The Premier League returns next weekend after a dramatic summer of international football. The transfer window will remain open until the end of August and could dramatically change the division. One merciful change from last season will be the return of full stadiums with Covid restrictions lifted and fans set to return. As things stand, here is the new season outlook for 10 Premier League clubs:
Manager: Jurgen Klopp
Key Player: Mo Salah
Last Season (3rd)
A dreadful mid-season slump saw Liverpool concede their title by January, before a late season revival saw them retain their place in the Champions League exemplified by Allison’s last-second goal against West Brom. Season-ending injuries to all three of the club’s senior central defenders and captain Jordan Henderson were a major factor in Liverpool’s struggles, but that 7-2 loss at Villa with a fit defence suggested there was more to Liverpool’s struggles.
After their central defensive nightmare, Klopp has spent £36million on Ibrahim Konate to avoid a repeat. Georginio Wijnaldum left for PSG, while Marko Grujic and Harry Wilson left after years on loan. Liverpool surprisingly haven’t add a second goalkeeper or added to their forward line.
The returns of Van Dijk and Gomez and signing of Konate improved Liverpool’s defence. It also means Fabinho and Henderson can move back into midfield where Liverpool lacked physical presence last term. However, Klopp has to be worried by how many individuals dropped off from their title-winning standards of the previous season. Losing Wijnaldum wasn’t in the script. The return of fans to Anfield will help solve Liverpool’s poor home record. They will be in the hunt, but it will take another Herculean effort to unseat City.
Manager: Pep Guardiola
Key Player: Ruben Dias
Last Season (Champions)
Brilliant from Guardiola’s team, who recovered from a poor start to the season to record 15 straight league wins and bulldoze their way to the title. Key to the turnaround was the signing of Ruben Dias to partner a revitalised John Stones in defence, as City added two more trophies to Guardiola’s collection. Defeats to Chelsea in the Champions League Final put a dampener on City’s season.
Sergio Aguero bid a farewell and headed to Barcelona along with Eric Garcia. Elsewhere, Guardiola has been clearing the decks to raise funds with Angelino, Lukas Nmecha and Jack Harrison all making permanent moves away from the Etihad. With the kitty topped up, City spent a British record £100m on Jack Grealish. Harry Kane has been rumored, but City would need to sell first to stay within FFP.
Grealish is a huge transfer, even for City, but with Mahrez, Foden and De Bruyne already there, do they need another creative player? Unless Kane is signed, expect Spain international Ferran Torres to have a bigger part this season as a potential number nine. Left-back could be the one chink in City’s armor, particularly if Guardiola sees Joao Cancelo’s future as playing down the right wing. Barring injury to Dias or Ederson, it’s difficult not to see City making it four titles in five years.
Manager: Ole Gunnar Solskjaer
Key Player: Bruno Fernandes
Last Season (Runners Up)
Another year of so close, yet so far. United stuttered early in the season, but got stronger and more entertaining as it progressed, with Harry Maguire’s form proving symptomatic of the team’s fortunes. They finished second and ended City’s long unbeaten run, but never seriously challenged for the title; despite another stellar campaign from Bruno Fernandes. Penalty heartbreak in the Europa League final meant Ole Gunnar Solskjaer’s wait for a trophy as United manager goes on.
A year later than advertised, United finally bagged Jadon Sancho for £73 million. He was quickly followed in by World Cup winner Raphael Varane and it appeared Solskjaer was close to completing his jigsaw. However, Paul Pogba has so far refused a contract extension, throwing several pieces in the air. Jesse Lingard is back from a successful loan and Edinson Cavani is staying for another season.
It has now been eight years without the title for United, but this has been the most complete squad they’ve had in that period. The Pogba situation is a headache for Solskjaer, whose desire to switch to a 4-3-3 may be flawed by the lack of a world class holding midfielder. There is also a decision to make on the preferred goalkeeper and an injury layoff for Marcus Rashford following shoulder surgery. United have to be in title contention beyond Easter and Solskjaer to break his trophy duck (as manager) for this season to be viewed a success.
Manager: Steve Bruce
Key Player: Allain Saint Maximin
Last Season (12th)
Another unhappy season on Tyneside saw Steve Bruce’s team staring relegation in the face after an appalling 3-0 loss to Brighton. However, Bruce’s team found some attacking impetus and collected 17 points from their last nine games to finish comfortably above the waterline. Callum Wilson’s goals proved essential in keeping Newcastle afloat, as did the late season form of the loaned Joe Willock.
Mike Ashley is still in charge and will be until at least 2022 with his legal dispute with the Premier League punted a year down the line. That guarantees the holding pattern Steve Bruce is working within remains in place and no new players have arrived to this point. Bruce is close to bringing back Willock and he has held onto his best players. Andy Carroll is the most significant departure after being released.
It looks unlikely Ashley will be gone anytime soon and the returning Toon Army are unlikely to afford Bruce much patience. Building on their improved attacking form towards the end of the season is Bruce’s best hope with Alain Saint Maximin leading the charge. However, Newcastle remain a club in footballing purgatory until a new owner is found.
Manager: Daniel Farke
Key Player: Grant Hanley
Last Season (1st EFL Championship)
Norwich bounced straight back to the Premier League, collating an impressive 97 points to win the EFL title for the second time in three seasons. The goals of Teemu Pukki, creativity of Emilano Buendia and Todd Cantwell, and a solid defence guarded by Oliver Skipp proved the vital ingredients in Daniel Farke guiding Norwich back up.
No sooner was Norwich’s promotion party over, as the creative Emi Buendia was gone for £38million and Norwich were unable to re-sign Oliver Skipp, who excelled at the base of midfield last term. Norwich countered by replacing Buendia with Milot Rashica from Werder Bremen and loaned in Scottish international Billy Gilmour to replace Skipp. One key player who will be staying is Ben Gibson, who made his loan from Burnley a permanent switch. Greek international Dimitris Giannoulis arrived at left-back.
Norwich reaped the rewards of standing by Daniel Farke. However, Buendia and Skipp are major losses and while they don’t lack for talent, Rashica has a patchy record in the Bundesliga and Gilmour has just 11 league appearances to his name. Memories of their abysmal 21-point tally from their previous Premier League campaign will resurface if things start to go wrong. Much will depend on centre-backs Gibson and Grant Hanley if Norwich are to shed their yo-yo club reputation.
Manager: Ralph Hassenhuttl
Key Player: James Ward Prowse
Last Season (15th)
A brilliant start saw Southampton in second place, but the wheels came off in spectacular fashion. Following a shocking 1-0 win at Liverpool, the Saints picked up just one point from their next nine games, including another 9-0 drubbing. Some late season wins settled the nerves at St Mary’s, but Southampton missed striker Danny Ings, while the defence looked vulnerable.
Southampton beat a host of clubs to the signing of left-back Romain Perraud from Brest, who replaces veteran Ryan Bertrand. Theo Walcott made his move back to his first club on a permanent deal as Hassenhuttl moved on Angus Gunn, Wesley Hoedt and Mario Lemina. Problems emerged when striker Danny Ings refused a contract extension and headed to Aston Villa, Blackburn’s Adam Armstrong is the rumoured replacement.
Last season was a disappointment for a club that appeared to be heading for European contention. Southampton became easy pickings too often last season and Ings’ departure is a headache for Hassenhuttl. Ward-Prowse will keep the team ticking and there is talent in wide positions, but Hassenhuttl’s team need to rediscover their mean streak to avoid a season of struggle.
Manager: Nuno Espirito Santos
Key Player: Harry Kane
Last Season (7th)
A strong start had many believing Jose Mourinho’s defensive style might end Tottenham’s trophy drought. However, the team sank and embarrassed themselves in Europe. By April, Daniel Levy’s patience was exhausted and Mourinho was fired just days before the EFL Cup Final. The golden boot exploits of Harry Kane along with Heung-Min Son kept Spurs’ season intact to at least finish with a European berth.
Tottenham are on Plan E this summer after trying and failing to bring back Mauricio Pochettino. They were then snubbed by Antonio Conte, Paulo Fonseca and Julien Lopategui. They eventually bagged former Wolves boss Nuno Espirito Santos.
The new boss’ preparations have been hampered by the ongoing uncertainty around Kane’s future and confirmation Gareth Bale won’t be returning to Spurs. Winger Bryan Gil is an exciting buy from Sevilla and will take the place of Eric Lamela, who went in the opposite direction. The turnover of the Spurs squad also saw the big money arrival of Christian Romero after an impressive spell at Atalanta, but also the departures of long serving defender Toby Alderweireld, along with Juan Foyth, Paulo Gazzaniga and Danny Rose. Some cheer has been provided by Son Heung-Min penning a new deal. Oliver Skipp could make an impact after a strong loan spell at Norwich.
It is a time of transition for Tottenham. The big question remains on whether they hang onto the England captain. Besides the Kane conundrum, Santos needs to find a back four he approves of and stick with them after Mourinho’s constant changing. Gil looks to be a good buy, but getting more out of underperforming stars such as Dele Alli, Giovani Lo Celso and Harry Winks looks Tottenham’s likeliest route back to the top four.
Manager: Xisco Munoz
Key Player: Ismail Sarr
Last Season (2nd in EFL Championship)
A typically ruthless Pozzo family move saw new manager Vladimir Ivic sacked by Christmas, despite a healthy league position. In came the popular Xisco Munoz, who picked up the baton to guide Watford to automatic promotion. Ismail Sarr, who had shown promise in the Premier League, turned in a stellar season to see Munoz’s men over the line.
Watford made an encouraging move by signing goal-scoring midfielder Imran Louza for £9 million from Nantes. Striker Emmanuel Dennis signed from Club Brugge, but doesn’t have a great scoring record. Watford also rolled the dice on former Bournemouth striker Joshua King on a free. Watford went back to the free agent pool to bring in Danny Rose and Ashley Fletcher, who should at least add experience to the squad.
With the owners’ itchy trigger finger, Munoz will need a strong start. Watford can ill afford getting on the manager merry-go-round that defined their relegation two seasons ago. The Hornets look steady at the back and should tough out plenty of draws. Sarr can give the team something different going forward and Louza looks to be a productive addition. Still, the lack of a prolific strikers could prove Watford’s undoing at Premier League level.
Manager: David Moyes
Key Player: Declan Rice
Last Season (6th)
Tipped to struggle, West Ham quickly established themselves as a tough counter-attacking team and went on a winning run that saw them in the top four. Declan Rice and Tomas Soucek proved pivotal in midfield, with Jesse Lingard an inspired loan signing in January. Injuries to key players during the run-in saw West Ham fade, but sixth place secured Europa League football and rebuilt the reputation of David Moyes.
Selling Felipe Anderson back to Lazio for a fraction of what they paid drew a line under the unsuccessful dealings of former boss Manuel Pellegrini. For the Moyes era, seeing Lingard return to Manchester United is a major blow, but West Ham did make Craig Dawson’s move a permanent deal. They also brought in competition in goal by adding Alphonse Areola from PSG.
European football will light up the London Stadium this season, but playing Europa League on Thursday nights will strain West Ham’s smaller squad. Losing Lingard is a blow and Moyes needs to get more out of Said Benrahma to add spark to the attack. A repeat of last season’s top six finish is a huge ask. However, with the a stout defence, physical midfield and pacey attack, West Ham shouldn’t fall into trouble while pursuing their European adventure.
Manager: Bruno Lage
Key Player: Raul Jimenez
Last Season (13th)
Nuno Espitiro Santos’ magical run as Wolves boss came to a halt as Wolves fell down the table and looked increasingly bereft of ideas as they finished in a disappointing 13th place. Wolves’ extended run in the 2020 Europa League seemed to catch up with them and a horror injury to star striker Raul Jimenez left them short of goals. Still, survival never looked in doubt as Nuno bowed out of Molineux.
Nuno bid farewell to Molineux and in came another Portuguese manager in Bruno Lage. The new man in charge did win the Primeira Liga title in 2019 with Benfica playing an exciting brand of football, but was forced out a year later after a poor season.
Wolves lost veteran Portugal international goalkeeper Rui Patricio to Roma and replaced him with compatriot Jose Sa. Unsurprisingly, the Portuguese connection grew stronger with the arrival of Barcelona’s Francisco Trincao on loan. Elsewhere, Wolves added young defenders in Yerson Mosquera and Rayan Ait-Nouri.
It says everything about Wolves’ progress in recent years that 13th place in the Premier League could be considered a failure. The ability of Lage to develop young talent should be music to the ears of Fabio Silva, who struggled to get going last season. Morgan Gibbs White never quite made the first team under Santos, so he should get more of a look in this season. Getting Jimenez fit is a huge boost to Wolves, but after a summer of toned down transfers, this looks like a season of consolidation at Molineux.