Tactical battle will be worthwhile
I cannot recall an English Premier League pre-season generating as much excitement as this summer. This is down to two factors. The arrival of Pep Guardiola, Antonio Conte, Jurgen Klopp to augment the usually toxic confrontation between Jose Mourinho and Arsene Wenger portends a Hollywood style sideshow.
Secondly, Leicester City’s success last season has enamored smaller clubs to believe there is a place for them at the rendezvous of victory. Clubs like Mauricio Pochettino’s quicksilver Spurs, West Ham United and even Bournemouth have recruited well. The football is therefore certain to be better.
Back to the managers. Notice I have deliberately omitted Wenger and Pochettino because I believe they squandered their chance last season. By allowing Leicester to run away with the title, they declined the right to sit on the table of champions.
Exactly what do the new arrivals bring to the table? Mourinho has already registered a major coup by attracting big name signings. Zlatan Ibrahimovic, Henrik Mkhtariyan and Paul Pogba were convinced he is the right man to propel Manchester United to the top.
His most onerous task will be reviving the traditional expansive football which brought the Red Devils so much success under Sir Alex Ferguson. I think he will use Phil Jones and Luke Shaw as attacking wingbacks while retaining midfield control by sticking to a 4-5-1 formation.
However, Mourinho will be hard pressed to match Conte, Klopp and Guardiola because train fitter teams. Bayern Munich, Liverpool and Conte’s Azzuri were the fittest, hardest full pitch pressing teams I watched last season. Mourinho’s Chelsea at times played as though they were half fit.
Expect Manchester City, Chelsea and Liverpool to play the most intense football in EPL history. Another aspect in which the Special One faces challenge is in squad management. There is always a distinct decline in quality of play each time Mourinho replaces a core of 7-8 untouchables.
This doesn’t happen with Pep, Conte or Klopp managed teams. At the just ended Euros, Italy’s midfield and wingbacks - their most hardworking units, kept changing with each game.
Just when you thought Antonio Candreva had excelled, he made way for Florenzi. Similar rotation was done with Matteo Damian who swapped shirts with de Scoglio and Daniele de Rossi who was constantly replaced by Thiago Motta.
At Liverpool, Divock Origi, Kolo Toure and Lucas Leiva helped the club to two finals despite starting the season as squad players whereas at Bayern there was no decline in performance even when Pep’s entire back four was decimated by injuries.
In brief, these managers base play on inbuilt systems.
The highest amount of scrutiny is going to be on Pep Guardiola because of his record of success - 21 trophies in 7 years of management is unprecedented. But he is also the most innovative among the big guns.
Rivals Mourinho, Klopp and Conte will find it hard to switch formations within games without changing playing personnel as Pep does.
I expect all four managers to spend over 100m pounds in an effort to wrest back the initiative.
There will be touchline drama, inspired substitutions, animated press conferences and battered reputations. But it will all make for good drama as the world’s best reality TV show rolls into town August 14. As Baganda say, zaabike emipiira!