By Preye Campbell
The Premier League is set for full force on Saturday as the curtain opens for the 2020/21 season.
And as expected, a new season begs for a fresh round of hostilities as clubs will go head to head for 38 games to determine who goes home with the coveted Premier League trophy.
The Premier League trophy is presently resting in Anfield, with Liverpool’s exploits last season seeing them lift their first EPL crown in 30 years. And they did it emphatically- leaving second-placed Manchester City in their wake with an 18 points gap.
Much of the pre-season talks have centered around City boss Pep Guardiola and it remains to be seen whether his team will be ready to knock the Reds off the apex of the table come the end of the 2020/21 season. What I do expect though is for Etihad outfit to at least claim a top-four finish along with Liverpool, Frank Lampard’s Chelsea squad and neighbours Manchester United.
Nothing is guaranteed in football, of course. But just to build-up to the excitement, here is my prediction for the EPL top four teams in 2020/21.
City should still be fixated with disappointment from last season’s campaign. They did eventually tick some of the right boxes, lifting the Carabao Cup and star midfielder Kevin De Bruyne winning the PFA Player of the Season award.
Still, the tactician Guardiola will feel that his team were left undone by a dominant Liverpool side. The problem was not losing the league to the Reds, the problem was in the manner in which it happened. At a point last December, City were well off the pace in the title race and it was only a matter of when and not if Liverpool would win the title. In the end, City surrendered 18 points to Jurgen Klopp’s men.
So far, Guardiola has been able to identify his squad’s weakness, and he immediately completed the signing of Nathan Ake from Bournemouth while strengthening his midfield with the services of Ferran Torres. Another signing could be made in the defence line though, as it is still City’s weakest area. Fernandinho was made to play as a centre-back for the majority of the last campaign after injury to Aymeric Laporte and the concern over the form of the likes of John Stone and Nicolas Otamendi. City shipped in 35 goals last season, two more than Liverpool.
With their defensive frailties though, I expect City to narrowly win the league next season, in another two-way horse race with Liverpool. The attack line is as sharp and ever and the likes of De Bruyne and Raheem Sterling will be expected to continue where they left off last season.
Jurgen Klopp’s men made history last season by clinching a first league title in 30 years. The league win symbolises how strong and mature the team has been in recent years and undoubtedly, this could be the best Liverpool side in the history of the club.
The Reds dominated England last season, losing only three times in a run that involved a 44-game unbeaten streak. That run ended against Watford in February and while the club did show brief signs of losing the tempo after that, they still went on to win the league in emphatic fashion.
I expect Klopp and his team to go all out once more this season, but they just might come short this time around, something that could happen in crucial games. As a mark of all-round talent on the field, the Reds must sign Thiago Alcantara from Bayern Munich. Thiago’s undeniable exploits in midfield could be the sole thing Liverpool need to make the trophy remain at Anfield. Georginio Wijnaldum has been tipped to make a switch to Barcelona, which makes Thiago’s capture all the more important.
Barring any injury in the attack line, the triumvirate of Sadio Mane, Mohammed Salah and Roberto Firmino should be in the mood to bang goals again. January signing Takumi Minamino has shone during pre-season, and he should be ready to complement that line.
Chelsea are currently, in my opinion, having their best ever transfer window. And to be honest, it becomes the opinion of many others as well after watching the club pull off amazing deals for the likes of Hakim Ziyech, Timo Werner, and Kai Havertz. Last season, Chelsea finished fourth with 66 points, which was considered an impressive feat for Frank Lampard given that it was his debut season at the stadium he once called home as a player and also as Chelsea faced a transfer ban. Now, with Lampard getting the players he wants, the expectations are high for his team. Last time out, Chelsea posed question marks in all aspects of the field and now seem to be ready to answer those questions with the transfers made.
The defence was much more shocking, with a major aspect of the 54 goals Chelsea conceded, coming from set-pieces. Goalkeeper Kepa Arrizabalaga, in particular, has been heavily criticized for his displays between the sticks. The Blues are close to signing Rennes keeper Edouard Mendy to add to the quality in the goalkeeping department while the experienced Thiago Silva joined from French champions Paris Saint-Germain to add steel to the defence.
Chelsea scored 69 goals last season and a lot more than that is now expected for the new season. In Werner, the Blues have a proven goalscorer, and he has even been tipped to win the Golden Boot come the end of the season. Willian and Pedro have left the team but the likes of Ziyech, Havertz have come in and together with American ace Christian Pulisic, Chelsea should score goals for fun. While we are excited about the signings, we should know that life in the Premier League may not come smoothly at first, especially in the first few games.
United complete my list of the Premier League’s top four. Ole Gunnar Solksjaer has restored some of the feel-good factor at Old Trafford. With that, a young, exciting squad has arrived. Solksjaer signed Daniel James, Aaron Wan-Bissaka, Harry Maguire last summer and Bruno Fernandes joined in January. All four impressed in their debut season.
United finished third with 66 points and made a return to the UEFA Champions League. United are expected to build on that momentum and possibly win silverware, after falling short in the semi-final spot in the Carabao Cup, FA Cup and UEFA Europa League.
So far, that has been laced with doubts, with the club’s only signing being the £35 million deal for Donny Van De Beek from Dutch side, Ajax. United have been linked with Borussia Dortmund’s right-winger Jadon Sancho throughout the window and the player is seen as one to complete a United attack that scored 66 goals last season- the least of the teams in the top four.
United are yet to meet Dortmund’s valuation of Sancho and supporters have grown thin in patience, as if realising that failure to capture Sancho may be the start of a disappointing campaign. The defence has also been touted for reinforcement. Captain Maguire needs a defensive partner, with Victor Lindelof and Eric Bailly rather disappointing in recent games.
Left-back is another area. The tail end of the season saw Luke Shaw get injured. His deputy Brandon Williams also got injured and even though, he has returned to action for the Red Devils, his performances have been up for criticism. The likes of Sevilla’s Sergio Reguillon and FC Porto’s Alex Telles have been on the radar.
Whatever is decided upon eventually, United know they have that responsibility to make quality signings in the transfer window or risk having the kind of campaign where even a top-four finish will not be guaranteed, talk more winning a trophy.