Dubai: Ever since the 2020/21 season ended, there has been plenty of football to help tide us over what with Euro 2020 (don’t mention penalties…) the Copa America, and lots of matches being played at the Olympics. But on August 14, the real action will begin as the new 2021/22 Premier League season kicks off.
It actually starts the day before on Friday the 13th (will it be unlucky for Arsenal or Brentford?), but the bulk of the fixtures will be on the 14th and life will have meaning once again. Our dearest Premier League, how we have missed you.
It’s a landmark year for England’s top flight as the competition heads into its 30th season, and it promises drama aplenty. Will Manchester City be able to defend their title? Are Chelsea going to be the dark horses? Can the new boys avoid relegation?
There are plenty of questions and to get you up to speed, here is a look at the title contenders, the top four hopefuls the teams who will be battling to avoid the dreaded drop and all 20 clubs competing in the best football league in the world.
Contenders For The Title
Manchester City are the favourites to retain their title. Last season they made a rather slow start, but soon hit their stride and looked unbeatable for long periods of the campaign. They have been linked with a move for want away Tottenham striker Harry Kane all summer and if they get him it would be a real coup and make them even stronger. Ruben Dias was superb last season and we saw flashes of the quality of Ferran Torres. Pep Guardiola’s team is loaded with talent - it will be a big season for Phil Foden while John Stones will continue to improve at the back.
However, City will face a strong challenge once again from Liverpool who have talisman Virgil Van Dijk back having missed most of last season from injury. Joe Gomez is also back and with Mo Salah and Sadio Mane as good as ever, they will be right up there as will Champions League winners Chelsea. The Blues enjoyed a strong second half of the season after Thomas Tuchel replaced Frank Lampard in January and they have a squad loaded with talent. Antonio Rudiger, Kai Havertz, Mason Mount, Christian Pulisic, Jorginho and N’Golo Kante would probably get into any team and they have reportedly bid £130 million for striker Erling Haaland. If they get him then Chelsea will mean serious business.
With the arrival of Jadon Sancho to the squad already boasting Paul Pogba, Marcus Rashford, Bruno Fernandes and Mason Greenwood, Manchester United are looking like they will mount a strong challenge this time too.
Top Four Hopefuls
Leicester City finished last season in 5th and will want to try to break into the top 4 this time but will have a lot of competition. The Foxes have made some good signings during the summer, they secured the services of Patson Daka, Boubakary Soumare and Ryan Bertrand.
Also hoping to make the step up will be Tottenham and their north London rivals Arsenal. Tottenham look set to lose star man Kane however chairman Daniel Levy will demand new boss Nuno Espirito Santo gets them up the table. Mikel Arteta has had time to bed himself in at the Emirates and much will be expected of him this season. They have had a busy transfer window and have signed Albert Sambi Lokonga, Nuno Tavares and Ben White.
Everton have a new boss now too and it is has been a controversial choice. Former Liverpool man Rafa Benitez has taken over at Goodison and both the red and blue half of Merseyside have had their reservations about the appointment. But, he is a good coach and he could be the man to get the Toffees flying again.
West Ham were on the fringes of the top 4 all season but fell short – but boss David Moyes will want to see another solid showing from the Hammers.
Battle To Avoid Relegation:
You can’t look any further than the three newly promoted teams to go straight back down again. It will be a slog of a season for Brentford, Norwich and Watford - but there are several other established teams who flirted with the dreaded drop last season. Burnley don’t look as solid as they once used to be while Brighton play good football but seem to have a soft centre.
Southampton really went off the boil last season and Newcastle are just plain lousy. They all look set for a relegation scrap.
Club By Club Guide
Manager: Mikel Arteta
Captain: Pierre-Emerick Aubameyang
Last season: 8th
First game: Brentford (away)
It was a largely underwhelming season for Mikel Arteta who earlier in the campaign found his Gunners battling relegation. But a strong finish saw them climb up to 8th and they will want to improve on that this time around. On the last day of the season, they were battling north London rivals Tottenham for the final European spot but lost out and this may work in their favour; they’ll have no midweek distractions and will be able to give the league their full concentration.
But this also means Arteta will have no excuses this time and a poor start could see him become the first managerial casualty. The club have backed him in the transfer market this summer with the big signing of Ben White for £50 million from Brighton and they have also snapped up Albert Sambi Lokonga from Anderlecht.
Manager: Dean Smith
Captain: Jack Grealish
Last season: 11th
First game: Watford (away)
Villa had some incredible results last season with the 7-2 drubbing of Liverpool the highlight and they finished mid-table which was where they deserved. They’ll be there again this time around or lower depending on whether they can hold on to key man Jack Grealish who is wanted by champions Man City.
Manager Dean Smith is preparing for life without the talented playmaker and has made a bid for Southampton’s James Ward-Prowse as a replacement. They have secured the signing of Emi Buendia which will give them a real boost.
Manager: Thomas Frank
Captain: Pontus Jansson
Last season: Promoted
First game: Arsenal (home)
After so many near misses, The Bees are finally in the top flight but they will need to make a strong early start if they are to stay in the Premier League. They have outscored their Championship peers for two years running but it’ll be a different kettle of fish in the big league where they could find life a lot harder. They have Ivan Toney who has scored 55 goals in his last 77 league games and they will hope the 25-year-old can make the step up and continue to bang in the goals, otherwise they look destined to struggle.
BRIGHTON & HOVE ALBION
Manager: Graham Potter
Captain: Lewis Dunk
Last season: 16th
First game: Burnley (away)
The Seagulls entertained us all with their attacking brand of football and for a while manager Graham Potter was linked with the vacant Tottenham and Everton managerial roles. He’s still at Brighton and will want to see his side push on this season after a close call with relegation in the last campaign.
They are better than their final position of 16th suggests and if they can get a few more goals they should finish in mid-table. They have plenty of cash to splash to improve the squad following the sale of White to Arsenal and have already bought Enock Mwepu from Red Bull Sazburg. They call him ‘The Computer’ because of his abilities to read the game. Well, if The Computer doesn’t crash, Brighton could have a decent campaign.
Manager: Sean Dyce
Captain: Ben Mee
Last season: 17th:
First game: Brighton (home)
Burnley began the season stuck in the bottom three and they only ended the campaign one place above the dreaded drop zone. It was a difficult season for Sean Dyce’s men and they may struggle again this time out. Having been promised funds to strengthen the team, Dyce has only managed to bring in £12 million man Nathan Collins while Dwight McNeil has been tipped for a move away. If they lose him it really will be a hard season for the Clarets.
Manager: Thomas Tuchel
Captain: Cesar Azpilicueta
Last season: 4th
First game: Crystal Palace (home)
They finished 4th last season and won the Champions League and this time out, coach Thomas Tuchel will be gunning for champions Man City. And with the squad they’ve got, they will be a real challenge for Pep Guardiola’s side.
Chelsea need a striker to be transformed into full-blown title contenders, and if they can get Erling Haaland – who has been linked all summer - to support Timo Werner and Kai Harvertz, the Blues will be a real handful. West Ham’s Declan Rice has been linked too and he would certainly boost an already strong midfield. They are the title dark horses.
Manager: Patrick Vieira
Captain: Luke Milivojevic
Last season: 14th
First game: Chelsea (away)
The Eagles have a new boss in former Arsenal captain Patrick Vieira who replaced the retired Roy Hodgson. Vieira will have to hit the ground running if he is to avoid the same fete that befell Frank De Boer who arrived in 2017 and lasted just 10 weeks before Hodgson took over and stabilized the club.
Vieira will need to address a squad which has several players out of contract and he has already lost their player of the season Andros Townsend to Everton. Palace have signed young duo Marc Guehi and Michael Olise from Swansea and Reading but this could well be a transitional season.
Manager: Rafa Benitez
Captain: Seamus Coleman
Last season: 10th
First game: Southampton (home)
Everton look to be back to square one having lost coach Carlo Ancelotti this summer to Real Madrid. The Italian looked like the man to finally get the Toffees back on track and on the hunt for silverware. He’s left and in has come former Liverpool boss Rafa Benitez which is a controversial appointment indeed. The Spaniard will need a strong start to the season to win over the fans - and for the sake of his job. If Everton start the season slowly the pressure on Benitez will be immense and with fans allowed back inside stadiums, you get the feeling he will always be one defeat away from the sack. But, he is an experienced coach and can handle the pressure.
And the acquisition of winger Demarai Gray looks to be an astute piece of business already. They were in the Champions League hunt with 8 games to go last season before falling away. Can Rafa get them into the top four this time? Now that would be a story.
Manager: Marcelo Bielsa
Captain: Liam Cooper
Last season: 9th
First game: Man Utd (away)
They became everyone’s favourite second team with their all-out attack approach in every game and it lead them to a brilliant 9th place finish. But, with that energetic style of play, have they burned out now? That’ll be the big question. They’ll have to quash that ‘second season syndrome’ malaise and Argentine coach Bielsa will do his best. They have made some encouraging signings in the shape of Spanish defender Junior Firpo and getting Jack Harrison on a permanent deal.
Manager: Brendan Rodgers
Captain: Kasper Schmeichel
Last season: 5th
First game: Wolves (home)
They won the FA Cup and almost snuck into the top 4 and will be pleased with the progress made under coach Rodgers since his arrival in 2019. They’ll be competing in the Europa League and it has often seen teams struggle domestically. They have added some depth to the squad with the arrivals of RB Salzburg ace Patson Daka and Ryan Bertrand and there’s no doubt their starting 11 can challenge anyone.
Manager: Jurgen Klopp
Captain: Jordan Henderson
Last season: 3rd
First game: Norwich (away)
They failed to defend their title but it was a season where everything seemed to conspire against them. Losing talisman Virgil Van Dijk hit them hard and they also had to do with Joe Gomez and several others. Liverpool’s injury woes exposed a level of complacency around squad depth (the acquisition of 22-year-old Ibrahima Konaté should help) but they still managed to finish 3rd and secure Champions League football.
Coach Klopp will need to fine-tune the team if they are to challenge Man City but with the likes of Chelsea and Man Utd looking stronger, it will take every effort to finish in the top 4 again
Manager: Pep Guardiola
Last season: 1st
First game: Tottenham (away)
For so long there was serious talk of a quadruple. Then it became a treble. In the end, City won two domestic competitions and it was still a great season for Pep’s men. They clicked into gear after a slow start and deserved to win the title. It will be hard to defend what with the likes of Chelsea looking a threat. But their goal now has to be to win the Champions League.
And without the legendary Sergio Agüero, it may be even harder while their £200 million pursuit of Harry Kane and Jack Grealish has coincided with talks over Raheem Sterling's new contract failing to progress. But he still has two more years on his current deal so there's no panic yet.
Manager: Ole Gunnar Solskjaer
Captain: Harry Maguire
Last season: 2nd
First game: Leeds (home)
Utd have now gone eight years without a league title but coach Solksjaer has made steady progress and he has been rewarded with a new contract. They finished 2nd last season thanks mostly to their incredible away record. But the pressure will be on him to deliver and to transform the team into genuine title contenders.
They certainly cannot afford another group stage exit in the Champions League but with the addition of Jadon Sancho to an already strong squad, they have the players to push for silverware.
Manager: Steve Bruce
Captain: Jamaal Lascelles
Last season: 12th
First game: West Ham (home)
They secured a comfortable mid-table finish after a slow start but with Bruce at the helm, they really can’t expect to finish higher than 12th place again. Newcastle always just seem like they are making up the numbers, they’re not good enough to threaten the top 6 or bad enough to be in the bottom 3. Allan Saint-Maximin has been linked with a move to Everton and if they lose him the pressure will be on Callum Wilson to carry the team.
Manager: Daniel Farke
Captain: Grant Hanley
Last season: Promoted
First game: Liverpool (home)
Daniel Farke’s side are back in the Premier League and you would think that they will do better than their hapless 21-point campaign in 2019/20. To do that, they will need to hold on to the wanted Max Aarons and Todd Cantwell having already sold Emi Buendia. They do look weak in attack and will rely yet again on 31-year-old Teemu Puki to help keep them up. They have signed Werder Bremen winger Milot Rashica and brought in Chelsea’s Scotland ace Billy Gilmour on loan. The Canaries are a bit of a yo-yo club – but can they stay up this time?
Manager: Ralph Hasenhuttl
Captain: James Ward-Prowse
Last season: 15th
First game: Everton (away)
After a strong start to the season, The Saints fell away badly in the second half and coach Ralph Hasenhüttl will need to bolster the squad this summer. But, if they can’t add some real quality to it, then keeping Danny Ings at the club will have to be their aim. But even if he stays, you get the feeling Southampton will struggle again and if they lose James Ward-Prowse then they will definitely struggle.
Manager: Nuno Espirito Santo
Captain: Hugo Lloris
Last season: 7th
First game: Man City (home)
Spurs sacked coach Jose Mourinho mid-way through last season and it took them a long time to find a permanent replacement, eventually settling for former Wolves coach Nuno Espírito Santo. He likes to play fast, attacking football and Spurs will be pleased to have gotten him in at White Hart Lane. But, it’ll be a huge step up for him and he faces a tough task in convincing Harry Kane to stay at the club.
The striker has made it clear he wishes to leave and Man City are believed to be on the verge of signing him. If he was to go then the pressure will be on Son to carry the team. They’ll be playing in the Europa Conference League which is the poor man’s Champions League and as a result, they may find it hard to attract top-class players.
Manager: Xisco Munez
Captain: Troy Deeney
Last season: Promoted
First game: Aston Villa (home)
Watford are back at the first time of asking and will be desperate to re-establish themselves in the top flight. Coach Xisco Munoz had a tough start to life at Vicarage Road but guided the club to promotion but the Spaniard will need to add some quality to the team. The Hornets will look to Ismaila Sarr to grab the goals along with captain Troy Deeney if they are to stay up this time. They have been busy in the transfer market and have already brought in Danny Rose, Josh King, Imran Louza and Emmanuel Dennis.
WEST HAM UNITED
Manager: David Moyes
Captain: Mark Noble
Last season: 6th
First game: Newcastle (away)
David Moyes have proven once again that given just a little bit of time and trust he can build a proper football team. He helped guide the Hammers to 6th last season which qualifies them for European football but they just missed out on the Champions League. Still, the rehabilitation of Moyes is complete and the Scotsman will be looking forward to the new campaign.
However, to fight credibly on two fronts, they need reinforcements. Defender Kurt Zouma could be on the way from Chelsea but heading in the other direction might be midfielder Declan Rice and that would be a big loss.
Manager: Bruno Lage
Captain: Conor Coady
Last season: 13th
First game: Leicester (away)
Wolves allowed coach Nuno Espirito Santo to leave after his first rocky season and many feel it was a bad decision. In has come former Benfica boss Bruno Lage and he will have his work cut out in trying to get the team back into the top 8. The loss of Raúl Jiménez last season cost them dear but he is back to fitness and will be key to how they do this season. Adding extra creativity in midfield and attack looks a must if Lage is to stand any chance of building successfully on Nuno’s fine legacy.
Predicted Premier League Table 2021/22
1 MAN CITY
3 MAN UTD
5 LEICESTER CITY
8 LEEDS UTD
9 ASTON VILLA
12 WEST HAM
15 CRYSTAL PALACE
19 NORWICH CITY