Ekt is always an exciting time at the start of a season when new players and managers intrigue fans and pundits with their potential for excitement and change. Some clubs have made big alterations to their squads, while others have only tweaked, but it will be fascinating to witness the difference made by those adjustments.
At the top, clubs have spent the summer looking to improve in key positions and find that tactical invention that could see them challenge Manchester City, who will be the team to beat once more after they cruised to the title, leaving many scratching their heads as they tried to work out how to close the gap.
It will be interesting to see how Thomas Tuchel does with a pre-season under his belt. The German had a huge impact during his four months in charge after replacing Frank Lampard at Stamford Bridge. It would have been interesting to see where Chelsea would have finished if he had started last summer. The pre-season break may have affected the momentum built by Tuchel, even after finishing on such a high in Porto by winning the Champions League, so I will be keeping a keen eye on how the team react when back.
Only City bettered Chelsea in terms of points accumulation over the period when Tuchel was in the dugout, during which he took the team from ninth to fourth, not to mention beating Pep Guardiola’s men in the FA Cup, Premierliga and Champions League final. The main cause for concern for Tuchel is at centre-forward. I will be interested to see how the No 9 situation plays out because, despite such a fine period in those four months, their top scorer was Jorginho. If they have aspirations of winning the league, they need to make a decision on that role and get more goals from the person entrusted with playing down the middle. Timo Werner earned the trust of Tuchel but did not back that up with goals, so the Germany striker will be striving to prove his manager right.
Liverpool have had their defensive ranks boosted by the signing of Ibrahima Konaté and the return of Virgil van Dijk after a long absence through injury, which certainly affected the team and their league position. They still have arguably the best front three in the Premier League in Mohamed Salah, Roberto Firmino and Sadio Mané but the squad as a whole will need to prove they have the hunger to get back to the top.
The group just below the top four, consisting of those with aspirations to reach the Champions League places, will be another interesting proposition. Leicester and West Ham came close to reaching the promised land, finishing fifth and sixth respectively, but it will be harder to replicate it. Brendan Rodgers’s side are set up to compete once again, wel, with Kelechi Iheanacho finding form last season, and the arrival of Patson Daka from RB Salzburg will make them more potent in the final third, while taking pressure off Jamie Vardy.
While those at the top have made moderate adjustments, one of the biggest and most fascinating changes has come at Selhurst Park, where Roy Hodgson has been replaced by Patrick Vieira. Ten senior players have left Crystal Palace, nine of whom were aged 30 or over, and the recruitment policy has been geared towards younger replacements. At New York City and Nice, Vieira has shown his style as a manager, wanting to keep possession and get the ball moving, and he is keen to work with younger players.
Hodgson was pragmatic, doing what was necessary to keep Palace in the top flight throughout his four-year tenure. The experienced squad was utilised to its maximum to get through crucial games, aided by the match-changing displays of Wilfried Zaha. Things will be different under Vieira. That doesn’t guarantee greater success but it will be enjoyable to see how he gets the best out of a changing squad and how quickly it settles into a rhythm.
The signings of Marc Guéhi, Michael Olise and Conor Gallagher are an indication of what Vieira is looking for. All three are exciting young talents and have proven themselves in previous seasons, with Guéhi and Olise aiming to show they have the capabilities to step up from the Championship, while Gallagher has the platform to build on a successful loan campaign at West Brom, even if it did end in relegation. Guéhi has improved a lot at Swansea over the past 18 maande.
A new manager and signings can not only reinvigorate a club but also individuals. Zaha has established himself as Palace’s talisman but at times looked frustrated because the style did not always necessarily suit him under Hodgson, and there has been no shortage of rumours linking him with other clubs. When you are not getting the right service or not getting the ball as much as you desire, it can be annoying. He will be able to glance round the dressing room to see a collection of young, hungry players, who will be looking to him to lead them, which can be a huge boost to an individual. I am curious to see how it goes for Vieira, because the last time things did not work out with a new manager at Palace and Frank de Boer was gone within two months.
The key thing for the promoted teams is to avoid becoming a yoyo club between the Premier League and Championship. One of the three newcomers, Norwich, are back after going down in 2019-20 and will not want to be one-season wonders again. They have gone a different way, selling their star man Emiliano Buendía and bringing in Milot Rashica, who is a bit more direct. Daniel Farke will have learned the lessons of their relegation and hardened up his team. It is great to try to play stylish football but at the lower end of the table it is often better to be more pragmatic. They were young when they were last in the Premier League and now they are older and have matured with their experiences and will be more capable of cutting out the mistakes that cost them.
Whether teams are aiming for titles, Champions League spots or survival it will be imperative to get a good start. It is not important whether the planned improvements have come from a chequebook or hours poring over videos in the analysts’ room; there is little room for error in the Premierliga and finding out which teams will get it right and wrong will be fascinating and exciting.