Ian Darke's Premier League predictions: It's Liverpool's year
On the eve of another Premier League season full of intrigue, optimism runs high everywhere ... well, almost everywhere. But before a ball is kicked, there are more questions than answers even for the usual suspects in the top six (and check the bottom for my final verdict on the Top 4 and relegation battle).
The smart money says it will be Manchester City and Liverpool running away at the top again. Both have been relatively quiet in the summer market. As talented as City are, you wonder if their focus might switch to the prize that has eluded them, the Champions League, when push comes to shove this season. That might just open the door to a Liverpool team who will bring manic intensity to their quest to end a long league title drought going back to 1990. Yet the heavy summer workload on their famous three strikers -- Mohamed Salah and Sadio Mane played in the African Cup of Nations for Egypt and Senegal, respectively, while Roberto Firmino represented Brazil in the Copa America -- makes you wonder if the Reds should have bought extra cover.
Arsenal will surely be full of goals now that £72 million winger Nicolas Pepe is joining the prolific Pierre-Emerick Aubameyang and Alexandre Lacazette, but the club has not done enough to fix a leaky defence -- they signed David Luiz from Chelsea, but as we all know, he is often a howler waiting to happen -- and need to improve their performances away from home.
Meanwhile, how will Chelsea cope without Eden Hazard (who decamped for Real Madrid) in Frank Lampard's debut season as a Premier League manager? For starters they'll need Christian Pulisic, Mason Mount, Callum Hudson-Odoi and Tammy Abraham to deliver ... and deliver fast.
Even with the excellent midfield addition of Tanguy Ndombele and 19-year-old left winger Ryan Sessegnon, Spurs' squad still looks a bit too thin to bridge the 27-point gap between them and champions Manchester City last season.
Manchester United have beefed up their defence with Harry Maguire and Aaron Wan-Bissaka. But there are still issues with Paul Pogba, who has been linked to Real Madrid, though he remains at Old Trafford (for now). United also sold Romelu Lukaku to Inter, and while the Belgian international is hardly a world-beater, he does score goals -- a responsibility that will fall on the likes of Marcus Rashford, Anthony Martial and out-of-form and out-of-favor Alexis Sanchez. It's against this backdrop that we'll learn if Ole Gunnar Solskjaer is a good enough manager to turn the club around in the post-Alex Ferguson era, something David Moyes, Louis van Gaal and Jose Mourinho failed to do.
Manchester United should also be concerned with the clubs chasing them. Take Leicester, which enters its first full season under Brendan Rodgers and will be well worth watching. Could they challenge for a Top 6 spot? Don't rule it out with the likes of Youri Tielemans and James Maddison supplying marksman Jamie Vardy in front of goal.
West Ham, irritatingly inconsistent last season, have made a couple of big signings and could finish in the Top 8.
Everton have signed the exciting Juventus teenager Moise Kean, but will miss Idrissa Gueye in midfield. With a posh new stadium on its way, it's vital that the Toffees find themselves at least in contention for a cup.
Wolves were superb last season, but needed to boost their squad depth more with a busy Europa League workload this time around.
Elsewhere, Crystal Palace's fate may depend on whether they keep their match-winning winger, Wilfried Zaha, while Watford have a streetwise mid-table look about them.
Manager Steve Bruce inherits the poison chalice at Newcastle, where turmoil is a way of life under owner Mike Ashley. Bruce needs new £40m man Joelinton to be a hit, otherwise Newcastle might find themselves in a relegation fight again.
Eddie Howe always keeps Bournemouth clear of trouble, the football equivalent of defying gravity, and with Callum Wilson and David Brooks around that trend is likely to continue. Likewise, you sense that Sean Dyche's band of brothers at Burnley have too much grit to go down.
But it might be tougher for Brighton, where Graham Potter takes over from Chris Hughton. There's a desire to play sexier football, but do they have the players to do it? Doubtful.
What of the three promoted clubs? Norwich must hope the top scorer in the Championship, Teemu Pukki, raises his game even higher, and the club has several good youngsters. But staying up? It will be tough.
Chris Wilder has managed in all four divisions, so he won't be daunted by the Premier League Sheffield United. It's whether he has enough quality at his disposal to stay afloat.
Predictions are there to make fools of us, but I reckon this is Liverpool's year to win the title (I expect City to come in second, followed by Spurs in third and Arsenal grabbing that last Champions League spot) with Brighton, Norwich and Sheffield United leading contenders for the drop. Top scorer? If he stays fit, look no further than Harry Kane at Tottenham.