SINGAPORE — With the new English Premier League (EPL) season about to hit the ground running this weekend, what are the key questions surrounding the teams that will be answered at the end of the season? Yahoo News Singapore examines how these questions are likely to pan out.
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1. Will Liverpool run away with the title again this season?
In one word: unlikely. While they remain a formidable and intimidating side, their relative inactivity in the transfer market – the second straight season that Jurgen Klopp’s side have eschewed significant reinforcements – has their legion of fans edgy and uncertain.
Can the same side sustain their unremitting intensity for another gruelling season? Can they go another season without any major injury setbacks? Can they fend off their closest challengers, all of whom have made prominent additions to their squad strength?
These doubts make it highly improbable that Liverpool will run away with the EPL title as they did last season, when they won with a record seven matches to spare.
2. Will Manchester City’s obsession with the Champions League hurt their title hopes?
It can be argued that Pep Guardiola’s expensively-assembled side got a little bored of winning the EPL last season, after winning the league twice in a row in the previous seasons. When Liverpool began running away with the title in December, Man City lost interest in chasing the Reds, and instead put all their efforts in trying to win the coveted Champions League for the first time in their history.
Yet, they were shockingly beaten by unfancied French side Lyon in the quarter-finals, and that one trophy that has eluded City’s Abu Dhabi owners – and Guardiola – remains unreachable despite their astronomical spending.
Will City be preoccupied again with winning in Europe? There is good reason to believe that such obsession will rear its head should City find themselves on the back foot in the EPL again.
3. Can Chelsea splurge their way to the top?
Not yet. But the Blues spectacular off-season acquisitions could see them breaking the current duopoly of league dominance by Liverpool and Man City.
Signing six well-reputed players is a strong statement of intent for a side eager to return to the top of the league for the first time in three years. Yet, for all the pre-season bluster, Frank Lampard’s side still have doubts surrounding its Achilles heel: a leaky defence that shipped in 54 goals – the most by a top 10 side last season.
Chelsea will definitely improve, as will Lampard’s acumen in his second top-flight managerial season, but matching the relentlessness of Liverpool or Man City will might mean a (Stamford) bridge too far.
4. Can Manchester United outlast the charge of the London brigade?
Mired in sixth place for much of last season, the Red Devils found a rich vein of form after the COVID-19 break to finish in third place. In signing midfielder Bruno Fernandes during the January transfer window, manager Ole Gunnar Solskjaer found his missing jigsaw piece and bought himself more time to rebuild the English giants.
They still look a few signings short of mounting a strong title challenge, and so Man United’s primary concern this season is to fend off the challenges of the three major London clubs – Chelsea, Tottenham Hotspur and Arsenal – and qualify for the Champions League again.
It will not be easy, even with the signing of highly-rated Dutch midfielder Donny van de Beek. Much will depend on how quickly van de Beek finds his feet among his midfield partners Fernandes and Paul Pogba, and how well the midfield trio can supply the ammunition for United’s young frontline of Marcus Rashford, Anthony Martial and Mason Greenwood.
Chances are: they may slip from third, but not as far as sixth.
5. Who will be the top dog in North London – Jose Mourinho or Mikel Arteta?
One is a successful veteran who has been written off as a has-been, no longer a “Special One” in recent years. The other is entering his first full season as manager, yet is highly-regarded even before he began his managerial career.
These two disparate paths will cross this season, as Jose Mourinho and Mikel Arteta bid to take their respective North London teams – Tottenham and Arsenal – back into Champions League qualification.
Both will have points to prove. Mourinho will want to show his previous employers Man United and Chelsea that he still has the Midas touch even after splitting acrimoniously with the two clubs. Arteta, meanwhile, will want to justify Arsenal’s trust in handing over the reins to him despite his relative inexperience.
Surprisingly, it seems Arteta may have the edge. Since being appointed in December last year, he has addressed the Gunners’ defensive shortcomings, and led them to two trophies (the FA Cup and the Community Shield). Meanwhile, Mourinho is already grappling with unsettled players amid Tottenham.
6. Will Leeds United be this season’s Sheffield United?
Sheffield United were undoubtedly the surprise packages of last season. Widely tipped to be relegated straight after promotion from The Championship, the Blades instead charged to the top half of the league table with innovative tactics by manager Chris Wilder. They eventually finished a highly creditable ninth.
This season, another newly-promoted side will hope to emulate Sheffield United’s fortunes. Leeds – promoted after a 16-year absence from the Premier League – will hope their eccentric manager Marcelo Bielsa can conjure some tactical masterclass to keep the Yorkshire club in the top tier.
Can they stay up? In all likelihood, Leeds should succeed. Yet they may be hampered by the absence of their vociferous home crowd, which has often swung results their way at Elland Road. Bielsa will need all his acumen to negotiate this tough league.
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