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Spurs title contenders? Forest stay up? Five things to look out for this Premier League season

The 2022/23 Premier League season gets underway on Friday and, as always, it has pulled off the miracle of perpetual reinvention. No matter how many storylines are burnt through the year before there are always new points of intrigue when August rolls around - and this season is no different.

In what looks set to be among the busiest, and probably most expensive, transfer windows in Premier League history there could be huge changes at the top and bottom of the Premier League table. Here are five things to look out for in the campaign ahead:

1) Haaland and Nunez shaking up the top

The biggest story will undoubtedly be a title race between Liverpool and Manchester City, two clubs who have dominated English football over the last five years in an unprecedented way. But this season, more than any since 2018, there is the possibility that Pep Guardiola's and Jurgen Klopp's teams will move backwards – and not only because of the interruption of the World Cup and the growth of Tottenham Hotspur, as highlighted below.

Erling Haaland is not a natural fit at Manchester City despite scoring 86 goals in 89 games for Borussia Dortmund. He is a penalty-box striker who plays on the shoulder of the last defender and struggles to contribute with link-up play outside the box, which means a complete tactical recalibration of how Man City play.

Perhaps they will benefit from a new, more urgent and direct approach, and perhaps Kevin de Bruyne's crossing will now find a target in games when City face a deep-lying defensive shell. But the Community Shield defeat suggested otherwise. Haaland looked lost, disconnected from Man City midfielders who were looking for him to come short. What's more, the 21-year-old's lack of pressing is compounded by poor defensive work from Jack Grealish and Riyad Mahrez, which could see the counter-press disrupted.

As for Liverpool, swapping Sadio Mane for Darwin Nunez is a big change in attacking style, and we should not expect Nunez to adapt to English football as quickly as Luis Diaz did. The two new strikers at the two top Premier League clubs means, most likely, a period of adaptation and lower points tallies come May – which opens things up for a challenger…

2) Spurs pursuing a title challenge under Conte

Antonio Conte has a long history of winning league titles unexpectedly. He took Chelsea from a mid-table collapse to champions in a single year, and toppled Juventus as Inter Milan head coach more recently. Now, he brings his ruthless and tactically-immaculate system to Tottenham Hotspur, who after a long summer under his tutelage should be considerably better than they were in 2021/22.

His fitness and tactical coaching during pre-season may just create another brilliantly-efficient team, one ready to grind out points and put together an early sequence of wins that sees them chase down Liverpool and Man City. Most people do not think Spurs can make up that gap, but in Conte they have the best coach in the world at creating winners – and they do, in fact, have the first 11 to do it.

Harry Kane and Heung-Min Son are two world-class forwards, which is an excellent starting point. Richarlison adds competition and can be slotted in across the front line, while Ivan Perisic adds title-winning experience and attacking expertise at left wing-back and Yves Bissouma is an outstanding signing. The former Brighton man is the missing piece in the puzzle; a press-resistant midfielder who can move Spurs through the thirds with urgency.

Everything is in place for a surge towards the summit of the division.

3) World Cup disruption could alter second half of season

Nobody is really talking about how the World Cup, taking place between November 21 and December 18, is going to change the Premier League because nobody is able to predict what will happen. It is too big, and too strange, for pundits to look at. One thing we can be sure of is that it will make the 2022/23 campaign very unusual, and like nothing we have seen before.

For starters, we can anticipate huge managerial changes in November. A two-week international break is generally seen as the best time to get a new manager in, so a four-week one will make many chairmen act. But it is when the domestic calendar resumes on December 26 that the real impact of the tournament in Qatar will be felt.

Injuries and fatigue will play a big part – but only for the bigger clubs. In 2018 the Premier League sent 108 players to the World Cup and 57 of these (53%) came from the 'Big Six' clubs. That leaves, on average, just three or four players going to Qatar from each of the other 14 Premier League sides. In other words, everyone apart from the big hitters will not only be well rested, but will have enjoyed a second pre-season.

Consequently the second half of 2022/23 should see a lot more giant-killings, creating a more chaotic and exciting end to the season.

4) Man Utd revolution rests on a knife edge

Arguably the most interesting club this season is Manchester United, who are hoping for a revolution under Erik ten Hag but may see yet another new dawn crumble. There is simply no way of predicting which way it will go, such is the level of chaos and mismanagement at every level of the club; Ten Hag needs time for his revolution to take hold, and yet there is unlikely to be patience for a rookie manager trying to get respect from a dressing room that has had too much power over the last few years.

Pre-season has gone well, with a fluid front three of Anthony Martial, Jadon Sancho, and Marcus Rashford leading a new-look system, but the pressure of Old Trafford is a completely different story, while the Cristiano Ronaldo saga threatens to undermine their campaign. Whatever happens, it will be fascinating to watch unfold.

5) Weak field gives Forest chance to be surprise package

Looking further down the table, the Premier League does not look in very good shape in terms of the relegation battle. There are many clubs seemingly set to struggle, and that may provide Nottingham Forest with the opportunity to emulate Sheffield United and Brentford by exploding into life this month.

Leeds United were hugely overachieving under Marcelo Bielsa and are likely to fall apart now, especially with Raphinha and Kalvin Phillips gone. Southampton have steadily declined year on year and Ralf Hasenhuttl's project is under threat. Everton have had a dreadful summer and are led by perhaps the worst manager in the division. Wolves got lucky by outperforming their xG last season and may get found out this time around. Fulham and Bournemouth just don't look Premier League ready.

By contrast, Forest have made some very good signings this summer, while Steve Cooper is a tactically astute manager with a hungry young team ready to emulate other recent surprise packages. Like Thomas Frank and Chris Wilder before him, Cooper has the flexibility and unusual hybrid – of possession football with blunt, direct elements – to make the City Ground a difficult place to go.

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Alex Keble
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