It may be a little later and in unique circumstances but it is once again time to gaze into the crystal ball and make the annual Premier League predictions.
The new season starts just 48 days after the old one ended with Liverpool as champions for the first time in 30 years. Can manager Jurgen Klopp and his players repeat the feat?
This season’s prediction get-out clause is the fact much can happen in the remaining weeks of the transfer window – but as the clubs stand today, this is how I think they will finish.
|Phil McNulty’s predicted 2020-21 Premier League positions at a glance|
|Position||Club||Position (cont)||Club (cont)|
|2||Manchester City||12||Newcastle United|
|3||Chelsea||13||West Ham United|
|4||Manchester United||14||Sheffield United|
|5||Tottenham Hotspur||15||Aston Villa|
|7||Everton||17||Brighton and Hove Albion|
|8||Wolverhampton Wanderers||18||Crystal Palace|
|9||Leicester City||19||West Bromwich Albion|
Tough task to maintain the sort of standards and momentum Liverpool have gathered in winning the Champions League and the title in the last two seasons, but this is a team without any obvious weaknesses and an array of world-class players in key positions.
Klopp has yet to make a major dip into the market after paying £11m to sign Kostas Tsimikas but the name of Bayern Munich’s outstanding Thiago Alcantara continues to be linked.
It is also tough to retain the Premier League but I reckon Liverpool have the mental strength and ability to do it.
Champions again – but this season will be very close.
2. Manchester City
Manchester City were simply too soft in defence to win the title last season. Nine defeats told the tale. The failure to replace Vincent Kompany’s presence on and off the pitch was a serious error.
Pep Guardiola has moved to cure those faults by signing Nathan Ake from Bournemouth for £41m and the links with Napoli’s outstanding Kalidou Koulibaly are not going away – he would be a stellar signing, with Valencia forward Ferran Torres also in the bag.
Phil Foden will emerge even more this season although David Silva will be missed.
Koulibaly would alter the calculations but runners-up again – and chance of the Champions League this time?
Chelsea owner Roman Abramovich has been wielding the chequebook just like old times – but let’s not forget the club also had money to spend from the sales of stars such as Eden Hazard and Alvaro Morata.
Even so, it has been an extraordinary assault on the market with outstanding young German duo Timo Werner and Kai Havertz joined by England defender Ben Chilwell from Leicester City and the vastly-experienced Brazilian Thiago Silva.
It will be fascinating and exciting to see how Lampard manoeuvres those rich resources and also how he solves the problem of keeper Kepa Arrizabalaga, who lost his manager’s faith last season. Edouard Mendy of Rennes seems favourite for the job.
Not title winners but great bet for a cup. Will this be enough for Abramovich, who will expect a full return on his investment?
4. Manchester United
Great run after the signing of Bruno Fernandes put Manchester United in the Champions League positions and the arrival of Donny van de Beek from Ajax adds weight to an already powerful midfield.
United attack is top class and may yet be augmented by Borussia Dortmund’s Jadon Sancho but three semi-final defeats last season exposed mental weaknesses – and will David de Gea raise his game with Dean Henderson back from Sheffield United?
Top four again but will be nowhere near champions Liverpool. A cup and top four.
Jose Mourinho improved Spurs in unspectacular fashion last season and has added two solid, rather than glittering, signings in Pierre-Emile Hojbjerg and Matt Doherty to give substance behind the attacking gifts of the likes of Harry Kane and Heung-Min Son.
I do not subscribe to the theory of Mourinho as yesterday’s man grasping for past glories. He will be determined to show he has still got what it takes.
Think he’ll struggle to get Spurs into the top four, although don’t bet against him winning the club’s first trophy since 2008.
Mikel Arteta’s FA Cup triumph at the end of his first season in management was huge in terms of confidence and credibility. He had familiar faults to address but there was some real resilience and organization on show from the Gunners as Liverpool, Manchester City and Chelsea were all beaten in big games.
He has added the experience and skill of Willian from Chelsea while Gabriel Magalhaes, signed from Lille, was one of Europe’s most in-demand defenders.
Arteta will want to add more before the end of the window but the big signature is the expected new contract for the world-class Pierre-Emerick Aubameyang – get that done and optimism will abound.
In contention for another cup and a decent run in the Europa League.
Now the predictions get more difficult.
Bit of faith in Carlo Ancelotti goes into this one – but his ability to attract big players and his record of success means I see improvements for Everton this season.
Ancelotti has rebuilt his midfield, as he had to do, around tough Brazilian Allan and Abdoulaye Doucoure from Watford, while the arrival of James Rodriguez from Real Madrid adds real stardust and creativity to his squad.
If the new players fire and Richarlison and Dominic Calvert-Lewin hit form then a slightly risky prediction may come off.
8. Wolverhampton Wanderers
Wolves had an excellent season at home and abroad but looked exhausted when their fine Europa League campaign ended in quarter-final defeat to eventual winners Sevilla.
Nuno Espirito Santo will hope his tightly-knit squad has recovered, although he is now without the influential Matt Doherty. Lots of very talented players in this side such as striker Raul Jimenez and Ruben Neves – but all eyes will be on 18-year-old Fabio Silva, signed in a club record £35.6m deal from Porto.
I think Wolves will be challenging for Europe again, possibly helped by not having Europa League football this season. There will be plenty to admire at Molineux.
9. Leicester City
Leicester City’s fifth place would have been regarded as a success had it not been tinged with the disappointment of missing out on the Champions League places on the last day, after spending virtually the entire season in the top four.
The worry was this came at the end of a fairly long run of indifferent form. This will have to change.
Jamie Vardy remains the key figure and while defender Ben Chilwell has gone to Chelsea, the Foxes will bank on the creativity of James Maddison to help make them an attractive and dangerous side under manager Brendan Rodgers.
Southampton fans understandably hate being reminded about that 9-0 home loss to Leicester City last October, but it can be used as measure of just how superbly manager Ralph Hasenhuttl and his players turned the season around.
The Saints have a real high-energy style, especially suited to playing away from home, and in Danny Ings possess one of the Premier League’s best strikers, scoring 22 goals last season. Kyle Walker-Peters is a very promising signing from Spurs, although Pierre-Emile Hojbjerg is a big loss.
I have a feeling Saints might just have a very decent season.
11. Leeds United
Leeds United long-awaited return to the Premier League will add pure theater simply for the presence of manager Marcelo Bielsa alone. And that is even before you get to the glorious attacking football they played to win the Championship last season.
It won’t be easy but this is a team with youth, energy and class in the shape of new England cap Kelvin Phillips and Spain striker Rodrigo, signed for £30m from Valencia, who will carry a heavy weight of attacking responsibility. Germany defender Robin Koch replaces Ben White, outstanding last season but now back at Brighton, in central defence.
Leeds will be great to watch. There may be bumps along the way but a welcome addition to the top flight.
12. Newcastle United
Steve Bruce was hardly a welcome arrival as replacement for Rafael Benitez but silenced his critics with a decent first season of consolidation on Tyneside. I can see this being another solid campaign for the Magpies.
Bruce has done some very decent work in the markets, particularly with the added threat of Bournemouth duo Callum Wilson and Ryan Fraser. Jeff Hendrick is a very solid addition on a free transfer from Burnley while Norwich City’s Jamal Lewis will add more quality.
Not expecting earth-shattering results but not expecting a struggle either – although this is Newcastle United remember.
13. West Ham United
This prediction maybe comes more in hope than expectation given the dissent already in the West Ham ranks, highlighted by captain Mark Noble publicly venting his discontent at the sale of Grady Diangana to West Bromwich Albion.
David Moyes, however, seemed to have regained some of the old fire after returning to the Hammers for a second spell. With Michail Antonio hoping to continue his superb finish to last season, if the Scot is allowed to get the defensive reinforcements he wants then a steady season may ensue.
Moyes will have problems, however, if West Ham becomes an unhappy ship.
14. Sheffield United
I predicted the Blades would stay up last season because of Chris Wilder’s management but a fully deserved ninth place was a wonderful achievement.
Not sure the second season will bring such a high placing but still feel an outstanding manager will avoid any serious hazards.
Aaron Ramsdale’s £18.5m signing from Bournemouth is an excellent replacement for Dean Henderson following his return to Manchester United. Wilder will also be leading some very underrated players who now have Premier League miles and experience on the clock. Safe again.
15. Aston Villa
Lots of factors at play here – the main one being whether Jack Grealish is still an Aston Villa player at the end of the transfer window. He is the man it all revolves around and losing him could be a serious blow.
If he stays I think Villa will avoid the turmoil of last season, but if he goes that knocks a massive hole in this prediction.
Dean Smith has spent big on Brentford’s Ollie Watkins to solve a lack of goal threat and many good judges believe the 24-year-old has what it takes to thrive in the Premier League. A lot will depend on both Smith and those judges being right.
Sean Dyche produced magnificent management at Burnley to make the top ten last season but worries persist about losing his excellent central defender James Tarkowski, with West Ham leading the bidding.
Dyche will have his work cut out to produce the same finish as last season and has to work within a tight budget. He will need some astute additions before the window closes but I am pretty confident Burnley will avoid serious trouble once again under a manager who gets the best from his resources.
Graham Potter’s first season in charge had its peaks and troughs but in the end Brighton stayed up with a bit to spare. I think they will have anxious times this season but will just stay up.
Adam Lallana is good business on a free if he stays fit while the experienced Netherlands defender Joel Veltman will add know-how. Brighton will also hope the much-admired Ben White brings his brilliant form in Leeds United promotion campaign to the Premier League.
Much to do before the window closes but fancy the Seagulls to stay up.
And now to the predictions where I would be perfectly happy to be wrong.
18. Crystal Palace
Always an element of risk suggesting any team with Roy Hodgson in charge will go down – but they had a dreadful end to last season and could yet lose their most influential player Wilfried Zaha.
This is one where the crystal ball may be a bit cloudy but Hodgson needs a good start.
Eberechi Eze is an exciting addition while Michy Batshuayi back on loan will add threat. If Zaha survives the transfer window cut again then a higher finish is very possible but just feel a little concern in my bones for Palace.
19. West Bromwich Albion
Again so much depends on what Slaven Bilic can pull off in the closing weeks of the window and the permanent signing of Grady Diangana from West Ham has brought excitement at the Hawthorns and angst in East London.
Bilic still has time to put together a squad to ensure safety but needs some good work to avoid struggles.
This is said with a heavy heart as Fulham is a wonderful club back in the Premier League and it would be a real pleasure to eventually eat humble pie on this one.
Scott Parker has made a fine start to his managerial career and he will know the obstacles that await. Aleksandar Mitrovic is pivotal. If he scores goals then survival can be within reach.
Fulham defied the odds by spending more than £100m to make the team worse and get relegated when they were last in the Premier League – maybe they can do the same again in reverse by staying up with a more sensible and prudent approach this time. Plenty will hope they do.