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Premier League Preview: Can anyone challenge Liverpool, Manchester City?

With Doug McIntyre
FOX Sports Soccer Writer

The new Premier League season kicks off on Friday when Arsenal travel across London to take on Crystal Palace and there are plenty of storylines to follow across England’s storied top flight as the action gets underway.

Here are five key questions for the 2022-23 campaign.

Can Erling Haaland, City of Manchester reach new heights?

The rich got richer this summer as two-time defending Premier League champions City added Haaland, the 22-year-old Norwegian goal machine who was the most sought-after player available in 2022.

Haaland scored almost at will during his 2.5 seasons with Borussia Dortmund, averaging almost a goal per game in the German Bundesliga. His UEFA Champions League numbers were even more obscene, with 23 goals in just 19 appearances. (Haaland has also scored 20 times in 21 appearances for the Norwegian national team.)

City are looking to clinch their fifth English title in six years this season but will really be hoping that Haaland’s nose for the net will lead them to an even more coveted prize: a first Champions League crown for the Emirates backers . Club.

But Haaland will be challenged like never before in the bumpy Premier League, where his physical strengths will be minimized and where his one weakness – his aerial ability – could be magnified.

He could just as easily set Prem on fire and establish himself as a bona fide global superstar and the most feared striker in the game along the way. After all, Haaland needed just 12 minutes of preparation to score his first goal for City:

How will Liverpool fare without Sadio Mane?

In theory at least, the Reds shouldn’t miss Mane too much. The 30-year-old Senegalese striker wanted to leave Liverpool – who he helped to their first English title in three decades in 2020 – after nearly 200 Premier League games for a new adventure with Bayern. Liverpool duly spent $100 million to replace him with Darwin Núñez, a prolific 23-year-old Uruguayan.

Problem solved, right? We’ll see.

Núñez is a different type of striker to the fleet Mane, who developed an almost telepathic understanding with right winger Mohamed Salah on Merseyside. There is no guarantee that the same kind of chemistry will develop between Núñez, who is more of a striker in the box than one who excels on the counter-attack, Salah and the rest of his teammates.

There is hope, though: After struggling in his early pre-season outings, Núñez scored as the Reds overcame Man City in last weekend’s Community Shield. He then credited Salah with helping him settle.

Liverpool have come agonizingly close to adding another league title in the last two years, only to fall just shy each time. If Núñez can surpass the 16 goals Mane scored last season, it could be enough to bring the Reds back to the top.

I will Cristiano Ronaldo I am living at Manchester United?

Some level of drama is expected at any club dealing with Ronaldo, but the Portuguese superstar has reached soap opera levels ahead of the new campaign. Just a year after returning for his second spell with the Red Devils, Ronaldo wants out.

United finished sixth last May and failed to qualify for this season’s Champions League despite Ronaldo’s 18 goals, three most in the league. It is understandable that a player who will turn 38 in February wants to compete in Europe’s top club competition. But for the second time in two years, the late timing of Ronaldo’s transfer request has left his bosses in a difficult position.

Juventus were able to move Ronaldo on the final day of last summer’s transfer window, but there hasn’t been as much interest in him this year. Atletico Madrid is a Champions League mainstay, Chelsea, Bayern and Paris Saint-Germain don’t seem to want him. Meanwhile, Man United cannot really replace him at this stage and may be forced to keep him. Ronaldo is not happy. left Old Trafford before the end of Sunday’s final clash with Spanish side Rayo Vallecano, much to the chagrin of United’s new manger Erik ten Haag.

How and when the confrontation ends is anyone’s guess. But for a club desperate to return to the Premier League’s elite – a team that has been completely out of sorts since Sir Alex Ferguson retired a decade ago – it is a circus that is not needed on the eve of a new campaign.

Can Gabriel Jesus help Arsenal back into the Top 4?

After finishing between fifth and eighth in each of the last six seasons, the Gunners are a long way from the club who previously qualified for the Champions League 20 years in a row.

This might be the season they go back there. Arsenal have fallen behind north Londoners Tottenham in recent years, but the signing of winger Gabriel Jesus from Manchester City this summer signaled their ambition to improve. The Brazilian is not a world beater, it’s true. But he is good enough to make a difference for Mikel Arteta’s side and has a lot to prove after instigating the move in search of more playing time than he received under City boss Pep Guardiola.

As Arteta sees it, Arsenal have added a proven winner.

“He’s a massive talent, a player with a mentality that’s so infectious,” the three-year manager and former Gunners midfielder he said earlier this week. “He’s going to give us a lot.”

Have Chelsea improved enough for a title challenge?

If any team can compete for the title with Liverpool or Manchester City, it’s Chelsea. The Blues’ new ownership group have shown a willingness to spend money to that end this summer as well.

Thomas Tuchel’s side have added Raheem Sterling from City. Like Jesus at Arsenal, Sterling’s experience and league pedigree should suit a team that has claimed both the Champions League and FIFA Club World Cup in the past 18 months.

Tuchel also snapped up prized Napoli centre-back Kalidou Koulibaly and made a subtraction addition by sending Romelu Lukaku back to Inter on loan after the striker’s disastrous return to Stamford Bridge.

On Thursday, the Blues announced the signing of 18-year-old wonder Carney Chukwuemeka from Aston Villa.

But will it be enough to upset the power structure at the top of Prem? It’s hard to say that. Chelsea also lost two important veterans in Antonio Rudiger (Real Madrid) and Andreas Christensen (Barcelona) on free transfers this summer.

One of the leading soccer journalists in North America, Doug McIntyre has covered the United States men’s and women’s national teams at several FIFA World Cups. Before joining FOX Sports in 2021, he was a staff writer with ESPN and Yahoo Sports. Follow him on Twitter @By DougMcIntyre.

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