It is just over two months since the 2021-22 season ended in drama, with Manchester City clinching the title thanks to a stunning comeback win over Aston Villa.
That dashed Liverpool's hopes of an unprecedented quadruple, as Jurgen Klopp's side – who would go on to lose in the Champions League final six days later – settled for second.
The same top two could battle for the title again this season, and despite both Klopp and Pep Guardiola emphasising the strength of other sides in the league, some would say it is hard to see anybody being able to match their consistency, though Liverpool do have to learn without Sadio Mane, while City might need to get used to Erling Haaland.
Liverpool gained some small form of revenge by beating City 3-1 in the Community Shield on Saturday, with Haaland struggling, so it's 1-0 in the rivalry stakes in favour of Klopp heading into the campaign, though the Reds manager knows that does not mean much.
There will be stiff competition for places in the top four and, of course, the Champions League.
Chelsea have brought in Raheem Sterling and Kalidou Koulibaly, but Thomas Tuchel and new owner Todd Boehly want more star signings, while Arsenal and their north London rivals Tottenham have been busy bolstering their squads.
Erik ten Hag is in place at Manchester United, but uncertainty surrounds the future of Cristiano Ronaldo, and the Red Devils have so far been frustrated in their attempts to sign Frenkie de Jong from Barcelona.
Here, three Stats Perform writers share their thoughts on who will feature in the Premier League's top four come the end of the campaign.
1. Manchester City
City were not at their best in the Community Shield, though Guardiola was keen to stress that his side have only been back together for three weeks, and they did seem rather undercooked. Haaland's competitive debut was one to forget as, as well as being outshone by Liverpool new boy Darwin Nunez, he hit the bar from six yards out. It might take time, but Haaland – who will have a timely break during the World Cup as Norway did not qualify – is too good not to thrive in this City team, even one that has sold three first-team regulars. They had just too much for Liverpool last season, and with Mane gone, expect the same outcome this term.
If 2020-21 was an off-year for Liverpool, then last season was a glorious return to form. They fell just short in the league and in Europe, but won both the FA Cup and EFL Cup. Mane's departure to Bayern Munich was something of a blow, but the Reds already had Nunez through the door, fresh from his stunning, 34-goal campaign with Benfica, while there is little to separate Mohamed Salah and Kevin De Bruyne as the league's best players. Diogo Jota and Luis Diaz add another dimension to a world-class attack. Finish above this team, and you are champions.
It has been something of a frustrating transfer window so far for Chelsea. Sterling and Koulibaly have arrived, but that has not necessarily strengthened the squad, with club-record signing Romelu Lukaku having re-joined Inter on loan and defenders Antonio Rudiger and Andreas Christensen having left for Real Madrid and Barcelona respectively. Tuchel wants more, and Boehly is attempting to deliver, with Marc Cucurella a rumoured target, while another centre-back is said to be on the list too. Chelsea's business might well drag on, but they should have enough to edge out Arsenal, Spurs and United to third.
It is easy to forget, given the nature of their capitulation, that Arsenal were in the box-seat to secure a Champions League place until the final week of last season, and Mikel Arteta's side have made swift moves. It is hoped Gabriel Jesus will be the poacher Arsenal have lacked and Oleksandr Zinchenko is a fine addition. Fabio Vieira is a promising understudy to the excellent Martin Odegaard, who will be supported by Bukayo Saka, Gabriel Martinelli or Emile Smith Rowe. Spurs have strengthened, but with Antonio Conte's tendency to boil over if things do not go to plan, and the likelihood their players will be relied on heavily by their national teams at the World Cup, this could be Arsenal's year.
1. Manchester City
City were the best team in the Premier League before they made perhaps the signing of the close-season, so why would they not still be the side to beat? Of course, the departure of Sterling could have a big impact, given his knack for vital goals, but Jack Grealish will have a bigger role and has already linked up with Haaland in pre-season. Julian Alvarez adds more depth to that attack, while Kalvin Phillips does likewise in midfield. It is tough to spot a weakness.
It would be tough to justify Liverpool finishing second, not first, were their rivals not so outstanding. The Reds are right there with them, but they have not shown quite the same consistency as City over previous seasons, and it is asking a lot for Nunez to arrive from Portugal – where he enjoyed only one truly prolific season – and immediately replicate the performance levels of Mane.
Spurs have plenty going for them, and there have been some suggestions they could even trouble the top two. When we come to write our lists of winners and losers of the transfer window, Tottenham will belong firmly in the former group, and those exciting new charges – Ivan Perisic, Yves Bissouma, Richarlison and Djed Spence arguably all improve the first XI – are being guided by a proven winner in Conte. But the gap to City and Liverpool was huge; third place would still be a great achievement.
Tottenham may not quite belong to that elite tier, but they might also argue there is another gulf between third and fourth. Neither Chelsea, Arsenal nor United could really be surprised if they fell short of Champions League football. Like Spurs, Arsenal have enjoyed a successful transfer window, but it is difficult to have faith in a team who collapsed so spectacularly last season. For all their own frustrations in the market, I'm backing Chelsea to find a way.
1. Manchester City
City and Liverpool finished with over 90 points each last season, and the previous time that happened, in 2018-19, it was followed by a dramatic drop-off from Guardiola's reigning champions. The dethroned Manchester giants finished 18 points adrift as Liverpool captured the 2019-20 Premier League title. Yet I fancy City to take the new season's trophy, and probably by a similarly wide margin. Haaland might need a little time to adapt; after all, his former Borussia Dortmund team-mate Jadon Sancho has not found it a cakewalk to transfer his Bundesliga form across to Manchester United. But judge Haaland not by one stinking Community Shield miss but by his excellence over the last three years. City will have to reconfigure to accommodate a pure number nine, swapping Sterling for St Erling, but don't expect their winning habit to alter one jot.
The post-Abramovich era is here, and Todd Boehly is pulling the strings when it comes to transfers now. Newcomers Sterling and Koulibaly are proven performers, and while the loss of Rudiger is a blow, offloading Lukaku made complete sense. Better to take firm and decisive action than allow any unhappiness to fester and potentially spread. Chelsea had a troubling amount of injuries last season, with Ben Chilwell particularly missed, and in March coach Thomas Tuchel spoke of a "physical overload". If they are in a better place this term, expect them to fly. Tuchel's squad is loaded with first-class talent, more could soon arrive, and they look well set to pip Liverpool to second.
The loss of Mane is massive. Among the 24 players from Europe's top five leagues who managed at least 30 games and 20 goals last season, taking all competitions into account, Mane ranked sixth for the most dribbles attempted (128), eighth for the most chances created (66), third for the most through balls attempted (17) and second for the most passes into the final third (137). You can try to replace that all-round package, but Nunez is far from like-for-like and Roberto Firmino appears to be a rapidly fading force. Liverpool have kept Mohamed Salah for the foreseeable future but will need the likes of Diogo Jota and Luis Diaz to step up, while midfield may have to cough up more goals than in recent seasons. Klopp's Liverpool went the distance in every competition last season, and at some point that effort is going to take a toll.
4. Manchester United
With a reasonably clean slate, wiped of the likes of Paul Pogba, Edinson Cavani and Jesse Lingard, there should be optimism coursing through United now the estimable Ten Hag is at the helm. Christian Eriksen ought to prove a fine signing, and Lisandro Martinez and Tyrell Malacia can hardly make the defence any worse. In fact, they should significantly pep it up. Will Ronaldo stay? Now there's a knotty saga that could run until deadline day, but would it be such a bad thing if he were to leave? Marcus Rashford, Anthony Martial and Sancho are at the stage where they ought to be giving Premier League defenders regular nightmares, and this might be the campaign where that happens.