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Football: Man City title rivals seek to lay down early markers

LONDON: With champions Manchester City opening their Premier League campaign on Sunday, the mostly likely challengers for their crown - Chelsea, Liverpool and Manchester United - all have a chance to make a statement 24 hours earlier.

European champions Chelsea host Crystal Palace after Manchester United take on Leeds United in an early kickoff. Then Liverpool round off the day at promoted Norwich City.

City, who claimed a third title in four years in May but then fell flat in a Champions League final defeat by Chelsea, go to Tottenham Hotspur on Sunday.

Chelsea's clinical win over City in Porto capped a remarkable start to Thomas Tuchel's reign at Stamford Bridge, having taken over from Frank Lampard in January.

It was the third time in little over a month that Tuchel got the better of Pep Guardiola and underlined Chelsea's credentials as the team most likely to challenge City this season.

The imminent arrival of striker Romelu Lukaku for around 95 million pounds (US$132 million) from Inter Milan will beef up an attack that often operated without a focal point last season, giving Tuchel another option in an already versatile forward unit.

Chelsea already have one trophy in the bank with Wednesday's European Supercup win over Villarreal, although they looked a little off the pace in that penalty shootout win which came at a cost with winger Hakim Ziyech suffering a shoulder injury that looks likely to make him unavailable against Palace.

Manchester United manager Ole Gunnar Solskjaer knows he faces a season of reckoning at Old Trafford after so far failing to deliver a trophy since taking over in 2018.

The Norwegian has been backed in the transfer market with the arrival of Jadon Sancho from Borussia Dortmund but improving on last season's runners-up spot will be a massive challenge.

A visit from old rivals Leeds United on the opening day also ensures that there will be no gentle easing in to a pivotal campaign in the managerial career of Solskjaer.

Liverpool's attempted title defence last season was undermined by a succession of injuries at the back - most notably to Virgil van Dijk.

So news that left back Andy Robertson will miss their away trip to Norwich with a ligament injury sustained in a friendly against Athletic Bilbao this week is hardly encouraging.

On the plus side Liverpool have most of their long-term injured back and the signing of defender Ibrahima Konate will offer more cover for the long battle ahead.

Liverpool won their last five league games last season to grab what had looked like being an unlikely top-four finish and a trip to Norwich offers Juergen Klopp's side the chance to build on that momentum.

Brentford, playing in the top flight for the first time in 74 years, will hope to mark the historic moment as they kick things off on Friday at home to Arsenal.

Several managerial changes will add some intrigue to the opening weekend with four clubs embarking on a new chapter - most notably Everton with Rafa Benitez, the former Liverpool manager, the latest to try to inspire the Goodison Park club.

Benitez starts with a home game against Southampton while new Crystal Palace manager Patrick Vieira and new Tottenham manager Nuno Espirito Santo face daunting starts.

(US$1 = 0.7223 pounds)

 

(Reporting by Martyn Herman; Editing by Toby Davis)

Source: Reuters

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