It’s nearly here…
The opening weekend of the Premier League season is almost upon us and we are just about fit to burst with excitement.
David Moyes’ Sunderland will provide Pep Guardiola with his first Premier League opposition on Saturday evening and the Etihad Stadium is going to be buzzing as a new era gets under way.
But what about the league as a whole? Here’s why we believe we might just be in for the best season ever…
1 Battle Royale
Antonio Conte, Jurgen Klopp, Ronald Koeman, Jose Mourinho, Mauricio Pochettino, Claudio Ranieri, Arsene Wenger and, of course, Guardiola: The Premier League’s managerial line-up is like some footballing Battle Royale for the ages.
With just four competitions to fight for, there just isn’t enough success to go around for all of these heavyweights to have what they would define as satisfactory campaigns, meaning there really couldn’t be more at stake for these stellar names.
Of the eight managers listed above – and we could have included more – only Pep opens 2016/17 with no Premier League experience but coaches have come to England before and enjoyed immediate success…
2 Derby Days
There’s no getting away from it, the two Manchester derbies will be box office this season.
The renewal of Pep’s rivalry with Mourinho is just one intriguing element of this neighbourly squabble – there’s also plenty of new arrivals on the playing staff on both sides of town, meaning September 10 is already a date circled on calendars twice, even with neutral observers across the globe.
Not since 2012/13 have City and United been directly involved in a tussle for the title but, judging from the bookmakers’ odds and a litany of publications’ pre-season previews, Manchester could once again be the capital of English football.
Rivalries in sport are often the drivers of excellence – see Nadal/Federer, Senna/Prost, El Clasico etc, and with Manchester’s two major forces seemingly ready to compete at the Premier League table summit once more, all of the elements are there for English football to return to the centre of the European footballing debate after a few fallow years in continental competition.
3 The Champions
They couldn’t do it again, could they?
Claudio Ranieri has played down suggestions that the Foxes’ miracle could have an unlikely sequel, outlining Premier League survival as the champions’ only target.
He would say that, of course - privately the likeable Italian will surely be setting his sights higher than that and will be also hoping to shock Europe in the same way Leicester surprised England when they embark on their Champions League campaign.
They’ve only lost Kante from their title-winning squad but can they stay competitive in the league with the additional rigours of midweek matches?
Whatever happens at the King Power Stadium over the next ten months promises to be fascinating.
The transfer window is still open until the end of August but already we’ve seen an unprecedented level of business.
City have brought in eight players, including Ilkay Gundogan, Nolito, Leroy Sane and John Stones but we’re far from alone in strengthening ahead of the new campaign…
Arsenal have added Granit Xhaka to bring some grit into the centre of their midfield, while Chelsea have landed Michy Batshuayi and N’Golo Kante as Conte’s side bid for, at the very least, a return to the Champions League where they’ll feel they belong.
Staying in London, Victor Wanyama and Vincent Janssen have joined a Spurs side which pushed Leicester almost all of the way last year and West Ham will begin life at London Stadium with Sofiane Feghouli, Gokhan Tore and Havard Nordtveit in their ranks.
Champions Leicester may have lost Kante but they’ve brought in Nampalys Mendy, Ahmed Musa and Ron-Robert Zieler for their maiden Champions League campaign, while at Anfield, Loris Karius, Ragnar Klavan, Joel Matip and Saido Mane have moved to Merseyside.
It's been a busy summer on the other side of the city too, with Eric Bailly, Zlatan Ibrahimovic, Henrikh Mkhitaryan and Paul Pogba joining Mourinho at Old Trafford.
5 Doing a Leicester
If the Premier League is going to be as competitive, as exciting and as unpredictable as ever before, that means that the big teams are inevitably going to take points off one another.
Inspired by Leicester’s unforgettable success last season and following their understated blueprint, could another team fly under the radar in the same way, take advantage of the “destruction derby” element from the established order and challenge for the title?
All bets feel off after what happened last season and the Chairpersons of West Ham in their new London Stadium, as well as the likes of Everton, Southampton and Stoke will be dreaming they can “do a Leicester”.
Bring on Saturday and the next ten months!