At long, long last. The return of Premier League soccer. Well, not really. It’s only been about a month but, nonetheless, it’s still an exciting time of year. This bizarre year means that the break between the 2019-20 and 2020-21 seasons of Premier League soccer was far shorter than usual. But, the off-season has been no less action-packed than usual.
Chelsea, for example, have effectively overhauled their entire squad, bringing in 7 new names and possibly more to come. Everton have also been making some big spending and, thanks to new manager Carlo Ancelotti, have managed to bring in former boy wonder James Rodríguez, along with Napoli’s Allan and Watford’s Abdoulaye Doucouré.
Meanwhile, Liverpool have done quite the opposite. Their recruitment has been limited to Greek left-back Konstantinos Tsimikas. Manchester United have bolstered their midfield with the addition of Ajax youngster Donny van de Beek, while they still pursue the marquee signing of Jadon Sancho from Dortmund.
The new season promises to be another edition of the world’s finest league. And, hopefully, fans will slowly begin to get reintegrated.
Here are your locks for the opening round of fixtures.
Chelsea are probably the most talked-about side in the country at the moment. As I’ve touched on briefly earlier, this is in large part due to their lucrative spending this transfer window. After two windows without signings as a result of a UEFA-imposed transfer ban, Roman Abramovich seems to have just had enough and financially backed Frank Lampard to take Chelsea back to the level they were at when he was playing.
Among the new additions are Germany’s Timo Werner and Kai Havertz along with Hakim Ziyech of Morocco, Englishman Ben Chilwell, and veteran and former PSG captain Thiago Silva.
Unfortunately, Monday’s fixture will come too early for Ziyech, Silva, and Chilwell, but Werner and Havertz should feature.
Additionally, “Captain America” Christian Pulisic is back in first-team training and is in contention for Monday. Although, I expect Frank Lampard to be safe and start with Pulisic from the bench.
Many have expressed concern about Chelsea given the need for such a new group of players to mesh, but the new quality they’ve added are among the best talents in the game at the moment.
Despite missing a number of players for their visit to the Amex Stadium, I expect Chelsea to dispatch Brighton.
Many pointed to Brighton midway through last season as prime candidates to go down, but the COVID-19 break seemed to have come at the perfect time because they managed to put together a string of results after the restart, led by a resurgent Neal Maupay that did enough to keep them up.
Brighton will also be encouraged by their ability to keep hold of Ben White, who spent last season playing an integral part in helping Leeds to promotion.
Every season, you never really know what to expect from Brighton. They don’t play an eye-catching brand of soccer, and they’ve no real stars on their side. Despite this, they do seem to always find a way to remain consistent and a large credit must be given to manager Chris Potter.
Still, Brighton don’t inspire that much by way of betting, and I’d stay away from banking Brighton on this occasion.
After Amazon’s hugely popular documentary following Spurs last season, the world may be looking at Mourinho’s team a bit differently this season. Spurs fans will have had mixed feelings about last season. They’ll ultimately feel disappointed because they finished so much lower than they have in previous seasons, but given how it started, they’ll be encouraged by some of the results Mourinho put together and the fact that they secured Europa League soccer for this season.
A thin squad, the fitness of talisman Harry Kane will once again likely determine the trajectory of the Spurs season. Mourinho has pleaded with the board to invest in cover at striker to take some of the pressure off the English captain, but if they listen to him remains to be seen.
Dele Alli will be determined to redeem himself after a pair of poor seasons in succession, particularly with the Euros coming up next summer, while stars Heung-min Son and Giovani Lo Celso will also be crucial to any success Spurs enjoy this season.
Mourinho’s second season has famously resulted in his most successful at his previous jobs. But I’m honestly not sold on the Spurs project just yet. I think they need a bit of an overhaul, particularly in midfield and at the back. I expect there to be some growing pains at the beginning. But I’ll back Mourinho to figure it out and maybe even add a Europa League title to his trophy haul.
Everton are definitely the side to watch out for this season. They’ve invested big and, from the looks of it, well. Carlo Ancellotti is one of the most storied coaches in the game, and Everton have definitely overachieved in terms of finding him.
James Rodíguez will be the man with the most pressure on his back. After emphatically announcing himself on the world’s biggest stage at the 2014 World Cup, James’s career has somewhat bounced around. He has failed to really establish himself at home at Real Madrid or Bayern. But I do think that he is one of those players who thrive in a setting where he is the main man, and he will definitely be that at Everton.
Let’s also not forget the defensive midfield pair of Allan and Doucouré, who look to be great additions. They also will hope that their leading goalscorer Richarlison enjoys another eye-catching season of Premier League soccer.
I have my reservations about Everton, but I’m going to give them the benefit of the doubt and say that their little experiment will be a success. Everton used to be one of the biggest club sides in England. And I think their stint as “the best of the rest” may finally be coming to an end.
Pick: Everton to cover. As I said, Spurs will be slow out of the gate, and I think Everton will be the exact opposite. I’m going for some James magic and the three points for the blue half of Merseyside.