Incredibly, it is already upon us: the Premier League swaggers back into our lives tomorrow evening, as a recent title winner travel to Old Trafford. Ahead of working on that United/Leicester game, Gary Neville spent his afternoon in Dublin promoting Cadbury's status as the Premier League's official snack partner.
Listen to the interview in full below:
Manchester City are favourites to be the first team since Neville's United to retain the Premier League, with the chasing pack hoping that a renewed focus on the Champions League might lead to City taking their eye off the defence of their title.
Neville is quick to disabuse anyone of this notion, however lightly they cling to it.
I’ve spoken to Pep twice on Sky since the end of the season, we did a programme the other day with Dave Jones and Jamie Carragher asking questions. We asked him directly: Premier League or Champions League? Premier League came out of his mouth before we’d even finished the question.
They seem so intent. We spoke to Kompany and Walker and they seem so intent to not drop below the mentality and standards they achieved last year. I think back to back titles is an obsession for them.
I think they know they’re not really going to be seen as a great team and that Pep is not going to be seen as someone that has dominated English football if he doesn’t win two in two or three in three. He realises that’s the measure of greatness and when you’re talking about great teams and what a manager does, and at the end of the season if United win it or Liverpool win it it’ll be 'oh City only won one in three.' Whereas it’s different if he wins two in two.
Perception is everything.
As for the main challengers, Neville lists United, Liverpool and Chelsea are the only potential rivals for City's crown. Unai Emery, he says, will need another two transfer windows to hew Arsenal into contenders while he "loves Mauricio Pochettino to bits", he lists four major stumbling blocks to Tottenham's hopes of a first Premier League title: "They haven’t signed anyone, they’ve got their first four games away, they’ve changed stadiums and they’ve had I think nine players out of the starting 11 playing in the very latter stages of the World Cup".
As for the challengers, then. Neville does pause before forcing 'Liverpool' out of his mouth when listing contenders, but believes that they need to have sloughed off the distraction of Europe before Christmas if they are to truly challenge.
I think Liverpool need to go out of the Champions League pre Christmas to have a good chance of winning the league. I don’t think they can challenge on both fronts with the way they play, unless they adapt and they change: the way they play at 100 miles an hour from the first minute to the last minute, it’s very hard to do that Saturday-Wednesday-Saturday-Wednesday.
I think it’ll be tough but if they were to go of the Champions League and they had free weeks after Christmas, Saturday-to-Saturday they could be a real threat this season to City. I do think they have one over on City. The challenge for them is can they repeat that level of energy and that level of focus every three days? But they are a challenger this year, Liverpool.
In spite of the pall of gloom settling around his old club, Neville reckons that United should be expected to challenge for the title.
United should be challenging. I don’t think just because they haven’t signed a centre-back we should be sat here thinking ‘We’ll let Manchester United off the hook, they shouldn’t be challenging this year'. A club that’s spent the money they’ve spent in the past few seasons and the players they’ve got [should be challenging].
Manchester United have a front six of Mata, Lingard, Lukaku, Rashford, Martial and Sanchez. That’s an obscene amount of talent. Obscene. In midfield, they’ve got Matic, Fred and Pogba. Every team in the league will be thinking what a great midfield that is. The way in which United are being talked about this pre-season, it’s as if they’ve got a load of bums playing for them.
Gary Neville was speaking to promote Cadbury as the official snack partner of the Premier League.