The 2016/7 Premier League season, which begins on August 13 at the KC Stadium when Leicester City head to Hull, will be great for bookmakers in the first weeks of the season. It'll also be the start of the New Era.
As you know, the 2016-2019 TV deal is worth quintillions to the Premier League. The twenty teams in the division are all set to earn over £100m just from the broadcasting rights, let alone league positions, individual number of games on the box and international exposure away from broadcasting. There is a reason Manchester United partnered with X-Men and Independence Day; despite the mockery, it means they can keep paying the wages of whichever striker that isn't called Rashford has been signed before Deadline Day.
Manchester United - or Mounited as they as currently known - grew fatter than the rest thanks to the banquets and triumphs laid out by King Alec the Red. Before everyone else cottoned on, Arsenal were ahead of everyone but United, and saved up for a new venue to play football in. Since their move to Ashburton Grove, they have only won the FA Cup, and 2015/6 was theirs to lose. They lost.
Chelsea have the roubles, the three XIs out on loan, players who are less Osgood than Os-temperamental and, lest we forget, some of the most exciting young players who have won the FA Youth Cup three years in a row. Will Jake Clarke-Salter and Dom Solanke play much this season, with Kurt Zouma and Pedro ahead of them? New gaffer Antonio Conte will see to that, but I am sure Michael Emenalo will still hold all the cards.
These have been the three to beat, while Liverpool have won European trophies and justice has been secured in part for the unlawful killing of the 96 victims of April 15 1989. Liverpool's dominance up until that point, stretching back fifteen years, mean they are still one of the Big Five clubs. Everton, the People's Club, have a new owner in Mr Moshiri and a new gaffer in Mr Koeman, and should return to the Moyes Era very soon.
As for Super Spurs, or Pochenham Hotspur, their Francophone defence, English spine and saint Harry upfront ensures they can build on third place in 2015/6, though Champions League football demands an even tighter squad rotation. At least they get to play on Saturdays this year.
We cannot discount the Premier League champions of 2012 and 2014, who have bought their way into the big teams and invested in talent while taking an holistic approach to running a football club. Though their Champions League dream ended with an own goal and a whimper in 2015/6, Manchester City have the talented thinker Josef Guardiola martialling a team with the league's best attacker (Kun) and best defender (Kompany) and best English goalkeeper (Hart). If Ilkay Gundogan, Nolito and the rest adapt to the demands of their new coach, City must be favourites only because their manager has a cabinet full of evidence.
But remember the title of the piece, at the top of the page? Who is the eighth team in the Top Eight? I know what you're thinking, and you're right (the answer was in the first sentence and it's not Hull), but consider this.
In 1995 Blackburn Rovers won the Premiership, as it was known then, with players brought together by Kenny Dalglish, as inspirational a figure as Claudio 'Dilly Ding Dilly Dong' Ranieri. I was seven when Blackburn triumphed, with Colin Hendry and Tim Flowers playing the role of Wes Morgan and Kasper Schmeichel and Shearer and Sutton playing Mahrez and Vardy. Only time will tell if Leicester can retain the title, but they only lost three times last season and were consistently terrific, holding their nerve and celebrating on May 15 2016 with pomp and vigour.
Yet Leicester may not even be in the top eight this season. The Battle For Eighth should be as exciting as the Tussle for the Top. Given what happened to Leicester, the bounced-back Burnley and Hull City cannot be underrated; nor can Middlesbrough, whose citizens need a bit of an oomph after the Redcar steel closures of last year. Their manager learnt his craft as Jose's number two at Real Madrid. Can Karanka rank with Ranieri?
Those who survived in the bottom half last season have learned from their errors and invested in new talent. Watford and Bournemouth stayed in the division thanks to great management and team ethic; Eddie Howe's stock is even higher, while Watford have upgraded from the iGaffer Quique version to the new Mazzarri model. Will his old 3-5-2 formation and possible striker rotation system work against the top teams?
After a great end to the season, even Sunderland can come eighth, if Sam Allardyce has a full season to work his wonders. Then Southampton, even with a new manager themselves, have the talent to consolidate on their sixth-place finish, but will have to rotate as their Thursday-Sunday schedule in autumn (and spring too?) takes effect. Likewise West Ham, and their move to Stratford.
The other four teams - Stoke, West Brom, Crystal Palace, Swansea - are a mix of dependable British players and silky foreigners. The likes of Bojan, Bolasie and Sigurdsson worked their wonders in the attacking half of the pitch; behind them Shawcross, Evans, Dann and Williams throw themselves in front of those shots to do their job as proper old-fashioned defenders.
The whole point of pre-season is the uncertainty, the anything-can-happen thrill of the unknown. Senor Guardiola certainly did not have this in La Liga or the Bundesliga. As Christmas holidays are booked in, wedding invitations are replied to and pregnancies come to term, nobody can tell for sure who will finish first, eighteenth or, for the purposes of the Brick Shield, eighth.
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