Football

City the team to beat

Guardiola has the strongest and most balanced squad

Three months after the denouement of the most astonishing English football season ever, the Premier League is back.

The big question is, can it possibly top the previous instalment, when Leicester City became the most unlikely champions in the history of English football?

The Leicester story was a thrilling, once-in-a-lifetime miracle, but there's more chance of me wasting my days wandering the streets of Singapore chasing Pokemon than there is of another rank outsider lifting the title next May.

That may not be the most romantic of predictions but, when you consider how the big teams have strengthened - not only on the pitch, but in the dug-out - then it's incomprehensible to envisage anyone other than Manchester United, Manchester City, Chelsea, Arsenal, Tottenham or Liverpool winning the big prize.

Of those six big teams, Arsenal and Spurs look the most settled in terms of personnel and management. But can the Gunners challenge for the title with Olivier Giroud as their only front-line striker?

And can Spurs lift themselves to the same heights of last season after coming so close to being crowned EPL champions?

Despite the arrival of Jose Mourinho, Zlatan Ibrahimovic and Paul Pogba, Man United's squad look bloated, with a lack of top quality in key areas. With the "Special One" in charge, anything could happen, but they'll come up just short.

Liverpool will be exciting to watch under Juergen Klopp and the fact that they'll not be distracted by European football gives the Reds a great chance of pushing for a first league title since 1990.

Chelsea, with the demanding Antonio Conte cajoling his players from the sidelines, are genuine contenders for the same reason.

Which leaves us with Manchester City. If Pep Guardiola can hit the ground running (and that's a huge "if", as he's new to English football), then City arguably possess the strongest and most balanced squad.

No less than 95 law changes were announced in May - backwards kick-offs being the most conspicuous.

RED CARDS

Other changes include an end to automatic red cards for an accidental denial of a scoring opportunity and injured players will no longer have to leave the field after receiving treatment.

However, the new rules regarding player dissent will hopefully be a game-changer.

This season, it's an automatic yellow for "showing visible disrespect to officials"; for "running towards an official to contest a decision"; and for "making physical contact with officials".

We should also see an end to players surrounding the referee to contest decisions now that yellow cards will be brandished to "at least one player when two or more surround a match official".

Added aggression and/or abuse will lead to an automatic red card upgrade.

This all sounds fantastic in theory, but let's wait and see how the new rules are implemented. Whatever happens, it promises to be a fascinating nine months.

  • Richard Lenton is the lead presenter at Eleven Sports Network. Join Richard and his studio guests for Eleven's "live" coverage of the Premier League, starting with tonight's Hull v Leicester (7pm) and tomorrow morning's (Singapore time) Manchester City v Sunderland (12.30am). Join us at 8pm tomorrow for Bournemouth vs Manchester United. For more details visit www.elevensports.sg. Eleven Sports Network is also available via digital streaming at www.elevensports.sg and as an app in the Google Play and App Store.

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That is of course if you forget to sign up to the English Premier League's official fantasy football game and you're on the outside looking in.

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