EPL's new Fab Four
Clash of heavyweights for the first time in the same league
Sport, by definition, is usually about pairs.
Rafael Nadal and Roger Federer, Alain Prost and Ayrton Senna, Real Madrid and Barcelona, India and Pakistan, the All Blacks and everyone else, it takes two to make a thing go right.
Occasionally, there are three. Doffing the cap to the current Olympic spirit, there was Sebastian Coe, Steve Ovett and Steve Cram, for instance.
But three's a crowd. There's an odd man out in the competition. No one remembers the third-placed play-off for a reason. But four is unique.
Four is special, which makes Pep Guardiola, Jose Mourinho, Antonio Conte and Juergen Klopp uniquely special.
Four authentic heavyweights, four legitimate contenders, each capable of beating the other is a genuinely enticing prospect this season.
They are a rarity in the English Premier League. They are a rarity in professional sport.
In the mid-2000s, golf briefly had a fab four, with Tiger Woods, Phil Mickelson, Ernie Els and Vijay Singh being The Beatles of the bunkers.
Some even called the group the Big Five, with Retief Goosen on the periphery, rather like Arsene Wenger, wondering why he isn't included in the elite category.
The reason is a chastising one for Arsenal apologists. Wenger lives off past glories.
In terms of recent, title-winning pedigree, Mourinho, Guardiola, Conte and Klopp promise a sporting quartet not seen since the early Seventies.
Muhammad Ali, George Foreman, Joe Frazier and Ken Norton arguably represented sport's finest collection of near-equal competitors.
Muhammad Ali (above)
Each heavyweight boxer could go toe to toe with any living challenger and be reasonably sure of victory, unless he faced one of the other four.
That priceless unpredictability is on its way to the EPL.
Mourinho, Guardiola, Conte and Klopp are all first among equals, but who'll be the last man standing? Four title winners. One title. Who wins?
Mourinho is blessed (or cursed) with Ali's cute tongue, but not his class. He's a falling star in fear of losing his lustre.
The line between cheeky and childish was crossed too many times at both Real Madrid and Chelsea.
The Manchester United manager remains big box office, but his petulance leaves him walking a tightrope.
Like Ali, he loves a siege mentality. It's always Mourinho against the world, but the theatricality is wearing thin. Even Ali borrowed from the football chant. You only sing when you're winning.
And Guardiola always wins. At Barcelona and Bayern Munich, the quiet Catalan knocked out almost everyone with the assured consistency of a young Foreman. The two greats share more than just a shaved head.
Foreman fought his battles in the shadow of another man's mouth. The equally reserved Guardiola has often found himself drowned out by the Mourinho megaphone.
But there was no rope-a-dope in La Liga. Guardiola usually silenced Mourinho by beating him. A winning goal is always the best kind of gag.
Their upcoming thriller in Manchester on Sept 10 could go a long way in determining who really is the greatest.
Of course, the Thrilla in Manila was an ageing Ali against a relentless Frazier, a triumph of will rather than skill, the kind of fight that Conte craves.
At Euro 2016, it was the steely-eyed, glowering Italian who proved to be the real master of rope-a-dope, reeling in stronger opponents before smashing them on the counter-attack.
At Juventus and Italy, he refined the art of turning footballers into jigsaw pieces, examining every hole, shape and corner in training until he completed the tactical puzzle.
Chelsea's exhausted but exhilarated players are already commenting favourably on Conte's coaching drills.
This season, the Blues will not be allowed to quit when they're tired, only when their opponents are tired.
Klopp shares a similar philosophy, but loves a sucker punch, an unexpected winner against mightier opponents.
The Liverpool manager rides a wave of adrenalin through every contest. Like Norton beating Ali, he wins when he shouldn't.
But adrenalin can be a mercurial stimulant, unpredictable and unreliable. Like Norton getting knocked out by Foreman, Klopp also loses when he shouldn't.
The merchant of motivation must hope he has enough quality to sustain his wonderful rabble-rousing.
Individually, all four managers are not without flaws.
Collectively, they will be compulsive viewing. They are natural showmen and unnatural competitors, a wonderfully volatile combination.
Win, lose or draw, they will never bore. For these guys, losing is always unpalatable. But losing to each other is unforgivable.
With glorious serendipity, they are peaking at the same time and in the same place. The power of four brings the EPL to the fore.
Mourinho, Guardiola, Conte and Klopp can't all win. But their mere presence means the EPL can't lose.
When I see a guy who played in England, like Xabi Alonso, I’m asking: Tell me about England, tell me about the EPL. I never found one person who said, Oh, it will be easy for you.
— Pep Guardiola (right) and George Foreman
We must work a lot. We come after a bad season, after a 10th place and we need to come back very soon in the right position. We must come back to fight for the title.
— Antonio Conte (right) and Joe frazier
To be really successful and win a title with a great club like Liverpool would be 100 per cent one of the greatest things I could ever imagine. It would mean everything.
— Juergen Klopp (right) and Ken Norton
- JERMAINE JENAS: 1st (Man City), 2nd (Tottenham), 3rd (Chelsea), 4th (Liverpool)
- DANNY MURPHY: 1st (Man City), 2nd (Chelsea), 3rd (Man Utd), 4th (Liverpool)
- IAN WRIGHT: 1st (Man City), 2nd Chelsea, 3rd (Man Utd), 4th (Arsenal)
- RUUD GULLIT: 1st (Man City), 2nd (Chelsea), 3rd (Man Utd), 4th (Arsenal)
- MARTIN KEOWN: 1st (Man City), 2nd (Man Utd), 3rd (Arsenal), 4th (Tottenham)
- MARK LAWRENSON: 1st (Man City), 2nd (Man Utd), 3rd (Chelsea), 4th (Arsenal)
- CHRIS WADDLE: 1st (Tottenham), 2nd (Arsenal), 3rd (Man City), 4th (Man Utd).