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Can anyone topple Manchester City?

HUNGRY AND RESTED: Leroy Sane, right, seen here battling for the ball with Liverpool’s Dejan Lovren, could help secure another Premier League title for Man City

FOOTBALL FANS can all agree on one thing at this early stage: the safe money is on Manchester City retaining their Premier League title.

It is going to take a special campaign to dislodge Pep Guardiola’s record-breaking team and
there are fewer uncertainties over City than any of their rivals at this stage.

As both Liverpool and Manchester United showed last season, the Citizens can be got at, but few teams have the capacity to get at them and they will prevail most weeks. Their football was sublime at times last term and one can imagine the likes of Kevin De Bruyne building on an excellent season alongside a hungry and rested Leroy Sane.

Whether they can match the exploits of last season – and make a serious first of it in the Champions League – is debatable, but it is over to the rest to stop them. ‘The rest’ are currently led by Liverpool and Jurgen Klopp, who has a remarkable record against Guardiola.

The signings of Fabinho, Alisson Becker, Naby Keita, and Xherdan Shaqiri excite in a manner that suggests Klopp may finally have the tools enact his high-energy style week-in, week-out. With an excess of £170 million spent, there are certainly fewer excuses.

The same could be said for Manchester United, who finished second last term without really looking like realising the potential of the players at Jose Mourinho’s disposal. With the increasingly dour Portuguese currently spitting barb after barb at his players, it seems obvious that organisational malaise that has afflicted the Red Devils since the retirement of Sir Alex Ferguson is getting to him.

United’s inherent quality ensures that for all that, they will still be there or thereabouts, but will it still be with Mourinho at the helm? Most likely to make up the top four are Tottenham, whose summer of relative transfer inactivity is offset by the fact that Mauricio Pochettino already has a developing, dependable and exciting squad to call upon.


NEW SEASON AHEAD: Brighton manager Chris Hughton

Spurs will return to the rebuilt White Hart Lane this term, which may count against them at first, but they remain the most potent team in London. This all suggests to your correspondent that the top four of May 2018 will remain the top four in May 2019, albeit in a different order. Chelsea under Maurizio Sarri, however, will welcome the opportunity to challenge any such assumption.

The Italian arrives from Napoli with Jorginho and a reputation for attacking football of a brand seldom seen at Stamford Bridge. Whether the Italian coach can settle on a formation that suits his team and retain Eden Hazard will determine if they can go any higher than last season’s fth place. Just below Chelsea last sea- son were Arsenal – a very different Arsenal now that Arsene Wenger has been shipped out to be replaced by Unai Emery.

STEELIER

The arrivals of such players as Sokratis Papastathopoulos and Lucas Torreira suggest a grittier, steelier approach from the Spaniard but it is dif cult to speculate beyond the cosmetic at this stage. The Gunners cannot fall much further than sixth, but fourth place and a return to the Champions League would represent a decent rst season for Emery.

If it is below Arsenal that the drawbridge tends to come up, then Everton lead a cohort of clubs looking to claim seventh place for themselves, assuming Burnley are unable to reach similar levels.

Marco Silva finally takes the reins at Goodison Park, Sam Allardyce is gone, and Richarlison, has arrived. Everton fans will be optimistic but the same can be said of their counterparts at Leicester, West Ham and newly promoted Wolves – three sides who are currently looking up rather than down.

Odds may be short on Claude Puel surviving much longer at the King Power Stadium but the Foxes have a well-balanced squad at their disposal despite the defection of Riyad Mahrez.

In Jamie Vardy, Leicester have one of the division’s best finishers and a team set up to exploit his pace on the counter attack . It is not too dissimilar to the approach they adopted during their improbable title-winning season but ambitions have since been recalibrate.

West Ham are another team who will hope to shoulder Everton and Leicester out of the way given their acquisition of an adroit head coach in Manuel Pellegrini and some important summer signings. You never know under the current administration at the London Stadium, but relegation should be a remote threat.

Over in the West Midlands, few promoted teams are as fancied as Wolves, although even fewer have been so well endowed with riches and playing talent. Survival appears likely as Nuno Espirito Santo’s side seek Premier League consolidation. The aforementioned Burnley were superb last season but that form seems unsustainable for a club of their means.

With European football to consider early in the campaign, a reversion to mid-table obscurity would not be considered a disaster in east Lancashire. Last season, Crystal Palace proved that an appalling start need not be terminal but with Roy Hodgson on the bench a repeat seems unlikely. That said, it is dif cult to see the squad improving on eleventh place.

Below Palace sit those sides for whom mid-table safety remains the realistic aspiration.
Last year saw Southampton sail close to the choppy waters of relegation but this regression was almost inevitable given the pillaging of the club’s resources in recent seasons. A less exciting but comfortable campaign under Mark Hughes may be just the ticket in the short term.

At St James’ Park, the popular Rafa Benitez led a team widely considered to be of Championship standard to safety in relatively routine fashion. Similar things can be ex- pected this term, provided the Spaniard stays in situ. A club of similar standing are Championship play-off winners Fulham.

Slavisa Jokanovic’s side will face testing moments and must learn quickly, but have enough quality to give relegation a swerve. Eddie Howe and Chris Hughton are two further managers who have the firm backing of their supporters but each faces glass ceilings in their present circumstances. Both clubs may nd themselves in a relegation scrap.

SLUMP

The same can be said of Watford, who have stuck with Javi Gracia over the summer despite the Hornets’ end of season slump under the Spaniard. Goals may prove a problem in his corner of Hertfordshire if Gracia cannot nd greater solidity.

If these sides are widely considered ‘maybes’ for the drop, there are few onlookers who believe that Huddersfield or Cardiff will evade the pull of gravity. Neither looks equipped for the top tier, and though that could have been said of Hudders eld last term, the division looks stronger in general terms this time around.

But it is the beauty of football that much of the above will be heartily disproven in the ensuing nine months.

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