Premier League talking points: New era at Man Utd, Conte & Howe under spotlight

As England's top-flight clubs prepare for the 30th season of the Premier League era, which kicks off on August 5, Planet Sport picks out some key talking points for the new campaign.

New era at Old Trafford

Erik ten Hag, Manchester United's fifth permanent manager since the end of the Sir Alex Ferguson era, faces a major challenge to revive fortunes at Old Trafford.

United have not lifted the title since Ferguson's retirement in 2013 and have just endured their worst Premier League season from a points perspective.

That dismal campaign took place amid ongoing fan protests against the club's owners, while star man Cristiano Ronaldo asked to leave the club this summer.

Ten Hag has insisted Ronaldo will not be sold and is part of his plans.

The former Ajax coach will be desperate for a strong start to his tenure as he attempts to succeed where David Moyes, Louis Van Gaal, Jose Mourinho and Ole Gunnar Solskjaer each ultimately failed.

Unstoppable City?

Manchester City's Erling Haaland

Manchester City were crowned champions for the fourth time in five seasons in May after ending Liverpool's quadruple bid with a nail-biting 3-2 comeback win over Aston Villa.

City once again begin as title favourites after bolstering their enviable ranks with prolific striker Erling Haaland and England midfielder Kalvin Phillips.

Yet manager Pep Guardiola has perhaps surprised some by allowing attacking duo Raheem Sterling and Gabriel Jesus to join Premier League rivals Chelsea and Arsenal respectively.

Liverpool, champions in 2020, have replaced Sadio Mane with Darwin Nunez and appear most likely to dislodge City, while Chelsea boss Thomas Tuchel will hope Sterling can help close a 19-point gap to his former employers.

Winter World Cup

Due to this year's World Cup taking place in November and December, the league will have an unprecedented six-week break.

Action will halt following fixtures on November 12 and not resume until Boxing Day - eight days after the final in Qatar.

Clubs - and players - have become accustomed to major fixture disruption due to the coronavirus pandemic, which prolonged the 2019-20 season and condensed the following one.

FIFA's decision to shift their showpiece tournament from the summer months means the forthcoming campaign will not conclude until the final weekend of May.

Following a raft of Covid-related postponements last term, there will be limited scope to rearrange matches.

Forest fanfare

Nottingham Forest manager Steve Cooper celebrates at the final whistle

Football fans of a certain age will remember Nottingham Forest being among the country's leading clubs. They lifted the European Cup in successive seasons under Brian Clough in 1979 and 1980 and were inaugural members of the Premier League.

Yet, following relegation in 1999, Forest have been absent for a generation during a prolonged slump which included three seasons in the third tier.

Steve Cooper majestically masterminded promotion via the play-offs last term to end the 23-year exile.

Aside from Ten Hag, the Welshman, whose summer recruits include Jesse Lingard, goes into the new campaign as the only manager without Premier League experience.

Forest fans feel they are back where the belong and will hope Cooper can keep them there.

Crowd control

Last season ended under a cloud due to an alarming trend of unsightly pitch invasions across English football.

A Nottingham Forest fan was jailed for headbutting Sheffield United captain Billy Sharp during the Championship play-offs, while Crystal Palace manager Patrick Vieira kicked out after being goaded by an Everton supporter in another high-profile episode.

The Football Association and Premier League have announced tougher penalties in a bid to prevent further incidents, while the authorities also intend to target drug use and fans carrying smoke bombs and pyrotechnics.

Premier League chief executive Mark Bullingham said the rise in anti-social behaviour at grounds is "entirely unacceptable".

Managers under the microscope

Antonio conte Tottenham boss May22

Although Ten Hag is the only new managerial appointment, a raft of coaches will be under the spotlight during their first full campaigns at their current clubs.

Antonio Conte and Eddie Howe are leading figures in that category.

Conte has splashed the cash after dragging Tottenham back into the Champions League, while the rate at which Howe's Saudi-backed Newcastle progress will also be heavily scrutinised.

Having emulated Howe in avoiding relegation - albeit less emphatically - Everton's Frank Lampard and Leeds boss Jesse Marsch still have work to do to convince fans of their capabilities.

Aston Villa's Steven Gerrard is the other man bidding to fully implement his methods after arriving part way through last term.

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