Let the action begin

This will be one of the closest title races in the Premier League history. But the only thing that keeps me from predicting a winner is the fresh memory of Ranieri and his band of merry men.

Chelsea manager Antonio Conte appears to be a happy man during the team’s training session in Singapore. As Conte prepares for life without Diego Costa, Chelsea knows that retaining the Premier League title is going to be one arduous task.   -  Getty Images

The season of ‘silly spending’ has dominated every talk of European football and we still have a few days left before the price tags keep sending us in a tizzy. But as a welcome relief, we’re days away from soaking in moves on the pitch and not the boardroom as the club football calendar kicks off.

The debate on which league is the best will never settle and I am definitely not stoking the fire with an opinion or two! I’m simply saying that the world will be watching when the English Premier League gets the madness under way.

I find it amusing when there are talks about title contenders even before a ball has been kicked. But let’s, just for a bit, assume that the EPL is a battle that will be fought and won on paper and suddenly the possibilities get interesting.

Every transfer conversation of late revolves solely around Neymar and his staggering €222 million transfer to PSG. But English clubs haven’t held back either. Defending champion Chelsea know it’s going to take twice the effort if it is to keep the EPL blue and punch with the biggies in Europe. Antonio Conte is readying for the possibility of life without Diego Costa, which explains his £70m spending on striker Alvaro Morata. The former Madrid man has big shoes to fill and only time will tell if he can lead the Chelsea line. Morata aside, Conte has splurged on midfielder Tiemoue Bakayoko (Monaco, £40m), and defender Antonio Rudiger (Roma, £34m). However, I still feel it’s Eden Hazard who will hold the aces for Chelsea. Then again, Conte would want to make an impression in the Champions League and it’s going to be interesting to see how he juggles between the two competitions.

Watching Chelsea with an eagle eye will be Pep Guardiola and his refurbished Manchester City squad. The Spaniard endured a trophy-less season, something he isn’t used to. City, according to me, is the frontrunner for the title this season. Guardiola, in bringing Bernardo Silva (Monaco, £43m), Ederson (Benfica, £34.7m), Kyle Walker (Tottenham, £50m), Danilo (Real Madrid, £26.9m) and Benjamin Mendy (Monaco, £49.2m), has firmly set his own imprint on the squad.

You can’t really keep Jose Mourinho away from any talk that involves the word ‘title’. The man has this uncanny knack of always turning up with the goods, no matter what team he has at his disposal. Romelu Lukaku’s £90m transfer from Everton may be the headline in United’s transfer business, but I think it is the signing of Nemanja Matic from Chelsea that will make all the difference. With Matic arriving, Paul Pogba could have a freer role which lets him express better than he did last season. United hasn’t looked like the side it used to be a few years ago and Mourinho has his task cut out in bringing back that feeling at Old Trafford.

I’m still not certain what to make of Jurgen Klopp’s Liverpool. A lack of activity in the transfer market has its fans a little worried. But I think the side will do alright. With Sadio Mane and new signing Mohammed Salah on the flanks, the Reds have some serious pace to burn. Whether Klopp challenges for the title will depend heavily on whether he can keep the talismanic Philippe Coutinho at Anfield. The Brazilian has been linked with a move to Barcelona, but Liverpool will do all to hold on to its man.

It just might be a blessing in disguise, but Arsenal not competing in the Champions League this season could be just what Arsene Wenger needs as his side prepares to punch with the big spenders. Alexandre Lacazette is a very exciting player and if the north London side manages to keep Alexis Sanchez, magic could happen.

Tottenham Hotspur has kept away from all the shopping, but I’m not sure for how long. Spurs have lost Kyle Walker to Manchester City and will be playing at Wembley this season and it’s going to be interesting to see how Mauricio Pochettino can spur his army, who finished second last season. I read somewhere that Tottenham’s points (86), in its second-placed run last season, would have been enough to win the league in 11 other seasons! That just gives you an idea of how competitive and ruthless the EPL can be. Among the promoted sides, I’m thrilled to see Newcastle United back in the big league. There is something special about that team and I’m certain it will find its feet sooner than later.

All said, I’m sticking my neck out in saying this will be one of the closest title races in the Premier League history. But the only thing that keeps me from predicting a winner is the fresh memory of Ranieri and his band of merry men they call Leicester!

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