Premier League kicking off, City the team to beat

Sunday’s Community Shield match, heralding the start of the English soccer season, will pit the last two Premier League champions against one another at Wembley.

Manchester City, having won the 2017-18 title with a record-setting 100 points (they trailed for barely 150 minutes over the course of the campaign), has added Riyad Mahrez to an already-electrifying attack. But the Algerian winger’s arrival is likely to be one of the few at Etihad Stadium this summer. Manager Pep Guardiola can hardly make his team better than it already is, and barring disaster, he and his players will lift the trophy again next spring.

If there are any questions about this City squad, they are more far-fetched wonderings than serious queries.

Will at least one of Sergio Aguero and Gabriel Jesus be fit enough to front the attack at any given time? Both have battled injuries recently. Can captain Vincent Kompany play a whole season? He, too, has had fitness trouble, although John Stones’ impressive World Cup could well carry through into the league schedule and provide Guardiola with a steady presence in the centre of defence. But what about Fernandinho’s horror show in Russia? Can he bounce back with his club? And can David Silva, at 32, continue to provide dynamism and creativity in the midfield?

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Sunday’s Community Shield match, heralding the start of the English soccer season, will pit the last two Premier League champions against one another at Wembley.

Manchester City, having won the 2017-18 title with a record-setting 100 points (they trailed for barely 150 minutes over the course of the campaign), has added Riyad Mahrez to an already-electrifying attack. But the Algerian winger’s arrival is likely to be one of the few at Etihad Stadium this summer. Manager Pep Guardiola can hardly make his team better than it already is, and barring disaster, he and his players will lift the trophy again next spring.

If there are any questions about this City squad, they are more far-fetched wonderings than serious queries.

Will at least one of Sergio Aguero and Gabriel Jesus be fit enough to front the attack at any given time? Both have battled injuries recently. Can captain Vincent Kompany play a whole season? He, too, has had fitness trouble, although John Stones’ impressive World Cup could well carry through into the league schedule and provide Guardiola with a steady presence in the centre of defence. But what about Fernandinho’s horror show in Russia? Can he bounce back with his club? And can David Silva, at 32, continue to provide dynamism and creativity in the midfield?

The answer to each and every one of these questions would have to be “no” for City to not repeat. And that’s unlikely to happen.

Chelsea, meanwhile, comes into 2018-19 as FA Cup winners, although a disappointing fifth-place finish last term left them outside the Champions League places. There are legitimate, and pressing, questions here.

Can Chelsea keep hold of Eden Hazard and Thibaut Courtois, both of whom are wanted by Real Madrid? Hazard, who had a sensational World Cup, is the Blues’ most important player, and losing him would be devastating. What about the defence? Gary Cahill is declining (or has long since declined), and David Luiz struggled mightily last season. Is there any scenario in which they won’t ship goals? And, speaking of goals, who’s going to score them? Kicking off the schedule with Alvaro Morata and Olivier Giroud as the striking options is hardly ideal. Can new manager Maurizio Sarri somehow coax results out of this group?

These questions would mostly have to be answered in the affirmative for Chelsea to stand any chance of securing a top-four spot.

The Community Shield, then, will be a showcase of opponents seemingly headed in opposite directions. And, after this weekend’s taster, Premier League fans will have their whetted appetites satisfied when the program begins in earnest on Friday.

The following are a few more burning questions from throughout the division:

Will Liverpool’s spendingmake them title contenders?

Liverpool finished fourth last season, and only Manchester City lost fewer than its five matches. Liverpool also progressed all the way to the Champions League final, where it was beaten by Real Madrid. So far this summer, Liverpool has added four players to what was already a very competitive squad, and when Virgil Van Dijk’s move from Southampton is added to the ledger, Liverpool’s 2018 spending has already surpassed US$312 million. On paper, it looks as though Liverpool will be City’s main title challenger in 2018-19, but will the outlay make it a genuine contender?

Will Jose Mourinho last the season

at Manchester United?

After last weekend’s 4-1 loss to Liverpool at the Big House, Manchester United manager Jose Mourinho ranted about a lack of signings at the club, his players’ holidays, pre-season schedules and, of course, referees. It was hardly a surprising outburst. Rather, it was what many observers have come to expect from the 55-year-old, whose pessimism and cantankerousness have defined much of his tenure at Old Trafford. Naturally, his mood wouldn’t much matter if his teams were playing well and competing for major trophies. If the Red Devils get off to a slow start in the following weeks and months, will he still be in his job at season’s end? Or even at Christmas?

Will Unai Emery reinvigorateArsenal?

Arsene Wenger’s 22 years at Arsenal ended with back-to-back seasons outside the top four — the most recent of which saw the North London outfit finish 12 points back of the Champions League places. In that context, expectations will be modest for Unai Emery in his first campaign as Wenger’s successor, and that’s probably a good thing. In the 46-year-old, Arsenal fans will encounter a manager who is tactically predictable, whose teams tend to struggle away from home and who loses his cool on the touchline. In other words, he’s exactly what they’re accustomed to. The Gunners needed reinvigoration following several stale seasons under Wenger. Is Emery the man to provide it?

Will big changes pay off for West Ham?

Manuel Pellegrini, formerly of Real Madrid and Manchester City, is the new West Ham manager. His club has spent more than US$109 million on player acquisitions this summer, and Jack Wilshire arrived from Arsenal on a free transfer. The Hammers have made some big, meaningful changes, but can it all come together to produce a side that contends for a Europa League spot?

Will Newcastle spend, sack or sell?

Newcastle overachieved last term, finishing 10th despite scoring only 39 goals and operating on a restricted budget. The team has been even more austere this summer, and manager Rafael Benitez has admitted he’s “worried” and that things are “not going well off the pitch.” Will he jump ship? Will his public disillusionment eventually see him sacked? Or will the club, which is up for sale, finally pass from owner Mike Ashley’s control? And, if the chaos at St. James’ Park persists for another full campaign, could the Magpies find themselves in relegation trouble?

Will the promoted teams gostraight back down?

Wolverhampton Wanderers, Cardiff City and Fulham were promoted to the Premier League in the spring, and each will be looking to consolidate their existence in the top flight this season. Of the three, perhaps Cardiff looks the likeliest to go straight back down to the Championship. But, who joins them? Southampton narrowly avoided the drop in May, and is certainly a candidate. Ditto Huddersfield, Brighton and Newcastle. Eight teams finished with 42 points or fewer in 2017-18. Will the relegation battle be similarly fierce this time around?

jerradpeters@gmail.comTwitter: @JerradPeters