The contenders, the pretenders, and the impact of Qatar: Your Premier League questions answered ahead of the 2022/23 season

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The 2022/23 English Premier League season is about to kick off when Crystal Palace host Arsenal at Selhurst Park on Saturday at 5am AEST.

To whet your appetites, our resident football fans Sam and Simon have set aside their allegiances (to varying degrees of success…) to answer the biggest questions heading into one of the most intriguing campaigns in recent history.

Who can challenge Manchester City or Liverpool for the title?

Simon: Manchester City have to be favourites.

Yeah, they lost the Community Shield last week, but since when has that ever been a suitable indication of a team doing well in the following season?

(The Community Shield winner has only gone on to win the Premier League once in the last 10 years, seeing as you’re asking.)

A male soccer team wearing red wins a trophy
Liverpool FC, City’s nearest rival, defeated them to win the Community Shield last month.(Getty Images: DeFodi Images/Kieran Galvin)

City have won four titles in the last five years and that’s no accident, but they have switched a few things up personnel-wise, which might make things interesting if the new boys — read Erling Haaland, Kalvin Phillips and Julian Alvarez — fail to gel in the same way that departing stars Raheem Sterling, Gabriel Jesus and Fernandinho.

Liverpool losing Sadio Mane will be tough to handle, although should Darwin Núñez land on his feet, that will offset Mane’s loss.

Sam: Look, Simon, I respect you — but you’re wrong.

I don’t think City are outright favorites in the same way they were last season, largely because of two things: first, the players they’ve lost compared with the ones they’ve gained, and second, how long it takes new recruits to adjust to Pep Guardiola’s style.

City have basically signed positional replacements after losing Raheem Sterling, Gabriel Jesus, and Fernandinho — players who were regular starters and were already acclimatised to the 4D chess Guardiola often deploys on the field.

We’ve seen new recruits like Jack Grealish take a full season before they start to “fit” into the team, so I’d say even big signings like Haaland may not have the immediate impact some are hoping for.

A male soccer player wearing light blue has his hands on his hips with a crowd behind him
Haaland may take some time to adjust to Guardiola as well as the Premier League in general.(Getty Images: Copa/Harriet Lander)

If you compare City’s situation with Liverpool, while they have lost Mane, the majority of their released players were peripheral at best. Importantly, they’ve retained Golden Boot winner Mohamed Salah, Diogo Jota, and Roberto Firmino — players who are already familiar with Jurgen Klopp’s heavy-metal football — meaning there’s not so much pressure on new signing Darwin Nunez to hit the ground running.

But another reason why I reckon this season is a bit more open is that other clubs are looking decent, too. Chelsea, Arsenal and Tottenham have had strong pre-seasons and recruited well, but Manchester United still seem to be figuring stuff out behind the scenes, so they’re probably a ways to go yet before challenging for anything beyond the most meme-able Premier League team.

Who will be top four in Premier League?

Simon: Add Liverpool, Chelsea and Tottenham to Manchester City and you’ve got your top four for me.

Chelsea have done decent business in the transfer window, particularly the acquisition of Raheem Sterling from Manchester City.

At Spurs, Alberto Conte has been given more leeway to craft a team that he feels he can work with, which should be enough to secure them Champions League football again this season.

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Sam: Liverpool, City, and Chelsea — yes — although I think the battle for fourth will be tight between Tottenham and Arsenal.

The Gunners’ pick-up of Jesus from City already looks to be a stroke of genius as the young Brazilian forward has been scoring for fun in pre-season (including a hat-trick in a 6-0 romping of Sevilla), and the club will be gunning (heh) for a return to Champions League football, where they haven’t featured since 2017.

Although they finished 5th last season, the vibes from Arsenal have been good, particularly as they’ve further integrated some of their best young players into the squad. Keep an eye on ’em.

As for Tottenham, although their pre-season wasn’t as good as Arsenal’s (they only won one of their past four games by more than a goal, and lost their final hit-out 1-0 to Roma), Conte has a couple aces up his sleeve with new signings Ivan Perisic, Yves Bissouma, Richarlison, and Clement Lenglet. They’ve also retained their core players, including the key strike partnership of Harry Kane and Son Heung-Min.

Either way, the Premier League top four/six is ​​basically just rearranging the deck chairs at this point. Anyone else desperately miss Leicester City?

Who will be relegated from the Premier League?

Simon: Despite the yo-yoing of certain clubs being considered by some to be the ideal model to build up some capital to make a genuine charge at staying in the league, it’s hard to see how any of Bournemouth, Fulham or Nottingham Forest will stay in the tier ball.

That being said, two-time European champions Forest, playing in the top flight for the first time in 23 years, have made some decent acquisitions — including Jesse Lingard.

A men's soccer team wearing red and white celebrates after winning a trophy
Forest were promoted to the Premier League after winning the Championship play-off final against Huddersfield in May.(Getty Images: Visionhaus/Joe Prior)

Additionally, are Leeds United primed for the drop? They’ve lost their top two players in Kalvin Phillips and Raphinha.

Sam: While there’s definitely a larger trend of newly promoted clubs dropping straight back down again, there have also been a couple of clubs over the past five years that have bucked the trend.

Brentford, Leeds, and Wolverhampton have all stayed up since their respective promotions and played some fabulous football to boot. The secret ingredients seem to be having an effective and distinct style of play, coupled with a manager who makes solid strategic signings with their swole broadcast bonuses.

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Forest snapping up Lingard is a tick in the latter box, in addition to signing Neco Williams from Liverpool and goalkeeper Dean Henderson from United. It’s also rumored that Dutch striker Jizz Hornkamp (yes, really) is on the radar, as well.

Two male soccer players wearing black and white hold hands
Will Leeds stay in the Premier League after losing two of their key players in Kalvin Phillips and Raphinha?(Getty Images: AMA/Robbie Jay Barratt)

As for Fulham, they’ve also recruited some experienced heads like Andreas Pereira from United and Bernd Leno from Arsenal, in addition to a few newbies with Champions League experience.

Ultimately, though, you can’t just lean on a couple of glittering signings to drag you through a competition like this. Both clubs will have to hope the squads that got them promoted in the first place are able to swim rather than sink now that they’ve been thrown in the deep end.

Who will be top scorer in the Premier League?

Simon: If Haaland can get up to speed quickly then he’d have to be in with a chance to bang in plenty for City.

He’s coming off the back of scoring 22 in 24 in the Bundesliga for Dortmund and, Community Shield wobbles aside, found his feet relatively quickly.

However, it might be a sky blue cast-off that really sets the golden boot race alight, as Gabriel Jesus, a clear focal point at Arsenal, could capitalize on a solid run of football to score a hat full.

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Harry Kane and Heung-Min Son may just end up cannibalizing their chances of being overall top scorer by taking goals off each other for Spurs but should also be considered.

Then there’s a certain Cristiano Ronaldo at Manchester United, who is one of the most potent goal scorers of all time — if he’s still welcome at Old Trafford, that is.

Sam: Wait, do you hear that?

Something in the distance. It sounds like a chant, a collection of voices rising as one.

They’re calling out someone’s name. I can’t quite…

It’s coming closer…

There it is. I can make it out now. It’s the name of the one player you have criminally forgot to include in this list, Simon.

Mo Salah, Mo Salah, Mo Salah, running down the wing…

Will the World Cup affect the Premier League?

Simon: Undoubtedly. A six-week gap right before the traditional avalanche of winter fixtures will clearly have an impact on teams at the top and bottom of the table.

Most of the top teams will have vast swathes of their squads heading off to Qatar, where a successful World Cup — or otherwise — will have a massive impact on their mindsets and form.

For the clubs that aren’t so badly impacted by player absences, a six-week mid-season holiday to refresh and recharge could be hugely beneficial, allowing them to hit the ground running upon the league’s resumption on Boxing Day.

A soccer stadium lit up from the inside
The Premier League is one of many competitions that will pause for November’s World Cup in Qatar.(Getty Images: David Ramos)

Sam: And it’s not just the six-week block in the middle of the season that could affect things, either.

Tournament football is a very different beast. The tighter turn-around of games means players have far less time to recover than they would in a regular league, so injuries and fatigue start to become a major risk — particularly towards the pointy end, just before they’re all expected to return to their clubs hit the ground running again.

We’ve seen careers end in tournaments like these because their bodies start to break down – or, sometimes, break altogether.

So player management when the World Cup is over is also going to be crucial.

Whether some clubs with a huge number of Qatar-bound players allow their squad to rest and recover upon their return (and for how long) or whether they get straight back into things, could be the deciding factor.

As we’ve seen in seasons gone by, sometimes a point or two is all it takes for the Premier League trophy to go to one part of the country and not another.

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