Are we nearly there yet? Are we nearly there yet? Are we nearly there yet? Are we nearly there yet? Are we nearly there y… oh, we are nearly there…
10) Tony Pulis and Gary Megson together. No… wait. Let’s start again.
10) Finding out if Huddersfield’s many signings gel
It is by far the most enjoyable approach for the neutral. Having got promoted, a manager has two choices. He can either keep faith in the team that earned promotion, giving them their chance to prove themselves at a higher level, or he can splurge on half a new squad and provide us all with endless entertainment by trying to knit them all together in the first two months of the season.
David Wagner has gone for the second option. Huddersfield have signed eight players on permanent deals and brought in two more on loan, breaking their transfer record three times in the process. Town used 20 players in their last pre-season friendly against Torino; only four of those were at the club before June 2016.
9) Feigning injury bans
If you are excited about the introduction of retrospective bans for diving and therefore debates not only about simulation and refereeing decisions on simulation but a panel’s decisions on refereeing decisions about simulation, we really cannot be friends. But there is one rule change this season that should cause fun aplenty. Players can be punished for ‘attempting to deceive the referee by feigning injury’.
Well now, this should be easy to diagnose and eradicate. Players roll around all the time and then are fixed by a few kind words from a physio, so surely bans will be given out like samples of outrageously expensive cheese at an artisan food market? Two games for holding the face when you got pushed in the chest, yes?
Well, maybe. The FA will then act if there is ‘clear and overwhelming evidence to suggest a match official has been deceived by an act of simulation’. I think that’s a wide enough definition, the question is whether such action is actually ever taken.
8) Can Newcastle United truly achieve harmony?
When asked which of the three promoted clubs you think will finish highest, most of us are hardwired to say Newcastle United. They have Premier League experience, they have a massive fanbase and they have a manager that most supporters would happily welcome as their favourite uncle.
Yet all is not well at Newcastle. Benitez’s leaks to the media about the lack of investment in the playing squad have increased in regularity as we approach the season start, and the squad is still light on numbers and light on successful Premier League experience. The new summer signings (Jacob Murphy, Florian Lejeune, Javier Manquillo and Mikel Merino) are all something of a gamble, and Benitez is desperate for at least one striker.
With Mike Ashley reportedly telling his manager that he must sell before he buys, Benitez’s mood may not improve soon. It will be fascinating to see if Ashley and Newcastle can stave off the club’s infuriating tendency to dunk itself in crisis.
7) Premier League games at Wembley Stadium
Last season, the only new Premier League ground we had was West Ham’s London Stadium, paid for by the taxpayer and struggling to accommodate football matches successfully in its early months. This year, you can quite reasonably sing “Que sera, sera” on the opening day of the season and be sure that it will come to fruition.
There are relevant concerns for Tottenham supporters worried that their club will struggle to replicate last season’s White Hart Lane form at Wembley, but every other Premier League supporter can enjoy a day out at a wonderful stadium without the gut-wrenching nerves of a domestic semi-final or final. It will take all season to get used to.
6) Pathways for English youngsters?
There is a certain irony to a genuinely joyous summer for England football coming in a year when there is no senior men’s tournament, but for now we will leave the cynicism at the door. The Under-17s were a whisker away from winning the European Championship, the Under-19 team went one better and those triumphs were matched by an Under-18/20 squad at the Toulon tournament and the Under-20 team at the World Cup. Even the Under-21 team impressed at the Euros before penalty exit to Germany in the semi-final.
Now comes the difficult bit. We have enough evidence that at youth age groups, England’s players can compete with their European peers, but the question is how those at elite clubs can force their way into teams for regular Premier League minutes. And, more interestingly of all, if they can’t, will they try to engineer moves away from elite clubs?
If this summer has done nothing else, it has given these young, domestic players bargaining chips when talking to their clubs and speaking to other clubs at home and abroad. At a time when money is being spent faster than ever before, perhaps they do need to find a new way.
5) Can Everton break out of their league of one?
Everton finished seventh last season, top and bottom of their own league of one. They finished eight points behind Manchester United – who deprioritised the league in April and May – and 15 ahead of Southampton. For all their spending this summer, that is unlikely to change in 2017/18. They may get closer to the top six and four, but breaking into them?
With that in mind, Everton are an interesting case. With no pressure to look below them and worry about their Premier League status, and little chance of moving up, could Ronald Koeman effectively prioritise success in three cup competitions over league form? It would be a bold – and no doubt unpopular – move, but Ronny K would have one fan right here in Nottinghamshire. That will surely be enough to sway it.
4) Gearing up for World Cup year
Nobody likes international football causing an unpleasant break in domestic football, but England matches do at least take on an increasingly important slant in the months prior to a World Cup. England’s qualification is not yet assured, but we can probably start pencilling names in for the plane to Russia.
There were only 43 English players who started ten or more games in a top five European league in 2016/17 who haven’t already played for England. With the talent pool of players starting regular Premier League matches getting shallower every season, there is really is plenty to be gained from impressing on the rare chances you get.
Even catching the eye of Gareth Southgate on your third or fourth league start of the season could put you into consideration for a pre-tournament friendly. From then on, you dare to dream.
3) Five teams in the Champions League (hopefully)
Since the Champions League moved over to BT Sport, there is no doubt that it has lost some of its edge and appeal. Whether that is because the public is not prepared to pay for two subscriptions, is sick of Robbie Savage and Michael Owen or whether this was merely a reaction to a lack of participation from Chelsea, Manchester United and Liverpool, the Champions League has been moved off its pedestal, in terms of the web traffic it attracts, at least. Only the Premier League has been king.
That might change this season. Not only are Manchester United participating in the competition while simultaneously not being managed by David Moyes, but Chelsea are back and Liverpool only have to beat Hoffenheim in the play-off to join them. That would mean five Premier League competitors in Europe’s premier competition plus the novelty of seeing Arsenal in the Europa League, which could make for an enthralling European season. If it isn’t going to attract interest this season…
2) Lukaku vs Morata vs Lacazette
It is unusual for two of the biggest clubs in the country to buy a new frontline striker in the same summer, but for three to do so is exceptional. When you consider that each of those clubs typically only plays with one central forward, this may be a unique summer in the Premier League era.
We have three strikers signed for fees totalling approximately £165m. Two are tasked with taking over from successful strikers and spearing a title challenge, while Lacazette has the task of leading Arsenal back into the Champions League and thus trying to persuade Mesut Ozil and Alexis Sanchez not to leave on free transfers. All will be tediously compared to each other, but each is a fascinating case study in his own right.
1) Two Manchester clubs stronger than ever
Although neither Jose Mourinho nor Pep Guardiola can be satisfied with their Premier League performance last season, both had the reasonable excuse that their squads were not created in their own image, instead the leftovers of somebody else’s bad business. In both cases, that excuse has evaporated.
Neither coach believes that their squad is perfect, but both must concede that the Premier League title is now the aim, given the summer investment. The two Manchester clubs are also the two favourites for the title, and with good reason. Two of the most expensively assembled squads in the game’s history should be set for a wonderful battle for domestic supremacy, and we can’t bloody wait.
Daniel Storey – If you have enjoyed this for free, please do a lovely thing and buy Daniel’s Portrait of an Icon book here.
Proceeds go to the wonderful Sir Bobby Robson Foundation, and their aim to find new ways to treat and beat cancer.