A season like no other, but some things won’t change – Shearer
Alan Shearer joins Gary Lineker and Ian Wright for Match of the Day this Saturday at 10.20pm BST on BBC One and the BBC Sport website for highlights from seven Premier League games.
The winter World Cup means this will be a Premier League season like no other, but one thing will be the same: it’s between Manchester City and Liverpool for the title.
When I look at the group of teams immediately below them, Tottenham and Arsenal have improved a lot, but I still don’t think it’s enough for either of them to maintain a challenge.
There is a gap between the top two and the rest, not just because of the quality we know City and Liverpool have, but also because of their belief and a relentless drive to succeed that stems from their managers.
City, who have been champions in four of the last five years, are looking for a hat-trick of titles. This is an achievement only Manchester United have achieved in the Premier League era, which tells you how difficult it is, but it is now in Pep Guardiola’s sights.
Liverpool will have been disappointed to finish with just two domestic cups last season from a campaign that promised so much, but we know exactly how they will react.
Even watching them in the Community Shield and seeing the body language of Jurgen Klopp and his team in this game, you can see they are fighting again.
Just one point separated them at the end last time and this season will be incredibly tight as well.
If I had to pick a winner now, it would be City, almost, because of Erling Haaland.
They won the title without him last year, and without using a true centre-forward. Now they have one who could and should score at least 30 goals this season.
There will be many more opportunities for Haaland
Haaland missed a great chance against Liverpool on Sunday, but so what? All strikers miss sometimes.
He will have many more chances for City because of the quality of his players and the service they will give him.
Yes, City may have to play a little differently with him in their team, or maybe have to adapt to the way he plays, but that’s not a problem by any means. In fact, I think we’ll see a bit of both.
Liverpool also have a new forward line with the departure of Sadio Mané and the addition of Darwin Núñez from Benfica, but I don’t think their attack is any less potent than last season.
One of the main reasons for this is Mohamed Salah signing a new contract, which is absolutely huge for them and will also weigh heavily on their minds.
We might even see Salah playing better now, which is a terrifying prospect for Premier League defences, but I still think City will have the upper hand at the end of the season.
Chelsea lack firepower
Among the other teams in last season’s top six, Tottenham are probably the only ones who have the same kind of firepower as Liverpool and City.
Spurs have backed manager Antonio Conte in the transfer window – in January and again this summer – and with his experience and determination, I expect them to have another good season after finishing fourth last time out.
Arsenal have also strengthened their attack and Gabriel Jesús is a very smart signing. Manager Mikel Arteta knows him from his time at City and I think Jesus will thrive now that he is the star and leading the line instead of looking around and not knowing if he is a centre-forward or not.
Right now, though, Chelsea don’t have the same attacking threat. They were really disappointing in the league last year, as was their £97m striker Romelu Lukaku.
Lukaku has left on loan and while Raheem Sterling is a good buy and Carney Chukwuemeka is an exciting prospect, I still think they are three or four signings away from challenging for the title again. Without a doubt, center forward is one of the positions where they are short, with three weeks to go before the window closes.
Man Utd’s aim is to get closer to the top four
Manchester United also have a lot of work to do in the transfer market before they can be classed as contenders again, and they come even further behind Chelsea after finishing sixth last season.
United have a new manager with new ideas, but the squad needs to be strengthened and, unless that happens, Erik ten Hag may have to use players like Anthony Martial who, last season, were deemed not good enough for them
There are other problems as well. Cristiano Ronaldo’s situation has turned into a bit of a mess and it can’t help that Ten Hag have to continually deal with questions about his future.
It’s also a great season for Marcus Rashford at United after what happened to him last year – he has a point to prove and, from an England perspective, I hope he can rediscover his best form.
But I don’t see United challenging for the title – their aim is to try and get closer to the Champions League places.
Newcastle are not yet ready to challenge
I’d love to say I think Newcastle will fight Manchester United for a place in the top six, but I don’t see that happening just yet.
Eddie Howe has already done a great job of turning the club around since he was appointed manager in November and now my wish is for them to challenge for seventh, eighth or ninth place, which I think is realistic with the squad that they have obtained at this time. They finished 11th last time out and were just three points off eighth place.
Another signing or two could make a difference there, particularly up front – Chris Wood arrived from Burnley in January but is the only striker Howe has signed so far. With Callum Wilson’s history, you’d think another injury would strike at some point and they’d need more options in attack.
Whether they go for a striker or another type of striker, there have been reports of bids for Leicester’s James Maddison and Harvey Barnes, it is definitely in that department that they need to strengthen.
More successes for England at the World Cup?
It already seems strange that the domestic season will stop in mid-November for six weeks, but I don’t think we know yet how holding this World Cup in the middle of the campaign will affect each team in the Premier League, or England’s prospects in Qatar. .
Will it hinder clubs sending more players, or less? Could it help England because our players don’t come out after a long, hard season?
We can only guess, because it has never happened before, but it will definitely change the way you win the title.
In the last couple of years, we’ve seen City get off to a slow start and then make a big splash in November or December and go on ridiculously long winning runs. They will have to time it differently this term, and it will be interesting to see where the teams are when the Premier League stops after 16 games, and then how quickly they can get going again.
It’s the same for everyone though, and I see the schedule as something to look forward to, rather than complain about. I also think there is real optimism about our chances after Gareth Southgate’s side reached the semi-final and final of their last two major tournaments.
The Lionesses went and won the Euros this summer, which was amazing to watch. The England Women’s team were excellent from start to finish and showed what it takes to go the distance in a major tournament.
Now it’s up to the men to try to match it!
Alan Shearer was speaking to BBC Sport’s Chris Bevan.
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