Mon | Sep 25, 2017

'Supercoach' era arrives in EPL

Published:Friday | August 12, 2016 | 8:00 AM
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MANCHESTER, England (AP):

Awash with more cash and global appeal than ever before, the English Premier League (EPL) is still struggling to lure or retain the elite players in world football like Lionel Messi, Cristiano Ronaldo and Luis Suarez.

Here, for the moment, the Galacticos are the managers.

The era of the supercoach has arrived in England's top division. Pep Guardiola, Jose Mourinho, Arsene Wenger, Antonio Conte and Juergen Klopp make up possibly the most outstanding group of managers seen in this country at one time.

It means some huge reputations are going to take a battering during another highly anticipated Premier League campaign, which begins tomorrow with no obvious title favourites and with predictions warped by Leicester's improbable surge to the championship last season.

"It's a world championship of managers," said Wenger, the 66-year-old Arsenal manager.

For drama, it may pay to check out the coaches' technical area as much as the field of play. No more so than when Mourinho and Guardiola renew their rivalry as the new managers of Manchester United and Manchester City, respectively.

 

HEAVY SPENDING

 

The Manchester clubs have hogged the limelight this off-season because of the coaching arrivals and their heavy spending in the transfer market that reached US$400 million on Tuesday with the signings of Paul Pogba (for a world-record $116 million) and John Stones. Most British bookmakers make the teams the two favourites for the title this season.

Of course, the bookies can get it wrong. Take last season, for example.

Leicester started out as a 5,000-1 shot to win the Premier League and ended up romping home to finish 10 points clear, delivering one of the biggest underdog triumphs in any sport. Chelsea started out as defending champions and favourites, and limped home in 10th place in the worst title defence seen in the Premier League.

This time round, City, United, Chelsea, Arsenal, Liverpool and Tottenham (in that order) are expected to be the main contenders in what is probably the most open field in years. Champions Leicester are still only the seventh favourites.

A record injection of TV money, split evenly between England's 20 top-flight teams, is levelling out the Premier League and increasing competition. This is the first season of a new three-year broadcasting deal for domestic and international rights worth a record £8.3 billion (US$10.8 billion) 71 per cent above the previous deal and clubs have used that windfall to spend around $1 billion this off-season.

The likes of West Ham, Swansea, Bournemouth and Crystal Palace have broken their transfer records over the past two months and the so-called lesser teams have no compulsion to sell their top players, given the cash they are raking in. There are unlikely to be many easy victories gained this season.

Guardiola said as much after joining City.

"To find a team to win four, five, six games in a row is not easy," said Guardiola, a coach for whom losses were rare in trophy-laden spells at Barcelona and Bayern Munich since 2008.

"All the managers that have more experience than me in England talk about that. Maybe that is the challenge."

Eight teams start the season with new managers none more high-profile than Guardiola, who makes his debut in the English game.

 

STRONG COMPETITION

 

Making John Stones the world's second most-expensive defender ever at $62 million took City's spending to $200 million, building on an already-strong squad that underperformed in the Premier League last season, but reached the Champions League semi-finals. Like in his previous coaching jobs, Guardiola probably has the strongest team but the depth of competition is far greater than he's ever experienced.

United will be more dangerous with Zlatan Ibrahimovic, Pogba and Henrikh Mkhitaryan, while Mourinho is often a quick starter at clubs. Chelsea, under the master tactician Conte, has added marauding midfielder N'Golo Kante for what could be the most inspired signing of the lot this off-season. Arsenal and Tottenham have been quiet, but have more strength in depth. Liverpool should improve in its first full season under Klopp and could be more dangerous with no European distractions, just like Chelsea.

Few would feel confident predicting Leicester's final position. A first season in the Champions League is a wonderful reward for a club still on a high from last season, but might prevent the team backing up winning the title with a top-four finish. Watch out for pacey striker Ahmed Musa, Leicester's club-record signing, causing defences problems this season.

 

Weekend's matches

 

6:30 a.m: Hull City --Leicester

9:00 a.m: Burnley -- Swansea

9:00 a.m: Crystal Palace - West Brom

9:00 a.m: Everton --Tottenham

9:00 a.m: Middlesbrough -- Stoke City

9:00 a.m: Southampton --Watford

11:30 a.m: Manchester City - Sunderland

 

SUNDAY

 

7:30 a.m: Bournemouth - Manchester United

10:00 a.m: Arsenal - Liverpool

 

MONDAY

 

2:00 p.m: Chelsea -- West Ham