In what has been less than a few weeks since France lifted the World Cup in Moscow, the English Premier League has begun its almost 10-month quest to find another champion.
With the transfer window shut, fans will now get a glimpse at what their teams have signed, who has moved on and what might still be needed come the next window in January if they are to win something – or just survive the drop.
August and September are often cause for optimism from many a fan – a couple of wins and we can all start dreaming.
But premierships are not won in September, they are in May – and they are built on solid performances through the cold mid-winter months.
Pre-season games likewise are often no indicator.
West Ham won all their pre-season games the last time they were relegated.
Could the same fate await them in 2018-19?
Who knows, but with Manuel Pellegrini at the helm, they look in good hands.
The former Manchester City boss will have the Hammers playing the way Hammers fans like – although in this competition, that may not be enough to be contenders – merely survivalists.
The Premier League has become over the past few seasons a two and even perhaps, three-tiered competition.
The bottom six or seven, the middle half a dozen or so and the top six fighting for Champions League places.
As we go to press club are still attempting to add the last one or two players to their squads – World Cup performances will have added considerable value to some, but not to others.
Everton has spent big, but wisely, Liverpool big for sure, whereas Manchester United boss Jose Mourinho never seems to be happy with whatever his squad looks like.
One positive form Russia 2018, will however, not be present – VAR.
The Premier League has it the pause button on the introduction of the sometimes controversial video assistant referee for another season in order to further assess the system.
One of the big concerns from last season was the time it took to review decisions,” from referee Mark Clattenburg said.
The Premier League did not want to spoil the flow of the game, because this league is the fastest in the world.”
Good point.
Other refereeing calls that don’t need VAR include shirt pulling – something we saw plenty of in Russia, and it’s also understood the league wants to monitor other European leagues; more closely to ensure any glitches are ironed out before they introduce it next season.
So who are the favourites and who is there to watch out for?
Reigning premiers Manchester City obviously. They have quietly come about their pre-season with purpose and have a star-laden squad capable of retaining the crown. But not by the margin of last season.
Too many others have been busy adding to squads, moving on, bringing in – and I suspect the usual suspects will al be up there in that top six or seven come October before the real battle for supremacy begins.
Liverpool has thrown everything bar the proverbial kitchen sink at their bid this season, tee big spenders of the league.
Can the addition of Keita, Alisson, Faninho and Shaqiri give them the edge?
For Liverpool the challenge s consistency over the season – something they have yet to achieve in the ‘modern’ game.
They can match anyone on their day – but that has to happen over several months – not once a month.
West Ham has spent big, over £89m, but won’t win the premiership. A decent cup run and a challenge for a Europa League spot is their target.
As for other London clubs: Arsenal, with the new manager, will finish top six – anything more than is really a bonus. Chelsea, with Maurizio Sarri in charge will also be top six challengers. The arrival of Jorghino will add to their midfield and that will certainly boost their hopes. Palace and Fulham won’t be top sox, but they will be no pushovers either.
Selhurst Park is a tough place to play, so their home points will keep them up. As for Fulham, midfielder Jean Michael Seri’s arrival from Nice showed their intentions, although mid-table is the best they can hope for.
Tottenham meanwhile, will want to push on from last year, but with transfer activity Spurs fans must be wondering what is happening behind the scenes. A brand new stadium is their priority, but they have enough quality to be top four – and maybe more.
Southampton, Brighton and Bournemouth have all added to their squads. None are title contenders and they may end up being drawn into another relegation dogfight.
Saints still look vulnerable, even after the signing of giant Dane Jannik Vestergaard to replace Dutch defender Virgil Van Dyke. Brighton has brought in eight new players and spent over £89m, but second season blues might set in.
Bournemouth, again look a side punching way above their weigh. Can they continue to surprise? Coach Eddie Howe has just splashed out £25m on Colombian World Cup star Jefferson Lerma, but it’s their defense that is still a concern.
Burnley is another who continue to beat the odds as a relatively small club, and not only survive, but get Europa League football to Turf Moor. Solid and mid-table.
Everton has spent a lot of money. A new coach and renewed optimism but ninth or tenth in today’s Premier League is probably their best, and the same could be said for Leicester City, who has become a more consistent outfit, even though the loss of Riyad Mahrez to City will hurt. James Maddison, a £24m signing from Norwich City, could be their new young star.
And now the United’s – but two very different scenarios.
There’s a whole world of difference between Manchester and Newcastle.
At Old Trafford anything other than top 2 or 3 is unacceptable. In fact, after losing the race to City last season, United fans will expect to be again challenging – it’s in their DNA. Will they? Yes, they will, and forget all the pre-season negativity surrounding Mourinho – that’s his style – he would prefer to be the underdog.
But Newcastle is a different kettle of fish. Perennial under-achievers in a one team city where football is a religion. It’s hard to fathom though, anything other than mid-table mediocrity.
Given recent times that may be sufficient for some Geordies, but I suspect not for most. Rafa Benitez has to balance his desires for success with owners clearly content on ensuring the books are balanced.
So who have we still to look at?
Watford often fly under the radar and even though they have spent big  – £15m on Gerard Deulofeu from Barcelona for example – they might just find this season a battle for survival. So many manager changes as the foreign ownership group lack continuity could be their downfall.
Huddersfield escaped relegation last season but will be back in that mix again this time around. The Terriers survived on team spirit to get them through many games but that can only last so long.
Of the three promoted clubs, Wolves look the best prepared for survival. Some are even calling them dark horses. Chinese owners have invested heavily in their Portuguese connections and Ruben Neves is quality. Add about another dozen ‘Portugeezers’ to the squad and there is class.
Finally Cardiff, pre-season favorites to go straight back down. That news will only encourage coach Neil Warnock to develop a siege mentality in South Wales. Make no mistake, they will be tough to beat at home – away might just be their undoing.
Scottish readers will be interested to learn Daniel Arzani is set to join his Socceroos teammate Tom Rogic at Scottish Premier League champions Celtic.
Arzani, 19, who made three substitute appearances for Australia at the World,  has moved from A-League side Melbourne City to Manchester City before being farmed out to the Parkhead club for an extended loan period.
“He is another exciting young talent and we will see if we can get that organized in the next few days, Cleric manager Brandan Rodgers said.
He has obviously been at the World Cup so he will need to be in for a couple of weeks before he gets up to speed.”