Premier League preview: Can Manchester City keep their crown?
The comedown from Euro 2020 is very real. A month of glorious international soccer, thrilling matches, and some of the continent’s best players going head-to-head across Europe. And we probably took it for granted. A day after Italy lifted the trophy and the curtain fell on Euro 2020, soccer fans were left with a void in their life – but luckily not for long.
Premier League soccer returns soon, with the opening games of the league scheduled for Aug. 17. Pep Guardiola’s Manchester City will be aiming to retain their crown and win their fourth league title in the last five years, while Liverpool, Chelsea and Manchester United all have work to do to keep up. Here’s a rundown of the key contenders this season.
Premier League Odds
The reigning champs and the team to catch this season, it’s no surprise Man City are hot favorites. They won the league by 12 points last year, but it really could have been more as they took their foot off the gas towards the end as they battled for a historic quadruple. They won more games than anyone else, scored more goals than anyone else, and kept a clean sheet in 19 of their 38 matches. After dropping a few points early on they hit top gear between December and March, winning 15 league games in a row to surge clear of their rivals.
Club legend Sergio Aguero has left for Barcelona, but there are rumors Pep is looking to add Harry Kane or Jack Grealish to a team already packed full of quality. John Stones was a rock at the back, Ederson is one of the best goalkeepers in the world, and Ilkay Gundogan, Raheem Sterling, and Kevin De Bruyne provide an attacking trio that could win any league.
The only hole to pick is Guardiola’s failings in the "big games" last season. City picked up just eight points from a possible 18 in games against Liverpool, Chelsea, and Man United last season, so they’re not unbeatable.
Chelsea had a wobbly start last year, and won just two games from nine in the league in December, a run that saw coach Frank Lampard get sacked. German Thomas Tuchel came in and changed the Blues’ fortunes, guiding them to a top four finish, an FA Cup Final, and a Champions League victory to crown an incredible five months in charge.
Tuchel immediately sorted out Chelsea defensively and they kept 11 clean sheets in his first 15 league games, but if they want to contend with Man City this season, they must sort out their forward options. No Chelsea player scored more than seven league goals last year, and one of their striking options, Olivier Giroud, has now moved to AC Milan.
That means all eyes turn to German duo Timo Werner and Kai Havertz and the English pair of Mason Mount and Tammy Abraham to start getting their names on the scoresheet more often. Chelsea scored the fewest goals of any team in the top seven last year, and they won’t be able to match Man City if they don’t improve up top.
Liverpool ran away with the 2019-20 season, posting a huge tally of 99 points and finishing 18 clear of the field. A year later and they were 17 points behind City, and in need of five wins in their last five games just to secure Champions League football. It was a huge fall from the top for Jurgen Klopp’s side, who were on the wrong end of a 35-point swing with Man City.
There are excuses of course – they lost Virgil Van Dyk to serious injury after just five games, and played a good portion of the campaign without any of their three senior center backs. The injury crisis went right through the squad, and at one-point last season of all the EPL players who were out injured, 12.5% of them belonged to Liverpool.
Luckily, it’s a fresh season and not only is Van Dyk returning, but Liverpool have already bolstered their defence with the signing of Ibrahima Konate from Red Bull Leipzig for £35 million. Their attacking trio is still one of the best in the business, and although Mo Salah, Sadio Mane and Roberto Firmino posted less goals than their title-winning season (a combined 42 vs. 46 a year earlier) they are still a force to be reckoned with.
Manchester City’s biggest challengers could come from their local neighbours as Manchester United aim to bring the Premier League trophy back to Old Trafford for the first time since Alex Ferguson left. United lost the same number of games as City last year, but finished 12 points behind them as they struggled to turn draws into victories, dropping points to Leeds, Everton, Crystal Palace, Fulham and West Brom, among others.
But they can put serious runs together. Between November and April, they lost just one of their 28 games and have already secured the signing of Jordan Sancho, with Raphael Varane also looking possible. There are still question marks over central midfield, but two marquee signings for Ole Gunnar Solskjaer is one step on the quest to catch City.
Like their city rivals though, Man United must improve in the big games. In games against the top five last season, United won eight points from a possible 24 – a record that must improve if they’re going to win titles.
The best of the rest
Portuguese manager Nuno has taken over at Tottenham Hotspur (+4000) and his first job will b trying to persuade Harry Kane to stay at the club – not easy when they were 24 points behind Man City last year. Arsenal (+5000) are coming off the back of their second-worst season in more than a decade, and while Leicester (+5000) had their best league season since they won it six years ago, they are still a ways behind the four title challengers.