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The 2021-22 Premier League season is almost upon us – just over 80 days since the previous campaign concluded. Manchester City won the league last term, their third triumph in the past four seasons under Pep Guardiola. But who will be crowned champions next May? And who will join them in qualifying for the Champions League? Further down the table, who will be demoted to the Championship? The Express Sport team give their predictions as to how the season will pan out. Do you agree? Have your say in the comments below.
The title winners
Neil Squires: Man City – That is, assuming they sign Harry Kane. If they don’t then the race opens up. For a single player to be the decisive weight on the title see-saw is incredible given the quality of the other players in the contenders’ squads but Kane, with his link play and most importantly his goals, would set City apart and turn their one area of weakness into a huge strength.
Sam Smith: Man City – Kane or no Kane, it’s difficult to look beyond a fourth Premier League title in five years for Man City. Guardiola still lacks the elite striker that he so desperately wants, but there are still enough scorers of 10-12 goals in the team to share the scoring burden.
Archie Griggs: Chelsea – The appointment of Thomas Tuchel worked wonders for Chelsea’s defence last season, but they struggled up top on plenty of occasions. However, the capture of Romelu Lukaku will provide them with the necessary firepower to pip Manchester City to another domestic triumph.
Charlie Gordon: Man City – Picking the Blues is the coward’s way out this year, in what we hope will be a four-way scrap for the title. Man Utd have recruited well, Chelsea are going places quickly under Thomas Tuchel, and Liverpool could return to their former glory with their centre-backs fit again. However, if Pep Guardiola gets a tune out of his side it would be hard to bet against them retaining their crown.
Charlie Malam: Man City – It has to be the defending champions again for me, even if they miss out on Harry Kane. I just think their squad is so rich with quality in midfield and attack in particular, even before signing Kane, that they’ll have too much for their rivals. Raheem Sterling might find his way back to his best after the Euros and Ferran Torres looks a handy centre-forward option if he’s needed to play there.
Alex Turk: Chelsea – I’ve been convincing myself Manchester City will win a sixth Premier League crown for weeks, but Romelu Lukaku’s impending arrival will make it six for Chelsea instead. Jack Grealish is a great addition, but he doesn’t boost City’s level like how Lukaku – and potentially Jules Kounde – will improve the Blues. Pep Guardiola’s likely failure to replace Sergio Aguero immediately will prove costly as Thomas Tuchel’s glorious reign continues.
Lewis Winter: Man City – Even with Chelsea signing Romelu Lukaku, I think City will have enough to finish top yet again. Pep’s side were more than good enough playing without a striker for the majority of last season. Chelsea may push them close but the Blues’ ageing defence could potentially come unstuck across a whole campaign. And if City can get a deal for Harry Kane over the line then it really will be a walk in the park.
Tom Bennett: Man City – They will be pushed harder than last season, most likely by a very strong Chelsea side, but Man City should successfully defend their title. The key players in their title-winning squad all remain, and Jack Grealish’s arrival gives Pep Guardiola yet another option to unlock deep defences in the games that would most threaten their title hopes.
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The top four
Neil Squires: Man City, Chelsea, Man Utd, Liverpool – The big six has been boiled down to a super four. Arsenal and Spurs may think of themselves as part of the club but the reality is this quartet are operating on a different level. City are the champions, Chelsea the kings of Europe, United have signed well and Liverpool have their central defence restored. A league within a league.
Sam Smith: Man City, Chelsea, Man Utd, Liverpool – The status quo at the top of the Premier League changed from four to six in the mid 2010s but it now seems to have reverted. Chelsea will have the best striker in the top four in Lukaku, United have bought well and Liverpool look in need of a few additions. Leicester and Aston Villa could both have better campaigns than Arsenal and Tottenham.
Archie Griggs: Chelsea, Man Utd, Man City, Liverpool – Although City showed little difficulty in storming to last season’s title, they are yet to sign a new striker, while a number of stars including Bernardo Silva are believed to be unhappy at the club. They could be pipped to second place by cross-city rivals United, while Liverpool should have enough for a top-four finish despite a quiet transfer window thus far.
Charlie Gordon: Man City, Chelsea, Liverpool, Man Utd – It is hard to overstate just how good Chelsea looked after Tuchel’s January appointment, even without £98million Romelu Lukaku thrown into the mix. Liverpool’s finish last season must be taken with a pinch of salt due to their injury woes, and although United could be right in the mix, I see them finishing fourth in a tight battle between the top sides.
Charlie Malam: Man City, Liverpool, Chelsea, Man Utd – I’m confident it’ll be the same four as last year, it’s just the order that’s so tough to predict. First and fourth could easily be separated by five or 10 points this season (compared to a 19-point gap last year and 33 the season before). I’ll actually say Liverpool will finish runners-up, as in 2018-19 albeit not quite as close, with United’s midfield seeing them suffer a few setbacks. Chelsea to go strong again but not to be quite as imperious defensively as they were last year.
Alex Turk: Chelsea, Man City, Man Utd, Liverpool – In that order. Man City may not win the league, but there will be a distinctive difference in class between second and third. Manchester United have strengthened well, but the club’s glaring need for an upgrade in defensive midfield will prevent Ole Gunnar Solskjaer the title. Liverpool’s starting line-up is as good as any in the competition, but Jurgen Klopp’s squad depth isn’t comparable to his main rivals, and it’ll show as the season progresses.
Liam Winter: Man City, Chelsea, Man Utd, Liverpool – Chelsea have shown enough under Thomas Tuchel to prove they can be the nearest challengers to City. Manchester United have had the best window and really need to be pushing under Ole Gunnar Solskjaer. However, I still think their midfield is a weakness and they should not be relying on Edinson Cavani as their main striker all season. Liverpool are relying on the likes of Virgil van Dijk to come back firing from his injury. The Reds could just sneak into fourth ahead of an ever-improving Leicester.
Tom Bennett: Man City, Chelsea, Man Utd, Liverpool – There are a number of unknown quantities going into the season: Can Arsenal or Tottenham rediscover their swagger? Can Aston Villa’s clever spending yield immediate results? Will Rafa Benitez work as Everton manager? Can Leicester continue their upward trajectory? But amid all those questions it’s hard to look beyond the obvious four clubs as the likely top-four finishers.
Premier League 2021/21 fixtures: The first six matchdays
Neil Squires: Watford, Brentford, Southampton – The promoted teams are automatically most at risk but Norwich banked some valuable Premier League experience on their last brief stay and with the loan signing of Scotland Euros star Billy Gilmour from Chelsea they may just have enough to stay up this time. Saints could be the ones to suffer after the loss of Danny Ings.
Sam Smith: Southampton, Norwich, Watford – Come May, Southampton might say they would happily swap Ings for the £30m that Villa have given them. All three of these teams look short of quality. I have a general rule not to immediately relegate clubs playing in their first Premier League seasons (see: Bournemouth, Huddersfield), which now applies to Brentford.
Archie Griggs: Newcastle United, Norwich City, Brentford – Even if Newcastle manage to sign Arsenal’s Joe Willock this summer, his arrival may not be enough to prevent the Magpies from dropping to the Championship. They could be closely followed by Norwich, who have not added enough quality to justify Premier League survival, while Brentford will also face a tricky task in avoiding relegation.
Charlie Gordon: Burnley, Norwich, Watford – Every year, a little voice inside my head says that Burnley will finally go down, and then Sean Dyche works another miracle. Despite putting their Emiliano Buendia nest egg into many baskets, Norwich could struggle without their creative spark, while Watford could also succumb to the simple fact that 17 more talented squads will also be vying for Premier League points.
Charlie Malam: Southampton, Watford, Norwich – There’s been some fun signings at Norwich with Milot Rashica, Josh Sargent and Billy Gilmour among them but I still think they’ll drop back down. Watford will need to over perform to stay up, and I don’t see them doing so. Southampton have made interesting signings like Norwich, particularly in Armando Broja, Valentino Livramento and Adam Armstrong, but I feel like might go down too. I’m backing Brentford to do as Wolves and Leeds have done in their first seasons in the top flight and comfortably avoid relegation.
Alex Turk: Burnley, Norwich City, Watford – Several teams could have to battle for survival this season – Newcastle United, Crystal Palace and Brentford to name a few. I think the central tussle in 18th will be between Southampton and Burnley, though, which the latter lose. As Sean Dyche’s Turf Moor wonders fade, I back Norwich City and Watford to drop straight back down to the Championship after uninspiring transfer windows. As a bonus, Xisco is my heavy favourite in the sack race.
Liam Winter: Norwich, Southampton, Watford – Norwich are probably going to get most people’s votes in this category. I just don’t think their squad is good enough to finish outside the bottom three. Same with Watford, with Brentford the only one of the promoted teams to stay up. Southampton may be a surprise choice but the departure of Danny Ings and impending exit of Jannik Vestergaard is going to weaken them significantly.
Tom Bennett: Watford, Burnley, Newcastle – The three promoted sides will all have their work cut out to stay up, but Brentford and Norwich City in particular are interesting teams with just enough about them to survive for another season. Although whether they can turn that into a long-term stay in the top-flight is doubtful. Burnley and Newcastle did well to avoid allowing the rot to truly set in last year, but both clubs feel on the downward spiral and this could be the year they finally drop.
Player of the Year
Neil Squires: Mo Salah (Liverpool) – The Egyptian benefited from a summer’s rest after being persuaded to sit out the Olympics and Liverpool should see the benefit. He scored 22 goals in a disrupted team last season in the Premier League. The supply line will be restored this season so expect more in 2021/22.
Sam Smith: Kevin De Bruyne (Man City) – The Belgian was pipped to the award by City team-mate Ruben Dias last season but will duly take it back if he stays injury free and if his side win the league. A midfield partnership of De Bruyne and Grealish is going to be fun.
Archie Griggs: Mason Mount (Chelsea) – Mount has emerged as one of the division’s best attacking players in recent years and the 22-year-old could enjoy a starring role once again this season. He will be tasked with pulling the strings behind Lukaku and is likely to play an influential role in any successful title bid.
Charlie Gordon: Romelu Lukaku (Chelsea) – After his stint in Italy, the Belgian will come back to the Premier League as a completely different animal. Sharper, stronger, and more rampant than ever, Lukaku has a serious point to prove after his first spell at Chelsea. Think about how many times Timo Werner got into scoring positions last season – Lukaku is just as quick, but a far more accomplished finisher.
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Charlie Malam: Harry Kane (Man City) – I think Romelu Lukaku will be a big success for Chelsea but I’ll pluck for Kane, on the proviso that he forces his way out of Tottenham. City should have serious aims at the quadruple if the England captain joins, they’d be that good. Matching the form he produced for Spurs last term in this City side would be frightening and they could even break the league’s record for top-scoring team. Elsewhere, Sadio Mane will be back to his best at Liverpool as will Raheem Sterling for City.
Alex Turk: Romelu Lukaku (Chelsea) – It’s going to be a rampant Premier League return for Romelu Lukaku. As Chelsea knock Man City off their perch, I’m expecting Lukaku to net 20-plus league goals with ease. Form that will leave the PFA with no choice but to end fellow Belgian Kevin De Bruyne’s two-year spell with the trophy. I also think Jack Grealish is a top shout if he hits the ground running and especially if he plays a role in a title win.
Lewis Winter: Romelu Lukaku (Chelsea) – If Harry Kane had joined City by now then he would have got my vote. He would guarantee a hatful of goals and adding the Premier League title would make him favourite to win this award for the first time. But he’s still at Spurs so I’m going to go with Romelu Lukaku. He is at the absolute peak of his powers right now and should score 25+ goals in the league alone.
Tom Bennett: Harry Kane (Tottenham or Man City) – The England captain will have a slow start to the season regardless of where he ends up playing. But there is no other reason to doubt a repeat of close to the form he showed last season. That level of output will be tough to ignore in the Player of the Year conversation, particularly if those performances come in a title challenge rather than as part of an otherwise misfiring Jose Mourinho Spurs side.
Neil Squires: Emi Buendia (Aston Villa) – No easy task filling the creative hole left by Jack Grealish’s departure but Buendia could have a big influence after his signing from Norwich. The Argentine winger was the Championship Player of the Year last season with 15 goals and 16 assists.
Sam Smith: Harvey Elliott (Liverpool) – There was a belief throughout Premier League academies that this summer would provide a better opportunity than usual for young players to impress first-team coaches. Several international tournaments have left senior squads stretched and places needing to be filled for training and matches. Elliott is an example of someone who has grasped that chance. A player who was set for another loan after impressing at Blackburn could now be guaranteed regular Premier League minutes after a fine pre-season. Also keep an eye on Crystal Palace’s exciting 18-year-old winger Jesurun Rak-Sakyi, who Patrick Vieira is very keen on.
Archie Griggs: Curtis Jones (Liverpool) – Jones has already established himself as a regular first-teamer at Liverpool but could be primed to flourish in the absence of Georginio Wijnaldum. He could well be the Dutchman’s ready-made replacement and has the potential to become a solid starter for Jurgen Klopp’s side over the course of the new campaign.
Charlie Gordon: Patson Daka (Leicester) – The Zambian 22-year-old was an absolute goal machine in the Austrian Bundesliga, much like Erling Haaland who hasn’t turned out bad so far. His cameo in the Community Shield showed his terrifying power and pace – if Brendan Rodgers makes him first choice ahead of Jamie Vardy or Kelechi Iheanacho this season, do not be surprised to see him bag 20-plus.
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Charlie Malam: Boubakary Soumare (Leicester) – Signing Soumare, a title-winner with Lille in France last term, for £17million will prove an absolute bargain. Still only 22, it won’t be long until fans of other clubs are asking, ‘Why didn’t we sign him?’ Leicester already have several excellent options in midfield – and Brendan Rodgers says he’s relaxed about the box-to-box Soumare’s development this season – but I think he’ll force his way into the team and that come May we’ll all know plenty about his all-rounded abilities.
Alex Turk: Bryan Mbeumo (Brentford) – All eyes are on Ivan Toney after his dominance in the Championship last season, especially those belonging to FPL managers. However, don’t sleep on Bryan Mbeumo. I expect Brentford to retain their Premier League status this season, and the 22-year-old French winger will play a key role in that. He scored eight goals and provided 10 assists last term and while mainly operating on the right of a front three, he’s also capable at wing-back.
Lewis Winter: Armando Broja (Southampton) – Chelsea academy graduate Broja has joined Southampton on loan and has the unenviable task of replacing Danny Ings. The 19-year-old scored 11 goals on loan at Vitesse last season and is highly-rated by Chelsea fans who keep an eye on their young talent. Southampton may go down but Broja can do his stock a world of good this season.
Tom Bennett: Patson Daka (Leicester) – Leicester City’s new striker is exactly the sort of player capable of lighting up the Premier League. Daka, who joined from Red Bull Salzburg this summer, is a huge talent and the heir to Jamie Vardy’s throne as the lightning-quick spearhead of Leicester’s attack. Regular playing time will be split across the Foxes’ forward options, but Daka has the quality to shine even if his starting opportunities could be relatively limited this season.
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