Premier League preview: Manchester City and Liverpool in a two-horse race once again

Manchester City's Erling Haaland celebrates after his teammate Julian Alvarez scores his side's opening goal during the FA Community Shield soccer match between Liverpool and Manchester City at the King Power Stadium in Leicester, England, Saturday, July 30, 2022. (Leila Coker/AP)

After one of the shortest off-seasons in recent memory, the English Premier League will kick off its 2022-23 campaign on Friday when Arsenal visits Selhurst Park to take on fellow London club Crystal Palace. 

Manchester City have won four of the last five titles, and are attempting to become the first club to three-peat since neighbours Manchester United turned the trick from 2007 to 2009. But standing in their way is Liverpool, who pushed Man City for the title right until the very end of last season, and who got the better of their rivals in last week’s Community Shield with a comprehensive 3-1 win at Leicester’s King Power Stadium. 

Here are five storylines to watch during the upcoming English top-flight campaign. 

A two-horse race at the top of the table 

Manchester City and Liverpool have finished first and second in three out of the previous four seasons, with the Blues coming out on top in 2019 and 2022, and the Reds winning the crown in 2020.

Twice, the title was decided by a single point between the clubs, including last season, while Chelsea and Manchester United have finished a distant third over the past four years. By all accounts, City and Liverpool should duke it out for top spot in the table during the 2022-23 campaign, once again leaving the trailing back to eat their collective dust.

Both teams have lost players in the off-season, but they’ve also made some major additions this summer (more on that later), while the likes of Chelsea, Manchester United and Tottenham have made relatively modest transfer moves in order to strengthen their respective rosters. 

Man City has scored 100 goals in a season on three occasions, twice under Pep Guardiola, and finished the 2021-22 campaign with 99 goals. Liverpool had the second-best offence with 94 goals.

These are two, high-powered teams who play fast and hard, and force their opponents onto the backfoot with their aggressive attacking styles. It should be another very long campaign for the league’s other clubs who are attempting to break up this incredible duopoly. 

The Cristiano Ronaldo soap opera 

Even though Cristiano Ronaldo scored 24 goals in all competitions last season in his return to Old Trafford, Manchester United only managed to finish sixth as they failed to qualify for the UEFA Champions League. 

Ronaldo, 37, is still under contract to Man United, but spent the majority of the pre-season away from the club, and he told club management that he didn’t want to return. A transfer move to another team didn’t materialize, though, and he came back last weekend to play in an exhibition game against Spanish outfit Rayo Vallecano.

What was meant to be an important summer of rebuilding under new manager Erik ten Hag has turned into a soap opera surrounding the future of Ronaldo, who is believed to be still pushing for a transfer move to a team that will play in this season’s Champions League. But will he get his wish before the summer transfer window closes on Sept. 1? Or will he be forced to stay at Old Trafford for another year?

High-profile players on the move

It was a busy off-season in terms of big-money transfers, with several high-profile players moving to the Premier League for the first time. Norwegian striker Erling Haaland, 22, has been a goal-scoring machine for German club Borussia Dortmund over the last two and a half seasons, scoring 85 goals in all competitions. Little wonder that Manchester City paid his $62 million USD release clause to pry him away from Dortmund.

The other marquee newcomer to the league is Uruguayan forward Darwin Núñez, who signed with Liverpool following a $78 million move from Benfica. Núñez, 23, scored 47 goals in all competitions for the Lisbon club over the past two years, including last season when he finished as the Portuguese league’s top scorer with 26 goals.

Not to be outdone, Manchester United spent $62.8 million on Argentine defender Lisandro Martinez from Ajax, while Chelsea dropped a whopping $41.3 million on veteran Senegalese centre back Kalidou Koulibaly from Napoli in Serie A. 

Premier League clubs also looked within the league to strengthen their rosters this summer. Chelsea signed England forward Raheem Sterling from Man City ($56.5 million), Man City lost Jesus to Arsenal ($54 million), while fellow Brazilian Richarlison moved from Everton to Tottenham ($60 million). City also pinched midfielder Kalvin Phillips from Leeds United ($54.7 million).

The relegation battle 

As usual, the trio of newcomers – Fulham, Bournemouth and Nottingham Forest – are the leading candidates to be relegated by the end of the 2022-23 season.

Of the three, playoff winners Nottingham Forest, featuring Canadian international Richie Laryea, must be considered the most likely to drop back down to the English Championship (second division), even after a busy summer in which they signed a host of new players. 

But they won’t be the only teams looking over their shoulders. Everton, Leeds United and Southampton narrowly escaped relegation in 2021-22, and they all lost key players this off-season on the transfer market – although, Leeds also spent big in bringing in reinforcements. 

Last season, Watford and Norwich City ended up going straight back down after being promoted to the Premier League, while Brentford managed to stay up by finishing 11 points above the drop zone.

Player to keep an eye on: Gianluca Scamacca 

West Ham United pulled off one of the most unheralded but shrewdest moves of the summer transfer window when it signed Italian forward Gianluca Scamacca from Serie A club Sassuolo. 

Paris-Saint Germain was also tracking Scamacca this summer, but the 23-year-old ended up signing with the Hammers after a successful 2021-22 season in which he scored 16 goals in 25 starts.

About the author: John Molinaro is one of the leading soccer journalists in Canada, having covered the game for over 20 years for several media outlets, including Sportsnet, CBC Sports and Sun Media. He is currently the editor-in-chief of TFC Republic, a website dedicated to in-depth coverage of Toronto FC and Canadian soccer. TFC Republic can be found here.

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