Belfast Telegraph

Pep and Klopp's refreshing rivalry will be at heart of another exciting race to the title


First blood: Manchester City players celebrate after winning the penalty shoot-out in the Community Shield at Wembley
First blood: Manchester City players celebrate after winning the penalty shoot-out in the Community Shield at Wembley
Jurgen Klopp

By Andy Hampson

After Manchester City's cakewalk in 2017-18, the Premier League got what it needed 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.

Few will regard City's penalty shoot-out win over Liverpool in the Community Shield on Sunday as a true indicator of who will come out on top next May, and Guardiola went on record after that game to predict other clubs will be in the title mix this time around, name-checking rivals Manchester United, Tottenham, Chelsea and Arsenal.

But 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 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 in evidence early in the summer as he persuaded City to splash out a club record £62.8m to bolster the midfield with Rodri.

There are few obvious weaknesses in the City side and Liverpool will do well to keep pace with a side that 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 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, or potentially even to avoid dropping straight back down.

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

Belfast Telegraph


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