The Premier League is back next week with more intriguing and exciting plot lines than ever.
Will Manchester City and Liverpool dominate again? Can Ole Gunnar Solskjaer turn Manchester United around? How will Frank Lampard fare when Spurs and Arsenal have broken their transfer records, and he can’t sign anyone?
Mail on Sunday columnist DANNY MURPHY gives his view on all the big issues at the top and bottom…
The Premier League is back next week with more intriguing and exciting plot lines than ever
Manchester City and Liverpool were 25 points clear of the field last season. I’m sure they won’t quite repeat their unbelievable results but it will still be a two-horse race for the title. The gap is too big for their rivals to make up in one go.
A fully-fit Kevin de Bruyne will give City a boost, he is one of the best midfield players in the world, but I’m still backing Liverpool to turn around the one-point deficit from last May.
Partly it’s because City could subconsciously prioritise the Champions League, having won the Premier League twice in a row. Pep Guardiola would never admit it but his players might take their more winnable games for granted and occasionally slip up.
The main reason, however, is the departure of Vincent Kompany, their leader for so long. Kompany can be replaced on the pitch but in the dressing room and training ground it will be impossible to find someone with his experience, credibility and gravitas.
Every team, no matter how good, have moments in the season where players quibble or fall out. The manager can’t always fix things: it’s sometimes down to a senior player to say ‘I need a word’ and put things right.
City will have a new captain but Kompany’s influence spread beyond wearing an armband. He had authority and the respect of everyone. When City were tiring at the end of last season, it was no coincidence that Guardiola turned to Kompany to play and provide reassurance. His winning goal against Leicester was symbolic in deciding the best-ever title race.
City and Liverpool will qualify for the Champions League again but when six big teams are going for four spots, two will miss out — as Arsenal and Manchester United did last season.
I’ve got a feeling United will improve through financial power — particularly now they have signed Harry Maguire — and will join Tottenham in the top four, meaning heartbreak for Chelsea. They have made the right appointments in Frank Lampard and Jody Morris but will have to be patient, given they have lost Eden Hazard, are under a transfer ban and are without the injured Callum Hudson-Odoi and Ruben Loftus-Cheek.
Vincent Kompany can be replaced on the pitch but in the dressing room it will be impossible
A few clubs think they can have a crack at breaking into the top six, with Arsenal looking most vulnerable. It would be good for the Premier League for someone to break through but I think the Gunners have too much firepower in Pierre-Emerick Aubameyang, Alexandre Lacazette and £72million new boy Nicolas Pepe to lose their status.
However, if anyone can do it, I think it will be Everton, who have shown real ambition with their purchase of Moise Kean from Juventus, and those who read these pages know I’m a fan of Andre Gomes, whose loan from Barcelona has been made permanent.
I might have fancied Leicester City’s chances but Maguire will leave a hole. Any replacement will need time to develop and couldn’t be as effective as him from day one.
Wolves finished seventh last season, nine points behind Manchester United, but it will be hard for them to improve on that. Not only because they are playing Europa League football but also opponents will work them out and give them more respect.
WILDER LEADS CHARGE OF ENGLISH MANAGERS
It’s natural that Premier League clubs want the best players and managers, regardless of where they come from. So it’s nice to see English coaches now regarded highly enough to get jobs at the top level.
There will be eight English managers in the Premier League this season, the most for some years, and I’m particularly impressed by the job Chris Wilder has done at Sheffield United. He’s received a lot of credit in the last 12 months but has been excellent for 18 years — from Alfreton and Halifax to winning promotion at Bramall Lane.
Sheffield United are punching above their weight but they’ll give it a real go, like Neil Warnock did at Cardiff. Recruitment, organisation, togetherness and a fantastic team spirit can take you a long way and I think they’ll cause a few surprises even if they drop in the end.
It’s nice to see English coaches now regarded highly enough to get jobs at the top level
NORWICH AND BRIGHTON LOOK VULNERABLE
Bridging the gap between the Championship and Premier League is hard. Promoted teams need a good start otherwise it can be very demoralising.
Aston Villa have signed a dozen players but their recruitment looks better-planned than Fulham’s was a year ago. Guys such as Matt Targett, Tom Heaton and Tyrone Mings know what the Premier League is all about, while Scotland midfielder John McGinn could be a revelation, the way he can go past people.
Sheffield United will be dangerous underdogs but I do worry for Norwich, who have to start against Liverpool at Anfield on Friday night. They were brilliant in the Championship, playing a pleasing brand of football, but that might be to their detriment this season when they’ll have less of the ball. I don’t see them having the same firepower as Villa. There is always a more established club that slips into danger and that could be Brighton this time because they are trying to change their playing style under Graham Potter, which is always a risk.
Burnley and Crystal Palace will stick to the tried and trusted, while Newcastle have a very experienced manager in Steve Bruce.
With Brighton, it’s uncertain how they will respond to Potter’s philosophy after being used to Chris Hughton. It could go really well, and I hope it does as a fan of good football. But the Premier League is an unforgiving place for those learning on the job.
Brighton are trying to change their playing style under Graham Potter, which is always a risk
TOTTENHAM LANDED SIGNING OF THE SUMMER
The deal that has most caught my eye this summer was Tottenham breaking their transfer record to sign midfielder Tanguy Ndombele from Lyon for £63m.
I watched Ndombele a fair bit last season, he is an outstanding athlete and has this ability to burst past people and get the whole team up the pitch, as Mousa Dembele used to do. Unlike Dembele, he can also pick out a creative pass.
Ndombele will be a crowd-pleaser because he doesn’t take the safe option with the ball. It might mean losing possession sometimes but more often he’ll make something good happen. I think he’ll be best alongside a partner who holds his position, such as Harry Winks, Eric Dier or Victor Wanyama. Then he can venture forward when the opportunity arises.
Arsenal’s record buy Pepe looks explosive and quick and Aaron-Wan Bissaka at Manchester United is a terrific player. Rodri at Manchester City is big and powerful but I don’t see him strengthening their first XI yet. He’s been signed from Atletico Madrid to succeed Fernandinho long-term but right now he’s not as good as the Brazilian, who can break forward and hit one into the top corner.
Tottenham broke their transfer record to sign midfielder Tanguy Ndombele from Lyon
SOLSKJAER UNDER PRESSURE BUT I PREFER HIS CHANCES TO EMERY’S
Only one manager will be under instant pressure if he loses his first match: Ole Gunnar Solskjaer at Manchester United. You won’t see pressure on Jurgen Klopp should Norwich upset Liverpool or on Frank Lampard if Chelsea are beaten at Old Trafford next Sunday. But Solskjaer needs to hit the ground running.
United are one of the biggest clubs in the world and the way they finished last season, with key players not performing, was unacceptable. The size of the club and money spent adds to the scrutiny.
The good news for Solskjaer is I think they’ll come through better than expected. Wan-Bissaka and Maguire will prove good signings and the spending may not stop before the deadline. I think they can return to the top four and give Solskjaer breathing space.
Arsenal need to spend in the final few days of the window more than anyone. This is their third season in a row outside the Champions League and unless they do some business in defence and midfield, they’ve no chance of ending that run.
BEWARE, KANE IS BACK
Harry Kane has won two Golden Boots but missed out in the last two seasons to Mo Salah. The way he’s started pre- season, I wouldn’t bet against him regaining his crown and putting him in a perfect mood for Euro 2020.
Kane has looked sharp, not just his goal from the halfway line against Juventus. After injuries last season, he has that steely determination and I feel he could have one of those runs.
I’ve played with single-minded strikers like him. If we’d won a game at Liverpool and Michael Owen hadn’t scored, he’d be livid. Alan Shearer would admit the same. What I love about Kane is he never eases up. The team might be playing poorly but will always back himself to score. If he’s scored twice, he would never ease up, he’d be desperate for the hat-trick.
It’s about goals, goals, goals for him and I predict plenty of them coming up.
Harry Kane has won two Golden Boots but missed out in the last two seasons to Mo Salah
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