LONDON, United Kingdom, Aug 12 – Three months and six days after their glittering coronation as Premier League champions, Claudio Ranieri’s Leicester City launch the new season with a trip to promoted Hull City on Saturday.
The novelty of their 5,000-1 triumph is still to wear off, but Leicester are already looking to the future.
Midfield lynchpin N’Golo Kante and transfer mastermind Steve Walsh have both left, but the club have signed several new recruits and Ranieri is determined to ensure they do not fall off the map.
“We’re building and slowly getting better. It’s important to forget last season and build our squad,” said the Italian, who has signed a new four-year contract.
“I am very curious. All the world is curious (about) what will happen with Leicester. I am very curious to see where we finish.
“Last season we made something unbelievable. But now the big teams will come back, I am sure.”
Ranieri could hand league debuts to several players on Saturday.
Nampalys Mendy, Kante’s replacement, and 16.6 million pounds ($21.5 million, 19.3 million euros) record signing Ahmed Musa are among those in contention.
Ranieri’s men had a mixed pre-season, losing heavily to Paris Saint-Germain and Barcelona, but Manchester United needed a late Zlatan Ibrahimovic goal to beat them in last Sunday’s Community Shield.
Leicester’s odds of retaining the title are 33-1 and with United, Manchester City, Chelsea, Arsenal, Tottenham Hotspur and Liverpool all strengthening, they are tipped to fall out of the Champions League places.
In any case, they could scarcely have asked for better opening day opposition than crisis club Hull.
Steve Bruce resigned as manager three weeks ago, reportedly in frustration over the club’s lack of transfer activity, and Hull approach the campaign with a threadbare squad that does not feature one senior signing.
Tottenham, who fell away to finish third after threatening to pip Leicester to the title, open their campaign at Everton.
The Spurs team that starts the new season will be very similar to the one that finished the last one, with Mauricio Pochettino at the helm and the first-choice XI largely unchanged.
– ‘World championship of managers’ –
“When you spend a lot of money it’s because you are worried about your squad and desperate to improve it,” Pochettino said.
“I’m very happy with my players and because of that I’m very quiet and relaxed. I trust my squad 100 percent.”
It has been all change at Everton, where Ronald Koeman has succeeded Roberto Martinez as manager and Wales captain Ashley William has come in to replace the Manchester City-bound John Stones.
Stones could make his debut against Sunderland on Saturday, when Pep Guardiola leads City in a competitive fixture for the first time.
The former Barcelona and Bayern Munich coach has sanctioned around 150 million pounds in transfer spending, but Stones and Spanish winger Nolito are likely to be the only new recruits at his disposal this weekend.
There is an expectation that the season will be defined by the resumption of the rivalry between Guardiola and his former Real Madrid nemesis Jose Mourinho, who takes Manchester United to Bournemouth on Sunday.
Ibrahimovic, Eric Bailly and Henrikh Mkhitaryan could get their first taste of English league football at the Vitality Stadium.
But the game is likely to come too soon for Paul Pogba, who completed his world-record 89 million pounds return to United from Juventus earlier this week.
The first heavyweight clash of the season arrives on Sunday, when Jurgen Klopp’s Liverpool, who crushed Barcelona 4-0 in a recent friendly, visit Arsene Wenger’s Arsenal.
With Klopp, Guardiola, Mourinho, Ranieri, Pochettino and Chelsea’s Antonio Conte all jostling for position on the start line, Wenger has dubbed this season “the world championship of managers”.
Former Italy manager Conte begins his Chelsea repair job at home to West Ham United on Monday.
All three promoted teams are in action on Saturday, with Championship champions Burnley hosting Swansea City and Middlesbrough entertaining Stoke City.
There will be two new managers on show at St Mary’s, where Claude Puel begins his Southampton tenure against Walter Mazzarri’s Watford.
Meanwhile, beaten FA Cup finalists Crystal Palace take on West Bromwich Albion at Selhurst Park.
Saturday (5pm unless otherwise stated):
Burnley v Swansea City, Crystal Palace v West Bromwich Albion, Everton v Tottenham Hotspur, Hull City v Leicester City (2:30pm), Manchester City v Sunderland (9:30pm), Middlesbrough v Stoke City, Southampton v Watford
Bournemouth v Manchester United (3:30pm), Arsenal v Liverpool (6pm)
Chelsea v West Ham United