Less than two months after the prolonged 2019–20 campaign came to an end in July, the Premier League returns to the pitch this weekend with plenty of intrigue.
Can Liverpool repeat as champions, or is Pep Guardiola’s favoured Manchester City the team to beat? Will Chelsea’s summer spending spree push Frank Lampard’s club back into the title conversation? How will Leeds United, back in the English top flight for the first time since 2004, fare in its Premier League return? Those are just a few of the big storylines entering the new campaign.
Ahead of Saturday’s kickoff, Sportsnet’s soccer panelists weigh in with their predictions for the new season, including their picks for the top four, relegation, top scorer and more.
Also, make sure to check out the latest episode of Sportsnet’s soccer podcast, A Kick In The Grass, as Jeff Blair and Dan Riccio preview the Premier League season and break down Chelsea’s transfer moves with The Athletic‘s Liam Twomey.
Top four: 1) Liverpool, 2) Manchester United, 3) Manchester City, 4) Chelsea
Relegated: Burnley, West Brom, Brighton
Top scorer: Harry Kane, Tottenham
Player to watch: Mason Greenwood, Manchester United
Newcomer to keep tabs on: Donny van de Beek, Manchester United
Storyline to watch: Find someone who loves you nearly as much as Carlo Ancelotti evidently loves James Rodriguez. Everton signed Rodriguez this week from Real Madrid on a two-year deal, with a club option for a third season, meaning Ancelotti has now signed the Colombian three separate times since 2014. If James finds the form that made him a household name after the 2014 World Cup, he could be the most impactful signing of the early transfer window.
Top four: 1) Manchester City, 2) Liverpool, 3) Chelsea, 4) Manchester United
Relegated: West Ham, Fulham, West Brom
Top scorer: Pierre-Emerick Aubameyang, Arsenal
Player to watch: Mason Greenwood, Manchester United
Newcomer to keep tabs on: Timo Werner, Chelsea
Storyline to watch: COVID-19 and whether we see a return of stadiums full of fans, of course. But beyond that, Joe Torre and Brian Cashman always claimed that one of the keys to the New York Yankees’ run of success was constructive churn: tweaking the core of a really good team to freshen up the locker room and field. I’m surprised Liverpool could watch what happened to Manchester City last season and not add a couple of pieces capable of delivering something extra — players who perhaps have yet to win anything of substance and as a result have a hunger to succeed. Liverpool was unimpressive after the resumption of play. It will be a closer fight this time around and I think City gets it done. I’m less certain about that fourth spot. I really like what Arsenal has going on and I’m not all in yet on Ole Gunnar Solskjaer.
Top four: 1) Manchester City, 2) Liverpool, 3) Chelsea, 4) Arsenal
Relegated: Fulham, West Ham, West Brom
Top scorer: Raheem Sterling, Manchester City
Player to watch: Naby Keita, Liverpool
Newcomer to keep tabs on: Gabriel, Arsenal
Storyline to watch: How will teams and players handle fixture congestion? Normally, the English season is packed with matches throughout the campaign. But thanks to the COVID-19 pandemic, that’ll be especially true for 2020–21. Clubs will play every three or four days, with very little room to reschedule matches if necessary. Muscle injuries, and injuries in general, will likely skyrocket this year. That’s why the deepest squads will benefit. This will also be a sign of what’s to come from now until the 2022 World Cup, with such a loaded calendar over the next two years.
Top Four: 1) Manchester City, 2) Chelsea, 3) Liverpool, 4) Arsenal
Relegated: West Brom, Fulham, Aston Villa
Top Scorer: Timo Werner, Chelsea
Player to Watch: Phil Foden, Manchester City
Newcomer to keep tabs on: Ollie Watkins, Aston Villa
Storyline to watch: Chelsea’s summer spending spree. The Blues got back into the market with a bang this summer by spending $250 million on the likes of Timo Werner, Kai Havertz, Hakim Ziyech and Ben Chilwell. With big spending comes big expectations, and the most intriguing storyline of the new campaign has to be how Frank Lampard’s side lives, or doesn’t live, up to them. While the additions of Chilwell and 35-year-old Thiago Silva on a free transfer should help Chelsea, this is still a squad with serious questions at the back, as the team gave up 54 goals last season – the most by any Premier League club that finished in the top 10. Plus, the situation at goalkeeper is still very much unresolved.
Top Four: 1) Manchester City, 2) Liverpool, 3) Manchester United, 4) Tottenham
Relegated: Burnley, West Brom, Fulham
Top Scorer: Pierre-Emerick Aubameyang, Arsenal
Player to Watch: “Yorkshire Pirlo” Kalvin Phillips, Leeds United
Newcomer to keep tabs on: Ferran Torres, Manchester City
Storyline to watch: It’s been a long road back to the Premier League for Leeds United. You have to go all the way back to 2004 for the last time we saw them in the top flight, and their return will not be short of drama. Marcelo Bielsa is a brilliant tactical mind, but his temperament makes him unpredictable to say the least. Gone are the days of Rio Ferdinand and Mark Viduka leading the Whites, but there is no doubt the Premier League is better with Leeds United back in the fold.
Top four: 1) Liverpool, 2) Manchester City, 3) Chelsea, 4) Arsenal
Relegated: Fulham, West Brom, Brighton
Top scorer: Marcus Rashford, Manchester United
Player to watch: Hikam Ziyech, Chelsea
Newcomer to keep tabs on: Rodrigo, Leeds United
Storyline to watch: Can James Rodriguez revive his career at Everton? The star of the 2014 FIFA World Cup will unite with Carlo Ancelotti for a third time (Real Madrid, Bayern Munich), but does his style of play suit the Premier League? Skeptics say no, that he doesn’t have the work rate to flourish under these conditions, but Ancelotti is once again betting on James. The signings of James, Allan and Abdoulaye Doucoure bring more quality to Everton’s midfield, but if the Toffies (12th place last year) want to push for a place in Europe, James will need to be front and centre, game in, game out, and there are questions about whether that will happen.