LONDON: The Premier League will be lit up this season by two of the world’s most charismatic managers as the top teams plot to prevent a repeat of Leicester City’s unlikely march to glory in world football’s most intriguing title race.
As the big teams lost their way, Claudio Ranieri got the basics right with unheralded Leicester and built a title-winning side with savvy recruitment, exemplary team spirit and a hungry collection of talented individuals.
This season, the arrival of some of the game’s finest managerial minds and some serious player recruitment have raised the tantalising prospect of a six or seven-horse title race and another unpredictable campaign.
Pep Guardiola’s arrival has been a key reason why Manchester City are the bookmakers’ favourites while significant spending on some of the game’s finest young talent, including England defender John Stones, have given the club fresh impetus.
City’s investment in recent years has brought isolated success, but the owners clearly hope Guardiola can establish a dynasty.
Across Manchester, Jose Mourinho, one of the most colourful and controversial characters in the sport, replaces Louis van Gaal at United.
An old rival of Guardiola from their time in Spain, Mourinho had made no secret of his desire to be Alex Ferguson’s long-term successor at Old Trafford and will surely be out to prove a point after being sacked by Chelsea last season a few months after leading them to the title.
The marquee signings of Zlatan Ibrahimovic and Paul Pogba, for a world record fee of 89 million pounds ($116 million), were bold statements of intent as they bid to mount a first serious title challenge since Ferguson’s departure in 2013.
A trio of London clubs will also be competing for the top spots.
Antonio Conte has resisted the temptation to revamp Chelsea’s ageing team but the former Italy coach may be quietly confident his tactical nous and a squad of proven winners can ensure significant improvement after last season’s struggles.
Unlike Chelsea, Arsenal and Tottenham Hotspur have to juggle European football alongside their domestic aspirations.
Mourinho’s old foe Arsene Wenger at Arsenal and neighbouring Spurs’ Mauricio Pochettino have tweaked rather than overhauled their squads, and will be aiming to improve on last year’s second and third-place finishes respectively.
Liverpool will look to progress under Juergen Klopp, another of Guardiola’s old sparring partners, in his first full season at the helm.
West Ham United, now installed in the London Stadium, and nouveau-riche Everton will be quietly optimistic of their top-six prospects.
And what of defending champions Leicester?
The loss of N’Golo Kante and the added distraction of the Champions League makes a successful title defence seem an impossible challenge but, as they know only too well, an impossible dream is worth chasing.