Who can challenge Klopp’s Liverpool juggernaut?
As another season of the Premier League begins on Saturday, here’s a list of some talking points for 2020-21.
Enter El Loco
They call Marcelo Bielsa that possibly because he is idiosyncratic, an outlier in a family of lawyers and academics, who, when not on his haunches, sits on a blue bucket. He lives in a one-bedroom flat and his conviction in fairplay let Aston Villa once score unopposed. Accused of spying, he called a press conference and gave a masterclass in attention to detail showing exactly why he didn’t need to snoop. Pep Guardiola is an admirer as are Zinedine Zidane and Mauricio Pochettino and Germany international Robin Koch said Biesla was the reason he joined Leeds.
Hailing from Lionel Messi’s hometown Rosario where there is a stadium named after him, Bielsa’s teams use the high-press. Arsenal coach Mikel Arteta has compared playing Leeds with a visit to the dentist. High-energy games though tend to leave his teams breathless at season-end. Back in top flight after 16 years and bolstered by 27m pound signing of Spain international Rodrigo, Bielsa’s battles with the Premiership’s top tacticians should be a treat if Leeds can raise their level.
Liverpool’s tried and tested
Having won the league by 18 points Liverpool felt sorted enough to pass up on Timo Werner. Left-back Kostas Tsimikas has joined and Thiago Alcantara may, but with young players such as Rhian Brewster, Curtis Jones and Harvey Elliott waiting to step up, and the whole of his extremely high-performing squad still intact, Klopp has reason to believe that he can pull off a title defense. That also means keeping faith in a number of players who are 29 and 30 - James Milner is 34 - who will have to keep the intensity going for a third straight season. “There’s just always something more you can achieve, you can never settle on what you’ve achieved so far,” said right back Trent Alexander-Arnold.
Those Manchester teams
Keen to get back at Liverpool, runners-up City have signed young Spanish winger Ferran Torres and Dutch defender Nathan Ake. They may add another defender after last season’s woes caused by injury to central defender Aymeric Laporte and the departure of Vincent Kompany. Strength in depth should help them absorb the departures of David Silva and Leroy Sane with the talented Phil Foden and Torres likely to step into their roles in a season that could be Sergio Aguero’s last.
On the other side of Manchester, Dutch midfielder Donny van de Beek should strengthen what is already a strong midfield. The curious case of Jadon Sancho though shows United continue to struggle to close deals. The joke on social media is that United have more players falling foul of the law in foreign countries - captain Harry Maguire was involved in a brawl in Greece and Mason Greenwood was sent home from the England camp in Iceland along with Foden after breaking bio-bubble rules - than they have been able to sign this summer.
Smart buys in blue
They have spent 200m pounds on Werner, Kai Havertz, Hakim Ziyech and Ben Chilwell and could still be looking for a goalie. But proof that they are not throwing money lay in Chelsea, who leaked 54 league goals last term, getting defenders Thiago Silva and Malang Sarr on a free. Covid-19 has tightened purse strings at clubs and Chelsea have made the most of it using the 115.4 million pounds they got from selling Eden Hazard and Alvaro Morata last season. They also have a clutch of promising youngsters including Christian Pulisic. “It’s Chelsea. We need to be competing for titles,” said Lampard.
Mou show at Spurs
Jose Mourinho is the undisputed star of Amazon’s newly-released docu-series on Tottenham. On the field, however, this could be a make-or-break campaign for the Portuguese because it was the failure to win silverware that cost predecessor Mauricio Pochettino. Midfielder Pierre-Emille Hojbjerg and full-back Matt Doherty have been shrewd signings, strengthening areas of concern at reasonable prices. After helping lift Spurs from the bottom half to sixth last season, more will be expected of the self-proclaimed ‘Special One.’
Skipper Pierre-Emerick Aubameyang is likely to sign a new deal, Bukayo Saka is set to stay and that is as good as it gets for Arsenal after their worst finish in 25 years. The Athletic, which broke the Aubameyang story, also says that Arsenal are looking to pair youth and experience. That means Aubameyang in front, Willian in the middle and David Luiz at the back hand-holding young players. Appointed last December, Arteta has already won trophies and despite having to lay off 55 staff due to Covid-19, Arsenal have made two crucial signings in left-footed centre-backs Pablo Mari and Gabriel.
Big six pretenders
Leicester City’s late implosion cost a top four spot last season but Brendan Rodgers has a good squad and should once again run the ‘big six’ close. So should Wolves, who have finished seventh in the last two seasons. The story of this transfer window though, outside the ‘big six’, has been Everton. Carlo Ancelotti’s triple swoop of James Rodriguez, Allan and Abdoulaye Doucoure has significantly strengthened the Toffees and they will be expected to do a lot better than their 12th place finish last season. Everton haven’t won a major trophy since 1995 but Rodriguez said that could change.
In the middle
Also looking to improve will be Newcastle whose unloved owner Mike Ashley has gone on a signing spree headlined by 22-year-old defender Jamal Lewis. Chris Wilder’s Sheffield United will hope Scotland international Oliver Burke’s arrival will give them pace while they maintain defensive solidity (only Liverpool, City and United conceded less goals). Sean Dyche’s Burnley will look to again punch above their weight in the time of scaled-back budgets.
In the time of virus
The season will start behind closed doors but the league is working on procedures for partial return of fans. Players will be tested once every week for Covid-19. The big change from last season, however, is that the five-substitute rule introduced after the coronavirus-induced break has been shelved after clubs voted against it. Among the things that will continue is the contentious Video Assistant Referee (VAR) which will be in its second season.