Premier League Guide 2020/21
With the country, and wider world, facing a bleak winter as it continues its adjustment to life with COVID-19, optimism will be crucial, yet hard to come by. Although football becomes insignificant when placed next to people’s wellbeing, there is little doubt that the remarkable efforts of the leagues and clubs, to sustain the sport throughout this pandemic, have had nothing but a positive impact on the mental health of millions. For some, each fixture represents a port in the storm. It is important to acknowledge the devastating effects fan-less football will have on smaller clubs, and whilst this must be addressed, as the season’s 1st international break draws to a close, we should just be grateful that we have a campaign to look forward to…here’s an attempt to make some sense of it.
The start of an exciting era. As Arteta stamps his precise philosophy upon the Gunners they will keep developing. Performances have varied, and after being dismantled by Liverpool, it would be easy to say it’s the same old flat-track bully Arsenal but even Klopp was full of praise for the way they set-up. With an FA cup under their belt and extremely promising youngsters, the club is rife with confidence. Whether Gabriel will solve their long-standing defensive frailties remains to be seen but the deadline day signing of Thomas Partey from Atletico Madrid is a real statement, he possesses the steel that the midfield has long awaited. Arteta is an excellent coach and if Arsenal trust in his process, it could see them thrive in this open, expansive league. Oh, and that away kit is glorious.
Key Player- Pierre-Emerick Aubameyang- The best striker in the league. Tying him down to a new contract was their best piece of summer business. Often wins them games on his own.
Aston Villa- 11th
A club that belongs in the Premier League and after dramatically avoiding relegation, have made some smart signings in Emiliano Martinez, Ross Barkley and Ollie Watkins. If they can build on their winning start and continue to beat their competition, an ambitious season is in store. Considering Grealish was top scorer last season (8), Watkins will be crucial to their success. If he can provide a much-needed goal injection then they will be comfortable. On the other hand, if he does not justify the £28m fee they forked out for his services, Grealish’s quality won’t be enough to pull them out of the flames again.
Key Player- Ollie Watkins- Grealish is undoubtedly their best player, but if the ex-Brentford man can replicate his 19/20 form it could elevate Villa to exciting places. I promise this section was completed before Watkins smashed a hattrick past the Prem champions…visionary stuff.
3 losses in 4 games is not reflective of Brighton's start. They are a talented side and very easy on the eye. Competed with Chelsea, United and Everton and swept Newcastle aside. Tariq Lamptey and Neal Maupay have, deservedly, been in the limelight this season but there is quality all over. Yves Bissouma looks pure mustard and Leandro Trossard impresses every time he plays. 3-4-3 is brilliant in the right moments but relies on the wing backs’ ability to cover large amounts of space and leaves gaps between the lines. Lamptey is a star boy but at 20, in a league filled with world class wide-men, it could be a baptism of fire and difficult moments are inevitable. They will be a joy to watch but will lose lots of games.
Key Player- Neal Maupay- I love this guy. Arrogant, suave and luckily, clinical in front of goal. He is quick, technical and a classic sh*thouse. I can see him and Lamptey bringing Alves/Messi vibes (optimism…).
I think most football fans share Will McKenzie’s opinion of Burnley…they f****** hate them. They’re not a club that cover themselves in glory with play style or fanbase, however, now in their 5th top flight season they’ve found a somewhat respectable formula for staying put. You look at Bardsley, Westwood, Barnes and wonder how they’re regular midtable finishers. How? The rigidity and physicality that Dyche demands. They are uncomfortable to play against and the sheer size of Chris Wood and Ashley Barnes up front, supplied by Dwight McNeil’s crosses, forces goals. Fans’ absence has already proven to be an important factor and it could reduce the Clarets’ home advantage significantly. Every dog has its day, and this could be Burnley's.
Key Player- Dwight McNeil- Wand of a left foot. Maybe the only drop of flair in an ocean of Burnley industry and fuels their striking giants.
In any context, a £221m spending spree demands results. Havertz and Werner were two of Europe's most sought-after stars, and Lampard was given free reign of the cheque book. The strategy is intriguing. 1 clean sheet away from home and the most goals conceded in the top 6 last season is a scathing reflection of their defensive frailties. Does a 36-year-old Thiago Silva and the unknown quantity of Malang Sarr solve that problem?
So far it doesn’t look as if Lampard knows his recipe for success. Using 3 different shapes and floating Havertz around in some unusual areas. Mount and Abraham being the catalysts in the 3-goal revival at the Hawthorns was a satisfying piece of irony. Last season warranted praise for their youthful verve, resulting in a welcome return to Champions League football. Now, summer business shows something of a U-turn in culture and a sign of (perhaps misplaced) distrust in players whose performances have earned more faith. 20/21 will test Lampard’s man management and ability to handle media pressure.
Key Player- Christian Pulisic- Once fully fit again, he will be their main man. Comparisons to Eden Hazard are flattering, but unnecessary. Pulisic will leave his own legacy.
Crystal Palace- 14th
Our next midtable candidate. A settled starting 11 with a good amount of PL quality, demonstrated with victory at Old Trafford. Zaha, Ayew and Townsend are threatening and creative whilst Eberechi Eze looks to be the glamour in an otherwise functional midfield. Defensively, Sakho is capable of imitating both a brick wall and bambi on ice; Guaita is equally inconsistent in goal. Hodgson’s side do a lot of good things, and if Eze can bring the midfield to the next level, top half aspirations can be had. Although for now, this is the ceiling.
Key Player- Wilfried Zaha- has been since he arrived and will continue to be until he moves on.
For the first time in a long time, Everton have a squad that can challenge the top 6 and beyond. Summer business was nothing short of clinical, they needed quality in midfield, they went and got exactly that. Allan, Doucoure, Gomes and Rodriguez are a dazzling diamond and Ancelotti has Dominic Calvert-Lewin looking like prime Shevchenko. The defending is composed, build-ups slick and finishing ruthless. BUT, calls of a Toffees' title pursuit are premature. Yet to be properly tested; it is often how a team navigates the difficult moments that sets the parameters for success. Tough times will come, Pickford's errors may cost them more points than they can afford and as good as the new signings have been, growing pains are inevitable. Despite this, Ancelotti has the experience to do something special and return this club to the summit of English football.
Key Player- Yerry Mina- Mina looks to have gone up a level as a footballer. He has the potential to become a colossus for the club and if this trajectory is maintained, Everton will have the perfect base from which to become a serious threat to the traditional top 4.
If you looked at Fulham's signings alone you could envisage a hopeful season. Unfortunately, their performances have not warranted such hope. They’ve shipped 3+ goals in each of their first 3 games and fired blanks in all but one. It’s not wise to be presumptuous in football but Fulham look about as sure fire for the drop as any side we’ve seen in recent years. That being said, Loftus-Cheek will add some potency and strange things are afoot in the Premier League this season…
Key Player- Aleksandar Mitrovic- Mitroooooooooooooooooooo
Leeds United Football Club are back in the English top flight and long may it continue. A manager fit for the club, league and city. Bielsa managed majority possession against both Klopp and Guardiola; so far, so good. With Bamford looking every inch the Premier League striker alongside Rodrigo’s arrival, the questions for Bielsa will surround stopping goals, not scoring them. If they have European aspirations, they will have to be more watertight. Although, with fans at home, it looks as if we may be in for a season of high octane, goal-filled games, and that could play right into Leeds’ hands.
Key Player- Kalvin Phillips- As mentioned, goals will not be an issue. Therefore, it will be the job of the England man to break up play, prevent counter attacks and fill defensive gaps in the midfield. City have Rodri, Liverpool have Fabinho…Do Leeds have Phillips?
Leicester City- 8th
If a 5-2 drubbing of Man City followed by a 3-0 battering by West Ham is a microcosm of what Leicester will bring to the party this season, grab your popcorn. Jamie Vardy is becoming one of the leagues’ greatest ever strikers, with no signs of relenting. There is tons of ability in the squad but not yet consistency and Brendan Rodgers is, perhaps, underrated for his achievements with them. Nonetheless, both Arsenal and Tottenham look to have built upon disappointing league campaigns and the early form of Leeds, Everton and Villa points to a competitive and congested top half this year. It will be up to the title winners in the dressing room to show their pedigree and be the difference between Leicester and the rest. Bonus points for that Lamborghini of a 3rd shirt.
Key Player- Jamie Vardy- Looks to be in ‘chat sh*t get banged’ form this season. I’ve enjoyed the cheek of suggestions that he’s surpassed Drogba in Prem striking folklore. 108 goals and counting…
Well well well…Roy Hodgson's Liverpool are back in town. The homicide at Villa Park was a brutal wake up call for a team that have been complacent since securing the 19/20 title. It’s been stylish going forward this season, but the persistence with an alarmingly high defensive line has backfired. For now, Klopp's side have earned the right for this to be sugar-coated as a slap in the face to invigorate their title defence but, with an uber-competitive Merseyside derby up next, the Reds’ honeymoon period is firmly over. However, if we’ve learnt anything in the last 2 seasons, it’s that this side handle pressure. They possess world-class players in every position and we have had but a small, agonising glimpse at Thiago Alcantara; whose presence alone raises standards. It’s an important moment in the club's history. Is this to be a group talked about as one of the Premier League's greatest? Or just another team that have enjoyed their time in the sun?
Key Player- Virgil Van Dijk- The best centre half in the world has shown he is capable of error in recent times. The reason such form is shocking is due to how flawless he was prior. He is the foundation upon which the Champions League and Premier League trophies have been laid, and he will back himself, above all, to see that normal service resumes.
Manchester City- 2nd
Strangely, the calamity of this Premier League season seems to have left Man City in a position where they are not on people's lips. City, like Liverpool, aren’t firing on all cylinders and will be hoping Ruben Dias can fill the gaping defensive hole next to Laporte. The lack of limelight on their shortcomings, whilst their rivals face the music, could be sweet relief for Pep. However, respeto is required. Ake, Ferran and Dias are 3 quality additions to an already gold-lined outfit, clear evidence of an assault upon a 3rd title in 4 years. Yet, whilst their performances are still defined by slick possession and intricate passing patterns; we know they can be clumsy defensively when put on the backfoot, illustrated by the 3 penalties conceded to Leicester. Akin to their Merseyside rivals, they command our patience…City are not a volcano that remains dormant for long.
Key Player- Rodri- Guardian of the precious space between midfield and defence is a role that will influence this campaign's winners and losers. If those ribbons are sky blue come May, it will mean Rodrigo Hernandez Cascante has been at his ball-winning, line-breaking best, facilitating transitions and springing KDB and Foden into final 1/3rd space. Currently, he has to bring more value to the side.
Manchester United- 7th
The injection of class given by Bruno Fernandes and a red-hot Mason Greenwood at the back end of 19/20 has inflated expectations upon United. Paul Pogba is immensely talented but continues to be ponderous on the ball and passive off it. At 27, can we persist with the narrative of this Avenger-like superstar waiting to be unleashed? The proof has to start being in the pudding. De Gea is regressing rapidly, Maguire and Lindelof are reactive and rash, and OGS lacks the personality to stamp an identity upon a dressing room, let alone an entire club.
Summer business seems panic-fuelled. Where is the holding midfielder Pogba ‘needs’ alongside him and the world class defender who will be their Laporte/Van Dijk? Try instead, a 33-year-old Cavani, Alex Telles and Donny Van De Beek, who so far, has caused more selection issues than he’s solved. A Pogba, Fernandes, VDB trio would not be pretty for the clean sheets’ column. On the pitch, United are not miles away from success. Off it, a lack of managerial and executive competence is shooting the club in the foot. With consecutive fixtures against Chelsea, Arsenal and Everton in the near future, United need to regroup quickly after Spurs, or risk finding themselves dead in the water before Christmas.
Key Player- Bruno Fernandes- Currently their only world class footballer, in both mentality and ability. He has the vision to create goals anywhere on the pitch and the coolness to deliver in crucial moments. If Greenwood, Rashford and Martial can profit from his qualities, United will score a lot of goals and win a lot of games, regardless of defence.
Newcastle United- 15th
A solid start for the pride of Tyneside. A shrewd £20m spent on Callum Wilson looks to have given them the cutting edge Joelinton and Almiron sorely lack. As long as Allan Saint-Maximin pulls on the black and white stripes, Newcastle will be a threat to Premier League defences. However, as the camera pans out to the wider squad, there is not much to write home about. The issues will come when ASM and Wilson do not have space to run into, from where else do they create? They are too good for relegation, but lack the depth of quality that is needed to breach the top half. How different it could’ve been if it were Mbappe and not Wilson...
Key Player- Allan Saint-Maximin- If you’re going to play football in a Gucci headband, you’d better put on a show. The 3rd most completed take-ons last season (121) demonstrates a supreme dribbler. His skinning of the full back and low cross for Wilson on Saturday, Geordies will be hoping is a regular sight. A player who can turn a game on its’ head with one mazy run is a precious commodity, and ASM is just that.
Sheffield United- 17th
The second season was due to be tough after an impressive return to the top for Chris Wilder's Blades. The challenge is to evolve and adapt. When you conjure up just 39 goals in a season and finish 9th, a rock-solid defence is imperative. 4 straight losses suggest that defence has diminished, but the margins of defeat have been small and they have not played badly. The season will be gruelling, and the players will have to show their desire to avoid the drop. Fortunes will be decided by the points they pick up against their direct rivals, and if they can re-find that resilience sooner rather than later, all should be fine.
Key Player- Rhian Brewster- Handily, the very thing they need, to begin converting these narrow defeats into points, may have just arrived in a £23.5m, Rhian Brewster shaped package. 11 in 22 on loan at Swansea last season highlights a young bagsman with a killer work rate and a trained nose for net. It’s huge responsibility at 20-years-old, but Brewster is hungry for first team minutes and with the Euros next summer, you best believe he’ll want a ticket on that plane.
A decent Premier League side blessed with a top-class Premier League striker. Off the back of an 11th placed finish fuelled by Danny Ings’ magnificence, they will be searching for consistency. They have creativity at full back with Kyle Walker-Peters and an experienced midfield partnership of Romeu and Ward-Prowse. Hassenhutl has done wonderfully since that historic 9 goal defeat to Leicester, and now, equipped with the ball players to service Ings and the talent of Djenepo/KWP, Saints should be seeking to progress not merely survive. No, the defence is not stellar and Bednarek makes errors, but as midtable defences go, it should hold firm.
Key Player- Danny Ings- Scored 43% of the team’s goals in 2019/20. Far more than a fox in the box. Ings is quick, agile, two footed and a natural finisher. The two knee injuries he suffered would’ve ended many careers. Instead, he has revolutionised himself into an England goalscorer and is now receiving the respect and plaudits his hard work deserves. A threat to Matt Le Tissier's throne if he sticks around a few more seasons.
A polarised start on the pitch has been aided by a strong transfer window. Spurs head into the international break with great confidence after wiping the floor with United. As much as new faces have improved the side, the old guard seem rejuvenated. Harry Kane and Heung Min Son have started electrifyingly, with the captain's deeper playmaking forging an abundance of chances for the team. Upgrading both full backs and adding Hojberg's passing range are welcome refreshments to a team that previously had a Winks and Sissoko double pivot; a duo about as creative as they are Brazilian. Much maligned is Tanguy Ndombele, but he offers the midfield what they need, progression and risk taking. If Mourinho continues to place faith in the Frenchman, he will reap the rewards.
With the reintroduction of Gareth Bale just around the corner, there is a lot to look forward to for the Spurs faithful. However, their lack of pace at the back and in midfield could be crucial in big games, Alderweireld and Dier run backwards at times. It is undeniable that Spurs have improved and, whilst Mourinho still splits opinion, are heading in the right direction.
Key Player- Heung Min Son- We have already seen the combination of Kane and Son wreak havoc and if the South Korean can continue in this vein, defenders will be nervous. He’s rapid, direct and the perfect recipient for Kane's gift-wrapped passes. If Bale and Son have a wing each, it could be over for everyone.
West Brom- 19th
Unfortunately, my second dead certainty for the drop. Pereira and Diangana aside, there is little of note. Jake Livermore (the England international), Branislav Ivanovic and Hal Robson-Kanu are not 3 names that smell of Premier League survival. Slaven Bilic merits praise for getting WBA out of the Championship, but to make the same group sing, week in week out in the top flight, is a different kettle of fish. Allowing a 3-goal comeback vs Chelsea indicates a defence blown over in the wind, and Norwich are a fresh reminder of what happens to sides who have dominated the Championship but have insufficient quality to consolidate. 35 points saved Aston Villa last season, and currently, that looks a distant dream for (a Jack Grealish-less) West Brom.
Key Player- Matheus Pereira- One of the Championship's finest last year. The free-kick against Everton has already displayed his qualities to the league and if he can contribute anywhere near 24 G/As again, the Baggies may yet have a chance.
West Ham- 13th
On paper, you look at West Ham and see a blend of proper Premier League pedigree with talented overseas prospects. Led by David Moyes who, all jokes aside, is a proven top-level coach; you would expect to see them threatening Europe rather than narrowly avoiding relegation. Fortunately, since opening with two defeats, they have slammed 4, then 3 unanswered goals past Wolves and Leicester; a real statement that they are capable of competing with the league's high fliers. The secret weapon could be a surprisingly deep squad. Lanzini, Felipe Anderson, Yarmolenko and Haller all watched the Leicester victory from the bench, a luxury few lower/mid-table sides ever enjoy. An interesting October is in store, facing Spurs, City and Liverpool in a relentless 3 game run. On paper, 3 losses, but there’s more to football than words on a page.
Key Player- Michail Antonio- Someone on Twitter said, ‘Antonio is the best footballer that can’t play football’ and whilst to suggest this of a pro baller who scored 4 goals in one game, is at best criminal, you sort of agree don’t you? He is, however, an absolute menace for defenders, with the energy and physicality to lead the line solo facilitating West Hams’ 5-4-1. I like a striker that has a chaotic potential to their game, and Antonio gives Moyes that edge.
Wolverhampton Wanderers- 10th
Our Premier League tour culminates with a getaway to the white sandy beaches of Portugal. There is a great deal to admire about Wolves (all 3 kits included). They have classy yet gritty footballers and are so shameless about their wealth of Portuguese staff that they released a whole kit subversively mocking it. Although, they are not without flaws, 3 at the back played with Adama Traore as a wing back and Moutinho/Neves/Neto centrally does not lend itself to a solid rear guard. Rui Patricio earns his wages through the amount of shots they concede. If you’re looking for quick, dynamic possession and a canvas for individual expression, search no further than the Molineux pitch, the carpet upon which Moutinho, Podence, Traore and Jimenez ply their trade so aesthetically. With 3 more Portuguese imports added this summer, Nuno Espirito Santos’ Mediterranean train shows no signs of slowing.
Key Player- Conor Coady- With all the flair and talent surrounding him, Captain Coady has gone about his business subtly and consistently. Starting the season with his first England cap and goal, he has become a composed and intimidating centre back who should be looking at a national starting spot ahead of EURO 2021. Sprays passes, wins headers, organises; Coady was a late bloomer but now, he’s starting to bear fruit.
- All stats and figures courtesy of the Premier League website and Transfermarkt.
- All images are property of the Premier League.
Ben Stevens (@stev_ben)
Law student at the University of Liverpool. Interests in sports, especially football and cricket.