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Premier League braced for four-way title race

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Manchester United’s Tunisian midfielder Hannibal Mejbri (left) vies for the ball during the English Premier League pre-season friendly football match against Brentford at Old Trafford in Manchester on July 28. AFP

Premier League braced for four-way title race

The Premier League’s giants have again brushed off the economic effects of the coronavirus pandemic ahead of the start of the new season on Friday with a four-team battle expected for the title.

Reigning champions Manchester City have broken the English top flight transfer record by splashing £100 million ($138 million) on Jack Grealish.

However, European champions Chelsea showed they were capable of beating City three times towards the end of last season and are not alone in harbouring ambitions of snatching the Premier League title away from Pep Guardiola’s men.

Manchester United have also spent over £100 million on Jadon Sancho and Raphael Varane, while Liverpool look refreshed after an injury-ravaged 2020/2021 season.

AFP Sport looks at the four leading contenders for the title:

Manchester City

Winning a third Premier League title in four seasons and lifting yet another League Cup was not enough to sate Guardiola’s appetite for success.

Fuelled by the frustration of City’s limp Champions League final defeat against Chelsea, Guardiola has no intention of resting on his laurels.

The City boss added another weapon to his already lethal attacking arsenal with a British record £100 million swoop for Aston Villa playmaker Grealish.

Another British transfer record could still be to come with Tottenham striker Harry Kane in City’s sights.

Having finished 12 points clear of second-placed Manchester United last term, City start as favourites for the title.

But with Tottenham, Leicester, Arsenal, Chelsea and Liverpool among their opening seven games of the season, the champions’ title defence could be quickly knocked off course.

Manchester United

Without a major trophy since 2017, United have loaded up for a sustained assault to end an eight-year wait to win the title.

There was no repeat of last summer’s transfer saga over Sancho as a £73 million fee was quickly agreed with Borussia Dortmund before Varane’s arrival solved a problem position at centre-back.

Sancho joins a swashbuckling attack also featuring Marcus Rashford, Mason Greenwood, Edinson Cavani and Anthony Martial with Bruno Fernandes and Paul Pogba pulling the strings behind them in midfield.

Ole Gunnar Solskjaer’s men have proved to be more than a match for City on their day over the past two seasons, but need to find the consistency of their local rivals over the long haul.

Liverpool

Ravaged by long-term injuries to Virgil van Dijk, Jordan Henderson, Joe Gomez and Joel Matip, Liverpool surrendered their first English title in 30 years without a fight.

Yet, from the ashes of that turbulent campaign, Jurgen Klopp’s side believe they will be stronger this season.

Liverpool shrugged off their woes with a late surge that saw them qualify for the Champions League with a third-place finish.

Dutch midfielder Georginio Wijnaldum left for Paris Saint-Germain at the end of the season, but Klopp has bolstered his squad with the £36 million signing of Leipzig defender Ibrahima Konte.

Mohamed Salah, Sadio Mane and Trent Alexander-Arnold have been refreshed by a summer off from international duties, while Diogo Jota’s fine form in his first season at the club has put Roberto Firmino’s place up front under threat.

Most importantly, the returns of Van Dijk and Henderson will be like new signings for Klopp as the Reds boss aims to bounce back from a first trophyless season in three years.

Chelsea

Thomas Tuchel’s remarkable impact at Chelsea culminated in Champions League final glory just five months after taking charge.

The German revitalised the previously lethargic Blues with his tactical nous, in-game strategy and motivational expertise.

It was fitting that Kai Havertz, one of previous coach Frank Lampard’s expensively signed underachievers, should underline his improvement in the Tuchel era with the goal that clinched Chelsea’s second Champions League crown.

Tuchel must now build on that triumph and has been backed by Roman Abramovich with Romelu Lukaku set to return to Stamford Bridge for a club record £97 million from Inter Milan.

While Chelsea were rock solid at the back after Tuchel’s appointment, they were less impressive in attack where Timo Werner, Hakim Ziyech and Christian Pulisic all struggled for consistency.

Lukaku’s goalscoring prowess could be the final piece of the puzzle in Tuchel’s transformation of the Londoners.

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