And it’s live! The three words that every football fan has been yearning to hear for more than 3 months will be finally here from August 14th, when the Premier League season kicks off. Arsenal play Brentford on Aug 13, 8 PM BST/Aug 14, 12.30 AM IST, followed by the always intense ‘Roses Derby’, which is Manchester United v Leeds United.
Matchweek 1️⃣ loading…
— Premier League (@premierleague) August 9, 2021
As with every year before the season starts, a lot of predictions fly around. Who’ll be crowned the champion? What about those lucrative Champions League places? For which teams does the ignominy of relegation beckon? Can anyone do a Leicester?
We try to answer all these questions in FootTheBall’s season preview of the Premier League.
CHAMPIONS: MANCHESTER CITY
The unstoppable car just got a rocket launcher strapped to it. The Pep Guardiola-led side cantered to the PL title last season, looking supremely comfortable against pretty much every team in the land. They had a 28-game unbeaten run, with 15 successive victories in the Premier League at one point. Moreover, they were the Champions League finalists.
This irresistible force just added British football’s poster boy in Jack Grealish for GBP 100million, a British transfer record. If they have their way, they’ll soon add England’s, and soon to be PL’s best-ever striker in Harry Kane, certainly breaking the British transfer record twice in the same window.
COVID-induced FFP relaxations have allowed clubs with rich owners, like Man City to pump the money into the club’s coffers with relentless intensity. As a result, the already near-invincible vehicle of Manchester City has got turbocharged. Barring any unforeseen slump or injury, the title is theirs to lose.
UCL PLACES (2ND, 3RD,4TH)- CHELSEA, MANCHESTER UNITED, LIVERPOOL
Modern football’s complexion, where qualification for UCL has become the end itself instead of being the means to an end has caused much chagrin to supporters. However, the reality remains that the financial windfall from UCL qualification separates the best from the rest.
Barely hanging on to fourth last year, Tuchel’s Chelsea look primed to be Guardiola’s main contender for the title. The German tactician took over a haphazard team in the middle of the season last year and led them to a UCL win, along with some assured wins in the PL. That was a major feat considering that Chelsea had a glaring weakness- a lack of a prolific striker.
Now armed with Romelu Lukaku in a blockbuster deal worth 115mil Euros, Tuchel’s outfit look ready to run Man City close. Still, runners-up of last year cannot be counted out.
Solskjaer’s United separated themselves from the chasing pack last season, finishing five points ahead of 3rd place despite winning only 2 out of their last 5 games. Last year’s team has been enriched by the additions of serial winner Raphael Varane and attacking wunderkind, long-term target, Jadon Sancho. Despite assuredly being a better team than the one that finished 2nd last season, Ole could have a hard time repeating, or bettering those feats.
United still look short of a mobile defensive midfielder, and the right-back position doesn’t feel secure beyond Wan-Bissaka. Combine this with rivals strengthening, this could be a season of consolidation for the Red Devils, with a trophy along the way. Running them close could be their biggest rivals, Liverpool.
Among all the top teams in the division, Liverpool’s strengthening of the team leaves the most to be desired. With just a single signing, that of prodigiously talented but injury-prone Ibrahima Konate, Klopp goes into the season with much the same squad that won him the elusive PL crown and a UCL victory in 2019. However, they can argue that they finished in the top-4 among a raft of injuries last season, none more impactful as that to Virgil Van Dijk.
To put an old cliche to use, his return, along with that of many others, like Henderson, Joe Gomez, a probable return to form of Sadio Mane, Liverpool have a lot of players “like new signings”. They’ll be confident of repeating last season’s exploits, with the UCL money could then be reinvested to freshen up the squad.
Honourable Mentions- Leicester City, Tottenham, Arsenal
Leicester City, as ever, have done some smart business this summer, with midfielder Boubakary Soumare headlining the crop of arrivals which includes prolific Patson Daka and the smart signing of Ryan Bertrand on a free. However, they have failed to show in the previous two seasons that they can get past the hump of collapsing late. Until they do, they will remain as outside threats only, something which can’t even be said for Arsenal.
A shell of their former glorious self, Arsenal have been falling from their heydays for quite a while now. That slide was punctuated last season as polarising figure Mikel Arteta guided the club to its worst-ever finish since the Arsene Wenger era began, a lowly 8th. A long-term consolidation is the job that Mikel Arteta has on his hands, and a UCL qualification is probably not even the expectation from the board at this stage.
✍️ Welcome to Tottenham Hotspur, Nuno Espírito Santo.#WelcomeNuno
— Tottenham Hotspur (@SpursOfficial) June 30, 2021
Speaking of long-term job security, Tottenham go into the season with a manager that has been on borrowed time since the moment he was announced. So far down the preferred list of candidates for the job that even Spurs supporters can’t keep a count, Nuno Espirito Santo has walked into a club fraught with dysfunction. Marquee star wants to leave, supporters unconvinced of the manager, board facing the ire of other clubs and gans due to Super League, the most that will be expected of Nuno and Spurs this season will be a drama-free finish in the top-6 as they seek to reclaim their position as one of the elites.
RELEGATION CANDIDATES: NEWCASTLE, NORWICH AND WATFORD
Newcastle remains the definition of the club “Sleepwalking to relegation”. Manager Steve Bruce has done a commendable job somehow keeping the club afloat without much investment but the Magpies always look a couple of bad results away from crisis. Apathetic ownership, unpopular manager, and questionable recruitment might mean that this is finally the season Newcastle get relegated. Joining them could be two promoted teams.
— Norwich City FC (@NorwichCityFC) August 9, 2021
Norwich and Watford have gone about their post-promotion business in different terms. While Norwich sold their talisman in Buendia and replaced him with a raft of exciting signings in Rashica, Sargent and more, Watford have been comparatively quiet. However, staying in the league could be difficult for both. While Norwich might drop points as the new signings take time to gel, Watford’s lack of business, coupled with questions over their managerial changes could spell doom for both the clubs.
(Dis)Honourable Mentions: Southampton, Brentford
BIGGEST SURPRISE: PATRICK VIEIRA GET CRYSTAL PALACE ROLLING
— Crystal Palace F.C. (@CPFC) August 7, 2021
There is equal parts fear and intrigue surrounding Crystal Palace as they walk into a new era post-Roy Hodgson. They released a number of veterans whose contracts were ending, along with Hodgson and have gone for the young, exciting talent route.
The smart signing of Marc Guehi and Michael Olise has been complemented by the proven PL experience of Joachim Andersen. If new manager Patrick Vieira can get Palace singing from his hymn sheet, the Eagles have the potential to ruffle a few others. A top-half finish with the odd upset over the big boys cannot be ruled out.
BIGGEST DISAPPOINTMENT: MIKEL ARTETA IS NOT THE ONE
Mikel Arteta has faced questions over his job security from fans and pundits alike, yet, the board remain steadfast in support of their manager. Arteta has repeatedly emphasized changing the culture of the club and rebuilding it from the ground up, which has been an encouraging message. However, till now, that message has not been backed by the slightest bit of positive results.
Arsenal will record their worst Premier League finish since 1995 – with the team only able to finish between 8th and 10th with one match to play.
They have also equalled their record for their worst PL season on the road – having won away on only four occasions.
— GOAL (@goal) July 22, 2020
Every hope inducing win is followed by a crushing loss as people remain unconvinced in Arteta’s abilities as a manager. Going into his second full season as Arsenal manager, the Spaniard will have to back his message with results. A stumbling start to the season like last year could turn the mood around the club toxic as Arsenal fans, returning to the stadium after a long absence, are sure to make their feelings known, positive or negative. Judgement time awaits.
Besides the above-mentioned clubs, there is something to look forward to for fans of every club. Can Brighton turn their xG dominance into results? Can Sean Dyche keep defying logic to keep Burnley in the PL? Will Brentford’s ‘Moneyball’ take the PL by storm or it ends in a whimper? Numerous storylines are sure to make this upcoming season a memorable one. So strap on to your seats, because this is going to be a wild ride.