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.

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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.

Season preview: Can Man City go back-to-back?

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Manchester City at a glance

Premier League titles: 3 (English First Division titles – five)
FA Cups: 5 (1904, 1934, 1956, 1969, 2011
League Cups: 5 (1970, 1976, 2014, 2016, 2018)
European Cup Winners’ Cup: 1969/70

[ STREAM: Watch every PL match live ]


They will cruise to the title again because…They have the best squad in the Premier League by a distance and the best manager in world soccer. Do I need to go on? Their record-breaking 100 points last season showcased just how dominant they can be and it would be a brave man who bets against City winning back-to-back league titles.

Yet they could become their own worst enemies once again, yet still finish second… One of the major problems City had last season (they had zero “major” problems, but you get what I mean) was finishing off teams who sat back and defended deep. In a run of games against Huddersfield, West Ham and Southampton they won late on but struggled to break down stubborn defenses. Leaving themselves open to counter attacks could be an issue for City, but it’s unlikely they’ll finish outside the top two anyway. Another issue: playing against the high-press of Liverpool and teams who are brave (or stupid) enough to implement those tactics.


Best possible XI

—– Ederson —–

—- Walker —- Kompany —- Otamendi —- Mendy —-

—- Sterling —- Fernandinho —- Silva —- Sane —-

—– De Bruyne —–

—– Aguero —–


Transfers In: Riyad Mahrez ($77 million, Leicester City), Philippe Sandler ($3.3 million, PEC Zwolle)

Transfers Out: Pablo Maffeo ($11.6 million, VFB Stuttgart), Angus Gunn ($17.4 million, Southampton), Bersant Celina ($3.8 million, Swansea City), Aleix Garcia (Loan, Girona), Jack Harrison (Loan, Leeds United), Tosin Adarabioyo (Loan, West Brom), Erik Palmer-Brown (Loan, NAC Breda)


Ranking their offseason: 8/10 – With so many World Cup stars not around for preseason (Kevin De Bruyne, David Silva, Raheem Sterling and John Stones to name a few…) Pep Guardiola was able to give plenty of minutes to Man City’s impressive crop of youngsters during their U.S. tour. They impressed, with the likes of Phil Foden and Brahim Diaz looking solid and several showing they can be called upon this season. Perhaps that is why City have only made one signing heading into the final days of the window.


AP

Star player: Kevin de Bruyne – Closely followed by David Silva, KDB is influential to the way City press to win the ball back and then have so much quality to hurt opponents when they have possession. The Belgian wizard had a very good World Cup but will be eager to prove he is undoubtedly the best player in the PL after losing out on the Player of the Year awards to Mohamed Salah in 2017/18. His driving runs, incisive passes and hammered shots from central areas are near on impossible to stop given all of the quality attackers swirling around him each weekend.


Coaches’ Corner: Guardiola delivered the PL title in record breaking fashion and signed a new extended deal at City to celebrate over the summer. That said, the Spaniard is never happy and he will be eager to make sure his squad doesn’t become complacent. City didn’t retain their title on their previous two occasions they’ve been crowned champions of the Premier League and Guardiola may have to tweak a few things, especially when it comes to not leaving themselves exposed defensively, as they go all-out for goals and victories each week.


PST predicts: This is Man City’s title to lose. It really is. Their incredible strength in-depth means that despite several stars only returning to preseason training a few days before the season starts, they can bed themselves into the league season easily without City missing a beat. Expect them to be challenging for every trophy going, once again, and even the distraction of a deep UEFA Champions League run shouldn’t stop them from running away with the PL title for a second-straight season.

Guardiola, Mahrez love Foden’s Community Shield performance

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Pep Guardiola was all business after celebrating his first Community Shield with a 2-0 win over Chelsea at Wembley Stadium on Sunday.

The Manchester City boss presided over a complete win, with both sides absent a number of big names.

[ MORE: Man City wins Community Shield ]

Overall, the result was fair and Guardiola thought it well deserved. From the BBC:

“It was so hard but the players played really well,” Guardiola said. “Our mentality was right and we got the win. We prepare game by game. Our results will determine who we are. We will see at the end of the season what our level is.”

City youngster Phil Foden was strong in the win, dancing down the pitch to set up Sergio Aguero’s first goal. The England 18-year-old is ready for the big time, Guardiola said, as many continue to debate whether Foden will go on loan.

“Phil Foden is ready for the Premier League,” Guardiola said. “He was last season and now he has one more year experience. It’s so good for us.”

Riyad Mahrez, who also played well for City, is also a Foden fan.

“For a guy of 18 years it’s very good and he is improving every day,” Mahrez said. “For him, I’m happy.”

Will he stay at City, or get a PL loan? You could argue he’d be a better fit for a smaller role with the champs, and continued play in Guardiola’s system, than being a bigger part of a smaller side.

Man City wins fifth Community Shield

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Sergio Aguero’s 200th and 201st Manchester City goals helped the club to its fifth Community Shield with a 2-0 win over Chelsea on Sunday at Wembley Stadium.

Both sides were missing key pieces, with Eden Hazard and Kevin De Bruyne amongst several stars outside the starting lineups.

Manchester City now turns its attention to Sunday’s Premier League opener at Arsenal, while Chelsea opens their league slate on Saturday at Huddersfield Town.

[ MORE: 2018-19 Premier League previews]

Man City was in control in the early throes, and that led to an early goal.

Given time to settle and line up his left peg, the Argentine took a feed off of Phil Foden‘s long dribble and struck across goal to give City its advantage.

But Chelsea would respond, albeit with chances that usually had Claudio Bravo fairly comfortable in his collection of the ball.

Bravo’s misjudgment of a long ball into the box — it bounded over his head — led to a fairly hilarious but ultimately non-threatening moment near the end line.

Aguero danced around Caballero before smashing into the side netting in the 50th minute. He doesn’t miss many of those.

City doubled its advantage when John Stones terrific break-up atop his 18 sprung a lethal counter attack completed by Bernardo Silva slipping Aguero through, again, on Caballero.

The match threatened to crawl to the finish, apart from a late Ross Barkley cross which caused trouble for City’s back line before going out for a corner kick.

VIDEO: Aguero’s 200th Man City goal opens Community Shield

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Sergio Aguero’s 200th Manchester City goal has the Premier League champions leading Chelsea at halftime of Sunday’s Community Shield match at Wembley Stadium.

Given time to settle and line up his left peg, the Argentine took a feed off of Phil Foden‘s long dribble and struck across goal to give City its advantage.

[ MORE: 2018-19 Premier League previews]

The match has carried the sloppy play expected from a first serious event of the club season, with all due respect to the International Champions Cup.

The FA Cup champions and new manager Maurizio Sarri now have around an hour to breakdown Pep Guardiola and Co.