Upcoming Fixtures: vs. Aston Villa, @ Brighton & Hove Albion
Watford finished second in the Championship a season ago before being promoted to the Prem. The Hornets’ had a stingy defense last year — allowing only 30 goals in 46 matches. Surely, Watford will hope to replicate this formula against better competition. This will be the sort of side parking the proverbial bus in hopes of mitigating the talent disparity between themselves and other clubs.
The group of Joshua King, Andre Gray, Troy Deeney, Ismaila Sarr, Ken Sema, and Joao Pedro will be primarily counted upon for goal creation. The centre-back pairing of Francisco Sierralta and William Troost-Ekong must be compactly in-sync if Watford has any chance of staying up.
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Upcoming Fixtures: vs. Arsenal, @ Crystal Palace
Via the playoff, Brentford narrowly gained entrance into the Premiership. For two years in a row, the Bees led the second-tier in scoring behind manager Thomas Frank. This is a side which aims to play progressive football — where pace, tempo, and rhythm are integral to its success. Ivan Toney is the undisputed talisman of the club. He notched 33 goals in only 47 matches a season ago.
We do worry a bit about Brentford’s backline. If they aim to go toe-to-toe with more talented sides (in terms of being unabatedly attack-minded), they may find themselves compromised at the back. The Bees likely will employ a 3-4-1-2 — looking for wingbacks Mads Roerslev and Rico Henry to bomb up the flanks. Interestingly enough, Brentford has six Danish internationals on its roster (led by Roerslev and Matias Jensen).
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Upcoming Fixtures: vs. Brighton & Hove Albion, @ Liverpool
Burnley finished comfortably at 17th in the table a season ago — 11 points from the drop zone. That’s not to say it wasn’t a rough season for The Clarets. Burnley scored the third-fewest goals in the Prem last year. Even worse, Burnley ranked towards the bottom of the table in goals allowed as well.
Goalkeeper Nick Pope will have his work cut out for him. The team will yet again feature the battering ram duo up top of Ashley Barnes and Chris Wood. A number of projected starters are over the age of 30 — which isn’t ideal for a squad without much in the way of depth. Do not be shocked to see Burnley drop to the Championship.
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17. Norwich City
Upcoming Fixtures: vs. Liverpool, @ Manchester City
Last year in the Championship, Norwich City ranked second in both goals scored and goals allowed. It was arguably the most balanced team top to bottom in the second-tier. Now back up in the Prem, The Canaries are hoping to stick in the top division rather than face relegation yet again.
Daniel Farke brought in a number of new recruits — led by former Chelsea player Billy Gilmour and United States international Josh Sargent. Gilmour has shown flashes in being a very productive player. He now should get a chance to play regular first-team football (after performing very well for Scotland at EURO 2020). Norwich then went out and splashed nearly $13 million on Sargent. His Werder Bremen side was a right mess — which partly contributes to Sargent’s paltry production. However, he’s an aggressive player with good link-up capabilities and the versatility to play both centrally/on the wing. He will complement Teemu Pukki very well.
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16. Newcastle United
Upcoming Fixtures: vs. West Ham United, @ Aston Villa
Newcastle is your run-of-the-mill mid-to-lower table club. There’s nothing particularly exhilarating about this team nor its talent. Newcastle essentially will fight for just enough points to stay up. If anything, Paraguayan playmaker Miguel Almiron needs to produce at a higher clip.
The 27-year-old had only five goals and three assists in 39 matches. This is plainly unacceptable if Newcastle is to make any leap towards the middle of the table. The diminutive Ryan Fraser should add some pace on the left wing. Right winger Allan Saint-Maximin might be the most innately gifted player on the roster. Additionally, striker Callum Wilson cannot be slept on. He bagged 12 goals and 5 assists in only 26 matches. We could see Newcastle bump up towards the middle of the pack should its group of attacking players live up to its collective potential.
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15. Crystal Palace
Upcoming Fixtures: @ Chelsea, vs. Brentford
Patrick Vieira took over the managerial gig after a short spell in France with Nice. A legendary ex-player, Vieira is hoping to raise the collective level of this club after it’s been essentially languishing in the bottom half of the table since 2014. Crystal Palace had one of the league’s leakiest defenses a season ago (allowing the third-most goals in the PL). To solve these issues in the back, Crystal Palace brought centre backs Joachim Andersen and Marc Guehi. Both are relatively inexperienced — though certainly appear to be an upgrade from a talent standpoint.
If Anderson and Guehi can be steadying forces in the back, we could see Crystal Palace crack into the top-half of the table. Wilfried Zaha is still a dynamic player, Jordan Ayew is more than capable, and Christian Benteke continues to be a headache for most central defenders. Jean-Philippe Mateta — a loanee from Mainz 05 — could be a real wildcard in terms of offensive flair.
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14. Brighton & Hove Albion
Upcoming Fixtures: @ Burnley, vs. Watford
Brighton is a relatively solid team from top to bottom. They didn’t score a ton of goals last year (40) — though they didn’t relinquish that many, either (46). The club offers a good mix of young players intertwined with more experienced footballers. As a means to improve midfield play, Enoch Mwepu was brought in from Red Bull Salzburg. Mwepu covers a ton of ground, and should pair quite nicely alongside Yves Bissouma.
If The Seagulls are to see a bump towards mid-table, their creative players must perform at a higher clip. This in particular involves No. 10 Alexis Mac Allister. Though brimming with natural ability, the Argentine playmaker accumulated only three goals and two assists in 27 matches a season ago. The hope is he can find some real joy when getting on the ball. The same goes for Belgian midfielder Leandro Troussard and Steven Alzate.
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Upcoming Fixtures: @ Everton, vs. Manchester United
Southampton has the look of a club which would face some real challenges this year. On paper, this doesn’t look to be as strong of a side as we’ve seen in recent years — and that’s acknowledging the fact that The Saints haven’t finished within the top-half of the table in over four years. Selling Danny Ings to Aston Villa could prove to be a disastrous decision. He was without a doubt the most productive striker option for the side.
Now, Southampton will be relying on former Blackburn player Adam Armstrong, Che Adams, and Armando Broja. Duly, a ton of responsibility sits on the shoulders of midfielder Jamal Ward-Prowse. While we think Southampton can avoid relegation, it will be relying upon a multitude of inexperienced players (Broja, Valentino Livramento, Romain Perraud).
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12. West Ham United
Upcoming Fixtures: @ Newcastle United, vs. Leicester City
The engine of this team undoubtedly sits within its midfield. The duo of Declan Rice and Tomas Suchek is frankly one of the better pairings in the Prem. Both complement each other quite well, and Rice’s emergence as a starter for England has taken his game to another level. David Moyes garnered plenty of praise (and rightfully so) for leading West Ham to a top-six finish. With that said, it won’t be as easy in 2021-22.
The Hammers didn’t really make a ton of moves in the transfer window. Nabbing Alphonse Areola to play in goal was a shrewd move. However with Europa League in sight, we question whether this team will be deep enough to combat the rigors of more matches.
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11. Wolverhampton Wanderers
Upcoming Fixtures: @ Leicester City, vs. Tottenham
Wolves suffered a bit of transition when popular manager Nuno Espirito Santo left the club during the offseason. Continuing with the Portugal theme, Wolves tabbed Bruno Lage (formerly of Benfica) to lead the club. We saw some considerable turnover from the club — as 11 players were either sold or sent out on loan. This included veteran GK Rui Patricio.
However, Wolves brought in a couple of interesting players to enhance their prospects at making the top-six. Namely, tricky winger Trincao was brought in on loan from Barcelona. He did struggle at times — though the hope is that he can provide some pace and threatening play on the wings. 20-year-old defender Yerson Mosquera was brought in from Colombia to help fortify the somewhat aging backline. Lastly, how will Raul Jimenez respond after suffering a disastrous skull injury? He is without a doubt the most prolific scoring option for this club.
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10. Aston Villa
Upcoming Fixtures: @ Watford, vs. Newcastle United
We’re tempering expectations a bit on Villa by placing them tenth in this proposed table. The selling of Jack Grealish likely had to be done based upon the financial windfall earned. With that said, it will be nearly impossible to replace this fulcrum of creative brightness. Grealish had the uncanny ability to improvise in even the most mundane situations. He’s so deft in crafting goal-scoring chances out of virtually nothing. That sort of ability to find joy on the ball will not be easy to replicate.
That’s not to say that Aston Villa stood pat. A host of players have flooded in on high-profile transfers. Among the most significant include Emiliano Buendia from Norwich City, Danny Ings from Southampton, and dynamic Jamaican winger Leon Bailey from Bayern Leverkusen. Collectively, those three certainly have the ability to bring this team into the top-six (along with Ollie Watkins and the thrilling John McGinn). But it’ll take some time for all of these new additions to gel).
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9. Leeds United
Upcoming Fixtures: @ Manchester United, vs. Everton
Marcelo Bielsa’s introduction into the Prem was a massive success last year. The club hadn’t participated in the Premiership prior to last year since 2003-04. There were questions as to whether Bielsa’s way in viewing the game would work. Early on, rival clubs realised quickly as to why this swashbuckling style was both entertaining and highly effective. Leeds went on the front foot constantly — forcing the issue and putting the opposition under an immense amount of pressure. It was rather astounding to see Leeds finish ninth in the table (with a +8 goal differential).
To fortify the club’s quest for a top-six finish further, Leeds brought in promising young Norwegian GK Kristoffer Klaesson and former Barcelona left back Junior Firpo. Firpo — a player with terrific energy and pace — is projected to slot in as the team’s starting LB.
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Upcoming Fixtures: vs. Southampton, @ Leeds United
Old friend Rafa Benitez was entrusted to run the club after Carlo Ancelotti opted to leave for Real Madrid. A plethora of positive COVID-19 tests has adversely impacted the team throughout the preseason. There hasn’t been a lot of time to build chemistry nor conditioning. Regardless, this is still a club with plenty of talent. Minor tweaks were made to the roster. A number of former prospects have been jettisoned elsewhere. The Toffees did a good bit of business by landing Andros Townsend on a free transfer. Demarai Gray was a nice inexpensive signing from Bayern Leverkusen.
We know all about Richarlison and Dominic Calvert-Lewin. However, the most important member of this team is James Rodriguez. There have been some rumblings that he was upset over Ancelotti leaving the club. Some speculate that he could even force his way off the team. With that said, if James is healthy and engaged, the ceiling of this club skyrockets. That’s far from a guarantee at this point.
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Upcoming Fixtures: @ Brentford, vs. Chelsea
Can Arsenal get over the proverbial hump — and actually overachieve as opposed to underachieve? The Gunners haven’t finished in the top-four since 2015-16. Even worse, the club has finished eighth in the table for two-straight campaigns. This is unacceptable in the minds of both the supporters and the infrastructure of this proud institution.
Ben White was the high-priced signing this offseason. There’s a lot riding on his shoulders — especially since Arsenal’s had the propensity to allow some really soft goals. The 23-year-old centre-back will be counted upon right from the jump. Since coming over from Ligue 1, Nicolas Pepe has been somewhat underwhelming. He did have 16 goals and five assists in all competitions last year. However, Arsenal needs more production if its going to crack the top-four. The same could be said for explosive winger Bukayo Saka.
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6. Tottenham Hotspur
Upcoming Fixtures: vs. Manchester City, @ Wolves
It’s been a weird summer for Tottenham. Harry Kane has been rumored for months to potentially be a Man City player. Even worse, a multitude of managers reportedly turned down the position before Tottenham inked Nuno Espirito Santo. We do like the personnel moves Spurs made. All three could go a long way in allowing for Tottenham to sneak into the top-four. If Kane leaves, the team could fall out of the top-10 completely. If not, Spurs will be right there in contention. He’s truly that significant to the team’s potential success.
Tottenham raided Serie A (specifically Atalanta) for Italian GK Pierluigi Gollini and CB Cristian Romero. Romero in particular will slot into a starting centre-back spot alongside Davinson Sanchez. Romero is good with the ball at his feet, and should aid in allowing Spurs to play a more possession-based style out of the back. Lastly, Bryan Gil came from Sevilla for nearly 23 million euros. The left winger has a ton of natural ability — particularly as it pertains to the technical side of the game. At only 20 years of age, his best football is ahead of him.
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5. Leicester City
Upcoming Fixtures: vs. Wolves, @ West Ham United
Leicester City have solidified themselves as a top-tier team in the Premier League. Brendan Rodgers’ side may not be strong enough to compete at the very top of the table this year, but they can push for the final Champions League spot. The Foxes were able to hold onto three key players during the transfer window — Wilfred Ndidi, Youri Tielemans, and James Maddison. Tielemans is the key cog in the midfield, and Leicester is at its best when Tielemans is firing on all cylinders.
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4. Manchester United
Upcoming Fixtures: vs. Leeds United, @ Southampton
Once the kings of English football, Manchester United hasn’t won the league title since 2012-13. However, things may be beginning to turn around. The Red Devils finished only behind Man City a year ago — securing their return to the Champions League. The squad isn’t lacking top talent with the likes of Paul Pogba, Bruno Fernandes, Harry Maguire, and Anthony Martial in the mix. This summer, United also added a budding superstar in the sport — England international Jadon Sancho. In four seasons with Borussia Dortmund, Sancho scored 50 goals and registered 64 assists.
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Upcoming Fixtures: vs. Crystal Palace, @ Arsenal
Chelsea is feeling great about themselves entering the season. Last year, Thomas Tuchel took over as manager in the midst of the campaign and turned things around in a big way. Chelsea finished fourth in the Prem, played in the FA Cup Final, and upset Manchester City to win the Champions League. In an effort to keep pace with an improving City side, Chelsea has brought back star Belgian striker Romelu Lukaku. In two seasons with Inter Milan, the hulking striker scored 47 goals.
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Upcoming Fixtures: @ Norwich City, vs. Burnley
On the heels of a sensational 2019-2020 campaign, Liverpool stumbled last season. A rash of injuries and underwhelming play torpedoed the Reds’ season…and they still finished third in the Prem. The club should be improved this year in the back, as central defenders Virgil van Dijk, Joe Gomez and Joël Matip are back in training. If van Dijk returns to his all-world form, Liverpool should have no trouble finishing in the top-4 for the sixth-straight year.
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1. Manchester City
Upcoming Fixtures: @ Tottenham, vs. Norwich City
For City, anything short than another Premier League triumph and a Champions League trophy will be a disappointment. In addition to finishing atop the Prem three of the last four years — finished 2nd place in 2019-20 — City has won the Carabao Cup four years running. In advance of the new campaign, City brought England national team winger Jack Grealish over from Aston Villa for £100 million. If the club can complete a deal for Tottenham striker Harry Kane, there is no reason why City can’t win a fourth title in five seasons.
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