Garish kits, grumbling players and goalline technology are top of the agenda for the 2013-14 campaign
Never before have Swansea City and Cardiff City sat together at the top table of English football (which, given 10% of the teams in the Premier League this season hail from Wales, probably needs a name change). Derby days in south Wales are a match for any in British football and the Swans manager Michael Laudrup has compared the intensity of the rivalry to that between Roma and Lazio. Expect fireworks.
The Manchester giants both have new men at the helm – not something that has been said since the autumn of 1986. Both have difficult and differing challenges – Manuel Pellegrini must reinvigorate a side that listed under Roberto Mancini last season, David Moyes has to prove he is up to the task of stepping into the biggest shoes in the British game. But the bottom line remains the same: anything but the title will be seen as failure for either man.
Paul Lambert's stewardship of Aston Villa was one of the most intriguing in the Premier League last season and the second act is likely to be equally absorbing. Crewe, Middlesbrough and Sheffield United were among his shops last summer but this time around the net has been cast wider, with Villa spending somewhere in the region of £13m on five new faces from Denmark, Spain, Holland and Poland. Can he pull another Christian Benteke out of the hat?
Following the retirement of Sir Alex Ferguson and the departure of Mancini, José Mourinho is the current Premier League manager to win the title most recently – his Chelsea side did so in 2005-06. This may be Mourinho mark two, and the Special One may have become the Happy One, but it is good to have him back.
Manchester United have told Chelsea that Wayne Rooney is not for sale at any price. Luis Suárez's attempts to manoeuvre a way out of Liverpool seem to have failed. Tottenham are playing hardball with Gareth Bale. When the Premier League season kicks off it may do so with three of its best players in a variety of sulks and strops. How they are managed could have a huge bearing on the season.
There are some gems to watch out for when teams don their away strips. Swansea's appears to be the profile map of a Tour de France mountain stage in garish maillot jaune yellow and purple, Manchester United's was clearly inspired by a picnic blanket, Villa have gone for the chopped-off chessboard look, while top of the pile are Liverpool, who have come up with away and third kits that seem to be the product of a drunken brawl between Jackson Pollock, Piet Mondrian and a defective photocopier.
Almost every club has splashed out on extra firepower. Of the sides hoping for a season of mid-table distinction Cardiff have spent £7.5m on Andreas Cornelius, Crystal Palace £6m on Dwight Gayle, Norwich £8.5m on Ricky van Wolfswinkel and £5m on Gary Hooper, Sunderland £6.5m on Jozy Altidore, Swansea City £12m on Wilfried Bony, while West Brom have borrowed Matej Vydra, hugely impressive in the Championship for Watford last season, from Udinese. Michu, Rickie Lambert and the aforementioned Benteke all made their top-flights bows last season and all showed the value of a striker who adapts well to the unique challenge of the Premier League.
Cricket's problem's with DRS have been held up as harbingers of doom by the naysayers, but the more useful precedent comes from tennis, where Hawk-Eye's tracking technology has been unimpeached. Quite frankly it will be a surprise if its services are called upon more than a handful of times throughout the season and its greatest impact might be to create a future pub quiz question: who was the first player in English football to have a goal awarded by a computer?
After a miserable time last season Alan Pardew must have been hoping for a quiet summer. Instead he got Joe Kinnear. To what extent, if any, the arrival of a director of football on Tyneside will destabilise the club remains to be seen. Meanwhile down the road in Sunderland the ever-combustible Paolo Di Canio has been snapping up players like an ill-prepared parent on Christmas Eve. Whatever happens it's going to be a season to watch on Tyne and Wear.
BT have spent £1bn in launching a new sports channel to challenge Sky's stranglehold, giving more people the chance to watch Premier League football live on TV (if they weren't already doing so on internet streams, at least). But the most noticeable difference for most football fans will be on the Match of the Day sofa, with Gianluca Vialli, Gus Poyet, Michael Owen, Robbie Fowler, Les Ferdinand and Robbie Savage stepping into the space freed up by Mark Lawrenson's "reduced role" on the programme.