352NG looks ahead to the season ahead with daily previews of the top 5 leagues as football season resumes across Europe.
It’s been over 2 months! Champions Leicester City would wish the fairy-tale could last a little longer. Their fans are still in dreamland especially after seeing their team play in the Community Shield against veterans Manchester United.
The Premier League has returned like the superhero who arrives just in time to save the day. Premier League fans are finally jubilant after being starved of quality football all summer (no offense to the Euros). A certainty? 2016/2017 will produce a different spectacle!
For starters, the Premier League has morphed into the Premier League, Barclays has been shrugged off as a name sponsor. A new logo has been unveiled too.
The unfamiliar sight (like swimming in the Kalahari) of the Foxes beginning the season as defending champions still stuns. The King Power Stadium could see 3 major differences; the pressure, Champions League, and a poached star(s). So far Ngolo Kante has switched his blue threads to Chelsea’s kit. Is there more to come?
This could be why the pundits have pegged Leicester to finish mid-table but with football, you never know!
Is Manchester red? Well, one half will be commanded by former Blues coach Jose Mourinho. An uninspiring spell under Louis van Gaal was still adorned with a stellar record… the most backward passes in 2015/2016 (3,222). The good times seem to be back though.
The Red Devils have stomped through the transfer market, pipping Real Madrid to Paul Pogba in a deal worth over £100m. That deal crowned other brilliant captures for a team outside the Champions League. Zlatan Ibrahimovic, Henrikh Mhkitaryan and Eric Bailly also joined in Ed Woodward’s best window to date.
Across the city, Pep Guardiola wants to oversee another Blue Moon rising. Watch out for this subplot; rebooting the love story he shares with his Portuguese arch nemesis. The noisy neighbours have been actively involved in the market too. A £157m transfer outlay has brought in Ilkay Gundogan, Nolito, Leroy Sane, Gabriel Jesus and John Stones. Maybe Manchester City can finally grab the Champions League?
Speaking of the Champions League, perennial attendants Arsenal will extend their consecutive appearances to 19 this season. The ever prudent Arsene Wenger still continues to dilly-dally in the transfer market. Granit Xhaka is the only major signing so far.
He needs to move fast with his 3 senior centre backs all out of contention. Unless immediate actions are made, even the beloved 4th place finish could prove elusive.
Elsewhere in London, the Stamford Bridge furniture is being remodelled after an abysmal season that peaked with a 2-2 draw against Tottenham Hotspur. In some sobering perspective, Chelsea will be without football on Tuesday, Wednesday or even Thursday nights. A first in the John Mikel Obi era!
Appointing the turbo Antonio powered Conte should breathe life into the team along with new signings Mitchy Batschuayi and Kante. After all, he pushed one of the less than exciting Italian teams in recent memory as far as the Euro 2016 quarter finals. He is new to the English league though, fans will do well to manage expectations.
What is expected elsewhere in the top half? Liverpool under the animated Jurgen Klopp posted impressive numbers with the ‘ghen-ghen’ pressing mode. The Reds made a league high 870 tackles last term. Already boasting 2 finals in his first season, they should be a team others remain wary of.
Spurs have not made major headlines in the transfer market yet they must not be overlooked. This group of players will enter 2016/2017 with a burning desire to right their wrongs. Additions like Victor Wanyama and Thomas Janssen have arrived to help Mauricio Pochettino. The plan is to ensure the North London side do not do a “Tottenham” once again.
The pain of the 2015/2016 season was epitomised by Harry Kane. “When people think Arsenal had a bad season and we’ve had a good one, yet they still finish above us, it hurts,” he mulled ruefully.
Make no mistake, the league could be a total minefield this year. Expect West Ham, Southampton and Everton, amongst others to provide the explosives. We have become accustomed to 2 to 3 horse-races. This time, a cursory look at the stables and by God there are so many horses.