Manchester City faces many challengers to Premier League throne

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After a season almost entirely without fans, the Premier League will be back to its loud best for its 30th year. The campaign kicks off Friday, with league debutants Brentford visiting Arsenal, but plenty of drama awaits beyond just that. Here’s what you need to know: 

The contenders

Manchester City: -150 to win league 

The reigning champions enter this season in the driver’s seat to win their fourth title in five years. The squad is as deep as ever, manager Pep Guardiola remains one of the game’s brightest minds and record British transfer signing Jack Grealish will strengthen an already potent attack. The reasons to be worried, if we’re nitpicking: striker Gabriel Jesus has questions to answer, and the club could get complacent in the league as it eyes an elusive Champions League trophy. 

Chelsea: 5/1 

Last season’s European champions (they beat Man City 1-0 in the final), Chelsea ended the campaign hugely confident after the midseason appointment of manager Thomas Tuchel. The German transformed a leaky side into a pragmatic defensive behemoth, but they’ll need to be more clinical to take the next step domestically. With the arrival of Romelu Lukaku, fewer chances should go begging and Chelsea could legitimately push for the title if things break right. 

Liverpool: 5/1 

While everyone was forced to play without fans, it always felt like an empty Anfield hurt Liverpool that little bit extra. They have more than just fans returning now, with Center backs Virgil Van Dijk and Joe Gomez are coming back from season-long injuries. The signing of Ibrahim Konate gives them even more insurance defensively, while the front three/four of Mohamed Salah, Sadio Mane, Roberto Firmino and Diogo Jota is still one of the best in the country. However, with all but Jota turning 30 within the next 12 months, this could be the last chance to see this attacking group at the peak of its powers. 

Virgil Van Dijk
Robbie Jay Barratt – AMA/Getty Images

Manchester United: 15/2 

After years of missteps following the departure of legendary manager Sir Alex Ferguson, the Red Devils are finally moving in the right direction. They finished second last season, and Bruno Fernandes, Paul Pogba, Luke Shaw and Harry Maguire are unquestionably among the best in the world in their respective positions. Throw in the statement signings of Jadon Sancho and Raphael Varane, and United will field an XI that is legitimately its best in close to a decade. A league title might still be a bit optimistic — especially with a hole at defensive midfield — but you’d be foolish to rule them out entirely. 

Prediction: 1 Man. City, 2 Chelsea, 3 Man. U., 4 Liverpool. 

Facing the drop

The Newcomers: Norwich City (-110) to get relegated, Watford (1/1), Brentford (+125) 

Newly promoted clubs often have a tough time staying up, and it’d be a shocker if all three survive this year. Norwich, the bookies’ favorite to go down, head into the top flight without their talisman Emi Buendia, who moved to Aston Villa in the summer. Watford, meanwhile, will be largely relying on young duo Ismaila Sarr (23) and Joao Pedro (19) — their top scorers from last season — for goals, though the free signing of Josh King up front could prove to be shrewd. It is debutant Brentford who may well have the best chance of staying up, with their smart analytical approach and 20/21 championship (second-tier) top scorer Ivan Toney still on board. 

Under Pressure: Crystal Palace (+160), Burnley (+220), Newcastle (+275) 

These clubs seem to at least flirt with relegation for a period of every season. Burnley and Newcastle will continue to be their pragmatic selves, which has at times made for boring soccer despite yielding results. Crystal Palace are an interesting club to watch. They’ve replaced septuagenarian Roy Hodgson with the younger Patrick Vieira, who arrives via stints at NYCFC and Nice. In winger Wilfried Zaha, Palace have one of the best players of the league’s bottom half, yet have been one of the least creative and daring teams for two seasons running. Vieira will likely look to take the handbrakes off a bit. Will they come to miss Hodgson’s caution?

Wilfried Zaha
Wilfried Zaha
Ashley Western/PA Images via Getty Images

Getting too much credit: Southampton (4/1) 

Despite having just the seventh-highest odds of relegation, reality paints a far bleaker picture for the Saints. Last season’s top scorer, Danny Ings, has departed, and so too has starting left-back Ryan Bertrand. The exit of starting center-back Jannik Vestergaard is also imminent. Restocking a roster is nothing new for Southampton, but the talent drain may be too much to overcome this time. 

Relegated prediction (not necessarily in order): Norwich, Burnley, Southampton 

On the hot seat

Mikel Arteta, Arsenal 

The Spaniard does not have a vintage Arsenal squad at his disposal but does have a huge young talent in Bukayo Saka. Another season outside of the top six will not look like progress to his bosses, especially following some pricey signings within the last year. 

Ralph Hasenhuttl, Southampton 

Hasenhuttl’s side never seemed a real threat to get relegated last season, but a horrid run (nine losses in 12 matches at one point) and a consecutive season of conceding nine goals in a single match have likely eroded the club’s confidence in him. A poor start to the season could see him axed quickly. 

Golden Boot race

Harry Kane, Tottenham: 3/1 

Mohamed Salah, Liverpool: 3/1 

Timo Werner, Chelsea: 16/1 

Diogo Jota, Liverpool: 18/1 

Raheem Sterling, Man. City: 18/1 

Sadio Mane, Liverpool: 18/1 

Romelu Lukaku, Chelsea (signed Thursday, no odds yet) 

Kane, Salah and Lukaku should be considered a head-and-shoulders Big 3 for this award. We’ll take Salah, who managed 22 goals last year for a disjointed Liverpool, and whose club situation is not in limbo like Kane’s. 

Young players to watch

Jadon Sancho, Man. U. 

Arriving via Borussia Dortmund after a long-running transfer saga, Sancho gives United a huge creative threat on the wing, with pace and trickery to boot. 

Jadon Sancho
Jadon Sancho
Ash Donelon/Manchester United via Getty Images

Marc Guehi, Crystal Palace 

The highly rated England U-21 and ex-Chelsea defender is a statement signing from the Eagles, who will benefit greatly from his ball-carrying ability. 

Curtis Jones, Liverpool 

After starting 13 matches last season, the tidy midfielder should be set for an expanded role after the departure of engine Georginio Wijnaldum.

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