The 2018/19 Premier League fixtures have been announced and two of last season’s top six will face off on the opening day.
Reigning champions Manchester City travel to the Emirates to play Arsenal, who have Unai Emery in the dugout for the first time.
With the big hitters stronger than ever, and all looking to catch City after their dominant 100-point campaign brought them a third Premier League title, how will they line up to start the new season?
New faces, outgoings and a raft of rumoured targets make for some big changes in their starting XIs, and expect tactical shifts to come into play as managers try out new systems, having fine-tuned them in pre-season.
All six will be keen to avoid slow starts after sending a combined 71 players to the World Cup in Russia, with every point crucial as clubs fight not just for the title, but also to ensure they do not miss out on lucrative Champions League qualification.
Have a look at how the ‘big six’ will shape up:
1. Manchester City: Arsenal (A)
Having dominated the league on their way to finishing 19 points ahead of nearest challengers Manchester United, City’s need for improvement is not as strong as their rivals.
They won’t want to stand still, though, and with an endless pot of money sitting in their coffers and the lure of manager Pep Guardiola in the dugout, they are in the mix for some of Europe’s biggest names this summer.
Jerome Boateng struggled at the Etihad after joining in 2010, departing just 12 months later for Bayern, but he is now among the world’s best at his position and is being linked with a return to City.
Napoli’s deep-lying midfielder Jorginho is also rumoured to be Manchester-bound, taking over the holding role from Fernandinho, whose fitness may be a concern having turned 33 last month.
Further forward, expect much of the same from City’s electric front line, with this being the season Gabriel Jesus makes the striker’s berth his own.
2. Manchester United: Leicester City (H)
Despite finishing second and reaching the FA Cup final, United were heavily criticised for their playing style, and lost to all three promoted teams in the Premier League.
Looking to improve in Europe as well as domestically, Toby Alderweireld should finally complete his move from Spurs to shore up the defence, while Philipp Max, who provided a staggering 12 assists from left-back for Augsburg last season, could add further dynamism on the flanks.
United’s midfield could end up being one of the most expensive in history, with £52million signing Fred joining former world-record transfer Paul Pogba, and Europe’s hottest prospect, Sergej Milinkovic-Savic rumoured to be on his way in a blockbuster £115m deal from Lazio.
The spending is unlikely to stop there, as manager Jose Mourinho looks to exploit Gareth Bale’s precarious position at Real Madrid. Despite having cooled his demands to leave after Zinedine Zidane’s resignation ended their feud, Bale will accept nothing less than a starting role, which Mourinho would be only to happy to offer at Old Trafford.
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3. Tottenham Hotspur: Newcastle United (A)
Spurs spent much of last season playing a back three, but with Alderweireld seemingly already out of the door, manager Mauricio Pochettino could well revert to 4-2-3-1 for the new campaign.
Mousa Dembele could also be off, leaving Dele Alli to slide into the deeper midfield position he should make his own for England at the World Cup, alongside Paris Saint-Germain’s Adrien Rabiot, reportedly a key Spurs target this summer.
A well-settled frontline could be bolstered by the arrival of Anthony Martial from Manchester United, should his club agree to include him in the deal for Alderweireld.
Harry Kane will of course lead the line once again after 135 goals in the last four seasons including 41 last term, as Spurs look to end a 58-year drout at the summit of English football.
4. Liverpool: West Ham United (H)
Jurgen Klopp is very quickly building a phenomenal starting line-up at Anfield, already adding Fabinho and Naby Keita to his midfield for a combined £88m.
Roma goalkeeper Alisson kept 17 clean sheets in 37 Serie A games in the 2017/18 season and has attracted interest from the likes of Real Madrid, but Liverpool will be confident of signing the Brazil no.1 after getting a good look at him during their run to the Champions League final last season.
Shoring up the goalkeeping situation will be a huge boost for the club’s push to win a first title since 1990, with current options Simon Mignolet and Loris Karius failing to inspire confidence among the Anfield faithful.
The visit of West Ham will likely come too soon for injured star Alex Oxlade-Chamberlain, who will probably not return until April after his knee injury ruled him out of the final and this summer’s World Cup, allowing Jordan Henderson back in.
5. Chelsea: Huddersfield Town (A)
Chelsea appear the hardest to predict, with Antonio Conte’s future still hanging in the balance and the futures of key players Eden Hazard and N’Golo Kante looking insecure.
Should Conte stay, he will likely demand backing in the transfer window, and could dip into his homeland to pick up Roma and Napoli wing-backs Alessandro Florenzi and Elseid Hysaj, both reportedly the subject of strong interest from the Blues.
Club captain Gary Cahill could find himself on the fringes to begin the season, with Andreas Christensen expected to be given the chance to nail down a starting role after a promising start to the 2017/18 season, though he faded after Christmas.
Ruben Loftus-Cheek should slot back into midfield after an excellent loan spell at Crystal Palace, with Tiemoue Bakayoko relegated to the bench after a disappointing debut season.
Despite Chelsea’s worries up front, they are not being linked strongly with any strikers, which would present £60m man Alvaro Morata the chance to finally make a long-term mark on the club after a worrying decline in the second half of last season.
6. Arsenal: Manchester City (H)
The only top six side to change their manager in the close season, Arsenal are also presented with the hardest opening day task by playing against champions City.
Having finished 12 points off fourth place last term, new boss Unai Emery has plenty of work to do to close the gap on the top four, never mind the title.
Bernd Leno may end up between the sticks against City as the ageing Petr Cech is finally replaced, while new signing Stephan Lichtsteiner could be joined by Dortmund’s Sokratis Papastathopoulos, with a deal for the Greek centre-back expected to be completed next month.
Sampdoria defensive midfielder Lucas Torreira is also on the brink of a move to the Emirates, replacing the powerful but erratic Granit Xhaka.
Arsenal’s front five, for all their defensive worries, is among the strongest in the league on paper, and should receive a significant boost if Aaron Ramsey – favourite to take the armband under Emery – signs the five-year deal offered to him by the club.
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