Ruud Van Nistelrooy is remembered as one of the most lethal goalscorers the Premier League has ever seen. Following two league titles at PSV, his ability to find the back of the net attracted attention from Manchester United.
His move was delayed by a year due to injury concerns but he finally signed for the club for a then British record fee of £19 million in 2001 and made his debut on this day, 15 years ago.
A trophy-laden spell at United follow where he won the Premier League, FA Cup, Football League Cup and FA Community Shield. Van Nistelrooy scored 150 times in just 219 games for United.
1935: Babe Ruth’s final game at Fenway Park, 41,766 on hand.
1964: Mickey Mantle switch-hits HR record 10th & final time in a game.
1972: Ian & Greg Chappell both scores centuries in same Test Cricket innings.
2007: 89th PGA Championship: Tiger Woods shoots a 272 at Southern Hills Country Club.
On the first weekend of Premier League action for 2016-17 Sport360 speaks to the UAE satellite supporters’ clubs and finds out their predictions for the season.
IAN HARPER, AFC BOURNEMOUTH UAE
Prediction: I am really looking forward to our second season in the Premier League after surviving a tough first campaign. Whilst a couple of key players have left, manager Eddie Howe has made some exciting signings and some key players are returning from long term injuries, all of which bodes well in avoiding the ‘second season syndrome’.
We finished 16th last season and I am predicting 14th for this campaign, but I would take anything above the bottom three to keep the Premier League dream alive!
Best Signing: Jordon Ibe is the club’s record signing (£15 Million from Liverpool) and has looked the part in preseason, so will interesting to see how he fits into the midfield.
Player to Watch: I am looking forward to seeing striker Callum Wilson getting a full season in – he looked dangerous when he came back from injury and played a handful of games at the end of last season.
RICHARD DCRUZE, ARSENAL UAE
Prediction: Last season should’ve been ours. We were on course to finally winning the league after 12 years. Then the January transfer market happened.
As always, Wenger did not address the major problems that needed attention. The squad was hampered with injuries, with Santi Cazorla, Danny Welbeck, Alex-Oxlaide Chamberlain and many more on the sidelines for months. And only one outfield player in Mohamed Elneny was signed.
Stupid losses and draws from January to April, including the humiliating 2-3 defeat to an under-aged and inexperienced Manchester United, saw Arsenal drop points and fall down to their regular fourth place battle; we only have Tottenham to thank for helping us finish as runners-up.
I have a feeling this season will be no different, or much more difficult. Klopp has gotten his grips on Liverpool and we will see two new faces in Conte and Guardiola – both of whom have already strengthened their respective squads with high profile signings.
And then there is Jose Mourinho who’s always been a thorn in our side and already brought killer talent to revive Manchester United.
But the fact remains that with only just a few days left for the season opener, we still don’t have a striker. Wenger must act quick and bring someone – otherwise we’re in for another season of disappointment – especially if once-in-a-blue-moon goal threat, Giroud, leads the line.
Best Signing: I’m really excited to see our only high profile signing – Granit Xhaka – link up with Santi Cazorla and Coquelin in midfield. After watching his every move during the Euros, I reckon he will be a driving force for Arsenal. Hope he bangs in some killer goals from outside the box, too.
Player to Watch: Should Chuba Akpom get a chance to play, I think he’d be a player to watch out for. He’s really impressed so far in pre-season.
ANDREW SALMON, DUBAI CLARETS – BURNLEY
Prediction: I feel we will manage to stay up this year even though the fans are very upset due to the club making £100m last season to only spend £6m on Pope and Gudmundsson.
Best Signing: Johann Gudmundsson – Bought from Charlton same day as Pope again undisclosed fee (£1.5m) Iceland international played in the Euros. Watched him play against Real Sociedad last week , very strong player and will have a major role to play this season.
Player to Watch: Andre Grey – The Championship’s leading goalscorer last season with 25 goals has scored in all the pre season friendlies including a hatrick against Rangers. Grey will be pivotal this season if The Clarets are to remain in the Premier League.
TOBY YOUNG, CHELSEA UAE SUPPORTERS’ CLUB
Prediction: It was a strange start to pre-season watching Conte on the touchline at Euro 2016. The Italian team seemed to be marshaled well, based on strong foundations at the back. Since joining Chelsea he has not had the full resources at his disposal until recently and you can slowly see his team taking shape. There is even the chance that youth will have a role to play in the squad, although I am a little unsure why Ruben Loftus-Cheek would be considered a striker.
Chelsea have been relatively quiet in the transfer market compared to the two Manchester clubs. In part I think this is due to Conte’s involvement in Euro 2016, and his focus being on the Italian national team. We seem to have strengthened in two key areas; midfield with Kante, and upfront with Batsuayshi.
Costa was a little unreliable last season and the same could be said of our shield in front of the back four. That said we still lack a something in defense and are also carrying a lot of dead wood.
My prediction for this season would be for Chelsea to sneak into the Champions League places with Manchester United the ultimate victors in the title race.
Best Signing: N’Golo Kante – He did a fantastic job for Leicester last year. Box-to-box and broke up play very well. I expect him to be able to do the same for Chelsea this season and offer security in front of the back four.
Player to Watch: I think Chelsea’s key player this season will not be a new signing but more a player seemingly trying to return to form last seen in the title winning season of 2014/15; Eden Hazard. If he can replicate the form he showed that season then he will breathe a breath of fresh air into the team.
KEITH MAISEY, CPFC DUBAI SUPPORTERS’ CLUB – CRYSTAL PALACE
Prediction: This could be of the most exciting seasons that football has seen with the calibre of managers on show let alone players. For palace we definitely have something to prove as our league position last season didn’t quite meet the early predictions.
A great run to the FA cup final probably took the edge off a little bit. We have started well in the transfer window and if we bring the goalscorer in that we desperately desire a top 10 finish should be an easily achievable target for us.
Best Signing: Andros Townsend – Townsend has looked sharp in preseason and early indications are that he could be key.
Player to Watch: Wilfried Zaha – One to watch along with Townsend.
MIKE JONES, EVERTON FANS DUBAI
Prediction: For this season, we need to get back to the basics of closing out games. The amount of points thrown away over that last 18 months is ridiculous. I’m sure Koeman will get our defence working again and we can build from there. If we keep Lukaku and feed him chances, a top 6-8 finish should be our aim along with a decent showing in both cups.
Best Signing: Well, we have Gueye from Villa and Williams has come in, we have lacked an on the pitch leader for a few seasons so he fits the bill. Lots of chatter of “marquee” signings but let’s see.
Player to Watch: Gerard Deulofeu – He’s one of the few players that can be having a nothing game and change it in a flash. Genuine superstar potential. (But about as fit as I am. i.e. not very!)
CHRIS TAYSOM – HULL CITY
Predictions: Thoughts for the season are that it’s not looking promising for the Tigers. 13 fit players, a care-taker manager and the worst owners in football history don’t make for a good start. To say we have had a disruptive pre-season is a massive understatement. The club is in turmoil.
The fans’ main objective for the season is damage limitations, and I know a few loyal fans who have even bet on City beating Derby’s record low points total – a far cry from the jubilation of Wembley in May!
Best Signing: Well we haven’t made any! When Peter Odemwingie (the player who once drove 200 miles to try and force a move to QPR) even turns down moving to the club after a trial you know it isn’t going well!
Player to Watch: On a positive note, Abel Hernandez seemed to find his feet last season, and Hull will need him to continue his goal scoring to give the club any chance of survival.
DENISE MIDGLEY – LEICESTER CITY
Prediction: Nothing much has changed for us. We lost Kante to Chelsea and whilst that is a big loss in midfield we have straightened the whole team to take on board the extra games we will be playing in Europe.
Because of the fact we have had little change and strengthened I predict a top four finish. Why not? We won by 10 clear points. The so called ‘bigger teams’ have bought in big players.
We proved last year that it is not about the amount of money spent, but about work, commitment, team spirit, belief and fearlessness to the end. We will remain a force to be reckoned with.
Best Signing: Musa is the new Messi. He was on fire in the second half of the Barcelona friendly.
Player to Watch: Kapustka, the polish winger that we signed for £7.5m is an exciting find. Watch out for our young lads coming into their own. Demarai Gray and Ben Chilwell. They both played in the international friendlies against some of the biggest names is the world and they held their own.
VANCE MACHADO, DUBAI REDS – LIVERPOOL
Prediction: Liverpool have signed players in almost all areas of the pitch in Loris Karius, Ragnar Klavan & Joel Matip to strengthen their back line and Georginio Wijnaldum & Sadio Mane to bolster the attack. With Karius already sidelined for 8 weeks, Simon Mignolet has a good chance to cement his place in the starting eleven.
There has been a total of 18 outgoings till date out of which nine are permanent and the rest on loan. The most notable of them were Joe Allen moving to Stoke City, Jordan Ibe departing for Bournemouth and Martin Skrtel heading to Fenerbahce. Liverpool supporters would be happy to see more new arrivals and maybe there could be 1-2 new recruits before the summer is out.
Perhaps a left back, center midfielder or winger? Along with the intakes there will be a few outgoings, most notably Christian Benteke & Mario Balotelli who could join the departures list.
Joel Matip had been solid in the opening 3 games of pre season, but Klavan has really settled well with his very astute way of defending alongside Dejan Lovren most notably in the 4-0 win against Barcelona in the ICC CHAMPIONS CUP.
Best Signing: Sadio Mane – Along with Georginio Wijnaldum, Mane’s one of the most expensive arrivals at Anfield so far. Mane adds something Liverpool didn’t have from their attacking midfield which was pace and goals while the Wijnaldum adds more versatility to the center of the park or on the wings with his excellent pressing ability and passing vision to do something with the ball on the counter attack after the press.
Player to Watch: That would be Roberto Firmino, as he has put on some weight during the summer and he has undergone a good preseason under Klopp. I think he will definitely score 15+ goals this season.
STEPEHN MCWILLIAM, MCFC ABU DHABI BLUES – MANCHESTER CITY
Prediction: City finished a disappointing fourth last season under Manuel Pellegrini, although progress was made in the Champions League.
However, their domestic woes of 2015/16 have been quickly forgotten following the arrival of former Barcelona and Bayern Munich boss Pep Guardiola, who has added a real buzz around the club.
Pep brings with him a wealth of experience at the top level and he is regarded as one of the finest bosses in world football.
It’s no secret City are looking to win the Champions League and I think he will deliver at domestic level and on the European stage.
The City owners have sent out a clear message to the rest off Europe by bringing in the most sought after manager in today’s game.
If City can keep Kompany and Aguero fit and with new signings Sane, Nolito and Gundogan adding more attacking options, I think we will regain the title under Pep.
Best Signing: John Stones! If the 22 year-old plays alongside Kompany, learns and is coached really well by someone like Pep Guardiola, I think you will be soon watching a world class centre half and the future captain of the club and country.
Player to Watch: Kevin De Bruyne. He was setting the Premier league on fire last season until an injury kept him out for a number of weeks resulting in a dip in form on his return.
Injury-free and has an eye for goal. I think he will be the most dangerous attacking midfielder in the Premier league this season.
OMAR OTHMAN, MUSC UAE – MANCHESTER UNITED
Prediction: This is probably going to be the best Premier League season ever. The best managers in the world are all in now with only a couple of exceptions. After last season’s excellent and well-deserved success for Leicester, everyone will be up to make sure they don’t retain the title and each club will aim to claim what they believe is theirs for the taking.
Mourinho at United has brought back confidence and unshackled the players, a massive change will be seen at United this season and I predict a title challenge from the team. Ask me who would win the league – no idea! Everyone is up for it, United, City, Chelsea, Liverpool, Arsenal, Spurs, Leicester…. Who knows….
Best Signing: #POGBACK – Having absorbed the majority of the headlines over recent weeks the debate of whether or not he’s worth it will go on. His return to the club will attract massive attention. If he has a strong enough head on him (which I’m sure he does) he will be able to silence his doubters and his return to where he belongs will prove to be the best decision he ever made!
Player to Watch: Zlatan is going to be an entertaining addition to United. His physical presence and personality is going to be brilliant for the season. Many doubted his arrival at United, I hope they watch closely as he smashes in each and every goal he’s going to score this season. I’ll be shocked if he gets less than 25 goals this season.
MARK APPLEYARD, BORO IN DUBAI – MIDDLESBROUGH
Prediction: In effect, the building for Boro’s campaign started last season and moving on from that base, we have been the most active of all teams in the summer with nine additions to date, a mixture of transfers and loan deals.
Previous experience tends to cause Boro fans to be cautious in our predictions, but with the investment the Chairman has made in the club, and with the strength and depth we now have, a top 10 finish and a major cup final is not beyond reach. After Leicester’s performance last season, I’ve had a flutter on a top 3 place.
Best Signing: The recruitment of seasoned high-level performers such as Valdes and Negredo are catching the headlines.
Player to Watch: Personally, I’m looking for big seasons from lower profile but no lesser signings Viktor Fischer and de Roon, who I don’t expect to be wearing gloves in the winter.
PHILIP HUGHES: DUBAI SAINTS – SOUTHAMPTON
Prediction: Southampton again enter the season in alleged turmoil after the media decided we were in meltdown all summer – Ha! The departure of Ronald Koeman was swiftly forgotten with the smooth appointment of former Nice manager Claude Puel.
The departure of Wanyama to Spurs was expected, we will miss his presence but not his red cards – Oriol Romeru is a natural replacement and a fans favourite Sadio Mane was still developing and left a year too soon for his development. Liverpool must have a curse that force them to give us silly money for someone every year!
Saints have improved every season for seven years, but an extended run in the Europa League could stretch the squad. Expect to see youth players fill the gaps. Quality with potential not squad depth.
Finishing 7th will be a great achievement for Saints, as will qualification for the knock-out phase of the Europa League.
Best Signing: Bayern Munich box-to-box midfielder Pierre-Emile Hojbjerg – finally a replacement for Morgan Schneiderlin. Nathan Redmond (from Norwich) will get attention but Pierre seems to have real class about him in midfield.
Player to Watch: Shane Long – An extended run in the team last season and he was on fire. If he adds clinical finishing he will be one of the top rated strikers in the league.
AARON SARGEANT, DUBAI POTTERS – STOKE CITY
Prediction: 9th, 9th and 9th are our last three finishes in the league. Consistency in league positions, but inconsistency on the pitch last season. This is the season where we improve on past positions and hopefully fight for a European place IF certain transfer targets are successful.
Marko Arnautovic signing a new contract this summer was huge and shows how far we’ve come as a club to keep a player like that from leaving. However it is integral we do not rely on him as much as we have done. Having only scored 41 goals (15th compared to other teams) there is a definite need to bring in a new striker.
If we do sign a marquee 15 goals a season man, then I can see us pushing on and improving on the past three seasons. Players in their second season at the club such as Shaqiri and Imbula now need to step up and reflect the price we paid for them and prove their international reputation.
Defensively, we were poor last season. Still not replacing Robert Huth, losing Shawcross and Johnson through to injuries and conceding several goals from set pieces (very un-Stoke like) were all factors in this.
We have gone from one end of the spectrum under Pulis to the other under Hughes – highlighted by Marc Wilson’s recent twitter outburst saying they don’t even do any defensive training anymore. We need to sign a top centre half and make the Bet 365 stadium a fortress again – being hard to beat and closing out games better than before whilst still maintaining the flair we now possess in the final third. Predicted finish: 8th.
Best Signing: Only making two first team signings so far and one being relatively unknown, Joe Allen is the signing I’m most excited about seeing. If he can take his Euro 2016 form into this season then our midfield is a hell of a lot stronger with him.
Player to Watch: Shaqiri – Now in his second season at the club, this could be the season where he proves his potential.
TREVOR SMITH – SUNDERLAND
Prediction: After narrowly escaping relegation last season, I think the Sunderland fans had a genuine feeling of optimism going forward. Big Sam had brought in some decent players in the January window with the likes of Kone, M’Villa & Kazhi all making an impact.
Particularly Kone with Kaboul in defence, which had given us a stability that had been missing for a number of years. So it was with a heavy heart that we said goodbye to Sam Allardyce.
The club were swift in appointing David Moyes, I suppose the question is – who else was available out there that would want to come to Sunderland?
He has a reputation for bringing young players through and his scouting network is excellent. With Moyes appointed, it was like we were starting at the back of the transfer queue and we have only signed three players to date.
We have a weaker team than last season, where we only just managed to avoid relegation. Our first match is away Man City so it’s pretty much guaranteed that we will be bottom of the table come the end of the first weekend.
I can’t see us finishing any higher than 15th position. Unfortunately, I can’t see anything other than another season-long relegation battle. I don’t want to be negative but it just has the feeling that we are going to rely on Jermaine Defoe again to score all the goals and then is enough to keep us up. Well we have no replacement if Defoe gets injured.
If it is a particularly bad start to the season, maybe the fans frustration will boil over and there will be protests towards the chairman.
Best Signing: We have only made three signings so far, so I am not really excited about any of them. We paid £8 million for Papy Djilobodji from Chelsea, who only played three matches for the Blues last season and they were all in the league cup.
Paddy McNair & Donald Love have come through at Manchester United so will obviously be talented footballers but are they enough to add to our squad?
Player to Watch: If we keep hold of him then Lamine Kone will be our greatest asset this season, if he goes before the transfer deadline then its all down to Jermain Defoe. He will have to be our star man and score 15 to 20 goals otherwise it will be a very long season for the Mackems.
I am hopeful Moyes can put his arm around Jack Rodwell and get the best out of him. It wasn’t too long ago some people were comparing his powerful runs from midfield to a young Paul Gascoigne.
OLIVER LEWIS, DUBAI SWANS – SWANSEA CITY
Prediction: I think it’ll be an interesting season this year for the Swans, a few players have left, some new faces have arrived and I hope we sign one or two more before the transfer window closes at the end of the month.
We had a difficult start to the season last year but I think we’ll be more consistent from the get go this time, I think we’ll finish higher than last year, so I’ll go for 10th place.
I also think we’ll kick on in the cup competitions as we became a harder team to beat during the latter stages of the last campaign, so I don’t think a semi-final place is out of our grasp.
Best Signing: I’ll be very much looking forward to seeing some of the new strikers in action including Spanish World Cup winner Fernando Llorente.
Player to Watch: It’ll be great to welcome back the lads that were involved in the Euros, but as a stand out individual again, it will be Icelandic midfielder Gylfi Sigurdsson.
RAAD JABOORI, UAE SPURS – TOTTENHAM HOTSPUR
Prediction: Champions. Spurs had the youngest average age squad last season and challenged for the title until the last couple of games. We’ve added quality to the squad, the team is a year older and more experienced, and there are some exciting youth players who will make their mark this season.
Best Signing: Vincent Janssen. Spurs desperately needed a quality striker to help Harry Kane and provide competition.
Player to Watch: 17 year-old Marcus Edwards. Amazing talent! Kane, Alli, Dier, Lamela, Dembele, Alderweireld, Lloris and others all had a fantastic season last time out. Expect more of the same.
TREVOR MAIS – WEST BROMWICH ALBION
Prediction: I predict we’ll have a strong season under the new owners but the start might be a bit rough due to the usual poor transfer window and the current confusion with Tony Pulis and whether he’ll still be our head coach at the start. Hopefully, we can over come it and play more attractive football than last year.
Best Signing: The best signing is an easy one because we’ve only made one so far, but Matt Phillips has had an impressive preseason with us and with QPR he’s proven he’s got the quality so it’s exciting to see what he can do while in the Albion stripes.
Player to Watch: Our player to watch would be Berahino because if he doesn’t get sold he’ll definitely be leaving on a free this time next year and therefore he’ll have to prove a point during the year.
To add to this another player to watch is Rondon, last year there were glimpses of what he is capable of and hopefully this season he’ll really come out of his shell and start hitting the back of the net like he was in Russia.
TONY SUTTON – WEST HAM UNITED
Prediction: I would imagine the aim for Bilic this sesson is a top six finish, a good run in a domestic cup and being involved in some great European nights along the way.
If you look at our squad in terms of attack that seems very achievable. Ayew has already been added along with Tore and Feghouli to give us an abundance of creativity from midfield.
Defensively, it’s a different story. Cresswell is out for half a season and although we have signed cover, it’s a huge loss. We are also hoping to shape Antonio into a right back but he is very much an attacking winger so the jury is out on that.
We let in 10 more goals than our rivals in the league last season and that certainly cost us a couple of positions. Nothing seems to have changed other than us letting Tomkins go so that area is a huge worry.
Best Signing: As it stands, it has to be Ayew.
Player to Watch: Our obvious player to watch is Payet, he was outstanding last season and carried that through the summer with France. Hopefully, there is much more to come from him and he won’t be a one-season wonder.
The new Premier League season is nearly upon us and if Leicester City pulled off a miracle to win the title last season, they’ll need an even bigger one to defend it this time around.
Here’s some concerns that teams need to look into this season.
Can Leicester defend their title?
It is three months since Leicester City won the Premier League. The sentence is worthy of repetition because it still leads to disbelief.
The Foxes benefitted from much of the league’s elite being in total dissaray but they still only lost three games all season, bettering nine of the last 10 champions.
To expect that again is almost as outrageous as suggesting they were anything other than relegation battlers at this stage 12 months ago. Claudio Ranieri’s platoon remains – minus the many legs of N’Golo Kante – but the dangers come in many forms: managing the Champions League, integrating new signings, ensuring the players he’s retained from last season maintain their hunger and a league significantly strengthened; at least at the top.
Ranieri possesses the sort of temperament to maintain an air of calm, no matter how the season is going, while their transfer work has been positive in helping deal with the influx of new matches that must be prepared for. The fact remains, however, everyone around them is stronger and to get anywhere near their feats of last term they will have to go up another level.
What affect will Mourinho have Old Trafford?
Already the arrival of the Portuguese hero/villain – depending on your persuasion – has had a seismic effect with the arrivals of Paul Pogba, Zlatan Ibrahimovic and Henrikh Mkhitaryan (arguably the three best players in Serie A, Ligue 1 and the Bundesliga last season) and the returning of the club to its rightful position as the most disliked in English football.
It’s a moniker United fans revel in, as the famous banner at Old Trafford reading, ‘Hated, adored, never ignored’ had begun to look out of place during the anemic reigns of David Moyes and Louis van Gaal which had started to reduce the club to a laughing stock, or worse, an irrelevance.
Mourinho is a man who collects league titles like he does adversaries: eight in his last 12 seasons but he has certainly lost some of his stardust following last season’s chaos at Chelsea.
It is the second club Mourinho has left, amid tales of dressing room discontent, and how he reshapes a United squad left criminally imbalanced takes more than just cash and big names. Wayne Rooney’s role, which could directly affect the effectiveness of Pogba, needs careful management as do the likesof Michael Carrick, Daley Blind and Juan Mata – popular figures in the squad who, long-term, certainly don’t feature in his plans.
History tells us he’s likely to succeed, but the past also reveals how combustible he can be.
How quickly can Guardiola reshape City?
Pep Guardiola is a manager who wants complete control, an aspect of his personality that didn’t always sit right with certain members of the board at Bayern Munich and even Barcelona in his later days.
For now, at least, at City he will be given both time and money to turn around a talented but flawed group of players into the powerhouse they’ve been promising for so long.
It won’t be easy, though. Doubts remain whether Joe Hart is the right goalkeeper for his style of play.
Defensively, Vincent Kompany’s injury problems present a problem in that the Belgian, when fit, is indispensible but played just 12 league games last season. Does he redesign his back-four around John Stones, or wait for Kompany?
Guardiola appears to think he can smooth the rough edges out of Nicolas Otamendi and Eliaquim Mangala but that change won’t be immediate, while City’s ageing full-backs lack the pace and drive of a David Alaba or Dani Alves. In midfield he has a wealth of talent but no central partner for Fernandinho, until Ilkay Gundogan is passed fit; while the emphasis on Sergio Aguero to score the bulk of their goals remains.
He’ll surely get there eventually; but how quickly will determine City’s league position come May 21.
How adaptable is Conte?
There is no doubting Antonio Conte is a fine manager; as his rejuvenation of Juventus was spectacular while his ability to draw the most out of a limited Italy side admirable.
But the rapid shift from Italian football to the English game won’t give him much time to get settled; especially at a club like Chelsea where a dressing room revolt is only around the corner.
Certainly the Blues squad remains very strong but there are some serious holes that need filling, primarily in defence, so often the calling card of the best Chelsea teams in the Roman Abramovich era. Thankfully, they have a manager who’s stock-in-trade has been, amongst other things, building and organising a defensive unit.
Conte has traditionally been an advocate of a back-three – a defensive system often frowned upon in England, but has also experimented with a 4-2-4 in pre-season. A lack of European football will give him a little more flexibility and time to think in between games – something Conte does better than most.
Has Spurs’ moment passed?
It seems strange to think that the Premier League’s youngest squad may have missed their best opportunity to win the title, but that is the scenario potentially facing Mauricio Pochettino’s Spurs.
The big clubs may be spending big, but you can’t put a price on attitude, team spirit and cohesion. That Pochettino has done immensely here
— James Forster (@TheJamesForster) August 10, 2016
They will be a season older and a season wiser but with City, United and Chelsea all looking decidely more imposing it will take a mammoth effort to match such a charge.
They remain a very good team back to front, with Victor Wanyama beefing up a midfield that often looked more pretty than powerful. Vincent Janssen will be assigned at reducing Harry Kane’s goalscoring workload, especially with the physical demands Pochettino puts on his players.
What is paramount is how they start the season; given they won just three of their opening nine games last term.
Will Wenger go out kicking and screaming?
All signs point to this being Arsene Wenger’s final campaign in charge – minimal summer investment coupled with the fact he’s out of contract in 10 months. The Frenchman has also been talking of potential retirement, albeit not directly relating to Arsenal. Either way, this could be the end of an era in north London and how they finish could, in part, define Wenger’s legacy.
For all his success, latter campaigns have seen cliches become fact, with the Gunners consistently under-equipped mentally and in terms of personnel to mount a consistent title challenge.
They somehow finished runnersup in May but, other than pipping Spurs to the position, it was a hollow success given how little pres-sure they put on Leicester.
There is plenty to get excited about in this squad – Alexis Sanchez and Aaron Ramsey off the back of Euro 2016 plus the continuation of Hector Bellerin and Francis Coquelin’s development – but ultimately the problems of last season don’t appear to have been solved. Olivier Giroud remains their only No9 and they’re simply not good enough in central defence.
Wenger may depart with the same old questions ringing around the Emirates stands.
How are Klopp’s Liverpool?
League finishes of sixth and eigth have left Liverpool on the outside looking in and their status in English football is perhaps best represented by their work in the transfer market this summer. Sadio Mane, Georginio Wijnaldum and Joel Matip are undoubtedly good players but not the world class talent that once flooded towards Anfield.
Their trump card is the bespectacled man on the touchline whose fast-paced brand of football has now had 10 months to get tuned-up, and the Reds will surely record some noteworthy results.
Jurgen Klopp can only do so much, especially in a Premier League bursting with so much quality, and individually 1-11 Liverpool’s team doesn’t quite look able to compete with the league’s elite.
Much can change between now and August 31 and one or two eye- catching additions could change the complexion of the starting XI but an awful lot rests on Klopp’s tactical brain and the hi-octane risk/reward football he preaches.
Who’s joining Hull in the Championship?
Hull are a disaster area and probably the least well-prepared team in top flight history.
Currently their first-team squad stands at nine, while no replacement for Steve Bruce looks forthcoming with the manager who led them to promotion resigning on July 22. Added to that, there has been zero investment in the player squad as the club are in the middle of protracted takeover talks. Even the most diehard fan would forecast anything other than rock bottom at this moment.
The relegation battle in a wider sense could be just as tightly-fought and unpredictable as the battle atthe top with Burnley’s squad limited; Swansea selling all their best players not named Gylfi Sigurdsson; Aitor Karanka’s position as Middlesbrough manager inconsistent, to say the least; Crystal Palace now more than 12 months into a search for a decent striker; David Moyes trying to build a team at Sunderland inside a month; West Brom lacking in the final third and Watford more exciting in the transfer market than on the pitch.
Maybe there is hope for Hull, after all.