Premier League preview week: No. 2 Manchester United and No. 1 Manchester City

Jose Mourinho has Manchester United in position to challenge for its first Premier League title since 2013. (IBT)

Welcome to FC Yahoo’s Premier League preview week. We’ll take a look at each team in our aggregated predicted table, counting down from No. 20 to No. 1, and also reflect on some issues surrounding the league as kickoff approaches on Friday. Follow along with everything here.

2. MANCHESTER UNITED

Last season – In Jose Mourinho’s first season at Old Trafford, United finished fifth and leaned on a solid defensive record and Zlatan Ibrahimovic’s talismanic touch. Then-record signing Paul Pogba was up and down, while Wayne Rooney bid farewell as the club’s record goal-scorer. The Red Devils did win two trophies, however, including an EFL Cup triumph over Southampton and a Europa League victory over Ajax, the latter of which assured Champions League football this fall.

Key transfer notes – Right back Victor Lindelof joins from Benfica, where he made 32 league starts in last season’s title-winning campaign. Striker Romelu Lukaku joins from Everton and has a proven pedigree as a Premier League goal-scorer with 68 goals in four seasons with the Toffees. Midfielder Nemanja Matic is another new acquisition with a solid Premiership track record. The Serbian enforcer was a key component in the Chelsea side that won two of the last three Premier League titles and scored one goal and made seven assists in 35 league appearances for the Blues last season.

FC Yahoo take

Alex Baker: After a somewhat embattled first season in charge, Mourinho nonetheless heads into the new season having added the Europa League and League Cup trophies to the cabinet at Old Trafford. Mourinho has done a tidy bit of business on the transfer market this summer; adding defensive cover with Lindelof, midfield steel with Matic, and pipping Antonio Conte’s Chelsea for the signature of striker Lukaku. Of the new signings, Matic may prove the most influential. With the Serbian enforcer ensconced in the holding role, Pogba will be freed up to assume more of the free-roaming playmaker role he thrived in at Juventus. With a squad that’s arguably the most complete in the league and Mourinho’s proven knack for winning titles in his second season in charge, it’s difficult to see United as anything other than title favorites.

Leander Schaerlaeckens: With Lukaku pried from Everton for insane money, United has now bought the three most expensive players in Premier League history – with Pogba and Angel Di Maria. It also has the seventh-most expensive player in Anthony Martial. Yet for the crazy expenditure of recent years and Mourinho’s feted arrival – although his first season had to be salvaged by a Europa League title – United still doesn’t quite look like a champion. In spite of the arrivals of Lindelof and Matic, United remains perilously thin in central defense and holding midfielder. And if Lukaku goes into a scoring drought, there’s no clear answer on where the goals will come from.

Betting odds (via SkyBet)

Win Premier League – 100/30
Relegation – 2500/1

Predicted finishes

Shahan Ahmed: 2 | Ryan Bailey: 3 | Alex Baker: 1 | Henry Bushnell: 2 | Joey Gulino: 3 | Leander Schaerlaeckens: 2

Pep Guardiola has bought big and will try to win Manchester City’s third Premier League title this year. (Omnisport)

1. MANCHESTER CITY

Last season – Pep Guardiola’s first season at the Etihad was sometimes a bumpy ride as he tried to remake the club in his image. The Citizens started strong but struggled against the other big clubs and limped through the winter months, although they still finished third in the Premier League. The winter signing of Gabriel Jesus looked like it was going to pay off in a huge way before he was injured, and Sergio Aguero scored 20 times in the league to lead the team.

Key transfer notes – City has been more active than anyone on the market this summer. Take a deep breath, and here we go. Brazilian right back Danilo joins from Real Madrid, where he played 24 matches for Zinedine Zidane’s side last season. Left back Benjamin Mendy comes over from the Monaco side that knocked City out of the Champions League. Mendy, who started 24 games in Monaco’s title-winning campaign last season, joins for what is a world record fee for a defender. Right back Kyle Walker was signed from Tottenham earlier in the summer. The England international was an integral part of the Spurs side that accumulated more points than anyone else over the past two seasons and joins City for a fee that makes him the most expensive English player of all time. Midfielder Bernardo Silva also joins from Monaco. The Portuguese playmaker scored eight goals and made nine assists in 33 starts for the principality side last season. Finally, goalkeeper Ederson joins from Benfica where he made 49 appearances in two seasons.

FC Yahoo take

Henry Bushnell: Many have pinpointed Kevin De Bruyne’s December miss against Chelsea as the moment that tipped the title race. But as much it was a turning point, and as much as it is the peg of the most discussed “what if” scenario from last season, it’s also emblematic of City’s shortcomings in Guardiola’s first season. City was largely rampant, creating better chances than any other side, but time and time again was done in by “game of inches” moments like De Bruyne’s. On the other end, a better-than-you-realize defense was hung out to dry by Claudio Bravo’s incompetence, and his incompetence seemed to rear its ugly head just when City couldn’t afford it.

After a summer of spending and further acclimating to Pep’s ways, though, there is nothing to hold the Citizens back this time around. Fullback, in the span of a couple months, has morphed from weakness into strength. Goalkeeping should be better, and can’t be worse. John Stones should improve, and the endless inventory of attackers — De Bruyne, David Silva, Bernardo Silva, Aguero, Jesus, Leroy Sane, Raheem Sterling, etc. — is mouthwatering. Center back and central midfield depth are perhaps concerns, but they are concerns that will be shrouded by City’s many areas of prowess. Pep’s side should be a heavy Premier League favorite in year two.

Alex Baker: It’s fair to say the Guardiola myth lost a layer of sheen last season after the Manchester City boss went trophy-less for the first time in his managerial career. The decorated former Barça and Bayern manager has spent big in the offseason, but despite lavishing over $200 million in the transfer market, this is still a City side with a spine that’s reliant on aging players like Yaya Toure and Vincent Kompany. Questions also linger regarding Guardiola’s seeming tactical inflexibility. While he’s been given the money to put the team he wants together, it’s unclear whether the Catalan’s all-attacking, “I don’t train tackles” approach can sustain a title challenge over a whole season. A top-four finish and improved showing in the Champions League are certainly within City’s grasp, but it may be a season to soon for Guardiola’s complex, tactical style to translate into a genuine title challenge for the Citizens.

Betting odds (via SkyBet)

Win Premier League – 6/4
Relegation – 2500/1

Predicted finishes

Shahan Ahmed: 1 | Ryan Bailey: 1 | Alex Baker: 2 | Henry Bushnell: 1 | Joey Gulino: 2 | Leander Schaerlaeckens: 1

More previews

Arsenal | Bournemouth | Brighton & Hove Albion | Burnley | Chelsea | Crystal Palace | Everton | Huddersfield Town | Leicester City | Liverpool | Manchester City | Manchester United | Newcastle United | Southampton | Stoke City | Swansea City | Tottenham Hotspur | Watford | West Bromwich Albion | West Ham United