The curtain raises on the 2023/24 Premier League season
Premier League champions Manchester City take the short trip up the M66 to take on newly-promoted Burnley to open kick off the Premier League's 32nd campaign on Friday night, but will Pep Guardiola's side fend off newly-improved Arsenal, Liverpool and Manchester United squads and retain their crown?
Arsenal dominated the majority of the previous Premier League season and seemed poised to claim their first title since 2004. They maintained their top position for an impressive 248 days until the weight of expectations took its toll. Just a year prior, Liverpool had put up a fight, but it fell short.
Over three consecutive seasons, Manchester City embarked on relentless winning streaks in the latter half of the season: a 15-game winning streak in 2020-21, 22 victories out of 26 matches in 2021-22 (including a 12-game winning run), and 12 consecutive wins (with 16 matches unbeaten) in 2022-23, successfully fending off challenges each time. This led to three consecutive Premier League trophies.
This run of domestic triumphs, including Premier League and FA Cup victories, transitioned to the European stage last season with their first-ever UEFA Champions League victory. It marked the first time since 1999 that an English team had secured a treble.
Manager Pep Guardiola stated, "I don't want us to vanish after a single Champions League win; I want us to work even harder next season and remain competitive." He added, "Our past accomplishments hold a special place in our hearts and minds, but we can't afford to rest while we're still in the game."
Guardiola and his City side had achieved the ultimate feat of conquering Europe. Now, the question arose: what comes next for a team that had clinched a treble of trophies? The answer was clear – aim for a repeat, strive for more, and continue pushing the boundaries.
Manchester City embarked on their quest to become the first team in history to secure four consecutive English top-flight titles. While Huddersfield Town, Arsenal, Liverpool, and Manchester United had all achieved three in a row before, City's crosstown rivals, Manchester United, had twice managed such a feat.
For Guardiola, a personal milestone and challenge loomed – to become the first manager to secure four consecutive Premier League titles, surpassing the legendary Sir Alex Ferguson, widely regarded as one of the greatest British football managers.
Despite losing influential captain Ilkay Gundogan (to Barcelona) and game-changing winger Riyad Mahrez (to Al Ahli), Manchester City remained the team to beat. The status of Bernardo Silva was uncertain, and though they missed out on one of their top targets, Declan Rice, who joined Arsenal, City reinforced their ranks with the €90 million signing of defender Josko Gvardiol from Leipzig and Mateo Kovacic from Chelsea. Additionally, the club pursued attacking midfielder Lucas Paqueta from West Ham, although their £88 million bid reportedly faced rejection.
The pressing question remained: who would emerge as City's challengers, and could they withstand the test of a full 38-match season?
Guardiola acknowledged, "Numerous teams, not just one or two, will vie for supremacy on all fronts. The challenge ahead is immense for us. How hungry are we? How determined are we to defend our accomplishments?"
Arsenal, Manchester United, Liverpool, and Chelsea spared no expense in their attempts to mount spirited challenges against the dominant Manchester City.
Arsenal's investments exceeded €231 million, Chelsea spent €207 million, Manchester United allocated €191 million, and Liverpool committed €112 million, with that figure expected to rise by at least €100 million following the acceptance of their bid for Moises Caicedo from Brighton.
Arsenal's expenditures included signings like Declan Rice (€105 million), Kai Havertz (€65 million), and Jurrien Timber (€34 million), aimed at building upon the previous season's late resurgence. This investment paid immediate dividends as Arsenal overcame City in the Community Shield, triumphing in a penalty shootout.
Goalkeeper Aaron Ramsdale believed that winning the Community Shield marked a significant psychological breakthrough for Arsenal. He asserted, "For us, it's a statement – a sign that we can defeat Manchester City in crucial matches. The mental barriers have been shattered. We're ready to push forward."
Manager Mikel Arteta urged his team to continue from where they left off, emphasizing the motivation derived from setbacks. He stated, "Even when you experience the feeling of 'failure' or falling short, the hunger and determination to rebound and pursue your goals remain strong."
Manchester United faced ongoing uncertainty due to potential takeover talks, yet this didn't hinder their ability to attract European talent and make substantial investments.
The acquisitions of goalkeeper Andre Onana from Inter Milan, midfielder Mason Mount from Chelsea, and striker Rasmus Hojlund sought to fill the void left by Cristiano Ronaldo's departure. While United secured a third-place finish for Champions League qualification and clinched the League Cup in Erik ten Hag's debut season, they hadn't secured a Premier League title in a decade.
For Ten Hag, competing head-to-head with City would signify a significant progression. He noted, "Any club other than City must first contend for the top four spots, then the top two, before even contemplating such an achievement."
Liverpool found themselves in the midst of a transitional phase under Jurgen Klopp. Several players who had contributed to their 2020 league victory had departed. Despite contending for all four major trophies in 2022, they failed to secure a top-four finish the previous season. This allowed Saudi-backed Newcastle United to secure an unexpected fourth-place finish.
Due to their fifth-place finish, Liverpool found themselves outside the Champions League qualification spots for the first time in seven years. Captain Jordan Henderson and Fabinho left for Saudi Arabia, while incoming talent included Argentine World Cup winner Alexis Mac Allister and Dominik Szoboszlai.
Under new manager Mauricio Pochettino, Chelsea underwent a significant overhaul at Stamford Bridge to streamline their bloated squad after finishing 12th in the previous season. Chelsea had the highest number of departures in the summer transfer window, parting ways with Havertz, Mount, Kovacic, Kalidou Koulibaly, Christian Pulisic, Edouard Mendy, Ruben Loftus-Cheek, N'Golo Kante, and captain Cesar Azpilicueta.
Despite signing Christopher Nkunku from Leipzig, Chelsea faced a setback when he suffered a knee injury during pre-season, ruling him out for an extended period. A season without European competition provided Pochettino the opportunity to focus on training and rectifying the team's performance after a seven-game winless streak, including four consecutive defeats, in the previous season.
Tottenham Hotspur, now managed by Ange Postecoglou, will have to rebuild given the imminent departure of their captain, and record goalscorer, Harry Kane to Bayern Munich.
Newcastle United, predominantly owned by Saudi Arabia's sovereign wealth fund, enjoyed a monumental campaign last season, qualifying for the UEFA Champions League. New arrivals Sandro Tonali and winger Harvey Barnes from relegated Leicester will bolster their squad, but will the demands of European football scupper their domestic progress?
Meanwhile, Luton Town's remarkable ascent has seen them climb from the fifth-tier National League to the Premier League within a decade. Their 10,000-capacity stadium, Kenilworth Road, is now set to host matches against some of the world's biggest football clubs.
The Hatters' inaugural home game in the Premier League was postponed to allow for stadium upgrades, highlighting their commitment to competing in the top tier. Luton get started with a trip to Brighton & Hove Albion, who are preparing for European football for the first time in the club's history, but bereft of Alexis Mac Alister and possibly, Moises Caicedo, who looks set to depart for Chelsea or Liverpool.