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Premier League: The battle of the champions

  • The English Premier League 2019-20 season begins today
  • Champions Manchester City and European champions Liverpool are favourites

Pep Guardiola (left) and Jürgen Klopp at the Community Shield match.
Pep Guardiola (left) and Jürgen Klopp at the Community Shield match. (Photo: Getty Images)

And so, football season is finally here again. Mid-May to early August is typically a fallow period for followers of European clubs—they must content themselves with transfer rumours and catching up with players’ holiday photographs on Instagram.

For the fans, the leagues couldn’t begin any sooner. This week, the biggest and the most popular of the European leagues, the Premier League, gets under way.

Exactly like last season, 2019-20 will also be a straight contest for supremacy between defending champions Manchester City and European champions Liverpool. The two clubs were separated by just a point last year, and if 4 August’s remarkably feisty Community Shield game between the two is anything to go by, very little separates them even now. Both have settled squads full of talent and nous; managers with very clear systems and an intense drive to win; and a great rivalry in the making. Neither has made big moves in this transfer window, although City have broken their club transfer record to buy midfielder Rodri from Atlético Madrid.

It’s clear that both Pep Guardiola and Jürgen Klopp are counting on their existing squads to deliver. Liverpool crave to be league champions—this will be the 30th anniversary of their last win—and Manchester City would like nothing better than to be European champions, so the stage is set for a long and sustained battle. In terms of sheer numbers, the two teams are streets ahead of the competition. Last year, third-placed Chelsea finished 25 points behind Liverpool (26 behind City). Liverpool and City scored a combined 184 goals and conceded only 45. In comparison, Chelsea and Tottenham, the third- and fourth-placed teams, respectively, scored 130 goals and let in 78.

This year, Chelsea are in flux, with a new and inexperienced manager in Frank Lampard. They are also reeling under a transfer ban from Uefa, which means they can’t add to their squad till next summer. On top of that, Chelsea have lost one of the best players in the world, Eden Hazard, to Real Madrid, and will be all the poorer for that loss. The club will have to depend on youth players from their academy to bridge the gap, which means that a top four finish should be viewed as a good result for them.

Tottenham Hotspurs are in as good a place as they will ever be to challenge the Liverpool-City duopoly this season. 2019-20 will be manager Mauricio Pochettino’s fifth season in charge, and he too has a settled squad that he has refreshed with the club record arrival of midfielder Tanguy Ndombele. If midfield lynchpin Christian Eriksen stays put, playing alongside such attacking talents as Harry Kane, Dele Alli and Heung-min Son, then Tottenham can take a crack at the Premier League title. Teenage defender Ryan Sessgnon and midfielder Giovani Lo Ceslo are excellent additions to the squad. Pochettino led them to their first Champions League final last season, a remarkable achievement, but it remains to be seen if the final loss to Liverpool will galvanize Spurs this season, or create a mental block.

Of the rest of the so-called “Top Six" of English football, Arsenal and Manchester United could have wildly varied seasons. Of the two, Arsenal is better settled, with manager Unai Emery beginning his second season in charge. Although the Gunners have broken their transfer record to bring in the attacking winger Nicolas Pépé from Lille, they still haven’t figured out a clear playing style, and it remains unclear how star forward Mesut Özil will slot into the system. Arsenal might soar, but they might also implode.

Manchester United, English football’s most successful club, now have the world’s most expensive defender in Harry Maguire. But they still haven’t figured out what to do with wantaway star Paul Pogba while Romelu Lukaku has moved to Inter Milan. Manager Ole Gunnar Solskjær started as a wildly successful interim manager last season but the team’s form nosedived as soon as the position became permanent. Much like Arsenal, United’s season could go any which way, though a respectable sixth-place finish is probably most likely, especially with the world’s most expensive defender, Harry Maquire, in their midst. But Solskjær may not survive the full season.

The Premier League kicks off on Saturday, with Liverpool playing Norwich at 12.30am IST. In India, you can watch all the league games streaming live on Hotstar VIP. You can also watch a selection of the games on the Star Sports Network.

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