13 Aug 2016

Sports Call - Football's greatest soap opera returns

4:40 pm on 13 August 2016

Sports Call - The greatest show on earth returns to England's grassy fields as the Premier League season kicks off tonight, writes Max Towle.

The French footballer Paul Pogba.

Paul Pogba's record transfer is a watershed moment for the English Premier League. Photo: PHOTOSPORT

In October, a 100-shop mega mall opened in West Auckland, complete with a Just Cuts, Professionail and Pita Pit. It cost $160 million.

Having spent the same amount buying French midfielder Paul Pogba this summer, Manchester United won't be expecting finely manicured nails or a banging hairdo (although they'll get it), but their first league title in four years.

Pogba's record transfer is a watershed moment for the league, which has recently become a farm for Spain and a shelter for Europe's top rejects.

His arrival also seals Manchester's place as the home of sporting theatre.

He joins new manager José Mourinho - the self-described "Special One" - and fellow signing Zlatan Ibrahimovic, a man who was once asked what he bought his wife for her birthday and replied "Nothing, she already has Zlatan."

Spanish football manager Pep Guardiola.

Spanish football manager Pep Guardiola. Photo: PHOTOSPORT

Four kilometres away, Mourinho's managerial rival and diametric opposite, Pep Guardiola, has landed at Manchester City.

A straw poll would rank them as the sport's two best coaches, and the smart money is on one to lead their team to glory.

It may sound like a phony Ashley Madison profile, but defender John Stones is City's star signing for a measly $85 million.

The Blues still have the most deadly striker in the league - Sergio Agüero - who is in every sane person's fantasy team.

But what about Leicester City?

Leicester City players celebrate

Leicester City stunned the sporting world in 2016. Photo: AFP

The fabled 5000-1 champions had a Hollywood ending to cap the biggest (and most prolonged) upset in sporting history.

In fact, if their season was a movie, you'd probably walk out after 20 minutes and proclaim it less believable than Ben Kingsley's New Zealand accent in Ender's Game.

Call it folly to deny the revolution, but the club is just as likely to get relegated this season as they are to win it all again.

After all, they've sold their turbocharged midfield engine N'Golo Kanté to Chelsea and replaced him with a rusty antique, Andy King.

Tottenham Hotspur have picked up a couple of decent squad players this summer and, behind the king of derp, Harry Kane, should push for a Champions League place.

Chelsea may pip them with the wizarding mind of new coach Antonio Conte.

The Italian football coach Antonio Conte.

The Italian football coach Antonio Conte. Photo: PHOTOSPORT

Stamford Bridge resembled Amityville last season as the defending champions laboured to 10th, but things are looking up with Mr Skinny Black-Tie on the sidelines.

They have also displayed the most important lesson in business - if you can't pronounce it, buy it - and signed young Belgian striker Michy Batshuayi for about $60 million.

Arsenal will finish fourth.

Liverpool will be hoping for more magical moments like last season's curtain call after clinching a draw against West Brom.

There will be plenty more stunning results for the Reds this season, including possible wins against Hull City, Sunderland and Watford.

Southampton and West Ham are safe bets for the top half, the latter now playing their games in England's best rental, London's Olympic Stadium.

As for which clubs will get relegated and go bankrupt - managerless Hull City are a good shout as the club is worse prepared than Rio.

England's best soap opera (behind Emmerdale) kicks off at 11.30pm with a mouthwatering fixture, Hull City vs Leicester City.


Champions: Manchester City

Top four: Manchester City, Manchester United, Chelsea, Arsenal

Relegated: Hull City, Burnley, Watford

Top scorer: Sergio Agüero

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