Summer is slowly winding down, which means the Premier League is back in full force. This year is shaping up to be one of the most entertaining in recent memory, after Manchester City edged Liverpool to capture the title.
While there’s so much to be excited about, we’re focusing on the top six storylines to watch as the Premier League season gets underway.
Manchester City-Liverpool duopoly remains intact, only one can win it all
For all the excitement and genuine intrigue about increased parity across the table, two clubs stand above all. It would be a genuine shock if anyone other than Manchester City or Liverpool emerge victorious this year.
City is on the verge of a three-peat, which could cement Pep Guardiola’s status as the best manager of all-time if they pull off this feat. City’s blood rival, Manchester United, were the last club to win in three consecutive years (2006-07-2008-09), adding to the weight of history.
The defending champions return a nearly identical roster, although the aging Vincent Kompany returned home to Anderlecht in a player-manager role, Fabian Delph transferred to Everton, while they added playmaker Rodri from Atletico Madrid. City’s unrivalled depth and balance might make them the most dangerous team in all of Europe and that’s without factoring the expected ascension of Phil Foden.
Liverpool captured the Champions League last season, and their one PL loss blemished an otherwise sparkling campaign that would’ve seen them enter the same rarefied air as Arsenal’s Invincibles from 2003-04. Sadio Mane and Mohamed Salah are expected to wreak havoc on defences once again, while Virgil Van Dijk is capable of stopping odd-man rushes by himself as the PL’s best defender.
City’s unrivalled talent and depth should be enough to push them over a Liverpool side that is often buoyed by their three stars. But counting out the Reds and the brilliant Jurgen Klopp usually isn’t a wise bet.
Frank Lampard returns to Chelsea as manager
Arguably the greatest player in club history, Lampard returns to Chelsea as manager, a welcome development after Maurizio Sarri’s “Sarri-ball” never won the hearts and minds of supporters.
Lampard is now tasked with returning Chelsea to prominence after the club finished a distant third behind City and Liverpool in 2018-19. He’ll have his work cut out for him as Chelsea was issued a transfer ban following an investigation into the club signing two under-18 foreign players.
He always exuded confidence on the pitch and Lampard said he doesn’t need new players for Chelsea to excel. How he’ll inspire a team that is largely the same — with the notable exception of superstar Eden Hazard, who transferred to Real Madrid — will be compelling to see.
We’ve seen players-turned-manager emerge to the forefront of the sport: Guardiola and Zinedine Zidane come to mind, while Manchester United’s Ole Gunnar Solskjaer will be watched carefully in his sophomore campaign. If Lampard’s second act is as promising as his first, expect Stamford Bridge to be rocking.
How will the introduction of VAR affect play?
Video Assistant Referee (VAR) has been phased into the world of international football. Now, the polarizing system will be introduced to the PL, and boy, could it shape the future of the league.
Purists will argue that VAR takes away from the integrity and random variation of the game. The history of football would look entirely different if VAR had been introduced - and this sell could be palatable to any English fans still incensed by Diego Maradona’s theatrics in 1986.
On the other hand, it will make the game immeasurably better. Goals will be adjudged more accurately, penalties will be fairly awarded, and incorrect yellow cards and red cards can be rescinded if the referee determines it was given to the wrong player. This should make for a better playing experience, even with a 85-second average for reviews.
It may affect the broadcast experience adversely, but one should bet that VAR isn’t going anywhere. How it holds up against the public’s interests, desires and viewing experience should be fascinating to watch.
The kids are alright
The Premier League has always thrived on new talent pushing themselves to new heights, and this season should be no different.
Tanguy Ndombele joins Tottenham from Lyon on a 62-million Euro transfer and the French international already showed flashes of brilliance in his club debut against Juventus.
Ndombele isn’t the only young Frenchman poised to make their mark on the Premier League, as 22-year-old Allan Saint-Maximin joined Newcastle on a six-year deal. Saint-Maximin is equally adept as a center forward as he is on the wing, and his blistering pace, trademark Gucci headband and creativity could set the league ablaze.
Moise Kean joins Everton from Juventus on a five-year contract and ended the 2018-19 campaign in spectacular form. It’s easy to forget that the Italian striker is just 19 and this could be a legitimate breakout season on the global stage. Kean has everything you look for in a top-tier striker and one has to wonder if the Italian giant will rue their decision to let him go.
Are there any legitimate contenders to the Big 6 monopoly?
Manchester City, Manchester United, Liverpool, Tottenham, Chelsea and Arsenal have established themselves as the Big 6, towering over the Premier League’s other 14 entrants. This year might be the first time any of these clubs are in genuine danger of being usurped.
Wolves, Everton and Leicester City could all make a push inside the top six, and while some may see the latter’s inclusion as disingenuous since they won it all in 2015-16, it is widely considered the most unlikely championship in all of sports.
Let’s start with Wolves. Raúl Jiménez is in fine form, starring for Mexico at the Gold Cup where he captured the Gold Ball. Willy Boly headlines an overlooked defensive grouping, and the core of the seventh-place Wolves team from last season is intact. If Jiménez’s hot start continues into the Premier League, they could catch one of the falling powers.
Everton is always on the brink of cracking the top six and this is the year that the other Merseyside outfit should be poised to capitalize. Kean is one of Europe’s most promising talents, while former Barcelona midfielder Andre Gomes adds flair to a team that has enough attacking options to keep pace with the latter end of the top six. Jordan Pickford’s 14 clean sheets ranked third in the PL and they shouldn’t be slept on.
It’s unfair to expect Leicester City to repeat their 2016 magic, but make no mistake, this team has talent. Jamie Vardy and Kelechi Iheanacho form a dangerous, if combustible striker pairing, while Belgian international Youri Tielemans is a legitimate candidate to win PFA Young Player of the Year. The top-end ability on this team might be enough to crack the top six. We can’t wait.
Is Harry Maguire enough to heal Old Trafford?
Harry Maguire is being paid like the world’s best defender, joining Manchester United from Leicester after the Red Devils paid a reported $97 million for the English international.
He’s not the world’s best defender — that title could go to Liverpool’s Van Djik, much to the chagrin of United supporters everywhere — but he is being asked to repair a unit that often was in shambles during the 2018-19 campaign.
Despite boasting one of the world’s best keepers in David De Gea, United’s 54 goals allowed was the 11th-best mark in the Premier League, an untenable record if the club is to approach results anywhere close to their glory days. Aaron Wan-Bissaka joins United as a talented right-back, and the club has somewhat addressed their most glaring need under the watch of Ole Gunnar Solksjaer, who saved the club from a lost season, toiling under the madness of Jose Mourinho.
If Maguire can shore up United’s defence, expect his profile to continue to skyrocket. It’s hard to believe he was signed by Leicester for a mere 17 million pounds two summers ago. Now it’s time to prove why he should be considered among the world’s best, tasked with fixing the defensive reputation one of the truly global clubs.