Who will be the next Premier League champions?
In a year of uncertainty, predicting the next Premier League champions appears on the surface to be easier than ever. Much like the season previous, the league looks to solidly be a two horse race once more.
Let’s kick-off with the current champions. Liverpool were astonishing in the league, in the 2019/20 season, their relentless pressing off the ball and overwhelming attacking prowess going forward resulted in their first ever title in the Premier League era. Not only did they emerge victorious, but they did it in style, amazing 93 points over the 38 games (3rd most in Premier League history), with an 18 point gap between them and second place, so it stands to reason they would be a shoo-in to triumph in the upcoming season.
However, maintaining this level of excellence can be difficult. Firstly, Liverpool have not made a significant update to their squad since the 2018 summer transfer window, which begs the question, do they have the depth to retain the title? Admittedly it is an arduous task attempting to find cover for some of the best players in the league and as the old adage goes “if it ain’t broke don’t fix”. Yet a quick glance over their squad highlights the notion that a significant injury could seriously derail a Liverpool title challenge. Namely, to centre back Virgil van Dijk, who played every minute of every game for Liverpool last season. Not to mention having to potentially find long-term cover for one or more of the prolific front three of Salah, Mane & Firmino. Liverpool have been “lucky” in that regard (if you can call it that). That being said, The Red’s reported interest in Thiago Alcantara would be an adequate statement signing to quelle these rumblings, as well as providing serious creative quality to Liverpool’s midfield.
Aside from the logistical problems Liverpool may face in the upcoming season, there is also the potential issue of Liverpool’s relentlessly drilled attacking transitions growing stale if not refreshed. This may seem premature just after Liverpool’s front three combined for 46 goals in the league, however, no other player scored more than 5 goals over the season (and the player who scored 5 was defender Virgil Van Dijk, all coming from headers). Further bolstering the importance of keeping all of the front three fit, all season, for the third year in a row. Easier said than done.
All this being said, Liverpool are a wonderful team, with a fabulous Manager in Jurgen Klopp. Even if teams were able to predict what Liverpool were going to attempt, and when, this doesn’t mean they can stop it from happening, that is the benefit of having such a talented group of players (even if that group is nearly exclusively limited to the starting 11). Still though, it is impossible to see them anywhere but challenging for the title in the current form.
The only team likely to seize the title from Merseyside is Pep Guardiola’s Manchester City. Similarly to Liverpool, City are a phenomenal team, comprised of endless talent and an exceptional manager. However, they often came up short in the previous season.
One of the problems City faced last season was their lack of clinical finishing in games where they would be expected to secure 3 points. They boast an impressive roster of creative players (including, at the time, David Silva) and thus did not struggle to create goal scoring opportunities. Yet in some games they struggled to put the ball in the net, namely against Norwich and Southampton, two games in which they conceded goals and lost the game. Although these margins may seem slim, if City are to beat Liverpool to the title then they must follow suit and limit points lost in games where they go in strong favourites. City did outscore Liverpool in the league and did exhibit their goal scoring prowess in 8-0, 6-1 and multiple 5-0 wins throughout the year. These are positive signs and show that the problems that rest with the attack are minor ones. They were after all without Sergio Ageuro for 14 games last season through injury, in a campaign that saw winger Raheem Sterling finish as the Citizens top goal scorer (20).
City’s biggest problem rests with the defence. This can’t just be demonstrated through Goals Against numbers as City were second best in the league in that category (behind Liverpool), what has been demonstrated though is that it is difficult to play as a centre back in a Pep Guardiola system. The demands put on them to play high and contribute to attacking transitions are difficult ones to fulfil and it takes highly talented players to succeed in this role. Aymeric Laporte is one of those players and his long term injury caused huge problems for City, along with the lack of a real left back. This is no secret however and City have already completed the signing of Nathan Ake from Bournemouth, which should go some way to adding much needed depth to that position, but he isn’t the solution to the problem by himself. Reports have heavily linked Napoli defender Kalidou Koulibaly with a move to the Etihad, which if confirmed would be a first-rate addition to City’s defence.
Pep Guardiola is now entering the 5th year of his career at Manchester City. This is the longest he has ever spent at one single club as a manager and based on what we know about his attitude to mediocrity and the expectation on him to deliver, it is plausible that there is more to come from Manchester City in the transfer market before the season commences. That being said, all of this is predicated on the idea that City aren’t able to coax Lionel Messi to Manchester. If they do, City would surely be favourites to dominate domestic and possibly European football, for as long as he remains the best player on the planet. However, this prospect now looks exceedingly unlikely to materialise this year.
What will prevail, Liverpool’s tried and tested consistent brilliance or Manchester City’s mercurial genius? Will the newly bolstered Chelsea make a surprise title challenge? Can Ole maintain the level his team found towards the end of last season? Either way this season promises to be widely entertaining.