So here it is – the long-awaited new series of Pep versus José.
1. Manchester manager wars
Neutrals are hoping for a classic rerun of the meltdowns that made the Barcelona/Real Madrid years so special – but early signs are that both managers are making an effort to coexist. Last month Guardiola denied he’d spend the season refusing to shake Mourinho’s hand (“We are polite guys, why not shake, why not shake? No reason”), and José says he’s completely over it. “Individual fights make no sense in England. If I focus on him and he on me, someone else is going to win the league.” They meet for the first time at Old Trafford on 10 September. Time will tell.
2. Arsène Wenger’s farewell tour?
Away from that excitement, everything feels pretty familiar at the Emirates. On 1 October it will be 20 years since Arsène Wenger took over: 20 years since he told the sceptics: “I am like every human - I have my weaknesses. I would say to you I try every day to be better than the day before, but I am conscious that I have to win over the supporters. They don’t know me.” Two decades later, they do know him, but the “winning over” process is still ongoing. Signs are this will be Wenger’s last at the club. Could it end in glory?
3. Zlatan’s impact
Having trailed his Old Trafford move with a Hollywood hashtag – “#iamcoming” – self-billed “king” and “legend” Zlatan Ibrahimovic needs to deliver early on. But, generously, he says he’s prepared to share the headlines with colleagues, including Wayne Rooney. “Every big player can work with other big players. That’s not a problem. I see no problems here. Just success.”
4. Leicester’s tricky encore
How do you follow a fairytale? Do it all over again, or slip into graceful decline? N’Golo Kanté is gone, and pre-season has been testing – a 4-0 defeat to PSG and 4-2 to Barcelona – but key title-winners remain, including Jamie Vardy, Riyad Mahrez, Danny Drinkwater and captain Wes Morgan. Last season Claudio Ranieri said Morgan was “Baloo off the Jungle Book. He is a big gentle bear. He does not speak so much but when he does speak, everybody listens. He is the perfect captain.”
5. The reinvention of David Moyes
It’s been a tough few years. Humiliated at United, Moyes achieved meme status when this photo of him meeting fans at Old Trafford went viral – captioned online: “I have no idea what is happening”. Then came 12 grim months at Real Sociedad. But now he’s back, at a club much more like Everton. “In my first season at Everton, after the club had continually avoided relegation, I think we finished seventh,” he said. “Will that happen with Sunderland? It will be very difficult, but I have to believe there’s a possibility.” Expect heavy last-minute spending: Christian Benteke has been linked.
6. New-look homes
We’re all invested in West Ham’s new ground, literally. The £701m stadium, with the club chipping in £15m, opened last week, and is a world away from Green Street. The rebrand is neat – but no amount of green sheeting is going to disguise that 30m gap between the stand and the pitch. Elsewhere, Liverpool will unveil their new £114m Main Stand. They paid for it themselves.
7. Hull’s new manager…
… is already, before being appointed, being tipped as this season’s sack race winner. Hull’s pre-season bid for crisis-club status has been slick: Steve Bruce walking away, Mohamed Diamé sold down a division to Newcastle, no signings and Assem Allam still in charge. So expect to see a rare sight on the opening day: fans of a newly-promoted club protesting against their board. Hull face champions Leicester in Saturday’s television curtain-raiser (12.30pm on Sky).
8. A new corporate visual identity
Always a thrilling moment: a corporate brand identity refresh – the Premier League’s old Barclays logo gone, and, in its place, a new range of expensive fluorescent sponsor-free logos, which attracted online mockery when they were unveiled in February. League officials called the new branding “a bold and vibrant identity that includes a modern take on the lion icon”; everyone else saw it as primary school-style tribute to Aslan. Elsewhere, other badge tweaks this season include Manchester City’s new heritage-led logo, and West Ham removing the Boleyn Castle from their badge and adding the word “London”, to help sell the global brand.
9. Which way are Stoke headed?
Will Stoke finish ninth for a fourth consecutive season? Or is something less comfortable in store? Mark Hughes – who starts the campaign with a neat new Jeremy Corbyn beard – has some serious momentum-correcting work to do after last season’s run-in – as does Alan Pardew at Palace, who oversaw two wins in 21 league games before dancing his way to FA Cup final defeat. And, also looking unpredictable among the usual mid-table candidates: the newly wealthy Everton. Ronald Koeman has found his kitty hard to spend so far, but he’s trying. “We are working hard to bring in players. I expect better quality on the ball.”
10. Geometric fuse-welding
Back with the marketing department, here’s Nike describing this season’s new official ball, the Ordem 4 – featuring a “new wrapped bladder system delivering optimal touch; geometric 12 panel fuse-welded construction employing a new 3D printed ink technique; plus the design principle of ‘Flow Motion’ applying luminance.” In other words, it’s round and colourful. The Premier League ball is blue, green and purple, La Liga’s is navy, orange and yellow, Serie A’s is orange, pink and purple. Collect all three for £285.
11. New rules
95 law changes were announced in May, so expect a long season of indignant mixed-up punditry. Apart from backwards kick-offs, other changes include no more automatic reds for players who accidentally deny a scoring opportunity and an end to forcing injured players to leave the field after quick treatment. But likely to have the biggest impact are changes around dissent. This season it’s an automatic yellow for “showing visible disrespect to officials”; for “running towards an official to contest a decision”; for making any physical contact with officials; and it’s a yellow “for at least one player when two or more surround a match official”. Players who add aggression or abuse to any of the above will upgrade to an automatic red. Stand by for mass suspensions.
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