The Premier League season started with a bang as holder Leicester City was brought to ground by newly promoted Hull. The Foxes lost 2-1 against a side that has been plagued by one disaster after another during the pre-season.
The first week’s action had enough early promise and I think the season will be an exciting one.
Perhaps, nothing can beat the 2015-16 season for unpredictability, but smart additions to squads by most sides will surely elevate the quality of competition. The new record television deal has left all clubs flushed with funds and most have used it quite generously — though not often judiciously — to bolster their teams.
Chelsea and Manchester City are my favourites and a lot of it is because of their appointment of two astute managers. In Antonio Conte, the London side has found an excellent organiser and the Italian, by the looks of the pre-season, has already solved the puzzle of Chelsea’s frail backline. Pep Guardiola and his Manchester City side look equally strong and well-balanced.
The two marquee managers, alongside other heavyweight names on the touchline, are expected to make enormous impact on the League, bringing in experience and an innovative approach to the game.
The relative lack of an off-season for the international players — who were involved at the EURO and COPA America — will be a cause of concern. I have always highlighted that it is extremely hard to keep the fitness levels up after a gruelling summer tournament. So, it is natural that by mid-season, players that have played in the EURO will get tired. This will be tough on the managers and they will need to appropriately rotate the players to ease them back into the EPL fold, which is also the most demanding league in the world.
Manchester United has certainly put its money where its mouth is and it’s good for the fans. United seems to be in the highlight zone on signings and the arrival of Paul Pogba, Zlatan Ibrahimovic and Henrikh Mkhitaryan will definitely strengthen the squad.
Pogba has been hitting the headlines for having a great amount of talent and I think a marquee signing like his is a positive thing for any club at the start of a season. It allows the fans to repose their faith and guarantee large footfalls. The Frenchman is young enough to adapt and I’m sure he’ll settle quickly and make an impact.
I have very little to say about the astronomical amount involved in the transaction. It is the club’s discretion and I’m sure they had their reasons for paying so much. But only time will tell if it will pay off.
The arrival of Zlatan, though on a free transfer, is equally important for the Manchester club. Jose Mourinho is striving to make him his top player. The manager has shown enough faith in handing the ageing Swede the No. 9 shirt and the move will instil confidence in him and allow Zlatan the licence to go out, enjoy and score goals. Zlatan is a confidence player and he needs to hit form early in the season to help put United back on the map.
Liverpool again has tried to find a remedy and has brought in seven new players (at the time of writing) to address the imbalance in the squad. The club needs to heal the wounds of its past mistakes, where it sold its top players — Luis Suarez in 2014 and Raheem Sterling in 2015. The pre-season in the United States, the home of the club’s owners, was a great learning curve and it feels the management is finally finding ways to create a correct structure to move forward.
Sadio Mane, signed from Southampton, impressed in the States and will offer Jurgen Klopp more directness upfront.
Leicester, which overachieved last term, will find the going lot harder this time round. With more games to play — because of the Champions League — the club will have its share of injury scares and Claudio Ranieri will need to pull off a clever balancing act.
I was very impressed with Jamie Vardy’s commitment during the last EPL season and also for England in the EURO. He is energetic and tenacious and the opposition will still find it hard to deal with his combination play with Riyad Mahrez.
Despite the positive result against the Foxes, Hull tops my chart for the relegation battle. Don’t be surprised to find Burnley and Bournemouth joining them.
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