TWELVE months ago the new Premier League season was being billed as the battle of the superstar managers, a contest comprehensively won by Antonio Conte.
By GAFAR DHMIE
PUBLISHED: 10:30, Sat, Aug 6 2017
Antonio Conte steamrolled the Premier League in his first season in charge of Chelsea This time, thankfully, the focus is much more on the players — and in particular on the shoot-out between the big-name strikers bought to deliver goals and glory.
Manchester United have led the way in splashing £80million on Romelu Lukaku to end their under-achievement in the League since the retirement four years ago of Sir Alex Ferguson. It is a colossal amount, and represents a heavy burden for the bullish Belgian striker and his manager Jose Mourinho, who needs a spectacular League campaign. So, too, is the £70million spent by Chelsea on the Spanish ace Alvaro Morata to fill the hole left by disgruntled Diego Costa.
It is nine years since anyone successfully defended English football’s greatest prize, and the previous two winning managers were sacked midway through the next campaign. Chelsea will need goals galore. Morata was a club record signing, and so was the £52.7million fee splurged by Arsenal for the clever French forward Alexandre Lacazette,a proven scorer at Lyon. If any of these three can out-gun the Premier League’s current goal-king Harry Kane the chances are that their club will be fighting for the title next May. Manchester City with their acquisition last season of young Brazilian talent Gabriel Jesus, who is likely to be first choice ahead of Sergio Aguero? His promise is dazzling.
Gabriel Jesus has plenty of promise and could lead Manchester City to glory If the pressure is on Mourinho, the same is true of Pep Guardiola at City after failure to land any silverware in his first season in English football. Most of his summer spending has been on completely revamping the City defence, spending an astonishing £50million on Spurs right back Kyle Walker. Guardiola’s team will play the purest football, and if there will now be resolute strength at the back it could be a winning formula. It remains a giant IF. In truth, you can make a case for all of top six to win the title this season, including Arsenal — even though they have taken a gamble by sticking with veteran manager Arsene Wenger when a section of the home crowd appears to remain hostile. Kyle Walker says he is a little nervous to work under Guardiola
City are the bookies favourites, but only by a whisker from Chelsea and United. Then come Tottenham, Arsenal and Liverpool in that order. Spurs have the advantage of a settled yet dynamic young side, but how wil they fare with Wembley as a temporary home? It would be folly to write off Liverpool when they have a manager as charismatic as Jurgen Klopp. Their signing of Mohamed Salah for £37million could be the best of the summer. The prospect of a stunning outsider capturing the title like Leicester did two years ago is remote. But that doesn’t mean the rest of the League will be dull — anything but.
Mohamed Salah for Liverpool could be the signing of the season Everton have high ambition under the guidance of impressive Ronald Koeman, and it will be fascinating to see what impact another highly rated Dutch manager Frank De Boer will have at Crystal Palace after several years of excellence at Ajax. Can England’s anxious goalkeeper Joe Hart revive his career at West Ham? How will Huddersfield and Brighton fare back in the big time with attractive teams? Will the intelligence of Rafa Benitez inspire the welcome return of Newcastle to the Premier League? And let’s hope for further evidence that English managers can be trusted with good seasons for Eddie Howe, Paul Clement and Sean Dyche.