Belfast Telegraph

Manchester City and Liverpool to lead the way once again?

Tottenham may have more of a say in this year’s title race.

Pep Guardiola will target a third consecutive title (Nick Potts/PA)
Pep Guardiola will target a third consecutive title (Nick Potts/PA)

After Manchester City’s cakewalk in 2017-18, the Premier League got what it needed – and more – with a thrilling title race last season.

In the end it was City who prevailed again, but Pep Guardiola’s star-studded side needed to win their last 14 games just to pip Liverpool by a point.

Liverpool made up for their near miss by going on to win the Champions League and, as a new season begins, the expectations are that the same two sides will again lead the charge.

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Jurgen Klopp (left) and Pep Guardiola are preparing to go head-to-head once again (Martin Rickett/PA)

In Guardiola and Jurgen Klopp, City and Liverpool are led by two of the most dynamic managers in the game and their rivalry – based on a strong mutual respect with not a trace of bitterness – has been refreshing and enthralling to see.

Their teams both play fluid and exciting football and, although it seems unrealistic to expect both to maintain the remarkable standards of last term, another exciting race is in prospect.

Yet City will inevitably be the favourites as they look to make it three in a row. Guardiola’s insatiable appetite for success was again in evidence early in the summer as he persuaded City to splash out a club record £62.8million to bolster the midfield ranks with Rodri.

There are few obvious weaknesses in the City side and Liverpool will do well to keep pace with a side that has clocked up 198 points in the past two seasons. The Reds won a number of games in tight circumstances last term while City tended to gather their victories in more convincing fashion.

But Liverpool have made progress every season under Klopp and, even without major summer signings, they have never been better placed to end their long wait for a first league crown since 1990.

If any of the other sides are to push them, Tottenham seem the most likely. After their run to the Champions League final and with their new stadium having a re-energising effect, Spurs do not look far short of title-challenging material.

Like Guardiola and Klopp, Mauricio Pochettino is a clever and bold manager and there is quality throughout his side.

Chelsea will be an unknown quantity under Frank Lampard, who will need little time to win the fans over but must work under the constraints of a transfer embargo.

Unai Emery is still to convince his Arsenal project is moving in the right direction while there are plenty of question marks over Ole Gunnar Solskjaer at Manchester United.

The Norwegian did spark a revival after succeeding Jose Mourinho but form then deserted him and summer signings have been based on potential.

Leicester, under Brendan Rodgers, will hope to challenge the top six, as will West Ham, Everton and last season’s surprise package Wolves.

The Premier League will welcome back Aston Villa after a three-year absence but they and fellow promoted sides Sheffield United and Norwich may be slugging it out in the bottom half.

There are also plenty of question marks over Newcastle after a troubled summer and Brighton, who narrowly avoided relegation last term.

PA

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