Premier League 20/21- Season Preview
So the Premier League is back, such as it is. Let’s have a look at who’s going to do what this season.
You’ll be surprised to read that, assuming our species and planet still exist, the league will be won by either Liverpool or Manchester City. Liverpool will fancy their chances of defending their title, and rightly so, but they’ll have to go some to actually do it.
So far they haven’t strengthened their first team, and given the age of their best players, Trent Alexander-Arnold aside, can’t expect much in the way of organic improvement – Mohamed Salah, Sadio Mané and Virgil van Dijk are brilliant, but no longer getting better. Jürgen Klopp will still be hoping that Naby Keita becomes the player they thought he was, and that Takumi Minamino addresses the midfield craft problem that he first tried to solve when almost buying Nabil Fekir two summers ago, or at least offers a viable wide alternative. Otherwise, it’s hard to see them changing too much, and as Roy Keane once said, “The only thing that goes with the flow is a dead fish.”
Klopp, though, is avowedly not that. His team have confidence, power and momentum: they know they can do it, they expect to do it, and believe doing it to be their right. This is the main reason they won so many games last season by the odd goal, but for them to manage similar a second time would be extremely unusual. Their level, particularly in defence, has dropped significantly since the incredible run that effectively made them champions and they play a high-energy style without much strength in depth, an issue intensified by the quick turnaround. As such, the prediction here is for them to finish second, but to have a serious tilt at winning a second Champions League in three years.
Manchester City were extremely disappointing last season, devastating when things were going well but invertebrate when they were not. The return of Aymeric Laporte will make a huge difference to that, and the arrival of Nathan Aké means that he will no longer be partnered by the slapstick of John Stones and the mockumentary of Nicolás Otamendi, as well as restoring Fernandinho to midfield, where he was sorely missed. If their defending is better than disastrous, they will win the league.
Of the rest, Manchester United have easily the best first XI, but unless the title is won by a points tally significantly lower than in the last three seasons, are unlikely to contest it. They have the firepower to win any game regardless of how badly they play in it, are far better than they were at picking through massed defences, and by signing Donny van de Beek have mitigated against their greatest danger: an injury to Bruno Fernandes.
However, they need to strengthen at the back and have not; need a right-winger and refuse to pay for Jadon Sancho; need a high-level midfield sitter and one does not even seem to be on the agenda. Consequently, they need everything to go right for them to challenge, and it will not – but do not be surprised to see them do something in Europe, where no defence will fancy facing their attack. Behind them, Chelsea have spent a terrifying sum of money, yet have somehow failed to address the most glaring hole in their team: its back five. At left-back, Ben Chilwell is better than what they had but still not all that, while Thiago Silva wasn’t especially good even at his best, and he is a long way past that now.
Last season, they also struggled to create chances at certain times, a concern which the arrival of Hakim Ziyech and Kai Havertz ought to address. But it may take them time to settle and time to gel – Ziyech is a beautiful player, but at 27 years-old, settled into a particular style of player in a particular kind of competition, while Havertz needs to ensconce himself in a particular position. And in front of them, Timo Werner is a good player, but whether he will develop into a brilliant player is unclear – he will need to.
The other two sides contesting the top four will be Arsenal and Spurs. Given the reliable fitness of their main goalscorer and their general sense of well-being, the former look a far better bet. They do, though, lack class and guile in midfield, while at the back will be relying on two young centre-backs who are new to the “this league”. As such, a fifth-place finish looks most likely.
Spurs, on the other hand, look interesting in attack with Harry Kane and Heung-min Son supported by Dele Alli and Steven Bergwijn, but look a long way off in midfield and defence. José Mourinho will still have his moments because he remains José Mourinho – who knew that pairing glasses with swearing could be so much telegenic – but the old magic has gone and he has not been furnished with the money to rejuvenate a squad that needed an overhaul when Mauricio Pochettino was still in charge of it.