The 2021/2022 season is upon us. On Friday night Arsenal make the short trip to a full capacity Brentford Community Stadium to face last season’s Championship play-off winners.
The thing that everyone is looking forward to most is fans. Touch wood, Elland Road should be at full capacity throughout the season, and 3,000 Whites fans will be travelling all around the country, to hopefully witness some Man City style miracles.
It would be fair to say that the build up to Leeds’ second season in the Premier League has been tetchy, but a couple of shrewd signings, the development of last season’s under-23s and the improved fitness of last summer’s marquee signings provide plenty of promise.
Apparently, the new season means that here at Through It All Together we need to make some predictions - not much, just the entire league standings from 1 - 20. Simple enough eh?
It’s my first year doing this so, probably fortunately, I have nothing to be thrown back at me. Yet. But I’m sure this time next year I’ll have a look back at this and hang my head in shame.
The first of two newly promoted sides to drop back down at the first time of asking, Watford’s struggles in front of goal last season will likely prove fatal within a relegation scrap. Whilst Norwich (Teemo Pukki) and Brentford’s (Ivan Toney) top-scorers managed 26 and 31 goals respectively, the Hornets top-scorer, Ismaila Sarr, managed just 13.
This will be Xisco Munoz’ first full season at Vicarage Road, and whilst he guided a struggling Watford side to promotion, following his appointment in December 2020, the Spanish managers experience at the highest level has been called into question - previous to Watford, Xisco had only managed Dinamo Tbilisi, and even that had only been for six months.
Top-level experience has been brought through the door, in the form of Danny Rose and Joshua King - the latter of which should help out with the goal problem - and if Sarr can take the step up to the Premier League in his stride, it’ll give Watford a fighting chance.
Steve Bruce will be one of the few involved in football grateful for the exclusion of fans last season. His Newcastle side finished strongly to end the season in 12th, but had the stands of St James’ Park been full then it wouldn’t have been his Newcastle side for long.
The atmosphere around Newcastle can be fractious at the best of times, and with Mike Ashley still looking for a takeover of the club - and looking reluctant to spend his money on a team which he essentially wants rid of - the summer window has been one of stagnation for the Magpies.
As for a lot of sides down the bottom end of the table, keeping key players fit will prove pivotal if Newcastle are to survive. Allan Saint-Maximin only managed 19 starts last season whilst top-scorer Callum Wilson also struggled with some lengthy spells on the sidelines. Newcastle looked markedly better with either / both on the pitch.
Another slog of a season lay ahead for Burnley who, as they have done for the past five seasons since their promotion, will be working arduously towards to 40-point mark.
Sean Dyche’s side will be typically industrious and hard to play against, but a massive gap in quality - especially if key first-team players such as Ben Mee, Dwight McNeil or Chris Wood pick up injuries - will keep Burnley down towards the foot of the table.
I’d be surprised if Burnley make it to May with Dyche still in charge, and his departure mid-season will spark chaos in Lancashire. His astute management has kept them afloat and without him they will surely sink.
As with Newcastle, Burnley’s inactivity in the transfer market is a step back for a club already teetering on the edge.
A woeful relegation campaign back in 2019/2020 will weigh heavy in the minds of Norwich fans, but despite the sale of their main creator in Emi Buendia this summer, there is reason to be optimistic around Carrow Road this season.
A well run club from top to bottom, the Canaries weren’t panicked into bad decisions upon the club’s relegation a couple of years ago, and keeping Daniel Farke at the helm means both he and the players can return to the top tier having learnt what it takes to survive.
Norwich should be much stronger defensively than they were in 19/20, with the likes of Grant Hanley and Tim Krul providing experience at the back. Whilst the loan signing of Billy Gilmour will be a really interesting one to watch.
The football may not be as open as it was two years ago, but for a Norwich side that will certainly be fighting to survive, thats not necessarily a bad thing.
Up via the play-offs, and about to embark on their first ever Premier League season, spirits will undoubtably be high at
Griffin Park the Brentford Community Stadium as they kick-off the 2021/2022 season, against Arsenal.
A positive style of play, (arguably more suited to the Premier League), an effective recruitment policy and Thomas Frank’s ‘no dickheads’ philosophy - although seemingly lost on the manager himself - has cultivated an atmosphere around Brentford that they can thrive in the top-tier.
Keeping Ivan Toney fit and firing will be crucial to Brentford’s success. He bagged 31 league goals last season but the step-up to the Premier League is a big one. Not one to be short of confidence, however, Toney has recently said in an interview that his aim is to win the league.
Graham Potter’s side were one of the most perplexing teams in the league last season. Despite having the 11th best expected-goals in the league (51.6) and the 3rd best expected-goals against (37.7), the Seagulls spent most of the season on the cusp of a relegation scrap and finished the season in 16th.
A positive and expansive style of play was completely offset by the inability to find the net, with Brighton’s top-scorer, Neal Maupay, scoring just eight goals.
The sale of Ben White to Arsenal for £50m should be considered good business, and the £20m spent on Enock Mwepu to strengthen the midfield will stabilise the side. If they fail to use the rest of the White money to invest in a goalscorer, however, it will likely be the same problems, again this season, that keep them from progressing up the table.
14. Crystal Palace
The summer window has seen huge change at Crystal Palace, with Roy Hodgson’s four-year tenure of conservative football over, for better or for worse. Patrick Viera arrived at the start of July and a myriad of promising young players followed.
Marc Guehi, Joachim Andersen and Michael Olise all signed permanent deals whilst Chelsea’s Connor Gallagher joined on loan. And in a process of reducing the average age, out went the likes of Gary Cahill, Andros Townsend, Scott Dann and Mamadou Sakho, all on free transfers.
What this means is that both squad and manager now lack experience, and it will be interesting to see how both can cope with the demands of a Premier League season. We all know how it went last time they tried to branch out with Frank De Boer.
The Premier League definition of blowing hot and cold, Southampton were top of the league for a brief spell in November, and had a place in the top four as late as mid-December. The turn of the year saw them lose eight out of nine games, and by the end of the season they had won just four from twenty-one, dropping to 15th.
They have since lost last season’s top-scorer in Danny Ings, using the £30million to bring in Adam
Armstrong, Roman Perraud and Tino Livramento - the former of which will bare much of Ings’ previous goalscoring responsibility.
A defence which can be so solid has the habit of collapsing entirely, but if the Saints can keep the likes of Jannik Vestergaard and Jan Bednarek fit for the majority of the campaign, as well as keeping hold of the in demand James Ward-Prowse, they should keep well clear of the drop.
A hard prediction in reality, the variables in Wolves’ season make it really tough to draw early conclusions. Bruno Lage is relatively unknown and his only major managerial gig was an underwhelming 17 months at Benfica. The 45 year old will refresh the Wanderers with attacking football, but that will inevitably lead to a vulnerability at the back as he and Wolves try to find the perfect balance.
The return of Raul Jimenez will feel like a new signing at Molineux, and fans of all clubs will hope he can return to his deadly best, bringing the goals that Wolves missed so much last season. The addition of Francisco Trincao on loan from Barcelona will bolster the attack further and Lage will hope that the added competition will bring the best out of Pedro Neto and Adama Traore.
Expect another season of transition for Wolves, who will need some time to adapt to Lage’s methods after starting a season without Santo for the first time since 2017.
11. West Ham
A brilliant 2020/2021 campaign saw David Moyes’ side finish 6th, and qualify for the Europa League, and whilst the European travels will be memorable for the fans, the fixture congestion will prove a hinderance for a thin and vulnerable squad.
Most of all Michael Antonio who, during your average season, is worringly injury prone. But as the only viable centre-forward option, in a side that will regularly be playing midweek and travelling across the continent, the burden is unusually high.
It looks as though Jesse Lingard, who brought life into West Ham upon his arrival on loan, will stay at Manchester United, which will prove a tough blow for Moyes who is a long-time admirer of the midfielder.
All-in-all it looks to be an unmemorable domestic season for the Hammers whose European travels will strongly affect their season.
If summer business was indicative of the season ahead, then Everton fans might want to find something else to do on a weekend. Many Toffees fans were sceptical when Rafa Benitez was announced as Carlo Ancelotti’s replacement, and with all due respect, the arrivals of Demarai Gray and Andros Townsend will have done little to spark the fire.
The former Liverpool boss will be typically pragmatic, and his side typically functional, ultimately providing stability to a club whose spending over the past five years has rivalled that of their top-four superiors.
Dominic Calvert-Lewin will find joy in a side built to get the most of his aerial prowess, whilst fans will be hopeful that Jordan Pickford can carry his Euro 2020 form into the new season.
It won’t be much fun to watch this season for Everton fans, and it doesn’t look like there’ll be any progression up the table.
9. Tottenham Hotspur
Another season of frustrating mediocrity lies ahead at the awe-inspiring Tottenham Hotspur Stadium, built for a future of Champions League football, it will instead be hosting the inaugural Uefa Conference League this season.
A chaotic hunt for a manager befitting of the elite infrastructure lead them to Nuno Espirito Santo (well, after the seven managers they preferred all turned down Daniel Levy down), whilst Kane’s failure to turn up for training - ostensibly to push through a move to Man City, although Kane would argue otherwise - weighs heavy on the club.
It all adds to the pre-existing toxicity at Spurs, whose chairman has done little to excite supporters following on from the European Super League fallout - they were charged £60 to watch the defeat to Aston Villa in May, and the lucky bunch were shoved in the upper tiers so Spurs could keep their sponsorship banners in camera view.
Positives come in the signings of Bryan Gil and Cristian Romero from Sevilla and Atalanta respectively, whilst Heung-Min Son also committed his future to the club last month. Success ultimately lies with the future of Kane, however, and if spurs are to sell so late in the window you have to wonder how they plan to replace him.
8. Aston Villa
Despite losing their talisman, Aston Villa have had the most impressive transfer window in the league. Securing Norwich’s Emi Buendia early on was a shrewd piece of business, whilst the more recent signings of Leon Bailey and Danny Ings have added pace and goals, bringing more balance to a side previously so reliant on one player.
The signings add flair to a strong spine, with the likes of Emiliano Martinez, Ezri Konsa and Tyrone Mings set for another solid season in the Premier League, whilst John McGinn and Douglas Luiz will provide the strength and industry in the centre.
That being said, a player of Grealish’s quality leaving a club so reliant on him has to have an effect. During the previous campaign, Villa’s points-per-game went from 1.8 to 0.94 without him, whilst their goals-per-game dropped from 1.72 to 1.06.
Wether the newly signed trio can make up for that deficit will decide just how high Villa’s ceiling is this season.
A strong end to the 2020/2021 season - the Gunners won their last five - will give hope to an Arsenal side still in transition from a woeful period, but seemingly on the up under Mikel Arteta.
The prominence of Emile Smith-Rowe and Bukayo Saka in the upturn in form will strengthen the optimism around the Emirates further. The two were pivotal in rejuvenating what was a dead-beat and ageing Arsenal side, eventually guiding them into 8th place.
Add to that the signings of Ben White (23) Albert Lokonga (21) and Nuno Tavares (21) and what starts to come together is something Arsenal fans have long-since demanded: identity.
Can the new season can reinvigorate the likes of Pierre-Emerick Aubameyang and Alexandre Lacazette? I’m not so sure, which is why they will ultimately fall some way short of the top-four, but signs of progression are definitely there.
The foxes continued to assert themselves as one of the league’s most promising teams last season, but for the second time in a row, an inconsistent finish saw them drop out of the Champions League places at the death.
It somewhat rightly raised questions about the experience of both squad and manager who, despite being in the top four for 69 out of a possible 76 gameweeks, have failed to qualify for the Champions League in each of the last two seasons.
That being said, the quality within Leicester’s ranks is clearly of the highest level. Add to that another summer of shrewd recruitment - namely Patson Daka and Boubakary Soumare from RB Salzburg and Lille respectively - and Foxes fans have a lot to get excited about.
Wether they can finally bridge the gap between themselves and the established top-four will ultimately boil down to Leicester’s nerve. They have shown that they can maintain a consistent place in the top four, but they need to ensure that consistency plays through to the final day.
5. Leeds United
Fuck it. Why not. I’m going into this season with a blind optimism and I’m fully prepared to have this thrown back at me come May. But Leeds are making Europe.
Following on from last season’s brilliant end, which saw Leeds win their last four, lose one of their last ten and finish ninth, I expect a more settled, more experienced but no less heart-attack-inducing season.
The summer has been one of shrewd business, as opposed to last summer’s more frivolous window, as Victor Orta and Andrea Radrizzani have zoned in on last season’s weak spots and acted accordingly, signing Junior Firpo from Barcelona whilst probing Europe for a central midfielder (TBC).
Added to that, Rodrigo and Raphinha have both had a full pre-season under Bielsa for the first time. Should they hit the ground running, the pair could catapult this Leeds side up the table. Robin Koch and Diego Llorente have settled into West Yorkshire and - touch wood - can keep themselves fit for a good chunk of the season.
If the likes of Kalvin Phillips, Stuart Dallas and Patrick Bamford can continue to perform to the levels they did last season - and I can’t see any reason why not - then this squad has the quality to break up the so called ‘big-six’.
Again, feel free to screenshot / hold onto any of this and throw it back at me come May.
The fact that Liverpool managed to get into the Champions League places last season was nothing short of miraculous. Jurgen Klopp’s side lost six out of seven games during February and the beginning of March, but then went unbeaten for the remainder of the season, winning eight of their final ten games and finishing in third.
The obvious determining factor in Liverpool’s struggles was the injury to Virgil Van Dijk, and whilst the Dutch giant looks set to return to full fitness before the new season kicks-off, problems elsewhere look set to offset the centre-back’s return.
Georginio Wijnaldum’s contract problems led to the Netherlands international moving to PSG on a free, whilst further contractual hiccups have put Jordan Henderson’s future at Anfield in jeopardy, with the Reds uneasy about losing another key player for free next summer.
Add to that an ageing - albeit still incredibly potent - front-three. Both Sadio Mane and Roberto Firmino will turn 30 before the season ends, with Mohamed Salah not far behind them in June. The trio showed signs of stagnation last season, and Klopp will be hopeful of Diogo Jota’s increasing impact injecting some fresh energy into the Liverpool attack.
Only time will tell wether Klopp’s methods are starting to wear on a thin squad, or wether a more ‘normal’ season will help to bring the best out of a jaded Liverpool side, they’ll be there or there abouts though.
3. Manchester United
I felt obliged to approach this prediction with a level and unbiased head - that being said I hope Manchester united crash and burn, starting on the opening weekend. And whilst Ole Gunnar Solskjaer’s credentials as a manager have been in constant question, there is no denying that the Dane steadied the ship last season.
Adding Jadon Sancho and Raphael Varane to the squad has strengthened Man United’s first-XI significantly, whilst simultaneously relieving a reliance on certain aspects of their squad. Having Sancho on the right will distribute the creative output more evenly from the left, whilst Varane’s presence will ease the burden on Harry Maguire to perform the role of both centre-backs.
Questions will rightly be asked of the quality of those in front of Maguire and Varane however, with many around Old Trafford not entirely comfortable with a double-pivot of Fred and Scot McTominay, whilst the seemingly never-ending Paul Pogba saga will place it’s usual weight on the squad.
That being said, the all-round picture for Manchester United looks brighter than it has done for some time going into the new season. They have, at it’s most simplistic, added world-class talent to an already functioning and promising squad, potentially making them a title challenger.
I really hope not though.
Last season’s Champions League champions will be hoping to claim the domestic honours this season, and with the signing of a much needed goalscorer in Romelu Lukaku, Thomas Tuchel’s side are right amongst the favourites to topple Manchester City.
The Blues beat City three times, over three competitions, in six weeks on their way to the FA Cup and Champions League finals last spring. They will be hopeful that with Tuchel at the helm from the beginning they can once again reign supreme.
In signing Lukaku, Chelsea have filled the hole that hurt them so much last season - their top-scorer last season was Jorginho with seven goals - and in terms of pure goalscorers there aren’t many in the world that can do it better.
Keeping the spine of the side fit and playing will prove pivotal. N’Golo Kante was crucial in Chelsea’s late season successes, but only 24 league games last season. Managing the midfielder’s fitness for big occasions will be a strong test for Tuchel.
1. Manchester City
It’s hard to look beyond back-to-back Premier League titles for Pep Guardiola’s side. They triumphed at a canter last season, finishing the season 12 points ahead of second placed Manchester United.
Seemingly unwavered by the financial ramifications of last season, City have since gone out and spent £100m on Jack Grealish, whilst hopeful of adding to their summer business with the £100m-plus signing of Harry Kane in what might well monopolise the league entirely.
With Grealish - and maybe Kane - joining the likes of Kevin De Bruyne, Phil Foden, Raheem Sterling, ilkay Gundogan and Riyad Mahrez, City undoubtably possess the most formidable attacking unit in Premier League history.
Whilst defensively, the pairing of Ruben Dias and John Stones shows no signs of breaking down any time soon. Liverpool’s troubles last season proved to everyone how much an injury or two can derail a season, but if these two - with Rodri in front and Ederson behind - can rack up 28+ games each, they will be close to impenetrable.
City’s only potential hiccup could be their prioritisation of a Champions League victory, with the main objective of both City’s hierarchy and Guardiola himself being to triumph on the European stage, putting the domestic season on the back burner as the campaign goes on.
- Manchester City
- Manchester United
- Leeds United
- Aston Villa
- Tottenham Hotspur
- West Ham
- Crystal Palace