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After such an epic battle last season in the Premier League, Manchester City and Liverpool are set to do it all over again as the English domestic season kicks off this weekend. It does feel, in some respects, as if the season only ended a few weeks ago, still it should be another exciting season, as the two teams look set to be the favourites to win the league once again. Can Manchester City come out on top and achieve a rare feat of winning a hat trick of league titles or will Liverpool end what would be their 30th year without winning the league? Or will neither win? Could we see a surprise? Manchester City are odds of 1.50 to retain their title, Liverpool are 3.75, with Tottenham next at 19.00, so it is clear that the bookmakers think this will be another two horse race.
Of course this season will be historic with the arrival of VAR. Already used in the Champions League to devastating effect against Manchester City in their game with Tottenham; it will certainly shake up the foundations. The introduction of VAR is supposed to bring more justice to the game but it will also bring controversy too and the feeling that football, which should be a simple flowing game is going more towards sensationalism headed by statistics. Still when VAR works there is nothing wrong with it, but one feels there will be very close decisions going one way when it should have been the other and pundits telling us that VAR is still in its teething stages as a result.
There have been some interesting transfers in the Premier League. Arsenal have bought Nicolas Pepe from Lille for a club record £72m and the youngster has the potential to be world class after helping Lille secure a Champions League place. Moise Kean who lit up Juventus' league title run-in is a great buy for Everton and he has already been talking about his goal to get the club into the Champions League. Manchester City didn't splash the cash around too much this window but still sealed the deal for Rodri from Atletico Madrid spending just over £60m on the midfielder.
Manchester United have been concentrating more on their defence and their big purchase was for Leicester's Harry Maguire who in his £80m move became the most expensive defender in the history of football. Newcastle have had their troubles but they have made some interesting buys. JoeLinton the Brazilian forward has been bought for £40m and Allan Saint Maximin was always a solid player for Nice. Tottenham finally spent money and purchased Tanguy Ndombele from Lyon for a reported £55m though that fee could rise. West Ham did some good business too bringing in Pablo Fornals and Sebastian Haller to strengthen their attacking line.
One of the most impressive purchases is arguably from Wolves though, who had an excellent last season, qualifying for the Europa League. They have brought in Patrick Cutrone from AC Milan, true he is coming off of a poor season but is still young, cost less than £20m and has scored a few times in Serie A, he could end up being the best value purchase of the season. They have also raided the Portuguese league bringing in no less than 5 players and have agreed a loan with Real Madrid for the services of Jesus Vallejo.
There is still at least one major player on a few clubs shopping lists and that is the signature of Pablo Dybala the Juventus forward. Manchester United and Tottenham have come forward but it seems the sticking point is his wages, reported to be £300,000 a week. One could question if Dybala is worth it, take out a season and his return to goals ratio isn't brilliant. The fact that Juve fans call him the jewel should tell us a lot. It's like when players were called luxuries- a Ferrari for example which usually meant that they have their outstanding weeks. Surely for the sums being asked, Dybala would be expected to score 20+ goals and be consistent. It is questionable whether United or Tottenham would get that despite his obvious overall qualities.
And finally Wayne Rooney is back in England - well he will be from January. Rooney has signed an 18-month contract with Championship side Derby. Rooney will play for the club whilst obtaining his UEFA coaching licence and then will become a manager. He seems to be going the Frank Lampard route even though Philip Cocu is in charge of the Rams just now. Whilst Rooney will be making a decision that he feels is the right one it can't go unsaid that it is unfortunate news for DC United, the MLS and the fans of the club. Rooney, after a quiet last two seasons by his standards in the Premier League had somewhat reinvented himself in America. He has led the club out of the bottom of the conference into a play off position where they could win their conference, scored goals, influenced his team mates and been taken into the hearts of the fans. To cut that short on his original contract, which was due to expire in the summer of 2021 seems like a lost opportunity. Rooney was performing so well he could well have had a bigger impact on the league than even David Beckham. As for Derby, it is good that they are attracting some top calibre managers and now players, but the club need to be careful that success has to come with that they don't deserve to just be a stepping stone for someone's career advancement.