Still a handful of games to go in the Premier League, still a few issues to tidy up, principally in terms of relegation, but with such a short break between campaigns, already thoughts begin to turn to the resumption of hostilities for a new season, starting in September. Which EPL teams will challenge Liverpool?
Which Team’s WIll Threaten Liverpool’s Dominance Next Season
By Dave Bowler
There’s little question that Liverpool and Manchester City will be clear favourites for the title again next term, such has been their collective dominance over the last three seasons. As per the last column, Liverpool’s chances will perhaps be determined by how quickly they can get this historic season out of their system and set about starting at the bottom of the mountain all over again. At this stage, Liverpool biggest opponent next time round could well be themselves and the need to recapture their focus from the off
For City, things will be complicated by their involvement in the Champions league mini-tournament in August, assuming they can get past Real Madrid first up, and then upon how far they go in what is clearly the tougher half of the draw.
In these weird new circumstances, will that give them an early new season advantage over Liverpool, in that they will be able to play very competitively in August where the Reds will be playing friendlies and so should be that bit sharper, or will that lack of much of a break between seasons come back to haunt then in the closing stages of 2020/21?
The fact that City’s European ban has been overturned means that just like Liverpool, they will be attacking both a domestic and a European agenda, which clearly increases their workload but crucially, it makes it easier for them to hold onto their existing players, who might otherwise have looked elsewhere for a European challenge, and to attract the new ones that they require, the free scoring City’s obvious need being to find a new Kompany and a new Fernandinho.
With the caveat that we don’t know what the transfer market is going to bring yet – it would be a very brave gambler indeed who looked anywhere beyond them for next season’s champions, but what have these last few weeks taught us about the rest, if anything?
The stars of the show since the return have been Chelsea and Manchester United. Chelsea look likely to be in a similar summer position to Liverpool given that they trail Bayern Munich 3-0 and it’s hard to see them pulling that back to qualify for the end of season Champions League shindig, thereby giving them a slightly longer break between seasons.
Lockdown has helped them, Chelsea looking reinvigorated on their return, scoring goals aplenty, their squad looking less stretched. But the hapless defeats to Sheffield United and West Ham, shipping three goals on both occasions, illustrate there is still a huge amount of work to do if they are to become any kind of threat to the top two and so their summer transfer activity will be crucial. All the same, things look much better for Chelsea than they did six months ago, but not so good that you can yet see them as title contenders.
Manchester United are the other big winners of the return of the Premier League. After a poor start against Spurs, they have looked transformed, relying very much on the age old United principles of playing attacking football and unearthing a real home grown talent. Marcus Rashford has had a great lockdown period in every sense, given his work on persuading the government to change its tack on free school meals across the summer, but he’s looking pretty good at the day job too.
He, Mason Greenwood and Anthony Martial are presently an irresistible front three, Bruno Fernandes has settled in nicely and Paul Pogba is playing somewhere near his best. United’s bigger long-term problem is the other six though.
Defensively they still look suspect and David de Gea is looking all too much like Joe Hart these days, a once great goalkeeper who just lost the knack somewhere along the line. A decision needs to be made about him this summer. What is interesting about United is that currently, they look like a team playing without pressure, freed of the inhibitions that clouded so much of their early season work. While that may be their saving grace at present, it hints at problems once some kind of normality returns.
United’s problem for too long has been not merely a lack of the same wealth of technical quality that Liverpool and City have in such abundance, but the fact that the traditions that go with those red shirts and the expectations that come with playing at Old Trafford have looked too heavy for them to bear.
Behind closed doors, they’ve been freed of some of that for the time being and it may be that they have grown up as a team now they’re out of that shadow. But to be a serious proposition again and to start trying to chip away at that huge gulf that exists between them and Liverpool, they are going to have to continue to play like men rather than boys when the fresh pressures of next term are upon them.
Spurs & Arsenal Off The Pace
They are also going to need some help from the rest of the division too if they want to exert some pressure on the top two, for it’s hard to see who else might challenge, with Spurs and Arsenal still miles away from that level, Leicester and others such as Wolves not having the resources to threaten across a whole season.
But the fact that for three seasons in a row, the two different Premier League champions have had barely a glove laid upon them by the rest of the league is, for the neutral, depressing stuff. That spread of teams, from Wolves down to Crystal Palace, need to start grabbing the odd point, the odd win against the top two if the title race is going to narrow.
Look north of the border if you want evidence of that – nine titles in a row for Celtic not just because they’ve been the obvious class of the field, but because, even in the odd season where Rangers and Aberdeen have run them what we can euphemistically call “close”, Hearts, Hibs, Motherwell, Kilmarnock et al have barely grabbed a draw against the Bhoys.
Even when Celtic have taken the odd defeat to Aberdeen and now Rangers, they’ve simply made up the ground by steamrollering the rest. That’s how the Premier League has started to pan out too and that can’t be healthy for English football. It’s time for the also rans to start upping their game for the benefit of us all.