By Andrew Warshaw
September 11 – Having won their first English league title for 30 long and painful years, Liverpool kick off the defence of their crown this weekend as they attempt to disprove the old adage that it’s harder to win it second time round.
After just a seven-week break following the belated conclusion of the previous campaign because of Covid-19, Liverpool take on newly-promoted Leeds United at the start of their quest for back-to-back crowns knowing that Manchester City – and possibly Chelsea too given their buck-trending heavy spending – will be hunting them down over the next eight months.
With matches continuing to be played behind closed doors, at least until the end of October, finances have been badly hit though that hasn’t stopped Chelsea from dwarfing the rest with a £200 million outlay that included a club record £71 million on Germany’s Kai Havertz, dubbed the new Eden Hazard, and Austrian sharpshooter Timo Werner.
Nothing beats the live full house matchday experience but even without that, there are plenty of intriguing sub-plots, not least Pep Guardiola’s determination, helped by the much-needed defence-boosting acquisition of Nathan Ake, to grab the title back after finishing 18 points behind Jurgen Klopp’s champions.
Chelsea can afford no excuses while Manchester United will not be content either if they don’t challenge for the title, given the resources at their disposal in virtually every position.
As for the chasing pack, Everton look eye-catchingly strong in midfield after heavy summer investment while rivals Arsenal and Tottenham Hotspur will surely once again have to rely on the fitness and form of their respective marksmen, Pierre-Emerick Aubameyang and Harry Kane, to pose any kind of serious threat though Tottenham manager Jose Mourinho, with more to prove than most in his first full term in charge, will not be content simply with north London supremacy.
First things first. The season kicks off at mid-day tomorrow (Saturday) as newly-promoted Fulham take on Arsenal followed later in the day by that mouth-watering fixture – reminiscent of the 1970s – as Liverpool, largely keeping faith with their existing squad, host once-mighty Leeds, back in the top flight after a 16-year absence and determined to stay there.
There are six other fixtures between Saturday and Monday though both Manchester clubs have been given extra rest following their Champions League and Europa League exploits meaning their games against Aston Villa and Burnley have been postponed, with all four clubs kicking off a week late.
Interestingly, there is a small window for everyone to beef things up if they start off badly or suffer injuries. Because of the unusual situation brought about by Covid-19, clubs have until October 5 to strengthen their squads in an extended transfer window though it will not, as we now know, include Lionel Messi lining up for Manchester City.
One fresh innovation is that players and match officials will wear “No Room For Racism” badges on their shirts for the entirety of the 2020-21 season, replacing the “Black Lives Matter” logo that previously appeared.
“We, our clubs, players and match officials have a long-standing commitment to tackling discrimination,” Premier League chief executive Richard Masters said in a statement.
“Discrimination in any form, anywhere is wholly unacceptable and ‘No Room For Racism’ makes our zero-tolerance stance clear. We’ll not stand still on this important issue and we’ll continue to work with our clubs, players and partners to address all prejudiced behaviour.”
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