With England’s World Cup heroics In Russia still fresh in the mind, the close season has fairly raced by for football fans. It may not have ‘Come Home’ in the end, but football captured the nation’s imagination this summer and, with the new Premier League season now upon us, there is plenty more to get excited about.
Last time around, Pep Guardiola’s Manchester City steamrollered all before them as they cruised to the title in record style; most points, most wins, most goals, biggest winning margin… such was their dominance domestically, it’s no surprise to see them chalked up as warm favourites to repeat the trick.
But history suggests they won’t find things as easy this term, the Premier League crown has only been retained on seven occasions over the past 26 years, and not since 2009 when Sir Alex Ferguson’s Manchester United last achieved the feat.
Maintaining the motivation levels and standards of last term would appear to be Guardiola’s biggest challenge but, with his intensity and attention to detail, it’s one you’d expect the Catalan to take in his stride.
He certainly seems happy enough with his squad. City, by their lavish standards, have been circumspect in the transfer market thus far with long-term target Riyad Mahrez the only new face through the door, although another midfielder looks likely to arrive before deadline day.
With City settled and undoubtedly deserving of the ‘team to beat’ moniker, it’s the side that inflicted three separate defeats on them last term that look to have emerged as their most likely challengers.
Liverpool last won the title in 1990, but there is growing optimism on Merseyside and beyond that the 28-year wait could soon come to an end given the strides Jurgen Klopp and his squad are making.
There is a real sense that the German is building something special and their summer business has only added to the anticipation around the club. Naby Keita, Fabinho, Xherdan Shaqiri and Alisson Becker – for a world record goalkeeping fee – have all joined to add real depth to a squad that only just came up short in last year’s Champions League.
But if the mood around Anfield is positive, the same cannot be said for their great rivals along the M62 with Manchester United boss Jose Mourinho having cut a prickly and largely downcast figure throughout pre-season.
The Portuguese tactician appears to be at loggerheads with directors over the club’s transfer policy and has made sure the world is acutely aware of his unhappiness at the lack of quality signings to help him bridge the gap to the club’s noisy neighbours.
It’s hard to imagine that morale amongst his current crop of players has been helped by the persistent outbursts about the failings of his squad and there is a feeling in some quarters that Mourinho is getting his excuses in early before his infamous third-season syndrome really kicks in.
Meanwhile, in London both Chelsea and Arsenal have cleared the decks after real underachievement last time out.
Following the limpest of title defences, the Blues parted company with the increasingly irritable Antonio Conte and replaced him with another Italian in the shape of ex-Napoli coach, Maurizio Sarri.
During his time in Serie A, Sarri forged a reputation for playing the league’s most attractive and expansive football and the signs are that he will look to take on Guardiola and City at their own game. It’s hard to imagine he’ll be able to replicate such success in his first season, but it promises to be fun finding out.
For the first time in 22 years, Arsenal head into a new campaign without the comfort blanket of Arsene Wenger on the bench. After an emotional parting of the ways, it really does feel like a step into the unknown for the red half of North London, but the club’s summer activity has given rise to a cautious optimism.
New boss Unai Emery – along with Raul Sanllehi (Head of Football Operations) and Sven Mislintat (Head of Recruitment) – moved quickly and decisively to plug some very obvious gaps in the Gunners squad and, if pre-season is anything to go by, he will also be more than willing to turn to the club’s home-grown talent for answers.
After finishing a distant sixth last term, lowered expectation levels will work in the Spaniard’s favour, but that will not be the same for Tottenham counterpart Mauricio Pochettino who has made no secret of his desire to see Spurs move to the next level after the progress he has overseen.
However, at the time of writing, Tottenham remain the only Premier League side not to have made a summer signing. Chairman Daniel Levy is well known for his brinkmanship in the transfer market, but he appears to be playing a high risk game given his manager’s very public calls for financial backing last season.
Outside the obvious title contenders there are plenty of intriguing plot lines, with Marco Silva now finally installed as Everton boss and being handed the economic clout to back up the obvious potential he has previously shown in England’s top-flight.
New boys Wolves and Fulham certainly don’t appear to be thinking about making up the numbers either. With super agent Jorge Mendes pulling the strings, Wolves have brought in more tried and tested quality from Portugal and beyond, while Fulham’s capture of much sought-after midfielder Jean Michel Seri might just prove to be one of the signings of the summer.
Whatever happens in the months ahead, what can be guaranteed is that Sky Sports will bring you all the best of the live action on the Sky Sports Premier League channel with no fewer than 126 live games to enjoy throughout the season, starting with Manchester United v Leicester City this Friday night.
So take your seat… the greatest show on earth is back in town!