Manchester City just about held off the challenge of Liverpool as they retained their Premier League title in 2021-22.
Pep Guardiola’s team have been a relentless machine for much of the last half a decade in English football, and frankly, there appears to be little sign of that stopping.
City won 29 games last season, drawing six and losing just three on their way to 93 points, with a league-high goals scored of 99 and joint-league low goals conceded of 26.
So, what do you do if you are the best? You strengthen further, of course, and City have certainly done that by bringing Erling Haaland to the Etihad Stadium ahead of next season.
The Norwegian striker scored 86 goals in 89 in all competitions during two and a half years at Borussia Dortmund, with only Robert Lewandowski (123 in 108 games) and Kylian Mbappe (93 in 111 games) in Europe’s top five leagues scoring more in that time.
What will strike added fear into an already frightened Premier League is the theoretical increase in productivity in front of goal, with City scoring 150 goals in all competitions last season from 1,062 shots, or a goal every 7.1 attempts, while they finished off just 45.4 per cent of their big chances (a chance by which a goal would be expected more often than not).
Haaland scored 29 goals in 30 games in all competitions at a rate of a goal every 3.6 attempts, and put away 65.8 per cent of his big chances, so will presumably only further add to City’s high goal total, though his presence will mean one fewer attacking players to last year.
Rumored further additions are likely still to come, with Marc Cucurella and Kalvin Phillips being strongly linked, so can anyone realistically stop City?
With the fixtures announced, the countdown is underway to the new campaign, and Stats Perform has taken a look at the rest of the so-called “big six” to see how their prospects look at the moment.
Reds must learn how to win the big one
Without Jurgen Klopp’s team, the Premier League would have basically become another Bundesliga in recent years, with one team winning by a distance each time.
Liverpool have only been able to stop City from taking the title once in the last five seasons, but often at least make Guardiola’s team work for their success, and you would not bet against them doing so again.
Klopp has procured his own big striker with Darwin Nunez arriving from Benfica. If the Uruguayan can get even close to the 34 goals he managed in all competitions last season for Benfica, he will be a firm favorite at Anfield.
One thing that will give Reds fans hope ahead of the new campaign is how well they finished the last one, dropping just six points in the second half of the season (W16, D3, L0).
Their two league defeats all season came at West Ham and Leicester City, while they also drew with Brentford and Brighton and Hove Albion, all in the first half of the campaign.
In truth, it was the inability to beat their main rivals that cost them, drawing home and away with rest of the top four (City, Chelsea and Tottenham). Turn even just a couple of those draws into wins and Liverpool will be in a great position to seriously worry the champions again.
Fresh start for Chelsea, but can they plug the gaps?
What an odd season it was for Chelsea, beginning with so much promise and ending just glad the club still existed.
Of course, there was no way of knowing what would happen around the ownership situation, but now that it is all sorted, how can the Blues get back to being challengers?
There is little doubt Thomas Tuchel has done a good job since arriving in January 2021, but going into last season there was justified talk of a title push, especially having won the Champions League and signed Romelu Lukaku for just shy of £100million.
It started well enough, winning eight of their first 10 games, but then the draws began, totaling 11 by the end of the season, with Chelsea a whopping 19 points behind champions City finishing.
Reports suggest Lukaku is heading back to Inter on loan, and so Tuchel will have to decide whether to try another striker, one that suits his system better at least, or go back to playing Kai Havertz there, which worked well enough in his first half year at Stamford Bridge.
Chelsea had comfortably the third-best defensive record in the league (33 conceded) but will have to be careful given the need for a potentially hefty overhaul at the back, with Antonio Rudiger and Andreas Christensen already gone, and rumours that Cesar Azpilicueta and Marcos Alonso could follow.
Whether the new owners back Tuchel as much as has been reported could be key to Chelsea whether can enjoy a better season next year, but you would imagine they’ll be more concerned about keeping others below them rather than craning their necks up at City.
Conte can spur Tottenham on
Spurs actually won their first three league games under Nuno Espirito Santo last season, including an opening day victory against City, but losing five of their next seven meant early curtains for the former Wolves man, and the beginning of the Antonio Conte era.
There were some struggles with consistency, with an incredible run of 14 games in all competitions between early January and late March where they won six and lost eight, only once having the same outcome in consecutive games (back-to-back defeats at home to Southampton and Wolves).
However, eight wins and just one loss in their last 11 saw them overtake Arsenal rivals for a much-needed top four spot and Champions League football.
Conte expressed a desire to be backed in the transfer market, as usual, and so far has been rewarded, with Ivan Perisic and Fraser Forster already through the door, and Yves Bissouma reportedly not far behind.
If he can keep up the momentum from the end of last season, while still getting plenty from last year’s joint-golden boot winner Son Heung-min, Conte could yet take Spurs even further up the table next season, especially if Harry Kane can start the campaign well.
The England captain only scored once in his first 13 Premier League games, but then managed 16 in 24 after that.
Young Gunners can’t get shot down again
Mikel Arteta’s young side always seemed to be in fine form or in crisis last season, with very little in between.
They had worked themselves into pole position in the race for the top four but skidded off at the end, allowing Spurs to edge ahead.
In truth, it hardly seemed like a season worthy of Champions League qualification when you consider Arsenal suffered 13 losses in the league, but that’s the great thing about having a young team, they can learn and grow.
Arteta will certainly be hoping that is the case, and is rumoured to be trying to add another talented youngster in Porto’s Fabio Vieira. If he’s half as good as the last Vieira who played for the Gunners, he’ll do well.
Arsenal will still be eyeing a striker, though, having lost Pierre-Emerick Aubameyang and now Alexandre Lacazette for nothing, and have been linked with City’s Gabriel Jesus, though Eddie Nketiah could yet step up having scored five in his last eight league games, and reportedly being offered a new deal at the Emirates Stadium.
Steady improvement the name of the game for Erik
Fair play to Erik ten Hag, the man clearly relishes a challenge.
And quite the challenge it promises to be at Manchester United, with an immense amount of ground to make up to even get close to thoughts of a title challenge.
United finished the season with a dismal 58 points, despite coming off a second-place finish the season before and signing Jadon Sancho, Raphael Varane and Cristiano Ronaldo.
‘Winning’ the transfer window does not count for much if it is not translated on the pitch, though, and ending the campaign in the sixth place and 35 points off top spot outlined just how much Ten Hag has to do.
The Red Devils also failed to end a league campaign with a positive goal difference (zero) for the first time since the 1989-90 season.
United have been linked with Frenkie de Jong and Christian Eriksen among many others, but as last season showed, coming names in does not automatically equate to improvement.
If Ten Hag wants to turn the ship around, he’ll need to solve it on the training field, and challenging for the title feels realistically more than a year away.