It seems only yesterday that Andrea Bocelli was belting out Nessun Dorma alongside Claudio Ranieri during Leicester’s title celebrations at the King Power.
The most wonderfully-surreal ending to the most magnificent, thrilling, dream-laden Premier League season in history. It was a season that rekindled our belief in football, in the miracle of sport.
Lowly Leicester, tipped to be relegated, beat odds of 5000-1 to clinch the Premier League title. It was arguably the greatest story in the history of British football. The Foxes triumph has reinvigorated top flight football.
Let’s be honest, we were all getting a little cynical, a little tired of the established order, the status quo being preserved year after year. Ranieri’s Leicester tore up the rule book, toppling the big boys to seal the impossible dream.
So, as we look ahead to the 25th incarnation of the Premier League, we do so with more rose-tinted spectacles than we have before – with that little bit more belief in the assertion that anything can happen.
But the big teams have responded to their humiliation at the hands of the Foxes by firmly flexing their not-inconsiderable muscle. Manchester City, Manchester United and Chelsea have all disposed of their managers and the money has been splashed to try and wrestle back their grip on the top of the table.
The best managerial line-up in history?
We have moved into the era of the super-manager. The worlds most sought-after coach Pep Guardiola made the much-anticipated move to Manchester City, while former Juventus coach Antonio Conte has arrived at Stamford Bridge fresh from leading Italy to an impressive Euro 2016 campaign. United unceremoniously dumped the flagging Louis van Gaal and turned to the man that Chelsea themselves sacked last season – two-time Champions League winner Jose Mourinho.
Add that terrific trio to the likes of Arsene Wenger, Mauricio Pochettino and Jurgen Klopp, and the Premier League boasts the most impressive manager line-up in world football.
The simple fact is that there will be top names who will fail this season. Minimum expectation for all of these managers is a spot in the top four and with City, United, Chelsea, Arsenal, Liverpool and Spurs (plus any other outsiders) all competing for a spot in the Champions League places, six into four doesn’t go. There will be disappointment and possibly another managerial casualty at the end of the season.
Show me the money
Cold, hard cash is never far away from these top names and Guardiola and Mourinho in particular have wasted no time in getting the cheque book out.
The Spaniard has thrown away all notion that he is a manager who promotes youth from within, by ignoring the much-lauded Etihad Campus academy system and spending a fortune on importing young talent from other sides. John Stones comes from Everton for a whopping £47m, Brazilian teenager Gabriel Jesus signs for £27m, 20-year-old Leroy Sane from Schalke for £37m, plus the additions of Ilkay Gundogan and Nolito – making Manchester City favourites for the title.
Across the city, United have been rebuilding. They broke the world record to resign Paul Pogba from Juventus for £89m – a player they let go for just compensation three years ago – and are looking for the Frenchman to inspire them back to the top. Superstar striker Zlatan Ibrahimovic has arrived on a free from PSG at the age of 34, while Henrikh Mkhitaryan and Eric Bailly have arrived in big-money deals from Borussia Dortmund and Villarreal respectively.
Arsenal brought in Granit Xhaka early in the window but, as usual, their fans have been frustrated by a lack of transfer activity from Wenger. Chelsea signed last season’s star N’Golo Kante from Leicester and Michy Batshuayi from Marseilles, while Liverpool have signed a number of players in a bid to reach the top four.
Are these players worth it?
Quite simply, time will tell. Pogba has cost United a huge amount of money and will need to start to perform quickly to try and justify the fee. Manchester City’s signings are typical Guardiola players, but question marks remain over their suitability for the Premier League.
Stones in particular is a very questionable signing. No player in the league made more mistakes that contributed to goals last season than Stones, who struggled to even make the Everton side at times due to him being a defensive liability. The potential is there, but strikers will relish the chance to play against him.
Liverpool’s signings are perhaps the most interesting. Jurgen Klopp wants to play a high-pressure, high-pressing game and has signed players to suit his style. Sadio Mane from Southampton will give speed and incision to their play and the Reds could be a team to watch this season.
How will Leicester fare?
Well nobody saw last season coming. It was the shock to end all shocks. Will they win it again? Highly unlikely but that doesn’t mean they can’t have another good season. Losing Kante is a blow, but his replacement Nempalys Mendy is a good player and their club-record signing Ahmed Musa looks perfect for the Premier League. They should finish comfortably top half, which is still a great performance for a side only promoted two seasons ago.
Could there be another Leicester?
Given that all logic suggests there shouldn’t have been a ‘Leicester’ in the first place, why not? But with the managerial changes and the money that the established top clubs have spent, they should reclaim their dominance this season.
If there was to be another surprise candidate to claim a top four place, West Ham look the best-placed for a push. They were in the mix right until the end of last season and, having moved into the Olympic Stadium and kept hold of Dimitri Payet, the Hammers have a feel-good factor.
What about the other end of the table?
Hull are nailed on for relegation. It saddens me to say that, but they are in such a mess. It would have been tough anyway to stay up after promotion but having lost manager Steve Bruce, they have no chance.
Fellow promoted side Burnley are also likely to be reunited with the Championship straight away. They have yet to stay up on their two previous visits to the top flight and I can’t see that changing. Burnley haven’t added to their squad to any great extent and just lack the quality to compete in the Premier League.
Middlesbrough however have a good chance of survival. This feels like a reincarnation for Boro, after a few years in the wilderness. Aitor Karanka is a good manager, who has had his issues with the club, and they look like a squad with enough to survive. Promotion was built on defence, and with the signings of Alvaro Negredo and Viktor Fischer, Middlesbrough have enough firepower.
Watford are the other side I’m tipping for relegation. They fared well last season but sacking Quique Sanchez-Flores is questionable and Walter Mazzarri lacks experience of English football. Their squad hasn’t been strengthened and they could struggle.
Don’t be surprised to see Swansea down there as well. They need their new set of strikers to hit the ground running or the Swans could have a tough season.
So who’s going to win it?
City are favourites and probably just about deservedly so. Guardiola needs to get to grips with the league quickly however and his new signings have to prove they can handle the Premier League.
United and Mourinho have an advantage on that front, with plenty of experience from the manager and also signings who look ready-made for English football. Where they are weak though is in defence, and if there are no more additions at Old Trafford on that front, United will fall short of the title.
Chelsea had a horror-show last season, proving to be the worst defending champions in Premier League history, finishing 10th. With no European football to distract them this season, and with their new manager expected to tighten things up, I expect Chelsea to be title contenders again, possibly as the biggest threat to City.
Arsenal always make the Champions League but never seem to be able to launch a successful title challenge. With Arsene Wenger’s contract coming to an end after this season, this may be the time that the Gunners miss out on that top four spot, with such fierce competition this season.
Liverpool will fancy their chances in the top four, with no European football, and Klopp has had a whole pre-season to prepare his side. I’m tipping them for the fourth spot, edging out Arsenal and Tottenham.
Champions: Manchester City
Champions League qualification: Manchester United, Chelsea, Liverpool
Relegated: Hull, Burnley, Watford