Off the four titles Manchester City have won in the past five seasons, two were by one point and on both occasions, it was Liverpool who ran them close.
When the 2022-23 Premier League season begins on Friday, both are expected to again battle for bragging rights.
While there were disappointments in Europe with City and Liverpool losing to Real Madrid in the Champions League semi-final and final, on the domestic front they were unstoppable. City won the league and Liverpool took the EFL Cup and FA Cup.
It is difficult to improve on what City and Liverpool achieved last term but you can’t fault Pep Guardiola and Juergen Klopp for not trying. Both have made, literally and metaphorically, massive additions to the forwardline. City bought the sensational Erling Haaland, 22, from Borussia Dortmund. At RB Salzburg and Dortmund Haaland has been a goal machine and can be the No. 9 City haven’t had since Sergio Aguero lost form. Haaland’s arrival is expected to compensate for the departures of Gabriel Jesus and Raheem Sterling.
For Liverpool, the Mohamed Salah-Firmino-Sadio Mane era ended when Mane was let go. They were quick to add Uruguayan Darwin Nunez who had caught the attention of multiple clubs with his displays in the Champions League for Benfica against Barcelona and Liverpool. The 23-year-old scored in Liverpool’s 3-1 victory in the Community Shield over City last weekend.
Adapting to the intensity of the Premier League will be a challenge but both managers are confident that Haaland and Nunez will bed in quickly. Their assessment: both have the talent to become world class and serve their clubs for a long time.
Haaland is excited to work with Guardiola. “As a young player, playing for Guardiola, playing for the best club in England, I have to keep developing and get better at a lot of things. That’s what I like a lot about football, you can always develop, you can always get better at the game,” the Norwegian has said.
Virgil van Dijk has described Nunez as a “modern-day striker”. He added: “You see he is direct, he makes good runs in behind, he’s quick, he’s strong.”
While the focus will always be on the new signings – here’s looking at you, Kalvin Phillips– the performances of Kevin de Bruyne and Salah, armed with a new long-term deal, will be the key to City and Liverpool’s chances in a season split by the World Cup. And they will get quality service from all areas of the pitch. Step forward, Riyad Mahrez, Bernardo Silva (he could leave for Barcelona though), Jack Grealish, Phil Foden, Van Djik, Roberto Firmino, Luis Diaz, Diogo Jota, also buoyed by a new long-term deal, Thiago and Alisson Becker.
City have sought to address central midfield issues by getting Phillips and are in the market for a left back after Oleksandr Zinchenko moved to Arsenal. If they don’t sign anyone, Joao Cancelo, who started in that position in pre-season games and in the Community Shield, will be the first choice with Nathan Ake as back-up.
Chelsea, Manchester United, Arsenal and Tottenham are at different stages of rebuilding and will need something extraordinary to get close to the top two. Their first target could be to secure a Champions League berth.
Chelsea were in contention in the early part of last season before Romelu Lukaku lost form. A lot has happened since. A consortium has replaced Roman Abramovich and Lukaku loaned to Inter Milan. But Chelsea haven’t lost their ability to compete in the transfer market. They signed Sterling from City, defender Kalidou Koulibaly from Napoli and could get highly-rated left-back Marc Cucurella from Brighton. But if reports are to be believed, there is unrest in the squad with many players still looking to leave.
Manchester United have another new manager in Erik ten Hag but before the Dutch could settle in, a Cristiano Ronaldo-sized problem looms. The Portuguese reportedly wants out, possibly so soon that he didn’t wait for a game to finish before leaving Old Trafford. Unless things drastically improve at Red Devils, making it to top-four looks difficult.
Arsenal have been the top-spenders with Mikel Arteta assembling a young squad that has the promise. Jesus has been among the goals and the manager will hope that he carries that form through the season.
Spurs can be termed as the dark horse as the forwardline of Harry Kane, Son Heung-min and Richarlison can trouble any defence. They were the only team last season which didn’t lose to City or Liverpool. Manager Antonio Conte will look for consistency if Spurs are to mount a real challenge.
But to catch City and Liverpool, the challengers will need a perfect season. Otherwise, we could be looking at another two-way battle.