By Andrew Warshaw
August 13 – The English Premier League season kicks off this weekend with the usual suspects likely to fight it out for the spoils – along with some intriguing sub-plots.
In the build-up to the weekend – in actual fact tonight when newly promoted Brentford take on Arsenal in the first fixture of the new campaign – much of the talk still surrounds the prospective transfer of one player, Harry Kane. Just as it has for weeks on end.
The England captain is unlikely to feature in Tottenham’s eagerly awaited clash with Manchester City on Sunday, partly because of lack of training, partly because City is his most likely destination if a deal can be struck that would make him the most expensive player in English football history.
Unless of course he stays where he is under new Spurs manager Nuno Espirito Santo which seems unlikely.
City romped to the title last season – their third in four years – by a staggering 12-point margin over rivals Manchester United. Having added Jack Grealish to their ranks for a cool £100 million, and with a fit-again Kevin de Bruyne, it seems inconceivable that the blue half of Manchester will be usurped – especially if Kane arrives as well.
Sergio Aguero is the only notable departure so the only way City can be toppled, on paper at least, is if they take their eye off the ball and focus on the elusive Champions League.
European champions Chelsea, who beat Pep Guardiola’s team in last season’s all-English Champions League final, are bound to be in the chasing pack, especially after splashing out £97.5 million on Romelu Lukaku. Manchester United have also been busy by recruiting England starlet Jadon Sancho and defender Raphael Varane while Liverpool will hope that the fit-again Virgil Van Dijk can propel them back into contention.
It’s hard to see any others making a significant impact though Leicester, who narrowly missed out on fourth under Brendan Rodgers last time out, again look like being the best of the rest though north London rivals Arsenal and Tottenham, both of whom have brought in expensive central defenders, will be keen to improve on eighth and seventh respectively.
The bookies have Norwich, Brentford and Watford, the three promoted teams from last year’s Championship, as favourites for the drop. But more often than not, one of the three who goes up, stays up and Norwich look best placed of the trio to do just that.
Players, officials and fans will welcome a revised VAR system, similar to the one UEFA brought in for their club competitions.
“On marginal offside, we’ve now effectively re-introduced the benefit of the doubt to the attacking player,” Premier League referees’ chief Mike Riley said. “So the toenails, the noses of the players who are offside …. they might have been offside last season but next season they won’t be.”
Accidental handball has also been modified to try and make the game fairer while, perhaps more joyously than anything else, full crowds are being allowed back after the disruption and turmoil caused by Covid-19 – albeit with proof of vaccination and/or negative testing which will become very much the norm for the foreseeble future.
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