Warne: After What Felt Like Forever, The Premier League Is Back

Aug 13, 2021, 1:58 PM
LONDON, ENGLAND - MAY 19: Harry Kane of Tottenham Hotspur leads the team in a lap of honour followi...
LONDON, ENGLAND - MAY 19: Harry Kane of Tottenham Hotspur leads the team in a lap of honour following the Premier League match between Tottenham Hotspur and Aston Villa at Tottenham Hotspur Stadium on May 19, 2021 in London, England. A limited number of fans will be allowed into Premier League stadiums as Coronavirus restrictions begin to ease in the UK. (Photo by Richard Heathcote/Getty Images)
(Photo by Richard Heathcote/Getty Images)

AP – We are finally back. When the 38th fixture was played last season, Manchester City were worthy winners.

The citizens strolled to their fifth title inside a decade, a feat attained with rarely needing to shift from second gear. The hope for the 2021/2022 season is that Manchester United, Liverpool and Chelsea did some summer business to try and close the gap. And yes, all three have done some shopping.

With two and a half weeks left of the transfer window, I expect a flurry of final activity. Not to be left out, City also strengthened its might in the transfer market.

The number of changes made during this transfer window means we are in for potentially the closest title race in the last few years. I expect all four of these teams to be in the final top four places again this season. But it’s hard to write off Leicester, who have once again strengthened their squad on the back of successive fifth-placed finishes.

Then there are Spurs, appointing a manager who caught the eye while at Wolves in Nuno Espírito Santo. They’ve added well to their squad, but it remains to be seen if Harry Kane is still at the club when the window slams shut at the end of August. And then the bigger question of how to replace Kane’s 23 goals and 14 assists from last season that left him at the top in both categories.

There will be updates throughout the weeks of any last-minute big moves throughout the EPL.

This season kicks off on Friday as EPL new boys Brentford F.C. get to show off their new stadium against Arsenal that you’ll be able to watch on NBCSN with a 1:00 p.m. kick-off.

Catch KSL 5 on Saturday. Their debut EPL season coverage begins at 10:30 a.m. between Norwich City versus Liverpool.

Manchester United v. Leeds United

First up, is the early kick-off on Saturday morning. 5:30 a.m. on NBCSN between Manchester United and Leeds United, a rich and historical rivalry. In a season where once again Ole Gunnar Solskjær has been backed, he welcomes an important piece to his attack in Jadon Sancho. Could Sancho be the missing part to allow them truly to challenge for a title? He certainly helps.

With the imminent arrival of Raphaël Varane they look to be on the cusp of something very important at Old Trafford. With the arrivals, there must be, hopefully, a better style of soccer. Last season there were times they looked immense and at others, they looked boring, slow, and maybe short of ideas. Question marks remain about the manager and his ability. No question that he’s steadied the ship, but can he take them to the next level? No excuses now, he has a solid squad to choose from and United fans should be optimistic.

Coming up against Leeds is a perfect test. The Whites were one of the stories last season, their brand of high press and swarm approach caught plenty off guard (but not Man Utd it should be said). They were fun to watch and fearless in their approach. Marcelo Bielsa secured his future at Leeds recently and will continue to lead them. Junior Firpo is likely an upgrade at left-back for them. His arrival from cash-strapped Barcelona may have raised an eyebrow or two, but the reality is, Leeds is a destination for young hungry players who want to get themselves truly noticed.

I’d argue they’re the fittest team in the league, and what they lack in talent they make up for in discipline to the tactics and philosophy instilled throughout the club.

This one has all the makings of an outstanding encounter. I believe Man United will be a better team than last season, but for Leeds it’s different, they will no longer have the element of new-boy surprise. Still a tough unit though and I’m expecting a fast-paced match.

Prediction: Manchester United are missing a few players, but I still think with the brilliance of Bruno Fernandes, it will be too much for Leeds to handle.

Tottenham Hotspur v. Manchester City

Oh boy, we have a final fixture for you. A 9:30 a.m. kick-off on Sunday that you can watch on NBCSN. Tottenham has added well during the off-season, Bryan Gil adds another attacking option, Pierluigi Gollini will bring a challenge for the Goalkeeper spot, and, most importantly, Cristian Romero arrives to potentially help stiffen up an under-par backline.

A promising start for new manager Nuno Espírito Santo (NES), but his biggest test is still to be decided. Can he persuade Harry Kane to stay? If he can, it will be the most important deal of his career. Spurs are right there, an elite squad that just needs some tinkering and belief instilled in them and we could genuinely see a top-four contender.

Santo successfully got his previous Wolves team organized, well balanced and difficult to beat. Technically gifted passers of the ball in the middle of the pitch and pacey width from the wing-backs and wide forwards. I do expect 3-4-3 and 4-3-3 formations to be used as there is more flexibility and depth at Spurs.

That said, the spine of the team is as solid as anything in the EPL, if they can gel quickly, I expect the soccer to be entertaining and fast. Heung-min Son will once again be one of the main men leading the attack, regardless of Kane’s future. And with even more talent at his disposal, I expect NES to fully utilize the wide players to great effect.

City…wow, the champions added Jack Grealish and are still rumored to be in the market for a Center Forward…Harry Kane, to be exact. Pep Guardiola has been given the funds to retain the title and maybe make it one step further in the Champions League after finishing runners-up last season.

It’s hard to know how good this Pep team really is. Deserved EPL champions without question, they addressed their backline last season, but such was the lack of real competition in the league they coasted to the title. Playing some excellent and explosive stuff at times, and others they ground out results. Hopefully, we get to see the consistent City this campaign, one that is pushed to brilliance. I don’t expect them to have such an easy ride. That spells trouble for the league, as the competitive nature of Pep will once again get his team firing the quick possession-based football.

Raheem Sterling had an outstanding Euro’s that got him out of a form slump he had towards the end of last season. City will be missing a few players as the season starts, but this will give us an indication of how deep they are.

Prediction: Whilst it’s the opening weekend, both teams will be looking for a hot start. City will be missing some players and it remains to be seen if Harry Kane will be involved after an extended break. I expect Spurs to be difficult to play against, and I predict City to have plenty of the ball. Might just be with a little less cutting edge. Draw at Tottenham Hotspur stadium.

This will do it for the opening weekend. You can catch other weekend EPL games on NBCSN and Peacock. This weekend also has soccer starting up in Spain’s La Liga (ESPN +), Germany’s Bundesliga (ESPN +) and The Netherlands Eredivisie (ESPN +). France’s Ligue 1 (beIN SPORTS) started last weekend and will probably draw a bit more attention since the arrival of Lionel Messi to PSG. And starting next weekend you can catch Italy’s Serie A (Paramount +).

Until next week.


Tom Hackett

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Warne: After What Felt Like Forever, The Premier League Is Back