After 48 days away, the Premier League is officially back!
Last time out, Liverpool were crowned champions for the first time since 1990 after a record-breaking season saw Jurgen Klopp’s side mathematically secure the title with seven games to spare. Manchester City were their closest challengers but finished 18 points behind, while Manchester United pipped Chelsea to third place on the final day of the season. Leicester City and Tottenham rounded out the Top 6 as Wolves just missed out and Arsenal recorded their worst finish since the 94/95 season.
This time around some squads have improved and some have got rid of deadwood, while others have done nothing yet. So who will finish in the top 6 this time around? I’m going to make my predictions here, taking into account business that is expected to happen before the window closes.
Likely line-up: Lloris; Doherty, Sanchez, Dier, Davies; Sissoko, Højbjerg; Bergwijn, Alli, Son; Kane
They finished 6th last season and I don’t think they’ve improved enough to do better this season. Matt Doherty has come in at right-back while Pierre-Emile Højbjerg signed from Southampton in central midfield. While the club are yet to sell anyone from the first-team, it is expected that Danny Rose and Serge Aurier will leave. The club released Jan Vertonghen at the end of last season and haven’t replaced him, instead opting to move Dier to defence permanently. Spurs have a good squad and with Mourinho in charge from the start of the campaign they will know exactly what he expects. The issue however is that cracks seemingly began to show towards the end of the campaign. There is still no back-up striker for Harry Kane and they are still struggling for depth at full-back should Aurier leave. In midfield they have good quality depth with players like Lo Celso, Winks and Lucas all likely to be in and out of the team. If the club end up keeping Tanguy Ndombele and he can put his differences with Jose Mourinho aside, they have a real top tier midfielder in the squad too.
Overall, I think it’s more a case of they haven’t improved where their rivals have and that is why I see them falling behind, however I do expect them to do really well in the cup competitions.
Likely line-up: Leno; Gabriel, Luiz, Saliba; Bellerin, Xhaka, Ceballos, Tierney; Pepe, Aubameyang, Willian
A greatly improved Gunners outfit are coming into the new season riding a huge wave of momentum following their FA Cup and Community Shield wins at Wembley in August. Since Mikel Arteta has come in, the club have looked more steady on and off the pitch and that has shown with his promotion from ‘head coach’ to ‘first-team manager’ just before the season starts. The club have been heavily linked with a central midfielder during this window, with Thomas Partey and Houssem Aouar both targets. The issue they’ve had is money, something I don’t see changing before the window closes. With captain Pierre-Emerick Aubameyang signing a new three-year contract at the club, his future is now secure. Arsenal look the most dangerous and secure they have done in several years and that will be dangerous for other teams. Arteta is trusting his squad with the likes of Maitland-Niles, Rob Holding, Bukayo Saka, Eddie Nketiah and Emile Smith-Rowe all likely to be included in the first-team picture going forward. The issue for Arsenal may be that defensively, they’re still not solid. Gabriel Magalhaes and William Saliba will be making their first appearances for the club and with Mustafi, Mari and Holding all competing for a centre-back spot alongside David Luiz they will need to settle quickly to hold onto their spot. If they don’t, they’ll either be playing struggling defenders or reverting back to the defenders that were deemed not quite good enough. They also lack goals if Aubameyang is to get injured or lose form, a load Lacazette hasn’t convinced me he’s able to carry during his time in England so far.
Overall, they’re a much better outfit than they were last season but this year may just come slightly too early for their Champions League ambitions.
Likely line-up: De Gea; Wan-Bissaka, Lindelof, Maguire, Shaw; Van De Beek, Pogba; Sancho, Fernandes, Rashford; Martial
It’s tough to decide on Manchester United right now considering most of their business is still up in the air. The club have been heavily linked with Jadon Sancho all summer and while a deal isn’t done, there are reports there has been progress in the last couple of days. Prior to that, he wouldn’t have been included in my potential line-ups. The club have made just one signing so far, with Donny Van De Beek adding depth to their midfield, while nobody from the first-team has left the club yet. As it stands though, defensively they’re not quite good enough. David De Gea’s form continues to dip but with Dean Henderson returning from his loan away, he now has serious competition. At centre-back, Lindelof is still not of the required level and there are question marks over Harry Maguire too while both full-backs aren’t good enough going forward. That leaves a massive burden on the attackers to provide goals and we saw that the depth outside of their starting attackers is poor. Mason Greenwood is a great alternative across the front-line but beyond him the drop in quality is a real issue for them. If Solskjær can make everything click then they should be able to close the gap on second from last season but I’m still not entirely convinced by the manager and I think they got away with the poor standard of opposition last year to secure their position.
Overall, United have improved but not enough to get them out of a race for the top 4. They still have some gaping holes in their side that unless they’re addressed before the window closes, I think they’ll be lucky to finish above fourth.
Likely line-up: Mendy; James, Zouma, Thiago Silva, Chilwell; Kante, Kovacic; Ziyech, Havertz, Pulisic; Werner
It’s been all change at Chelsea this summer. Frank Lampard is still there, but he has made SEVEN signings so far during this transfer window and they’re almost all likely to be first-team regulars this season. In goal, Kepa Arrizabalaga has been replaced by Edouard Mendy, while Thiago Silva and Ben Chilwell have both joined in defence. They’ve also added Hakim Ziyech, Timo Werner and Kai Havertz to their attack. They signed young defender Malang Sarr too, but he will go out on loan. They have let Michy Batshuayi, Willian and Pedro leave the club, while they are also open to the departures of Emerson, Davide Zappacosta, Danny Drinkwater and Tiemoue Bakayoko. With the way Chelsea played last season, they have greatly improved all the areas they had issues in last year, with the exception of holding midfield. They now have a proven goalscorer up front, goalscoring support from midfield, a pure creator on the wings, a leader at centre-back and a left-back who is good going in both directions. With the addition of Reece James more regularly plus the depth of previous starters like Mason Mount, Ross Barkley, Callum Hudson-Odoi, Tammy Abraham and Antonio Rudiger dropping to the bench they are a much scarier outfit this time around. I don’t expect them to win the title this year, but I think we’ll have a proper title race again this year and while they’ll be involved for the most part, they’ll eventually fall away towards the end of the season.
Overall, they’re better than last year and with Lampard now having greater tools to work with to play the type of football he demands he has no excuses. I think he’s a good manager and he’ll be able to meet expectations of at least a push towards the title and a good run in Europe.
Likely line-up: Alisson; Alexander-Arnold, Gomez, Van Dijk, Robertson; Fabinho, Henderson, Wijnaldum; Salah, Firmino, Mane
It’s rare that when a team wins the league by 18 points and then aren’t favourites for the following season. But it’s also rare that a team wins the league then doesn’t improve their team. Liverpool have let Dejan Lovren leave the club to join Zenit St Petersburg, while they have signed Greek full-back Kostas Tsimikas to provide cover for Robertson. While they’re obviously a brilliant side and it’s hard to judge due to the circumstances, they weren’t very good post lockdown. That may be down to the fact the league was essentially already sewn up or that teams have started figuring them out. They looked stale in the Community Shield against Arsenal, but again that could be the lack of fitness as it was their first real game back for the new season. With the same team playing week in and week out, I feel they won’t be as good as they were over the last two seasons. The midfield are all a year older and their style is to run a lot. With the packed schedule added onto that, they could struggle to maintain the consistency they found last year especially. They have been heavily linked with Bayern midfielder Thiago Alcantara but they are so far refusing to match the asking price of €30 million. If they were to sign him, the talk is that Gini Wijnaldum would then join Barcelona. If that happened, the added quality in the side and change of style that would come with that transfer could be enough to help them retain the title. At the moment though, with the deal looking unlikely I think they’ll miss out.
Overall, Liverpool are still a huge threat and a great side but the great Sir Alex Ferguson once said that a team that doesn’t progress goes backwards. That’s the fear for this Liverpool side, especially with the improvements that teams around them have made. They’ll be there or thereabouts but I think ultimately they will fall just short come the end of the season.
Likely line-up: Ederson; Cancelo, Koulibaly, Laporte, Ake; Rodri, De Bruyne, Bernardo; Mahrez, Aguero, Sterling
After dominating for two seasons, Manchester City were effectively knocked down a peg or two last season by Liverpool. They won the League Cup in February but then came second in the league, were knocked out of the FA Cup by Arsenal and knocked out of the Champions League by Lyon. The squad was getting stale and needed improvements desperately. As expected, Pep Guardiola and the Man City board have delivered. Nathan Ake has come into the defence and Ferran Torres has stepped in to replace the outgoing Leroy Sane in attack. It’s expected that Kalidou Koulibaly will join from Napoli in a £75million deal and that could be the signing that takes them back over the line to become champions again. With a solid, consistent partner next to Laporte at centre-back they will be confident in playing out from the back but also having protection to guard against the counter. In midfield, Bernardo Silva will be able to move into his more effective central role following the departure of David Silva, while Phil Foden showed post-lockdown that he is ready to enter the first-team picture on a much more regular basis this season. The one thing they may struggle with is up front, as Aguero suffers more and more with injuries and is now a year older while Gabriel Jesus hasn’t quite shown he is ready to step into that role yet. I think they will rely a bit more heavily on Raheem Sterling for goals this season and it could end up bringing him the golden boot too.
Overall, City are just so strong. They have the most depth in Europe in their squad and with the schedule due to be so packed, it will stand them in great stead. They have goals all over the pitch, a style of play that will help them with the schedule and more quality than anyone else in the league. I think after a close run race, they come out on top for the third time in four seasons.