The 2015-16 season was a prolonged affair with the EURO and COPA America keeping the footballers busy till early July. The clubs are now in a tearing hurry to sort out their combinations in the pre-season, welcoming back players from their international break.
The arrival of Pep Guardiola (Manchester City), Jose Mourinho (Manchester United) and Antoine Conte (Chelsea) has once again proved the Premier League’s ability to attract the best talent to the British Isles. The three managers join a growing list of astute tacticians and it is an exciting prospect to see them engage in battle in the coming season.
I am expecting a hard-fought campaign with the trio engaging in a battle of wits with Jorgen Klopp (Liverpool), Mauricio Pochettino (Tottenham), Ronald Koeman (Everton) and Arsene Wenger (Arsenal) to wrest away the bragging rights in England.
The EPL, over the years, has also put forth entertaining football, but has always been slow in adapting to changes. The English game, in terms of tactics and organisation, has fallen behind their European counterparts. However, the introduction of the new managers — who have proved their worth in mainland Europe — will bring in the more nuanced systems into play, offering a new twist to the tale.
The gap — between the top and the bottom clubs — is narrowing rapidly as was evident by Leicester’s success last season. The revenues generated from the new television deal are helping the smaller clubs and they too are attracting better players, thus shaking up the traditional club structure and bringing in a sense of much-needed unpredictability to the league.
In Manchester, the battle between Mourinho and Guardiola will be an entertaining affair, but I don’t see it overshadowing the rivalry of the Mancunian clubs. A manager should never become bigger than the club and it is the media that has hyped up the situation. A good manager will always be a good manager, but the results are a reflection on the quality of the team and organisation rather than just the manager. A great manager will transfer his success to the players, the fans and the club.
United will have to tackle the tricky Europa League schedule with matches on Thursdays and Mourinho will need to juggle his squad, a task he is not familiar with, to make an impression at the continental level. At Chelsea, the manager was often criticised for not rotating his squad, putting his faith on a settled set of players.
The Champions League ambition of the City owners will weigh heavily on Guardiola and the Spaniard will need to find a perfect balance between the club’s continental and national ambitions. It is never easy to play in two gruelling competitions simultaneously and Guardiola found out the hard way in Germany.
Liverpool and Chelsea, without the burden of a European campaign, will need to take advantage of the situation, making a run for the English championship. The Reds, under Brendan Rodgers, had a made the most of a similar situation, coming close to wining the title a couple of seasons back. Klopp has added quality to the team and the likes of Georginio Wijnaldum and Sadio Mane will bring more character to the squad.
I will be eager to see the work of Conte, who surprised the pundits with his neatly drawn 3-5-2 system to douse the likes of Belgium and Spain in the EURO. I expect him to experiment with the Chelsea squad during the pre-season and evolve a system which suits his players the best.
Tottenham, too, will give the big teams a run for their money and in Pochettino the club has an astute tactician. The Argentine had built a great defending side last season and the additions in the midfield and forward line — Vincent Janssen and Victor Wanyama — will further strengthen the squad.
At Everton, Koeman’s biggest task will be to get the best out of Ross Barkley, who has lost his way over the past year. The young Englishman might find the right mentor in the Dutch coach, who did wonderfully well with the Saints, ensuring a seventh place finish.
Claudio Ranieri will find it tough to repeat his Houdini act with Leicester with the Foxes already losing the services of Kante to Chelsea. The team’s season will depend on its ability to hold on to Algerian Riyad Mahrez. The playmaker, who has a long list of suitors in Europe, was the most influential player for Raineri and his void will be hard to fill. However, I don’t see Mahrez signing for any of the other Premier League clubs and if he moves it will be either to Barcelona or Real Madrid or any other top European club. A top 10 finish will be a realistic prospect for the defending champion.
Southampton, which had another noteworthy campaign, has sold far too many players and the new managerial appointee, Claude Paul, will find it hard to secure a top-eight spot for the team.
Among the new boys, Middlesbrough has created quite a splash by signing big names like Victor Valdes and Alvaro Negredo. It is spending money and will certainly have a go at finishing in the top half of the table.
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