Five questions ahead of Premier League season
London: Ahead of Saturday’s opening day of the new Premier League season, AFP Sport looks at five key questions to follow over what promises to be a gripping campaign:
Rivalry renewed in Manchester
In the season’s most spicy Premier League sub-plot, Manchester’s already intense rivalry will provide the backdrop to the renewal of the bitter feud between United manager Jose Mourinho and City boss Pep Guardiola as the old enemies pit their wits in a battle for more than local bragging rights.
Both are in their first seasons at their new clubs, with Mourinho keen to restore his reputation after last season’s sacking by Chelsea and Guardiola aiming to prove he can conquer England in the way his Barcelona and Bayern Munich teams dominated in Spain and Germany.
After some increasingly antagonistic exchanges in Spain, where Mourinho managed Real Madrid, the only question is; is Manchester big enough for the two duelling egos? The next 10 months will provide the answer.
Can Leicester defend title?
Just three months after becoming the most unexpected champions in English football history, Leicester start their title defence with manager Claudio Ranieri claiming there is more chance of aliens landing in London’s Piccadilly Circus than there is of the Foxes repeating their fairytale triumph.
Ranieri also made a habit of playing down his team’s chances when the title race heated up last term, yet the Italian’s canny caution is grounded in the realisation that all of Leicester’s rivals will be much stronger this season.
Losing N’Golo Kante, the France midfielder who joined Chelsea after driving Leicester to the title, is a major blow, but Ranieri received a welcome boost when England striker Jamie Vardy rejected Arsenal’s advances and a push for a top-four place is not beyond the champions.
Chelsea look for fresh start
Scarred by the dog days of Mourinho’s turbulent reign last season, Chelsea are hoping for a fresh start under the no-frills leadership of Italian coach Antonio Conte.
Having proved his credentials with Italian giants Juventus and then spent time as Italy boss, Conte is relishing his return to club management, but the size of the task facing him at Stamford Bridge may not have fully sunk in yet.
Mourinho was sacked after a full scale rebellion by several malcontents in the Chelsea squad and Conte must soothe those fragile egos before the Blues can rediscover their mojo.
Kane can prove he’s still able
Winning the Premier League’s golden boot with 25 goals confirmed Harry Kane as one of the best English strikers of his generation, but the Tottenham star still comes into the new campaign with a point to prove.
Kane’s goals thrust Tottenham into the title race, but a four-match winless run handed the trophy to Leicester and ruined their chances of a rare finish above hated neighbours Arsenal.
To make matters worse, Kane endured a miserable time at Euro 2016, with England manager Roy Hodgson’s bizarre decision to make him take corners appearing to ruin his confidence.
In the circumstances, an early goal spree would be a welcome boost to Kane’s morale.
Record-breaking Pogba takes spotlight
No player more perfectly encapsulates the 21st century football experience than Paul Pogba, who made a world-record £89 million transfer to Manchester United from Juventus in the close-season.
In an era when money trumps everything, it was fitting Pogba was unveiled by United at a time of day that ensured the maximum exposure in the lucrative Asian and American markets, while the subsequent Adidas-sponsored video of the France midfielder with grime artist Stormzy underlined football’s ever-expanding appeal.
Now all Pogba has to do in his second spell at United is prove he is worth the hype and the hefty price tag by transforming an inconsistent squad into English champions for the first time since 2013. No pressure Paul.