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: Mikel Arteta
Key Player: Bukayo Saka
Last Season (8th)
Arsenal were expecting to compete for Champions League football and ended up missing out on Europe completely for the first time since 1995. The lack of form and fight from captain Pierre-Emerick Aubameyang and costly arrival Willian were culpable along with a leaky defence. Some optimism was provided by the form of young stars Bukayo Saka and Emile Smith-Rowe.
Arsenal have gone for youth this summer, with the £50million arrival of centre-back Ben White from Brighton and 21-year old midfielder Albert Sambi Lokonga from Anderlecht. Nuno Tavaes adds depth at left-back and the Gunners have continued to pursue a move for England Under 21 goalkeeper Aaron Ramsdale. David Luiz is the most high-profile departure, but Arsenal also saw midfielders Dano Ceballos and Martin Odegaard return to Real Madrid.
A summer of youthful recruitment has rekindled hope in North London. White should prove an excellent buy in the long term, but it’s a huge ask to lead Arsenal’s defence after just one season of top flight football. Getting more minutes out of last summer’s big buy Thomas Partey should make Arsenal’s spine stronger. However, not re-signing Odegaard is a blow and how high Arsenal can climb will depend on Aubameyang rediscovering his 2019 form.
Manager: Dean Smith
Key Player: John McGinn
Last Season (11th)
A bright start ensured Villa were never in danger of having to repeat the previous season’s great escape. Their fine start was exemplified by a 7-2 hiding of champions Liverpool. However, things plateaued when Jack Grealish went down to a lengthy injury and the on-loan Ross Barkley failed to find consistency. New recruits Emiliano Martinez, Matty Cash and Ollie Watkins all performed well, but Villa’s slide saw them finish in the bottom half.
Villa started the summer with a bang by making Emiliano Buendia a club record signing at £38million to replace Barkley. They then brought back veteran winger Ashley Young a decade on from his move to Manchester United and returns on the back of a title winning season at Inter. However, Villa’s preparations have been upended by the likely departure of Grealish. Villa have since added winger Leon Bailey from Bayer Leverkusen and striker Danny Ings, but with under a month to deadline day may find themselves locked out of dealing for preferred targets given the lack of time potential sellers will have to line up replacements.
If as expected Grealish goes Villa are in a spin and could spiral, their win percentage without him last season was just 23%. Bailey and Buendia will cushion the blow and provide creativity whilst Ings is a reliable forward but with such a big change the team will take time to gel. On the plus side, Villa’s defence looks stable enough to keep them out of danger and they may spring a surprise with their FA Youth Cup winners, who may break into the first team squad this season.
Manager: Thomas Frank
Key Player: Ivan Toney
Last Season (3rd in EFL Championship)
After years of knocking on the door, Brentford finally gained entry to the promised land of Premier League football. Coach Thomas Frank rebounded from playoff heartbreak and the loss of Ollie Watkins and Said Benrahma to lead another promotion charge that ended in redemption at Wembley. The goals of Ivan Toney were the key while Ethan Pinnock and Pontus Jansson held the backline together.
Unsurprisingly, Brentford have twice broken their transfer record this summer. First came 23-year old midfielder Frank Onyeka after a successful stint with Midtjylland. Then they spent £14million on Celtic’s Norwegian international Kristoffer Ajer. Departures have been kept to a minimum with Henrik Dalsgaard the most notable.
Brentford will grace the top flight for the first time since 1947 and look better equipped to survive than most playoff winners. Jansson and Pinnock look like a centre back pairing capable of making the step up to the Premier League, the experience of Sweden international Jansson could prove critical. In Josh DaSilva and Bryan Mbeumo, Brentford have midfield talent. Toney should be a hit up front at the Premier League level. Their biggest asset could prove to be manager Frank, who has shown the tactical chops to work at the highest level.
Manager: Graham Potter
Key Player: Lewis Dunk
Last Season (16th)
Strong performances were not matched by wins, as Brighton too often snatched defeat from the jaws of victory, most painfully against Crystal Palace. However, Graham Potter’s team kept their composure and a 3-0 thrashing of Newcastle in March settled relegation nerves. A brilliant comeback win over champions champions City ended the season on a high note. The back three were impressive throughout, while in attack Danny Welbeck made a heart-warming return to fitness and form.
Their resolve to keep Ben White finally broke at £50million. Of the incomings, £18million Enock Mwepu comes with a burgeoning reputation from RB Salzburg. Ajax graduate Kjell Scherpen replaces Matt Ryan as the backup goalkeeper. Other outgoings saw Davy Proper depart for the Eredivisie along with the disappointing Alireza Jahanbakhsh.
Selling White wasn’t part of the plan, but Lewis Dunk and Adam Webster formed a steady defence prior to White’s emergence and can keep it tidy without him. Mwepu looks to be a clever addition in midfield, where Polish international Jakub Moder looks primed for a strong campaign. The team has won plaudits for their style, but to convert that into points, they need to put away their chances. If he can stay fit, Welbeck could be the one to do it.
Manager: Sean Dyche
Key Player: Chris Wood
Last Season (17th)
A terrible start had alarm bells ringing, but Sean Dyche’s team showed characteristic fight to get clear of the drop zone with plenty to spare. Strikers Chris Wood and Matej Vydra formed a useful pairing up front to keep Burnley in business, but last season did represent a regression at Turf Moor.
There hasn’t been a lot of change at Turf Moor. Centre back Nathan Collins arrived from Stoke, replacing Ben Gibson, whose loan to Norwich became a permanent transfer. Veteran Ireland international Robbie Brady was the most notable departure.
It is starting to look like a when, rather than if Dyche departs for a bigger budget club. Burnley have retained star players in Dwight McNeil and Chris Wood, and they will be boosted by the return to fitness of Nick Pope. However, the lack of new arrivals is a concern. With fans returning, Turf Moor should become a fortress from which Burnley can maintain their place in the top flight.
Manager: Thomas Tuchel
Key Player: N’Golo Kante
Last Season (4th)
A season of incredible highs and lows at Stamford Bridge saw Frank Lampard sacked in January, with the club plummeting towards mid-table. However, it ended with Thomas Tuchel guiding Chelsea to Champions League glory. In the league, Tuchel guided Chelsea to fourth place with costly summer signing Kai Havertz finishing the season strong after a quiet start. N’Golo Kante was outstanding, while goalkeeper Edouard Mendy proved an inspired buy.
Chelsea looked ready to stump up a world record fee for Erling Haaland, but it looks like he’s staying at Dortmund, Chelsea appear to have switched targets and are bidding to bring Romelu Lukaku back to West London. There have been outgoings with Fikayo Tomori and Victor Moses making their moves away from Stamford Bridge permanent and veteran forward Olivier Giroud opting to join Tomori at AC Milan. Academy star Marc Guehi left for £18million, as ever Chelsea have an army of players going out on loan.
Tuchel transformed Chelsea within weeks, and now we’ll get to see if he can keep it going for a full season. Having three wins over Guardiola and City is a major plus, but winning the title means converting chances away from home throughout the season and Chelsea currently lack the number nine to do it. They will be in contention, but may fall a couple of points short.
Manager: Patrick Vieira
Key Player: Wilfried Zaha
Last Season (14th)
Roy Hodgson guided Palace through another stable, but unspectacular season. Hodgson’s beige pallet was dotted with moments of technicolor from Wilfried Zaha and Eberechi Eze, while Christian Benteke wrote himself into Selhurst Park folklore with his last-second winner at Brighton.
After years of stability, it has been a summer of upheaval at Selhurst Park. Hodgson departed after four years in charge and Palace appeared to have secured former Borussia Dortmund boss Lucien Favre, but he pulled out at the 11th hour and in came Partick Vieira. The departures weren’t confined to the dugout with a glut of experienced free agents departing including Gary Cahill, Patrick Van Aanholt, James McCarthy, Andros Townsend and Scott Dann. Vieira has moved quickly to bring in exciting midfielder Michael Olise, along with promising defenders Marc Geuhi and Joachim Andersen.
Vieira’s management career has shown promise, but has been erratic. He arrives with a mass of experienced players heading out of the door. To make matters worse, Eze is likely to miss the first half of the season with an Achilles injury. Zaha is still around and has never been more crucial to Palace, but Vieira needs to hit the ground running if he’s to avoid a similar fate to Frank de Boer.
Manager: Rafa Benitez
Key Player: Richarlison
Last Season (10th)
James Rodriguez inspired Everton to the Premier League summit in the early weeks of the season, but as the Columbian’s influence waned, so did Everton’s European hopes as they eventually sunk to tenth. Dominic Calvert-Lewin was prolific in attack and Everton finally ended their Merseyside derby hoodoo, but consistency proved beyond them.
Carlo Ancelotti said goodbye to Merseyside and Everton’s search for a top manager lead them to former nemesis Rafa Benitez. Infamous during his spell at Liverpool for calling Everton ‘a small club’, Benitez’s arrival has met with a predictably mixed response. The transfer dealings of Everton have been low-key, with options added down the wings in Andros Townsend and Demarai Gray, while Asmir Begovic will provide an experienced understudy to Jordan Pickford.
For all the controversy surrounding his appointment, Benitez is a fine manager. He should be able to drill the likes of Michael Keane and Jordan Pickford into a sturdier back line, while midfielders Allan and Abdoulaye Doucoure should also fit with the new manager. The same can’t be said of James Rodriguez, who could be moved this summer. If Everton fans are prepared to forget his past, Benitez has a talented enough squad to push Everton up the table.
Manager: Marcelo Bielsa
Key Player: Kalvin Phillips
Last Season (9th)
Marcelo Bielsa’s brand of high-tempo football took the Premier League by storm and won plenty of admirers along the way. There were bumps in the road, notably at Old Trafford, but Bielsa’s team looked more secure at the back as the season progressed. Stuart Dallas was immense wherever he played. Going forward, Raphinha and Patrick Bamford enjoyed stellar campaigns.
Jack Harrison’s loan from Manchester City became a permanent deal following another fine season, while Pablo Hernandez and Gaetano Berardi left having played minor parts last season. One major contributor who did go was left-back Gjanni Alioski on a free transfer, but Leeds appear to have found an upgrade in Junior Firpo from Barcelona. Elsewhere, Leeds have continued to upgrade their Under-23 promotion winners by adding prospects Lewis Bate, Sean McGurk and Kristoffer Klaesson.
Those predicting second season syndrome at Leeds should bare in mind Bielsa’s team got stronger as last season progressed. After injury and Covid-interrupted campaigns, Rodrigo, Diego Llorente and Robin Koch will be expected to take a big step forward in their second years. European football looks to be a realistic target for Leeds, whose vociferous fans will be attending a Premier League season for the first time in 17 years.
Manager: Brendan Rodgers
Key Player: Youri Tielemans
Last Season (5th)
In the league, a carbon copy of last season as Leicester spent most of the season in the top four and fell to fifth at the death. This time, however, there was a glorious compensation with Youri Tielemans’ screamer winning en route to their first ever FA Cup. Meanwhile, Kelechi Iheanacho was sensational in the second half of the season to finish with 19 goals.
Leicester moved early in the window to secure Lille title winner Boubarkary Soumare for £18million and then bagged striker Patson Daka from the RB Salzburg talent factory. Two more of Leicester’s title winners left in club legends Wes Morgan and Christian Fuchs, with the experienced Ryan Bertrand brought in on a free to replace Fuchs.
The FA Cup triumph dispelled any notion of Leicester as a one-season wonder. Their summer spending looks astute and should make the shift from Thursday nights in Europe to Premier League weekends far smoother. Jamie Vardy regressed last season, while Iheanacho increasingly looks like Leicester’s new talisman. Rodgers will be boosted by the return of livewire Harvey Barnes, but Leicester need a full season out of James Maddison, who again got injured at the wrong time. However, Leicester might find the Europa League the easiest route into the Champions League.