The most-watched sporting league on the planet kicks off its 25th edition this weekend. For Australian fans, there’ll be the added attraction of watching Socceroo midfielder Aaron Mooy in the English Premier League for the first time after Huddersfield won promotion from the championship and decided to buy the on-loan Mooy. Huddersfield’s objective will be to survive.
But what of the top end of the league? Can Liverpool, or Spurs win a first ever EPL title? Or will Arsene Wenger’s Arsenal emerge as the team to challenge the dominance of Chelsea and most bookmakers’ pre-season favourites, the two Manchester teams?
In the 25 years of the EPL only two teams outside of the capital and Manchester have won the title, Blackburn Rovers and Leicester City. The odds are in favour of last season’s top six teams once more fighting it out for the title. Not surprisingly perhaps, all the top six clubs from last season have retained their managers.
Here’s a look at how they shape up.
Manager: Pep Guardiola
Last season: After an underwhelming start, City finished well to pip Liverpool into third spot.
Many felt that for all their attacking potency last season, Guardiola’s City was let down by defensive weakness.
What’s new: Guardiola has concentrated on strengthening his defence in the off-season, by signing Benfica keeper Ederson Morales, and Spurs fullback Kyle Walker and Monaco fullback Benjamin Mendy. He’s also signed defensive midfielder Danilo from Real Madrid.
Players out: Aleksander Kdarov (Roma), Pablo Zabaleta, Gael Clichy, Jesus Navas.
Key players: Gabriel Jesus, Aguero, Sterling, Bernado Silva.
Manager: Jose Mourinho
Last season: Despite finishing just sixth in last season’s EPL, the Special One appeased the Old Trafford faithful by qualifying for the Champions League via the back entrance by winning the Europa League.
Last season the Red Devils had a season high of 15 draws in the league.
What’s new: Mourinho has strengthened the side defensively with signing of midfield enforcer Nemanja Matic from Champions Chelsea and Benfica centreback Victor Lindlof. This should free last year’s record signing of Paul Pogba to play a more creative role up the park.
In attack, Mourinho has signed Belgian striker Romelu Lukaku from Everton.
Players out: Zlatan Ibrahimovic (released); Wayne Rooney (Everton), Adnan Janazaj (Real Sociedad).
Key players: Paul Pogba, Romelu Lukaku.
Manager: Antonoio Conte
Last season: Under newly appointed manager Conte, the Londoners went on a marvellous run to win the title in impressive fashion, a huge turnaround from the season before when they finished 10th.
What’s new: Unlike last season when they had only the EPL to concentrate on, this season Conte’s team will also be expected to compete for the Champions League.
Chelsea have been relatively quiet in the transfer market, with Conte indicating they are two or three world class players short of what he wants for the squad.
With Diego Costa on the outer, Conte has signed Alvaro Morata from Real Madrid and Tiemoué Bakayoko from Monaco, to strengthen his defensive midfield following the departure of Matic to United.
Players out: Matic (Man United), John Terry (Aston Villa), Juan Cuadrado (Juventus).
Key player: Eden Hazard.
Manager: Mauricio Pochettino
Last season: They won 12 of their last 13 games of the season to finish second behind Chelsea.
What’s new: Arguably Spurs are the most settled side in the EPL with no major new signings. However, their depth may be tested particularly as they have little backup for talismanic striker Harry Kane. The other major talking point is that Spurs were undefeated at home last season but with the redevelopment of White Hart Lane taking place this season, they will use Wembley as their home ground.
Players out: Kyle Walker (Man City).
Key players: Harry Kane, Dele Ali, Christian Eriksen.
Manager: Arsene Wenger
Last season: The Gunners salvaged a disappointing fifth-placed finish, with an FA Cup triumph. Many fans vented at the EPL’s longest serving manager Wenger but he survived and signed on for another two years.
What’s new: The Gunners may flourish without the pressure of having to compete in a Champions League campaign. Having retained most of last year’s squad, including Alexis Sanchez, Wenger has added strength and drive down the left flank with the signing of Bosnian Sead Kolasinac, and a proven goalscorer up front with the signing of Alexandre Lacazette from Lyon. Wenger may still be looking to strengthen the midfield.
Players out: Wojciech Szczesy (Juventus).
Key players: Alexis Sánchez, Alexandre Lacazette.
Manager: Jurgen Klopp
Last season: A solid season under Klopp saw Liverpool finish in fourth and clinch a return to the Champions League.
What’s new: While Klopp has added to an already impressive attack by signing the speedy Mohamed Salah from Roma, some questions remain over Liverpool’s defence. There is also a question of whether Klopp’s squad has the depth to sustain their high intensity style game, particularly with the added fixtures of the Champions League.
Players out: Lucas Leiva (Lazio), Andre Wisdom (Derby).
Key players: Philippe Coutinho, Sadio Mane, Roberto Firmino.