EPL 2020/21 season preview: One big question for each team
Words by Nathan Irvine
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Not long after the final whistle on the current season, a new one is about to kick off again soon.
As the new English Premier League (EPL) season looms large over the horizon, we take a look at the big question that each team must answer.
Is Mikel Arteta’s revolution for real?
Winning the FA Cup was an exceptional way of rounding off a below average season for the Gunners. It was one that saw three different managers occupy the dugout at The Emirates. Unai Emery and Freddie Ljungberg both kept the seat warm until Mikel Arteta’s appointment. The ex-Arsenal midfielder had the daunting task of uniting a fractious dressing room and handled it like a seasoned pro. And thus, the Arteta revolution began.
However, there are still issues to address. Can the manager convince Pierre-Emerick Aubameyang to stay? What does he do with a problem like Mesut Ozil? And, importantly, can Arteta instil a winning mentality into a squad that has gone through the motions in recent years?
Should they cash-in on Jack Grealish?
It’s probably unfair to say that Grealish single-handedly dragged this Aston Villa side to EPL safety. But, well, he pretty much did. While those around him floundered, the club captain maintained his consistency and scored important goals to ensure Villa would play another season of Premier League football.
But with valuations of the tricky midfielder leaning towards the $80m (AED 294m) mark, the club has a big decision to make. Allow Grealish to leave and invest the cash in a paper-thin squad or attempt to build around the talisman?
Can they sign a consistent, goal-scoring striker?
It’s fair to say Graham Potter’s men were inconsistent in front of goal. Only Neal Maupay (10) entered double figures in the scoring charts as Brighton returned a paltry 39 goals in 38 games. The need for an established striker should be paramount.
They don’t need major surgery across the squad. Midfield and defence are in good shape, and when it all comes together, they look great. But without investing in a proven goal-getter, they could end up in the mire again. Recently relegated Bournemouth pair Josh King and Callum Wilson could fit the bill at the Amex Stadium.
Can they build on their solid foundations?
Sean Dyche’s solid unit of no-nonsense football almost pushed them into the European places. Alas, they fell short, but Burnley can be proud of their league position considering the lack of funds they have to those around them.
However, it’s all very well finishing mid-table when you first make it into the big league. But Burnley have an opportunity to take things to the next level with a few canny signings. It won’t be easy to find flair players that can mix it like the current squad, but if anyone can find them, it’s Sean Dyche.
How will Timo Werner adapt to the Premier League?
Signing Timo Werner is a statement of intent by Chelsea. The coveted striker has been lighting up the Bundesliga at RB Leipzig, and he will be expected to lead the line in similar fashion at Stamford Bridge next season. But how will Werner perform in a more aggressive, fast-paced league?
We all remember Alvaro Morata melting under the pressure, with the Spaniard lasting one season at Chelsea before heading back to La Liga. And the enormous price tag has a habit of hanging heavy around players’ necks. But if Lampard can get Werner to hit the ground running, Chelsea will be title contenders next term.
Is Wilfried Zaha a luxury they can afford?
If the rumours are to be believed, then Wilfried Zaha has his heart set on a move away from the Selhurst Park. Palace, understandably, have said a firm “no” to both Arsenal, Everton and a whole host of other suitors.
The problem is that the squad is almost entirely built around the Ivorian. He’s central to almost everything they do and to find a ready-made replacement is going to be tricky. However, a rebuild is needed and the funds from the sale of Zaha could contribute to that. It’s a tricky one for Roy Hodgson and co.
Will Carlo Ancelotti get bored?
No disrespect to Everton, but having legendary manager Carlo Ancelotti sitting at the side of the Goodison Park pitch must still feel like a dream. One of the most decorated club managers in the history of the game was obviously won over by the project that the Everton board put together. But how long will he be content with mediocrity?
They have an exciting squad, sure, but it hasn’t really gelled. There are lots of top players in there such as Richarlison, Digne and Calvert-Lewin, but can Ancelotti muster the energy to steer them towards greatness? Or will he be off to the next top European club that comes knocking?
Can they attract big names to keep them up?
Scott “Scotty” Parker has done wonders with Fulham in the Championship. They started last season in iffy form, and another spell in the old English second division was on the cards. But they rallied late and managed to book their place in the EPL via the play-offs.
Twenty-six goals from Aleksandar Mitrovic, who has already proven his worth in the Premier League, was enough to pull them up. Beyond the Serbian striker, they’re very short on star power. The squad looks lightweight, and it will require experience to keep them out of a relegation dog fight again.
How will Marcelo Bielsa’s high-press, all-action style work in the EPL?
Not only did Leeds United cruise to the title in Championship, they did it in style. Bielsa-ball, as it was coined, not only involved a high-press that instantly put opposition players in a state of panic, it also threaded together intricate passages of play that usually resulted in goals.
As the opponents chased shadows, Leeds played all manner of one-touch passes to dazzle on their route to hit the back of the net. Again. And while we’re sure we’ll see it again in the EPL, we have to wonder whether Premier League players will allow it with such ease.
Will their stars leave this summer?
If you’d told Leicester fans at the beginning of the 2019/20 season that their side would qualify for the Europa League, they’d have been delighted. However, after sitting pretty in the top 3 for much of the season, Brendan Rodger’s men capitulated and allowed Manchester United and Chelsea to knock them out of the Champions League spots.
Without competing on the biggest stage in European football, can Leicester hang on to their stars? Marauding full-back, Ben Chilwell seems set to leave, but the likes of Youri Tielemans, James Maddison and even Kasper Schmeichel could be tempted by a move now.
Can Klopp’s men retain the title?
Retaining the league title is harder than winning it in the first place, and that’s why only a few managers have done so. Sir Alex Ferguson, Jose Mourinho and Pep Guardiola are the trio to have won back-to-back titles. Jurgen Klopp has a real chance to do this with Liverpool, but the mentality has to be correct.
Klopp’s job is to keep the players both humble and hungry. They’ve had an incredible few years, and can be forgiven for taking their foot off the gas a little. But if they’re to bag another EPL trophy, then Klopp needs to make sure his players are as desperate for success next term.
Is this Guardiola’s last season?
The Spaniard’s contract ends in 2021. While there may be talks going on behind closed doors, outwardly, there’s been little talk of Guardiola staying at the Etihad beyond his current terms. Regardless of what happens, Pep won’t want to bow out of the EPL with a whimper. A minor rebuild of an ageing squad is needed for next season’s push.
Winger Ferran Torres and centre-back Nathan Ake have already been ushered through the door. City definitely mean business. But it’ll be interesting to see whether Guardiola is building a side for his successor or whether he’s aiming for dominance – and a new contract – in the 2020/21 season.
Will Jadon Sancho be the only summer signing they make?
There’s a familiarity to the pursuit of Jadon Sancho that Manchester United fans will shake their heads at. Just like Harry Maguire last season, the club identified him at the start of the window, only to see him arrive towards the end… at the full price they were originally quoted. The same can be said about Sancho. But even if they do get the English winger, he’ll be like sticking a Ferrari badge on a Ford Focus.
United need a competent defensive midfielder. A quick centre-back to complement Lindelof or Maguire’s laboured speeds. A reliable goalkeeper and a quite possibly another out-and-out striker. If Manchester United are to back Solskjaer’s seemingly impossible 3rd place finish, then the cheque book will need to remain open all summer.
Is Mike Ashley about to drag them into a relegation battle?
British millionaire, Mike Ashley might well have already been spending the money he was set to receive from the sale of the club. The Saudi Arabian consortium seemed to be 99.9% sure to pick up Newcastle United and finance them back to the big time. But that all fell through, and the Toon Army is left with a man they don’t want at the club, and who really doesn’t want to be there either.
With that in mind, it’s unlikely Ashley will spend big in the transfer market. This leaves Steve Bruce to try and wring even more out of a squad that drew one and lost four of its last five games, a set of results that almost landed Newcastle in a relegation scrap. A lack of investment could seal their fate next time.
Can the heroics be repeated?
One of the biggest success stories of the 2019/20 season was Chris Wilder’s Sheffield United. They were gritty in defence, as you’d expect, but they had skill and craft around the rest of the squad. Before the lockdown, the Blades looked set for a place in the European spots, as they drifted in and out of the Top 5. However, their post-lockdown form was patchy at best.
As teams grew wise to the gung-ho style of its attacks down the flanks, Sheffield United looked bereft of a Plan B. Where once lived surprise and guile, now lay predictability and frustrated personnel. If Wilder is to repeat the feats or go even better, then new options off the bench and a new set of tactics is needed.
Will Ralph Hasenhüttl become the league’s Next Big Thing™?
That 0-9 drubbing to Leicester City aside, Southampton had a fairly solid season. Eleventh spot, when they looked set to be mixing it in the relegation places earlier in the season, is not to be sniffed at. And it was the man at the helm that came away with the plaudits.
Hasenhüttl instilled a resolve into the squad that first kept their heads above water and then propelled them up the league. His infectious personality and attractive style of football brought platitudes of the “new Klopp”, erm, despite being the exact same age. His stock has never been higher and if a Top 6 club comes a-knocking, will Ralph be able to resist the temptation to leave?
What will keep Harry Kane happy at Spurs?
Harry Kane loves scoring goals. This much is true. He also loves Spurs – he’s “one of their own” as the fans belt out every week. But his resolve for the latter will be tested if Spurs don’t start winning silverware.
You can imagine Kane banging in the goals for Europe’s elite teams, and no doubt they can visualise this too. Mourinho will have a full pre-season and summer transfer window to build around Kane. However, if it’s going to be another trophyless season at Spurs, we can’t help but think Harry will be banging in goals on the continent next term.
Are the Baggies destined for the drop?
The Premier League’s favourite yo-yo club. You never have many seasons in the EPL without an appearance of West Brom. They disappear down to the Championship almost as soon as they arrive, mind. Their fans will obviously hope that the same thing doesn’t happen this time around.
A quick scan of their squad immediately reveals the problems they have. Most of the names – Kieran Gibbs, Hal Robson-Kanu, Matt Phillips and Charlie Austin – are great against Championship sides, but can’t quite hack it in the top division. Even manager Slaven Bilic floundered as head coach of West Ham. They’ll spring a few surprises here and there, but this current squad is in need of some serious ballers to stay up.
Is this David Moyes' last chance at a big club?
If Moyes is to prove the doubters wrong, and prove his mettle as a top, top coach, then he needs to do the business at West Ham. The albatross of that disastrous spell at Manchester United still looms large for the Scotsman. And instead of worrying about Champions League fixtures, he’s battling the drop with a Hammers side that’s full of misfits.
His first order of business is to get rid of his underperforming “stars”. Felipe Anderson, Andriy Yarmolenko and that papier-mâché effigy of Jack Wilshere should be shown the door. Then he needs to find the players that can fit his style that he showed at Everton. It could be Moyesy’s last dance at a big club – he needs to get it right.
Can Wolves keep hold of Jiménez, Traore and co?
Having been dumped out of the Europa League and suffering a dip in league form, Wolves won’t play in Europe next term. Without it, the Midlands club could become less attractive to its current stars who want to play on the biggest stage. And we wouldn’t be surprised if a few of their star players already have an eye on a Molineux exit.
Adama Traore has been rumoured to have been on Liverpool’s radar for a while. Whilst Mexican hot-shot, Raul Jimenez is being linked to a move to Juventus or Manchester United. Add to this the fact that Jota, Neves and Jonny would walk into most big clubs in Europe, and you understand just how tricky it will be to keep this Wolves squad together.
What happened to Freddy Adu?