No one came close to catching Manchester City in the Premier League last season. City set a league record with 100 points, 19 more than second-place Manchester United. The new season, which kicked off Friday, comes down to whether anyone can stop the Citizens from rolling to another title. The champions have no obvious flaws and have lost no players from last year’s team.
The main contender to dethrone them is Liverpool. Manager Jurgen Klopp took the Reds all the way to the Champions League final a season ago. But perhaps most important, his side defeated Manchester City three times — once in the league, twice in the Champions League.
It’s taken Klopp three years and hundreds of millions of dollars to rebuild Liverpool, once the perennial champion of England, into a dynasty-challenging title candidate, as he once did with Borussia Dortmund in Germany. If Klopp can defeat Bayern Munich, as he did there, he can beat Manchester City.
Liverpool also has addressed weaknesses in goal and with its midfield depth, and has added support for forward Mo Salah, last year’s Premier League leading scorer. If Liverpool is ever going to lift a league or European title again, this is the year.
Across town from City is Manchester United, which should by rights be gearing up for a title challenge of its own. Instead, manager Jose Mourinho has engaged in a public campaign to embarrass his team’s front office, repeatedly complaining about the quality of the squad that has been expensively assembled over his tenure.
At Real Madrid, and twice at Chelsea, Mourinho’s incessant whining wore thin and led to his firing during his third year in charge. It seems likely to happen again, and unless it happens very quickly and gives a new manager time to work a miracle, it’s hard to see United being the one to knock off City.
The three big-money clubs in London are likely to occupy the other top spots in the league, but Chelsea, Tottenham and Arsenal don’t appear to have enough to challenge City. Chelsea and Arsenal both have new managers. Former Napoli manager Maurizio Sarri is tasked with loosening up Chelsea and putting a bit of offensive fun back in the club. Former Paris Saint-Germain manager Unai Emery aims to do the exact opposite at Arsenal. Mauricio Pochettino is still in charge of Tottenham, but the team’s new stadium means that it could not afford to add any new players.
Outside the Big Six, expect the usual scramble to first ensure safety from relegation, then perhaps cause trouble for the big boys. Newly promoted Fulham, led by U.S. center back Tim Ream, is one to watch for American fans, especially given the team’s free-flowing style of play.
The top six, though, will be the focus, with signs pointing to another Manchester City procession to the title.
• I’m picking Cardiff City, Brighton and Hove Albion, and Watford to be the three teams relegated from the Premier League this season. Cardiff isn’t deep enough, Brighton can’t score enough, and Watford can’t keep its head above water for another season.
• The North Carolina Courage is making a case to be considered one of the best women’s soccer teams of all time. The team clinched the National Women’s Soccer League regular-season title with four games to go. It also defeated European champion Lyon in an exhibition tournament. Lyon was in its preseason, but the Courage was missing six key players who were with the U.S. national team, so the victory is still impressive. For a league that usually sees a lot of parity, North Carolina’s dominance has been nothing short of astonishing.
• Serie A will be televised in the United States after all this year, as ESPN picked up the rights. A game of the week will be shown on regular television; expect this to mostly be games involving Juventus and Cristiano Ronaldo. The rest of the league’s games will be on ESPN+, the network’s online streaming service.