Rivals aiming to catch Pep Guardiola's Manchester City as Premier League returns

Rivals aiming to catch Pep Guardiola's Manchester City as Premier League returns

It has barely been a few weeks since Manchester City's rain-soaked treble parade but Pep Guardiola's all-conquering side will soon be back to business.

After sweeping almost all before them last term, finally ending their long quest to win the Champions League and claiming a fifth Premier League title in six years, once again they begin a new season as the team to beat.

Unusually for them, and in marked contrast to last summer when the arrival of Erling Haaland generated much - and, as it turned out, justified - hype, their close-season been more notable for its outgoings.

The departures of Ilkay Gundogan and Riyad Mahrez will undoubtedly leave a hole and speculation persists over the futures of several other members of the squad.

Yet this is not a group being broken up and, boasting the likes of Haaland, Kevin De Bruyne and Jack Grealish, it remains one of the most formidable assembled in the Premier League era.

The midfield has also been bolstered by the signing of four-time Champions League winner Mateo Kovacic and there could be more to follow.

With the inspirational Guardiola at the helm, City will also be just as focused and motivated as they always have been come the key moments.

Last year player exits, a slow start and a mid-season World Cup break were all overcome in a title charge timed to perfection by the masterful Guardiola and, with him at the helm, there is unlikely to be much drop-off.

The challenge will be for the rivals to catch them - something in the past only Liverpool, under the similarly driven Jurgen Klopp, have been able to achieve.

However, after their quadruple near-miss in 2021-22, the Reds fell away badly last season and it remains to be seen if their refresh, with the signings of Alexis Mac Allister and Dominik Szoboszlai, is enough to regenerate them as a title force.

Arsenal will hope the strongest challenge will come from them. The Gunners set the pace for most of last season and, although their bid ultimately ended in heartbreak, the Mikel Artea project seemed well ahead of schedule.

Bringing in Declan Rice was a huge statement signing and, with Kai Havertz and Jurrien Timber also coming in, they should be stronger.

Mason Mount and Andre Onana can further help Manchester United to progress as they look to build on Erik ten Hag's promising first campaign, with Rasmus Hojlund seemingly set to provide further reinforcement if a £64million deal from Atalanta is finalised, but uncertainty over the club's ownership continues to cast a shadow.

Newcastle will look to cement their place at the top end of the table after their huge leap from relegation battlers to fourth place last season, but the likes of Tottenham and Chelsea have points to prove.

Ange Postecoglu and Mauricio Pochettino, respectively, are the new head coaches brought in by the London rivals after tumultuous campaigns and simply steadying their ships might be their first objectives.

Survival will be the aim for the Premier League's newest name in Luton, after they sealed their remarkable rise from the National League to top flight by winning last year's Championship play offs.

Their modest Kenilworth Road home may look out of place among the elite but the Hatters have earned their spot and their spirit can serve them well.

Burnley and Sheffield United, the two other promoted teams, are more familiar to Premier League audiences and there is certainly much excitement over how Vincent Kompany has rejuvenated the Clarets.

The relegation battle last year was a tight one and while Wolves, West Ham and Crystal Palace will not expect to be anywhere near it this time, the likes of Nottingham Forest, Bournemouth and - particularly - Everton have a lot to do to prove they are equipped to stay up.