The most popular professional sports league in the world kicks off its 2019-20 season on Friday, as English Premier League runners-up Liverpool (2-13) take on newly-promoted Norwich City (25-1). A full slate of games follow on Saturday and Sunday. The defending champions, Manchester City (5-19), start their quest for a three-peat Saturday in East London versus West Ham United (14-1). Meanwhile, American fans can watch USMNT star Christian Pulisic with his new club, Chelsea (45-17), against traditional rival Manchester United (11-9) on Sunday.
Last year, Manchester City claimed its second straight title, and fourth in eight years, by a single point over Liverpool. The torrid chase produced the second and third-best seasons by any team in league history. This year, if the oddsmakers are to be believed, nobody will be able to touch the Sky Blues (1-2), who are hoping to become the first team to win three consecutive Premier League titles since arch-rival Man United did so eleven years ago. The Reds (9-4) are also a strong favorite to repeat as runners-up, with Tottenham Hotspur (16-1) a good bet for third. Everyone else, including Chelsea (30-1), Man U (30-1), and Arsenal (30-1), are playing for spots in the UEFA Champions League.
It was also a record-setting offseason for the transfer market, as teams went all in to catch the emerging Big Two. Everton spent big, locking up midfielder Andre Gomes, who had been on loan from Barcelona, for £22 million. They also snatched Fabian Delph from City for £9 million. Manchester United sent Leicester City £80 million for Harry Maguire, a world record for a defender, as the Red Devils attempt to shore up their porous back line. In all, seven clubs, from Man City to newcomers Sheffield United, smashed their transfer records this summer.
The nature of football in Europe means that the Premier League is one of the few competitions where the race at the bottom may be as entertaining— sometimes more so— than the race at the top. Aston Villa are back, after three seasons in the second-tier English Championship, and 28 consecutive seasons before that in the top flight. So too are Norwich City, owned by celebrity chef Delia Smith, hoping to secure a second season in the Premier League for the first time since 2013-14. Sheffield United last played in the Premier League in 2006-07, and fell in to fast-forward free-fall, spending six seasons in League One before climbing back up. They (4-5), along with Norwich (11-8), and either Brighton (2-1) or Burnley (2-1), are favored to go down this year.
One thing American fans might notice this season will be more attractive matchups at more reasonable times. Leveraging their new deal with Sky, Comcast-owned NBCSN successfully lobbied for traditional giants, with larger American followings, to play later in the day. Expect more marquee matchups during the 12:30 Eastern Saturday window. In another new change, Premier League matches will be played during Britain’s Saturday prime time window for the first time: 7:45 PM (2:45 PM Eastern). The moves not only show the growing following of the Premier League in America, but America’s growing importance in what a decade ago was still considered a niche sport.