It didn’t take long before there were speculations and opinions flying around like wildfire as soon as the EPL fixtures were announced. Pep Guardiola, Jose Mourinho, Antonio Conte, Jurgen Klopp and Arsene Wenger were all thrown into the spotlight and took up centre-stage. In fact, unlike most times, this time the entire focus appeared to be on these managers – the changes they’ll make, possible tactics, changes, basically anything that seemed argumentative in the least.
This furore over the managers with the season yet to even start, it is no secret that this time the season is bound to be focused more on the bosses. The players won’t be missing from the headlines, obviously, yet, undoubtedly, there has been a shift.
With Claudio Ranieri’s emphatic season, the race to the title will be a lot more heated up this time, as they have proved the fact that you can never underestimate any team in the EPL. Things have been heading this way for some time but now it is an established fact.
All the major heavyweights of the dug-out are facing up against each other in England. With the heavyweights, also come the heavy clashes. Pep Guardiola’s first clash in
Manchester with his old enemy Mourinho – the weekend of September 10 at Old Trafford – will draw a lot more eyeballs just to see Guardiola and Mourinho try to outsmart each other. Who wouldn’t want to witness that? Meanwhile, Arsenal vs Liverpool on the opening day is another big game to look out for.
Manchester United vs Chelsea has turned into ‘Mourinho’s Return,’ to Stamford Bridge after his second sacking by Roman Abramovich last year. Mourinho is the dominant figure in terms of profile and global interest at Manchester United, even more so than Rooney. Now that the reticent Manuel Pellegrini has departed Manchester City, the same is true at the Etihad.
No player at Anfield gets more publicity than Klopp at this point, and Wenger is the spearhead of Arsenal because he has been in charge for nearly 20 years. Chelsea’s new boss, the Italian Conte, is a less well-known public figure here – at least for now – but more attention will focus upon him than any of the players because he is in a similar position like Mourinho. And because the turnover of managers at Stamford Bridge has been so vast that it automatically places new appointments under intense scrutiny.
Conte’s first game will be against West Ham, who finished an impressive seventh last season – the first time they finished above Chelsea since 1995/96. It will allow Conte to get a taste of the unique intensity of English football. Even Guardiola would be subjected to the same when City play their first game with Sunderland. With the Hammers entering the Europa League qualifying competition in late August, this is also a rare season in which West Ham are in Europe and Chelsea are not.
This is a reminder that Conte will have to concentrate solely on domestic football as he re-builds in his first season – with the double-edge to that being that he is likely to be sacked if he doesn’t get the club back into the Champions League at the first attempt.
The fixture will showcase a new side of West Ham. After heading the revolt of the smaller clubs in the Premier League last season and then departing from Upton Park, they now have bigger ideas and ambitions at their new Olympic Stadium base – with regular 50,000 crowds in prospect.The team have to match it and given Dimitri Payet’s exploits at Euro 2016 so far, they look ready for the job.
Tottenham play three matches in at home against Liverpool, with the first north London derby away at Arsenal on November. Mauricio Pochettino’s side exceeded expectations in the previous season, and now, those expectations will turn into more sustained belief that the club is well on their way to being considered a powerhouse. However, the potential weariness of the England players followingthe Euro 2016 can prove to be a dampener for the Spurs.
As far as the Gunners are concerned, Arsenal have begun spending this summer and it looks like the mistaken lack of recruitment which cost them last season’s title will not be repeated. Their first game with Klopp may also have further significance for Wenger; a possible sacking might be on the cards. He will pass the 20-year mark in October, and his contract is slated to expire next year.
The Battle of the Bosses will definitely be one intense season of the EPL, and it remains to be seen which one out of them will enjoy the final triumph, or like last season, it could be somebody totally unexpected.