Will the Premier League be draped in sky blue once again, or will another team overtake the top of the Premier League? Photo by Michael Regan, The FA, Getty Images.
Although Manchester City have won 3 of the last 4 Premier League crowns and made the biggest transfer splash by signing Jack Grealish from Aston Villa, the other three clubs in last season’s top four will have something to say in what should be an exciting title race.
Manchester United, Liverpool and Chelsea are all expected by many to finish back in the top four and earn Champions League football in 2022-23, but what order will they finish in, and will any unseat the Sky Blues who dished out $129.5 million for the Villa winger? Will any clubs be able to break into the top four from outside? And who will endure the dreaded drop to the English Championship through relegation?
All that and more will be answered in my 2021-22 Premier League predictions, beginning with the bottom of the barrel.
- Norwich City
The Canaries from East Anglia have become one of the latest yo-yo clubs, playing in the Premier League for five seasons over the last decade and the other five in the English second division. In 2020-21, Norwich City won the Championship with 97 points, finishing six ahead of Watford and finished second in both most goals scored (75) and fewest goals conceded (36).
However, the East Anglian club lost right winger Emiliano Buendia to Aston Villa. The 24-year-old Argentine accounted for 15 goals and 17 assists, and is a big loss that is not easily replaced. Newly added wingers Christos Tzolis ($12 million fee from PAOK Thessaloniki, 16 goals and 10 assists in all competitions) and Milot Rashica ($12 million fee from Werder Bremen, 3 goals and 5 assists) could see playing time, but neither can completely replace the goal contributions from Buendia.
Fellow Werder Bremen transfer and United States forward Josh Sargent joins for $10 million and brings 7 goals and 3 assists with him, and Chelsea midfielder Billy Gilmour joins on loan. Finally, Burnley center back Ben Gibson joins for $10 million.
Norwich City has enough talent remaining to do better than their 21-point finish in 2019-20, with left midfielder Todd Cantwell and center forward Teemu Pukki leading the way, but will still finish in the same place as their last Premier League season and face another season in the Championship.
The Hornets from northwest of London spent time in the Premier League for five seasons from 2015-20, but went down with Norwich City in 19th a season ago. Now, Watford come in with the Championship’s best defense (30 goals conceded), but lack the big goal-scoring ability that fellow promoted clubs Norwich City and Brentford had in 2020-21. Aging center forward and team captain Troy Deeney (33 years old) can still score goals (7 in 2020-21), but right winger Ismaila Sarr (13 goals, 10 assists) and center forward Joao Pedro (9 goals, 3 assists) will lead the charge.
Center midfielder Imran Louza was added for $11 million from Ligue 1 club FC Nantes, and Club Brugge center forward Emmanuel Dennis joined for $4.4 million. But the Hornets’ best business was adding second striker Joshua King, center forward Ashley Fletcher and left back Danny Rose on free transfers.
Watford has enough to finish safely above Norwich, but not far enough to avoid relegation, though I expect them to have a chance to earn another season in the Premier League as late as the penultimate matchday.
- Brighton & Hove Albion
The Seagulls will no longer be celebrating at season’s end, as they are the final team to be relegated. Photo courtesy of @officialbhafc on Twitter.
After being promoted in 2017, the Seagulls have spent four straight seasons in the English top flight, but haven’t finished higher than 15th. Consistently playing with the fire of relegation, the club from Brighton will finally get burnt and sent back down to the second division.
While the Seagulls were fairly balanced (9-14-15, 40 goals scored and 46 conceded) in 2020-21, they lost center back Ben White to Arsenal for $64.35 million, and their only addition is center midfielder Enock Mwepu from Red Bull Salzburg for $25.3 million.
Brighton finished with the second-worst records home and away among non-relegated clubs, unable to make the Amex Stadium a fortress or find a way to string together wins on the road (Burnley had the worst non-relegated home record but earned 24 points away from home).
The loss of White will hurt their defense, and without a true consistent scoring threat, the Seagulls will return to the Championship, but will fight until the final matchday to stay up.
Home to the Premier League worst home record among non-relegated teams in the Premier League, Turf Moor will be the site of a desperate fight to stay up in 2021-22. Possessing the top flight’s thinnest squad (21 players), the Clarets are one of the favorites to face relegation this season. Coming off a season with the third fewest goals scored (33), Burnley will need help from players outside of center forward Chris Wood (12 goals) to stay up. Defensively, the Clarets have enough to stay up with enough 1-0 wins.
The only major loss (center back Ben Gibson to Norwich City) is solved by the $15.4 million addition of Nathan Collins from Stoke City. Manager Sean Dyche has been at the club since October 2012, and has found a way to earn promotion twice, and has kept the Clarets up since 2016. The expectations are low for this season, but Dyche and Burnley will live to fight another season in the Premier League.
After being as high as third after matchweek 13, the Saints dropped all the way down to 15th, and they have now lost leading-goalscorer Danny Ings (12 goals) to Aston Villa for $38.72 million and a leader in defense with Jannik Vestergaard joining Leicester City for $19.8 million. With 15 losses over their last 21 games (3-2-15), the additions of center forwards Adam Armtstrong ($19.47 million from Blackburn Rovers) and Armando Broja (loan from Chelsea, impressed in preseason), right winger Theo Walcott (free transfer from Everton), left back Romain Perraud ($13.2 million from Stade Brest 29) and right midfielder Valentino Livramento ($6.49 million from Chelsea U23) won’t be enough to fix what was a sinking ship during last year’s second half.
Talented players like right back Kyle Walker-Peters, central midfielder James Ward-Prowse, and center forward Che Adams will be enough to keep Southampton up, but only just. A team that allowed the second-most goals (68) last season, the Saints are in danger of dropping to the Championship for the first time since 2012.
- Crystal Palace
Finishing 14th last season with the third-most goals conceded (66), the Eagles addressed that need with the additions of center backs Marc Guehi ($25.67 million from Chelsea) and Joachim Andersen ($19.25 million from Olympique Lyonnais). Attacking midfielder Michael Olise also joins for $10.23 million from Reading, and central midfielder Conor Gallagher joins on loan from Chelsea.
Free transfer losses of right winger Andros Townsend and left back Patrick van Aanholt will need to be weathered, but Crystal Palace has done enough to see themselves safe for another season in the Premier League, but unless center forwards Christian Benteke and Jordan Ayew or winger Wilfried Zaha have explosive goal-scoring seasons, or attacking midfielder Eberechi Eze fits in better than last year, the Eagles will finish near the bottom of the table.
Legendary Arsenal midfielder Patrick Vieira takes over as manager, and will have his hands full this season.
The fans at the Premier League’s newest stadium, Brentford Community Stadium, will have plenty to cheer about as the Bees return with force in their first top flight season since 1947. Photo courtesy of @brentfordfc on Twitter.
The Bees from west London are interchangeable in predicted finish with Crystal Palace, but both teams will be right on the edge of the relegation scrap. Last year’s Championship Playoff Final winners over Swansea City, the Bees will bring an exciting team into the Premier League that finished with a Championship-best 79 goals scored.
Leading that charge is center forward Ivan Toney, who scored 33 goals and bagged 10 assists in the Championship competitions (playoffs included). Supported by right winger Bryan Mbeumo and a midfield five that will be boosted by the additions of central midfielder Frank Onyeka from FC Midtjylland and left winger Yoane Wissa from FC Lorient ($11 million each), Brentford also shored up their defense with Celtic center back Kristoffer Ajer ($17.27 million).
If the knack for goalscoring translates to a tougher Premier League, the Bees could not only avoid relegation, but also be one of the most exciting teams to watch.
- Newcastle United
Before the permanent signing of central midfielder Joe Willock, the Magpies were my pick to finish 17th. However, the 21-year-old joined for $33 million on a permanent deal from Arsenal after scoring 8 goals while on loan from the Gunners last season.
Other than Willock, no major changes or improvements have been made by the Magpies, so as long as the goals scored stays consistent (46 last season) from center forward Callum Wilson, Willock, and players like Joelinton and Allan Saint-Maximin, the Magpies will once again finish well above the relegation zone (12th last year).
- Wolverhampton Wanderers
After two straight 7th place finishes in their first two seasons back in the Premier League for six years, Wolves dropped down into 13th. Most of that can be explained by the scary fractured skull injury to center forward Raul Jimenez, as Wolves finished with just 36 goals, second-worst among non-relegated teams. With Jimenez back and scoring goals in preseason, Wolves should be back in contention, though perhaps not back to European finishes as they were with manager Nuno Espirito Santo. Bruno Lage steps in to manage a team that faces a major change at the very back of defense, as Rui Patricio left for AS Roma ($12.65) and was replaced by Jose Sa from Ajax ($8.8 million).
In attack, Francisco Trincao joins for free from FC Barcelona, bringing in just 18 career goals and 21 assists since his professional career began at SC Braga in 2015, but has a lot of potential at just 21 years of age.
The additions of left back Rayan Ait Nouri ($12.21 million from SCO Angers), center back Yerson Mosquera ($5.72 from Atletico Nacional) and right back Bendeguz Bolla ($2.2 million from Pehervar) will provide depth for Wolves’ back five.
The return of Jimenez will certainly help Wolves, but I think the top of the Premier League has passed by Wolves.
- West Ham United
Last season’s surprising team, the Hammers jumped from 16th to a Europa League spot in 6th. However, a lot of that was thanks to midfielder Jesse Lingard, who scored 9 goals and 5 assists while on loan from Manchester United, the club to which he returns for this season.
Without Lingard, the east London club will still get goals from defensive midfielder Tomas Soucek (10), center forward Michail Antonio (10), right winger Jarrod Bowen (8), and attacking midfielder Pablo Fornals (5), but with need last year’s new addition, left winger Said Benrahma from Brentford, to score more than just one goal.
Outside of Lingard, no major additions were made or losses suffered, so manager David Moyes should see the Hammers miles from the relegation zone, but not quite in contention for a European spot. Playing in the Europa League will also stretch this team thin at times.
The Toffees started hot, placing second as late as 26 December 2020, but dropped lots of points in the second half of the season to finish in 10th. Few changes have been made, whether losses or gains, as left winger Demarai Gray ($2.2 million from Bayer Leverkusen) and right winger Andros Townsend (free from Crystal Palace) could add a bit extra down the wings, but not much else will improve this squad.
Center forward Richarlison comes off a busy summer, playing for Brazil in Copa America and the Olympics, and center forward Dominic Calvert-Lewin will join him in the front of the Toffees attack.
A breakout player at the 2014 World Cup for Colombia, can attacking midfielder James Rodriquez finally reach his potential for club as he did for country? If he does and the defense is better than average (48 goals conceded last season), Everton could compete for a European position. However, I think a team that made little changes and brought in Rafa Benitez to manage (to the dismay of many Everton fans) will do well to achieve the same finish as last season.
- Leeds United
After a successful 2020-21 season, the Whites are poised to have similar success this season. Photo courtesy of @lufc on Twitter.
Marcelo Bielsa managed the Whites to a triumphant return to the Premier League, led by center forward Patrick Bamford, wingers Jack Harrison, Helder Costa and Raphinha, defensive midfielder Kalvin Phillips (who played well for England in the Euros), and a defense that could score (8 goals for right back Stuart Dallas). Loanee Harrison joins on a permanent basis from Manchester City ($14.08 million) and left back Junior Firpo joins from Barcelona ($16.5 million).
Left back Ezgjan Alioski leaves on a free transfer for Ahli, but other than that, the Whites return a solid squad that could be in the running for their first European competition since 2003.
The addition of center back Ben White from Brighton & Hove Albion for $64.35 million will help aid the Gunners’ defense, but that wasn’t a terrible issue last season (39 goals conceded, third-fewest). A bigger concern is goal-scoring (55 goals), which hasn’t been addressed this transfer window. Central midfielder Albert Sambi Lokonga joins from RSC Anderlecht for $19.25 million, and left back Nuno Taverez joins from Benfica for $8.8 million.
The bigger story will be the continued development of left midfielder Bukayo Saka, especially after the vile racist abuse he suffered after having his penalty saved during the 2020 Euro Final. Outside of Saka, Pierre-Emerick Aubameyang and Alexandre Lacazette will need to get back to their past successes if Arsenal are to earn a European spot. There are plenty of well-known names throughout Mikel Arteta’s squad, but can they finally fit together to get the Gunners back into the top four? They might be almost there, but not quite this season.
- Aston Villa
17th in 2019-20 to 11th last year, the Villains are on an obvious upward trajectory. The loss of a player like Grealish to Manchester City would typically mean a fall off for any team (as with Lingard and West Ham), but Aston Villa has done enough this transfer window to do even better.
Starting from the back, center back Axel Tuanzebe joins on loan from Manchester United, left back Ashley Young returns to Villa Park after 11 years away, and right back Frederic Guilbert returns from a loan spell at RC Strasbourg.
In the midfield, no changes were made, but led by John McGinn and Marvelous Nakamba, the middle of Aston Villa’s lineup is solid.
Moving into attacking, left winger Leon Bailey joins from Bayer Leverkusen for $35.2 million, right winger Emiliano Buendia joins from Norwich City for $42.24 million, and center forward Danny Ings joins from Southampton in a surprising move for $38.72 million. Between the three of them, 43 goals and 32 assists will come into the team, more than making up for Grealish’s 7 and 12.
Finally, Villa have one of the best goalkeepers in the Premier League in Copa America winner Emiliano Martinez, and one of the top young goalscorers in Ollie Watkins. Dean Smith’s Villains are going to be very dangerous in 2021-22, and their ceiling is a European place, and I predict they earn a spot in the 2022-23 Europa Conference League.
- Tottenham Hotspur
The success or failure of Spurs depends on whether Harry Kane stays for this season. Nuno Espírito Santo steps in to try to find a way to keep Spurs in a European position. Spurs gains goalkeeper Pierluigi Gollini ($18.7 million) and center back Cristian Romero ($38.5 million) from Atalanta, and left winger Bryan Gil joins from Sevilla ($27.5 million), bringing just 4 goals and 4 assists from last season but a lot of potential at just 20 years of age.
The losses far outweigh the gains for Spurs, however, even without the potential loss of Kane. Center backs Juan Foyth ($16.5 million to Villareal) and Toby Alderweireld ($14.3 million), right winger Erik Lamela (free to Sevilla), goalkeeper Paulo Gazzaniga (free tor Fulham) and left back Danny Rose (free to Watford) highlight the losses.
To overcome those losses, left winger Heung-min Son will have to have a big season, and like Arsenal, big-name players like Lucas Moura, Giovanni Lo Celso, Dele Alli, Tanguy Ndombele and others will need to step up to keep Tottenham in European contention.
They have the talent to do so, and if Kane stays, Spurs could push for top four.
The status of Harry Kane’s desired move from Spurs has been the top story of the summer, and will continue through the first weeks of the season and potentially throughout the season. Photo courtesy of Richard Heathcote/PA
- Leicester City
The Foxes have consistently had less total market value than “Big Six” clubs Tottenham Hotspur and Arsenal, but have consistently out-performed both teams as of late. This year, Brendan Rodgers will look to break the recent curse of just missing out on Champions League football, but the additions made to this team fall short of the signings made by Manchester United, Chelsea and Manchester City.
Center forward Patson Daka ($33 million from Red Bull Salzburg) brings in 34 goals and 12 assists in all competitions in 2020-21, and could be an under-the-radar addition that helps the Foxes as Jamie Vardy continues to age. Defensive midfielder Boubakary Soumare ($22 million from Ligue 1 champions Lille) and center back Jannik Vestergaard ($19.36 million from Southampton) are less flashy additions than Jadon Sancho for Manchester United, Romelu Lukaku for Chelsea and Jack Grealish for Manchester City, but could turn out to be the right changes for the Foxes.
However, I think Leicester City misses out on Champions League football once again.
The Reds saw injury after injury pile up after their Premier League-winning 2019-20 season, but pulled together to finish the season 8-2-0 to end the 2020-21 season in third. After all the injuries which affected the center of Liverpool’s defense, Jurgen Klopp’s team added center back Ibrahima Konate from RB Leipzig for $44 million. The key to Liverpool’s success will be the health of center back Virgil Van Dijk, who will likely be the centerpiece of a back four of left back Andrew Robertson, Van Dijk, Konate, and right back Trent Alexander-Arnold.
The midfield loses Georginio Wijnaldum on a free transfer to Paris Saint-Germain, leaving Fabinho, Thiago and Jordan Henderson in a middle three, and wingers Sadio Mane and Mo Salah joining center forward Roberto Firmino in the front three.
A very similar team won the Premier League just two seasons ago, but I think Liverpool has a tough road to travel to overcome the three teams I predict to finish ahead of them.
- Manchester United
The Red Devils closed last season in second place, and got better with the addition of exciting right winger Jadon Sancho. Without any other major losses or additions, Sancho will have some added pressure to be the piece that takes the world’s most popular club back to the top of the Premier League.
The attack is strong, with Marcus Rashford, Bruno Fernandes, Edinson Cavani, Mason Greenwood, Jesse Lingard, Paul Pogba and Scott McTominay filling out the lineup along with Sancho in a team full of attacking midfield.
Some teams with so much attacking strength would typically be in danger of being exposed at the back in defense, but Luke Shaw, Harry Maguire, Victor Lindelof and Aaron Wan-Bissaka make up perhaps the strongest back four in the Premier League. The back four becomes even stronger with the $47 million signing of center back Raphael Varane from Real Madrid.
The top four teams as a whole are pretty interchangeable, and if not for the additions made by the next two teams, the Red Devils could win the Premier League. As it stands, Ole Gunnar Solskjaer’s squad may not win the Premier League, but they are my prediction to be the team to lose the Champions League Final to PSG this year.
The Blues of west London are the reigning champions of Europe, defeating Manchester City 1-0 in Porto May 29. Rumors have swirled around transfer targets, and the only one that has hit has been one that could be enough to push Chelsea to the top of the Premier League. That addition is center forward Romelu Lukaku, who returns to Stamford Bridge for $126.5 million from Inter Milan and brings in 30 goals and 10 assists in all competitions last season.
Beside Lukaku there are a host of options in the forward or winger positions: Tammy Abraham (though he is likely on the move), Timo Werner, Christian Pulisic, Callum Hudson-Odoi, Hakim Ziyech, Kai Havertz and Mason Mount.
The defense is protected by defensive midfielders N’Golo Kante and Jorginho, and wing backs Reece James, Ben Chillwell and Marcos Alonso. There is plenty of depth at center back, with team captain Cesar Azpilicueta leading the way with Antonio Rudiger, Andreas Christensen, Kurt Zouma and Thiago Silva.
Goalkeeper Edouard Mendy is first on the team sheet, but Kepa is second and did well in the penalty shootout of the Super Cup, which Chelsea won 1-0 Wednesday.
The two biggest challenges for Thomas Tuchel are to find playing time for the surplus players in his squad, and overcoming Manchester City to win the Premier League. I think the Blues fall just short, but the title could be decided on the final matchday.
Chelsea defeated Manchester City in the FA Cup semifinals and the Champions League Final, but can they surpass the Sky Blues in the Premier League? Photo courtesy of Michael Regan/The FA/Getty Images.
- Manchester City
The Sky Blues made the biggest splash in the summer transfer window by adding Aston Villa superstar left winger Jack Grealish for an English-record $129.25 million. The defending Premier League champions have won three of the last four titles, and although they have lost two straight cup finals (1-0 loss to Chelsea in the Champions League Final, 1-0 loss to Leicester City in the Community Shield), the talent pool is too deep and strong for anyone to overcome City in the Premier League.
The wings are abundantly rich with Grealish, Raheem Sterling, Phil Foden, Ferran Torres, and Riyad Mahrez. Even without Kane (which could still happen), Manchester City has Gabriel Jesus at center forward.
Supporting the wingers and center forward in the attacking midfielder, Kevin De Bruyne and Bernardo Silva are backed up by Ilkay Gundogan, Fernahdinho and Rodri.
Finally, defense is led by Ederson in goal, and the back four could have any combination of Ruben Dias, Aymeric Laporte, Nathan Ake, John Stones, Oleksander Zinchenko, Benjamin Mendy, Joao Cancelo and Kyle Walker.
With as much talent as they have and the success they have already achieved, anything less than another Premier League title would be a massive disappointment for Pep Guardiola (unless they win the Champions League instead).
The Premier League season is set to begin today (Friday), and should provide exciting competition as three newly promoted teams (Norwich City, Watford and Brentford) try to stay up, teams fight for a spot in European competition, and the best teams will look to unseat the very best (Manchester City) to win the Premier League trophy.
Whatever happens, fans will be back in the stands and will provide the thrill and loud cheers that were missing last year.