What to look out for as the Premier League returns

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Liverpool were Manchester City’s bogey team last season – Walker

New faces, new teams, new hopes.

The Premier League returns on Friday as Manchester United host Leicester City in the competition’s opening game.

So what’s changed, who’s new and what can we expect?

Can anyone challenge City?

Manchester City dominated the league in 2017-18, earning more English top-flight points than any other team in history and registering more wins and scoring more goals than any other Premier League side before them.

Pep Guardiola’s City lost just seven games in all competitions last season. Liverpool were responsible for three of those defeats and Jurgen Klopp’s side look likely to be their biggest rivals for the Premier League title this season.

Having taken the game to City in a way few others were able to in 2017-18, the Reds have clearly sensed their moment, spending big to bring in four internationals – goalkeeper Alisson, midfielders Naby Keita and Fabinho and forward Xherdan Shaqiri – to strengthen a squad that already has one of the most potent strike-forces in the division and a defence rejuvenated by the January capture of Virgil van Dijk.

Guardiola said after his side’s Champions League group stage games with Napoli that the Italian side were the “best team he had ever faced”, which perhaps explains why Chelsea moved to bring their boss Maurizio Sarri to Stamford Bridge this summer.

Arsenal have also changed their boss (for the first time in 22 years) and Unai Emery’s side host City on the opening weekend. However, their aim will be to restore Champions League football to Emirates Stadium before they start to think about challenging a side who finished 37 points ahead of them last campaign.

Manchester United were the only other team (along with Liverpool) to beat City in the league last season, but their boss Jose Mourinho seems determined to downplay their chances of challenging, mainly because of a lack of new signings – an issue that is also affecting 2017-18’s third-placed side Tottenham.

Who are this season’s new signings?

The top 10 Premier League signings of the transfer window (based on initial transfer fees)

There will be plenty of new players on show this summer – including the two most expensive goalkeepers of all time. Alisson broke Gianluigi Buffon’s long-standing record when he joined Liverpool for an initial £55.8m, rising to £66.8m, but less than a month later, Chelsea signed Kepa Arrizabalaga for £71m – with Thiabut Courtois leaving Stamford Bridge for Real Madrid.

Riyad Mahrez left Leicester for £60m to join Manchester City, who had been expected to sign Napoli midfielder Jorginho – but who joined Chelsea instead.

Liverpool did their business early in the window, while new Arsenal manager Unai Emery also brought in a new keeper – £19m Bernd Leno from Bayer Leverkusen. He also signed Stephan Lichtsteiner, Matteo Guendouzi, Lucas Torreira and Sokratis Papastathopoulos.

Fulham spent £20m or more on four different players – Jean Michael Seri, Alfie Mawson, Aleksandar Mitrovic and Andre-Frank Zambo Anguissa – the latter one of five deadline-day signings.

Manchester United signed only one likely first-team starter, midfielder Fred, despite Jose Mourinho being keen on a new centre-back.

Nine clubs broke or equalled their transfer record, including Chelsea with Kepa, City with Mahrez and Seri with Fulham. Alireza Jahanbakhsh to Brighton, Terence Kongolo to Huddersfield, Felipe Anderson to West Ham, Adama Traore to Wolves and Jefferson Lerma to Bournemouth were also club records – and Burnley equalled theirs when they signed Ben Gibson.

The Hammers, who broke their club record signing twice, spent almost £100m – bringing in Anderson for an initial £36m after Issa Diop was briefly their top signing at £22m. Arsenal pair Jack Wilshere and Lucas Perez are among their other signings.

Everton signed three players from Barcelona – Yerry Mina, Lucas Digne and Andre Gomes – as well as Richarlison and Bernard.

One team will be very familiar this season. Tottenham did not sign a single player all summer – with no first-team players leaving either.

New managers

The 20 Premier League clubs who kick off this weekend will see a surprisingly low number of new faces in the dugout – just four, in fact. And two of those have managed in the Premier League before.

Most intriguing of all will be the start of a new era at Arsenal as Emery faces the unenviable task of replacing Arsene Wenger, who left in May after 22 years in charge.

Arsenal have not won the Premier League since 2004, and are not in the Champions League this season for a second straight season.

Emery arrives after two seasons at Paris St-Germain which saw him win five major honours but still lose his job after failing to progress beyond the last 16 of the Champions League.

He has spent about £65m on new faces and with Santi Cazorla, Jack Wilshere and Per Mertesacker all leaving the club there has been plenty of change.

Another new manager with plenty occupying his in-tray is Sarri at Chelsea.

Chelsea seemed to take an age to continue their recent pattern and dispense with Antonio Conte a year after he led them to the title and Sarri, 59, is an interesting choice.

He won many plaudits for the style of football his Napoli team played in the last three years but that’s all he won – the Italian has yet to secure a single piece of silverware in his managerial career.

With doubts over the futures of senior players Willian, Eden Hazard and Courtois – who left for Real on Thursday – clouding the club’s summer, and Manchester City winning the Community Shield comfortably last weekend, Sarri needs to get off to a fast start in the Premier League.

The other ‘new’ faces on display this weekend are Marco Silva at Everton and Manuel Pellegrini at West Ham.

Silva replaces Sam Allardyce at Everton while Pellegrini takes over West Ham after David Moyes kept them afloat last season. Pellegrini is one of only 10 managers to lift the Premier League trophy, and the only non-European, after his title win at Manchester City in 2014.

How well will he adapt to life at the Hammers?

What about the promoted teams?

Fans of West Brom, Swansea and Stoke have already seen their campaigns get under way – the trio were relegated at the end of last season, with Swansea the only ones to get off to a winning start in the Championship.

But who has replaced them? Wolves stormed to the title in the second tier last season, collecting 99 points, and have added genuine star quality in Portuguese pair Joao Moutinho and Rui Patricio. It’s seven years since Wolves were last in the top flight but they will be eyeing their best ever Premier League finish this season – currently 15th.

Cardiff joined Wolves in winning automatic promotion which means a return to the Premier League for Neil Warnock. Fourth officials beware.

Warnock did a brilliant job with the Bluebirds last season and has added nearly £30m of Championship talent in the form of Greg Cunningham, Bobby Reid, Josh Murphy and Alex Smithies – as well as Harry Arter on loan on deadline day. Will it be enough? They finished bottom in their only previous season in the Premier League back in 2013-14.

Play-off winners Fulham have caught the eye for a couple of years with their attractive style of play and it’s their transfer business since beating Aston Villa at Wembley which has continued to demand attention, becoming the first promoted club to spend more than £100m.

As well as their four big-money signings, they signed World Cup winner Andre Schurrle on loan and also kept hold of the highly rated Ryan Sessegnon.

Will we see VAR this season?

The Premier League is the only one of the top five European leagues to not have video assistant referees this season – with La Liga and Ligue 1 following on from the Bundesliga and Serie A this summer.

All Carabao Cup and FA Cup games at Premier League grounds will use VAR this season, however.

Premier League clubs voted in April not to use the technology in the top flight this season, instead agreeing to continue testing it during 2018-19.

Premier League executive chairman Richard Scudamore, who is set to leave his post by the end of this year, says it is “inevitable” that VAR will eventually be introduced in the top flight.

World Cup stars to watch?

World Cup 2018: The World Cup final that had everything

Five players who started the World Cup final less than a month ago ply their trade in the Premier League, but they may not feature this weekend after only returning to training in the last few days in some cases.

Olivier Giroud and N’Golo Kante could start for Chelsea when they play Huddersfield on Saturday afternoon, while Paul Pogba hasn’t played for Manchester United yet in pre-season and is not expected to face Leicester on Friday night, but Spurs should have goalkeeper Hugo Lloris available against Newcastle.

Dejan Lovren – the Premier League player on the losing side for Croatia – could feature for Liverpool when they open against West Ham on Sunday afternoon.

The runs of England and Belgium to the semi-finals also mean that a whole host of Premier League names – including Harry Kane, Dele Alli, Eden Hazard, Vincent Kompany and Romelu Lukaku – have been missing for most of their clubs’ pre-season build-up.



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