It feels like it never went away, but after a brief pre-season, the Premier League is back.
Despite the majority of the league’s more conservative approach to the transfer window, Chelsea have spent in excess of £200m, and counting. While attention will be on Arsenal after their remarkable resurgence under Mikel Arteta.
So who will spring a surprise this year? Sheffield United made a mockery of many predictions last season, while Brendan Rodgers’ almost pulled off a remarkable accomplishment as Leicester just missed out on a top four finish.
Have Fulham and West Brom learned their lessons? Will Leeds continue to charm the neutrals? Will their be a real title race this season? We go through it all below.
Miguel Delaney (chief football writer): Manchester City.
I don’t make this prediction with any great confidence, as I think there are sufficient questions about all of the main challengers. Hopefully will be a very good title race, as a consequence.
Ben Burrows (sports editor): Liverpool – They were the best team in the league by a distance a season ago and I don’t think anyone will be sufficiently able to bridge the gap with continuity likely to be even more important after such a short offseason.
Mark Critchley (northern football correspondent): Manchester City. Last year’s gap was not a true reflection of the difference between the top two. Liverpool will regress a little on top of that, while City will improve. Even so, it feels like this could be the first time in four years that the title winners do not finish with more than 90 points.
Melissa Reddy (senior football correspondent): Liverpool and Manchester City are still at a level on their own and I expect the battle to be between them again – albeit a lot closer than last season. A team hasn’t breached the 90-point mark three times on the spin and that would be quite the challenge for Jurgen Klopp’s side during an incredibly intense season. Given how settled the squad is and the fact this campaign is in effect a roll on due to the short break, they have the slight edge.
Vithushan Ehantharajah (sports feature writer): Liverpool I’ve worked backwards here, because this is going to be a seriously close title race. One which won’t be as it was last season, decided solely by Liverpool’s brilliance. There will be mistakes throughout to counter the plentiful attacking brilliance. With all due respect to Nathan Ake, I don’t think City are any less vulnerable than last year and Chelsea’s new cast probably need a few months to blend. I can’t shake the feeling that Liverpool, too, could pay the price for not bolstering their squad with a couple of proven alternates, especially at centre-back. But they were so dominant last year that even a minor drop-off should not inconvenience them too much, even if Pep Guardiola’s side aren’t as bad this time around.
Jack Rathborn (assistant sports editor): Liverpool – City’s defensive additions, losing Leroy Sane and David Silva and the continuity at Anfield will see the Reds repeat.
Lawrence Ostlere (assistant sports editor): Manchester City. I expect them to come back firing this year, and if Aymeric Laporte stays fit they should rack up 95+ points.
Tom Kershaw (sports writer): Manchester City: Pep Guardiola’s side should rediscover their clinical edge, and it will take a huge mental and physical effort for Liverpool to maintain such a spectacular standard as last season – particularly if no further signings are made.
Alex Pattle (sports writer): Manchester City This was almost a coin flip for me between City and Liverpool. Jurgen Klopp and his players have given us little reason to doubt them or their hunger, but it’s natural to question how sustainable their success and intensity can be – especially with this season starting so soon after the last. City will be well and truly motivated to take back the crown.
Karl Matchett (sports writer): I’m going with Liverpool. I think the entire league will be closer and more compact, and the Reds will have a very tough start – but get better as the season goes on and show their trademark consistency.
Adam Hamdani (audience editor): Manchester City. They are strengthening, not hugely so far bar they are adding depth and that is something that could be so key for the title race this season. It’s very difficult to win the Premier League back to back, especially when you haven’t strengthened your squad and although Liverpool might be the best team in the Premier League, I think Manchester City might have the best overall squad and that should see them through.
MD: Liverpool, Chelsea, Arsenal – City, Liverpool and Chelsea are certainties I think and after that it’s one of Arsenal, Manchester United and Tottenham Hotspur. United have the best squad, which should usually make the most difference, but Mikel Arteta has persuaded me otherwise.
MC: Liverpool, Chelsea, Manchester United. Fourth-place is the more contentious call here. I’m not hugely convinced by any of the also-rans – and think Tottenham could run them close – but United probably have enough about them to return to the Champions League.
BB: Man City, Chelsea, Manchester United – Arsenal look to have improved but not by enough just yet leaving the same four in a slightly different order.
MR: Liverpool, Manchester City, Manchester United, Chelsea. I write the first two teams with confidence and feel Ole Gunnar Solskjaer has enough offensive game-changers, while Frank Lampard possesses enviable quality in depth – but I also wouldn’t be surprised if it were Arsenal, Tottenham or even Wolves having a crack at the Champions League spots. Mikel Arteta has done some fine work at the Emirates, which I think will be furthered this season and it will be interesting to see how Chelsea balance integration, squad harmony and having to consistently pick up wins in a congested season.
JR: Man City, Chelsea, Tottenham – If Harry Kane stays fit, Jose Mourinho will drill his side well enough in the games against teams outside the traditional top six and make enough difference in the big games to edge out his former club United.
TK: Manchester City, Liverpool, Chelsea, Manchester United
AP: Man City, Liverpool, Chelsea, Arsenal – I’ve already touched on the top two, and beyond them I’m going with two clubs who have had very good transfer windows. Chelsea have undoubtedly brought in more/greater quality than Arsenal, but they might also need longer for those signings to bed in as a new-look first XI takes shape. In the latter stages of the FA Cup and in the Community Shield, meanwhile, Mikel Arteta proved he is building something genuinely exciting in north London.
KM: Liverpool, Man City, Chelsea, Tottenham. Jose Mourinho’s know-how and quality is going to tell in the season-long race.
LO: Liverpool, Chelsea, Manchester United
AH: Man City, Liverpool, Chelsea, Man Utd.
Three teams relegated?
MD: Fulham, West Brom, West Ham United – The issue with making predictions like this is that so many of the at-risk clubs are likely to make mid-season managerial changes, thereby changing everything. It is why it’s difficult to make much of a call on clubs like Crystal Palace, Aston Villa and even West Ham, so it then comes down to squad quality and cohesion – which is where these could fall.
MC: West Bromwich Albion, Crystal Palace, Fulham. Palace proved me wrong last season but their old squad is another year older, they haven’t properly rebuilt yet and were poor post-restart. West Bromwich stand a chance but need to strengthen. Fulham are too conservative to pick up enough wins.
BB: Fulham and West Brom will go with Aston Villa joining them if Ollie Watkins doesn’t hit the ground running.
MR: Fulham, West Brom, West Ham
JR: Fulham, West Brom and Aston Villa – Michy Batshuayi on loan compared to Ollie Watkins at around £30m could prove a shrewd and decisive move.
VE: Fulham, Aston Villa, West Brom – with a nod to Burnley so I can claim I knew all along that they’d struggle, even though I didn’t have the courage to put them in the first part of this sentence.
TK: Fulham, West Brom, West Ham
AP: Fulham, Brighton, Aston Villa – I’m going with Fulham to yoyo – even though I admire Scott Parker and the club’s avoidance of another total summer overhaul, I think this season might prove a little too much, too soon for the former midfielder. I also have a lot of respect for Graham Potter and Dean Smith, but I can see the former’s side getting swallowed up this season, and no last-day heroics from the latter’s.
KM: Tough to answer with so long to go before the market shuts, but as it stands Fulham, West Brom and West Ham look like a season of struggle lies ahead.LO
LO: West Brom, Aston Villa, Fulham.
AH: Fulham, West Ham, Crystal Palace.
Player of the season?
MD: Kevin De Bruyne – Purely because he remains the best player in the competition.
BB: Sadio Mane – Kevin De Bruyne deservedly won last season but Mane will be rewarded for his relentless consistency this time around.
MC: Kevin De Bruyne. If Liverpool retain the title playing in a similar manner as last season, I imagine Trent Alexander-Arnold will be most people’s pick. But as I’ve tipped City, it’s hard not to go for their best player, who happens to also be the best in the country.
MR: Kevin De Bruyne is the standout individual in the league.
VE: Kevin De Bruyne
Comfortably the best player in the league and will show that again this season barring injury. He could still be deserving of the award even if City have an absolute stinker. Peerless.
JR: Christian Pulisic – In a small sample size he has shown form worthy of this award. Injuries will likely prove crucial to his overall impact and ceiling this season, but he is Frank Lampard’s most trusted attacking player and he could emerge as a surprise candidate in what could be the league’s best attack.
TK: Kevin De Bruyne: The most talented player in the league will shoulder even more responsibility in the absence of David Silva.
AP: Kevin De Bruyne
The Belgian just won the Premier League Player of the Year award and the PFA Players’ Player of the Year award and – while no footballer has retained either prize since Cristiano Ronaldo did so with both over a decade ago – I’m hesitantly going to say that the midfielder proves to be the best player in the Prem again this year while pulling many a string en route to City clinching the title…
KM: Raheem Sterling. Could be one of those who take another step-up in quality and he’ll be even more vital to a City push for honours next year.
LO: Sadio Mane. He and Kevin De Bruyne are the two best players for me, and perhaps it’s Mane’s time.
AH: Mohamed Salah. He will have another great Premier League season, so it’ll be between him and Kevin De Bruyne.
MD: Timo Werner – Chelsea are going to create a lot of chances.
BB: Pierre-Emerick Aubameyang.
MC: Timo Werner. It’s hard to look past a striker who scored 28 goals in the Bundesliga last season, is surrounded by creative talent and – at 24-years-old – will enter his prime years this season.
VE: Harry Kane. Looked sharp by the end of Project Restart. Also none of that “doesn’t score in August” nonsense to entertain. Put him down for 26.
MR: Timo Werner: Chelsea should create a lot and I can’t envisage him missing many.
TK: Pierre-Emerick Aubameyang: He has a brilliant record, scores the vast majority of Arsenal’s goals, and should benefit from more chances as the club continue to improve.
AP: Pierre-Emerick Aubameyang – Aubameyang finished second – one goal behind Jamie Vardy – last season, and in an improved Arsenal outfit I think the Gabon striker can do one better this year. One of the best finishers in the world, as he showed in the FA Cup final and Community Shield very recently.
AH: Pierre-Emerick Aubameyang.
Manager of the season?
MD: Mikel Arteta
He will have a big impact, and get Arsenal finishing higher than where they should.
MC: Marcelo Bielsa. Predicting a top-half finish for Leeds feels like a trap, but very few teams have come up from the Championship having dominated with an equally excellent attack and defence like they did, and the few that have gone on to overachieve.
JR: Jurgen Klopp. But Ralph Hasenhuttl will be an honourable mention if he can guide Saints to a top eight finish.
TK: Pep Guardiola: If Man City can reclaim their status as England’s best side, it will be down to Guardiola.
AP: Marcelo Bielsa
I think he’ll provide a decent level of success for Leeds – going beyond just top-flight survival – as well as enough entertainment value to justify picking him here.
KM: Graham Potter could take Brighton well inside the top half if the new signings gel. His team play great football at times and they look well-placed to significantly improve on 19/20.
LO: Marcelo Bielsa. If Leeds go well he will get a lot of the plaudits.
Signing of the season?
MD: Werner – The feeling is he will adapt immediately, and go to the next level as a player.
BB: Timo Werner – Chelsea have spent big but none of it better than the £50m on Werner who looks a perfect fit for the Premier League. Hat tip too to Donny van de Beek who will prove very shrewd business for Manchester United.
MC: Timo Werner. Liverpool have earned their reputation for rarely making mistakes in the market, and maybe Werner simply wasn’t on the cards post-Covid, still I can’t help but think that they will come to regret this one.
VE: Matt Doherty for Spurs. Proven quality, exactly the kind of positionally-aware hard worker that Jose Mourinho wants at right-back. A threat forward, too. Everything’s there for just under £15million.
JR: Rodrigo for his workrate and fit under Bielsa to help Leeds survive, or Tomas Soucek now permanently at West Ham, a brilliant midfielder with great physicality and able to chip in with goals.
LO: Werner. Chelsea were crying out for a reliable goalscorer last season and I expect him to solve the problem.
TK: Timo Werner: Chelsea desperately needed a world-class goalscorer and Werner is – on current form – one of Europe’s very best.
AP: Kai Havertz – Maybe this seems an obvious pick, but I’m actually thinking long-term here. I believe we’ll see flashes of the German’s exceptional quality throughout the season, but that the true worth of Chelsea’s record signing will become clearer over the coming years. Do me a favour, though, and don’t seek out this article in five years’ time when he’s forced an exit with just two Carabao Cups to his name…
KM: So far, Kai Havertz. Gabriel Magalhaes should offer the Gunners a base to build from, too, and Grady Diangana should prove a bargain. Long time left for it all to change!
AH: Timo Werner. He will score between 15 and 20 goals this season and become Chelsea’s undisputed man up top, he’ll provide goals and more goals which is what every team desires.
MD: Carlo Ancelotti – Maybe not necessarily a flop, but I can’t see him doing much more than having Everton beyond mid-table, which would be a disappointment given his profile and current expenditure.
MC: Pablo Mari. This is getting harder as clubs get smarter. Nothing against Mari, who has only struggled to make an impression due to injury, but the £14m signing could easily be displaced in Mikel Arteta’s thoughts by Gabriel Magalhaes and William Saliba.
BB: Ollie Watkins – £28m is an awful lot for a player without a single Premier League appearance. Flop is probably too strong and he may well do just fine, but will do well to justify such a sizeable fee in year one.
JR: Aaron Ramsdale – a good young goalkeeper, but not at the level of Henderson and a bit much at £18.5m.
TK: James Rodriguez: A lot will be expected of Rodriguez, who may by no means be a flop so to speak, but could struggle to live up to the demands placed upon him.
VE: Cruel, but because of the size of the fee, perhaps Ollie Watkins? A talented player but he’ll rely a lot on those around him, as any striker does. He might be feeding on scraps if Aston Villa can’t keep hold of Jack Grealish…
AP: Hakim Ziyech – Any good will from Chelsea fans that I conjured by naming Havertz my pick for best signing might have just been erased… The thing here is that there are a few ways to define a ‘flop’. I don’t think Ziyech will be awful at all, but he arrived for a significant sum and I think he’ll be the least effective of Chelsea’s new attacking signings, perhaps struggling with the physicality of the league. Here’s hoping I’m wrong, though.
KM: If Leicester revert to a back four, not convinced Timothy Castagne will be the best outlet from left-back. Better as a wing-back, though, in which case it could be Abdoulaye Doucoure who is an expensive, but uninspiring, addition for Everton.
LO: Ferran Torres. It wouldn’t be a huge surprise to see Pep Guardiola to starve him of minutes, making it tough for him to make any impact.
AH: James Rodriguez. Feels like the easy and obvious choice.
Club with the best window?
MD: Chelsea are the obvious answer for a reason, but have been impressed with the business of Crystal Palace, Brighton, Manchester City and Tottenham Hotspur who have astutely signed what they need.
MC: Tottenham. Chelsea would be the obvious answer but at the time of writing there are still defensive issues which need to be properly addressed. Tottenham have fixed their most pressing recruitment problems already, even if they could do with depth up front.
BB: Newcastle – Callum Wilson, Ryan Fraser and Jamal Lewis are all plug and play Premier League players that instantly improve the starting team. That’s what the transfer window is for.
VE: Not technically “a window”, but it is hard to look beyond Chelsea, especially at a time when others have had to be more reserved. Even before a ball has been kicked, they have put their rivals on notice.
JR: It has to be Chelsea – but there’s plenty of time for others to make key moves yet.
TK: Chelsea: Chelsea have obviously had a fantastic, and potentially era-defining, window under Frank Lampard. Aston Villa’s could end impressively, too, if they are able to complete the signing of Emiliano Martinez.
AP: Chelsea – They’ve acquired genuinely top-class talent in every area of the pitch (except for in goal). Timo Werner, Havertz, Ziyech, Ben Chilwell, Thiago Silva. While the latter won’t be around for long, he brings experience and a winning mentality, and Malang Sarr could be a more long-term option at centre-back.
KM: Got to be Chelsea, assuming they can get rid of the deadwood.
LO: In terms of star names it has to be Chelsea. In terms of value, Newcastle’s business looks pretty sensible.
AH: Chelsea. They’ve strengthened everywhere and have arguably the best front 3 in the league now.
First manager sacked?
MD: Scott Parker
Fulham will take any action they think necessary to stay up.
BB: Roy Hodgson may well walk before he’s pushed.
MC: Scott Parker. Back-to-back games against City and Liverpool in early December look critical to me. Unless there’s a few points on the board by then, the Fulham hierarchy could get nervous.
TK: Roy Hodgson: Palace endured a miserable end to last season and, if that form continues, Hodgson’s spell at Selhurst Park – and perhaps even his managerial career – could come to an unfortunate close.
AP: Roy Hodgson – It’s easy to forget that Crystal Palace were close to European football before the Premier League was put on pause, but they slipped severely thereafter and ended up much nearer the relegation zone. I think, long-term, the Eagles are in a kind of stasis with the former England boss in charge. There’s a safety of sorts in that… but I see Palace going through a rough patch and parting ways with Hodgson, perhaps luring Eddie Howe (who would deserve a longer break in all honesty).
KM: A Newcastle takeover revival might make Steve Bruce a casualty, even if he has done a far better job than many expected.
VE: Hard to look past David Moyes for this one. Finished the end of the season strongly, but the outcry from his players at the sale of Grady Diangana suggests staying up has done little to quell the unrest at West Ham.
AH: Roy Hodgson. I can’t see Palace doing great this season and as the season goes on, Roy will begin to flag and cracks will show.
How will the English clubs fare in Europe?
MD: I think Tottenham have a very good chance in the Europa League, given how seriously Jose Mourinho takes them, and his remaining aptitude for such a cup. Liverpool best contenders for the Champions League. Overall, another mixed campaign.
MC: Every year, I think City will go the furthest of all the English clubs in the Champions League. At least last season I was right, but even I’m now struggling to make a case for anything beyond the quarter-finals, even if this could be Pep Guardiola’s final season in Manchester.
VE: Not well. Though all European teams are in the same boat with the quick turnaround, I think the nature of the league this year – with three jostling at the top and the scrap for that final Champions League spot. Perhaps Chelsea may do well because they seem to have the best squad depth, but I can’t see Liverpool or Manchester City making the final of the Champions League, which is where they both expect to be.
BB: Similar to a year ago. Liverpool to do best.
LO: It’s a strong foursome in the Champions League. I expect one of them to lose handsomely to Bayern Munich in the semi-finals.
AP: Man City will fail again in their bid for the Champions League trophy while Chelsea go on an impressive run to the semi-finals. Liverpool will also fall in the final four, one stage later than rivals United. Leicester will exit the Europa League in the quarter-finals while Jose Mourinho and Tottenham… defy a lack of squad depth and go all the way…?
TK: Manchester City should have the best chance of dethroning Bayern Munich in the Champions League, while Arsenal may finally break their Europa League final curse.
JR: City will continue to be haunted in Europe, but Liverpool will be back in the final four and at least one of Chelsea and United will make the quarter-finals. Spurs can and probably will win the Europa League unless the schedule gets too much and lends itself towards prioritising a top four finish.
KM: Liverpool and City should both be last eight at a minimum. Man United and Chelsea will target the knock-outs to start and then it depends on the draw. Everyone in the Europa League should be looking to win it because competition for European places in 20/21 will be fierce.
AH: Man City and Liverpool both to make it into the semi-finals. I see Chelsea getting to the round of 16 and Manchester United around the same mark. Tottenham will get to the final of the Europa.
Three teams promoted from the Championship?
BB: Norwich, Brentford, Nottingham Forest
LO: Middlesbrough, Brentford, Bournemouth.
MC: Norwich, Watford, Brentford. Norwich were prepared for this and know how to yo-yo. Brentford have lost key players but are usually ready to re-tool. Watford have enough talent but need more stability in order to bounce straight back.
VE: Norwich City, Cardiff City and Bournemouth
AP: Brentford, Swansea, Millwall
I’m backing Brentford to respond after their play-off final heartbreak, and I’m envisioning a similar bounce-back from losing semi-finalists Swansea. Millwall to be dark horses and come up via the play-offs (much to my trepidation as a West Ham fan).
KM: Watford, Norwich and Swansea.
TK: Norwich, Brentford, Watford
JR: Norwich, Forest, Millwall.
AH: Watford, Norwich and Brentford.
What does Frank Lampard need to do to justify Chelsea backing him with more than £200m?
MD: Challenge for the title. Anything less is under-performance. Fair enough if he doesn’t win it, but they’ve got to go close.
BB: Get closer to top two while showing some sign of being able to fix the defensive issues which plagued last season.
LO: He has to finish in the top four and perhaps be in a title race, at least for a few months. I think Chelsea’s target should be 80+ points and a cup.
JR: Third. Champions League quarter-finals. A domestic cup semi-final.
MC: A title challenge, though as long as they finish in the top four again I don’t expect many questions will be asked.
TK: Finish in the top four, significantly close the gap to Man City and Liverpool, and have a strong Champions League campaign.
AP: Firstly, win a trophy – any will do. Secondly, make it a proper Premier League title race. Whether it’s a two-horse race with City or Liverpool, or a genuinely exciting three-way battle, Lampard just has to make sure his side are legitimate contenders – they can keep building from there.
KM: Top four, minimum. Also to show good signs of improvement across the board: defensively, tactically, his own in-game changes and keeping an increasingly large squad happy.
AH: Top 3 and a Champions League run, FA Cup trophy in the cabinet.
VE: Finish second or higher.
What are you looking forward to and what are you dreading?
MD: The return of fans, and the sense of going to a big event again. It is obviously a privilege to be attending these matches as a journalist, but the reality is they just don’t feel the same without the tens of thousands that make it matter. They’re just flatter.
MC: I’m looking forward to having fans back and dreading a second postponement. Not the most original answers but the stakes are high on both counts.
BB: All the games being on TV again. No fans being able to watch them in person for a lot longer than expected.
LO: Looking forward to watching Chelsea and Leeds. Dreading the sheer volume of football o the horizon. You can have too much of a good thing.
VE: The answer to both is “Mareclo Bielsa being Marcelo Bielsea”. Please be brilliant and please don’t leave on a whim in November.
JR: How Lampard integrates all his new signings. How effective Leeds will be after Christmas. Can Nuno take Wolves to the next level.
TK: Seeing whether Chelsea and Arsenal deliver on their promise. Dreading more lifeless Nations League fixtures interrupting the season.
AP: I’m looking forward to seeing Leeds back in the top flight and some fresh line-ups from the likes of Chelsea and Arsenal. I’m dreading more football without fans. Don’t get me wrong, safety comes first, and I enjoyed watching games on TV in spring and summer even without crowds. It also seems smaller crowds will soon be introduced. But with a second wave of coronavirus seemingly hitting Britain right now, I wouldn’t get carried away just yet.
KM: It’s always fun to see how teams try to take the next step on a tactical development level. Looking to good-but-inconsistent players, or youngsters, taking a big step up in importance is a major point too – I’m looking at you, Naby Keita, Joao Cancelo, Bukayo Saka and Reece James. As for the dread, for all manner of reasons it has to be the lingering possibility of localised lockdowns leading to the Premier League or European leagues being halted again.
AH: I’m looking forward to the excitement of changing my Fantasy team every week and having Arsenal back on the box. I’m dreading changing my Fantasy team and having Arsenal back on the box.
And finally, are you happy football is back?
MD: Yes, and all the more so given the situation we had from March to June. The break may have been short, and you’d usually like a bit more time to gear up for the new season and “miss” football for a bit, but… imagine the opposition. The game, right now, is life.
BB: Yes, but ask me again in a month.
JR: Absolutely, plenty of fascinating stories and it feels like the safety-first approach is gradually being phased out by the bottom half of the table.
AP: I’d say yes, but it never really went away.
KM: Did it even stop?! The Champions League final was fewer than 20 days ago and here we go again!
AH: Always! It causes a lot of stress but there’s no joy like it.
TK: It hardly feels like it’s stopped, but after a season that felt like it may never properly end, there’s always something truly exciting – the hope and possibilities – about a new beginning.
VE: Ecstatic, though I could have done with more warning.
MC: It’s like it’s never been away.