By James St Denis
With the Premier League less than two weeks away from restarting and a plethora of new signings for football fans to sink their teeth into, here’s our predictions for the 2021/22 season top six.
- Manchester City
Could there really be anyone else? The Champions are looking very good in preseason and after a dominant season last year, they will be looking for a fourth Premier League title in five years.
Pep Guardiola’s well-drilled juggernaut of a team will look to put their Champions League final heartbreak behind them as they set their sights once again of becoming the first English side to complete the quadruple, but with other teams strengthening in key positions, City may need to strengthen if they are to make their title defence that little bit more comfortable.
City will be weakened by the exit of record goal scorer Sergio Aguero, but with £35 million recouped from transfers of fringe players, and the potential arrivals of Jack Grealish and Harry Kane for £100 million each from Aston Villa and Tottenham Hotspur respectively, Guardiola’s men will be in a strong position come the start of the season.
Key Player: Joao Cancelo.
If there was to be one team that could potentially halt Pep Guardiola and Manchester City, then Chelsea under Thomas Tuchel would be the best bet for that. Under the German, Chelsea have become a force to be reckoned with, putting City to the sword on all three occasions Tuchel has taken charge against the Sky Blues since replacing Frank Lampard in January.
Chelsea’s squad has a good blend of younger and older players, with that experience becoming crucial to their Champions League success against Guardiola’s men at the end of last season.
Towards the end of the season, Kai Havertz began to show glimpses of why the Blues paid £72 million for his services from Bayer Leverkusen last season and will need a much better season from him and fellow German and big money signing Timo Werner if they are to kick on with their careers. But with players such as Mason Mount, Reece James and Ben Chilwell with big futures ahead of them as well, and the potential arrival of a world-class striker, this Chelsea team looks set to remain at the top of English football for years to come.
Key Player: Jorginho.
From the highs of winning their first Premier League title in 2019/20 to the many lows of last season. Injuries did not help Jurgen Klopp’s men, with Virgil Van Dijk, Joe Gomez, Jordan Henderson and many more ruled out for extended periods throughout the season. However, a run of six home defeats at the start of 2021, notable losses to Brighton and Burnley during that looked set to confine the Reds to the history books as one of the worst title defences in Premier League history.
Although a late end of season surge allowed Liverpool to power into the top four positions ahead of Leicester and West Ham, who faltered late on to miss out on football’s main European club competition. Goalkeeper Allison had a poor season by his standards, but provided arguably the Reds’ highlight of the season with his 94th minute winner against relegated West Brom that set Liverpool on their way to an unlikely Champions League berth.
With no replacement yet for midfield mainstay Georginio Wijnaldum, who departed on a free to Paris Saint-Germain, the £36 million acquisition of RB Leipzig’s versatile defender Ibrahima Konate, who has only played 22 games in two seasons and an ageing forward line, Klopp’s men will have a tough challenge ahead but they should be capable to perform if everyone is fighting fit.
Key Player: Trent Alexander-Arnold.
- Manchester United
Manchester United may be spending big money to compete with their city rivals, but the Red Devils will once again be underwhelming in their quest for Premier League glory. This is the most stable United have been since the days of Sir Alex Ferguson and with Ole Gunnar Solskjaer signing a new three-year deal in July, you would expect the 13-time Premier League champions to kick on, but that will not be the case.
Jadon Sancho has arrived for big money and Raphael Varane is set to sign from Real Madrid in the coming days, along with a potential new contract for Paul Pogba, United are looking in better shape than have done in previous seasons. However, if they start this season like they did the last and Solskjaer’s lack of tactical adaption is exposed once again, then United will have a struggle keeping the chasing pack behind.
With the injured Marcus Rashford ruled out for up to three months and Edinson Cavani not going any younger, pressure will be on Anthony Martial and Mason Greenwood to perform if there are to be no more additions to the forward line. They should just make it into the top four, but it will not be easy.
Key Player: Mason Greenwood.
- Leicester City
A third consecutive fifth place for Leicester? That will be the case for the Foxes despite significant investment into the playing squad. Key positions have been filled with striker Patson Daka and central midfielder Boubakary Soumare arriving for a combined £45 million from RB Salzburg and Lille respectively, while Ryan Bertrand comes in on a free transfer following his release from Southampton.
The key to Leicester’s season is whether Brendan Rodgers can keep the bulk of his squad fit, with James Maddison, James Justin, Ricardo Pereira and Harvey Barnes all missing for lengthy periods of time during the 2020/21 season. No team spent more time in the top four than the 242 days Leicester did last season, and Rodgers will be looking for a capitulation not to happen for the third season in a row. Ensuring that Youri Tielemans and Wilfred Ndidi do not leave this summer will be crucial to another successive season for the FA Cup holders.
If Daka and Soumare can hit the ground running, and Iheanacho, Maddison and Barnes can stay injury free, then Leicester may have a great chance in getting into the top four, but due to the strength of the teams ahead of them, the Foxes will have to put up with another season of just missing out on European football’s elite club competition.
Key Player: Youri Tielemans.
- Aston Villa
Yes, hold the gasps. Aston Villa back in the Premier League top six? With the signings they are making, the Villains are looking a good bet to trouble the established ranking. With the imminent departure of their talisman Jack Grealish to Manchester City for £100 million definitely being a blow, the arrivals or Emiliano Buendia and Leon Bailey suggests that the owners at Villa are serious about the future of the club, with Dean Smith’s men having a successive campaign last season following their final day survival in the 2019/20 season.
This is the perfect time for Smith’s men to power up the table, with Tottenham, Arsenal, Everton and Wolverhampton Wanderers all going through transitional periods. West Ham and Leeds look like Villa’s main rivals for that final Europa League spot, but the investment from the Villains just about edges them into sixth. Further investment with the money from the Grealish sale will be essential but the team at Villa will have their targets that they may explore before the window closes, but they will need to be sensible, given the financial struggles of clubs around the country.
There is a real buzz around Villa Park right now, and if they can get a few defensive signings in, then they’ll be the ones to watch come the start of the new season.
Key Player: Emiliano Buendia.