Premier League: Liverpool and Man City set to fight for the top spot

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Manchester City's Nicolas Otamendi lifts the trophy after the English Community Shield soccer match between Liverpool and Manchester City at Wembley stadium in London. Photo: PTI

With the Community Shield officially done and dusted — Manchester City edging Liverpool in a cliff-hanger of a game that was eventually decided on penalties — all eyes will now firmly be on the English Premier League, which will commence on Friday night when last season’s runners-up Liverpool take on newly-promoted Norwich City.

Most teams have bulked up their squad in the summer with recruitments who can add value as they look to challenge champions Manchester City for the title come May 2020. But judging by City’s moves in the transfer window, where Pep Guardiola’s side picked up Rodri from Atletico Madrid and Angelino from PSV Eindhoven, it is clear that the team believes they have enough in their armoury to put up a challenge in all competitions.

The giants

The first half dominance by Manchester City in the Community Shield match at Wembley, where they cut through Liverpool’s defence with ease, must have had people believing that the 2019-20 league would be another one-horse race with City dominating. But Liverpool’s defiance in the second half inspired by Egyptian Mohamed Salah, who looked to be in top physical conditions, came as a welcome boost to the Reds who will be favourites along with City to win the Premier League title at the end of the season.

Liverpool have had an unremarkable transfer window so far and have failed to add quality to the side. The lack of ambition comes as a surprise after a landmark season under Jurgen Klopp where the Reds won the Champions League and pushed City for the Premier League title till the last matchday. Nevertheless, with a front three of Salah, Sadio Mane and Roberto Firmino, and a defensive wall of Virgil van Dijk, Joel Matip and Alisson Becker, Liverpool will definitely be the team expected to challenge City for the title.

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Arsenal’s plan to cut their traditional approach and go all guns blazing in the market saw the London side acquire the services of Nicolas Pepe and Daniel Ceballos in the summer. Both players offer a lot in the attack to Arsenal side but questions still remain as to how well an already weak defence will handle the new season’s challenge.

Similarly, Manchester United have made some improvements by getting young Aaron Wan-Bissaka and Daniel James but the Red Devils will need more than these two young British footballers to challenge for a Champions League spot. United are set to break the bank with signing Harry Maguire from Leicester City while discussions are on-going with the Juventus duo of Paulo Dybala and Mario Mandzukic.

Making in-roads

Tottenham have been challenging for trophies in the past few seasons that they are now a legitimate big gun in the Premier League. The team got much-needed boosts — Tanguy Ndombele’s signing will add strength to the midfield while they have a good batch of young players willing to take the step up to the top division — and look set for another decent campaign after keeping hold of their star players.

Chelsea, who have been hit by a transfer ban, still can hope Christian Pulisic will make an impact in his first season for the Blues after a move from Borussia Dortmund. Even with the ban, Chelsea have world class footballers like N’Golo Kante and Jorginho in their squad. Nevertheless, this season should be seen as a year of transition for Chelsea as they give new manager Frank Lampard a chance to create a team in his identity.

Chelsea’s situation and the other top teams’ less than perfect summers means there is an opportunity for new teams to break the domination of the Top Six in the league.

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Wolverhampton Wanderers had no doubt that their first Premier League season under the guidance of Nuno Espirito Santo last time around, one that surpassed even the wildest of expectations. A seventh-place finish, a semifinal in the FA Cup and regular humbling of top teams in the league means the expectations will be rest this season — the fans would want a top six finish. The management has backed their head coach in making some shrewd signings with Raul Jimenez’s move being made permanent while AC Milan forward Patrick Cutrone, Lazio winger Pedro Neto and Bruno Jordao.

Everton and West Ham United are two other teams who have had made serious inroads in the summer. Moise Kean and Fabian Delph will add strength to an already well-shaped Everton side while Sebastian Haller and Pablo Fornals will sharpen the attack for West Ham United. Leicester City have managed to retain most players from their previous campaign which means they will also be in the run for a Europa League finish.

The battle for victory

Newcastle United’s summer of turmoil started with Rafa Benitez leaving the club to be replaced by Steve Bruce at the helm. A markable downgrade in management has been compounded by the fans’ conflict with owner Mike Ashley did not do more to keep their beloved Benitez which led to the departures of Salomon Rondon and Ayoze Perez. With Arsenal, Tottenham and Liverpool in the first five games, chances are high that Newcastle will find themselves at the bottom in the early parts of the season.

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Luckily for them Sheffield have had an absolutely dismal summer where they have failed to add quality to the team that qualified from the Championship. The dormant window for Wednesday means they will be favourites to drop back into the second division while Burnley, Brighton, and Norwich are all susceptible to relegation.

The charm of the Premier League has always been its unpredictability — from Leicester City’s title-winning campaign to Leeds’ relegation after years of top football. That, along with good quality football, will be back in action in the upcoming weekend as top teams ready themselves for another roller-coaster ride and nearly half the population of the planet fine-tune their TV channels.