Manchester City Expected to Manhandle Premier League Again

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(WFI) Defending champions Manchester City will be hard to unseat as the new English Premier League season prepares to kick off on Friday.
Manchester City breezed to Premier League title last season (Manchester City Twitter)

The Citizens picked up more points and won more games than any team in history last season, strolling to the title by a record 19 points over Manchester United. And all they did this summer is strengthen the squad by bringing in playmaking midfielder Riyad Mahrez from Leicester City. No key players were sold and Leroy Sane, who was not called up by Germany for the World Cup, is well rested and could play a lot of minutes early on to allow key player Kevin De Bruyne to be eased back into the mix after playing deep into the tournament for Belgium in Russia.

The only potential stumbling block for a repeat would seem to be on the mental side of the game. Manager Pep Guardiola will have to keep his talented team focused, especially later in the season as they attempt to chase down an elusive Champions League trophy. Manchester City is also the bookmakers’ choice to lift that piece of silverware for the first time.

Liverpool Looms
Liverpool appears to be the strongest challenger to Man City for the league title this season. Reds’ boss Juergen Klopp has been busy in the transfer market, bringing in Alisson from Roma to finally address the club’s longstanding weakness in goal and adding Naby Keita, Fabinho and Xherdan Shaqiri to bolster the midfield. In total, the club has spent $229 million in new players this summer.

While it seems unlikely that Mo Salah will equal the 44 goals he scored for the club in all competitions last term, the additional firepower in the midfield could see a better goal distribution for this season.

Allison’s arrival to handle goalkeeping duties and a full season with Virgil Van Dijk at the center of the defense should mean fewer goals conceded.

It remains to be seen if it will be enough to get Liverpool its first Premier League title since the league was formed in 1992.

New Managers at Arsenal and Chelsea 

Unai Emery replaces Arsene Wenger at Arsenal (Wikipedia)
The remaining four members of the so-called Big Six clubs – Arsenal, Chelsea, Manchester United and Tottenham – will likely battle for a top four finish and with it Champions League qualification for the 2019-20 season.

For the first time in 22 years, Arsenal has a new manager with Unai Emery coming in to replace Arsene Wenger. Emery has addressed a leaky defense which was largely to blame for a sixth place finish last season. The acquisitions of defenders Sokratis Papastathopoulos and Stephan Lichsteiner, goalkeeper Bernd Leno and holding midfielder Lucas Torreira should help, although the improvement may ultimately be determined by how much the players buy into Emery’s efforts to make defense a higher priority than Wenger did.

January transfer Pierre-Emerick Aubameyang impressed after his arrival and Gunners fans are hoping he and Alexandre Lacazette will be a productive duo up front. If Emery can also get more consistent performances from playmaker Mesut Ozil, Arsenal could finish in the top four.

Chelsea, like Arsenal, missed out on Champions League football this season after a fifth place finish. Gone is manager Antonio Conte, who has been replaced by fellow Italian Maurizio Sarri.

Midfielders Jorginho, a key player for Sarri at Napoli, and Mateo Kovacic, on loan from Real Madrid, are the only field players to be brought in. Goalkeeper Thibaut Courtois was sold to Real Madrid for $45 million. His replacement will be Kepa Arrizabalaga from Athletic Bilbao, whose $93 million fee is a world record for a goalkeeper.

Eden Hazard is back to lead the attack, but striker Alvaro Morata will need to do much better in his second season replacing Diego Costa. Olivier Giroud and Michy Batschuayi could help in that regard. The Blues scored only 62 goals last season, far fewer than any of the other top six sides. How well the players adjust to Sarri’s high-tempo style will likely determine success for this season.

Manchester United Unsettled

Manchester United have not done much in the transfer market this summer after finishing second in the league last season.

United manager Jose Mourinho has been unhappy during the pre-season and has spent much of it complaining to the press. Despite the club spending more than $500 million on players since his arrival, Mourinho is frustrated that he has been unable to land a center back to take some of the pressure off goalkeeper David De Gea, whose outstanding play again masked weaknesses in the back at Old Trafford.

Will the toxic atmosphere around the club torpedo the possibility of a title challenge? After all, this is Mourinho’s third season at his current job. If his past is any indication, he may be ready to move on.

No News at Tottenham

Tottenham, meanwhile, are the first Premier League club to neither buy nor sell any players during the summer transfer window since it was introduced in 2003.
But with the likes of Harry Kane, Dele Ali, Christian Eriksen, Jan Vertonghen and Hugo Lloris returning, there is plenty of talent available to at least match last season's third place finish.

Manager Mauricio Pocchetino will be testing the squad depth at his club early on. Nine players were a part of the World Cup semifinals in Russia and returned to training late while Heung-Min Son will be playing for South Korea at the Asian Games later this month.

How well Spurs adjust to playing at their new stadium come September is also a worry, though they made their temporary home at Wembley a fortress last season, losing just two of their 19 games there.

Outside the top six, Everton, West Ham and newly promoted sides Fulham and Wolverhampton spent the most money on players in the transfer window.

The third promoted side, Cardiff, is joined by Huddersfield and Watford as the bookmakers’ choices to be relegated.

By INSIDER Gerard Farek

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