It feels strange to already be reflecting on pre-season given that the Champions League final happened just over one week ago, but here we are ready to jump head first into a fresh campaign.
The skewed football calendar, due to the coronavirus postponement, means the game all across Europe finds itself in unprecedented waters but must surge ahead in order to return to a semblance of normality.
So far we have already seen certain sides splashing the cash like never before, while rivals around them are standing still.
As fans make the first small steps on their return to the stands and footballers touch back down from some rather questionable holiday destinations, Sportsmail digests the key things we have learned so far from pre-season…
Chelsea mean serious business
Frank Lampard was told he could unleash the chequebook following a successful debut season with a youthful Chelsea side, and the club legend certainly hasn’t wasted any time.
Following the expiration of a transfer ban, we are seeing the Roman Abramovich Chelsea of old – dominating the market and acquiring the best talent.
Chelsea have splashed serious cash and already Timo Werner is in amongst the goals
The Blues have showed they mean business after splashing out £90million on Kai Havertz
While many clubs have been cautious regarding their mid-pandemic budgets, Russian owner Abramovich has bankrolled an aggressive spree which has bolstered the side in most areas.
Chelsea have acquired one of the world’s most exciting strikers in Timo Werner, while finally solving their full-back conundrum with the £50m signing of Ben Chilwell.
Hakim Ziyech, Thiago Silva and Malang Sarr have followed, as has £90m playmaker Kai Havertz from Bayer Leverkusen.
Arteta making Arsenal a real deal again
It appears that ending the season with the FA Cup is just the start for Arteta.
The Spaniard has looked fearless since taking to the dugout, despite the daunting task that is the Emirates Stadium top job.
Whereas his predecessor Unai Emery struggled after ultimately trying to do too much too soon to turn fortunes around, Arteta has gone back to basics and concentrated purely on shaping a style and identity.
Mikel Arteta is making steady progress after going back to basics and reshaping Arsenal
The former club captain has worked with the raw materials he has, turning the Gunners into a possession-conscious side once more with an instinct to play on the counter and supply talisman Pierre-Emerick Aubameyang.
This bore fruit in the run up to and victory in the FA Cup, before playing out efficiently once more as a resolute side squeezed out the win against Liverpool in the Community Shield.
Arteta has already made the shrewd move of bringing Willian on board, and is set to raise funds in order to make more signings before the October 6 deadline.
Manchester United’s deja-vu
Just 12 months ago Ole Gunnar Solskjaer’s side found themselves treading water in the transfer market; linked with some top names but not really signing anybody.
It was only in the dying stages of the 2019 summer window that United closed a record deal to sign Harry Maguire, before having to wait until January to clinch a move for Bruno Fernandes.
The club have managed to appease fans by signing Ajax star Donny van de Beek, but there is still a strong sensation of de-ja vu.
Just like last summer, United are stalling on transfers and failing to seize the early initiative
The Red Devils appeased fans by signing Donny van de Beek, but many expected more deals
Following a promising end to the season, albeit marred by Europa League exit, United are constantly linked with some of the most exciting names on the continent… but only one name has come through the door.
The club have already angered Borussia Dortmund by missing their specifically set deadline to sign Jadon Sancho, and will not meet the £108m price tag… yet.
United could well have another Maguire situation, whereby they do indeed meet the fee at the 11th hour, though fans will most certainly be left questioning the play-out of this same situation once more.
There is no time like the present, as the old adage goes. Maybe it’s time somebody reminded United of that.
Forgotten names set to shine
A new season means new opportunities, and those stars who took time to bed in during the last campaign have a chance now to really come to the fore.
We’re talking the likes of Takumi Minamino and Naby Keita at Liverpool, who both made electric contributions after coming on as substitutes during the Community Shield, with the former grabbing the equaliser.
Takumi Minamino looked promising at Wembley and could be set for a breakthrough season
Kieran Tierney likewise has a huge 12 months ahead after shaking off his injury concerns and starting a campaign from the off in Arteta’s new-look Arsenal.
A short walk away in north London, Tottenham are quietly holding out huge hopes for Ryan Sessegnon this season, after the youngster completely dropped off the radar following a big switch from Fulham.
But it is not all a case of emerging names hoping to shine; the forgotten man of the Premier League old guard also want to step back into the ring.
At Newcastle veteran target-man Andy Carroll has made a real go of pre-season, scoring a wonder goal as the Magpie brushed aside Crewe Alexandra.
Set to turn 32 in January, Carroll is bidding for one more attempt to be the main man for his boyhood club while his injury-ridden body permits him to do so.
Andy Carroll scored a wondergoal in pre-season and is desperate for a year of redemption
Leeds ready to make a splash
Marcelo Bielsa’s Leeds captured the imagination of many in recent months, after the Yorkshire club finally surged back to the promised land.
In Bielsa the Premier League will be soon blessed with one of the most curious and enigmatic managers, but Leeds have already shown clear intent that they do not want to simply be a flash in the pan.
The signings have already started to roll in, with the £35m purchase of striker Rodrigo from Valencia smashing the club’s transfer record.
Questions have been asked already about the fee, though Bielsa was determined to get his man. Leeds have since added the £11.5m signing of Robin Koch and completed a £16m deal to permanently acquire Helder Costa.
Leeds showed serious intent by smashing their transfer record, in testing times, for Rodrigo
Covid financial crisis?… What crisis?
A host of clubs were quick to issue official statements in the aftermath of the first shockwaves felt by the coronavirus pandemic.
United and Liverpool among other sides quickly held up their hands to make clear their finances had taken a heavy hit as a result.
Yet across the division, you could be fooled into thinking things are very much business as usual.
Despite warnings of the pandemic hampering the market, Kai Havertz still sold for £90m
Despite claiming poverty United continue to be linked with an English record move for Sancho, while they spent £40m on Van de Beek.
As already mentioned, Chelsea are spending like there’s no tomorrow. Lampard’s seemingly bottomless well of cash has produced the arrival of German wonderkid Havertz for £90m, with the Blues’ summer spending topping £200m.
Manchester City have already snapped up Nathan Ake and Ferran Torres for a combined £60m, and quite astonishingly continue to be linked with a bank-breaking move for 29-year-old defender Kalidou Koulibaly.
Further down the league, Everton have wrapped up a big deal for Napoli midfielder Allan and a deal to sign Real Madrid’s forgotten man James Rodriguez is close.
Across the league deals are still pressing ahead, with Everton spending big on Napoli’s Allan
Fans are back… almost
It was a very welcome sight as supporters made the first tentative steps back across the terraces in the last week.
Matches up and down the country permitted a limited amount of spectators back into stadiums, to trial the return of fans in line with the latest Government guidelines.
Further down the football pyramid non-League matches had trialed a restricted reintroduction of fans, before Brighton’s friendly clash with Chelsea saw this play out on a much larger scale.
Brighton’s Amex Stadium welcomed supporters back for the friendly against Chelsea
The Amex Stadium on the south coast welcomed back the lifeblood of the game, spaced out with gaps in between individual seats and rows.
It is a case of taking baby steps, of course, but football is showing its first signs of a return to true normality.
Given the difficult and often monotonous months of lockdown with have defined much of this year, it is badly needed.
Footballers holidays were always set to be a covid disaster
After all the lengths clubs went to to avoid any serious coronavirus outbreaks at their training grounds, was it really wise for groups of team-mates to holiday together on popular party islands.
It’s little surprise that the Greek islands emerged as a hotspot destination this summer, due to the relaxed pandemic guidelines and air bridge opened with the United Kingdom.
And footballers flocked to glitzy hotspots such as Mykonos where the rich and famous can often be seen mingling with the fame-hungry social media generation of ‘influencers’ and personalities.
Christian Pulisic, Tammy Abraham and Fikayo Tomori are pictured in Mykonos together
Problems with masses of footballers and stars alike descending on a small and densely populated tourist island were always set to emerge, and now we see an outbreak of coronavirus within the Chelsea squad.
Tammy Abraham, Mason Mount, Christian Pulisic and Fikayo Tomori were all holidaying in Mykonos and are now in self-isolation. Several other Blues players also had to quarantine after six positive tests came back.
It is not known which of the players have tested positive. The Telegraph reported that six players have the virus and a further two are quarantining because of close contact with those affected.
Abraham and Mount are in Gareth Southgate’s England squad and their quarantine period is not thought to be an issue ahead of next week’s Nations League game against Iceland, but disruption has occurred.
An already short and testing pre-season campaign just became that whole lot more difficult, and this is all without yet mentioning the ordeal which Manchester United captain Harry Maguire became embroiled in.
The England defender has appealed his suspended sentence after being found guilty of bribery, aggravated assault and resisting arrest after a brawl on the Greek island.
Hindsight is always a golden thing, but perhaps many stars will rue their decision to head to the islands in this most unusual and unprecedented of summers.
United captain Maguire is unlikely to rush back to the Greek island any time in the future
Barca in ruins
All great empires must fall.
That’s what they say, anyway. And oh boy is this now true of Barcelona.
Seen as Spanish royalty throughout football history, Barca now couldn’t be more on the brink.
It was always known that things would be difficult following the exit of club icon Lionel Messi, though almost everybody assumed this would finally arrive in the form of a wholesome and tear-stained retirement farewell.
Lionel Messi is at war with president Josep Bartomeu as the Barcelona empire crumbles
Yet now war is raging. We have witnessed perhaps the worst pre-season in Barca’s fabled history.
Humiliated once again on the European stage, the famous club is crumbling at the foundations. Messi might be staying for now, but the Spanish giants remain in turmoil after weeks of battling the club for an exit.
New boss Ronald Koeman will be able to count on the Argentine but he will still have to rebuild his squad in just over a month – with plenty of big names expected to leave.
They used to sing and dance in the streets outside the Nou Camp as all manner of silverware poured in. Now all they can do is protest.
Outside the Nou Camps supporters used to chant and rejoice, now all they can do is protest
Serie A getting competitive again?
Italian football has very much gone under the radar this summer.
In truth, the division has been under the radar for some time. It’s rapid decline has warranted as much.
Yet now, as Spanish football appears to be faltering, we could yet be observing Serie A finding its feet once more.
The recent title win of Juventus, it can be said, was the least convincing for years.
The newly resurgent Inter Milan, with the likes of Romelu Lukaku, are bringing Serie A back
Antonio Conte was agonizingly close to a domestic and European double in his first season
Maurizio’s Sarri’s men stumbled over the line by a single point, and the controversial boss lost his job as a result.
Now, Juve have blown the minds of the football world by appointing completely untested club legend Andrea Pirlo, while bitter rivals Inter Milan have managed to tie Antonio Conte down to an extended deal.
Such is their strength, one would assume Juve remain hot favourites for the title, but should Pirlo be out of his depth the landscape could rapidly chance.
Conte very nearly led Inter to a domestic and European double in his maiden season, and has built a solid team using an interesting mix of Premier League misfits.
The division finally has a proper title race yet again, and this can only be a good thing.
The might of Juve will keep them as favourites, but the inexperienced Andrea Pirlo may yet fail
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