Manchester City will start next season in the familiar role of title favourites after refusing to rest on their laurels once again.
A year ago they responded to winning the Premier League by splashing out a British record £100million on Jack Grealish and this time they appear to have done even better business by signing Erling Haaland.
The Norwegian’s £51.1million fee may be barely half of Grealish’s but, in luring one of the hottest properties in the game to the Etihad Stadium, City now have the look of a complete side.
It seems odd to consider the powerhouse striker as the final piece of a jigsaw for Pep Guardiola, given just how strong his side is, but after back-to-back titles without significant input from a specialist centre-forward, that is exactly how he appears.
The 21-year-old boasts a formidable goalscoring record after finding the net 86 times in 89 games for Borussia Dortmund and, after being taken to the wire by Liverpool last term, City will now hope to have a clear edge. The champions have also ensured their midfield resources remain well stocked with Kalvin Phillips replacing the departed Fernandinho.
Yet Liverpool have also not stood still after the agony of missing out by just a point last season and then losing the Champions League final.
Jurgen Klopp will hope the arrival of exciting forward Darwin Nunez from Benfica will re-energise his forward line for another title tilt. Considering that he comes as a direct replacement for Sadio Mane rather than an addition to a powerful arsenal, his signing may not be as transformative as that of Haaland, but seeing the Uruguayan combine with Mohamed Salah and Luis Diaz is an exciting prospect.
These bold transfer moves by last season’s two main title contenders have left Manchester United in the shade somewhat.
United fell behind their north-west rivals badly last season, losing their way under Ole Gunnar Solskjaer and then drifting into a sixth-placed finish under his temporary replacement Ralf Rangnick. New manager Erik Ten Hag has a big job to bridge the gap to the top two but installing some direction and purpose will be his first task. The arrival of Christian Eriksen can help provide this but uncertainty over Cristiano Ronaldo’s future has been an early distraction.
Chelsea will also hope to get back on track after the uncertainty of the closing months of last season, when the government sanctions imposed on former owner Roman Abramovich had a big and destabilising impact. A new era under a new owner in Todd Boehly is now beginning and, with Romelu Lukaku having left on loan and Raheem Sterling arriving, manager Thomas Tuchel may also feel he has a squad pulling in his direction.
Tottenham, Arsenal – who have both made some eye-catching signings – and West Ham will hope to build on the varying degrees of progress they made last season while it remains unclear how good Newcastle can become, and how quickly, under their ambitious new ownership.
Frank Lampard and Jesse Marsch will be expected to oversee improvement at Everton and Leeds respectively after their brushes with relegation last season but Brentford have a tough task to emulate their impressive first Premier League campaign.
Survival will be the chief aim for one of the great names of English football in Nottingham Forest as they return to the top flight after a 23-year hiatus. Fulham and Bournemouth are also back after much shorter absences. The likes of Aston Villa, Leicester, Crystal Palace and Brighton will look to push on.
One unknown factor is the effect the World Cup, which unusually interrupts the campaign for six weeks in November and December, will have on the season. On the one hand, with trips to Qatar up for grabs, players should not lack motivation in the opening months, but on the other they will want to stay fresh and avoid injury.
It has the potential to alter the running order but, even so, it remains difficult to back against City claiming a fifth title in six years.