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Spectators gear up for return to Premier League matches

:Headline: Spectators gear up for return to Premier League matches:
There was plenty to enjoy in the Premier League last season.
Sports Mole

For many fans it has been a long 17 months since they were last able to watch live football – but the wait is almost over.

There was plenty to enjoy in the Premier League last season, not least the brilliance of champions Manchester City and individual players such as Harry Kane, Mason Mount and Kevin De Bruyne.

Yet there was something missing as, for almost the entire campaign, matches were played behind closed doors due to the coronavirus pandemic.

Manchester City were too strong for the rest of the competition last season (Dave Thompson/PA)

Supporters began to return in limited numbers in the final week and now, with the new term fast approaching, grounds are getting ready to fully open their doors.

That, for many, will make 2021-22 the most eagerly-anticipated season for some time, regardless of how the teams are shaping up.

When each side's prospects are considered, however, few may look beyond City retaining their title.

City have been consistently linked with Tottenham captain Harry Kane (Richard Heathcote/PA)

Pep Guardiola's men were outstanding last season as they recovered from a slow start to claim their third league crown in four years. With the disappointment of losing a Champions League final to make up for, a manager that rarely lets hunger levels slip and with reports consistently linking them with Kane and Jack Grealish, City could be a formidable unit once again.

Yet nothing is certain and it has actually been a bumpy summer for the champions. Despite all the speculation, there have been no additions to the squad yet and, due to the impact of Covid-19 and the need to rest players after Euro 2020, they have had little meaningful pre-season game time.

Should that manifest itself in another sluggish opening, there are rivals better equipped to take advantage this time around.

Chelsea will hope to follow up their Champions League success (Nick Potts/PA)

Liverpool fell some way from the lofty standards they set in their title-winning 2019-20 campaign last season but, after scaling the peaks they have in the last two years, a dip was perhaps inevitable at some point. Injuries were also a huge factor. Their strong finish to claim third indicates they still have plenty more to offer.

Chelsea enjoyed a resurgence under Thomas Tuchel in the second half of the season, capped by their memorable Champions League win. Much improved defensively, they will expect to launch a stronger challenge, while Manchester United, after some impressive summer recruitment, will hope to be back among the front-runners.

FA Cup winners Leicester and West Ham will hope to continue their progress and push for the top four but questions remain over the strength of Arsenal and Tottenham.

Nuno Espirito Santo is the new manager at Spurs (Nigel French/PA)

The latter have a new manager in Nuno Espirito Santo and it will be interesting to see the impact he has on an under-performing squad, as it will with former Liverpool boss Rafael Benitez at Everton. Maintaining the steadiness of the Roy Hodgson era might be the first task for Patrick Vieira at Crystal Palace.

Leeds could kick on after an impressive first season back in the top flight and Aston Villa will look to maintain the improvement they showed last term. Breaking into the top half would be an achievement for Newcastle.

Brentford are a new name to the Premier League but few are tipping them to survive. Fellow promoted clubs Norwich and Watford – with previous experience in the division – look to have a better chance.

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