Kick­ing off a big sea­son

PREMIER LEAGUE PREVIEW

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T he wait is nearly over as the Premier League re­turns this weekend af­ter a sum­mer that saw big-name man­agers ar­rive and trans­fer records be­ing bro­ken. Ahead of the big kick-off our chief sports writer Adrian Back sat down with some 7DAYS sport gurus to find out their pre­dic­tions for the up­com­ing cam­paign.

ADRIAN: There has been plenty of big trans­fers so far, but which do you feel has been the best piece of busi­ness? MIKE:

Speak to any Manchester United sup­porter and they will hope that the free trans­fer of Zla­tan Ibrahi­movic will be the best busi­ness deal of the sum­mer - but with a re­ported salary of $265,000 it’s not ex­actly cheap is it?

For me, Chelsea’s sign­ing of mid­field en­forcer N’Golo Kante from cham­pi­ons Le­ices­ter City is a great deal. He’s that good he’s like hav­ing an ex­tra player and he will al­low play­ers like Eden Haz­ard and Oscar to re­ally shine.

BARRY:

Zla­tan’s in the Premier League fi­nally, N’Golo Kante’s move to Chelsea was good busi­ness by An­to­nio Conte, while Saido Mane could shine for Liver­pool.

But the sign­ing of the sum­mer for me was Le­ices­ter re­tain­ing top scorer Jamie Vardy and keep­ing him away from the bright lights of Ar­se­nal. Top deal Clau­dio.

CLAIRE:

It’s easy to have your head turned by the ob­vi­ous big names (Zla­tan for free?!) but there have been a lot of other in­ter­est­ing movers that could make a big dif­fer­ence at their new clubs.

Keep your eye on the ex­cit­ing young tal­ent that Southamp­ton snapped up from the Bun­desliga for just $15.5m - Pierre-Emile Hojbjerg - and I’ll be hop­ing for good things from for­mer Saints star, Vic­tor Wanyama who moves to Spurs for a thrifty $14.2m.

ADRIAN: Do you think Le­ices­ter can shock again or will it be one of the es­tab­lished big clubs? MIKE:

I would love to see Le­ices­ter re­tain their ti­tle, but I think the other ‘big’ clubs will be too strong of a force.

Pep Guardi­ola’s Manchester City should be the favourites, but you can’t write off Chelsea un­der An­to­nio Conte.

BARRY:

I can’t see Le­ices­ter get­ting any­where close to what they achieved last year but then again all of the usual sus­pects are still in tran­si­tion and Chelsea are still short of a goalscorer or two. I fancy Tot­ten­ham to push Man City hard.

CLAIRE:

While most of us would love to see an un­der­dog do it again, I think last sea­son was an anom­aly.

It was such a shock to the sys­tem for the big clubs that I be­lieve they will come out all guns blaz­ing to re­store the nat­u­ral or­der of things.

The two Manchester clubs in par­tic­u­lar are not mess­ing around - wel­come to the Pep and Jose show…

ADRIAN: There are plenty of big char­ac­ters on the touch­line this year, but which man­ager are you tip­ping to steal the head­lines this cam­paign? MIKE:

All eyes will be on Manchester this sea­son. Pep will get City play­ing well, but there will be lots of pres­sure on Manchester United boss Jose Mour­inho.

Jose won’t just steal the head­lines – he will be the head­lines. But maybe not al­ways for the best rea­sons. It should be a fas­ci­nat­ing bat­tle be­tween all the bosses. BARRY: They will all make head­lines at some stage dur­ing the sea­son – and I in­clude Slaven Bilic of West Ham in there too.

But this sea­son will be all about Guardi­ola. Whether he suc­ceeds in de­liv­er­ing sil­ver­ware in his first sea­son or fails, it will be in­ter­est­ing to see how he copes in English foot­ball.

The Jose Mour­inho-Juan Mata saga might well over­shadow ev­ery­thing else how­ever.

CLAIRE: I’d love to come up with some­thing other than the ob­vi­ous here but umm… Pep and Jose - ob­vi­ously! Two mas­sive char­ac­ters at two ab­so­lutely mas­sive clubs, it’s hard to imag­ine a week when they won’t lead the back pages. Also keep an ear out for Slaven Bilic if his charis­matic Euro 2016 pun­ditry was anything to go by…

ADRIAN: How long will we have to wait for the first man­ager sack­ing - and who do you think will it be?

MIKE: The pro­moted clubs will al­ways find it tough to get re­sults – and I know it’s a cliché, but it’s a re­sults busi­ness. The one boss I fear for is Tony Pulis at West Brom. He’s a good man­ager, but his team may strug­gle this sea­son.

BARRY: There’s a few man­agers who have a re­ally tough job on their hands this sea­son.

Tony Pulis will be up against it at West Brom, es­pe­cially with new own­ers head­ing in.

Francesco Guidolin at Swansea is another who could strug­gle, as could Alan Pardew at Crys­tal Palace.

But my tip for first on the chop­ping block is Wal­ter Maz­zarri at Wat­ford.

It will be just desserts for the Hor­nets fol­low­ing their treat­ment of Spa­niard Quique Sanchez Flores last sea­son.

Tricky ter­ri­tory this as just one

CLAIRE: year ago, Clau­dio Ranieri was the favourite for the sack… look how that turned out.

I’ll plump for Wal­ter Maz­zarri at Wat­ford by the New Year. It’s his first man­age­rial job in the UK and his boss is not the most pa­tient - the club has had a high turnover in the dugout as well.

ADRIAN: Look­ing at the new­lypro­moted teams – Burn­ley, Hull and Mid­dles­brough – do you think any of them can sur­vive and who are you tip­ping for rel­e­ga­tion?

It’s go­ing to be a long slog for these

MIKE: three teams. As well as West Brom and Sun­der­land, I think the newly-pro­moted sides will go straight down.

BARRY: Hull are in tur­moil, head­ing into their Premier League re­turn with­out a per­ma­nent man­ager and no new play­ers on board. I can only see them head­ing in one di­rec­tion. Burn­ley, sadly, just won’t be able to com­pete as much as Sean Dy­che will get the best out of his team.

Mid­dles­brough have the best chance of sur­vival. Boss Ai­tor Karanka has seem­ingly put aside his dif­fer­ences with the club and has done a lot of busi­ness in the sum­mer. The key will be how quickly can they gel.

CLAIRE: Most clubs strug­gle with the tran­si­tion to the top flight and it won’t be easy for any of them. I’d say Boro have the best chance of stay­ing put - they’ve been away the long­est but they’ve had more money to spend to bridge that gap.

ADRIAN: Fi­nally, who is your one player to watch this sea­son?

Eden Haz­ard. He was pretty much MIKE: non-ex­is­tent for the ma­jor­ity of the sea­son un­der Mour­inho at Chelsea. But he came good at the tail-end of the year and with Conte now in charge at Stam­ford Bridge, Haz­ard will be the main man once again.

BARRY: An­thony Mar­tial. For­get the Premier League’s record ar­rival – and Zla­tan (sorry Ibra). I will be watch­ing Mar­tial this sea­son. He’s had one year to get used to the Premier League fol­low­ing his ridicu­lous $81 mil­lion move from Monaco.

He’s al­ready been sulk­ing af­ter los­ing his No. 9 shirt to Zla­tan so how will he re­act?

Mour­inho doesn’t take pas­sen­gers so Mar­tial will have to put in the work if he wants to re­main at Old Traf­ford. Also, I’m keen to see how Jor­dan Rhodes does at Boro now he has his chance in the big league.

CLAIRE: Paul Pogba. He has so much to prove and it will be fas­ci­nat­ing to see, 1. how any player lives up to that gar­gan­tuan price tag and 2. what stupid hair­cut he comes up with each week.

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