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Wednesday, September 23, 2020

Premier League Preview: Liverpool’s title defence under threat from bolstered rivals

Liverpool's hopes to retain their first Premier League title in three decades is set to have a rocky path as a vengeful City, a free-spending Chelsea, and a rejuvenated United will be out for blood.

Written by Debkalpa Banerjee | Updated: September 12, 2020 8:29:30 pm
Liverpool won the 2019/20 Premier League title with 99 points — 18 more than second-place Manchester City. (Source: File)

Unlike last season’s two-and-a-half-month wait, the 2020/21 Premier League season makes its comeback on Saturday after just seven weeks. The confetti has barely been cleared up at Anfield, yet the cash-rich carousel of twenty teams is locked and loaded to go once more.

The strange season of the last term took 11 months of madness to complete, punctuated by a global pandemic, a three-month postponement, and empty stadiums. But the wait brought closure to a season which brought an end to a 30-year domestic title drought, introduced the oldest Golden Boot winner, and saw the midtable fortunes of the North London sides.

Now ahead of the new season, the questions remain the same, albeit with unexpected answers. Who will win the title? Who will fall short? Can the minnows put up another European challenge? Which new faces will set fire to the league?

THE BEST OF THE BEST

On course to winning their 19th domestic title, Jurgen Klopp’s Liverpool became the record-breakers in its truest sense as they sealed the title with seven matches to spare. But despite their success last season, the challenge up ahead for them is not at all easy, with their rivals breathing heavily down their necks.

Liverpool have raised the bar by registering the second-highest points tally (99) in Premier League history last season, but whether they can maintain their position at the top of the mountain remains to be seen. While they have just added a reserve left-back in Kostas Tsimikas, other title challengers have made use of the transfer window — Manchester City have brought in Ferran Torres and Nathan Ake, Manchester United have brought in Donny van de Beek, and Chelsea have brought in Kai Havertz, Thiago Silva among a slew of other signings.

While Pep Guardiola has bolstered the City defence in the hope to reduce the gap with Klopp’s mob, Ole Gunnar Solskjaer would hope to transform United’s fine 13-match unbeaten run last season into a genuine title challenge. Chelsea, on the other hand, have broken the bank this season to form a frightening frontline, having the likes of Timo Werner, Hakim Ziyech, Kai Havertz, and also Christian Pulisic.

THE NEW FACES ON THE BLOCK

(L-R-L) James Rodriguez of Everton, Kai Havertz of Chelsea, Kostas Tsimikas of Liverpool, Ferran Torres of Manchester City. (Source: Twitter)

Frank Lampard got the new signings in before the start of the new season to properly prepare for the transition in Chelsea. With Kai Havertz, Timo Werner, Hakim Ziyech, Ben Chilwell, and Thiago Silva, the Blues will look for a title challenge after a lacklustre fourth-place finish last season.

On the other hand, Arsenal’s Gabriel Magalhães would look to fill the gaps in Mikel Arteta’s defence with the help of other newcomers William Saliba and Pablo Mari. Everton’s James Rodriguez, Leeds United’s Rodrigo, and Leicester City’s Timothy Castagne will be ones to watch, who can change the fortunes of their clubs.

READ | All the ins and outs of the summer transfer window

Looking further down the table, Sheffield United and Newcastle United have both made shrewd signings — the Magpies have got in Callum Wilson, Ryan Fraser, and Jamal Lewis for a combined £33 million, whereas the Blades roped in Aaron Ramsdale, Ethan Ampadu, Jayden Bogle, and Max Lowe for less than £30 million.

Apart from the incoming transfers, promoted players like Leeds United’s Luke Ayling and Kalvin Phillips, West Brom’s Matheus Pereira, Fulham’s Aleksandar Mitrovic, and Anthony Knockaert would be hoping to make their mark. Amongst the youth, Liverpool’s Curtis Jones, Chelsea’s Billy Gilmour, Leicester City’s Luke Thomas, and Crystal Palace’s Eberechi Eze can have their breakthrough seasons.

THE FIGHT DOWN BELOW

Marcelo Bielsa ended Leeds United’s 16-year exile from the Premier League. (Source: File)

After a great relegation escape by Aston Villa on the final matchday of the season, Dean Smith’s team will hope to not find themselves in another scrap at the bottom of the table after retaining the services of their captain Jack Grealish and getting in Brentford’s in-form striker Ollie Watkins. Among the other surviving teams of last season, the odds are not exactly in the favour of David Moyes’ West Ham who have just made one signing so far.

The promoted teams — Leeds United, West Bromwich Albion, and Fulham — will all hope to repeat the miracle of Sheffield United, who were guided to a ninth-place finish by Chris Wilder. Marcelo Bielsa’s Leeds, who are making a top-flight return after 16 years, look most likely to repeat that feat with a host of talented players like Rodrigo, Robin Koch, Kalvin Phillips, and Pablo Hernandez.

On the other hand, clubs like Wolverhampton Wanderers, Newcastle United, and Crystal Palace will vie for consistent performances leading to a top-half finish.

THE QUEST FOR EUROPEAN GLORY

With Brendan Rodgers’ Foxes missing out on the qualification for UEFA Champions League last season with a loss to Manchester United in the final day of the season, the challenge to acquire the famous ‘Big Ears’ is on the shoulders of Liverpool, Manchester City, Manchester United, and Chelsea.

Meanwhile, Leicester City and Arsenal are in contention for competing in the UEFA Europa League, with Jose Mourinho’s Tottenham Hotspur doomed to start the competition from the second qualifying round.

RECAPPING THE PREMIER LEAGUE 2019/20 SEASON

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