John Dykes is ready for another enthralling battle for Premier League supremacy as the 2018/19 season gets underway.
Much has been made of the impact that the World Cup – all those surprisingly enjoyable memories still fresh in our minds — and an abbreviated pre-season and transfer window will have on the new Premier League season. Some have even forecast an opening month of relative anarchy, with big clubs missing their superstars and big-spending upstarts springing surprises every other game. Let’s hope they’re right!
Thanks to the brilliance of Manchester City, Season 2017/18 will go down as a record-breaker but also a somewhat tedious procession, with few sub-plots that will live long in the memory. Fortunately, whatever happens, this season promises to be far more captivating.
Take City for instance. We all know how hard it is for a club to defend the Premier League title. If Pep Guardiola’s men manage to, it will cement their place among the finest teams the league has ever seen. If they do what they are already threatening to do and hit new heights, with the likes of Bernardo Silva, Benjamin Mendy and Rhyad Mahrez bringing their influence to City’s already-impressive array of game-changers, we could be witnessing something remarkable.
— JohnDykes (@JohnDykesFC) August 5, 2018
Many observers feel Liverpool are the club most likely to challenge City. In a way, it’s better if the rival is a true nemesis, preferably with a contrasting playing style (think Jose Mourinho’s pragmatic Manchester United of last season), but if Jurgen Klopp’s side plays with the exuberance and optimism that we saw last season, their tussle with a similarly free-wheeling City team should be spectacular.
In signing Brazil’s Alisson at great expense to fix the most obvious area of weakness in his team, Jurgen Klopp made what for me was the most striking statement of the summer. We already knew Naby Keita was coming to bring energy to the Liverpool midfield, and that Fabinho has been brought in to lend stability, but the abrupt solution of Liverpool’s most pressing problem shows that Klopp believes this is the season when Liverpool can stop dreaming and start plotting a path to a first Premier League title.
For all that, I still have City down as my favourites for the league. Even if they make a slow start, perhaps losing to Arsenal in a tricky opener, and struggle to reintegrate their World Cup players, they have so much so depth in the squad.
I suspect Spurs will either deliver the same level of performance as last season, or dip slightly. So, I’m not 100 per cent sure they will make the Top Four. Similarly, Arsenal’s defensive frailties leave me uninclined to tip them for a return to the Champions League, despite the likelihood of Lacazette and especially Aubameyang running riot at times during the campaign.
The two “Big Six” clubs whose fortunes I am finding the hardest to forecast are Manchester United and Chelsea. Both have attracted a degree of “noise” this summer that maybe distracted people from the reality of both clubs’ situations.
Manchester United did not absolutely desperately need a centre-half, as has been popularly opined. Although mocking video clips of Chris Smalling and Phil Jones are doing the rounds, the Old Trafford club was a solid enough defensive unit last season and not far off the champions in terms of their record. The massive discrepancy was in the ways both cubs set about their attacking work. Mourinho’s side was stilted and disjointed at times, in marked contrast to the fluency of Manchester City. The manager and/or club has failed to address the inconsistencies in midfield and up front that blighted their otherwise solid campaign. Although new boy Fred will bring even more of the “control” that Mourinho craves, it’s hard to see United having the flair needed these days to really impact competitions.
— JohnDykes (@JohnDykesFC) August 10, 2018
Chelsea, meanwhile, now boast a midfield trio of Jorginho, Kante and Kovacic, with Fabregas, Loftus-Cheek, Bakayoko, Barkley and others also available to coach Maurizio Sarri. Provided they can hang on to him until the European transfer window closes, Eden Hazard will continue to spark them in attack and they have of course addressed the loss of Thibault Courtois by throwing an outrageous amount of money at the problem and recruiting Kepa in goal. They have a variety of options up top but maybe not a prolific goal-scorer and that looks like the only blemish on the squad. So, will Sarri be another Chelsea manager who comes in and takes the league by storm? Theirs is one of the most compelling sub-plots in my opinion.
Fulham, Wolves, Everton, Leicester and West Ham have brought some real talent into the league. Their managers will now have to cope with the heightened expectancy that comes with possessing such playing riches. One or more of them will not see out the season. However, it would be fantastic to see a couple of these clubs shaking up the established Top Six order deep into the season. The Premier League needs it.
What the league does not need is the sight of as many as 13 clubs effectively embarking on a battle to avoid relegation right from the outset. With all the money at their disposal, they should aspire to more than that. The people who make them rich – fans the world over – deserve better.
There is barely an industry that isn’t affected by so-called disruption these days and even if one takes offence at England’s top tier and football itself being described in such terms, here’s hoping we are in for a season when disruption is the norm, and innovation and originality its by-products. Enjoy the ride everyone!