Man City are a ‘wounded animal’ and will push Liverpool all the way in the Premier League title race, Jose Mourinho can deliver Spurs silverware and it’s great to have Leeds back in the big time! Sportsmail’s experts look ahead to the new season
- Premier League football returns this weekend as 2020-21 season gets underway
- Manchester City are expected to push champions Liverpool hard in title race
- Big spenders Chelsea and Man United will be doing their best to challenge them
- Jose Mourinho will aim to deliver Tottenham some long overdue silverware
- Leeds United return to the Premier League after 16 years out of the top flight
- Martin Keown, Chris Sutton and Micah Richards make their predictions here
Premier League football returns this weekend with the opening fixtures in the 2020-21 season.
It promises to be another thrilling season as Jurgen Klopp’s Liverpool defend their title with Manchester City, Man United and Chelsea hoping to challenge them.
Ahead of the new season, Sportsmail’s experts MICAH RICHARDS, MARTIN KEOWN and CHRIS SUTTON have their say on the forthcoming Premier League.
Liverpool won the Premier League title last season – but who will in the new campaign which gets underway this weekend?
Sportsmail experts Martin Keown (left), Micah Richards (centre) and Chris Sutton (right) have their say on the Premier League season ahead
Will Man City close the gap on Liverpool?
RICHARDS: Yes, without a shadow of a doubt. City simply won’t throw away the number of games they did last season. Nine defeats — that was absolutely mind-blowing! I’m not taking anything away from Liverpool’s achievements last season but I just think it will be a proper race to be champions this year, as it was in 2018-19 when only a point separated them at the end.
SUTTON: I’d be amazed if they didn’t. I wrote a column when Liverpool clinched the title branding them the most emphatic champions we’d ever seen. More emphatic than the City Centurions, 5,000-1 Leicester and the Arsenal Invincibles (sorry Martin). It was a pathetic title defence from Pep Guardiola’s players by their standards. But I’m backing them to win the Premier League now. We should see a response from this City side and, at the very least, a two-horse race.
Pep Guardiola’s City were left trailing by Klopp’s Liverpool – but we can expect a response
KEOWN: Not getting Lionel Messi can only come as a blow to City, who were already a wounded animal. They finished 18 points behind Liverpool. They lost to Lyon in the Champions League quarter-finals when that competition’s one-legged knockout stage represented a great opportunity.
Now their preparations for the new campaign have been disrupted by Aymeric Laporte and Riyad Mahrez’s positive coronavirus tests. The last title race was as good as over by Christmas because City fell well short of the standards they set in 2017-18 and 2018-19. Guardiola will be so demanding of his group but I’m tipping Jurgen Klopp’s Liverpool to retain the title.
City may have missed out on Messi but they will still have more than enough to challenge
Can Frank Lampard or Ole Gunnar Solskjaer trouble the top two?
SUTTON: Lampard’s forward line is looking formidable with the additions of Timo Werner, Kai Havertz and Hakim Ziyech.
But Chelsea remain a work in progress defensively. Look at the goals conceded by the top four clubs in 2019-20: Liverpool 33, City 35, United 36 and Chelsea 54. That’s a concern. They’re hoping Thiago Silva and left back Ben Chilwell can improve that, along with Malang Sarr from Nice.
Can they or Manchester United finish inside the top two? I’d be surprised. I cannot see Lampard or Ole Gunnar Solskjaer having the consistency to trouble City or Liverpool.
Kai Havertz is one of a number of exciting summer additions as Chelsea look to compete
RICHARDS: They can and they will. I don’t see either of them becoming champions this season but they are definitely emerging forces again. Sometimes teams go on spending sprees and nothing really changes but the players Chelsea have added will give them a fear factor. I like some of the signings United have made recently and they have got people expecting big things again.
KEOWN: Chelsea have spent a king’s ransom and it’s about making sure these talented individuals can play as a team. It’s important he starts this season better than the last but I believe Lampard can trouble the top two. He couldn’t spend money in 2019 because of the transfer ban and so handed Premier League debuts to seven players, including Mason Mount, Billy Gilmour and Reece James. The avenue from the academy to the first team was opened. Now he can spend and he has been adding experience to the squad. Thiago Silva, even at 35, is worth the risk.
Chelsea conceded an alarming number of goals last season and that needed addressing.
Donny van de Beek is a very good signing for Solskjaer. Compared to other top clubs, United looked bare in midfield but he gives them another option. Last season we saw Solskjaer use Anthony Martial, Mason Greenwood and Marcus Rashford in attack with Bruno Fernandes behind and Paul Pogba in midfield. It was a winning combination and Van de Beek is an exciting addition. There seems a solid plan at United under Solskjaer. But the Premier League’s top two? That might be beyond them for the time being.
Man United boss Ole Gunnar Solskjaer welcomes new boy Donny van de Beek to the club
How high can Arteta take Arsenal?
KEOWN: There’s been a lot of work done on the training ground by Arteta. But as with any manager, for the players to keep listening, it’s important that they are successful. In his first spell as a head coach, Arteta has won the FA Cup and Community Shield — some managers can work for years and years and not come close to silverware. It’s proof that Arteta’s ideas are working and good for the confidence of this group.
They may stand only an outside chance of finishing in the top four, given the competition but that has to be the aim for Arsenal. They have an ambitious, world-class striker in Pierre-Emerick Aubameyang, who guarantees them goals. It is still early days for Arteta, but we can already see how he is turning the club around.
Mikel Arteta delivered Arsenal the FA Cup and looks set to keep Pierre-Emerick Aubameyang
RICHARDS: That’s the million-dollar question. If there was a table that was decided in December, I would say they could finish in the top four. What tempers my enthusiasm is whether they have the staying power to go the distance.
I watched them towards the end of last season, against Liverpool and Manchester City in the FA Cup, and they were brilliant. I just wonder if their squad has the strength in depth to sustain it.
SUTTON: Top four is not impossible but it is highly unlikely, even if Aubameyang is sticking around. I’d say finishing in the top six would be a sure sign of improvement for Arsenal. Arteta took over a real mess at the Emirates Stadium but he’s managed to get some good old-fashioned desire and commitment out of the players on the pitch.
He showed ruthlessness in giving Mesut Ozil and Matteo Guendouzi the elbow. If you don’t run, you don’t play. If your attitude is not right, you don’t play. Them’s the rules under Arteta.
Arteta has shown a ruthless streak in giving Mesut Ozil the elbow as he shapes his Arsenal side
Will Jose turn spurs into winners?
RICHARDS: Definitely. I am not saying Mourinho is going to win the Premier League or the Champions League with Tottenham because the squad isn’t at that level.
But if he stays at the club long enough — and is given the right opportunity — I can certainly see him winning one of the domestic cups. The man is a serial winner and winning the FA Cup would be amazing for Spurs.
SUTTON: I was on the pitch in a Celtic shirt the day Jose Mourinho won the UEFA Cup — now the Europa League — with Porto in 2003. It is a tournament Mourinho, who also won it with Manchester United in 2017, doesn’t mind —bigging up.
‘I played the competition twice, I got to the final twice, I won twice,’ he said earlier this year. Well, let’s make it a hat-trick. I’m not sure Spurs supporters have been particularly enthralled by the football that’s been on offer but Mourinho was hired to win silverware.
Tottenham don’t have enough to challenge the top teams but they should be targeting glory in Europe. Go for it!
Jose Mourinho has every chance of ending Tottenham’s lengthy wait for some silverware
KEOWN: We know Mourinho’s track record — he’s won a trophy at every club he’s managed and 25 in total across Europe. So we’d be silly to say he can’t do it at Tottenham, too.
Several members of the side that reached the Champions League final in 2019 are still there, Harry Kane included. Eric Dier is being used at centre back, which I consider his best position. Pierre-Emile Hojbjerg is a good addition who was part of a Southampton side that pressed very well, and Matt Doherty from Wolves was a smart buy.
Because of Tottenham’s billion-pound bill for their stadium, they are under huge financial constraints. Mourinho cannot simply get the chequebook out, like he might have done in the past. He’s got to roll up his sleeves and do it differently.
Matt Doherty is one of Tottenham’s summer signings, arriving from Wolves last month
Who’ll be the season’s surprise package?
KEOWN: I’ve always considered them a big club — but could we count Everton as a surprise package if they make a charge for Europe? Their neighbours Liverpool have switched on. Now I’d like to see Everton do the same.
They’ve got a great head coach and James Rodriguez has signed. They could be a club we see re-emerge in the next campaign but this will be one of the biggest tests of Ancelotti’s career. This is a different type of project from the ones he faced at Paris Saint-Germain, Real Madrid and Co.
Colombian star James Rodriguez has the potential to take Everton up to the next level
RICHARDS: Leeds! Leeds! Leeds! I know there is a feeling that my local club will either finish in the top seven or get relegated but I am saying they will be nearer the first part of that prediction.
They might not have a lot of household names but there is one thing you know about going to Elland Road and that is it’s a horrible experience for the away team. It’s ingrained into Leeds players that they have to work hard and with Marcelo Bielsa, the genius they have as manager, I’m sure they will be fine.
SUTTON: Sheffield United made mugs of us all last season. That’s what Leeds, West Brom and Fulham — our three new additions from the Championship — have to aspire to as well.
I’d particularly love to see Leeds hold their own in the Premier League by playing the game their way — the Marcelo Bielsa way, with all the swagger and style they showed in 2019-20.
Marcelo Bielsa at the heart of Leeds’ celebrations after they won the Championship title
Which player are you most looking forward to watching?
SUTTON: Mason Greenwood made a huge mistake while away on England duty. He was duly punished by Gareth Southgate and I’m sure if he could turn back time, he wouldn’t have those girls anywhere near the team’s hotel in Iceland.
Greenwood will want to get back to focusing on his football and making more positive headlines as Manchester United’s two-footed prodigy. Seventeen goals last season — 10 in the Premier League — was an outstanding return from the 18-year-old.
Greenwood has to earn Southgate’s forgiveness. Another goal-laden season might go some way to ensuring he is selected for next summer’s European Championship, despite his recent indiscretions. I’m looking forward to watching what he does on the pitch.
Another free-scoring season for Mason Greenwood at United will see him go to the Euros
KEOWN: I’d have loved to have been able to say Lionel Messi. But instead I’ll name the player I would always happily pay to watch: Kevin De Bruyne. City can be the most pleasing Premier League team to watch on their day because of him.
He was named Player of the Year after amassing 20 assists in 2019-20, and a fair few more will follow in 2020-21, I’m sure.
RICHARDS: I’m going to go with James Rodriguez. It would be easy to roll out Kevin De Bruyne or Mohamed Salah but I love the fact Everton have made this signing. I don’t mean this disrespectfully but it’s not normal for Everton to sign someone of his calibre.
I played with Juan Cuadrado, his Colombia team-mate, at Fiorentina and he used to rave about James. If he shows anything like the form he did at the 2014 World Cup, he will be a sight to behold.
Manchester City star Kevin De Bruyne remains one of the divisions’ must-watch players
How will Leeds fare on their return to the big time?
RICHARDS: I think it will work perfectly. Leeds create chances and score lots of goals and I don’t believe they will lose any of their potency at a higher level. I like the signing of Rodrigo and if he fires, the team will fire.
SUTTON: Leeds play in an extremely positive way with plenty of energy. They like to keep the ball — no Championship club averaged a higher possession than their 64.25 per cent last season. But that style does have its dangers, especially at this level.
Premier League clubs can punish you if you aren’t up to it. Let’s see if they can do a Sheffield United, or if they join the long list of clubs who made it to the Premier League only to be sent straight back.
Marcelo Bielsa and his Leeds side are expected to make a big impression on the top division
KEOWN: The list of managers who have expressed admiration for Bielsa is a long one. It’s a who’s who of big football names. Pep Guardiola says he is the ‘best coach in the world’. Mauricio Pochettino says he is a ‘genius’. Diego Simeone says of all the coaches who influenced him, he ‘taught me the most’. It goes on and on.
I suspect we will see Bielsa look to impose his style on his opponents, rather than try to react to the way they play. He is a professor of football who will want to make his mark on the Premier League.
Chris Wilder’s Sheffield United can act as inspiration after the way they handled last season. It’s good to see Leeds back in the big time. It’s long overdue.
Who are you backing for the Golden Boot?
SUTTON: We’ve had the annual speculation surrounding Kane: will this be his final season in a Spurs shirt if they do not win a trophy? Maybe, maybe not, but I’m backing him to win the Golden Boot. That depends on him staying fit, however. Injuries held him back last season.
Harry Kane will hope for a season that isn’t interrupted by injury for Tottenham and England
KEOWN: Aubameyang. Arsenal may have finished eighth in the Premier League but he finished second in the scoring charts, getting 22 of their 56 goals. You’ll have heard me compare Aubameyang to Thierry Henry previously and as someone who shared a dressing room with Arsenal’s greatest-ever goalscorer, I don’t make that link lightly.
Henry won the Golden Boot a record four times and I’m backing Aubameyang to be crowned king of the strikers this season.
RICHARDS: Harry Kane. He will want to reassert himself as the main man. He wasn’t too far off last season, when he missed so many games through injury.
With a clear run he will come out on top, though I do expect Timo Werner to run him close.
Arsenal’s Pierre-Emerick Aubameyang is a good bet to win this season’s Golden Boot award
Who has the most to prove?
KEOWN: There is pressure on Lampard. If a manager doesn’t spend any money, it’s hard to criticise him. But now, because of what’s been spent at Chelsea, you could say he’s got the most to prove. I see several managers with something to prove.
Wilder, because he will want to prove Sheffield United weren’t a one-season wonder. Bielsa, because he will want to prove he can cut it with the big boys. Guardiola, after the way City fell from such a great height. Klopp, who will want to show Liverpool can continue to win. Take your pick — all are under pressure!
Frank Lampard comes under more pressure this season having had plenty of money to spend
SUTTON: Guardiola. City’s manager strikes me as the type who will have taken his players’ failure to maintain consistency and compete with Liverpool last season like a personal insult.
He will be demanding that does not happen again. I do wonder whether Guardiola senses an opening, given Klopp hasn’t exactly freshened up his squad. We’ve seen how a failure to evolve following a title win has tripped teams up before.
RICHARDS: John Stones. I’m not giving up on him, not by a long way. He was a £50million transfer four years ago and it didn’t look right to see him sitting on the bench not playing at the end of last season.
If he cuts out the silly mistakes, I still believe he has the potential to be one of the best.
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