Starting on Friday with Arsenal vs. Brentford, the 2021-2022 Premier League season is not short of headlines.
Will Manchester City make it four titles in five years? Can Chelsea or Manchester United capitalize on their big money signings from the summer? Will Liverpool rebound after an injury-ridden season?
How about the challengers? Can Mikel Arteta finally fulfill his promise to bring Arsenal back to prominence? How inspired will Tottenham (and specifically Harry Kane) play under new manager Nuno Esperito Santo? Will another team, perhaps Aston Villa, Everton, or West Ham, sneak into a European place? Can newly promoted Brentford survive in their first season in the top division in over eighty years?
The top teams have remained steady, but we’ve seen several unlikely teams contend with the elite in recent years. Furthermore, we’ve soon emerging newcomers to the Premier League and young prospects take the competition by storm.
Without further ado, here are the Premier League Central’s picks for the upcoming season:
After spending upwards of ₤225 million in last summer’s transfer window, Chelsea were well-stocked throughout the team. Or so they thought. Despite the additions of Edouard Mendy and Ben Chilwell in defense and the emergence of academy products Mason Mount and Reece James, Frank Lampard struggled to get the best out of his attacking players.
The first problem, coaching, was quickly fixed with the hiring of Thomas Tuchel who helped Kai Havertz, Jorginho, and even Timo Werner to a degree rediscover their class. The only missing piece was a consistent, clinical finisher and Romelu Lukaku should bring just that to the Blues.
With confidence, continuity, and Kante on their side, Chelsea enter the season with one of the most formidable squads in recent memory. Assuming the backline can hold up, look for Chelsea to lift their sixth Premier League trophy.
Top 4: Chelsea, Liverpool, Manchester City, Manchester United
These four teams have separated themselves from the rest of the league. However, where they finish relative to one another is a difficult question to answer.
Despite last season’s injury struggles, Liverpool still managed to finish 3rd and look forward to the return of talisman Virgil van Dijk. We should expect Sadio Mane and Roberto Firmino to bounce back from a disappointing campaign. Furthermore, the likes of Thiago and Diogo Jota have settled in and should really really show their class this season.
Manchester City go into the season defending their title but with concerns. Many of their top players, including Kevin de Bruyne, Ederson, and John Stones just recently returned from holiday. Phil Foden is injured. Furthermore, players such as Riyad Mahrez, Raheem Sterling, Bernardo Silva, and Aymeric Laporte are all considering moves away. Despite the record signing of Jack Grealish, City may regret now buying an out-and-out striker.
Finally, Manchester United targeted areas of need with the signings of Jadon Sancho and Raphael Varane. Questions persist in the midfield. Will Paul Pogba—on an expiring contract—play like he did for France in the Euros? And what’s to make of Donny van de Beek? Can Edinson Cavani carry the scoring load for the Red Devils with Marcus Rashford on the sidelines for several months?
Relegated: Norwich City, Crystal Palace, Brentford
Last year, Fulham and West Bromwich Albion dropped back down to the Championship after just one season in the top division. In fact, 7 out of the 15 newly promoted sides in the past five years were immediately relegated.
Norwich City are notorious for flip-flopping between the Premier League and the Championship. The Canaries have been promoted to the top division four times in the past eight years, never once lasting more than a season. Daniel Farke’s side has done little to suggest that this season will be any different.
Crystal Palace have always dangled slightly too close to the relegation battle for comfort. After seeing a remarkable eight first-team players leave as their contracts expired, they have really only replenished in the heart of defence with the signings of Marc Guehi and Joachim Andersen. If Wilfried Zaha doesn’t carry them, they will really struggle for goals. The hiring of Premier League legend Patrick Vieira is also questionable, given his lack of success as a manager in MLS and Ligue 1.
Finally to Brentford, the new darlings of the Premier League. Manager Thomas Frank has done brilliantly to get his side promoted, despite consistently selling their best players. However, questions remain with the backline and overall depth of the side. They’ll need new signing Kristoffer Ajer and star striker Ivan Toney to perform to stave off relegation.
Player of the Season: Mohamed Salah
At this point, Mohamed Salah has become the Sergio Aguero of the Premier League. Everyone knows that he is amongst the best few players in the league, contends for the Golden Boot every season, and is absolutely vital to the success of his side.
However, Salah will benefit from something he hasn’t had in his Liverpool career—a long summer to recharge. The Egyptian has a chip on his shoulder, seeking a new deal and revenge for last season’s shortcomings. An injury to Kevin de Bruyne should also improve his chances.
Golden Boot: Mohamed Salah
After winning the Golden Boot in two of the past three seasons, Salah fell just one short of becoming just the third player to achieve the feat on three occasions last season. With a healthy Liverpool side (for now), a disgruntled Harry Kane, Romelu Lukaku needing time to reacclimate to the Premier League, and Jamie Vardy aging, I’d put my money on Salah.
However, if Liverpool get more contributions from Sadio Mane, Roberto Firmino, and Diogo Jota, perhaps an under-the-radar player could swoop in. Don’t be surprised if Pierre-Emerick Aubameyang or Raheem Sterling have a say.
Golden Glove: Alisson
Despite their injury crisis at centerback, Liverpool still finished the season 3rd in goals allowed. With the return of Virgil van Dijk, Joe Gomez, and Joel Matip and the addition of Ibrahima Konate, Jurgen Klopp’s side suddenly looks strong in this position. Furthermore, we could see resurgent seasons from Trent Alexander-Arnold and Andy Robertson, along with better protection of the backline with a more consistent triumvirate of Fabinho, Jordan Henderson, and Thiago in midfield.
Ederson will definitely have a shout, given his 19 clean sheets being three more than any other goalkeeper last season. However, it’s hard to see the inconsistent John Stones and Joao Cancelo repeating their remarkable seasons from last year and, despite how good he is, one can expect a slight decline from Ruben Dias.
Manchester United’s backline looks strong with the addition of Raphael Varane, but concerns exist over their current goalkeepers. Dean Henderson has seemingly eclipsed David de Gea in the pecking order. However, Henderson is struggling with a bout of COVID-19 and De Gea commands huge wages. Furthermore, Harry Maguire and Luke Shaw are just now returning from holiday, while Varane is yet to practice with the side. An acclimation period is to be expected.
Surprise Team of the Season: Watford
The Hornets are again back on the main stage after a one year respite following a five-year stint in the Premier League. Largely retaining the team that was relegated two seasons ago, Watford comfortably finished amongst the top two and are looking to restart another long tenure in the top flight.
Watford boast a solid mix of youth and experience. Goal contributions come in the form of Liverpool target Ismaila Sarr and Joao Pedro, just 23 and 19 years old, respectively. Premier League veterans Will Hughes, Tom Cleverley, Dan Gosling, and Nathaniel Chalobah provide steel in the midfield. Daniel Bachmann and Ben Foster give the side two great options to salvage points. Finally, the ever-present Troy Deeney remains part of the fold. Expect this side to not only avoid the drop but to surprise everyone and finish ahead of the bottom six.
Disappointing Team of the Season: West Ham
After an outstanding 6th place finish last season, David Moyes’ side wants to solidify their position in the top half of the Premier League. However, they just haven’t added the reinforcements needed to maintain their status. While all of the traditional top six along with Leicester, Everton, and Leeds have all strengthened, West Ham have done little in the transfer market as of now.
The Hammers received fantastic contributions from Declan Rice, Michael Antonio, and Tomas Soucek last season. However, it is likely that we see some regression from these players. The club also lost star loanee Jesse Lingard, leaving an obvious hole in the creative position. Moves for players such as Alex Oxlade-Chamberlain and Filip Menkovic would change things. Too late now, but Danny Ings seemed like a great signing.
More than anything, West Ham may disappoint based on the expectations that were developed from last season.
Breakout player: Emiliano Buendia
The league alright got a glimpse of Buendia’s talent for Norwich two years ago, but the Argentinian is prepared to take the next step. We saw how important Jack Grealish’s creativity was to Aston Villa last season, especially when Dean Smith’s side lost the player to injury near the end of the season.
Buendia has the dribbling ability, positional awareness, and passing savvy to fill Grealish’s shoes. He also has quite a luxury of a supporting cast, with the ability to supply Ollie Watkins and the new signings Leon Bailey and Danny Ings. Few players will have more assists and chances created than Buendia this season.