Football

11-9-2020 A review of the leading EPL title contenders

An analysis of the upcoming 2020/21 season in England.

 

Everyone will be hoping the new EPL season will resemble what passes for normal. After the continued nightmare of dealing with the covid-19 epidemic and the disruption it caused we all hope most of the football year can pass in relative normality.

However, it will certainly begin behind closed doors in September and continue for some months with limited fan participation. 

This unique status is expected to benefit those clubs with greater resources.

Which again points to a battle between the ‘top four’ of Liverpool, Manchester City, Manchester United and Chelsea. Making it seem very hard for any other teams to break into this quadrumvirate.

Taking each of these candidates in turn:

 

Liverpool.

The champions’ fans will still be basking in the glory of their first-ever EPL title and desperate for the day when they can actually celebrate in the Anfield stadium. 

That will have to wait but the team itself will need to remain sharp from the outset in order to retain the trophy. 

Any hangover or slow beginning could fatally damage their chances.

They commence with an eye-catching encounter with Marcelo Bielsa’s newly-promoted Leeds United.

And though the Elland Road outfit looks relatively lightweight in comparison they do have the advantage of a renowned coach able to craft a  possible upset.

As it stands the Liverpool squad is currently similar to the one that secured 99 points in last seasons’ competition. But with the transfer window open until October expect some reinforcements to be made.

Scanning the team from goalkeeper (Alisson), through the full-backs (Alexander-Arnold, Robertson), the centre of defence (van Dijk), midfield (Henderson, Fabinho), to that devastating front three (Mane, Salah and Firmino), you see why they took the league by storm.

But there are nagging doubts.

And they focus on whether those same heroes can repeat that same quality and intensity.

Can Henderson drive them in the same way? Can Milner keep going? Is the centre of defence going to be as invulnerable? Can Mane and Salah be as clinical? Are the likes of Keita and Minamino going to step up? Can they integrate some of their promising youngsters?

And can they hold off a likely challenge from the others of the ‘big four’?

Liverpool ended, all those months ago, with perhaps inevitably a few defeats so the question is can they step up to the level they had about a year ago? 

Coach Jurgen Klopp is now an icon on Merseyside and he had a track record at Borussia Dortmund of retaining the league title against the power of Bayern Munich.

So the German knows how to replicate success.

Time will tell if he can do it at Anfield and build on his legend.

But it feels like a tough task particularly as they will be without that Anfield home crowd for a significant part of the season.

And their nearest competitors will be stronger.

 

Manchester City.

At times unstoppable going forward the team from the Etihad are sure to make a bold bid to recover the EPL title.

A rich seam of midfield talent (De Bruyne, Gundogan, Foden, Mahrez, Silva) feeds into a formidable strike force (Sterling, Aguero, Jesus)

But the defence is where the lapses can occur and coach Guardiola will be hoping new signing Nathan Ake can establish a partnership with Laporte to diminish those weaknesses.

Solve that problem and City can justify the bookies’ favouritism.

Blessed with considerable finance and resources this team are the best equipped to handle any issues associated with the current epidemic-related circumstances.

Though few will be watching in the stadium they are also, arguably, the most fluent team to enjoy when on song.

Pep Guardiola will be under pressure to get closer to the Champions League crown especially as it has become a kind of blind spot for his side.

But the powers-that-be will no doubt expect another Premier League title as the minimum in season 2020/21.

I expect it to be delivered back to the Etihad.

 

Chelsea.

Despite having a distant and rarely seen Russian owner Chelsea have been very active in the transfer market.

Particularly recruiting top talent from the Bundesliga (Timo Werner and Kai Havertz) as well as Hakim Ziyech from Ajax and the charismatic Brazilian defender Thiago Silva. 

It will be rookie coach Frank Lampard’s task to blend these players with an array of young English talent (eg Mount, Hudson-Odoi, Chilwell, James) 

The feeling is that this abundance of resources should make the Londoners not only the top team in the capital but also a plausible challenger to Liverpool and Manchester City.

Maybe not quite good enough to break into the top two but certainly capable of ending up much closer.

And clearly producing bids for the Cup competitions.

And for the first time in many years it would be nice to see an English coach in charge of a possible title contender.

As long as the Chelsea legend can withstand the pressure.

 

Manchester United.

Like all of these ‘top four’ teams United have a formidable forward line.

Led by Marcus Rashford, Anthony Martial and the precocious Mason Greenwood.

If allowed the space to be prompted by Bruno Fernandes and a firing Paul Pogba these young stars can threaten any defence.

But again the issues relate to further back and whether there is enough protection around Harry Maguire and the seemingly unreliable de Gea.

Most pundits would probably rule out any chance of United taking the title but they could trouble the leaders at times especially if the likes of Greenwood can continue to progress.

One factor that probably counts against the Red Devils is that they have, arguably, the weakest coach.

Obviously not many could compete with legends such as Guardiola and Klopp.

And instinct suggests Frank Lampard is shaping up into a ‘contender’.

A poor start to the season could see Solskjaer’s position under threat.

But the multiple EPL winners will, at times, sparkle in these strange times.

 

Analysis - John Bethell

 


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