Manchester City top FIFA's list of the biggest spenders on internationals transfers in the past decade.

The world governing body on Monday revealed $48.5billion worth of player trading was done between 2011 and 2020.

Premier League champions City have spent big on the likes of Kevin De Bruyne and Ruben Dias during that period, so it is no surprise they top the list.

Chelsea and Barcelona are second and third respectively on the list - which does not state how much each club spent in total.

Paris Saint-Germain and Real Madrid make up the top five, while 12 of the top 30 clubs, who alone have spent €19.3billion in the time period, are from England.

Neymar's move from Barcelona to PSG was for a world record fee of €222m, while Madrid brought in Eden Hazard from Chelsea for a deal that could reportedly climb to €175m (£150m).

Barcelona have the next two largest transfers, with Philippe Coutinho and Ousmane Dembele joining from Liverpool and Borussia Dortmund respectively.

Argentina forward Angel Di Maria also holds two slots in the top 10 of the highest individual transfers, his deal to join Manchester United from Madrid in 10th with his subsequent move to PSG a place higher.

Players of 204 different nationalities have been transferred since 2010-11, Brazil way out in front with 15,128 moves.

Agents have played a hugely increasing role in international transfers, with their involvement growing 69.1 per cent from 2011 to 2020.

From €131.1m worth of commissions in 2011 to €640.5m in 2019, a total of €3.5bn was paid for agents' commissions in international transfers over the course of the decade. 

Pep Guardiola is not concerned about a lack of attacking options after Manchester City missed out on landing Harry Kane and Cristiano Ronaldo. 

Though it appears City will not add a striker in the summer transfer window that ends Tuesday, the manager said there are plenty of players on hand to score goals. 

Jack Grealish will be expected to top that list after his £100million move from Aston Villa, but he will not be alone. 

Guardiola said he also will lean on the likes of Raheem Sterling, Ferran Torres, Gabriel Jesus and Riyad Mahrez and mentioned 18-year-old Liam Delap as a potential contributor once he returns from a foot injury. 

"We have not a typical striker like Liam but we can find alternatives," Guardiola said ahead of Saturday's clash with Arsenal. 

"I always believe like in these last years we scored a lot of goals playing with or without a striker. We have to play better, try to achieve the level of intensity of desire and hunger that we had against Norwich and be consistent in every single game doing this.

"This is the target and play better in the process and the high pressing. When we defend deep, be more solid. Improve our set-pieces. That is what we want to do and that is what we are going to try."

While Guardiola did not close the door on City adding another player in the transfer window, he said he does not expect anyone from the current squad to depart in the coming days. 

Either way, Guardiola said the reigning Premier League champions are confident going forward with the players already in the dressing room. 

"We cannot forget how good we have done in the recent past with the same squad that we have," he said.

Manchester City returned to form in style on Saturday and almost matched a Premier League record in a 5-0 hammering of Norwich City.

It was a typically dominant display from Pep Guardiola's team, who had 16 attempts compared to Norwich's one and had 66.9 per cent of the possession.

Tim Krul's own goal after seven minutes opened the floodgates, before Jack Grealish's inadvertent finish saw the £100million signing open his City account.

Aymeric Laporte made it even more comfortable, before Raheem Sterling and Riyad Mahrez rounded off the victory.

In true Guardiola fashion, City attempted 730 passes, completing 684 of them – an accuracy of 93.7 per cent.

That is the second-highest passing accuracy Opta has on record in a Premier League match since 2003-04, with the highest being 94.2 per cent, set by City in a 4-3 win over Newcastle United in May.

Ruben Dias attempted (114) the most passes, while centre-back partner Laporte completed the most (111).

Gabriel Jesus, who provided two assists, led the way in terms of chances created, with three, while Grealish was tied with Ilkay Gundogan for crosses from open play (four).

The former Aston Villa star attempted 43 passes, completing 41 of them (95.3 per cent), with 40 of those coming in Norwich's half.

City ended a run of three defeats in a row in competitive games without scoring stretching back into last season, and Guardiola said it was just reward for the work his champions have put in.

"This result was the consequence of how many good things we have done," Guardiola said.

"We are still not at the top – there are still many things to do. We trained, we were refreshed and I'm happy for these first points.... hopefully they will not be the last!"

Liverpool went top of the Premier League after a Sadio Mane landmark goal helped the Reds sink Burnley.

The Senegal forward struck for the 50th time at Anfield in the competition, becoming just the fifth Reds star to do so in the Premier League era, as Liverpool swept to a 2-0 win.

Danny Ings joined notable company as he scored a stunning goal in Aston Villa's victory over Newcastle United, while Manchester City hit five goals in a game, which is becoming almost routine for Pep Guardiola's champions.

Using Opta data, we take a look at the key statistics from across four of Saturday's standout fixtures.

Liverpool 2-0 Burnley: Mane joins Salah in Anfield 50-goal club

Mane's clincher against Burnley was his 50th Premier League goal at home for Liverpool. The only players to have achieved that feat previously have been Robbie Fowler (85 goals), Steven Gerrard (69), Michael Owen (63) and Mane's team-mate Mohamed Salah (56).

Given their strong finish last term, Jurgen Klopp's team have won each of their past seven Premier League games now. That is as many victories as they enjoyed in their previous 20 games in the competition (D5 L8) and their longest winning streak in the league since a run of 18 ending in February 2020. Their run of fourth clean sheets in the league is their longest since a run of seven between December 2019 and January 2020.

Trent Alexander-Arnold's assist for Mane was the ninth time he has teed up a goal for the former Southampton man, four more than he has for any other Liverpool player.

Virgil van Dijk made his 48th home Premier League appearance with Liverpool and has lost none of those games (W43 D5), with the team's dip last season coming in his injury-enforced absence. Only Lee Sharpe has played more home games for one club in the competition without losing any of them (59 with Manchester United).

As Liverpool celebrated, Burnley were left to lick their wounds after losing five games in a row in the Premier League for the first time, last doing so in any division in the 2008-09 Championship campaign. The Clarets have lost 11 of their 15 Premier League matches against Liverpool (W2 D2), more defeats than they have suffered against any other side in the competition (losing 10 against Arsenal, Chelsea and Manchester City).

Manchester City 5-0 Norwich City: A first for City, but a familiar outcome

For the first time in Manchester City's 25 Premier League campaigns, their opening goal of the season was an own goal, Tim Krul the unlucky man.

But if that was irregular, the final outcome surely surprised very few as the champions put the promoted Canaries to the sword.

Since Pep Guardiola joined Manchester City ahead of the 2016-17 season, there have been 49 Premier League games won by a margin of five or more goals, and the Catalan's team have been responsible for 23 of these (47 per cent).

City have now won their past four home league games against Norwich by an aggregate score of 19-1 since a 3-2 reverse in May 2013.

Jack Grealish became the first English player to score on his home Premier League debut for City since Frank Lampard netted against Chelsea in September 2014, while there was a collector's item from Aymeric Laporte. The defender scored his ninth goal for City in all competitions, but it was his first to come at the Etihad Stadium.

Norwich have had a brutal start, with a 3-0 home loss to Liverpool followed by the torture of City away. In Premier League history, only Leicester City in 2001-02 (-9) and Wigan Athletic in 2010-11 (-10) have ever had a worse goal difference from their opening two games of a season than Norwich's current -8.

Given their awful finish to the 2019-20 season, Norwich have now lost 12 consecutive Premier League games, the outright second-longest losing streak in the competition’s history, behind only Sunderland’s run of 20 from 2003 to 2005.


Aston Villa 2-0 Newcastle United: Diamond Ings shows his class

Former Southampton frontman Ings is looking like a smart signing by Villa already, and his bicycle kick that stunned Newcastle was a special goal.

Going back to last season with Saints, it means he has been directly involved in seven goals in his past eight Premier League starts, scoring six and assisting one. Ings also became just the fourth player to score in his first two Premier League appearances for Villa, after Dalian Atkinson in 1992, Dion Dublin in 1998 and Ross Barkley in 2020.

Villa have not lost in seven top-flight games in a row against Newcastle (W3 D4), doing so for the first time since a run of seven victories between 1955 and 1958.

The Magpies are having a tough time of it again, having lost their first two games of a league campaign for the fourth time in the past six seasons, after winning or drawing at least one of their first two fixtures in each of the 16 campaigns before that.

Their slow starts in the Premier League are becoming habitual and problematic, with Newcastle having won just two of their past 19 Premier League games in August (D6 L11), beating West Ham at home in 2017 and Tottenham away in 2019.

Leeds United 2-2 Everton: Toffees extend Premier League scoreline record

This was Everton's 70th 2-2 draw in Premier League history, and they have contested at least 15 more matches with that outcome than any other side in the competition.

If that was an all too familiar outcome, there was a first occurrence of note for the Toffees, too. Dominic Calvert-Lewin's opener was his 55th goal in all competitions for Everton, but his first scored from the penalty spot for the team who are now bossed by Rafael Benitez.

Demarai Gray scored his first Premier League goal for Everton, becoming the 34th different player to score both for and against the Toffees in the competition. Only West Ham (46), Aston Villa (42) and Liverpool (39) have had more players score for and against them in the competition.

Mateusz Klich and Raphinha earned a point for Leeds. Klich has now scored two goals in his past three Premier League games for Leeds, more than he had in his previous 32 (one). Klich has now scored five Premier League goals in total, as many as all other Polish players in the competition combined.

Since the start of last season, only Patrick Bamford (17 goals, eight assists) has been directly involved in more Premier League goals for Leeds United than Raphinha (seven goals, nine assists).

Pep Guardiola hailed Gabriel Jesus' display in Manchester City's 5-0 win against Norwich City and said he feels fortunate to be able to work with a player as selfless as the Brazilian.

Jesus was brought into City's starting line-up as one of five changes from last weekend's defeat to Tottenham as City produced a five-star showing against Norwich.

The Brazil international was fielded to the right of a front three that also contained Ferran Torres and Jack Grealish in Saturday's Premier League clash at the Etihad Stadium.

While Jesus did not find the net, he played a game-high three key passes, which included assists for Jack Grealish and Raheem Sterling.

He also sent in the ball that led to Grant Hanley and Tim Krul inadvertently combining for City's opener and was heavily praised by Guardiola after the impressive display.

"If one person deserves respect and man of the match prizes then it's him. His mum and dad have to be so proud to have someone like him," Guardiola told BBC Sport.

Speaking at his post-match news conference, the Catalan coach added: "He's a player who likes to be wider than central position.

"One of the reasons I'm a manager is when you can work with people and humans like Gabriel. He never complains, he plays five minutes, he plays the best five minutes he can.

"He's happy on left, right or centre and today the connection with Kyle [Walker] was exceptional. I'm pleased with his performance – he was involved in three of our goals and is an incredibly important player for us.

"He made an exceptional performance today, and I repeat, if he plays three minutes he plays the best three minutes for the club and everyone. The more you have in this position the better we are. When someone plays like this they deserve to play.

"He's so young, big congratulations because he deserves in life the best. He's so generous and as I say, I'm incredibly satisfied for him."

Jesus has experience of playing in a wide role with the Brazil national team, whom he helped reach the final of the Copa America last month.

The 24-year-old was given an extended break following his Copa exploits but took little time to find his groove on his first start of the season, having been introduced as a second-half substitute against Tottenham last week.

"I play more on the right for the national team," Jesus told BBC Sport. "We have a lot of good wingers here and a very good team overall.

"I feel good and I'm getting my confidence and energy back. I like to play all the time, wherever the manager tries to play me, I try to do my best always.

"I was the last one to come back after the holidays. I didn't lose too much power. I'm a little bit lucky that I can come back, train two days or one week and get back my fitness."

Grealish, Aymeric Laporte, Sterling and Riyad Mahrez were all on target for City in their routine victory after Krul had opened the scoring win an early own goal.

Since Guardiola arrived in the Premier League at the start of the 2016-17 season, City have now been responsible for 23 of the 49 games won by a five-goal margin (47 per cent).

It was a timely win for City, ending a run of three defeats in a row in competitive games without scoring stretching back into last season.

"This result was the consequence of how many good things we have done," Guardiola said.

"We are still not at the top – there are still many things to do. We trained, we were refreshed and I'm happy for these first points.... hopefully they will not be the last!"

Grealish's goal was his first for City since arriving in a British record £100million deal from Aston Villa this month on what was his home debut and third appearance overall.

The England international knew little about the goal, with Jesus' powerful cross hitting his thigh before he could react and flying past Krul.

Citing the example of "machine" Sterling, who has built a reputation for being in the right place to finish off moves, Guardiola expects Grealish to become a regular goalscorer.

"If he gets the mentality to score goals like Raheem, yeah [he can score more]," Guardiola said. "When Raheem was here when I first arrived he didn't have goals in his mind and we immediately changed his arrival.

"Today Raheem scored because he arrives in the centre, he's a machine there. He changed his mind and decided he was going to score. Jack has this mentality to score goals and win games. If he has the Raheem mentality then he can do it, too."

Jack Grealish was among the scorers as Manchester City eased past Norwich City 5-0 on Saturday for their first win of the Premier League season.

The reigning champions fell to a 1-0 loss at Tottenham in their opening game but had no trouble in seeing off their newly promoted opponents at the Etihad Stadium.

British record signing Grealish scored in an unconventional manner 22 minutes into his home debut after Tim Krul's unfortunate own goal had given the hosts an early lead.

Aymeric Laporte added to the scoring in the second half and substitutes Raheem Sterling and Riyad Mahrez piled the misery on Norwich, who slipped to a second successive defeat on their return to the top tier.

City had won their previous three home league games against Norwich by an aggregate score of 14-1 and were ahead inside seven minutes of this latest one-sided encounter.

Gabriel Jesus chested down Rodri's diagonal pass and fired a low cross into the six-yard box, Grant Hanley diverting the ball against goalkeeper Krul and into the net.

Ferran Torres was denied a goal by VAR for Bernardo Silva's trip on Milot Rashica in the build-up, but Grealish netted soon after as Jesus' cross hit his thigh and beat Krul.

Having played a part in those opening two goals, Jesus went close to scoring one of his own early in the second half when dragging a shot just wide from range.

City's third did arrive nine minutes later when Laporte stroked home after Norwich failed to deal with a corner and the ball bounced around in the box.

Sterling was next to register with a close-range finish after being teed up by the impressive Jesus, while Mahrez rounded out the scoring late on, brilliantly controlling Ruben Dias' long pass and tucking in off the inside of the post.

Pep Guardiola praised Jack Grealish for an "incredible debut" but the Manchester City boss admitted his side lacked a clinical edge in the 1-0 loss away to Tottenham.

Son Heung-min scored the only goal of the game in the second half as Spurs, minus star striker Harry Kane, defeated the reigning Premier League champions.

Grealish played the entire game for City, the £100million signing completing 89.6 per cent of his passes and creating two chances. He also had three shots in total, with one of those ending up on target.

Guardiola was pleased with what he saw from the new recruit who was fouled five times - the most for a City player in a league game since Raheem Sterling in September 2018.

"He is so dangerous close to the box, when we have the ball, he always has an extra pass," Guardiola told a post-match news conference when asked about Grealish's display.

"He had an incredible debut and will be so important for us. I congratulate him for having the personality to try and try until the end."

City had 18 attempts but were unable to find a way through, their lack of goals likely to heighten talk around a renewed push to sign Kane from their opponents before the transfer deadline.

Guardiola was pleased with the majority of what he saw, particularly as some of his players had only just resumed training with the rest of the squad following international commitments.

"We started really well, the only problem is we concede some transitions – we are not good in these, we are not good enough – we conceded a few loose, simple, simple balls, that's why it was more difficult," he told Sky Sports.

"In general, you see the stats, the intention to create chances. Unfortunately, we were not clinical enough up front and we lost the game."

Guardiola has now lost more away games against Spurs in all competitions than against any other opponent on the road. This was also his first defeat in an opening game to a new league campaign since arriving in England, albeit he was not overly concerned at the early setback.

The former Barcelona boss added: "I'm not complaining. We arrived here and made a good, good game. The stats are exceptional, they always are.

"In previous years, except the first season when I arrived here and we lost deservedly at White Hart Lane, I have had the feeling we've been good, just not able to get results.

"We create far more, but we're in that period of the season where, two days ago, it was our first day together. The players need time to come back, and mentally we know here is always a tough game.

"At the same time, our intentions and approach was really good for all the game.

"It's still the beginning of the season, it's tough to win games."

Following the Super League debacle earlier this year, it doesn't take much for owners and chairmen at Europe's major football clubs to give off the air of scheming supervillains.

Still, Spurs chief Daniel Levy chuckling away to himself before kick-off amid no other visible amusement in the directors box felt a little on the nose.

Perhaps he was pondering a best-case scenario in the current context of his own club, visitors Manchester City and Sunday afternoon's absent superstar.

On their three previous visits to the Tottenham Hotspur Stadium, the reigning Premier League champions had been beaten without scoring a goal. In each of those games, City's expected goals (xG) figure, as per Opta, was superior to their hosts, including a comedic 0.3-2.9 when Jose Mourinho's Spurs won 2-0 in February 2020.

It was the same story here as Tottenham won 1-0 with their first shot on target from Son Heung-min, although few could begrudge Nuno Espirito Santo this stirring start in his new job.

As they did for much of last season, City lined up without a specialist centre-forward in their XI. Fernandinho and Joao Cancelo spurned glorious openings within the opening five minutes as the fledgling link-up between Raheem Sterling and £100million man Jack Grealish on the left laid the foundations for early domination by Pep Guardiola's side.

Riyad Mahrez shanked off target from 10 yards in the 35th minute but, by that stage, Spurs had a foothold in the contest. Indeed, had it not been from some unusual hesitation from Son on the break, they might have led.

Harry Kane, Son's usual partner in crime, would have prayed on those opportunities but was out of Nuno's matchday 18 on account of lacking fitness, City's widely reported interest or most likely some combination of those factors.

Ferran Torres, leading the City attack, managed nine first-half touches and only two of those were on the fringe of the Spurs box. When the early momentum that saw the away team hog 79 per cent of possession in the first 15 minutes waned, they lacked a presence and a focal point to help them wrest it back.

Half-time did not settle Guardiola's men and they resumed in ragged fashion, increasingly ill-suited to a game being played in transition.

Steve Bergwijn sprung in behind Fernandinho, who looked every one of his 36 years here, and fed Son. If City seldom score in this fixture, the Korean star always does. He whipped in a left-footed shot that beat an unsighted Ederson for his seventh goal against these opponents.

Mahrez and Cancelo each delivered dangerous crosses to nobody in particular but City were dealing in what Guardiola referred to as "incredible almost chances" after their Champions League final loss to Chelsea. At least until Torres added another howler to their north London catalogue after a well-worked 70th-minute free-kick.

Often free-scoring during Guardiola's trophy-laden tenure, this was a third 1-0 loss for City after their reverse to Chelsea in Porto and last week's Community Shield defeat to Leicester City.

The most damning aspect was how inevitable this meek surrender felt after Son scored, on a weekend when Manchester United, Chelsea and Liverpool all won comprehensively. That trio of title contenders will have enjoyed what they saw, although an eye-catching substitute cameo from a half-fit Kevin De Bruyne means it is not a time to draw too many conclusions beyond a gaping hole at centre-forward.

City's area of need is obvious after an afternoon of sweet success to savour for Spurs. Whether he enters negotiations or opts to divert all calls from Manchester, Levy can certainly afford to cackle his way through next week.

Harry Kane has not been named in the Tottenham squad to face Manchester City in their Premier League opener.

England captain Kane has been extensively linked with a mega-money switch to Premier League champions City during the close season, a saga that has hung over Sunday's encounter at the Tottenham Hotspur Stadium.

New Spurs boss Nuno Espirito Santo refused to rule Kane out of the contest despite him only returning to first-team training on Friday, even though the 28-year-old's match fitness was an obvious concern.

After helping England to the final of Euro 2020, Kane was reported to have failed to show up for Tottenham training when scheduled, in what was viewed as an attempt to force through a move to City.

However, he denied refusing to train and said he returned to the club "as planned" last Saturday, before completing a five-day quarantine at The Lodge – the accommodation adjacent to Tottenham's Enfield training base.

In Kane's absence, Steve Bergwijn, Lucas Moura and Son Heung-min will form a three-man forward line, supported by Dele Alli. New signings Bryan Gil, Cristian Romero and Pierluigi Gollini are all on the bench, with Oliver Skipp starting alongside Pierre-Emile Hojbjerg in midfield following an impressive season on loan at Norwich City.

City's British record signing Jack Grealish starts in north London alongside Raheem Sterling, although their England team-mates Kyle Walker and John Stones are on the bench alongside Kevin De Bruyne.

Bernardo Silva and Gabriel Jesus, each of whom have been linked with moves away from the Etihad Stadium to help fund any move for Kane, are also among Pep Guardiola's substitutes as the ex-Barcelona boss begins his bid for a fourth Premier League title in the past five seasons.

Manchester City manager Josep Guardiola has brushed off debate around the club's spending insisting it is relative to ambition.

City landed Jack Grealish for £100 million from Aston Villa in the off-season and have been heavily linked with a big-money move for Tottenham's Harry Kane.

In 2020, City purchased Ferran Torres from Valencia for £20m, Nathan Ake from Bournemouth for £40m and Ruben Dias from Benfica for £62m, with their total off-season transfer expenditure reaching almost £144m.

Guardiola pointed to the fact the club sold players to the region of £97m last off-season, while they have again made money selling peripheral players such as Ivan Ilic, Jack Harrison and Lukas Nmecha.

"I said last year that we couldn’t spend £100m," Guardiola told The Guardian.

"We have bought Jack Grealish because we sell for £60m, so in the end we have spent £40m. Otherwise, we cannot do it."

City's spending comes amid Paris Saint-Germain's off-season flurry of transfer activity which has seen the French powerhouse land Lionel Messi, Achraf Hakimi, Gianluigi Donnarumma, Sergio Ramos and Georginio Wijnaldum.

Chelsea have also this week completed a bumper deal for Romelu Lukaku for £97.5m from Internazionale, having previously shown strong interest in a lucrative move for Borussia Dortmund Erling Haaland.

"Each club has its own reality, its own history," Guardiola said. "And every owner of every club decides how he wants to live.

"Our owners do not want to benefit, they want to reinvest in the team. There is Chelsea with [Roman] Abramovich and our club with Sheikh Mansour.

"They want to be in this world, they want to be buying into football. What is the problem?"

Guardiola also eluded to the potential signing of Kane when he said: "I don’t know if we will sign a striker; that depends."

Here we go again. The Premier League race begins once more, despite some players barely having the chance to unpack their suitcases after short-lived pre-season breaks.

Last time out, Manchester City turned a potentially intriguing title battle into a procession. They had plenty of tests along the way, just mostly of the PCR variety as the teams pushed on amid the continuing coronavirus pandemic.

Thankfully, fans will be in grounds to watch from the start this time around, while some familiar faces have returned. Romelu Lukaku is back. Patrick Vieira – a three-time Premier League winner in his playing days – and Rafa Benitez, a former red now aligned to the Blues, are on the touchline. Norwich City and Watford, meanwhile, have negotiated the Championship to secure a quick reunion.

Still, there is always a freshness to every campaign, aided by summer signings and, this time, the presence of a newcomer.

Brentford provide a new, exciting chapter to the Premier League story, though it is perhaps expecting too much to hope for riveting plot twists when it comes to the likely contenders to be crowned champions.

THE THOROUGHBREDS READY TO RUN AGAIN

When Manchester rivals City and United drew 0-0 in an instantly forgettable derby in December 2020, one that left those who had watched on wondering what else they should have done with their time instead, Pep Guardiola's side were sitting outside the top seven in the table. It was actually an upturn in their position – they had languished down in 11th during the previous month.

By the time they hosted their neighbours in the return fixture in March 2021, however, City had won 21 in a row in all competitions and held a double-digit lead at the head of the league. The stunning run did come to an end that day, but it was just a case of delaying the inevitable.

The rich have got richer in pursuit of a third title in four years, in terms of talent at least. Spending £100million to get Jack Grealish has add further creativity, as if they really needed it. The squad could still be bolstered by Harry Kane, too. If the Tottenham striker moves north, the deck will be stacked even more in City's favour.

Yet there are reasons for the others who finished in the top four to be optimistic. Chelsea denied Guardiola in the Champions League final, giving a silver-lined finish to the promising early form under Thomas Tuchel. They have strengthened in attack, Lukaku back at the Bridge to sort out some unfinished business. A glaring gap in the squad (sorry, Timo Werner) has been filled.

Adding goals will be a key factor for the Blues, as they managed only 38 in all competitions following the appointment of the German coach. To put that number into context, United and City managed 58 and 70 across the same period. Even Tottenham topped them with 49.

OLE JOCKEYS FOR SILVERWARE

United finished second but will hope Jadon Sancho can lift them even higher, albeit the arrival of Raphael Varane could be even more crucial, considering the Red Devils conceded 28 goals at home last season – their most in a single campaign since 1962-63. Tighten up and it could well be their year, but they do not want to continue the habit of giving opposing teams head-starts again in games.

Those two marquee signings, which came in the transfer window following unrest among the fanbase aimed at the club's ownership, have rightly raised expectations. Now, for Ole Gunnar Solskjaer, there is a need to secure something tangible, a piece of silverware to show he can clear the final hurdle.

The caretaker appointed to lift the gloom after Jose Mourinho is just three Premier League games short of a century in charge – if United triumph in all of them on the way to that Solskjaer milestone, the Norwegian will have the same winning percentage at the magical 100 mark as Arsene Wenger and Jurgen Klopp.

As for Klopp and Liverpool, there is a degree of uncertainty. The outstanding winners in 2019-20 required a fast finish – the Reds' run of five consecutive league wins in May was more than they managed in 12 games in February, March and April combined – just to squeeze into the top four. They began to rebuild fortress Anfield, knocked down during a record-breaking losing run.

Injuries did decimate the squad during a tepid title defence, but Virgil van Dijk is now fit again and, just in case, Ibrahima Konate has come in to provide added depth at the heart of the defence. If Sadio Mane can rediscover his scoring form and ease the burden on Mohamed Salah, the ingredients are all there to mount a sustained challenge again.

THE FADING FORCES DESPERATE TO FIND FORM

In times of cutbacks, have the 'Big Six' been reduced to a 'Big Four'? Arsenal and Tottenham still retained enough pulling power to be included as part of the failed European Super League plan, but neither have ended up above Leicester City in the final league table in the past two years.

The Foxes came up short in their Champions League quest again, though the frustration at a second successive fifth-place finish was eased somewhat by lifting the FA Cup. The underappreciated Brendan Rodgers has never lacked belief, and Leicester have backed their boss in the transfer market with the signings of Patson Daka and Boubakary Soumare.

Spurs' transfer business is now being carried out by new managing director Fabio Paratici, while Nuno Espirito Santo was eventually selected to take over as head coach, despite at one stage appearing to be off the lengthy list of candidates. Both are carrying out their duties amid uncertainty over Kane, the competition's disgruntled Golden Boot winner determined to get a move.

Tottenham will be the Premier League's first participants in the Europa Conference League, which could either offer welcome relief from league issues or be a midweek nuisance. Come on, though, who doesn't want to go to Latvia in winter? Arsenal may well wish they had such concerns - they will not be playing in any European competition for the first time in 26 years.

Ben White has come in at great expense as the Gunners have put a focus on getting younger. Really, they just need to get better. To that extent, getting more out of Thomas Partey, not to mention Pierre-Emerick Aubameyang, who managed just the 10 league goals in 29 games, would help.

Mikel Arteta has much work to do to make sure the gap to the head of the field does not grow wider.

THE OUTSIDERS HOPING TO EMERGE

West Ham finished above the north London duo last time thanks in no small part to the impact made by Jesse Lingard during his loan spell.

The attacking midfielder scored nine goals and four assists in 16 games to propel himself back into England contention, even it remains to be seen if it was enough to rekindle his Manchester United career.

Without Lingard, David Moyes will have to conjure up more magic from within his squad as they also tackle the added workload of playing in the Europa League. Goalkeeper Alphonse Areola is unlikely to have the same kind of impact during his temporary stint from Paris Saint-Germain, leaving cravings for 'J-Lingz'.

Leeds United will hope to build on a positive first year back in the top flight, steered diligently by the boss on a bucket, Marcelo Bielsa, while Aston Villa have wisely elected not to replace the talismanic Grealish with just one player, instead bringing in several to try and fill the void.

There is still time for teams to strengthen, particularly as the leading clubs look to cut away some of the unnecessary fat in their bloated squad lists. Lingard demonstrated what a difference the right signing can make to a team.

However, another underdog story to match the wonderful tale of Claudio Ranieri's Leicester appears impossible. Instead, after two consecutive seasons with runaway champions, it would just be nice if the 2021-22 Premier League Stakes at least provided a little more drama by the time we enter into the closing stages.

The new Premier League season has not even begun yet and we're already enjoying some enthralling narratives.

Beyond the mundane matter of who might win the league, who will beat the drop and how thick the VAR lines will be, there are some tantalising stories we'll be following closely in the coming weeks.

Below, Stats Perform takes a look at some of the big talking points...

 

Blue Benitez

Predicting football is often a fool's game – especially in an era when Lionel Messi no longer plays for Barcelona – but Rafael Benitez at Everton? Who saw that coming?

The Spaniard is back in the Premier League, two years after walking away from Newcastle United, having been tempted by the same project that won over Carlo Ancelotti before the lure of a Real Madrid return became too great.

Benitez was a fans' favourite at Newcastle, arguably as much as he was at Liverpool, where he reached two Champions League finals including the unforgettable triumph in Istanbul. His connection to the red half of Merseyside meant his decision to head to Goodison Park raised the eyebrows of some and the blood pressure of others. In fact, only one man has ever managed both clubs: William Edward Barclay, Everton's first boss in 1888 and Liverpool's manager from 1892. We'll forgive you if you don't remember.

The scrutiny on Benitez, who has recorded 11 wins against Everton in his coaching career, will be severe. He has the credentials, but if he cannot quickly prove he is the man to realise the dreams of owner Farhad Moshiri and challenge the 'big six', the pressure could become pretty uncomfortable.

 

Virgil return lifts Reds

For a while, it seemed everything would be okay. In the first 11 games after Virgil van Dijk was injured against Everton last October, Liverpool conceded just six goals and kept as many clean sheets. Perhaps the loss of the Netherlands colossus would not be quite so damaging.

Of course, as injuries in defence piled up and confidence in their title chances waned, Liverpool's season ended up being one of major disappointment even though a strong final few weeks saw them snatch a Champions League spot.

Van Dijk's impact cannot really be disputed: since his move to Anfield in January 2018, Liverpool have won 75.8 per cent of matches with the centre-back in the side and only 54.3 per cent without him. They average 2.4 points per game with him (compared with 1.9 without), and even score more goals on average (2.3 compared with 1.8) when he's playing. No wonder fans began to count down the days to his return.

On Saturday, we can finally expect to watch Van Dijk in competitive action again, with Jurgen Klopp confirming he is fit to start the season. He could even begin his partnership with new signing Ibrahima Konate against Norwich City at Carrow Road. How Liverpool's campaign progresses over the opening few weeks, and how Van Dijk's return goes, might just tell us whether another title tilt is on the cards.

 

Rom-ember us?

Two of the biggest transfers in this pre-season have seen stars returning to England: Jadon Sancho, who finally got his Manchester United move for £72.9million a year after Borussia Dortmund had demanded a sizeably bigger sum; and Romelu Lukaku, who is heading to Chelsea for roughly £93m.

Sancho left Manchester City for the Bundesliga as a teenager and promptly became one of Europe's standout attacking players, with 50 goals and 57 assists in 137 appearances. Ole Gunnar Solskjaer wanted a player to get fans on their feet, and he's almost certainly found it: Sancho completed 48 multi take-ons (beating more than one player with a dribble) in the Bundesliga, at least 14 more than any other player in his time in Germany.

For Lukaku, it's a case of unfinished business at Chelsea, the club he left back in 2014. The standout performer for Inter last season, with 30 goals and 11 assists in all competitions, he propelled his side to their first Serie A title since 2010 before taking up the chance to return to Stamford Bridge, where a consistent goalscorer could be decisive to their Premier League title hopes.

Sancho and Lukaku initially struggled to convince managers to give them a shot as youngsters in the Premier League. They return as elite players determined to prove a point. Given the costs involved, the pressure will be on both to perform – and quickly.

 

Did Jack hammer Harry's City hopes?

Manchester City are not exactly frugal in the transfer market, but rarely will they willingly pay over the odds for an individual. That's what made their willingness to spend £100million on Jack Grealish, a player with 12 senior international caps and zero Champions League experience, a touch surprising.

This is not to suggest Grealish is not a good player, of course. This is a man who was involved in a remarkable 376 open-play attacking sequences over the past two seasons for Aston Villa, a team who finished 17th and 11th in those campaigns. It's just notable that Pep Guardiola felt it was warranted to smash City's transfer record by nearly £40m to sign yet another midfielder, especially given what's going on – or not going on – with Harry Kane.

Kane was expected to be City's marquee signing in this window but, as of now, his future is unclear. He is finally due to return to Tottenham training this week but whether he is involved against City in their opening game is harder to know. And if City were willing to spend nine figures on Grealish, you can expect Spurs chairman Daniel Levy to demand top dollar for last term's golden boot winner, who has three years left on his contract.

Will City stump up the cash? Will Kane try his best to force Spurs' hand? Will he be staying in north London for at least a few months more, his form undimmed, the goals flowing as normal? It will be fascinating to watch.

 

Phil Foden could miss the opening month of Manchester City's Premier League title defence with the foot injury that ruled him out of the Euro 2020 final and left him in tears.

England playmaker Foden was laid low during the build-up to the Wembley showdown with Italy, having impressed in an extra-time cameo against Denmark in the semi-finals.

Roberto Mancini's Azzurri prevailed on penalties as the 21-year-old was restricted to a watching brief and, with City beginning their top-flight campaign at Tottenham on Sunday, he will be out of action once more.

Back-to-back home games against newly promoted Norwich City and Arsenal will also come too soon, with a September 11 trip to Leicester City after the international break or the following weekend's game against Southampton representing possible return dates.

"It's still a little bit sore. It was such a shame to do it just before the Euro final, it was really unfortunate," Foden told Sky Sports News.

"I'm working hard in the gym. Hopefully I can get back as soon as possible. I would say around three to four weeks more.

"Hopefully it flies by and I can get back on the pitch."

Foden was named PFA Young Player of the Year, scoring 16 goals and laying on 10 assists across all competitions as Pep Guardiola's side won a fourth consecutive EFL Cup and their third league title in four seasons.

Nevertheless, there were also moments of bitter disappointment, as Chelsea claimed a 1-0 win over their Premier League counterparts in the Champions League final before a crestfallen Foden discussed being ruled out of the Euros showpiece with England boss Gareth Southgate.

"I remember speaking to the manager when I got injured and I just burst out crying with tears, with devastation that I was injured,” he revealed.

"I was just praying on that day that the team won and unfortunately we didn't. But we're proud of what we did, we created history in getting to the final and I think next time we go into a major tournament it's going to help us.

"It was so good to see in the changing room how together everyone was. It was a special moment to share with the team.

"Come the [2022] World Cup, I feel like those experiences can only help us."

Alongside Raheem Sterling, Kyle Walker and John Stones, another member of that England dressing room is now a club colleague.

Jack Grealish joined City for a British record £100million from Aston Villa last week and Foden is relishing lining up alongside him.

"We're close. When I first went to England we got on really well on and off the pitch," he said of Grealish.

"I'm really glad he's signed here and hopefully I can get back playing with him and enjoy my football.

"He's fearless on the ball, he can change a game on his own. I believe he's a really special player for us this year and he's going to be key for us."

John Stones has backed "fearless" Jack Grealish to make an immediate impact at Manchester City following his arrival from Aston Villa for a British-record £100million fee.

England international Grealish was confirmed as a City player last week and made his debut as a second-half substitute in Sunday's 1-0 Community Shield defeat to Leicester City.

The 25-year-old played 25 minutes in that annual curtain-raising fixture, managing 25 touches of the ball and completing 15 of his 16 passes during his time on the pitch.

He is in contention to start City's opening Premier League fixture against Tottenham next Sunday and Stones is excited by what his international team-mate will bring to the side.

"Jack's an incredible footballer. A raw talent. I think you can see he is a bit fearless in how he plays and very direct," Stones told City's official website.

"We only saw a little bit of him in the Euros, but when he came on everyone was excited to see him and he came on and gave some vital assists at key moments.

"He is a big game player. An incredible person as well. He is coming into one of the best dressing rooms in the world non-football wise, with the characters we have here and he will fit in straight away.

"I am sure he will be looking forward to more success here and hopefully winning some silverware."

Stones was speaking after signing a new long-term contract at the Etihad Stadium that keeps him tied down to City until June 2026.

Former Everton defender Stones has spent the past five seasons with City and played an integral part in last term's Premier League and EFL Cup double.

City kept 19 clean sheets across the centre-back's 35 appearances in 2020-21 and conceded only 16 times with him on the field.

The 27-year-old's 24 blocks in 2020-21 were his most in a single season at City, while 32 tackles and 146 recoveries were above his average numbers over the past five seasons.

It marked quite the turnaround for Stones, who struggled for form and fitness during 2019-20 and came close to leaving the club.

And the Barnsley academy product has thanked Pep Guardiola and City's coaching staff for the faith shown in him.

"I think everyone, coaching staff, all the other staff that are here, from day one made me feel so welcome," Stones said.

"Everyone plays a major part in our success as players. I appreciate what everyone does for me here as a person.

"It is hard to say, but they have had a big impact on me and it was an easy decision for me to put pen to paper again. I feel like this is home and I absolutely love the place."

Jack Grealish felt the same as a tearful Lionel Messi did when announcing his Barcelona exit as he made the switch from boyhood club Aston Villa to Manchester City.

Grealish joined City for a British-record £100million fee on Thursday, the Premier League champions meeting the England midfielder's release clause to take him to the Etihad Stadium.

Confirmation of Grealish's transfer came on the same day Barcelona announced they would be unable to sign Messi to a new contract due to "financial and structural obstacles".

Messi, who is widely reported to be nearing a deal to join Paris Saint-Germain, then held an emotional media conference on Sunday as he confirmed the end of his 21-year stay at Camp Nou, with the Argentina superstar crying on stage before and after his remarks.

Grealish had been at Villa since the age of six and told reporters on Monday that he empathised with Messi.

"Everyone has seen the way Messi was at his final press conference," said Grealish.

"That is the exact way I felt myself.

"Before I left the hotel I spoke to the team, the staff and the players and I teared up a bit myself."

When Villa re-signed Grealish to a new contract last season, they did so while accepting his proviso that they would not stand in his way if a club playing Champions League football made an approach for him.

And he is relishing the chance to play in European club football's top competition, with City aiming to go one better in 2021-22 having lost the final to Chelsea last season.

"I felt like it was time for me to move on," Grealish added.

"I've always said how much I wanted to play Champions League football – I couldn't do that at Villa this year.

"I have come here to win silverware and play in the Champions League, so that is my only focus now."

Pep Guardiola revealed prior to Grealish's City debut in the Community Shield that he and Txiki Begiristain have long been admirers of the England international.

That admiration is mutual, Grealish insisting he is unburdened by his price tag and excited to work under the former Barca and Bayern Munich boss.

"I'm going to be learning from him every day and I genuinely cannot wait to work with him," Grealish explained.

"The way he is in training is unbelievable. The stuff he has certain players doing in certain positions – it is something I would never think of and it just works.

"Everyone here is so desperate to play under him. Pep was a massive factor in me coming here.

"When you see a football club paying that sort of money for a player, it means they trust you and value you highly and see so much potential there.

"I see it as a good thing and now I hope I can repay this football club by winning as many titles as possible and winning that [Champions League] trophy we all want."

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