The Premier League is upon us. Craven Cottage will oversee the kick-off of the 2020/21 season, one which is guaranteed to be one of the best yet. Given the current climate, the empty terraces, and a lack of pre-season training, it should make for great viewing…
Last season’s finish: 8th
Head coach: Mikel Arteta
With the club stagnating under Unai Emery and Freddie Ljungberg’s interim time in charge leaving a lot to be desired, the job was always going to be daunting for the man that followed. Enter Mikel Arteta, the former club captain whose appointment was widely questioned, but also brought about marked improvements and the club’s first title in three years.
Having battled back against Chelsea to claim last season’s F.A Cup their momentum has continued into this campaign, edging past Liverpool to win the Community Shield as well as seemingly persuading star-man Pierre-Emerick Aubameyang to commit his long-term future to the club.
Concerns surrounding Willian’s age should be dismissed considering he was signed on a free transfer, the capture of Brazilian centre-half Gabriel Magalhães will provide a boost in defence alongside the returning William Saliba, and the re-signing of Dani Ceballos on loan provides further encouragement for the ‘Gooners’.
Arteta’s intentions are clear, yet it will be interesting to see how the Spaniard copes in his first full season in management. While early indications are positive, the side still seems three or four marquee signings away from competing at the very top.
Last season’s finish: 17th
Head coach: Dean Smith
Having achieved promotion via the play-off the season prior and spending over 140 million pounds in the summer transfer window, last season was a massive disappointment for Aston Villa, narrowly staving off relegation on a frantic final day with a goal from captain Jack Grealish confirming Bournemouth to the Championship.
When looking at an already poor and struggling side, the acquisitions of Matty Cash from Nottingham Forrest and Ollie Watkins from Brentford does little to allay fears of another season filled with desperation and defeat, players signed last summer for high fees such as Wesley and Ezri Konsa failing to make an impact and teams of similar stature to themselves making shrewd investments.
Villa play two of the newly promoted sides in their first five games, where failure to pick up points will land them in early trouble, the pressure on Dean Smith carrying over from last season’s disastrous showing.
Brighton & Hove Albion
Last season’s finish: 15th
Head coach: Graham Potter
Despite losing several key players all hope is not lost for Brighton as they hope to secure survival in this their fourth consecutive season in the English top flight.
Star player Aaron Mooy has departed for China while defenders Martin Montoya and Leon Balogun have also been shipped on, however the arrival of Joel Veltman and former England international Adam Lallana will help fill the void. Manager Graham Potter has also continued to leave his mark on the team with the signings of youngsters Jensen Weir and Lars Dendoncker.
The main worry for the club is undoubtedly the loss of Glenn Murray. Despite only scoring one league goal last season the 36 year old’s experience at the top level may be missed, the only two forwards remaining at the club being Aaron Connolly and Neal Maupay.
While not the most inspiring team on paper, Potter’s men played well in parts last season. Though they could conceivably find themselves among the bottom three, the struggles of other sides and the tidy football of their own should be just enough to save them for at least another season.
Last season’s finish: 10th
Head Coach: Sean Dyche
Perhaps the most uninspiring but effective coach in the division, with possibly the most uninspiring but effective set of players, the job that Sean Dyche has done with Burnley has been nothing short of fantastic. Working with a limited budget he has cemented his side’s position as a Premier league mainstay achieving promotion twice, and while each season seems to bring him closer to an exit, he will stay on for another campaign following a publicised spat with the owners towards the end of last season.
The exit of back-up goalkeeper Joe Hart will do little to damage their hopes of survival (it may even improve them) and the club should not struggle to replace Republic of Ireland international, Jeff Hendrick. Recruitment has not been too strong this summer, but then again under this Burnley board it never usually has. The core of the squad is largely the same as it was when they finished 10th last season – their second highest position achieved under Dyche – and while the coach is clearly not happy, the quality in the team should be more than enough to beat the drop.
Last season’s finish: 4th
Head coach: Frank Lampard
In a transfer window that reminisces their spending spree in 2004, the trust and enthusiasm surrounding Chelsea’s younger players has seemingly been discarded by Frank Lampard the very minute he was given access to the money presented by owner Roman Abramovich.
With a month remaining until deadline day the club has already confirmed the signing of world class attackers Kai Havertz, Timo Werner and Hakim Ziyech, bolstering their attack for the upcoming season as they seek to improve on last season’s fourth placed finish. Yet question marks still remain in defence.
You can not escape the feeling that the 50 million pounds spent on left-back Ben Chilwell stands well above his ability, while the Kepa-sized problem in goal has been given little back up with the signing of untested centre-half Malang Sarr and Thiago Silva, the once domineering defender who worryingly turns 36 in less than two weeks.
In what will surely prove a make or break season for Lampard, a goalkeeper and top centre-half should still be top priority should they have the funds. Should they fail, however, and it is difficult to see much improvement from last campaign, if any at all.
Last season’s finish: 14th
Head coach: Roy Hodgson
Full credit to Roy Hodgson for the results he has squeezed out of a mediocre Crystal Palace side, but when looking at recent seasons a worrying trend emerges. 11th in 2017/18, followed by 12th and 14th respectively. The Eagles were also unnervingly the second lowest goal scorers over the course of the last campaign – bottom of the table Norwich scoring five less – and with Michy Batshuayi the only centre-forward arriving at Selhurst Park, it is difficult to envision how they will improve on last years tally of 31.
That they have managed to retain Wilfried Zaha is nothing short of a miracle and while the signing of the highly sought after Eberechi Eze will provide some attacking spark there is not much else to cheer around South London. With an old squad and an even older manager, the horrendous end to the season following the restart does not bode well with such a quick turnaround. Palace also play Manchester United, Everton and Chelsea across their first four games. Things could get ugly very quickly for Hodgson and company.
Last season’s finish: 12th
Head coach: Carlo Ancelotti
Ah, Everton. Where do I start? Their goalkeeper? No. Defence? Even worse. That their 61-year-old head coach could probably still do a job in their midfield speaks volumes. Where he will fit Allan, Abdoulaye Doucouré and James Rodríguez in the same midfield is also anyone’s guess. Oh well, at least they still have Richarlison.
Last season’s finish: Promotion (via playoff)
Head coach: Scott Parker
Every season has a ‘Fulham’. Norwich last campaign, Fulham themselves before that and West Brom a season earlier. A side so hopelessly out of their depth that they are seemingly destined to go down.
Credit where it is due to Scott Parker, he has done a terrific job since taking over, guiding the club to promotion at the first time of asking. Yet this is where the double-edged sword arises.
The squad is not good enough to compete in the division, while splashing the cash to improve it would likely bring about the same conundrum it did two years ago – and did last year for Villa – and see their eventual relegation prove even more costly.
Parker could work miracles again, but a potential survival seems even more unthinkable than the promotion they achieved five weeks ago.
Last season’s finish: 1st (Championship)
Head coach: Marcelo Bielsa
Viva El Loco. 16 years, 18 managers, hundreds of millions of pounds and countless projects invested into the club in a desperate bid to climb back to the top, yet all it took was one eccentric madman from Rosario to realise their dream.
That the current Leeds squad is precariously walking a tightrope between Premier League fodder and potential top-half dark horses means nothing. Bielsa has stayed on for another campaign having delivered on his promotion promise, and despite not getting their main target in Ben White, German giant Robin Koch and Spanish international Rodrigo Moreno represent a good foray into the summer market.
Couple these signings with an already solid spine of Kiko Casilla, Liam Cooper and Kalvin Phillips, the permanent signing of Helder Costa and season long loan of Jack Harrison, and Bielsa should have no issue keeping Leeds afloat in this their first Premier League campaign since 2003/04.
Last season’s finish: 5th
Head Coach: Brendan Rodgers
That last campaign’s 5th placed finish ultimately proved a disappointment stands testament to the blistering first-half of the season Leicester enjoyed. There was the 8-0 demolition of Southampton, the lauding of their play and the brief moment where it looked as though they were Liverpool’s closest challengers following Manchester City’s numerous slip-ups. Yet following the 4-0 defeat suffered to the eventual champions on Boxing Day it all unravelled for Brendan Rodgers, and with minimal activity in the market, it looks increasingly unlikely that they will reach those dizzying heights again.
Timoty Castagne represents a smart investment from Atalanta, yet it remains to be seen if the versatile full back can replace Ben Chilwell on the left side of their defence. 29 million pounds still remain from the Chilwell fund, meaning where and how it is utilised will likely determine another European push or mid-table mediocrity. The already thin squad coupled with Europa League football has me leaning towards the latter.
Last season’s finish: 1st
Head coach: Jürgen Klopp
Having followed on from their Champions League triumph in 2019 Jürgen Klopp’s Liverpool deservedly claimed last season’s Premier League title, romping to an eventual 18-point success over second-placed Manchester City. And while many would expect the reigning Champions to be favourites to see off any potential challenge, that simply is not the case.
The sense of worry emanating from the club’s own fanbase is striking, the general consensus being that they have not strengthened as they should being the defending champions. Young left-back Konstantinos Tsimikas stands as the sole purchase in a back-up role, although Thiago may yet still arrive. As it stands the club have also not brought in a replacement for Dejan Lovren, with only three recognised senior centre-halves remaining.
With proceedings unravelling overtime at both Mainz and Borussia Dortmund for head coach Klopp, and with two long European runs and gruelling title challenges under their belt, this Liverpool side runs the risk of decaying without fresh faces. Two signings and they would kick-off as favourites, should they make none and they will likely be playing catchup.
Last season’s finish: 2nd
Head coach: Pep Guardiola
While the near-impossible Lionel Messi dream proved just that, Pep Guardiola and Manchester City have shown they mean business this Summer. With the departure of the mercurial Leroy Sané to Bayern Munich and the gaping issue at left-back, the club quickly nailed down the signings of young Spanish winger Ferran Torres as well as versatile Dutch defender Nathan Aké, for a reported combined fee of 68 million euros, as strong links continue between themselves and Napoli powerhouse Kalidou Koulibaly.
The departure of David Silva should also be made easier with the emergence of talented youngster Phil Foden, while stalwarts Kevin De Bruyne, Raheem Sterling and Sergio Agüero all still remain at the club.
While the Champions League remains ever elusive, Guardiola will be desperate to pry the title back from Merseyside. Should they sign a quality centre-half and keep their current one fit – an issue which hampered them so much last campaign – City should secure their third title in four years.
Last season’s finish: 3rd
Head coach: Ole Gunnar Solskjaer
Last season was a strange one for Manchester United, and when reminiscing, probably disappointing. They opened their campaign with a 4-0 thrashing of Frank Lampard’s Chelsea before claiming notable wins home and away to their City neighbours, yet semi-final defeats in the Europa League, F.A Cup and League Cup left a bitter feeling of ‘what if’?
Stumbling towards January the acquisition of Portuguese attacking midfielder Bruno Fernandes injected much needed quality in to Solskjaer’s midfield, eight goals and seven assists in 14 league games an astonishing return. Concerns have arisen with regards new signing Donny Van de Beek as many foresee the coach struggling to find a place for him in the starting line-up.
Regardless, with the club still hot on the heels of Jadon Sancho and with one of the most impactful signings in recent memory gearing up for his first full season in England, hopes are high for Manchester United. It now lies with Solskjaer to repay the faith shown in him and continue to move the club forward.
Last season’s finish: 13th
Head coach: Steve Bruce
Steve Bruce surprised many during his first season in charge at Newcastle, and while this upcoming campaign will not oversee the Saudi-backed takeover that fans longed for, optimism still remains for another season of safety, with last season’s 13th placed finish seen by some as an overachievement.
The lack of a true number nine clearly worried Bruce, the 40 million pound spent on Joelinton last summer arguably the worst of the season, so it will come as a relief that proven Premier League centre forward Callum Wilson has signed on a four year deal. The signings of Ryan Fraser and Jeff Hendrick add further strength.
While not guaranteed safety the relative quality of this Newcastle outfit should be enough to beat the drop. Electric winger Allan Saint-Maximin’s second season should bring about improvement, as Bruce looks to avoid the same fate he suffered at both Birmingham and Hull.
Last season’s finish: 9th
Head coach: Chris Wilder
Promoted in second the season prior and tipped as the bookmaker’s favourite to go straight back down last campaign, Chris Wilder and Sheffield United could not have proved us any more wrong, eventually finishing 9th when it appeared for large portions of the season that a potential push for Europe was on the cards.
Revered in Sheffield for the huge strides he has taken since taking charge, just four years ago he was coaching the team in League One, and when looking at their transfer business, it appears more of the same.
The squad has remained largely intact, forward Callum Robinson departing for West Brom with ready-made replacement Oliver Burke going the other way, as well as the season-long loan of Chelsea and Wales defender Ethan Ampadu.
While ninth seems slightly out of reach for the second season running a mid-table finish remains perfectly acceptable for one of the Premier League’s more neutral friendly clubs. Another drastic overachievement and big clubs may come knocking for Wilder…
Last season’s finish: 11th
Head coach: Ralph Hasenhüttl
In what proved a major turnaround it looked as though Ralph Hasenhüttl may not have survived to see the end of the season. Teetering on the edge following the aforementioned 8-0 annihilation at the hands of Leicester Southampton recovered to not only survive, but eventually finish in a very creditable 11th.
With an already technically efficient squad Hasenhüttl has left his mark on it further with two signings in recent weeks, Young full-back Kyle Walker-Peters on a permanent transfer from Tottenham and energetic Ghanaian midfielder Mohammed Salisu from Real Valladolid. Pierre-Emile Hojbjerg’s departure to Tottenham may prove costly, but his sluggish and slow play may not be missed in the quick and frantic midfield his coach desires.
With last season’s issues well and truly behind them and with the club enjoying a good finish to last season – picking up seven points from a possible final nine – expect major improvements, as Hasenhüttl will have his eyes set firmly on a top-half finish.
Last season’s finish: 6th
Head coach: José Mourinho
Tottenham Hotspur’s season rests solely on one question. Does José Mourinho still have enough hunger and desire burning inside him to compete at this level? When looking at his results last season, one has got to think that he does.
Sat in 14th having won three of their opening 12 games Mourinho took over from Mauricio Pochettino, eventually guiding them to 6th and securing what looked an improbable European berth upon his appointment. Additionally, a league table solely including the 26 games played under Mourinho would have seen the London club finish 4th.
Summer business was concluded early and quickly, Irish international Matt Doherty being snapped up from Wolves in an attempt to solve the Serge Aurier problem at right-back, while Pierre-Emile Hojbjerg will fill the gaping hole beside Giovani Lo Celso in midfield. The signing of Joe Hart is baffling at first, but one must remember the coach needs a ready made excuse when he bows out of the cup competitions.
With a solid and experienced defensive spine and incisive front three of Harry Kane, Lucas Moura and Heung-Min Son, a top four finish will undoubtedly be Mourinho’s chief aim for the season as he aims to deliver Spurs their first title in over 12 years.
West Bromwich Albion
Last season’s finish: 2nd (Championship)
Head coach: Slaven Bilić
Despite their title challenge ultimately fading following football’s restart optimism remains around the Hawthorns, hopes running high under head coach Slaven Bilić who steered the club back to the Premier League in his first season at the helm.
The loss of Chris Brunt will undoubtedly serve as a blow to the dressing room with his 13 year spell at the club coming to an end, though the arrival of Callum Robinson and permanent signing of Matheus Pereira will boost their chances of seeing off immediate relegation.
While it would be a surprise if West Brom survived comfortably the squad available and Premier League experience already under the belt of their head coach should be enough. Saying this they could quite easily finish bottom, but expect Bilić to extract every last ounce of quality the players have to give, as he looks to rebuild his reputation following back-to-back dismissals with West Ham and Al-ittihad.
Last season’s finish: 16th
Head coach: David Moyes
West Ham appear to be in the same boat as Bournemouth at the beginning of last season. Steady decline and poor recruitment have got the club clinging on to their Premier League status, and having threatened relegation over the last several seasons one senses that their incompetence will eventually catch up on them. Whether that occurs this season or not remains to be seen.
Surviving by a hair’s breadth last campaign and with no marquee signing to speak of – Czech holding midfielder Tomáš Souček their only signing to date – there remains an ominous feeling at the London Stadium.
Keeping hold of Jarrod Bowen has been important yet a feeling of over-reliance emerges when looking at the rest of the team. Playmakers of the quality of Manuel Lanzini and Jack Wilshere should ease the burden yet have struggled with fitness, while Pablo Fornals has been a tremendous disappointment since his transfer from Villarreal.
In the dugout remains David Moyes, and while his brand of football is not the easiest on the eye his solid track record and almost unchallengeable Premier League experience will be desperately needed. It would be no surprise should he fail to see out the season, but with some clubs looking a little worse for wear he should keep them up. Just.
Last season’s finish: 7th
Head Coach: Nuno Espírito Santo
Having finished seventh in their maiden top-flight season under head coach Nuno Espírito Santo, the feat was even more impressive last campaign having achieved it yet again, this time with the added nuisance of Europa League football. With no European distractions this season all eyes are on Wolves as they dream of a potential Champions League place.
The loss of right-back Matt Doherty will undoubtedly hamper their plans, the loss compounded even more with the lack of a true replacement. It appears Espírito Santo has signed natural left-back Fernando Marçal to compete for the position with Johnny. However, the main piece of transfer business for the club, the 40-million-pound deal for Portuguese starlet Fábio Silva, will undoubtedly turn heads. Touted by many in Portugal as the heir to Ronaldo’s throne, the 18-year-old arrives in England with a big price tag, but perhaps even bigger expectations. No pressure, then.
Too good for the majority but not yet good enough to break in to the top six Wolves have cemented their status at ‘best of the rest’. It appears it is only a matter of time before a big club swoops in for their beloved coach. A trifecta of seventh placed finishes will do little to deter their interest.
Words by Robert Barter – @RobertBarter16
Graphics – Sam Ingram – @SamIngram_