What do we ask for at the start of a new season? Excellence and excitement, obviously. This time, some crowds (eventually) would be welcome, too. Above all, though, what the Premier League needs in its current form is some real competition.
In recent years, Manchester City and Liverpool have taken our game to an extraordinarily high level. The race to the line won by City two seasons ago was compelling. Last time, Liverpool won the title by a street, which seemed fitting for a club that had waited 30 years for it.
The debate about where these two teams sit in the list of great English teams is an interesting one. They have proved themselves worthy of being in the conversation.
Jurgen Klopp’s Liverpool were streets ahead of their rivals as they won the title last season
Pep Guardiola’s Manchester City were one of the teams left trailing in Liverpool’s wake
But what is more important now is that other Premier League clubs find a way to join in. Last season was not a distinguished one from that point of view.
Tottenham and Arsenal were not impressive while Manchester United played for half a season. Chelsea were progressive but inconsistent, which left only Leicester, Sheffield United and Wolves deserving of real credit — and they all tailed off.
All that has to change soon if our league is not to surrender its self-appointed label as the best in the world. How can it call itself that if it has only two teams in it?
It is still hard to see past City and Liverpool in terms of the title but there is reason to believe the gap between them and the rest can be smaller.
For once, it has been uplifting to see Chelsea spending lots of money. The riches lavished on players during the Roman Abramovich era have been sniffed at on occasion but not this time. In a year that Covid-19 has placed great strain on football’s economic supply, it is heartening to see another Chelsea splurge.
At the time of writing they have committed more than £200million on new players. It is a spree that will vastly deepen the attacking options available to Frank Lampard. If he can solve his team’s goalkeeping problems, they have a chance.
Klopp’s Liverpool – and City – could well feel Chelsea’s breath on their neck this season
The Blues have spent big, with German striker Timo Werner (right) among the additions
German wonderkid Kai Havertz has also arrived at Stamford Bridge amid a spending splurge
Similarly, United are trying to help Ole Gunnar Solskjaer’s evolution at Old Trafford, something that started with the recruitment of Bruno Fernandes and the emergence of Mason Greenwood. United have started to look like a team capable of hurting opponents again. Once again, depth is the problem. It feels as though Solskjaer will need a player like Jadon Sancho and one more to keep moving forward through what will be a uniquely congested season.
With the campaign starting late, our top teams who are involved in European competition will find the next eight months hard going. City remain the best-equipped to cope with those demands by a distance. We can expect many top-flight teams to virtually write off the two domestic cups — for once they would not deserve criticism — but even so the load placed on big players during a sporting year that has the European Championship at the end of it will be quite something.
This may worry Jurgen Klopp as he plots a defence of the title. The pandemic hit some of the big clubs harder than others and Liverpool have found themselves financially stretched. The champions will start the campaign pretty much unchanged from last year, which means their star turns will have to hit last season’s standards — and maybe go to a level higher — to hold off their rivals. It is a big ask.
Man United need to seal a deal for Dortmund’s Jadon Sancho in order to take the next step
Ole Gunnar Solskjaer has signed Donny van de Beek but more big signings are required
Not much has changed at Jose Mourinho’s Tottenham, who are unlikely to make the top four
Elsewhere, it is hard to see much change from Jose Mourinho’s Spurs and it will be a surprise if their north London rivals do not go past them. Mikel Arteta is improving Arsenal but it is unlikely to be a transformation significant enough to breach the top four.
Wolves are unlikely to back off and the same can be said of Brendan Rodgers’ Leicester if they can add players between now and the closure of the window. Only a lack of numbers prevented Rodgers taking Leicester into the Champions League last season and so far that has not been addressed.
Greater optimism can be found over at Arsenal with Mikel Arteta bringing improvement
Jamie Vardy’s Leicester City can be expected to make a push for the top four once again
Good coaching has played a big part in the rise of Wolves and Leicester and that is encouraging. The same can be said of Chris Wilder and Sheffield United and Sean Dyche at Burnley. Everton may benefit from the wisdom of Carlo Ancelotti, too, but they need to get it right in the transfer market.
Further down — maybe — the return of Leeds and their veteran coach Marcelo Bielsa has the makings of the best football documentary of all time, while Slaven Bilic’s willingness to return to the Premier League the hard way has been rewarded. He will do well to keep West Bromwich Albion up, mind.
This time last year I tipped City to win the league and Newcastle to go down. Neither happened but 13 months on, I feel the same. Not that it really matters. Despite all the uncertainty of the winter to come, we still have football. Be glad of it.
The Premier League should be excited for Marcelo Bielsa’s first Premier League campaign