Intrigue, excitement, and drama expected as the Premier League returns
The 2018-2019 installment of the Premier League kicks off tonight and it promised to be well worth the wait. After the month-long fiesta that was the World Cup, club football will now fully take center-stage.
This season promises to be different as for the first time, Premier League clubs concluded all transfer business before the commencement of the season. What this means it that transfer speculation will not be an unwanted distraction this season. The focus will be firmly on footballing matters.
Drawing conclusions from the Premier League’s transfer business
At 5 p.m. (CET) yesterday, the summer transfer window for Premier League clubs closed. There was a lot of wheeling and dealing as clubs sought to strengthen/prune their squads.
As of this morning, £1.43bn worth of deals had been done by the 20 Premier League clubs. Jurgen Klopp and Liverpool led the spending table with £170m of new talent coming through the door at Anfield. At the other end, Tottenham Hotspurs became the first club in the Premier League era not to purchase any player in the summer transfer window.
This transfer window was most remarkable for the spending done by teams other than the traditional giants. Newly promoted Fulham were the third biggest spenders, splunking £102.74m on 12 new players. Fellow new boys and last season’s top dogs in the Championship; Wolverhampton Wanderers bought 9 new faces for £63m.
The biggest story of the window however centered on Manchester United. Following its 2nd place finish last season, expectations were high that the club would back manager Jose Mourinho with the funds needed to compete favourably with neighbours, Manchester City.
However, rumours of unhappiness and unrest dominated headlines. The Red Devils brought in 3 players for £74.43m but it cannot be said that the squad has improved significantly. Champions Manchester City added firepower in the form of the £60m man Riyadh Mahrez.
What this means is that the battle for the title, European qualification and relegation will be fiercely fought.
New managers in the league
Four managers will be making their maiden appearances in the league this season; Unai Emery (Arsenal), Maurizio Sarri (Chelsea), Slavisa Jokanovic (Fulham) and Nuno Espirito Santo (Wolves). The likes of Marco Silva (Everton) and Manuel Pellegrini (West Ham) will be managing their sides for the first time as well.
The Premier League has become a truly cosmopolitan league with a clash of styles expected. Teams like Burnley (Sean Dyche) and Cardiff City (Neil Warnock) are expected to champion the traditional English footballing style of robust football, committed tackling and long balls.
This would be in sharp contrast with the intricate passing, possession-heavy football that will be the hallmark of the Latinate coaches: Pep Guardiola, Sarri, Pellegrini among others.
High-press, high-energy football was one of the dominant styles in the league last season. With the exception of Mourinho’s Manchester United and Arsene Wenger’s Arsenal, almost all the top teams adopted a variation of this style.
Wolves and Fulham came up playing the high-octane, always-moving style that has come to be associated with the Premier League. Give the huge influx of players, it is expected that both sides might have rocky starts to the season.
The contenders for the title
It is hard to look beyond Manchester City for the title. Not only have Guardiola’s Cityzens kept all its players, it has added the mercurial skills of Mahrez. With Benjamin Mendy set to play a prominent role after last season’s injury troubles, he is almost like a new signing.
Liverpool looks like the team most prepared to challenge City. Like the Manchester club, the Reds have kept the team that was majestic in Europe last season. Problem areas like the goalkeeping position have been filled with quality signings.
Another big season is expected from Mo Salah as he seeks to have his name enter the Cristiano Ronaldo/Lionel Messi conversation.
It is difficult to say whether Manchester United will turn up. While 2nd place last season was not so bad, the style of play was appalling. Mourinho will have to loosen the reins a little and let his attacking players play on the front foot. The squad’s overall quality remains poor but given the manager’s credentials, they will have a say in the race.
Under new management, it is expected to be a transitional season for the London clubs; Arsenal and Chelsea. Both teams failed to make the top four last season and will want to rectify that this time around.
Emery’s Arsenal looks to be the more settled as its transfer business was done quite early. After the stagnation that characterized the final Wenger years, it will take time for the new thinking to bear fruit.
Chelsea took too long to sack former coach Antonio Conte and bring in Sarri. The first few months promise fascinating viewing as the Blues come to terms with the new man’s demands.
Whether the squad has what it takes to properly implement Sarri’s style will be one of the defining questions. Like Arsenal, a top four finish would be considered a success.
Mauricio Pochettino will once again be expected to turn water into wine. While Spurs have one of the best First XIs in the Premier League, the squad itself is not the best in terms of quality. Given the style of play and European commitments, they look the most likely to drop out of the Top 4.
It will be a fascinating season as always, The Premier League has always delivered box-office entertainment and the 2018-019 iteration promises more of the same.