In EPL, it's a tale of three cities at the top
- 12 Aug 2017 at 04:00
- WRITER: NOBBY PILES
Having experienced nearly three months of transfer speculation and deals featuring absurd sums of money, ridiculous rumours and unashamed greed, it is almost a relief that the Premier League finally kicks off this weekend.
One fixture has already been played, with Arsenal hosting Leicester City at the Emirates last night.
With the transfer window continuing until Aug 31, there is still plenty of time for significant changes in the line-ups, which makes forecasts a little tricky. At the time of writing we still do not know who Philippe Coutinho or Alexis Sanchez will be playing for. Anyone who enjoys the Premier League hope they won't be going anywhere.
The Premier League will once again feel more like three leagues-in-one, with the usual suspects vying for the top honours, half a dozen teams almost assured of mid table comfort and the rest fighting to stay in the division. For this final group, there is nothing wrong with 17th place.
The battle at the top is really a tale of three cities -- London, Manchester and Liverpool.
Arsenal will have been boosted by their scrappy victory over Chelsea in the Community Shield. However it would be unwise to make any major judgements based on what is essentially an exhibition match. The Gunners will be pleased with the performance of Serbian Sead Kolasinac, who Theo Walcott accurately described as "an absolute tank". Another new signing from Lyon, Alexandre Lacazette, showed some nice touches. However it is not until a final decision is made on Sanchez that Arsene Wenger really knows where he stands.
Chelsea manager Antonio Conte looked frustrated on the touchline at Wembley and with good reason. His team never found any rhythm and without Eden Hazard, Chelsea looked out of sorts. They will greatly miss Diego Costa and will be hoping his replacement, Alvaro Morata hits the ground running. The result itself wasn't important as Chelsea have lost their last four appearances in the Community Shield.
Tottenham Hotspur were the most attractive side last season, led superbly by Harry Kane, and with much the same squad, apart from the excellent Kyle Walker moving to Manchester City, Spurs should be a threat again. The X-factor is how they will adapt to playing all home fixtures at Wembley stadium.
In four matches at Wembley last season, they only won once, against CSKA Moscow. In two other Champions League games they lost to Monaco and Leverkusen and there was another defeat to Chelsea in the FA Cup semi-final. However, these were all tough opponents and Spurs should overcome the lesser lights of the Premier League.
Spurs must avoid a bad start at Wembley. After tomorrow's away fixture at Newcastle their first home game happens to be against Chelsea which will be a stern test. Silly though it sounds, a series of poor "home" results could lead to unhealthy talk of a Wembley "jinx".
It is never easy to play at a new stadium, as West Ham discovered last season. This year the Hammers have another problem as their London Stadium is hosting the current World Athletics championships. This means the Hammers' first home game won't be until Sept 9 against Huddersfield.
The city of Manchester will once again witness a battle of skills and egos as Pep Guardiola and Jose Mourinho vie for the bragging rights. They might also be vying for rights to the title as City have a star-studded team. Now the defence has been beefed up with the arrival of Walker, Benjamin Mendy and Danilo they could deliver the title. Bookmakers certainly think so, ranking City as their clear favourites with United and Chelsea joint second.
United look a little stronger than last year with the acquisition of Nemanja Matic in midfield, but one suspects they will miss the scoring ability of Zlatan Ibrahimovich a lot more than Wayne Rooney. Much depends on Romelu Lukaku settling in quickly.
Liverpool are desperate to break their duck in the Premier league. But it is unlikely to come this season, particularly if they are unable to hold on to Coutinho. As Jamie Carragher warned: "If Liverpool lose Coutinho there will be riots."
With Rooney back at Everton you can be sure of plenty of headlines from Goodison Park. If ever a team looked destined for seventh place it's the Toffees.
The newly promoted clubs tend to be favourites for going straight back down again and there's a good chance Huddersfield and Brighton will only have a brief stay in the top flight. However Brighton fans will be hoping they can "do a Bournemouth" and show that the south coast teams have a bit of grit and don't spend all their time sitting in deckchairs on the beach sunning themselves.
As long as Newcastle United hang on to manager Rafa Benitez they should survive, although it could still be bit of a struggle for the Magpies. What doesn't bode too well is that the bookies have Benitez joint favourite as the first manager to leave his club, along with Mark Hughes at Stoke.
Of the other teams that could face relegation worries, Watford might be in for a long season. Burnley are celebrating having survived a Premier League season for the first time, but will have to work hard to make it two in a row. Swansea too might find themselves in the thick of things if they lose talented midfielder Gylfi Sigurdsson.
Let's just hope it's a close race both at the top and bottom and wouldn't it be great if an unfancied club did another another Leicester City and shook everything up. Well, we can always dream.
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