If it feels like we just finished a Premier League season, that’s because we just did. The Covid 19 hiatus pushed the end of the 2019/21 European soccer season deep into the summer, with the usual capstones of the Europa and Champions League finals pushed all the way to the end of August. And now, still under the Project Restart regime of no fans in attendance, the lads of the Premier League kicked off the 2020/21 season Saturday morning when Fulham ended their one year exile to the Championship by hosting the red hot Gunners. Still in the afterglow of their back to back FA Cup and Community Shield victories, Arsenal took care of business with a 3-0 victory behind goals by Lacazette and Aubameyang, as well as a nifty header from a corner kick by big offseason addition Gabriel. Let’s hope that bodes well for the Brazilian after the Gunners last one name defender Sokratis has been a bit of a big stiff.
That means it’s prediction time, who will hoist the fancy Barclay’s trophy? Who will compete for European glory in the Champions League? Who will suffer the indignity of relegation? If past years results are indication it’s certainly not your’s truly, but we will give it a go once again.
The Top Four: Or Top Two and a Pack of Wannabe’s?
- Liverpool (The Champs)
- Manchester City (The Contenders)
- Chelsea (The Big Spenders)
- Manchester United (The Best of the Rest)
Liverpool return the entire squad that ran away with last years title before anyone had ever heard of the Novel coronavirus. 32 wins, three draws and only three losses saw them 18 points ahead of Man City and a staggering 33 points ahead of the rest of the pack. They added some depth over the last two windows, bringing in Greek left back Konstantinos Tsimikas to support the back line and Takumi Minamino from RB Salzburg to join Shaqiri as one of the most dangerous benches in the game.
Manchester City, now that the Lionel Messi drama has been postponed until at least next summer, also return most of their “sent from the future to destroy English Football” attack. Nathan Ake was plucked from just relegated AFC Bournemouth to pair with Aymeric Laporte on the back line, and swift Spaniard Ferran Torres arrived from Valencia to replace Leroy Sane, who joined European Champions Bayern Munich after missing all of last year with a nasty injury.
Barring a repeat of Cty’s bad injury luck last year or a major injury to say Virgil Van Dijk and Mo Salah for Liverpool, these two squads are the clear front runners by a pretty wide margin.
Chelsea sat out the last two transfer windows, the first mandated by their transfer ban, the next a strategic decision. All that cash they hauled in from Real Madrid for Eden Hazard two years ago (a deal Los Blancos are regretting for now, ) has been burning a hole in their pocket and this summer they went on a shopping spree. First it was Ajax star Hakim Zyech, a superstar in his prime ready to explode all over the big leagues. then a swing through Germany to snag the Bundesliga’s #2 goal scorer Timo Werner and Bayern Leverkusen’s wunderkind Kai Havertz. Then to support the defense they picked up PSG legend Thiago Silva and up and coming British fullback Ben Chillwell from Leicester. They join last years Lampard Lads Mason Mount, Tammy Abraham and Christian Pulisic to form the youngest collection of top flight talent in Europe. Only Silva is older than thirty and only Zyech is even north of 25! It may take a season for the parts to gel into a contender but they should be able to secure this spot and close the gap with the top two, and watch out for the Blues in 2021 when the Cup finals and Champions League knockouts are played. There’s enough talent here to steal some silverware this season.
Making fun of Manchester United has been a staple of my soccer writing since the start. But the farther the Jose Mourinho era fades into the rear view mirror the rosier the road forward looks. Ole Gunnar Solskjær’s never going be lauded as a tactical genius, but he’s showing a really useful knack for getting solid players and letting them play. Last winter’s addition of Bruno Fernandes from Sporting CP was a huge factor in the Red Devils overtaking Leicester City to crack the top four as the season closed. He’ll be joined in midfield by another escapee from the rebuilding Ajax squad, Donny Van Der Beek. It’s not as flashy as Chelsea’s spending spree, but the Dutch playmaker may be just the key to start a midfield engine that finally gets the best out of Paul Pogba. If they can add some central defensive muscle before the window closes October 5th they could be ready to make a true top four contest.
Arsenal, Wolves, Leicester City and Tottenham will be vying for the two Europa League spots, and each is capable of surprising us if one of the above teams stumble.
The Bottom Three: The Land of Broken Dreams and Shattered Hopes
19. West Bromwich Albion
18. Newcastle United
Fulham return from a one year exile in the Championship a less flashy side than the one that flamed out in their last oner season trial in the top flight. We’ll do a deeper dive into the Potters tomorrow when we look at the Promoted and Relegated squads. For now they are yet again a playoff winner who a lot of folks think got lucky to be here.
I hope I’m wrong about my Baggies. West Brom have added some attacking players in Callum Robinson, a deal that sent long time tease Oliver Burke to Sheffield United, and Grady Diangana made his loan move permanent. But there are serious questions about whether they have accumulated the talent needed to stay up here.
Newcastle United surprised me last year, but their ownership situation is still in limbo. If they can finally get their books straightened out they should be easily able to stay up, but they could just as easily implode. Aston Villa was a popular choice for this spot after narrowly avoiding relegation on the last day of the 2019/20 season. But they turned a lot of heads when they swooped in and plucked 24 year old striker Ollie Watkins from Brentford. Watkins scored 26 goals in Brentfords failed promotion campaign, whereas the Villains leading scorer last season was midfield talisman Jack Grealish with nine. That could go a long way towards keeping Villa out of the Relegation Zone.
“From our Haus to Yours”