The new Premier League season will be the longest ever via a midseason World Cup and sees intriguing battles at both ends of the table with what looks like the strongest division in a long time. Here, we preview the prospects for ten of the clubs making up the best division in club football.
Manager: Mikel Arteta
Key Player: Bukayo Saka
A season of improvement, but one that ultimately fell short of expectations for the Gunners. Mikel Arteta’s side suffered a dreadful start to the campaign, but quickly recovered with new signings in Aaron Ramsdale and Ben White. However, Arteta fell out with striker Pierre Aubameyang, who departed for Barcelona but crucially wasn’t replaced. Arsenal lost their way late in the season, including a painful defeat in the North London derby as Arteta’s men finished an improved, but frustrating fifth place.
Alexandre Lacazette followed fellow striker Aubameyang through the exit door, but Arsenal wisely agreed to a fresh deal with Eddie Nketiah. In comes Gabriel Jesus from Manchester City to take the centre forward role, while Arsenal added another attacking midfielder in Portugal U-21 international Fabio Vieira. The midfield was boosted by the arrival of another big money arrival from City in Oleksandr Zinchenko. Young defender William Saliba also returned from his loan with Marseille.
This is a huge season for Arteta because while there has been progress, missing out on the Champions League was a body blow. Arsenal look like a club with a plan and heading in the right direction for the first time in the post Wenger era. Gabriel Jesus is a tactical fit for Arteta’s high-pressing system, but whether he can be the primary striker for Arsenal after years of playing a supporting role at City is debatable. Winning the Europa League is realistic and may be Arsenal’s best bet of returning to the Champions League.
Manager: Steven Gerrard
Key Player: Philippe Coutinho
Life after Jack Grealish proved tough for Villa and a five-game losing streak brought an end to Dean Smith’s admirable tenure at Villa Park. In came Steven Gerrard, who steadied the ship and made some eye-catching January moves for Philippe Coutinho and Lucas Digne. Coutinho formed a useful midfield axis with the promising Jacob Ramsey, but Villa continued to blow hot and cold. They ended the season giving the two title contenders a run for their money, but ultimately settled in the bottom half of the league.
Villa were quick out of the traps, moving to secure a permanent deal for Coutinho and adding two highly-sought after imports in French international Boubacar Kamara and Sevilla defender Diego Carlos. Villa then filled out the bench by adding experienced Swedish duo Robin Olsen and Ludwig Augustinsson.
Consistency will be the watchword for Gerrard in his first full season of Premier League management. Carlos and Kamara should add steel in defence, while Coutinho should excel with his Barcelona nightmare firmly behind him. Leon Bailey needs a better second season after a disappointing first campaign. If he can recapture his Bundesliga form, Villa should be well set for a strong season. A top half finish should be the minimum requirement at Villa Park with European qualification a possibility.
Manager: Scott Parker
Key Player: Philip Billing
At the second attempt, Bournemouth returned to the Premier League. Former Fulham boss Scott Parker took charge and kicked the season off with a 15-game unbeaten run that resulted in Bournemouth placing in the top two for a majority of the campaign. Striker Dominic Solanke finally lived up to his potential, recording a 30-goal season. Meanwhile, Danish midfielder Phillip Billing enjoyed a fine season. Any worries of a late collapse were quickly dispelled with an eight-game winning streak to secure automatic promotion.
Experienced fullback Ryan Fredericks arrived on a free, as did Joe Rothwell after a productive four years in the EFL with Blackburn. Left-back Marcus Tavernier arrived from Middlesbrough whilst veterans Gary Cahill and Robbie Brady left, but it seems Bournemouth’s survival bid will largely fall on the men that got them promoted last season.
The Premier League fixture computer didn’t do Bournemouth any favors with a horrendous opening run of games. Parker has won plaudits for winning promotion at a second club, but questions remain about his ability to keep a team in the top tier. Bournemouth aren’t a trigger happy club and Parker will get ample opportunity to silence his critics. If Solanke can transition his goal-scoring touch to the Premier League, Bournemouth can make a fight of their survival bid.
Manager: Thomas Frank
Key Player: Ivan Toney
Brentford enjoyed their first topflight season in 75 years. Thomas Frank’s side stunned Arsenal on opening night and a strong start kept them above the relegation zone throughout the season. A poor midseason and lengthy injury list did set nerves jangling in West London, but Frank pulled off a coupe by signing Christian Eriksen in January. His creativity alongside the goals of Ivan Toney powered Brentford to seven wins in their last eleven games to finish a creditable 13th place.
Eriksen politely turned down a long-term contract. Highly-rated Scottish left-back Aaron Hickey arrived from Bologna with the defence further reinforced by the arrival of veteran defender Ben Mee. Winger Keane Lewis-Potter arrived from Hull after a standout year in the Championship. Brentofrd beat a host of clubs to former Lazio goalkeeper Thomas Strakosha.
Can Brentford avoid second season syndrome? Losing Eriksen is a hammer blow, while that disappointing midseason run prior to the Dane’s arrival in West London will be playing on fan’s minds. The defensive additions look useful and Toney is still around, despite interest from other clubs having proved he can cut it at the highest level. Thomas Frank is an excellent manager, but staying up a second time may be his toughest challenge yet.
Brighton & Hove Albion
Manager: Graham Potter
Key Player: Leandro Trossard
Graham Potter’s Brighton added finally added points to the plaudits, as they recorded the club’s highest ever league finish. Four wins from the opening five games eased Brighton’s usual relegation worries, although a midseason wobble of six straight losses ended any dreams of Europe. Alexis Mac Allister and Leandro Trossard were both excellent, while left-back Marc Cucurella has proven to be an outstanding buy. An excellent late season run saw Brighton beat Tottenham, Arsenal, and Manchester United to finish in ninth place.
Losing Yves Bissouma for £25m wasn’t in the script for Brighton. The Seagulls went with potential for their incomings, adding 18-year old Paraguay forward Julio Encisco and winger Simon Adingra, who impressed in Danish football. Cucarella has been the subject of a bid from Manchester City, so the last month of the window could be busy.
Living up to last season could prove to be a tall order for Brighton. Potter is earning plenty of admirers for Brighton’s enterprising play, but they have lacked a reliable goal-scorer since Glenn Murray left. That looks like it has been their Achilles heel yet again. There is more than enough quality to stay away from trouble and Brighton have proved they can find diamonds in the transfer market. However, the loss of Bissouma and possibly Cucurella could prove costly.
Manager: Thomas Tuchel
Key Player: Mason Mount
Early hopes of a title challenge faded for Thomas Tuchel’s European Champions. The blockbuster summer move for Romelu Lukaku failed. After a hopeful start, Chelsea struggled to keep pace with Liverpool and City. Mason Mount had a stellar campaign and the domestic cups provided hope of another trophy. However, both ended in agonizing penalty defeats to Liverpool. Chelsea suffered a far bigger trauma when owner Roman Abramovich was sanctioned and the club found itself in a lengthy existential crisis. Third place and Champions League football meant a new era at Stamford Bridge will start at football’s top table.
Todd Boehly finally completed his £4bn takeover of Chelsea as last season expired. By that time, defenders Antonio Rudiger and Andreas Christensen had already departed. The Abramovich era board, including Petr Cech, had left as well, leaving Boehly learning on the job and heading transfer deals himself.
Boehly had to begin his reign by writing off Lukaku and loaning him back to Inter. He then went for his marquee signing in Raheem Sterling. Then came the anticipated Premier League move for Napoli defender Kalidou Koulibaly. Chelsea are likely to busy up to deadline day with a new central defender and the departure of squad players likely.
It may be a new era, but Boehly’s Chelsea have adopted a very Abramovich-like approach to big summer spending and writeoffs from previous windows. Sterling offers the mobility in attack Lukaku lacked and should be a perfect fit for Tuchel’s system. Koulibaly is an upgrade on Rudiger, even at the age of 31. Another central defender is likely to be added, but a summer of big changes isn’t conducive to a title bid. Maintaining their top four place and winning a first post-Abramovich trophy are the likely goals this season.
Manager: Patrick Vieira
Key Player: Wilfried Zaha
Palace redefined themselves as Roy Hodgson’s veterans made way for exciting talent under the tutelage of Patrick Vieira. Marc Guehi and on loan Conor Gallagher impressed enough to force their way into the England squad, while Wilfried Zaha rolled back the years in attack. Selhurst Park became a fortress with Palace, losing just four league games all season at home. A strong FA Cup run had fans excited, but a semifinal defeat to Chelsea ended the dream.
After a busy summer a year ago, it has been quiet at Selhurst Park this offseason. Palace beat a host of suitors to the signature of England, including goalkeeper Sam Johnstone and defensive midfielder Cheick Doucoure. However, Gallagher has returned to Chelsea and a return looks unlikely.
Palace lost the fewest days to injury of any Premier League club last term and it’s unlikely they are as fortunate this time around. The inevitable distraction of Zaha’s contract running down could make for a trickier season for Vieira. On the brighter side, Johnstone is an upgrade in goal and Doucoure should fit nicely at the base of midfield. How Palace replace the creativity of Gallagher will be crucial to their fortunes.
Manager: Frank Lampard
Key Player: Jordan Pickford
Unsurprisingly, the cocktail of Everton and Rafa Benitez didn’t mix. Despite his unpopularity and a frugal transfer window, things started promisingly enough. However, a desperate run of one win in thirteen games saw Benitez sacked just weeks after Everton backed him in the transfer market. In came Frank Lampard, who brought a better atmosphere back to Goodison Park. Everton pulled off a strong run of late home wins, thanks largely to the heroics of Jordan Pickford and Richarlison, as they made it to safety with a game to spare.
Everton’s precarious FFP position meant a summer of careful spending. Experienced centre-back James Tarkowski arrived on a free from Burnley, while former England man Fabian Delph and Turkey striker Cenk Tosun headlined the list of contract expiries. Everton then sold talisman Richarlison and the arrival of Dwight McNeil hasn’t excited the fans.
Losing Richarlison was a big loss, while an underwhelming preseason already has alarm bells ringing at Goodison. Everton were severely impacted by injury last season, so having a fit Dominic Calvert-Lewin and Yerry Mina are major advantages. Mina and Tarkowski should be a solid defensive pairing in front of Pickford, but Everton look short of power and pace in midfield and at fullback. Lampard will likely give more chances to academy prospects, with Anthony Gordon looking to build on an excellent breakout year. Staying out of trouble would represent progress this season and Everton should have just enough to do that
Manager: Marco Silva
Key Player: Alexsandar Mitrovic
After relegation, most predicted Fulham would win promotion back to the Premier League. Few expected, however, for them to do so as impressively. Marco Silva took charge and brought a style and direction Fulham have lacked in recent seasons. Fulham lost just three of their first thirty league games to put a stranglehold on the Championship. Serbian striker Aleksandar Mitrovic was the main man, scoring an astounding 43 goals. Winger Harry Wilson also proved to be an astute summer signing.
Fulham revamped their midfield with the arrival of Portugal international Joao Palhinha for £20m and Andreas Pereira for £10m. Fulham cleared the decks with Andre-Frank Anguissa making his move to Napoli permanent, while Jean-Michael Seri, Alfie Mawson, and Michael Hector were released. Losing the precocious Fabio Carvahlo to Liverpool, however, was a blow.
Along with Norwich and West Brom, Fulham have become the archetype yo-yo club. However, after four years of bouncing between EFL and EPL, Silva looks to have found a steadier version of Fulham. Palhinha will add extra quality at the base of midfield. Mitrovic won’t light up the Premier League like he did the Championship, but Silva has got the best out of him. After doing too many transfers in 2018 and not enough in 2020, Fulham seem to have found balance this time. That should give them a better chance of avoiding an immediate return to the EFL.
Manager: Jesse Marsch
Key Player: Patrick Bamford
After their exhilarating return to the Premier League, Leeds suffered the difficult second season syndrome. They started poorly and didn’t win a game until October. They were hobbled by the worst injury record in the league and a failure to invest in January. A bad run of defeats saw Leeds do the unthinkable in sacking club legend Marcelo Bielsa. In return, they brought in Jesse Marsch to save them from the drop. There were bright spots, notably the form of young forward Joe Gelhardt and dynamic winger Raphinha. However, it took a last gasp win over Brentford to secure Leeds’ place in the top flight.
Leeds moved quickly to sign two of Marsch’s former RB Salzburg stars in young midfielder Brenden Aaronson and Danish international right-back Rasmus Kristensen. Leeds then added playmaker Marc Roca from Bayern. They lost local hero Kalvin Phillips, but quickly spent the windfall on replacing him with Tyler Adams and City youngster Darko Gyabi. Raphinha finally got his dream move to Barcelona after a protracted transfer, but Leeds moved quickly to add another gifted winger in Luis Sinisterra from Feyenoord. Peripheral squad players Tyler Roberts and Jamie Shackleton left for the Championship. Leeds will likely add a another forward after missing out on Charles De Ketelaere.
With Bielsa gone and a busy summer of transfers in both directions, Leeds will look different this season. The return of Cooper and Bamford will provide a much-needed focal point at either end of the pitch. With a cleaner injury record, they should steer clear of the drop zone. Crucially, Leeds did their business early, giving the signings time to gel. Kristensen looks to be a solid buy, while Aaronson and Sinisterra emerge as exciting prospects. How quickly the new midfield duo of Roca and Adams click in replacing Phillips will determine how far Leeds can go this term.