If out-and-out frontmen had fallen out of vogue – something Fantasy League managers will testify to – the top teams have addressed the balance this summer. No signing capturing the imagination more than Erling Haaland’s arrival at Manchester City.
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The 22-year-old striker’s roughly goal-a-game record for previous clubs Red Bull Salzburg, Borussia Dortmund and the Norwegian national side may even be enough for Pep Guardiola to shelve his love of a false nine.
However, Haaland was upstaged by £85million signing Darwin Nunez in Liverpool’s 3-1 Community Shield win over City last weekend. Gabriel Jesus, who has made a flying start in pre-season with Arsenal, and Chelsea’s Raheem Sterling will look to prove Guardiola should have had more faith as their new clubs’ marquee signings.
Harry Kane, who City missed out on 12 months ago, looks totally committed to Tottenham and ready to hit the ground running this time around.
It may not be the best advert for a league that prides itself on being the most competitive in the world but it’s once again hard to look beyond City and Liverpool, particularly with their superstar signings. Nunez, the January capture of Luis Diaz and Mohamed Salah’s bumper new contract should make Liverpool stronger – despite the loss of Sadio Mane.
City have signed Julian Alvarez, Kalvin Phillips and Stefan Ortega Moreno in addition to Haaland. They relied massively on Kevin De Bruyne last season and could Guardiola yet regret allowing Sterling, Jesus and Oleksandr Zinchenko to leave?
City and Liverpool have occupied the top two places in three of the last four seasons and the best chances of breaking that stranglehold would appear to come from the capital.
Antonio Conte seems to have fallen in love with Tottenham, having finished last season strongly to clinch fourth, while – having got a host of big-earners out of his squad – Arsenal are now very much Mikel Arteta’s team, with Martin Odegaard captaining a side full of youthful energy.
Thomas Tuchel may have voiced concerns about how ready Chelsea are for the new campaign, particularly in defence, but they still have a formidable squad.
Tough task for Erik
It seems remarkable to think Manchester United went into last season having finished runners-up but new manager Erik ten Hag is the latest man charged with rebuilding a club in turmoil, with Cristiano Ronaldo starting the season with his future up in the air.
You can’t read too much into the 4-0 pre-season victory over Liverpool and key to Ten Hag’s success will be getting a tune out of last season’s under-performers Jadon Sancho, Marcus Rashford and captain Harry Maguire.
Toon’s new know-Howe
The mood at few clubs can have been transformed quite so much over the last 12 months as at Newcastle, where fans’ protests at loathed owner Mike Ashley have been replaced by an expectation that glory lies ahead at a club bankrolled by Saudi Arabia.
The source of that investment may make the Magpies loathed elsewhere, but Eddie Howe seems the ideal manager to bring sustainable success. Forget the glamour signings, Howe has beefed up the backline by adding goalkeeper Nick Pope and defenders Sven Botman and former loanee Matt Targett to January buys Kieran Trippier and Dan Burn.
More changing times
The Premier League wasn’t the only innovation in 1992 – the rule preventing a goalkeeper picking up a backpass was introduced and three subs were named for the first time, one a keeper, although only two could be used.
This season, for the first time, clubs can make five substitutions in each game from a list of nine – something Jurgen Klopp was a noisy advocate for. It will only increase the gap between the top and the bottom – the superstar squads exposing those without strength in depth.
Although, even with just three substitution windows during the game, expect to see sides hanging on trying to make the most of the extra time-wasting possibilities.
Almost a closed shop
Breaking into the elite group of referees seems almost as difficult as cracking the title race with just one man making the step up this summer – Sheffield referee Tom Bramall being fast-tracked having only taken charge of his first Championship game 18 months ago.
But the fresh-faced 32-year-old is the only new addition to a roster featuring just 20 referees after the retirements of Mike Dean, Martin Atkinson, Kevin Friend and Jon Moss.
Dean is remaining as a VAR official and, while it’s hard to see him staying away from controversy, a boost for transparency will see recordings of the video officials’ conversations with match referees released as audio files after games.
Feeling the pressure
Frank Lampard was only appointed Everton manager in January and Jesse Marsch took the helm of Leeds in March but they are the popular choices to be first manager to leave, along with Southampton’s Ralph Hasenhuttl after a dismal first half of 2022.
Leicester’s Brendan Rodgers must also be a candidate after a perplexing summer that has seen captain Kasper Schmeichel leave and Youri Tielemens, Wesley Fofana and James Maddison strongly linked with moves – and no sign of the Foxes getting their chequebook out.
Despite winning promotion at Bournemouth, Scott Parker’s squad has hardly been strengthened with just a handful of low-key arrivals so far – including Middlesbrough’s Marcus Tavernier.
Ambition and motivation
Norwich have been criticised for a lack of ambition on their last two visits to the Premier League but Nottingham Forest have raised eyebrows in the other direction having beaten West Ham to Jesse Lingard among their 12 summer signings, while also landing goalkeeper Dean Henderson, another England international, on loan from Manchester United.
Steve Cooper won’t be the only manager hoping his players’ extra motivation to make it to the winter World Cup will not be rewarded. With the Premier League pausing from November 12 until Boxing Day to allow for the tournament in Qatar, this will be the ultimate season of two halves.
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