Now in its 30th year, the English Premier League has quickly become the most watched football league on earth, and the third most profitable sports competition after the NFL and Major League Baseball. Each season generates roughly $10 billion (AUD) in revenue, with no less than 13 billionaire owners overseeing the 20 top-flight clubs.
Football money doesn’t talk in England, it shouts abrasively in your face: In every pub, in every newspaper and at every ground – it’s not just a competition, it is a way of life. There is no greater 10-month show on earth than the Premier League, which begins on Saturday morning (Australian time).
For those not familiar, 20 teams compete for the main title across a 38-game season. Spanish football is technical and intricate, the Italian league is similar, Germany is more regimented. But England, in all its wonder, is the most demanding, physical, glorious competition there is, combining all these facets and many more.
This season has a twist, however. The Qatar-based FIFA World Cup means the Premier League will take a six-week siesta across November and December for international duties. For football fans, this is good news in the short term. Between August 6 and November 13, games will come thick and fast. But from then until Christmas, the season will stop temporarily.
From December 26, the Premier League will be back in full swing and wrap up on May 28 in what is always an engrossing final day of action. Here is a preview to whet your appetite.
The Big Dogs
People always talk about the ‘big six’, but you can divide that in half. Manchester City, Liverpool and Chelsea are the ‘big three.’ They are the teams most likely to win the damn thing in late May next year. Flushed with talent and recent success, City and Liverpool jostled for the title in 2021/22 before it went to Manchester. Chelsea finished third.
Man City scored 99 goals – a huge amount – in their 38 games. Not satisfied, genius manager Pep Guardiola went and signed Norwegian striker Erlin Haaland from the German Bundesliga. They are dangerous with a capital ‘D’ as a result. While they’ve faltered in Europe, City is a domestic powerhouse and only a brave punter would bet against them this season.
Liverpool seem to be the sentimental favourites. Their manager – Jurgen Klopp – is intensely competitive and is much-loved by the fans. Like their manager, they are disciplined and there is no such thing as an ‘easy game’ against the Reds. They won two trophies last season for a reason.
Chelsea have had off-pitch drama relating to former owner Roman Abramovich, but remain a force to reckoned with. Of all the London clubs, Chelsea has the best chance to upset Man City and Liverpool, but they need things to fall into place after Romelu Lukaku’s exit to Inter Milan. Manager Thomas Tuchel has been in the job 18 months now and would like some reward for his efforts.
OK, let’s face it. Arsenal, Manchester United and Tottenham would hate to be classified in this category. But that’s exactly what they are: Challengers not Big Dogs.
Arsenal’s summer signing spree bodes well for manager Mikel Arteta, who hasn’t quite settled yet in his role. They are great to watch – red cards and all – but it’s about time Arsenal showed something and challenged for the title rather than making up the numbers in Europe. They’ve put on a good show in pre-season, showing promise with newcomer Gabriel Jesus finding his feet early. Can they crawl their way back into the top four?
Tottenham Hotspur has two superb assets. One is their manager, Antonio Conte, and the other is their front partnership Harry Kane and Son Heung-min. If you’re looking for a mini-outsider to upstage the Big Dogs, Spurs are your team. But then again, we sort of say that every season. They do have an awesome new stadium though. Beers are poured from the bottom of the cup, not the top!
Manchester United are a bit of a mess by their lofty standards. In the nine years since Sir Alex Ferguson departed, they’ve tried five managers. Erik ten Hag will be hoping he can reverse fortunes with Christian Eriksen at his disposal, and possibly a despondent Christiano Ronaldo – if he doesn’t walk out early. Don’t bank on them. A powerhouse club? Yes. A powerhouse team? Not right now. The August 22 fixture against Liverpool will give us a good indication of where they are at.
The Relegation Dogfight
Nothing gets the junkyard dog juices flowing quite like a relegation dogfight. The bottom three teams go down, and there is always a danger the clubs promoted from the second tier will bounce straight back to where they came from.
Fulham, Bournemouth and Nottingham Forest are in danger for this reason, though Fulham appears the most likely to survive. Forest has beaten Arsenal and Leicester City in the FA Cup recently and is boosted by the signing of Welsh striker Brennan Johnson. Bournemouth has little time to their feet, with early games against Man City, Arsenal and Liverpool. If they can hold firm defensively – as they did last season – they are a good chance to stay up.
Of the others, Leeds United, Brentford, and Southampton appear the most vulnerable, but Everton aren’t exactly flushed with talent and Wolverhampton limped to the finish line last season.
Players To Watch
Harry Kane (Spurs): A golden boot fancy, Kane’s time is now. He doesn’t have much silverware to show for his talents. Time is running out.
Mohamed Salah (Liverpool): He’s the best player in the Premier League. Period. Super skilled, ever-consistent and another golden boot chance. He’s also staying at Anfield long-term after signing a new deal.
Rodri (Man City): The centre midfielder is a key plank in City’s best XI for a reason.
Brennan Johnson (Nottingham Forest): We’ve mentioned him early. He’s a hero at Forest and a serious talent on the wing. At 21, watch him do awesome things.
Armando Broja (Chelsea): Assuming he stays at Chelsea, the 20-year-old will get great opportunities this season as a striker alongside Kai Havertz.
And of course, there is Christiano Ronaldo: The transfer window does not close until August 31, but until then Ronaldo is contractually obliged to play for United, even though he doesn’t want to. The issue is, that no other top team in the world is prepared to match his financial demands. And he only wants to play for a Champions League quality club. Most recently, he was subbed off in a pre-season friendly and drove home to his mansion before the final whistle. The saga rolls on…
Check out the opening weekend fixtures below: