Top 10 Premier League storylines

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Finally, the moment we’ve all been waiting for since Manchester City hoisted the Premier League trophy nearly three months ago.

With the Citizens projected favorites to top England again in 2018-19, 19 other clubs will be gunning for Pep Guardiola‘s side.

Will the Manchester giants be able to sustain their brilliance from a season ago? How will some of the other big clubs’ spending cut into the Citizens’ success?

It’s time at Pro Soccer Talk to take a look at 10 of the most pressing storylines heading into the new season, which kicks off on Friday.

WATCH LIVE: Transfer Deadline Day show, August 9 at 11 a.m. ET on NBCSN and online via NBCSports.com 


1. Is Man City possibly better than last season?

Guardiola and Co. set so many records in 2017-18 it’s honestly hard to keep track of their brilliance. With a squad that already features world-class talents in Kevin De Bruyne, Leroy Sane and Sergio Aguero, what did the Spanish manager decide to do this year? The club added another one of the PL’s top attackers in Riyad Mahrez, which provides the team with a further embarrassment of riches up front.

It’s a tremendous dilemma to have, but how Guardiola manages to fit Aguero, Mahrez, Sane, Raheem Sterling, Bernardo Silva and others into regular lineups will likely determine how the club does not just in the PL but in Europe as well.


2. Who challenges the Citizens?

It’s easier said than done to dethrone a champion, and even some of the other big six clubs in England did well to bolster their rosters, it remains to be seen whether or not it will be enough to topple Man City.

Of Tottenham, Liverpool, Manchester United, Chelsea and Arsenal (last season’s second through sixth-place finishers), the Reds are certainly the biggest winners this offseason with the signings of Fabinho and Naby Keita to upgrade the team’s midfield.

Meanwhile, Spurs has yet to make a signing. Man United is in turmoil between a number of strains with manager Jose Mourinho and several of his players. See, Paul Pogba and Anthony Martial. Also, Chelsea and Arsenal each have new managers (which we’ll discuss later).

It’s not impossible for one of these teams, or perhaps a team like Everton, who has gone transfer-happy again this summer, to contend for the title, but for right now, it looks like a two team race at the top with City and Liverpool.


3. Which newcomer(s) shakes up the PL?

Cardiff City, Fulham and Wolves each earned promotion to the top flight earlier this year, and now it is up to them to stay in the PL with the likes of England’s elite.

Both Fulham and Wolves have spent heavily this summer, particularly the latter, who have signed an entire Portuguese contingent led by goalkeeper Rui Patricio, Benfica’s Raul Jimenez (Mexico) and Atletico Madrid attacker Diogo Jota.

[ STREAM: Watch every PL match live ]

While spending doesn’t always lead to success, it certainly shows initiative from these clubs that they are in it for the long haul, it could very well end up with sustained time in the top division.


4. How does Spurs do with its current squad?

Nobody can question Mauricio Pochettino‘s brilliance as a manager, but at a certain point he and his staff might have to accept the fact that they’ve gone as far as possible with their current squad.

With just a day left in the transfer window, Tottenham has yet to sign a single new player, although Aston Villa’s Jack Grealish remains a coveted asset by the team.

Finishing runners up a season ago probably isn’t a failure when you consider just how good Man City is/was, but Tottenham’s shortcomings in the UEFA Champions League and other club competitions has to make many wonder if they’ve peaked with this roster.

Harry Kane will always score his goals. Heung Min Son, Dele Alli and Christian Eriksen are tremendously gifted players in the attacking third. The team boasts a strong back line, led by Toby Alderweireld and Jan Verntonghen.

However, the rest of the PL is only getting stronger, and if Spurs couldn’t get over the hump before, it looks like the team’s ascent towards the top will only get more challenging.


5. Who adjusts better with a new manager; Arsenal or Chelsea?

Last season did not go according to plan for either club, and subsequently changes were made in the managerial department.

For Arsenal, the departure of Arsene Wenger may have been a bit overdue, but the club’s lack of success in 2017-18 cannot be solely attributed to the Frenchman.

Chelsea’s issues with Antonio Conte boiled up rather quickly, despite having won the PL two seasons ago. That led to his sacking this summer, and the arrival of Maurizio Sarri, who has already seemingly won over the players enough to keep the majority of those linked with moves away from Stamford Bridge.

The Blues arguably have more talent, and the squad seems to have bought into Sarri’s approach, which is more “football first” than Conte. The Italian doesn’t focus on the transfer market or any other phases outside of what goes on within the confines of the pitch.

Meanwhile, Unai Emery has inherited a Gunners team that has bulked up in the offseason, particularly on the defensive side of things. Stephan LichtsteinerSokratis Papastathopoulos and goalkeeper Bernd Leno could aid Arsenal massively on the back end, while the club also managed to pick up one of the biggest risers of the summer in Lucas Torreira after a stellar World Cup for Uruguay.


6. Which club steps into the top-6 race?

Everyone knows who the perennial powers are in England, and in most of the five major leagues across Europe, for that matter.

If you’re not named Arsenal, Chelsea, City, Liverpool, Man United or Spurs, your chances of winning the PL are usually quite slim.

Taking Leicester out of the equation during their magical run in 2015-16, only one club has won a PL title in the Premier League era that wasn’t one of those six previously-mentioned teams (Blackburn Rovers in 1994-95).

Clubs have Everton and Leicester have shown a willingness to spend, just as newcomers Fulham and Wolverhampton have done this summer, but long-term success in England is often hard to come by.

The Toffees are probably the safest bet to have a shot at cracking the top six, but then again, that’s a task that’s easier said than done.


7. Is Jose Mourinho on thin ice at Old Trafford?

For as brilliant of a manager as Jose Mourinho is, he certainly has a way of wearing out his welcome.

And in a very quick manner, too.

Instead of giving the requisite praise to Paul Pogba following the player’s World Cup title with France, Mourinho went after his midfielder, calling for him to replicate those performances during the PL season.

While much of what Mourinho said was tame, it makes one wonder why he would go after one of his biggest stars, especially because it has set up a 24-hour period that could see Pogba exiting United for the second time in six years.

The results have been a struggle for Mourinho in PL play since taking over in Manchester, and if he manages to continue to alienate his players it might not be long before he’s looking for another job.


8. Will West Ham take the next step?

Since the conclusion of last season, only Liverpool has spent more money on new players than the Hammers — who have shelled out an astonishing $117 million this window.

It’s easy to forget that this team was seventh just two seasons ago during the club’s final season at Upton Park, however, last season was a bit more of a struggle despite a hefty spending spree that brought in players like Javier Hernandez and Marko Arnautovic.

This summer, the Hammers are at it again, and with bigger names incoming. Andriy Yarmolenko and Felipe Anderson could be game-changing additions to the Hammers attack, while Łukasz Fabiański and Jack Wilshere are steady pieces in their own right.


9. Younger faces make push for bigger roles

We’ve seen clubs thrive when using their younger talents. Just take Spurs as an example, with a squad mostly made up of talents under the age of 25.

Now, we’re seeing a bit more of a trend and willingness from managers to give their youngsters a run out in order to prove themselves.

At Man City, it’s Phil Foden. At Chelsea, new manager Maurizio Sarri sees something special in Callum Hudson-Odoi.

In a league where stars are so prevalent, it’s easy to get caught up in the Harry Kane, Mohamed Salah and Eden Hazard hype train, but it’s the next generation of stars that ultimately carries the league going forward, so it’s nice to see these types of players making their way up the pecking order.


10. Tracking the Golden Boot race

We’re at a stage now where there are so many quality goalscorers in the PL that it’s honestly hard to keep track of them all.

And even though Harry Kane, Romelu Lukaku and Sergio Aguero are the traditional goalscorers in that category, there are many others, including Mohamed Salah from last season, that are more than capable of winning the Golden Boot.

If Kane can do it again in 2018-19, he’d become the third player in the PL era to win the Golden Boot on three separate occasions, a truly remarkable feat.

Watch Live: Everton vs. Crystal Palace

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Wilfried Zaha starts up top for Crystal Palace after passing his late fitness ahead of Crystal Palace’s clash with Everton at Goodison Park on Sunday (Watch live at 11 a.m. ET on NBCSN and online via NBCSports.com).

WATCH LIVE, ONLINE, HERE

Andre Gomes will make his Toffees debut after joining Everton from Barcelona in the summer — a hamstring injury has kept the Portuguese out of action thus far — while Yerry Mina, Everton’s other Barcelona buy, could make his debut from the bench.

LINEUPS

Everton: Pickford; Coleman, Zouma, Keane, Digne; Gueye, Andre Gomes; Walcott, Sigurdsson, Bernard; Richarlison | Subs: Stekelenburg, Bines, Mina, Davies, Tosun, Calvert-Lewin, Lookman

Crystal Palace: Hennessey: Wan-Biassaka, Sakho, Tomkins, Van Aanholt; Milovijevic, McArthurt, Kouyate; Schlupp, Townsend; Zaha | Subs: Guiata, Ayew Wickham, Kaikai, Kelly, Puncheon, Riedewald

Opposition to Wembley sale “bizarre” and led by “old men”

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Greg Dyke sees Shahid Khan’s capsized bid to buy Wembley Stadium as a massive missed opportunity for English soccer, and the former Football Association chairman is quite displeased by the “bizarre” opposition of the “old men” on the FA council.

[ MORE: What did we learn in the Premier League, Week 9? ]

With an offer of more than $780 million on the table, Dyke believes that unprecedented — and otherwise impossible — investments could have been made to grassroots soccer that might just create a brighter future for the English game. If only it wasn’t for those meddling kids “the council is living in the past, as it always has done,” as he put it — quotes from the BBC:

“If I’d been chairman, I would have said it is the board’s decision.

“I don’t think the council is equipped to make this decision — that is what the FA board is for.”

Most notably, England is in desperate need of artificial playing fields up and down the country, as well as a tidal wave of newly licensed coaches to begin working at younger and younger age groups.

“The FA has only owned Wembley for 10 to 15 years, before that it was a private business.

“The idea you are going to lose something of value to Britain because it is not owned by the FA is the wrong one compared to spending [$784 million] doing what is desperately needed in this country and that is to spend money on grassroots facilities.

“If you want to have a step change in grassroots facilities in this country, you need this sort of money to be spent.

“It’s bizarre that the old men of the FA Council have stopped this.

“One of the tragedies of English football in recent years is that all the extra money that has come into the Premier League has by and large gone to players or agents, and not to football generally.”

Oftentimes, tradition and history come at the expense of revolution and progression, only to later realize that a golden opportunity has come and gone.

Agent says Usain Bolt has contract offer

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Usain Bolt’s agent claims that his client has received an A-League contract offer from Central Coast Mariners after spending more than two months on trial with the Australian club.

[ MORE: What did we learn in the Premier League, Week 9? ]

The eight-time Olympic goal medalist, who’s 32 years old after retiring from track and field last year, scored twice in a Mariners exhibition last week. Now, his agent says he’s been offered an official contract — quotes from the AP:

“In response to the media stories, yes, Usain has been offered a contract. I do not want to make any further comment at this stage.”

Mike Mulvey, the Mariners manager, not only claims to be unaware of any such offer, but sounds rather dubious and unenthusiastic about the prospects of Bolt being a first-team player.

“You have a look at our front line today and you wonder whether he could get into any of those positions, wouldn’t you? I do appreciate how important this story is for the rest of the world.

“You’re just talking about speculation, I don’t know anything about what you’re talking about and that’s the honest truth.”

“We’re going to go back, have some dinner, have a little look at the game that’s on … then get on a plane tomorrow, go home and start preparing for Melbourne City next week. That’s the plan.”

La Liga: Messi breaks his arm; Real Madrid lose again

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MADRID (AP) Barcelona ended its slump and regained the Spanish league lead but there was little to celebrate as Lionel Messi broke his right forearm and will be sidelined for three weeks.

[ WATCH: Messi scores, assists, breaks arm in first 16 minutes ]

Also, Real Madrid lost again while suffering its worst scoring drought.

Messi scored and walked off injured in the first half of Barcelona’s 4-2 win over Sevilla at Camp Nou Stadium, while Real Madrid players and coach Julen Lopetegui were jeered off the field after they lost to Levante 2-1 at Santiago Bernabeu Stadium.

Messi was taken to a clinic, and Barcelona said he broke the radial bone. At the least, he will miss the Champions League match against Inter Milan on Wednesday, and El Clasico against Barcelona next Sunday.

“We will notice his absence,” Barcelona coach Ernesto Valverde said. “But we’ve played without him in the past. We will be prepared to overcome this.”

Messi was trying to reclaim the ball when he ran into the back of a defender and fell in the 17th minute. Trying to cushion his fall, his right elbow bent badly and he was in visible pain. Doctors wrapped his arm with bandages and the playmaker tried to continue but gave up.

“We shouldn’t let Messi’s injury affect us,” defender Gerard Pique said. “We have a team good enough to do well in the matches that we have ahead.”

Messi scored their second goal with a shot from outside the area in the 12th, about 10 minutes after Phillipe Coutinho opened the scoring. Luis Suarez added the third by converting a second-half penalty kick.

[ MORE: What did we learn in the Premier League, Week 9? ]

Sevilla replied through Pablo Sarabia, Ivan Rakitic increased Barcelona’s lead in the 88th, and Sevilla netted again thanks to Luis Muriel in injury time.

Barcelona struggled more than the scoreline showed, with goalkeeper Marc-Andre ter Stegen having to make a pair of remarkable double-saves, but the result was enough to give Valverde’s team a one-point lead over surprising Alaves.

Sevilla, which had won four in a row in the league, including 3-0 against Real Madrid, dropped to third place, two points off the lead.


Atletico Madrid, which drew at Villarreal 1-1, also was two back after nine matches.

Real Madrid was four points behind Barcelona, in fifth place.

Real Madrid fans ran out of patience after seeing their team suffer its worst scoring drought and lose for the fourth time in five matches.

Fans loudly jeered after Madrid reached 481 minutes without finding the net in the loss to Levante, which entered the game with the league’s third-worst defense.

Levante scored early with goals by Jose Luis Morales in the sixth minute and Roger in the 13th after a penalty awarded following a video review. Marcelo pulled one back in the 72nd.

Madrid began the match without Gareth Bale and Karim Benzema, who are coming off injuries. It still created enough chances, striking the woodwork three times and having a goal by Mariano Diaz disallowed for offside in the final minutes. Marco Asensio also had a first-half goal disallowed by VAR.

Madrid finished with 70 percent possession and more than 30 attempts.

Local media immediately questioned whether Madrid should fire Lopetegui before El Clasico next weekend at Barcelona or give him a chance to try to save his job against the rival.

“Football matches are won by scoring goals and not according to who deserves to win,” said Lopetegui, who is only three months into his stint with the club after being fired from Spain’s national team.

Before El Clasico, Madrid hosts Viktoria Plzen on Tuesday in the Champions League to try to rebound from a 1-0 loss at CSKA Moscow.