Forty-eight days after the 2019/20 English Premier League (EPL) ended, the 2020/21 season will kick off on Saturday with new hopes, vaunted ambitions, and some butterflies in the stomachs.
Liverpool were the runaway leaders last season and look the best placed to retain the title, mostly because they did not lose any of their best players. Sadio Mane, Mohamed Salah, Virgil van Dijk, Alisson and captain fantastic Jordan Henderson are still very much around while the manager, Jurgen Klopp, looks as passionate and as motivated as ever.
That does not mean they don’t face a battle from the pursuing flock, who have strengthened their teams as they hope to catch the Reds cold.
Who will challenge the Reds? City, United, or Chelsea?
After ending a 30-year wait to win a first EPL title, many pundits are tipping Klopp’s side to do a repeat. But while they are capable of this feat, the likes of Manchester City, Manchester United, and Chelsea have fortified their teams to ensure the gap is not as wide as it was last season when the Reds almost had the league title wrapped up by the end of February.
Pep Guardiola’s City still look like the most capable challengers, but they have lost two outstanding players in David Silva and Leroy Sane, who they have not adequately replaced. Getting Nathan Ake into the team does not totally solve the defensive issues that plagued City last season, and the suspect injury records of both Ake and Aymeric Laporte means City’s defence is just an injury away from being in crisis mode. Will Guardiola reinvent? It can happen, but many teams have gotten a handle of the City press and are playing directly to counter the tactic.
Chelsea have bought talented players but have not really solved their major challenge of last season – conceding cheap goals. Kepa Arrizabalaga is still Chelsea’s No.1 goalkeeper and while the acquisition of experienced Brazilian defender Thiago Silva will help their cause, it will be a miracle if Silva is up to the pace of the EPL immediately. So many bright and pricey talents mean Frank Lampard is under pressure from September 12. One can predict that a sequence of poor results could see the Chelsea legend lose his job before January – no matter the British sentiment.
It is squeaky bum time for Ole Gunnar Solskjaer. So much has been given for the team to get results and some investments have been made, which means the board will expect returns this season. Keeping Paul Pogba is a plus and United have settled on playing on the counter as their tactic of choice because of their very speedy forwards. This will continue into the season, but if his team loses to any of the top six, then Solskjaer’s tenure will gradually grind to a halt. It looks like United have to make a flying start so that the team is buoyed with that surge of confidence. They can then wait and pounce on the break.
Who will be the top dog among the underdogs?
Arsenal have come up in leaps and bounds since Mikel Arteta took the reins and the FA Cup and Community Shield triumphs show they are moving in the right direction. But do they have the depth of the squad to remain consistent over an entire season is the question Arteta must answer? They still have Pierre Emerick Aubameyang, so anything is possible.
Leicester City were good for the money until December last year but faded as injuries came to bear on their best players. But they finished fifth, which leaves them fighting in the cauldron that is the UEFA Europa League – that is a tasking competition, especially if the squad is not deep. Brendan Rodgers has to plan this out very well or his team could be playing catch up.
Yes, Jose Mourinho’s Tottenham is not tipped for the top four. Why? Because he has had to make do with crumbs–not the heavy hitters he was used to as the manager of Chelsea, Real Madrid, and Manchester United. Can he change his tactics and fight with his lean squad for the top four and any title? Of course, but one injury to one of his top players could lay his best plans to waste. He is trying to create a formidable midfield trio of Moussa Sissoko, Pierre-Emile Hojbjerg, and Giovani Lo Celso. The engine, the brawn, and the brain. They could yet surprise many this season and expect Spurs to go far in all the domestic Cup competitions.
Which of the newly promoted teams will struggle?
Marcelo Bielsa is a maverick, but his teams are always a joy to watch. This singular index has given Leeds United the aura of being the most capable of the three promoted teams. West Bromwich Albion and Fulham make up the trio of clubs that came up from the Championship. Leeds have brought in more quality in the shape of Spanish international Rodrigo, even though his goals tally will not make you go ‘wow’.
Jack Harrison, a midfielder just got his first England cap against Denmark, and there is the experienced Spanish goalkeeper, Kiko Casilla, to help keep the goals against to a minimum. Fulham seem to have recruited well, bringing in experienced players like Nigerian international Ola Aina from Torino; while Aleksandar Mitrovic will score goals, as he showed with Newcastle.
There is a fear about West Brom – they may not score enough goals, but they will concede goals, especially with the free-flowing football espoused by their manager, Slaven Bilic. Charlie Austin, 31, Kenneth Zohore, 26, and Hal Robson-Kanu are their centre-forwards and between them, they have 50 goals in 217 EPL games.
Champion: Liverpool to win with 85 – 90 points
Top Four: Liverpool, Manchester City, Chelsea, Manchester United
5th and 6th: Arsenal, Tottenham
Relegation: West Brom, Aston Villa, Fulham