Liverpool face a brutal task to defend their Premier League title
The Premier League returns on Saturday after the briefest of breaks with arguably the fiercest of battle of recent seasons about to unfold.
Will champions Liverpool struggle to defend their crown without any major additions?
Are Manchester City best equipped to dethrone them or is that now Chelsea, after their spending spree? And can Wolves or Leicester gatecrash the party?
Jurgen Klopp’s title holders have had a subdued summer with only one addition to the first team squad in Kostas Tsimikas from Olympiacos to provide back-up to Andy Robertson at left back. A necessary addition, but not an eye-catching one.
Most of the spotlight has instead been fixed upon Liverpool’s interest in Bayern Munich midfielder Thiago Alcantara, but it seems inevitable that a move will only materialise if Georginio Wijnaldum departs for Barcelona.
So for fresh impetus in Klopp’s team, players such as Takumi Minamino and Naby Keita are the ones to watch out for.
Minamino has taken time to settle since his January move from Red Bull Salzburg but has impressed in pre-season and snatched a goal in Liverpool’s Community Shield defeat by Arsenal.
Keita, meanwhile, has excelled in flashes in the two years that has followed since his move from RB Leizpig.
If he can stay fit for a sustained period of time, he will definitely add an extra dimension to Liverpool’s midfield.
Fresh faces have been needed at Manchester City and fresh faces is what they have but perhaps inevitably, their summer will be defined by the one that got away.
Pep Guardiola’s side were frontrunners to pounce for Lionel Messi before the Barcelona talisman accepted that he would be unsuccessful in forcing his Nou Camp exit.
A transfer of that ilk would have been City’s ‘nuclear’ option but Guardiola has still made some key additions to his team.
Their defence was, at times, woeful last season for a club defending the Premier League title so Nathan Ake’s £40m arrival from Bournemouth was key.
He fits the calibre of defender Guardiola likes - comfortable on the ball and reads the game smartly - but he will have to address critics who have underlined his involvement in a Cherries defence that shipped 65 goals last season.
Ferran Torres will an exciting watch as well - he impressed on international duty for Spain lately and had a host of clubs across Europe interested in him while at Valencia.
But it was City who swooped, and the 20-year-old winger will fill the void left by Leroy Sane.
It hasn’t yet been the summer of transfers Ole Gunnar Solskjaer was hoping for after United crashed out of the Europa League at the semi-final stage, but it hasn’t been a disaster.
United appeared to be on the brink of landing Jadon Sancho from Borussia Dortmund but the German club have dug their heels in and, in truth, there doesn’t seem a huge sense of urgency from Sancho to move.
But Solskjaer has bolstered his midfield with Donny van de Beek from Ajax and the prospect of a partnership alongside Paul Pogba and Bruno Fernandes is a fascinating one, especially with a trio of Mason Greenwood, Marcus Rashford and Anthony Martial ahead of them.
Yet while United have unquestionably improved under Solskjaer’s guidance, talk of a title challenge may well be premature this season.
Solskjaer definitely knows his best 11 but he doesn’t seem to have too much faith in the players outside of his starting line-up.
Whatever happens at Chelsea this season, it is going to be fun to watch.
Frank Lampard has, by far, overseen the most dramatic transfer window out of all of the top six with Roman Abramovich throwing his money behind the Chelsea boss after an encouraging maiden campaign at Stamford Bridge.
Kai Havertz, Timo Werner, Hakim Ziyech, Ben Chilwell and Thiago Silva have all headed through the arrivals door at Stamford Bridge and goalkeeper Edouard Mendy is expected to follow.
But after such an outlandish layout, Lampard will be held up to a far higher level of expectation, both inside and outside of the club.
Chelsea were third in the Premier League for a long time last season but threw away points, particularly at home, in games they were favourites to win and eventually finished fourth, behind United.
The arrival of Silva on a free transfer after leaving PSG will be particularly fascinating; he has a glittering CV but turns 36 on September 22.
Chelsea’s defence let them down on numerous occasions last season and it remains to be seen whether the Brazilian veteran can hit the ground running and patch it up while adjusting to a league he hasn’t played in before.
Jose Mourinho’s first full season at White Hart Lane begins with what will be a fascinating clash with Carlo Ancelotti’s Everton.
He has made some astute additions to his ranks at Spurs - Matt Doherty from Wolves is a solid, Premier League proven signing while Pierre-Emile Hojbjerg adds a bit of steel to the heart of the midfield.
Mourinho’s men snuck back into Europe via a sixth-placed finish last season but face a particularly condensed fixture list at the beginning of the season.
They have to qualify for the Europa League group stage and must advance two qualifying rounds in September.
Squad depth and rotation are going to be vital for Mourinho as he looks to maintain a balance of fitness throughout his set-up.
Tottenham were Champions League finalists back in 2019 and a return to Europe’s elite club competition is not only needed to maintain the stature of the club, but also to help with finances that, like many teams, have been hit by the coronavirus pandemic.
Like their north London rivals, Arsenal begin afresh with Mikel Arteta at the helm and a growing sense of optimism surrounding the club.
Arteta led Arsenal to FA Cup glory after taking over in December last year but question marks remain over the long-term future of Pierre-Emerick Aubameyang, their star striker.
For all of the development in the team that Arteta has overseen in a short space of time, much depends of the future of Aubameyang.
He fired 29 goals in 44 games in all competitions last season and is already up and running for this campaign after scoring in the Community Shield triumph over Liverpool.
Arteta’s signings have largely been astute - Willian is a proven Premier League player although at 32, the logic of a three-year deal is questionable.
Gabriel Magalhaes, a £27m signing from Lille, will help bolster their defence and Dani Ceballos rejoining for another season on loan from Real Madrid is welcome news for Arteta, even if the deal is without an option to make it permanent.
After lifting the FA Cup the Gunners have European football to contend with in the shape of the Europa League.
That will stretch the squad but the rebuild in the red half of north London is heading in the right direction. -AFP