This article originally appeared on VICE Sports UK.
Thanks to the mysteries of the alphabet our third Premier League preview is stacked with big names. Liverpool, Manchester City and Manchester United all feature, and each will be targeting a spot in the top-four this season – with the Manchester clubs in particular eyeing a return to title-winning ways. Also present are top-flight returnees Middlesbrough, who will be shooting for survival and have made a few key additions to support their cause. You can read our previous previews here.
With the initial wave of Kloppmania now dissipated, Liverpool find themselves in a difficult position. Klopp's appointment has raised expectations, which could be tough to manage as the season wears on. While a top four berth would represent a good return, many will be dreaming of a left-field title tilt. Klopp has not gone for the squad overhaul that some were expecting this summer and, despite the shrewd additions of Sadio Mane, Joel Matip and Loris Karius, the development of the team seems more incremental than radical.
There's nothing wrong with gradual change but, that said, Liverpool still look some way behind their major rivals in terms of star quality and squad depth. Having finished eighth last season, even fifth place and a Europa League spot would be a reasonable improvement. Whether or not that would be enough for the fans is another thing entirely.
Keen to cement his position as the world's foremost football coach, Pep Guardiola has taken on the level-10 challenge of achieving success with Manchester City, one of the wealthiest clubs on the planet, where no transfer fee is too expensive, no player considered out of their price range. Don't ever say that the Spaniard won't take the difficult options.
Of course, Pep's task at the Ethiad is not simply to win them a few trophies. The City hierarchy have brought him in to build a dynasty, to transform them from largely underachieving Joe Hart enablers into the English equivalent of Barcelona. Right now they're a pale impression of Real Madrid at best.
In that respect this may be more of a project than it initially seems. City are building for long-term success, something neither of their true rivals – Manchester United and Chelsea – are hinting at with their respective managerial appointments. Mourinho in particular has been brought in to win the title ASAP, then make enemies of everyone (especially Pogba) and fuck off to PSG.
Of course, having spent enough money to end world hunger, City must challenge for the title this term. Anything less would be a massive letdown. But if they fall short, the owners must stand firm. Guardiola's success elsewhere means he has considerable cache.
John Stones, though? Not seeing it, Pep.
While there's still plenty of time to make signings, Manchester United have done the best business of the transfer window so far. Not only have they secured the services of Jose Mourinho – a massive improvement on the prosaic bewilderment of Louis van Gaal – they have also strengthened their spine with the signings of Zlatan Ibrahimovic, Eric Bailly and, most importantly, Henrikh Mkhitaryan, the latter of whom tallied up a whopping 19 goals and 15 assists for Borussia Dortmund last season.
With Paul Pogba returning to the club – albeit for a truly obscene fee – Mourinho seems set to start the new season with the strongest squad in the Premier League. While the Europa League could provide an unwanted distraction early on, the path to a first post-Fergie title appears to be relatively unobstructed.
Canny operator Aitor Karanka has used his Spanish connections – namely being Spanish – to bring in a trio of Spanish players, with Victor Valdes joining for free, Antonio Barragán arriving from Valencia, and Álvaro Negredo added on loan from the same side (however they've also added Brad Guzan, so hopefully Valdes can stay fit).
Seriously, adding a three-time Champions League winner between the sticks is a coup, while Negrado shone brightly (albeit briefly) for Man City a few years back. On paper – that famous piece of paper everyone's always on about – these are solid additions.
Elsewhere, Dutch midfielder Marten de Roon cost £12m from Italian side Atalanta (an aside: £12m is now the cost of an uncapped player; we've crossed the rubicon, lads) and there was existing quality at the Riverside: Adam Clayton, Daniel Ayala and Gaston Ramirez all shone on the way to second spot in the Championship last term.
Of the three promoted sides Boro look the best placed to survive, at least on the trusty piece of paper. That said, they nearly imploded last year – witness Karanka's weird walk-out and return act – and there are various rumblings about their behind-the-scenes setup. So, while you can see them making a great return and finishing 11th, it's equally easy to imagine them bottoming out and finishing 20th. But that's the bloody fun, isn't it – the mystery!