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Football's back!

A preview of the Premier League from the reporters in the press box


Another season to savour

The why nots and the what ifs. The reasons we can’t stop ourselves when August rolls around again. Football is back and it’s the hope that thrills you.

Except it never really went away. The stories certainly don’t. From Nairobi to New York and near enough everywhere in between, Premier League sides have travelled the world in recent weeks as the summers shorten and we remember, just like last year, that football does not leave our lives.

The most lucrative league in world football has, in many ways, never been more powerful than it is as we approach the 2019/2020 season, with annual revenues for the clubs reaching a record £4.8 billion when announced last April. Or to put it another way, bigger than the GDP of some, admittedly small, countries. While on the pitch, Premier League teams dominated continental competition unlike ever before, with both Champions League and Europa League finals all-English affairs, putting to one side the latter’s bizarre, pre-season friendly-style showpiece in Baku. In Manchester City and Liverpool, it is hard to argue that two of the three best teams in the world aren’t currently playing in England.

And yet, despite the astronomical sums generated within the league and the phenomenal performances of the division’s largest teams, England’s top flight remains in a state of imperfect flux.

As night follows day, the giants of European football have responded this summer with staggering largesse. At time of writing, it is from Spain where the the largest moves are being made in the transfer window, with deals worth totalling over £1.5bn already completed from La Liga sides. Elsewhere, Juventus, Dortmund and Bayern Munich have each broken the £100m outlay barrier so far this summer.

This could yet change by the 9th August and the closure of the English transfer window, but with Chelsea banned from the market and Jurgen Klopp largely comfortable with his squad of European champions, the Premier League's flexing of its collective financial muscle may be more reserved than many had expected back in May.

It is off the pitch where the greatest question marks remain for the league and its clubs ahead of 2019-20. The hugely influential Richard Scudamore is yet to be replaced as Chief Executive after his would-be successor Susanna Dinnage backed out at the end of last year in a surprise U-turn. The role driving the strategic vision of the entire league remains vacant. In addition, the league’s relentless domestic TV rights revenue growth stalled for the first time since 2004 in February, with its 2019-2022 package down on the previous three years.

The figures remain dizzying and, at times, feel removed from the day-to-day and week-to-week experience of being a fan. But fans we remain.

Our journalists from across the country have a slightly different role, but it ties us to our clubs and indeed the fans inextricably. This preview of the Premier League season is from the reporters who will be in the press box every step of the way. We, like you, will be spending our lives with these teams.

We do so in the knowledge that when it’s good, there really is nothing better. To have our weekends saved by a last-minute winner. To know that you can safely watch Match of the Day. To believe that whoever arrives this summer will be the difference. In football, hope springs eternal until it suddenly doesn’t. More suddenly for some than others.

There will be moments over the next nine months of immense frustration. We at times won’t be our best selves and our teams, without question, will ruin days and darken moods. We will ask ourselves why we bother. why does it feel like we care more than ever before?

Because why not? Because what if?

Jon Birchall, Editor (Football)

Season predictions

Third successive Premier League trophy for Manchester City?

Manchester City are being backed to win a third successive Premier League trophy by each of the journalists who contributed to The Football Network 2019/20 season preview.

We asked each reporter for their Premier League tables and worked out the average for each club, with City coming out on top ahead of Liverpool for a second season in a row.

Tottenham and Arsenal are being backed to capitalise on Frank Lampard’s arrival at a Chelsea side hindered by a transfer ban, with Leicester the most popular pick for seventh spot behind Lampard’s Blues and Manchester United.

At the bottom, Sheffield United are tipped to be relegated straight back to the Championship, along with fellow promoted side Norwich City and Brighton and Hove Albion.