Ladies and gentlemen, we did it. We got through the summer break. It was tough, sure, but it’s over now. You can put down those barbeque tongs, stick the sun lounger back in the shed and forget all about that fence you probably weren’t going to paint anyway. Because this weekend, in stadiums across the country and around Europe, the football – the proper football – returns. And this season, like almost every season before it, threatens to be one of unmissable drama.
With Premier League legends Steven Gerrard, Frank Lampard, Didier Drogba and Robin van Persie all parting ways with the English topflight, there’s never been a better time for new icons to emerge and big summer moves aplenty at the Etihad, Old Trafford and Anfield mean there are no shortage of fresh faces among the familiar stars.
At Stamford Bridge, Jose Mourinho’s Chelsea – with leading lights in Eden Hazard, Diego Costa and Cesc Fabregas – bid to become the first team since 2009 to defend their Premier League crown. But they face a strong challenge from a reinvigorated Arsenal, perennial contenders Man City and a much-strengthened Man United, who have added over £83million of talent over the summer.
Meanwhile, a Gerrard-less Liverpool have flashed their cash and captured Christian Benteke, Roberto Firmino and Nathaniel Clyne, among others, while Tottenham will be hoping for more of the same from frontman Harry Kane, who emerged as one of English football’s most exciting young strikers following a frenzy of goals last term.
Newly promoted Watford return to the topflight after an eight year exile while Norwich City look promising after their swift return and there’s more than a sense of intrigue about Eddie Howe’s Bournemouth, who were excellent as they romped to the Championship title.
On the continent, there’s more glory expected for Barcelona, led by the irresistible and seemingly unstoppable ‘MSN’ trio of Lionel Messi, Luis Suarez and Neymar. As ever, Luis Enrique’s side will need to see off Clasico rivals Real Madrid but with Cristiano Ronaldo, James Rodriguez and Gareth Bale at his disposal, new boss Rafa Benitez must feel confident of a strong challenge.
The German title race, as in France and Italy, is decidedly less open. With the additions of Arturo Vidal and Douglas Costa, Bayern will be incredibly hard to catch, though Kevin de Bruyne’s Wolfsburg and Dortmund – with hipsters’ choice Thomas Tuchel taking over from former hipsters’ choice Jurgen Klopp – will try their level best to keep up.
Paris Saint-Germain look certain to retain their Ligue 1 crown, as Angel Di Maria joins Zlatan Ibrahimovic, Edinson Cavani and David Luiz – a deep run into the latter stages of the Champions League is the aim.
Juventus will start clear favourites in Italy but the Old Lady has lost some of her favourite sons over the summer with Andrea Pirlo, Carlos Tevez and Vidal heading away to varying corners of Planet Football. Rudi Garcia’s Roma have been improving season-on-season and could challenge Juve’s dominance should their squad stay healthy throughout the season.
Beside the Premier League, we should look then to the Champions League for competitiveness, where any number of around five or six teams could feasibly triumph. Though MSN make Barcelona the hot favourites, a lack of domestic challenge could help the likes of Bayern, Juventus and PSG, who’ll each be looking to improve on the continent. Whoever wins, we’re doubtless in for a treat as the best in the world vie for the ultimate prize.