james debate
james debate

Sunday 22 August 2021

Football is back, for real this time. With spectators and everything. This summer has been a welcome relief for starving sports fans with Euro 2020, the Olympics, Marble League 2021 and other highly entertaining spectacles, but few things can really compare to a new season of Premier League football. This season in particular is shaping up to be a scorcher, with a good four or five teams with a genuine shot at the title. So without further ado, let's dive into it and get the season underway.

premier league 2020/21 preview
For anyone wondering why I still use the old school Premier League logo, know this: I'm an old school kind of guy.

Premier League 2021/22 Predictions in a nutshell:
Champions: Manchester City
Champions League qualifiers: Chelsea, Manchester United, Liverpool
Relegated: Watford, Crystal Palace, Norwich
Golden Boot winner: Mohamed Salah (Liverpool)
Golden Glove winner: Ederson (Manchester City)
Player to watch: Harry Kane (???)
New signing to watch: Romelu Lukaku (Chelsea)
Young player to watch: Billy Gilmour (Norwich)
First manager to get the sack: Mikel Arteta (Arsenal)
Shock of the season: Brentford to achieve a comfortable midtable finish in their first ever Premier League season

Nickname: The Gunners
Ground: Emirates Stadium
Capacity: 60,000
Position last season: 8th
Manager: Mikel Arteta

It is a challenging time to be an Arsenal fan. Two consecutive 8 place finishes, European football only a faded memory, and a general mood of doom and gloom that pervades every fibre of the club. 

Mikel Arteta simply is not ready to manage a club of this expectation and may never be. One can only imagine that the reason he has kept this job this is the controversial 2019 FA Cup win that was much derided for its questionable refereeing, this unearned triumph perhaps disguising what has otherwise been a near constant procession of disappointment and underachievement. It is strangely poetic that this sham of a football match may actually have harmed the club's development in the long run.

Knife-twisting aside, this is a squad that appears worryingly bereft of genuine top level talent. Talismanic striker Aubameyang had a quiet season by his standards, and when he doesn't fire Arsenal don't seem to have a plan B. Nicolas Pépé was somewhat improved although still struggling to justify his massive transfer fee. Willian proved to be a bit of a dud signing. There is some promising young talent in the squad from Kieran Tierney, Emile Smith Rowe, and Bukayo Saka, but these players alone are not (yet) enough to form the spine of a top tier side. If Thomas Partey can hit the ground running this season and conduct this midfield, then Arsenal may yet punch above their weight. Otherwise, this is looking worryingly like a midtable season.

That their summer transfer business has been so lacklustre, with an astonishing £50million spent on former Brighton defender Ben White being the highlight to date, paints a troubling picture of a club that is either in greater financial trouble than they let on, or no longer offers allure to elite-level footballers.

Key Signing: Ben White
Key Man: Thomas Partey
Verdict: Another season of midtable obscurity awaits without a few more astute signings.

Nickname: The Villans
Ground: Villa Park
Capacity: 42,095
Last season: 11th
Manager: Dean Smith

Aston Villa's upwards trajectory has been most impressive in recent years. Midtable of the Championship in 2017, promoted in 2020 and last season achieving a very solid midtable Premier League finish. Sometimes a club reaches the top flight, rides that emotional high to a remarkable first season, and then fades away the next year. But with Villa that does not look to be the case, quite the opposite in fact.

This summer, the club have invested with ambition and they appear to have done so shrewdly. The addition of attacking trio Emiliano Buendía, Leon Bailey, and Danny Ings is some very impressive business for a club of this stature, especially when you consider they already have the likes of Ollie Watkins and Bertrand Traoré in the squad. Grealish may have gone, but they have put that transfer kitty to good use. This is a Villa team that has become renowned for its grit and solidity at the back, but they are building a team that is capable of playing good, attacking football. If they can achieve this without sacrificing that solid core, then this could become a very capable football side.

But for all the flashy additions, the key man at this club is the man at the back, Emiliano Martínez. I think people underestimate the extent to which his performances and organisation in the box have been a contributing factor to Villa's improvement. For anyone who has watched the transformation of the Argentinian national team since his promotion to the first team, however, the impact will be clear.

Key Signing: Emiliano Buendía
Key Man: Emiliano Martínez
Verdict: I like the look of this team and if they can gel they could be looking at a Europa League place.


Nickname: The Bees
Ground: Brentford Community Stadium
Capacity: 17,250
Last season: Promoted (3rd)
Manager: Thomas Frank

The pundits already have the knives out for Brentford. A team with little in the way of a storied footballing history, playing in the Premier League for the first time ever, with few experienced top flight players in the squad. It's predictable that this side would be tipped by many for the drop, but this does a disservice to the team Thomas Frank has built over the last couple of years. One wonders the extent to which any of these pundits have actually seen any of these people play.

In truth, there are a core of players at the club who seem well suited for top flight football: David Raya, Ethan Pinnock, Ivan Toney, and in particular classy midfielder Christian Nørgaard. Young striker Yoane Wisa formed one half of a deadly partnership at French minnows Lorient, while in Kristoffer Ajer they have signed a player of genuine elite potential who has been hotly tipped for a big move in recent years. The signing of Frank Onyeka, meanwhile, brings actual Champions League experience to the club. Without wanting to disrespect Brentford, the fact that a club of this relatively minor stature is able to summon the clout and financial resources to be making these types of signings reflects will on how powerful this league has become.

But it's important to stay grounded. This is a promising side and they will be on an emotional high coming into the season. The reality is that they will come up against some of the best football teams on the planet, in a league where even the smallest players command world class resources. Success is far from guaranteed, but likewise it would be a mistake to write them off.

Key Signing: Kristoffer Ajer
Key Man: Christian Nørgaard
Verdict: Could surprise people. A relegation risk but I think they'll survive and sit comfortable in the lower mid table.

Nickname: The Seagulls
Ground: Falmer Stadium
Capacity: 31,800
Last season: 16th
Manager: Graham Potter

A lot of very positive things have been written about Brighton over the past few years and the south coast revolution that owner Tony Bloom and manager Graham Potter have been promising to instigate. Despite this, I was rather more measured in my evaluation of their qualities and expected a finish somewhere in the mid lower half of the table. Indeed this is almost exactly what happened, leaving many to wonder if this club had progressed as far as it could be taken.

But the statistics reveal more than one can infer from the lacklustre results alone. In spite of their struggles at the foot of the table, Potter's side ranked near the top in terms of expected goals, a statistic that estimates the number of goals a side would be expected to score, given their attacking play and chances created. In fact, if Brighton had managed to score as many as the statistics suggest, they would have been in contention for European qualification, with a mean expected finish of 7th place.

Potter has got this team playing some good football. They are tight at the back with Robert Sánchez, Lewis Dunk, and Adam Webster, while Yves Bissouma and Leandro Trossard form a productive midfield. In Tariq Lamptey they have one of the league's brightest young players, if he can stay fit. They just need someone to finish all the chances they create. It is a bit shocking, then, that at the time of writing they have not yet made any moves for a new striker. That is not to say they have not been active, however, and the signing of box-to-box midfielder Enock Mwepu should add some additional energy in the midfield. Nonetheless, one feels that until they find that elusive goalscorer, this club may find it difficult to progress further.

Key Signing: Enock Mwepu
Key Man: Lewis Dunk
Verdict: If they sign a striker, they could push into the upper midtable. Otherwise, more of the same.

Nickname: The Clarets
Ground: Turf Moor
Capacity: 21,944
Last season: 17th
Manager: Sean Dyche

It could be his no nonsense demeanour, or his team's hard-fighting style, but Sean Dyche's Burnley has always been something of a media darling. An example of classic grit and overachievement. Many pundits had predicted a push into the top half of the table last season. This blog was one of the few who saw the troubles on the horizon.

This side has a lot going for it. Nick Pope is unironically one of the league's best performing goalkeepers. Ben Mee and Jack Cork have been in the top flight forever and know how to succeed in this league. But this is a razor thin squad with a lack of options going forward. Their business in the transfer market so far this summer has done little to rectify the situation. For all the hype they've had in recent years, this is a Burnley side that has done little to move itself forward in a league that is constantly improving, and the result could be a challenging season for the club.

If there is one potential bright spot for the club, it is the recent takeover by ALK Capital. This will be the key to building on what Dyche has created. Burnley need their new owners to back their man in the transfer market and build a squad that deserves to hit the heights of the club's finest moments.

Key Signing: Nathan Collins
Key Man: Nick Pope
Verdict: Can't be ruled out of relegation, but should have enough to survive.

Nickname: Blues
Ground: Stamford Bridge
Capacity: 41,837
Last season: 4th
Manager: Thomas Tuchel

There's never a boring time to be a Chelsea fan, although sometimes I wish there was. This is a team that inherently lacks any sense of stability and yet somehow keeps winning anyway. Two Champions League victories, both of which took place in years where the manager was fired halfway through, says everything about how this club is run and the paradoxical amount of success that approach has brought.

Still even by the club's standard, sacking Frank Lampard after so impressive a start to his Chelsea managerial career felt gut-wrenching, even without taking into account Lampard's exalted history with the club. The replacement, Thomas Tuchel did not exactly get off to the most auspicious start either: initially benching the youthful Chelsea players like Mason Mount and Reece James that had brought such success the previous year (thankfully he realised his error pretty quickly), forcing out the club's top scorer for two seasons running Tammy Abraham in favour of the misfiring Timo Werner (the fact that he still finished club top scorer last season despite being frozen out for half the year says everything). Sure, the victories that brought Chelsea the Champions League title were remarkable, astonishing even. But they have somewhat papered over the humiliating bottling of the FA Cup final, and the lacklustre end to the Premier League season that saw Chelsea barely cling to a top four place.

But I will say this for Tuchel, he has given this Chelsea side the solidity and consistency that they sorely lacked under Lampard. The addition of goalkeeper Mendy doubtlessly helped in this regard, but so too have the defensive duo of Rudiger and Christensen found a brand new lease of life under Tuchel. The truth is that Tuchel had something of a teething problem when he arrived at the club, but seems to have now found a team that works. He's even learned to embrace Chelsea's impressive youth output. Really the only thing lacking right now is goals. Enter stage left: Romelu Lukaku. Nothing typifies Chelsea's transfer policy over the years than spending £100m on a striker we already had as a teenager and then sold for a song (let's not forget that a more patient Chelsea could also have had Salah and De Bruyne in this lineup). But Lukaku is undoubtedly one of the world's top strikers right now and he could be exactly what this club has been needing. The fact that his name isn't Tammy Abraham should hopefully mean he gets a few games as well.

So Chelsea enter this season filled with optimism and good feelings. They have recruited well to add to a squad that was starting to shape up nicely, with talent in every position. But the key to this team is and will remain Mason Mount. On and off the pitch, Mount is the beating heart of this club. If everything clicks into place, this team could challenge for the title.

Key Signing: Romelu Lukaku
Key Man: Mason Mount
Verdict: Genuine title contenders, but perhaps not yet at the level of City.

Nickname: Eagles, Glaziers
Ground: Selhurst Park
Capacity: 25,486
Last season: 14th
Manager: Patrick Vieira

Stability has been tricky to come by for Crystal Palace in recent times, through a slew of managerial changes and squad upheaval. It's the same old story. Last season I said that a tough year was in store for Roy Hodgson and sure enough he is no longer with the club. His replacement, Patrick Vieira, has got a real job on his hands if he wants to not only stay in a job, but stay in the Premier League.

He joins a stagnant and ageing Palace side that, for a number of years now, has been overly dependent on a single, talismanic Wilfried Zaha. That's no longer enough and Zaha is no longer the player he once was. A number of first teamers have left the club this summer and with Eberechi Eze out until the end of the year, a replenishment of talent is needed. Looking over their summer transfer business, it's not clear that they have done enough.

New defensive signings Joachim Andersen and Marc Guehi will look to provide a platform for the club's attacking talent of Zaha, Eze and Benteke to build on, but personally I will be watching closely the on-loan midfielder Conor Gallagher, who has excelled in the Championship and is hotly tipped at his parent club Chelsea.

Key Signing: Joachim Andersen
Key Man: Wilfried Zaha
Verdict: A genuine relegation risk if they are not careful.

Nickname: Toffees
Ground: Goodison Park
Capacity: 40,170
Last season: 10th
Manager: Rafa Benitez

It is fair to say that the past 12 months have been an emotional rollercoaster for Everton fans. They entered last season at perhaps a high point in optimism for this club. A superstar managerial appointment in Ancelotti bundled with ambitious, big name signings. But it was not to be, Everton disappointed and Carlo left as soon as Real Madrid came calling.

After a season in which the perennial nearly-men finally looked set to push forward, it is now back to usual form. New manager Rafa Benitez, certainly not a popular man at Goodison for his Liverpool history, is nevertheless a safe and tested pair of hands who can get this club to perform and meet objectives. But manager aside, this is a squad that will ask some pressing questions of the new administration.

What is to be done with the injury-prone Rodriguez? The want-away Moise Kean? Richarlison is a supremely talented player, but remains inherently ephemeral. Instead, the focal point of this team remains Dominic Calvert-Lewin. It's clear from the signings of Gray and Townsend that the priority is going to be to get more balls to Calvert-Lewin and get the best out of their star striker. This is a good strategy and will result in a solid season for Everton, but at the moment there is no sign of that heightened ambition that we saw only one year ago.

Key Signing: Demarai Gray
Key Man: Dominic Calvert-Lewin
Verdict: Targeting a top half finish, but face plenty of competition.

Nickname: The Whites
Ground: Elland Road
Capacity: 37,890
Last season: 9th
Manager: Marco Bielsa

There was certainly a great deal of buzz around this Leeds team ahead of last season's long-awaited return to the top flight, but I don't think many could have predicted such an impressive debut from Bielsa's men. Every pundit under the sun has got their own opinion of whether this will prove to have been a one-season fluke, or the start of a new renaissance at Elland Road. But the truth is, no one is really quite sure what to expect.

On paper, there's no particular reason to think they would be in trouble this season. Patrick Bamford, far from arising out of nothing, has shone at Championship level for many seasons and long been tipped to be a top flight success. Kalvin Phillips, meanwhile, has continued his fine combative form for England at the highest stage. Stuart Dallas is just excellent.

But there have been warning signs. Leeds have had a rotten pre-season and have largely failed to bring in meaningful additions to the first team. There are tough questions to be asked of the defence. This is a team that largely thrived on its attacking intent and control of the midfield, but once teams learn to adapt and play them, they've proven surprisingly bereft of a plan B. It will be interesting to see how defender Junior Firpo, signed from Barcelona, can slot into this team and whether he can make a difference.

Key Signing: Junior Firpo
Key Man: Kalvin Phillips
Verdict: Shouldn't be a relegation risk, but will struggle to live up to last season's success. Lower half of the table.

Nickname: The Foxes
Ground: King Power Stadium
Capacity: 32,261
Last season: 5th
Manager: Brendan Rodgers

The transformation at Leicester City in recent years has been one of the most remarkable stories in world sport. Their shock title victory a few years back is the stuff of legends of course, but while everyone was writing them off as a one hit wonder, Leicester have been quietly leveraging their financial muscle and newfound notoriety to build a team that is potentially capable of challenging, not as rank outsiders, but as equals. Despite this, the last two seasons have seen this team burst out the gates early and play at the top of the table, only to fall short at the business end of the season. 

Can they finally break into that top four? Leicester are a fine side, and getting better with each season. in Kasper Schmeichel they boast one of the league's finest goalkeepers, while a defence featuring the likes of Çağlar Söyüncü, Ricardo Pereira, and Daniel Amartey are bettered by few. Youri Tielemans is quickly becoming one of the league's star midfielders and forms a highly productive partnership with James Maddison. Then of course we have Jamie Vardy, one of the league's best players in spite of his advancing years.

Leicester are a fine team, but they have tough competition and those competitors have all improved this season. It's not enough for Leicester to be a good side, they have to be better than teams like Manchester United, Chelsea, and Liverpool. If I compare the sides, I'm not sure Leicester have done enough to catch up to the rest of this group. As good as Vardy is, he will decline with age. The signing of Patson Daka should alleviate some of the pressure on their talismanic forward and it will be interesting to see what kind of impact he can make.

Key Signing: Patson Daka
Key Man: Jamie Vardy
Verdict: Will struggle to credibly compete for top four and will instead be looking at a best of the rest finish in 5-8th.

Nickname: Reds
Ground: Anfield
Capacity: 54,074
Last season: 3rd
Manager: Jurgen Klopp

The curious case of Liverpool FC. After a number of years competing for honours at the very highest levels, last season saw Klopp's men cut a surprisingly uninspired form, really only just squeaking into the top four in the dying stages of the season.

So what happened? Burn out? Injury problems? Lack of transfers the previous summer? It may have been all these things, or none at all. In my view it was a mix of things: defensive frailties highlighted by some notable absences and a once fearsome attacking three that had gone somewhat off the boil. In any case, rival fans should be under no illusion that this Liverpool side are finished. An impressive run in the final weeks of last season, earning 26 of the last 30 points, makes abundantly clear that they possess that winning mentality.

Make no mistake, Liverpool will be up there come the end of the season. This is still one of the finest attacking sides in Europe. Roberto Firmino may not have the form of two seasons ago, but in Sadio Mané and Mo Salah they still possess arguably the two best attackers in the league. Virgil van Dijk is, when fit, one of the finest defenders of any side in the world. Trent Alexander Arnold is a player who could offers quality all over the pitch. If Klopp can bring his team into this season with greater focus and consistency, perhaps adding a few more defensive recruits in addition to the newly signed Ibrahima Konaté, this is still one of the finest teams around and a major player in the title race, despite what the pundits say.

Key Signing: Ibrahima Konaté
Key Man: Mo Salah
Verdict: There or thereabouts.

Nickname: Blues
Ground: Etihad Stadium
Capacity: 55,017
Last season: Champions
Manager: Pep Guardiola

While they may have missed out once again on that elusive European title, Manchester City's domestic dominance last season says everything you need to know. This is still very much the team to beat and one of the few teams unquestionably in the hunt for the title this season.

Despite this, a surprising number of questions hovers over this team. Now that Sergio Aguero is gone, they need a long term option to lead the line. Is Gabriel Jesus really that man? Can Raheem Sterling put last season's woes behind him and continue his fine form from Euro 2020? City have already splashed a cool £100million on Jack Grealish, and yet all eyes still remain on Harry Kane and whether he will follow his England teammate to the Etihad.

The good news for City is that aside from any questions that linger over their attacking line, the rest of their squad is still the finest the league has to offer. They boast an embarrassment of riches in defence and attack with the likes of Kevin de Bruyne, Ilkay Gundogan, Ruben Dias, Kyle Walker, Fernandinho and many others. The fact that they have players like Nathan Aké, Riyad Mahrez, Aymeric Laporte, Phil Foden and Bernardo Silva not even guaranteed a starting place makes clear just how deep a squad they have. 

A title defence is far from assured. After all, such a thing has only been accomplished 8 times in the 30 years history of the Premier League, and just once in the past fifteen (the vast majority of those retained titles comes from United's 1990s domination), but they surely start the season as the favourite. The bigger question will be whether they can finally live up to their potential and claim the biggest prize of all, the Champions League. Such a thing may depend on what happens a certain wantaway Tottenham striker..

Key Signing: Jack Grealish
Key Man: Kevin de Bruyne
Verdict: Title favourites.

Nickname: Red Devils
Ground: Old Trafford
Capacity: 74,879
Last season: 2nd
Manager: Ole Gunnar Solskjaer

Arguably the fourth of this year's big title hopefuls. Solskjaer's men got off to a rough start last season and for  along period it seemed almost certain that he would get the boot. But the club were patient, they gave him time to turn things around and were duly rewarded with a fantastic second half to the season that saw United finish as runner up to Manchester City against all odds. I'd say that United are a great example of a club being rewarded for its patience and stability, and that certain other clubs could learn from them. But then Chelsea did go and win the Champions League, so what do I know?

For the first time in a long time this United side is playing with purpose, spearheaded by one of the league's standout players in Bruno Fernandes and arguably their best player last season Luke Shaw. Paul Pogba, Harry Maguire, all strong performers in their role. But otherwise, this squad still looks thin for a title contender. Rashford, Martial and Greenwood are fine attacking players, but inconsistent and rarely capable of match-winning influence. Nemanja Matic and David de Gea are both long past their best. This strikes me as a side that can compete with any other in the league on their day. The question will be whether they can do so consistently over a season, responding to the pressures that a long campaign places on a squad. Compared to their other title rivals, United have been active in the transfer market this summer, with Jadon Sancho and Raphael Varane signed so far, and rumours linking the club with another defender and striker. 

Solskjaer undoubtedly deserves great credit for the improvement this club has seen in recent years. Not least of all for how he has managed to steer the focus on the club away from its controversial ownership and management. But now three years into this job, the expectation has to be a genuine challenge for silverware (Solskjaer has still not won anything here). This may be a now or never season for this team.

Key Signing: Jadon Sancho
Key Man: Bruno Fernandes
Verdict: Title contenders, but face a stern challenge from their improved competition.

Nickname: The Magpies, Toon
Ground: St James' Park
Capacity: 52,305
Last season: 12th
Manager: Steve Bruce

The Newcastle rollercoaster ride is as ubiquitous to English football as the twin towers of Wembley and Des Lynam's moustache. In spite of this, Steve Bruce does seem to have brought some semblance of stability to the club, but is it real or just paper over the cracks?

Mike Ashley is still here, and he seems content for Bruce to keep this club steadily, if unambitiously, safe in the Premier League. That may not be enough for the fans, however. Many of the Newcastle faithful still stick to this idea of the Magpies as a big-club-in-waiting and feel that with some of the, undoubtedly talented, players at their disposal they should be aiming for something a little greater.

As far as the playing staff goes, most will point to the revelatory talents of French youngster Allan Saint-Maximin, but I think the man to watch is Callum Wilson. The Premier League mainstay has shown himself to be as productive as ever at 29 years, with last season's tally reaching some 12 goals in 23 appearances and five assists, or a goal involvement every 120 minutes. Not a bad outlay for a team near the foot of the table. Summer business has been productive, with the £22million signing of Joe Willock, who so impressed on loan last season, the main bit of business to date and others allegedly in the pipeline.

But while this side should be good enough to survive, it can not be guaranteed. The Newcastle purgatory continues.

Key Signing: Joe Willock
Key Man: Callum Wilson
Verdict: Good enough to survive, but could find themselves in a relegation battle if they're not careful.

Nickname: The Canaries
Ground: Carrow Road
Capacity: 27,359
Last season: Promoted (Champions)
Manager: Daniel Farke

The last time Norwich won promotion to the Premier League, they lasted just a single season before going down. This year they look better equipped for the challenge, but it still may not be enough.

It doesn't help that Daniel Farke's side have lost probably their best player from last season, Emiliano Buendía. But they have been busy over the summer adding some ten players, not all of whom, mind, will necessarily feature for the first team squad. These include Ben Gibson, a central defender (on loan at the club last season) who will add the sort of qualities at the back that Norwich were lacking last time around, American forward Josh Sargent, and Milot Rashica, ostensibly the direct replacement for Buendía. But perhaps the most intriguing addition to the squad is the loan signing of Billy Gilmour, a Scottish youngster who has lit a fire of hype across Europe with his intermittent appearances for Chelsea over the past two seasons. No doubt many fans will be intrigued to see how he can perform over a full season of top flight football.

Otherwise, the qualities of this Norwich side are well known. Grant Hanley and Ben Gibson form a solid pair in central defence. In Max Aarons they have a very promising young fullback, assuming he can resist the allure of the bigger clubs allegedly courting his signature. This defence will need to be solid, especially as the club is otherwise still largely dependent up front on the same attacking talent who featured for the club last time they were relegated, Teemu Pukki and Todd Cantwell.

Norwich are not a bad side, they wouldn't have won the Championship if they were. But the Premier League is a ruthless place. This is better than the Norwich sides of recent Premier League seasons, but I still doubt if they have enough of a winning mentality to survive.

Key Signing: Billy Gilmour
Key Man: Grant Hanley
Verdict: Certainly one of the relegation contenders, staying up would be an accomplishment.

Nickname: Saints
Ground: St. Mary's Stadium
Capacity: 32,690
Last season: 15th
Manager: Ralph Hasenhüttl

Southampton are an interesting prospect. Their league form in recent years has seem some impressive highs, buttressed by disappointing lows. They have nevertheless managed to strike some consistency and re-establish themselves as top flight mainstays, but it's not clear that enough is being done to move forward. 

It says everything that their best player, Danny Ings, was lured away by a club (Aston Villa) that only just achieved promotion last season. How they replace the goalscorer will be fundamental to their chances. Currently their summer business has included just the one forward in Adam Armstrong, who has been prolific in the Championship, but the top flight will require a massive step up. Otherwise, the club may look to on-loan youngster Armando Broja, who has been hotly tipped by his parent club Chelsea. Their business at the back, however, is a little more tantalising, with Brest's Romain Perraud a solid addition along with the former Chelsea youngster Tino Livramento, someone who I feel could have a break out season.

Of their current playing staff, it is clear who stands out. A box-to-box midfielder and deadly set piece taker, James Ward-Prowse is the captain and just about everything in this team runs through him. His midfield will be productive, but without a proven top flight goalscorer up front, I would worry. It also bears mention that Southampton were among the league's leakiest defences last season, and with less of a goalscoring threat this season that could be come a real problem. Much may depend on how well their new defensive signings can replace the outgoing Ryan Bertrand.

Key Signing: Adam Armstrong
Key Man: James Ward-Prowse
Verdict: Not beyond a possible relegation tussle if they are unable to fill Ings' shoes.

Nickname: Spurs
Ground: Tottenham Hotspur Stadium
Capacity: 62,850
Last season: 7th
Manager: Nuno Espirito Santo

The post-Pochettino slide continues. Cracking Amazon documentary series aside, there hasn't been much for Tottenham fans to get excited about for some time. Still unable to win a trophy and lacking in managerial stability. The club that once looked set for great things now seems rudderless. On the bright side, in Nuno Espirito Santo they have captured a highly underrated manager, one who should be capable of steadying the ship and putting them back on course. But first, he must solve the various crises that face the club.

Crisis number one is, of course, Harry Kane. It's clear he wants to leave, it appears that he was promised he would be able to do so, and now he is not happy. I feel for the club, there is no easy solution here. They can sell the man and risk losing him to a rival, or keep him and risk destabilising the dressing room, not to mention the likelihood of his performances suffering if he is unable to leave. I think Spurs need to consider him lost, cash in, and use those funds wisely to beef up the squad.

And beef up the squad, they must. Currently the only signing is youngster Bryan Gil, who most likely won't feature in the first team. This has been part of a pattern of Tottenham not really doing much business in the transfer markets over a number of years. It's a questionable strategy given their on the pitch fortunes of late. With Kane most likely out of the picture, the key man in this Tottenham side has to be Son Heung-Min, on his day one of the league's most dangerous attacking players. It's easy to see him taking the focal point in this new look team.

Hopes are high, as always, but right now Tottenham have just too many question marks hanging over them for me to fancy their chances. I think this is going to be a difficult transition season. Anything more will be a significant accomplishment for Espirito Santo.

Key Signing: Bryan Gil
Key Man: Son Heung-Min
Verdict: Top half of the table, but not much more than that.

Nickname: The Hornets
Ground: Vicarage Road
Capacity: 22,200
Last season: Promoted (2nd)
Manager: Xisco

Things are rarely boring at Vicarage Road. A regular seesaw between Premier League and Championship, a slew of managerial comings and goings, and between it all some entertaining and unpredictable football. This year it is fair to say that they are not fancied by many and that may well suit them down to the ground.

On returning the Premier League this time around, the club have wasted no time in bringing in a few fresh faces. Emmanuel Dennis brings some much needed pace and energy to the attack, along with some actual Champions League experience. Danny Rose has been brought into to bolster an otherwise intact defence. Many of the others, it has to be said, are hardly inspiring. A number of journeymen with a smattering of Championship appearances. 

A major concern this season will be the future of Will Hughes, arguably the club's most consistent player over the last few seasons, seemingly banished to the reserves following some contract disputes. In his absence, much will depend on attacker Ismaïla Sarr, a player of astounding pace with an abundance of top flight potential. Sarr will need to form an effective attacking trio with Dennis and Joao Pedro for Watford to have any chance this season, and even that may not be enough.

Key Signing: Emmanuel Dennis
Key Man: Ismaïla Sarr
Verdict: Certainly one of the top tips for relegation.

Nickname: The Hammers
Ground: London Stadium
Capacity: 60,000
Last season: 6th
Manager: David Moyes

It's a good time to be a West Ham fan. David Moyes, it is safe to say, has simply blown past all expectations with a remarkable sixth place finish last season. It seems the club most perennially tipped for greater things, may actually be on the way. But will this prove to be a one season wonder or are the good times set to continue?

There were a number of bright spots behind last season's successes. Tomáš Souček was imperious in midfield, like a Marouane Fellaini with more nous. Fabianski held the line well behind a rock solid defence of Cresswell, Coufal, and on-loan Craig Dawson, who has now joined the club in a permanent transfer. But it is still Declan Rice in the heart of the midfield who is the essential man in this side, pulling the strings and dominating everywhere. 

If there is a problem area in this team it is up front. Michail Antonio is the main man, but not especially prolific for the frontman in a top six team, and Moyes has yet to find the right player to complement the forward and provide him with the support he needs. There's still time for that to change, but unless it does I find it hard to see West Ham improving, or even matching last season's exploits, especially with the added physical demand of a European campaign.

Key Signing: Craig Dawsom
Key Man: Declan Rice
Verdict: A solid, if less inspiring season seems likely, with a midtable finish.

Nickname: Wolves
Ground: Molineux Stadium
Capacity: 32,050
Last season: 13th
Manager: Bruno Lage

One of the more interesting clubs to watch in recent years. Formerly a Big Club™ as recently as the mid 20th Century, buoyed in recent years by a wave of foreign investment. Their first few seasons upon returning to the Premier League bade well for the future, with creditable performances and contention for European qualification. More recently, however, there seems to be the sense of a team having gone off the boil, and last season's slump into the lower half of the table does not deceive.

Losing manager Epirito Santo was a big loss, for sure, as was the departure of Diogo Jota to Liverpool. The fact is that following that initial very impressive transfer window upon arrival in the top flight, Wolves haven't managed to replicate the feat and build on what they have. Moutinho and Jimenez are now in their thirties (and the latter well below his best form). Fabio Silva has so far failed to live up to his price tag. There is only so much that Ruben Neves can do on his own to win football matches. There is some genuine excitement over the signing of Francisco Trincão from Barcelona, but the expectation is that this is more a signing for the future that one to immediately bring success to the club.

When Bruno Lage replaced Espirito Santo, his mission was to implement the kind of attractive football that befits a supposed top six club in waiting. He has the track record and early signs indicate that he can bring his vision to this team. Now he needs the financial backing to replenish this squad and bring the kind of players that he needs to make that style of football a success. Right now, Wolves look a big transfer window away from where they need to be.

Key Signing: Francisco Trincão
Key Man: Ruben Neves
Verdict: Without further reinforcements will struggle to improve upon last season's midtable finish.

Predicted table:
1. Manchester City
2. Chelsea
3. Manchester United
4. Liverpool
5. Leicester City
6. Tottenham
7. Aston Villa
8. Arsenal
9. Brighton
10. Everton
11. West Ham
12. Wolves
13. Brentford
14. Newcastle
15. Leeds United
16. Southampton
17. Burnley
18. Watford
19. Crystal Palace
20. Norwich

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