back from injury but they need to freshen up their front-line with another forward to challenge Roberto Firmino in particular.
Jurgen Klopp’s men have also not replaced Georginio Wijnaldum, who left to join PSG.
1) Chelsea, 2) Man City, 3) Man United, 4) Liverpool
*If Man City get Harry Kane then they change to first
The best of the rest
Leicester always go under the radar but have once again made smart and prudent signings; bringing in Patson Daka, Boubakary Somare and Ryan Bertrand with Jannick Vestergaard set to join.
They should have made top four last season but failed to hold their nerve. Brendan Rodgers’ side should go close again.
Tottenham and Arsenal have both brought in centre-backs but look short of challenging for the top four. Nuno Espirito Santo is an unknown, who was certainly not first choice and will need to be more attack-minded than he was at Wolves.
Cristian Romero should strengthen their defence, while Bryan Gil is an exciting signing but should take time to adjust to the league.
Arsenal spent big on Ben White but have problems in other areas of the pitch, which need addressing. Mikel Arteta is under pressure to get Arsenal closer to the top six and they face a difficult start with Man City and Chelsea in their first three fixtures.
Aston Villa have replaced Grealish well and have the ability to become a more complete team without their former talisman if new signings: Danny Ings, Leon Bailey and Emiliano Buendia hit the ground running.
Brentford look the best equipped to stay up with their data-led approach and Ivan Toney should score at least 10 goals.
Norwich and Watford are likely to struggle. The Canaries have lost Buendia and are leaky defensively while Watford lack Premier League quality across their side.
Southampton and Wolves are two sides who could be involved in a relegation scrap.
Southampton in particular have had a troubling summer and have lost their best striker: Ings; their best centre-back: Vestergaard and an experienced full-back in Bertrand. They have replaced Ings with Adam Armstrong, who scored 28 goals in the Championship last season.
The 24-year-old will be will be under pressure to replace Ings and form a partnership with Che Adams if Ralph Hasenhuttl persists with a 4-4-2 formation.
Wolves have a new manager in Bruno Lage who has a job on his hands after the club stagnated last season. Raul Jimenez is back from his head injury and his goals might be enough to keep them up.
Three to go down:
18) Southampton, 19 Norwich, 20) Watford