THE hard yards have been run and the big money has been spent.
Now the Premier League contenders are champing at the bit and jostling for position with the starting line less than a fortnight away.
Arsenal will officially get the title race under way a week on Friday when they host the 2015-16 champions Leicester at the Emirates.
Never has a new season been more eagerly anticipated than the one about to unfold. And big-spending Everton have now made this season’s Prem battle an intriguing seven-runner race.
This time last year, of course, Jose Mourinho was a picture of misery as he prepared for his first season in charge of Manchester United with a calamitous trip to China.
But now he is brimming with optimism following a successful couple of weeks in the USA and the signings of £75million Romelu Lukaku and £31m Victor Lindelof.
Mourinho claimed: “We are better than last season and the spirit is fantastic. These guys I have now are phenomenal. They are big friends and good guys and I like them so much.
“The confidence levels are good and I think the fact that we had some success last season was also important to relax some personalities.”
Down the road at Manchester City, Pep Guardiola appears to have completed his summer spending after paying £219m to sign Bernardo Silva, Ederson, Kyle Walker, Benjamin Mendy, Danilo and Douglas Luiz.
Nobody starts the season under greater pressure than Guardiola after last season’s failure to deliver a trophy or sustain a strong challenge in Europe.
Meanwhile, Chelsea boss Antonio Conte fired the first verbal volley this week when he declared the champions’ closest rival last term does not operate under the same pressure as the other hopefuls.
The Italian said: “For Chelsea, Arsenal, Manchester City, Manchester United and maybe Liverpool, it is a tragedy if they don’t win the title.
“For Tottenham, it is not a tragedy if they don’t win or arrive in the Champions League. You must understand the status and expectations of the team.”
Perhaps that might explain why Spurs, last season’s runners-up, are the only Premier League club still to make a single signing this summer.
Many view that inactivity as a lack of ambition and a failure to build on last season’s achievements.
But manager Mauricio Pochettino has faith in his squad and is confident they can make an even stronger challenge, despite their temporary move to Wembley.
Meanwhile, Arsene Wenger continues to call all the shots at Arsenal despite his lowest finish in 21 years in charge.
A flying start is essential for Wenger if he is to avoid the kind of fan unrest which has blighted the Emirates in recent years.
Yet no one faces a more daunting start to the season than Everton, who have already had to contend with a Europa League qualifier — and face Manchester City, Chelsea, Spurs and Manchester United among their first Premier League fixtures.
It is not inconceivable they could find themselves bottom of the table by mid-September.
Wayne Rooney or not, it is going to be a testing few weeks for their boss Ronald Koeman.
DESPITE the arrival of Alvaro Morata, Tiemoue Bakayoko and Antonio Rudiger, Chelsea need more numbers.
That trio are only replacements for Diego Costa, Nemanja Matic — who are both set to leave — and John Terry.
Boss Antonio Conte needs quality competition for his regular starting XI.
So cover at wing-back and central midfield is needed, plus pace up front. – MIKE McGRATH
ARSENE WENGER broke the club’s transfer record by splashing £52million on Alexandre Lacazette.
But the Arsenal boss must keep hold of Alexis Sanchez to claim any sort of victory in this window.
If Wenger stays with a 3-4-2-1 line-up, he needs another left wing-back.
Monaco winger Thomas Lemar would also be a welcome addition, while Wenger is always in the market for a centre-back – MIKE McGRATH
JOSE MOURINHO cut a frustrated figure on tour in the States, claiming he is only halfway to getting his four targets.
Romelu Lukaku and Victor Lindelof are in but Mourinho wants a holding midfielder, with 36-year-old Michael Carrick unable to play every game.
Nemanja Matic remains his main target and the club are still working on getting Inter Milan winger Ivan Perisic – NEIL CUSTIS
MAURICIO POCHETTINO is the only top-flight chief not to bring in any new faces — and that must be a concern for some fans.
Kyle Walker left for Manchester City but Poch has otherwise managed to retain the squad which did brilliantly last term.
But they need more depth to the squad, especially if key men like Harry Kane or Dele Alli get crocked. Some wide midfielders would be welcome. – STEVE BRENNER
SAY what you like about the mind-boggling £219million City have spent this summer, they bought good players in the required areas.
Pace and power have been added at full-back, while Ederson is surely an upgrade on Claudio Bravo.
They would love to get Alexis Sanchez or Kylian Mbappe — but both look like longshots right now, with the top priority another centre-back – MARTIN BLACKBURN
THE Reds’ ‘gegenpress’ tactics will only intensify with the arrival of speed merchant Mo Salah and attacking left-back Andrew Robertson.
Virgil van Dijk has been Liverpool’s No1 target all summer. And the £70million-rated Southampton centre-half is badly needed to patch up last season’s leaky defence.
Another proven goalscorer would be a big help, too – KEN LAWRENCE
THIS summer has seen the most expensive overhaul in Everton’s history, with almost £100million spent.
Jordan Pickford, Michael Keane and Davy Klaassen are all important buys, while free transfer Wayne Rooney is the headline act.
Ex-Barcelona striker Sandro Ramirez has also arrived. But the Toffees need a proven scorer to replace Romelu Lukaku, whose physical presence will also be missed – KEN LAWRENCE
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