Premier League preview: How one issue could frame the entire 2018/19 season

Fresh from a thrilling World Cup and a shortened transfer window the Premier League returns

Miguel Delaney
Chief Football Writer
Friday 10 August 2018 07:50
All the Premier League 2018-19 kits

So the most bombastic show in the game is back, but now encountering a difference - and something that could make a difference to how it all goes this season.

The Premier League has long got to the point where it is now so all-consuming that it overshadows so much else in the sport, especially the international game, but that does not feel the case this summer. It’s been reversed a bit. It still feels like the Premier League is in the shadow of the World Cup. The riveting electricity that is still coursing around the game from Russia 2018 means the opening of this season just doesn’t have the same energy, isn’t capturing the attention in the same way.

That is partly because this is the shortest break - at a mere 26 days - there has been between the World Cup final and the start of the English top flight since 1966. There’s been no chance for football to breathe, and little chance for players to get a breather - in a literal sense.

All of this is further complicated by the bizarre decision to shorten the transfer window in a World Cup year, even if that is a transparent test of how well run the clubs are. An issue is still how much their players have run.

The fact that most teams’ stars will start the campaign without a proper pre-season could greatly warp the opening games, and thereby condition the rest of it.

Given how strongly stratified the league has been over the last few years, it will be telling to see whether it then gradually falls into the old patterns of the last few years. A distorted start could deflect events.

It does look like one thing won’t change, even from the start: Manchester City’s supremacy.

The expectation was always that they would excel again, but with Pep Guardiola himself talking about how it will be impossible to replicate last season’s record breaking. And yet the performance in the Community Shield, for what the fixture is, still set an ominous tone for everyone else. Without Kevin De Bruyne and David Silva but with Benjamin Mendy back, City actually looked more physically powerful, and like there are levels they can still reach. The very fact they were so good this early was itself striking.

That could change one of the patterns of the last decade: a side actually retains the title, for the first time since Manchester United in 2009.

City looked in good shape at Wembley last weekend 

Liverpool at least look best placed - and best fired - to prevent that, and maybe end their own 29-year wait. They have been one of the few to display proper forward thinking for this curtailed summer by forensically targeting their flaws and signing the players to address them. It has been a swift directness to match some of Jurgen Klopp’s ferocious football. It’s just they need to keep it all going at full pelt, if they are to match City’s depth.

Because while it feels like Liverpool can be as good if not better than the champions on any given day - as they’ve proved in their last head-to-head fixtures - the fear is they just can’t maintain a level even close to that for as long as the champions. This is also why their direct matches will again likely be the events of the season.

As for the rest of the top-six pattern the Premier League is conditioned to fall into, we’re seeing old themes at Tottenham Hotspur and Manchester United, very new ones at Arsenal and a mix of both at Chelsea.

Liverpool have recruited well

The deposed 2016/17 champions have again changed manager, but there is a sense that Maurizio Sarri will finally bring something different, something fun and exciting. That is precisely the football that Roman Abramovich has long craved after so many more reactive managers, but the question that will frame Chelsea’s entire season is whether Sarri can properly implement his impressive approach before the owner suffers from his customary impatience with results.

There is meanwhile the danger of Spurs staying still despite moving to a new stadium, because they suffer from a curious dilemma. Their financial constraints means they can’t ever really enhance a team that is itself performing at a maximum, because that would entail purchasing the plus-70m signings they can't.

United meanwhile look the opposite of that, and so much lesser than their financial size dictates they should be, with all of that resulting in the same old complaints from Mourinho.

The question that frames their campaign will be whether he suffers from another one of those problem third seasons, because all of the pieces seem to be in place for it.

It is at once one of the storylines of the season, and yet often so tedious.

There is no tedium at Arsenal. There is only a quieter optimism around the team, the kind of excitement that finally comes from something new.

There is an air of optimism at a much-changed Arsenal (Getty Images for ICC)

This, after all, is the first Premier League season to start without Arsene Wenger since 1997. The slight poignancy of that aside, it should not preclude the fact Arsenal did badly need change. Whether Unai Emery is the change required is open to question but one aspect of his management is not. His players will get the coaching they have lacked for some time. That alone will make Arsenal a more ordered prospect.

As to whether the rest of the league falls in the same order? One of the flip sides of the Premier League’s growth into the greatest show has been an extreme stratification, with the table essentially split into groups of 6-1-13. That has also fostered a distinctive trend of ever more changes of coach to try and jump-start survival pushes, with some more conservative appointments sometimes going against the entertainment the Premier League has successfully marketed itself on and sometimes genuinely been marked by.

Everton - usually the 1 - have notionally gone against that by replacing Sam Allardyce with Marco Silva. West Ham United, who should realistically be challenging for that 1 to become 2 by fulfilling their potential as a club, have done similar by bringing in Manuel Pellegrini for David Moyes.

Fulham and Wolves may challenge both, though, as they have by far enjoyed the best business beyond Liverpool.

After that, it feels like it will be another free-for-all again. The hope should that for once brings the kind of frenetic race involving many teams that goes to the wire, rather than the way it’s just levelled out in recent seasons. That was the thing about 2017-18, too. It had a lot of frenetically entertaining football... but didn't really build up to anything, meaning it was one of the more anti-climactic seasons.

The climax, however, is still a long way off.

Long before then, the 20 sides will have to overcome the one main issue framing the 2018-19 season: the curtailed summer, and a compromised start for a competition that is usually all in and all out there.

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