The Premier League is just round the corner with newly promoted Brentford making their debut in the league on Friday night when they host Arsenal at the Brentford Community Stadium.
This season can only be better than the dour affair that was the 2020/21 campaign.
Between Manchester City running away with the league as a result of exceptional performances and results as well as the lack of a true challenger, and relegation being sealed long before the final day, the less said about last season, the better.
However, there is only one reason why it was the worst in the history of the Premier League. It’s the same reason why the upcoming 9 months can only beat what came before it. Supporters are finally back in stadiums after a 16 month wait.
With their return, the soul of ‘The Beautiful Game’ will finally return also.
Like any pre-season, there has been transfers, managerial changes and dramas across England’s top flight.
It will be a defining season for many clubs and managers. Here, we take a look at how all 20 teams will fare.
Arsenal – Predicted finish: 7th
Mikel Arteta embarks on his second full season in charge of the Gunners as a man under immense pressure from an expectant fanbase.
The Spaniard took over from Unai Emery midway through the 2019/2020 season and was widely celebrated for delivering another FA Cup to the North Londoner’s trophy cabinet when they defeated Manchester City and then Chelsea at Wembley.
A Community Shield victory over Liverpool to begin last season added to his reputation, but that is as good as it has got for the former Everton and Arsenal midfielder.
A deflating 8th place finish last term on top of a bruising Europa League semi-final defeat to, of all teams, Unai Emery’s Villareal, left a sour taste in the mouth as the Gunners find themselves out of European competition for the first time in 26 years.
That may be for the better, however, as a squad not fit for the rigors of European football will be able to concentrate solely on the league on a week-by-week basis.
New £50 million signing Ben White will improve a defence that has plagued the club for close to two decades now.
Despite that, youngsters Bukayo Saka and Emile Smith-Rowe may have to be the heartbeat of a poor Arsenal team yet again.
If they can sign their biggest summer target James Maddison and Aubameyang and Lacazette can retrieve their goalscoring touch, Arsenal might challenge and maybe even break into the top four if other team’s falter.
However, a dodgy defence and ultimately untrustworthy goalkeeper will for the umpteenth time be their Achilles heel.
Mid table obscurity awaits again for a club who should be talking about winning the biggest competitions year-in, year-out, rather than merely discussing their shortcomings that mean they won’t be qualifying for them, let alone challenging.
It’s a long way back for Arsenal.
Aston Villa – Predicted finish: 8th
They’ve lost their talisman Jack Grealish, but Aston Villa are in their healthiest position on and off the pitch since Martin O’Neill was in the hot seat at Villa Park.
On their return to the Premier League in 2019, the Villains survived by the skin of their teeth on the last day of the season.
Their second campaign was far more impressive. Shrewd signings such as Ollie Watkins, Emiliano Martinez and Bertrand Traore to name a few allowed Villa to eradicate their goalkeeping and defensive issues while adding some flair and a clinical nature to their attack.
Danny Ings has to be one of the best additions any club has made this summer. A proven Premier League goalscorer is hard to find, but with the former Liverpool and Southampton forward leading the line, they have a man who will almost certainly get into double digits at worst.
Emiliano Buendia and Leon Bailey bulk up their attacking options and may allow Dean Smith’s side to vary their game. With Bailey, Watkins, Ings and Traore, they have attackers who will strike fear into the heart of most defences across the league. They can play on the counter attack or dictate games, depending on the opposition they face.
Axel Tuanzebe on loan from Manchester United is another decent incoming while the experienced and returning Ashley Young is the type of signing that would suggest that Dean Smith is nearing the completion of his rebuilding project. His know-how may be key.
Expect Villa to challenge for Europe this season. Improvements will be made but they will just about come up short in their efforts to break into the top 7.
Brentford – Predicted finish: 20th
This will be too tough a challenge for Brentford. Simple as that.
They have been sensational under Thomas Frank over the last two years and more than deservedly went up last year after a play-off final defeat of Swansea.
It is exciting times for the Bees. They’ve recently moved into their new stadium after finally leaving Griffin Park behind, while they have a young manager who gets the absolute best out of a squad that has been expertly built with limited resources.
A lot of their hopes will fall on striker Ivan Toney who propelled them to the Premier League last season with 33 goals. Unfortunately, you get the feeling that the jump up may be too much for him to easily adapt to straight away. That’s not to say that he is not a Premier League quality centre-forward. However, it is not uncommon for strikers who blossomed in the Championship to find the Premier League difficult upon their arrival.
If he doesn’t score frequently, they don’t stand a chance in this league.
Avoiding relegation will be tasking for this squad. It looks like they may be heading straight back down to the Championship.
Brighton – Predicted finish: 16th
Brighton must be the most uninspiring team in England’s top flight.
The Seagulls are about to embark on their fifth season in the Premier League. And while English pundits will continue to herald Graham Potter as the second coming of Pep Guardiola, the truth is that they are a toothless side who don’t play entertaining football like may proponents of Potter’s style will suggest.
Rather, they pass without purpose a lot of the time and are in fact one of the most boring teams to watch in the division for a neutral supporter.
This will be Potter’s third campaign at the helm on the south coast. Surely, a level of criticism will have to come his way if Brighton once again find themselves embroiled in a relegation race.
Chris Hughton took this club from the bottom of the Championship to two successive seasons in the Premier League in a short period of time. For that, he was sacked.
Potter, on the other hand, took over a club that had a solid foundation in place thanks to the work done by Hughton. All he has done is avoid relegation, in part because some of the worst teams the Premier League has ever seen were in the league over the last two seasons. The fact that he has done it in a supposedly more attractive way should not leave him with as much credit in the bank as the Englishman seems to have.
They’ll flirt with the bottom three before a strong finish will see them retain their place in the league. Brighton fans do need to start asking the question though: Is that good enough considering the level of investment in this squad?
Burnley – Predicted finish: 14th
Here is an English manager who gets nowhere near the level of respect that he deserves. Again, style is a big reason for this.
The job Sean Dyche has done and will continue to do at Burnley is absolutely astonishing.
He has almost nothing to work with financially in comparison to other managers, but you rarely hear him moan about the circumstances that he has to work under.
This will be their 6th consecutive season in the top flight and their 7th season in the Premier League out of the last 8. In that time, they have qualified for Europe and rarely, if ever, looked as though they would be going down near the end of the season.
Burnley will not be relegated. That in itself is remarkable.
The biggest compliment you can pay this manager is this – On an individual basis, Burnley have one of the weakest squads in the Premier League. As a collective, they are one of the strongest.
That is a testament to the job Dyche has done at Turf Moor and if he were to ever leave the club, their days in the Premier League would be numbered.
Chelsea – Predicted finish: 1st
We think the European champions will add to their continental success by ending their wait for the Premier League title this season.
With Romelu Lukaku returning to Stamford Bridge, you get the feeling that they have the most complete squad in the league, if not in Europe.
Every position is covered twice or sometimes even three times over with top quality players. Their defensive options are the envy of Europe and were the backbone of their Champions League run last season.
The Blues also have a decent blend of players in midfield and attacking options that create plenty of chances. Those chances will more often than not be converted to goals when the prolific Belgian Lukaku lines out for the club that originally brought him to England ten years ago.
Their manager has drilled the players to such a high standard as to how to implement his 3-4-3 formation that nobody has been able to unsettle since the German arrived in London.
A sturdy defence, a top-class striker and a manager that is rightfully hot property could be enough to reign in yet another era of dominance for Chelsea.
Crystal Palace – Predicted finish:19th
The only way Crystal Palace’s near decade stay in the most illustrious league in the world will not come to an end in May is if one of Sam Allardyce or Roy Hodgson make a return to the club.
Because while they may have one of the greatest players in Premier League history in the hot seat now, Patrick Viera’s managerial career has not been as stellar as his playing days.
A disappointing spell at Nice was followed by an equally limp display at New York City. There is no denying that the Frenchman has got the job due to the reputation he built as a player rather than that of his performance as a coach.
He will struggle with a squad that is ageing and lacking in leaders. They lost the experience of Gary Cahill and Mamadou Sakho on free transfers while Andros Townsend has signed for Everton.
No notable signings means that they will once again rely on the mercurial Wilfried Zaha to keep them from the drop.
The appointment of Viera is reminiscent of Frank De Boer’s brief time at Selhurst Park back in 2017. If it starts badly, he could find himself out of a job and with a severely tarnished reputation.
Irrespective of the length of Viera’s stay, this Palace squad has not been good enough for quite some time and this season that may finally catch up with the Eagles.
Everton – Predicted finish: 11th
Where are Everton going?
They’ve hired a manager who is adored by their biggest rivals’ fans. Furthermore, said manager has called his new club a “small club” whilst in charge of Liverpool.
The Evertonians are rightfully reluctant to welcome Rafa Benitez with open arms and while the Spanish tactician is one of the great managers of his generation, he should never have been given the top job at Goodison Park.
There is too much history there and if he doesn’t start exceptionally fast, his spell with the Toffees will be doomed for failure very quickly.
That fast start looks unlikely considering their recruitment this summer. In desperate need of a top-class centre forward and an equally capable central defender, Everton have decided to bring in Andros Townsend on a free, Leicester outcast Demarai Gray and goalkeeping cover in the form of Asmir Begovic.
They are a club who have lost their identity and will not return to their place near the top end of the table until the whole club starts pulling in the same direction.
There is no sign of that happening anytime soon and yet another season of nothingness awaits the Goodison faithful.
Leeds – Predicted finish: 9th
There really is not an awful lot to say about Leeds.
They have a manager who has done a supreme job with a squad of players who are really tight knit.
They were the neutrals favourites upon their long-awaited return to the Premier League last season and there’s no reason to believe that they won’t be as entertaining this time around.
Second season syndrome is always a legitimate concern for all clubs but the intensity in which they play means they will constantly be on their game, particularly once a raucous Elland Road creates an atmosphere that was the only missing ingredient for Bielsa’s men throughout the course of a great season.
They will take some scalps and be nowhere near relegation. If they can somehow keep Bielsa for the next number of years, maybe Leeds supporters can even dream of marching on together into Europe sometime in the not-too-distant future.
Leicester – Predicted finish: 6th
The job Brendan Rodgers has done at Leicester has been in some ways better than that of Claudio Ranieri.
While the 2015/16 title winning campaign will never be matched, it was the proverbial ‘flash in the pan’ as Leicester reverted to type.
That was until the appointment of Rodgers in 2019. Two consecutive 5th placed finishes, considered a disappointment by many due to their position of control in those lucrative top 4 positions for the majority of both campaigns, goes to show how far they have come under the Northern Irishman.
An FA Cup win last May will live long in the memory for Foxes supporters but finally breaking into the Champions League will be the aim this year.
While we don’t think they will do it in the league due to the financial muscle of last season’s top 4, keep an eye out for Rodger’s men in the Europa League. They are made for European football with their counter attacking style and don’t be surprised if it is third time lucky for Leicester in their pursuit of entry into Europe’s premier competition. However, another trophy may well be on the cards when they do so.
Liverpool – Predicted finish: 2nd
Liverpool are going into this season somewhat under the radar.
They haven’t made any huge signings unlike their respective title rivals, and they seem to have just gone about their business in pre-season without any drama.
While many felt that they needed to add to their squad, Jurgen Klopp will know what he has at his disposal could be more than enough to challenge for major honours come May.
It is nearly the exact same squad that won the Champions League in 2019 before ending 30 years of hurt when they lifted the Premier League trophy in 2020. The only exception to those squads is Gini Wijnaldum has left for Paris but Diogo Jota, Ibrahima Konate and Thiago Alcantara are now all key members of the Reds’ team.
Those three players along with the return of Liverpool’s most important player in Virgil Van Dijk and his centre back partner Joe Gomez means they have a squad that could last the distance.
While they may come up short domestically, much like Leicester, expect a good run from the 6-time champions in the Champions League where the return of fans to Anfield may be a crucial component for another memorable run that we think will end with the European Cup returning to Merseyside for the 7th time.
Manchester United – Predicted finish: 4th
This will be the defining campaign for Ole Gunnar Solskjaer at Manchester United.
The Norwegian is about to embark on his third full season in charge of what is to many the single biggest football club in the world. There is no denying that he has settled the club during his three year spell at United, solidifying their place in the Champions League positions while also consistently challenging for cup competitions.
When you consider how dark a place they were in when Solskjaer replaced Jose Mourinho at Old Trafford, his rebuilding project has gone to plan with considerable and tangible improvement year-on-year.
However, the next step is to finally get United back as serious contenders for the Premier League and Champions League. That is the hardest step and has to occur this season.
The Chelsea, Manchester City and Liverpool squads have all been involved in challenging and winning the big competitions in recent times. They know what it takes. United, on the other hand, have been nothing short of abysmal in crunch ties, none more so than in last season’s Europa League final defeat to Villareal.
‘The Baby-Faced Assassin’ will have to be cold and brutal with players this season. They need to start early and sustain a high level throughout the course of the season. New signings Raphael Varane and Jadon Sancho certainly improve their chances of being in a position to win the title in the closing stages of the season, but United’s forward line in particular would suggest that they may have a better chance in one-off games in Europe rather than over the course of a 38-game campaign.
Minimum requirement for United is to challenge for the Premier League, Champions League quarter-finals and a domestic cup that will finally bring the first trophy of the Solskjaer era to the Old Trafford faithful.
Anything less, a fifth manager in the post-Ferguson era may come sooner rather than later.
Manchester City – Predicted finish: 3rd*
As the champions go in search of their fourth title in five years, something seems a bit flat in the City camp.
They have lost their best goalscorer in Sergio Aguero and while the £100 million signing of Jack Grealish from Aston Villa improves the squad, you do wonder if City needed another attacking player of that ilk.
Their Champions League final defeat to Chelsea in June was about as deflating a defeat as you are going to see. That is the ultimate goal for Pep Guardiola and the City owners, and they once again flattered to deceive in the biggest club competition there is.
Murmurs of unrest amongst talented fringe players such as Bernardo Silva, Aymeric Laporte and Raheem Sterling does not help the mood in the camp either and if they don’t begin the season strongly, they may not be able to come from behind as easily as they did after a slow start last term.
They have the squad to retain their title, but whether they have the hunger to go again remains to be seen. Their opening day trip to Spurs may go a long way to telling us whether Pep’s boys will be dethroned this season.
*If Manchester City sign Harry Kane, they will win the Premier League.
Newcastle – Predicted finish: 15th
What can you say about Newcastle?
Minimal investment, an owner that doesn’t care but refuses to sell, a manager that no other club in the Premier League would allow entry into their stadium let alone run the first team and a squad of players that is about as inspiring as a bowl of cold turnip soup.
If ever a fanbase was deserving of a team that accurately represents the area, it would surely be the Toon Army.
Passion, fire, dedication as well as flair and ambition. You rarely see these characteristics in the 2021 version of Newcastle, but, they will inevitably stay up for two reasons.
Firstly, in Callum Wilson and new signing Joe Willock, they have something that is so precious near the bottom of the table: goals.
The other reason for their stay of execution is the fact that there are at least three worse teams than them in the division.
Avoiding relegation is nowhere near good enough for a club the size of Newcastle, however. They need total reform at a club that has been dormant for what feels like an eternity.
A season of little to look forward to is in store for the Geordies.
Norwich – Predicted finish: 18th
Daniel Farke has done an admirable job with the Canaries on shoe-string budget.
Despite that, the squad and investment quite simply are not there to extend their stay in the top flight.
If they can learn from their solitary season back in the league in 2019/20 and cut out silly individual errors, they may have a chance.
The loss of star man Emiliano Buendia to Aston Villa could prove costly and while Scottish youngster Billy Gilmour is an impressive coup on loan for the season, they just don’t have the solid defence that other successful teams have. On top of that, they don’t have enough firepower in the final third of the pitch and will ultimately succumb to superior opposition as the season progresses.
If they can somehow get 15 points from their first 10 games, they will lay a foundation in place to get to the 40-point mark. Start poorly, and you fear the worst for Farke’s men.
Southampton – Predicted finish: 13th
Southampton are a club that have progressively regressed over the last five years.
From challenging for Europe under Mauricio Pochettino and Ronald Koeman, the Saints have been pulled into relegation fights more often than not since the now Barcelona coach left St. Mary’s in 2016.
They have a young manager in Ralph Hasenhuttl who has overachieved with an average squad since he was appointed in 2019.
Consistent midtable finishes have been respectable for the south coast club but they have stagnated, and the loss of Danny Ings may send them closer to the drop.
They should have enough to make their 10th consecutive season in the Premier League one without relegation, but you worry for the Saints that the trapdoor is looming around the corner.
Tottenham Hotspur – Predicted finish: 5th
It has been, well, a Spursy summer for Tottenham.
They tried to woo former Premier League winning manager Antonio Conte to North London as a replacement for Jose Mourinho. To make a long story short, they were kidding themselves with that one from the start.
They then attempted to bring the man Mourinho replaced at Roma, Paulo Fonseca, to the Tottenham Hotspur Stadium. Question marks should be raised when you look to a manager who was sacked for someone who you recently had considered to not be up for the job at your own club. They eventually had to scrap the idea of Fonseca due to tax issues for the 48-year-old. You really couldn’t make it up.
They may have landed on their feet, however, as they settled on the capable if not awe-inspiring hands of Nuno Espirito Santo. The former Wolves man is a prudent and pragmatic taskmaster who may be able to set up a talented team adequately enough to sustain a push for the European spots.
They still have some of the best attackers in the league with Harry Kane and Heung-Min Son, and if he can get Dele Alli back onside, they may not be as far off as people think.
Three at the back could work for a team who are shy on top quality central defenders. Reguilon and Doherty at wing-back is a recipe for success and the aforementioned forwards are up there with the best in the league.
They may not be good enough to make the top 4, but Spurs might just be able to have a good season if Nuno can work his magic.
Watford – Predicted finish: 17th
The Hornets return to the Premier League after a season in the Championship and they are somewhat coming in without any talk or hype.
Whereas all the attention is on new boys Brentford and Norwich, Xisco’s side are going about their business smoothly.
They have a tough but winnable first game at home to Aston Villa on Saturday. Like all teams, but specifically promoted teams, a fast start will be crucial.
They have recent Premier League experience and should have enough to stay in the league, but only just.
West Ham – Predicted finish: 10th
David Moyes has been a miracle worker at West Ham.
He returned to the club in the 2019/20 season and kept them up after an abysmal start to that season. That was followed by a 6th place finish last term as the Hammers remained remarkably consistent from start to finish.
However, there is no denying that they were punching above their weight for the entirety of the campaign and expectations will have to be lowered accordingly.
Moreover, they have not made any signings as of yet that will enhance their starting 11 and they have extra games to cope with due to their European exploits.
If they remain patient, Hammers fans will bear the fruits of Moyes’ work in the coming years. That may not be this year though as a frustrating season may lie in store for the side from the East End of London.
Wolves – Predicted finish: 12th
There are a whole host of clubs around the middle of the Premier League that won’t attract the attention of any neutrals. To say Wolves are one of them would be an understatement.
In their first two seasons back in the top flight they were a breath of fresh air, taking points off the biggest teams in the league and finishing 7th two seasons on the bounce.
They have become very flat, however, and there is a feeling that they will not be able to scale those heights again due to a lack of shrewd recruitment.
Persisting with Portuguese players worked originally, but much like football itself, you have to vary up your recruitment at times in order to assemble a squad who can climb the league.
That has not happened this summer and another season of midtable obscurity awaits the team from the Black Country.
Predicted Premier League table:
1st – Chelsea
2nd – Liverpool
3rd – Manchester City
4th – Manchester United
5th – Tottenham Hotspur
6th – Leicester City
7th – Arsenal
8th – Aston Villa
9th – Leeds United
10th – West Ham United
11th – Everton
12th – Wolves
13th – Southampton
14th – Burnley
15th – Newcastle
16th – Brighton
17th – Watford
18th – Norwich
19th – Crystal Palace
20th – Brentford
Predicted Champions League winners:
Predcited Europa League winners:
Predicted Carabao Cup winners:
Predicted FA Cup winners:
Predicted teams to promote from the Championship:
Fulham, Middlesbrough and Blackburn Rovers