IAN LADYMAN: Be thankful for Liverpool… without them, Manchester City would WALK the Premier League

There is a reasonable case to be argued that the current Liverpool team is the best the club has ever fielded.

It is also possible that Jurgen Klopp and those who play for him may one day look back at their careers and realise they only won a single Premier League title.

That, in a nutshell, is the state of play in the top flight of English football ahead of the new season. The standard at the very top is arguably higher than it’s ever been yet one team still stands alone as the Premier League’s very best. Manchester City have won four of the last five titles and the challenge for the rest remains the same. How to get ahead of them.

Jurgen Klopp has created one of the greatest Liverpool teams in the club’s history

Realistically, only one team can hope to do it and that is Liverpool. Edged out by a point last season, we should be thankful for them. In any other league in Europe, a side like Pep Guardiola’s champions could expect to walk away with the title. Somehow, Klopp has managed to construct and continue to improve a team that has managed to stand nose to nose with them for the last few years.

At times the sheer ferocity of this modern rivalry seems to weary both Klopp and indeed Guardiola. It must feel like standing in front a fire for nine months of every year. Here they are — doubtless with renewed energy and purpose — at the start line once again, though. Both with teams that may look marginally different but both fundamentally the same.

As always, it’s hard to look beyond City for the title. Once again, if I was putting money anywhere it would be on blue.

Uncertainty remains over Guardiola’s own future. He is out of contract at the end of the season and the longer that situation goes on, the more it could possibly start to affect his players. However City’s squad has been improved by the acquisition of Erling Haaland and Kalvin Phillips. Last summer they bought Jack Grealish. It is not hard to see why they win things.

£51million man Erling Haaland is one of the signings of the summer for Manchester City

£51million man Erling Haaland is one of the signings of the summer for Manchester City

Liverpool, on the other hand, have lost a key player in Sadio Mane. The Senegal forward has been just as influential as Mo Salah in recent seasons and however effective new central forward Darwin Nunez transpires to be, Mane may yet prove to be one of those players whose absence is felt just a little bit more keenly than anybody would really wish.

And this is the thing about the Premier League these days. The gap between the two best teams is so impossibly thin that any summer that is not spent taking steps forward is effectively one that risks losing ground. With this in mind, City start once more as favourites.

Beneath the top of the mountain, there is movement in the foothills and we should be grateful for we have not always been able to say that recently. Most of the noise has come from Old Trafford where Manchester United have a new coach. Sadly, they also have many of the same players.

More interesting have been the happenings at Tottenham, a club not known for cleverness in the transfer market. With Antonio Conte’s firebrand coaching forging Spurs in to the Champions League places at the death last May, the Italian has been rewarded with a flotilla of new players recruited for him by his sporting director and ally Fabio Paratici.

There is uncertainty over Pep Guardiola's future, with his contract up at the end of the season

There is uncertainty over Pep Guardiola’s future, with his contract up at the end of the season

Much has been made of Conte’s relationship with Spurs chairman Daniel Levy but it may well that it is the Conte-Paratici axis that proves to have moved Tottenham forwards at a pace and with a surety not seen since the early knockings of Mauricio Pochettino.

There exists a similar sense of purpose across north London at Arsenal with their own technical director Edu acknowledging in the summer that too often money has been spent on players of insufficient character and indeed talent. 

The arrival of Gabriel Jesus and the versatile Oleksandr Zinchenko from City will help to solve the first problem though whether Arsenal have enough depth to improve on last season’s fifth-placed finish seems a pertinent question to ask.

As for Chelsea, they have in Thomas Tuchel one of Europe’s finest coaches and that’s just as well. The transition from the years of Roman Abramovich has been difficult and not been helped by a squad that continues to splinter. Tuchel will need to find his very best if he is to hold everything together at Stamford Bridge and it is hard not to fear for him a little.

It is encouraging to see purpose, intent and strategy from some of our big clubs, at least, and this coming season there will doubtless be pressure from beneath once again. David Moyes and West Ham provided it last year. This year it may well come from Brighton — steadily improving under Graham Potter — and maybe a Southampton squad bolstered by new signings.

Steve Cooper's Nottingham Forest will be severely tested in the Premier League

Steve Cooper’s Nottingham Forest will be severely tested in the Premier League

At Leicester Brendan Rodgers will hope his team can answer questions posed after last season’s marginal regression. The Midlands club have not made a signing of note, however, and in terms of early season publicity at least, may well have their thunder stolen by the return of neighbours Nottingham Forest.

Back in the Premier League after 23 years, Forest will have it all to do to stay up despite the obvious gifts of their manager Steve Cooper. Equally the same can be said of Bournemouth and Fulham.

The transition from Championship to Premier League does not get any easier and that is not something that will be helped by the Premier League’s misguided decision to allow five substitutes this season. Ignore the talk about player welfare, it’s merely another tool to tilt the balance further towards the big clubs and is all the more depressing for it.

Everybody in the domestic game will get a break for a month from late November of course.

The first winter World Cup will carry some novelty value but we can expect it to leave us having learned one valuable lesson: it must never be allowed to happen again.

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