The 2021/22 season is almost upon us, and it promises to be one of the most competitive in recent memory. Rarely have more clubs had genuine hopes of European qualification in the last decade, while the number of strong candidates for relegation is arguably running thin compared to previous seasons in the run-up to the new campaign.
One might have hoped that a season in the top flight - and a comfortable season at that - might have been enough to make the path for last season’s ninth-placed finishers Leeds United clearer, yet this campaign is proving to be even more unpredictable than the their first Premier League season in 16 years. While some would once again settle for anything above 17th, others would be disappointed with anything below 10th, and for a few, an improvement in position is required to show Leeds are on the right track to re-establishing themselves as a European club.
Last year, I only correctly predicted Brighton’s end-of-season position, and among several crimes I described Neal Maupay as “clinical”. Looking over that article has spurred me on to dig deeper this time round, and after plenty of tinkering, this is my in-depth Premier League table prediction.
(*This is a long piece - for a simplified predicted table, skip to the bottom of the article.)
20. Norwich City
Last season’s finish: 1st (Championship)
Last season’s prediction: N/A
Norwich stormed to Championship glory last season, finishing on 97 points as they booked an immediate return to the top flight. But their yo-yo status will be hard to shake this season, particularly without Emi Buendia, who registered 31 goal contributions towards the Canaries’ title charge. Teemu Pukki, who scored 26 league goals last season and 11 in Norwich’s last Premier League campaign, may struggle to replicate those numbers without Aston Villa’s £34.5 million man; only Kevin de Bruyne, Jack Grealish and Trent Alexander-Arnold created more chances than Buendia in the 19/20 campaign, when Daniel Farke’s side finished 14 points from safety.
A productive summer has still been enjoyed at Carrow Road, with £10 million Milot Rashica joining from Werder Bremen to replace Buendia and Billy Gilmour arriving on loan from Chelsea among other moves. But as clubs continue to circle Max Aarons and Todd Cantwell, Norwich still face a battle to keep hold of other key players. Rumours regarding any future signings, meanwhile, remain relatively lowkey, with defenders Brandon Williams and Cameron Carter-Vickers the latest links.
Farke is a manager with great pedigree, who has won two second tier titles since 18/19 and has had his Norwich side playing attractive football along the way. For a second Premier League season in a row, though, his quality threatens to not be enough to save his side from another relegation. If they do go down, at least they’ll look great while they’re doing it; their kits are class.
Last season’s finish: 17th
Last season’s prediction: 12th
Nothing ever really seems to change at Burnley. The kits look more or less like they did 10 years ago, and you can count their new first team additions from the last three seasons on one hand. The Clarets arguably had it lucky last season; were it not for the dire quality of relegated Fulham, West Brom and Sheffield United, they could be a Championship club right now. Sean Dyche has bewildered rival fans for years by managing to keep a fairly stale group of players in the top flight while playing what can only be described as the nemesis of Bielsa-ball.
But four new £1 million plus signings in the last three seasons could prove to cripple a squad that, from the outside, appears to be in desperate need of rejuvenation - particularly when one of those signings was current Sheffield Wednesday goalkeeper Bailey Peacock-Farrell. The squad’s average age stands at 29.4, and new signing Nathan Collins is one of just three players under the age of 27. Another, Dwight McNeil, has the potential to be brilliant but his consistency is holding him back from realising it for now.
Their stereotypically solid defence leaked 55 goals last season, and although the signing of promising centre-back Collins from Stoke City looks to be a good piece of business, there are questions whether that deal alone will be enough to seal up the Clarets’ back line. Links with new signings are still alive - although Hibernian’s 19-year-old Josh Doig and Sheffield United goalkeeper Aaron Ramsdale do not have the appearance of safety-ensuring players - but additions are required quickly if Burnley want to give themselves the best chance of avoiding a relegation scrap. Chris Wood’s consistency in front of goal may not be enough this time round.
Last season’s finish: 2nd (Championship)
Last season’s prediction: N/A
The Hornets will likely face many issues this season, but squad depth will not be one of them. 35 players are currently listed in their first team, including the nine new arrivals to have joined so far this summer. They could add another nine on top of that, but the chances of a new signing replicating the importance of Ismaila Sarr are low at best; the 23-year-old topped the scoring and assisting charts at Vicarage Road last season, and manager Xisco will be relying on his goals to keep his side afloat this season.
Besides the Senegalese star, there are few other sources of quality in the current Watford outfit, and although their defence kept 23 clean sheets and conceded just 30 goals last season, their record of 10 goals conceded in three preseason games against Premier League opposition could foreshadow what is to come for Hornets fans. The free transfers of Joshua King and Danny Rose adds valuable experience to the side, but on face value the team will have to overcome great odds to avoid dropping straight back down from the top tier.
Last season’s finish: 15th
Last season’s prediction: 9th
This felt like a more left-field prediction when I first made it, but seems to have become more popular on the eve of the season’s kick-off. Southampton have finished in the bottom six in three of the last four seasons, and their days in the Premier League could be numbered without Danny Ings leading the line. The Saints should be applauded for gaining £30 million for a player with one year left on his deal, but the 29-year-old’s clinical ability is underlined by the 46 goals he scored in 100 competitive appearances for the St. Mary’s club. Che Adams and Adam Armstrong are by no means bad options to turn to but they may not have what it takes to fill the void left by Villa’s new talisman.
The signing of Armstrong from Blackburn is a promising one, but it will be hard for any new striker to match Ings’ output - which saw him produce 12 goals from an xG of eight last season - let alone a newcomer from the Championship. Furthermore, fellow key player and club captain James Ward-Prowse is subject of interest from Aston Villa, who reportedly had a bid of £25 million rejected recently - although a knock which could rule him out for the start of the new campaign could ward off suitors for now.
Two 9-0 losses in relatively quick succession do not bode well for the Saints, particularly when their team runs the risk of looking weaker than it has in recent campaigns. Romain Perraud is a decent replacement for the outgoing Ryan Bertrand, but the squad looks to be running a bit thin in areas, especially given the imminent departure of Jannik Vestergaard to Leicester. There may be more business to come, of course, and it would not be overly surprising if Southampton did avoid relegation more convincingly, but they look to be on a downward trajectory and could use some magic from Ralph Hasenhuttl to ensure survival.
Last season’s finish: 3rd (Championship)
Last season’s prediction: N/A
Despite the success of some newly promoted clubs in recent years, the task of survival is almost always a difficult one for any Premier League newcomer, let alone the play-off winners who reached the promised land the hard way. Add to that the fact that this will be Brentford’s first season in the top flight since 1947, and the challenge becomes even more monumental. However, in comparison to yo-yo sides Norwich and Watford, Brentford are the most exciting of the promoted clubs in the eyes of many, and - on face value, at least - arguably possess the best chances of survival.
The Bees possess a deep, youthful squad packed with talent. Ethan Pinnock, new signing Kristoffer Ajer and ex-Leeds defender Pontus Jansson are all aerially dominant defenders who will help to form a strong backline, while Bryan Mbeumo and the prolific Ivan Toney make up the best of their attacking assets. Rico Henry, Mathias Jensen, Josh Dasilva and Sergi Canos are others who could conceivably make the step-up to the Premier League.
Which of the newly promoted clubs do you think has the best chance of survival?
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Brentford have been knocking on the door of the top flight ever since the 14/15 season, when the newly-promoted Championship side finished fifth. Thanks to an excellent transfer policy, the London outfit were able to consistently compete in the top half of the table despite losing key players along the way, including the likes of Neal Maupay and Ollie Watkins. So, despite their status as play-off winners and first-time Premier League competitors, do not sleep on the Bees this season.
15. Newcastle United
Last season’s finish: 12th
Last season’s prediction: 14th
The continuous takeover saga at Newcastle United, plus the lack of any new first team arrivals so far this summer, doesn’t make for great reading for Magpies fans. But it is difficult to envisage a side containing the likes of Callum Wilson and Allan Saint-Maximin going down. Furthermore, the imminent arrival of last season’s loan star Joe Willock from Arsenal should further consolidate the club’s place in the Premier League for another season.
Only Alan Shearer had scored in seven consecutive games wearing the famous black and white shirt, but 21-year-old Willock matched that record in last season’s run-in, allowing Newcastle to snatch up a surprisingly comfortable finish in 12th-place. This was despite injuries to one of the division’s best creative forces in Saint-Maximin and one of its most clinical strikers in Wilson.
Attacking compensation is needed to make up for a fairly shaky defence; Steve Bruce’s side missed out on Brentford’s Ajer as well as new Aston Villa signing Axel Tuanzebe, but have been strongly linked with experienced Man Utd defender Phil Jones, while they reportedly have an outside chance of signing Red Devils teammate Brandon Williams and Arsenal’s Ainsley Maitland-Niles. Whatever business Newcastle do or don’t complete while the window is open, the return of Willock should be enough to avoid relegation.
14. Crystal Palace
Last season’s finish: 14th
Last season’s prediction: 19th
After a relatively uneventful period in the Premier League, which has seen the Selhurst Park outfit finish between 10th and 15th since their promotion in 12/13, it has suddenly gotten quite turbulent for Crystal Palace. Roy Hodgson’s four-year era of conservative, defensive and fairly dull football came to an end after his departure last season, and 11 out-of-contract first team players left with him. This made them (very) early relegation candidates, but the arrival of Patrick Vieira and some impressive transfer business has made Palace’s fortunes this season much less easy to predict.
Vieira’s record as a manager is far from outstanding, and despite the arrivals of Marc Guehi and Joachim Andersen their lightness in defence could see their switch to an attacking style of play backfire. However, there is seemingly an equal chance of the change in tactics greatly benefitting the likes of Wilfried Zaha, Eberechi Eze and new signing Michael Olise going forward. Therefore it is hard to decide whether Palace will comfortably survive or convincingly go down this season.
Somewhere in the middle feels about right, but a repeat of their top half finish in 14/15 could be on the cards if their summer of impressive transfer business continues; the Eagles have apparently shown an interest in Arsenal duo Eddie Nketiah and Reiss Nelson among others in the last week or so. And despite the risks entailed, an attacking style of play that benefits talents like Zaha will surely be a breath of fresh air for Eagles fans.
Last season’s finish: 10th
Last season’s prediction: 8th
Things were looking rather rosy for Everton this time last year. Elite manager Carlo Ancelotti was at the helm, and an electric start to the season suggested that a return to Europe could be on the cards. Alas, a poor end to the season resulted in an underwhelming finish for the Toffees, and matters got worse when Ancelotti jumped ship upon the vacancy at Real Madrid. With James Rodrigues running out of reasons to stay at Goodison Park and Gylfi Sigurdsson’s career effectively over for reasons that I’m sure I don’t need to mention, Everton find themselves in a precarious position heading into the new campaign.
On paper, Rafa Benitez is not a huge downgrade from Ancelotti, but his history with Liverpool has made him a controversial replacement among the Everton faithful. Transfer business has also been modest at best, with 30-year-old Andros Townsend, ex-Leicester prospect Demarai Gray and Bournemouth goalkeeper Asmir Begovic the only arrivals so far this summer, for a combined fee of £1.8 million. The new wingers could join Lucas Digne in providing service for talisman Dominic Calvert-Lewin, while last season’s PSG loanee Moise Kean could yet find his potential in England, but Everton look far from convincing going into the new season.
The talent within the first team squad should see the Merseyside club avoid any genuine relegation scares, but with clubs like Leeds, Villa and West Ham looking to become more permanent residents at the already crowded top half of the table, competition may prove too difficult for the Toffees to compete with this season, and a more long term rebuild following Ancelotti’s departure may be required.
12. Brighton & Hove Albion
Last season’s finish: 16th
Last season’s prediction: 16th
It may be Manchester City who are competing to retain their Premier League crown, but Brighton & Hove Albion are the current xG champions of the top flight after taking underperformance to a whole new level last season. Their expected goals tally reached over 55 goals last season, yet the Seagulls only managed to score 40. Were the league decided by xG, they would have finished fifth. Instead, they finished 16th (my only correct prediction last season).
What this tells us is that Brighton are generating the opportunities required to compete higher up the table, but their players are generally lacking the clinical ability needed to put all of those chances away. Striker Neal Maupay was more guilty than most, registering an xG of nearly 14 but only managing eight goals. But as far as major issues go, struggling to take chances in front of goal isn’t the most serious; all of the components are there for Brighton to begin challenging for a place in the top half of the table, and there is still time for a true goalscorer to to join their ranks.
Ben White is gone but the south coast club have retained the rest of their defensive talent, while prized midfielder Yvez Bissouma looks unlikely to depart from the AMEX this summer. Graham Potter is a highly renowned manager, and his style of football has earned praise from across the country in recent seasons. With transfer business proving to be fairly quiet this summer, the question is whether the Seagulls can take the next step up, and Potter’s managerial prowess convinces me that they can move beyond their annual brush with relegation this season.
11. West Ham United
Last season’s finish: 6th
Last season’s prediction: 15th
David Moyes was handed a tough job when he took over from Sir Alex Ferguson at Man Utd, and despite the circumstances the Scot was engrained in football meme history after predictably slumping to a seventh-placed finish in the 13/14 season. How times have changed since then, with Moyes leading a West Ham side that had flirted with relegation in recent campaigns to sixth-place in last season’s Premier League.
New signings Tomas Soucek and Vladimir Coufal shone alongside Declan Rice and Michail Antonio, yet despite the talent possessed by the Hammers there are question marks over to what extent they can repeat such exploits while contending in the notoriously time and energy consuming Europa League. And while the likes of Jarrod Bowen and Said Benrameh are yet to hit their full stride at the London Stadium, the competition the side faces in the top half of the table this season could see them return to the more familiar landscape of mid-table.
Links with Chelsea duo Kurt Zouma and Tammy Abraham, as well as Fiorentina defender Nikola Milenkovic, are promising for the East London outfit - as is the likelihood that Rice is set to remain with the club this season - but it is difficult to see Moyes’ side repeating the overachievement they managed last time out.
10. Wolverhampton Wanderers
Last season’s finish: 13th
Last season’s prediction: 7th
Nuno Espirito Santo’s departure after four seasons, following a lowly 13th-placed finish, has left Wolves feeling rather unsettled heading into the 21/22 campaign. But the reasons for their underperformance compared to two straight seasons of top seven finishes needs to be explored, and it ultimately comes down to injures. Raul Jimenez, Daniel Podence, Pedro Neto, Jonny Otto and Willy Boly are among the first team players to have contended with injury recently.
There is always an unpredictable element when it comes to a new manager taking over, but the majority of players being expected to return at some point in the near future, as well as the arrivals of the likes of Francisco Trincao from Barcelona, leaves the Wanderers in a position where they’re being fairly underrated. A fully fit squad containing the likes of Jimenez, Neto and Adama Traore is a force to be reckoned with, and new manager Bruno Lage appears to be highly rated. I suspect that they could be the surprise package in this season’s top 10.
9. Leeds United
Last season’s finish: 9th
Last season’s prediction: 13th
A sense of unpredictability shrouded Leeds’ much anticipated return to the Premier League last season; some were confident they would see the Whites slip straight back down to the Championship, while others were hopeful of Marcelo Bielsa orchestrating a finish in the European places. In the end, Leeds broke the record for the most points gained by a newly promoted club during a 38-game season, and finished just three points off Europa Conference League debutants Spurs.
Subsequently, an air of expectation has surrounded Elland Road, and those in the fanbase have made boldly positive predictions for the Whites’ second season back in the top flight. There has also been disappointment following a relatively quiet transfer window so far, although the club did inform supporters that it was not their intention to spend £100 million every summer and there is still a decent chance that we could see a new midfielder and winger arrive before the window slams shut.
Where do you think Leeds will finish in the Premier League this season?
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Narrow survival: 17th-15th
Bottom half: 14th-11th
Top half: 10th-8th
Europa qualification: 7th-5th
Champions League qualification: 4th-1st
Increased competition for places in the top half could prove challenging for Leeds, but the lessons they learned throughout last season, the minor improvements made to the first team and the development being made by multiple players should see the Yorkshire side at least match last season’s finish. It wasn’t until the second half of 20/21 that Bielsa’s defence begun to effectively adapt to the Premier League, mainly thanks to Diego Llorente’s fitness and Stuart Dallas’ move to midfield, and Leeds can carry last season’s findings into the new campaign.
Furthermore, bar a sudden injury crisis, there should be more defenders available for selection for Leeds’ opening fixture; fitness concerns may keep Junior Firpo and Kalvin Phillips out of the starting XI to face Manchester United, while Llorente may be ruled out by injury, but all can be expected to return within the next few weeks at most. Firpo will be a much welcomed upgrade to the left-back position - he is more reliable defensively and better equipped going forward compared to Ezgjan Alioski, and should allow the Peacocks to be more balanced in their build-up play.
There is nothing to suggest that Raphinha, Jack Harrison and Patrick Bamford won’t enjoy similar successes to last season, particularly as opponents can expect the same relentlessly attacking style of play when they visit Elland Road. It will probably take longer for Leeds to reinstate themselves as a European club than many fans are willing to admit, but despite the fairly quiet transfer window so far, Leeds are in a good position to match their achievements from last season and cement their place in the top half of the Premier League.
8. Tottenham Hotspur
Last season’s finish: 7th
Last season’s prediction: 6th
Much still depends on where Harry Kane plies his trade next season, but whichever way you look at it, things are not looking ideal for Tottenham this season. The squad still feels like the remnants of the side that peaked under Mauricio Pochettino, and the turbulent spell under Jose Mourinho did little to provide Spurs with the springboard into a new era that they desperately need. Nuno Santo is far from the worst appointment the Lily Whites could have made; despite being famed as a conservative manager at Wolves, the Portuguese is known to be adaptable and work with the tools he has available to him.
Any hopes of Spurs regaining their Champions League spot would be dashed, though, should last season’s top Premier League scorer and assister Harry Kane leave. The North London outfit have already rejected a £100 million bid from Man City according to reports, and the drama surrounding his return to training has only served to make his future at the Tottenham Hotspur Stadium even more unclear. Heung-Min Son has been on fire during preseason, and has been a consistent source of goals for Spurs over the years, but whether he can continue registering the numbers without the presence of Kane is yet to be seen.
A new manager will offer a second lease of life to the likes of Deli Alli and Sergio Reguilon, while the signings and Bryan Gil and Christian Romero could go some way in shaking things up, but Spurs’ backline still feels relatively depleted compared to the glory days of Alderweireld and Vertonghen, and they remain likely to be faced with the impossible task of replacing a world class striker before the transfer window closes.
7. Aston Villa
Last season’s finish: 11th
Last season’s prediction: 17th
Without context, the loss of Jack Grealish is a crippling blow for Aston Villa, but in reality the club would’ve struggled to handle the situation any better than they have. £100 million has been added to the owners’ already substantial financial kitty, while replacements in the form of three new additions should allow the Villans to build on their 11th-placed finish last season despite losing their star man and captain.
As the club’s CEO excellently explained in a five-minute video posted on Twitter, the replacements for Grealish - in the form of Emi Buendia, Leon Bailey and Danny Ings - have not only ensured that Villa will retain his key attributes, but will also free the midlands side from the shackles of relying on one world class talent. The returning Ashley Young adds some valuable experience while on-loan centre-back Axel Tuanzebe bolsters an already solid defence - all in all it’s been as good a window as it could have been for a club losing their best player.
Dean Smith’s team are in a similar position to Leeds, in that they are a historically proud club looking to gatecrash the European places, and despite my Leeds biases I’m favouring Villa’s strong transfer business and well balanced squad to push them ahead of the Whites and into the European places. Buendia is no Grealish but should go some way in filling the creative void left behind by the most expensive Premier League player of all time, while one of the division’s most clinical strikers in Danny Ings could enjoy a 20-goal season if he stays fit, given the number of chances his teammates will create.
Last season’s finish: 8th
Last season’s prediction: 4th
Similarly to rivals Spurs, Arsenal are facing a battle to retain their top-six status, with Leicester consolidating on their recent domestic success while the likes of West Ham, Villa and Leeds look to take advantage of the North London clubs’ respective underachievement. However, I have more confidence in Arsenal that they can begin to make amends for their lowly eighth-placed finish last season, particularly following the signing of Ben White.
While £50 million looks like an overpayment to many, he was worth that to Brighton and may well be worth more to the Gunners come the end of the season. We at Leeds know all too well the quality White possesses; he is an excellent technical defender who should offer the defensive reliability that the likes of David Luiz have struggled to provide in recent seasons. On top of White, a number of young talents will be looking to establish themselves as top players in the division, including Bukayo Saka and Emile Smith-Rowe, who has been handed the number 10 jersey.
Nicolas Pepe could also take Premier League fans by surprise this campaign. A price tag of £72 million clearly weighed heavy on his shoulders last season, but 10 goals was far from a bad return, and now that he has a year of English football under his belt he could prove to thrive and show fans why Arsenal made him their most expensive player ever. Whatever happens with the Gunners this season, Mikel Arteta is in make-or-break territory, and should trust in his young players to get the club back into Europe.
5. Leicester City
Last season’s finish: 5th
Last season’s prediction: 10th
There is a strange urge to feel sorry for Leicester, despite their consecutive top-five finishes and their FA Cup and Community Shield successes which have further cemented their status as one of the top sides in England. Having missed out on the Champions League by four points in 19/20 and just a single point last season, the way in which the top four clubs have strengthened this summer looks to have gravely limited their chances of making it third time lucky.
But the Foxes are still in a strong position to continue their consistent pressure on the elite teams at the top of the Premier League. A decent summer of business has seen former European champion Ryan Bertrand provide depth at left-back, Boubakary Soumare introduce further competition in defensive midfield and the prolific Patson Daka arrive to slowly replace the aging Jamie Vardy. Despite strong interest from Arsenal, James Maddison appears to be playing ball with Brendan Rodgers and could well remain at the King Power Stadium alongside the likes of Harvey Barnes and Kelechi Iheanacho in a formidable attack.
Injuries are a considerable concern going into the new campaign, however, with last season’s star centre-back Wesley Fofana ruled out for most of the upcoming campaign during a preseason friendly against Villarreal (Southampton’s Jannik Vestegaard is set to temporarily replace him). Jonny Evans, Timothy Castagne, James Justin and Nampalys Mendy are all dealing with knocks of their own ahead of the season-opener against Wolves. But even with the potential of a bumpy start, Leicester look to be in a stronger position than the likes of Spurs and Arsenal, and remain capable of taking advantage should any of the top-four favourites slip up.
4. Manchester United
Last season’s finish: 2nd
Last season’s prediction: 5th
The fact that Manchester United finished second last season before strengthening their squad with the signings of Jadon Sancho and Raphael Varane (yet to be formally announced), only to be predicted a fourth-placed finish this time out, highlights the extent to which all of last season’s Champions League qualifiers have strengthened their squads over the summer. Despite this, I begrudgingly would not put it beyond the Red Devils to do what they have struggled to achieve since Sir Alex Ferguson’s departure: mount a title challenge.
While their strength of depth is still some way off that of their city neighbours, their defence and attack have not looked as menacing as they do now for a long time. Youthful talents like Mason Greenwood and Sancho should click well with the more experienced Edinson Cavani, while Varane will partner the likes of Harry Maguire and Luke Shaw, who impressed for England at Euro 2020. A lack of depth in midfield may be of some concern to Ole Gunnar-Solskjaer, but with the squad he has at his disposal it would be disappointing for him if he were unable to lift any silverware.
That being said, the competition this season looks as strong as ever, and Solskjaer will have to break boundaries to show he is capable of leading the club to ultimate victory against equally, if not better equipped opponents.
Last season’s finish: 4th
Last season’s prediction: 3rd
Adding Romelu Lukaku to a squad already packed to the brim with talent feels like some sort of cheat code. Even prior to re-signing the Belgian striker, Chelsea were already in a strong position to begin challenging for the Premier League title again, but a new world class striker in their ranks solidifies their place among the favourites. I’ve placed them third here, but it isn’t difficult to envisage Thomas Tuchel adding the Premier League to his trophy cabinet at Stamford Bridge.
Despite Lukaku being the only first team addition so far this summer, the likes of Kai Havertz, Hakim Ziyech and Timo Werner could imitate new signings after failing to live up to their price tags last season. The trio joined for a combined fee of £155 million - or about one-and-a-half Lukakus - but struggled to immediately impose themselves within a side full of star-studded signings. With a season of English football under their belt, which was wrapped up by victory in the Champions League final, they are all in a strong position to shine in their second campaign.
Yet to be mentioned are the likes of Thiago Silva, Ben Chilwell and Reece James in defence, as well as N’Golo Kante, Jorginho and Mason Mount in midfield. Theirs is the only squad that gets close to matching the depth of Man City, and even if they do finish as low as third it would be surprising if they fell comfortably short of winning the title.
Last season’s finish: 3rd
Last season’s prediction: 1st
Attackers are the most commonly praised players in football, but the importance of defenders was highlighted when Liverpool’s title defence crumbled last season amid a central-defensive injury crisis. Joe Gomez and Joel Matip joined the integral Virgil van Dijk on the sidelines, forcing Liverpool to rely on midfielders Fabinho and Jordan Henderson as well as youth products like Nat Phillips to keep them afloat. The Reds may not have been as busy as their main rivals so far this summer, but the return of their defenders from injury can be treated like new signings, and will surely unleash the attacking force that stormed to the title two seasons ago.
The presence of van Dijk and Gomez, as well as the arrival of Ibrahima Konate from RB Leipzig, will allow Fabinho to permanently return to his favoured defensive midfield position - it was this positional change that was one of the driving forces behind their immaculate end to the 20/21 season. It will also allow the likes of Thiago to spend less time defending and more time recycling possession, so expect the former Bayern Munich and Barcelona distributor to overcome his ‘flop’ label this campaign. Most frighteningly for their opponents, an intact central defence will give Trent Alexander-Arnold and Andy Robertson the licence to go forward from full-back, releasing the club’s full chance-creating potential.
January and early February could prove to be a tricky period when Mohamed Salah and Sadio Mane are called upon for duty in the Africa Cup of Nations, and Jurgen Klopp’s side undeniably lack the depth possessed by Chelsea and Man City, but the importance of van Dijk’s return to fitness cannot be overstated. Liverpool are still very much equipped to challenge for the title amid strong opposition.
1. Manchester City
Last season’s finish: 1st
Last season’s prediction: 2nd
At the end of last season, Pep Guardiola broke into tears as he claimed Manchester City would not be able to replace the outgoing club legend Sergio Aguero. That claim may have had mostly emotional sentiment behind it, but it would not have been the first time the Spaniard played down the Citizens’ financial capabilities. Yet here we are, on the eve of the new Premier League season, and links with Harry Kane are yet to dissipate despite the record-breaking £100m acquisition of Jack Grealish, who adds to the array of attacking talent that already calls the Etihad home.
Yes, it is hard to look at the likes of Chelsea and Manchester United and deny that the competition is rising, but let’s be honest: a second-string Man City side could play for the entire campaign and it would still likely end with Ferran Torres, Raheem Sterling and Fernandinho lifting the trophy. The fact such talents, as well as Aymeric Laporte, Bernardo Silva, Gabriel Jesus and arguably Phil Foden, are not in their strongest XI says everything that needs to be said regarding their endless depth.
Who do you think will win the Premier League this season?
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Most significantly, Manchester City have a stranglehold on the domestic game. They have won five of the last 10 Premier League seasons, as well as two FA Cups and six League Cups since 10/11. They may somehow still be some form of underdog in Europe, but England is their patch, and winning is a formality. No matter how many times Guardiola rotates his players, victory could be assured by mere muscle memory. There may be three other clubs in the running, but do not expect Manchester City to give up their Premier League trophy without a fight.
- Manchester City (C)
- Liverpool (CL)
- Manchester United (CL)
- Chelsea (CL)
- Leicester City (EL)
- Arsenal (EL)
- Aston Villa (ECL)
- Tottenham Hotspur
- Leeds United
- Wolverhampton Wanderers
- West Ham United
- Brighton & Hove Albion
- Crystal Palace
- Newcastle United
- Southampton (R)
- Burnley (R)
- Norwich City (R)
Who do you think will win the Premier League this season? Where will Leeds United finish? Let us know in the comments below and on Twitter.