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Return of the Prem: Big transfer moves, how your team is tracking and season predictions

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12th August, 2021
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The Premier League kicks off again on Saturday morning (5am AEST) with newcomers Brentford hosting Arsenal in the season opener.

There are two big blockbusters in the ten matches this week with Manchester United hosting rivals Leeds and champions Manchester City travelling to Tottenham hoping to come away with three points and their best player, Harry Kane. With fans back in the ground after a season missing because of Covid, City are sure to get a hostile reaction from Spurs fans.

This is how the teams are shaping up and a prediction for where they will finish.

Arsenal
Where they’re at: The Gunners face a season without European football for the first time in 26 years after a second disappointing Premier League season in a row.

The glass half fullers think that might help them concentrate on fighting back into the top six, while not even the glass completely full brigade consider it conceivable that Arsenal could get above the Manchester clubs, Chelsea and Liverpool to gain a Champions League place.

Nothing they have done so far in the transfer window suggests anything other than more of the same. The team had the third best defensive record in the league last year but lacked creativity, so in true Arsenal fashion they lashed out £50m on defender Ben White, and haven’t improved in the final third as they’ve failed to shift a plethora of underachievers.

Arsenal Head Coach Mikel Arteta

Mikel Arteta. (Stuart MacFarlane/Arsenal FC via Getty Images)

Midfielder Albert Sambi Lokonga, from Anderlecht, has looked promising in pre-season while Benfica fullback Nuno Taveres has arrived as back up for Kieran Tierney.

They start against Brentford but then games against Manchester City and Chelsea will pile pressure on manager Mikel Arteta who still has much to do before the window closes with a playmaker in Martin Odegaard or James Maddison said to be on his wishlist.

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Prediction: sixth

Aston Villa
Where they’re at: Villa have received a £100m windfall from the sale of Jack Grealish to Manchester City and look to have spent wisely so far. Before his departure they grabbed Norwich playmaker Emi Buendia, and added the experience of Ashley Young, the former Man United star returning from Inter Milan.

The addition of striker Danny Ings from Southampton was surprisingly swift, without a whisper in the gossip columns ahead of the deal being complete.

Defender Axel Tuanzebe has joined from Manchester United on loan and he had some strong performances last season, particularly in the Europa League.

Grealish will be a miss but spent much of last season in the sick bay, during which they fell down the league. Villa have got a clear plan of challenging the top four – they won’t get there this year but an improvement on 11th is definitely on the cards.

Aston Villa skipper Jack Grealish.

How much will the loss of Grealish impact Villa? (Photo by Clive Mason/Getty Images)

Prediction: eighth

Brentford
Where they’re at: Thomas Frank’s team came up via the playoffs in the Championship and many are hoping they can do what Leeds did a year ago – provide some entertaining football and get a foothold in the competition.

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Their biggest buy so far is Kristoffer Ajer who joined from Celtic for £13.5m while Frank Onyeka came from Champions League club FC Midtjylland for an undisclosed fee.

It’s a big step up in levels but they have a strong group of players who could prove made for the level, including David Raya, Christian Norgaard and their talisman striker Ivan Toney.

The Bees will start their first top division campaign since 1946-47 against Arsenal on Saturday morning.

Prediction: 17th.

Brighton
Where they’re at: The Seagulls struggled for goals last season and didn’t confirm their Premier League status until late in the season.

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Neal Maupay had a year to forget, and Danny Welbeck was injured more often than not.

The most significant transfer business has been the loss of defender Ben White to Arsenal but there is still a chance they can spend the windfall to boost their attack.

They have added box to box midfielder Enock Mwepu – signed for £18m from Red Bull Salzburg – as a partner for the excellent Yves Bissouma, and winger Jeremy Sarmiento, who both have promise but will need to hit the ground running.

Prediction: 14th

Burnley
Where they’re at: It looks like another season of trying to extract maximum points from a barely Premier League standard squad from the admirable Sean Dyche.

Money has been tight at Turf Moor for several seasons and this one looks no different despite a new owner. So far there have been no attacking reinforcements despite them having the lowest goals tally in last year’s competition and only two wide attacking players to call on.

“It’s not about money, unless you have super power money, which some have, it’s about alignment,” Dyche warned fans.
“We still have a model, there might be a little bit more flexibility but I’m sure it’s not all going to be ripped up and they just start again.

“It’s still a process that takes time, and we often can’t cherry pick, we have to look for the players that might be available that fit into our market. I don’t see a radical shift in that.”

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Prediction: 16th

Chelsea
Where they’re at: The return of Romelu Lukaka to Stamford Bridge and a full season of Thomas Tuchel at the helm, makes the Champions league winners the most likely challenger to usurp Manchester City this campaign.

They have a seriously stacked squad where an A and B team would have claims on a top-four spot, with Lukaku seemingly the missing piece.

Chelsea’s biggest flaw last season – along with Frank Lampard’s inability to find a style to suit a team of superstars before he was dumped, was a lack of goals up front, with Timo Werner and Kai Havertz having long wasteful spells.

Jorginho, the team’s penalty taker, was their leading marksman last season. The continued rise of Havertz, now over the coronavirus that affected him throughout last campaign, and addition of Lukaku’s likely 20-30 goals will make the Blues a serious contender and, if City fail to land Harry Kane, they can take the title.

Prediction: first

Jorginho

Jorginho (Tess Derry/EMPICS/PA Images via Getty Images)

Crystal Palace
Where they’re at: Arsenal legend Patrick Vieira returns to London to take over from Roy Hodgson, and he’s moved on some senior players including Patrick van Aanholt, Mamadou Sakho and Andros Townsend, while turning to youth in signings such as Michael Olise and Marc Guehi.

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Conor Gallagher has joined from Chelsea on loan and will have to help plug the big creative gap left by the absence of Eberechi Eze, one of the league’s breakout stars last season, who is sidelined for months with an Achilles injury.

Up front Wilfried Zaha and rejuvenated Christian Benteke will do the heavy lifting again, while Vieira has been charged with helping academy players flourish under his watch.

Prediction: 12th

Everton
Where they’re at
: The Toffees, under new manager Rafa Benitez, will be one of the most intriguing storylines of the early stages of the season. The former Liverpool manager, who once called his new club “small” is already seen as an unpopular choice by Everton fans, and only a long run of good results can turn around public opinion.

Owner Farhad Moshiri has invested £500m into Everton and wants Champions League football, but the squad seems short of the quality required. Dominic Calvert-Lewin will need to replicate his early season success from last year, while Richarlison is coming off a gold medal for Brazil at the Olympics.

There are doubts over James Rodriguez’s time at the club – he was a favourite of previous gaffer Carlo Ancelotti – and it’s hard to see where the improvement from tenth on the table is going to come with just the additions of Andros Townsend and Demarai Gray in attacking roles.

Prediction: ninth.

James Rodriguez

James Rodriguez of Everton (Photo by Simon Stacpoole/Offside/Getty Images)

Leeds
Where they’re at
: Marcelo Bielsa’s team were the league’s great entertainers last season, claiming some decent scalps on their way to ninth, including that of champions Man City late in the season. Midfield enforcer Kalvin Phillips will return after a starring role with England at the Euros and the team is certain to play with Bielsa’s demanded high energy approach.

Jack Harrison has joined on a permanent deal after three years on loan from Manchester City while the biggest investment has been on Barcelona back up left back Junior Firpo. Outgoings include Gaetano Berardi, Pablo Hernandez and Ezgjan Alioski.

Prediction: 11th

Leeds United manager Marcelo Bielsa

Leeds United manager Marcelo Bielsa (Photo by Alex Dodd – CameraSport/Getty Images)

Leicester
Where they’re at: The Foxes, having twice suffered late disappointment in their bid for Champions League football, are showing promise that they might be able to sustain a challenge this year, despite the strengthening around them.

The signing of striker Patson Daka, from RB Salzburg for £23m and midfielder Boubakary Soumare from Lille for £17m have added some extra bite to the squad while Brendan Rodgers has so far not lost any of his frontline players, although Arsenal are said to covet James Maddison.

The loss of last year’s breakout centre half Wesley Fofana to a shocking injury in pre-season is a setback but one Rodgers is hopeful of overcoming.

Daka looks lively and a longer-term Jamie Vardy replacement and the Foxes will want him to assimilate quickly with last season’s breakthrough star Kelechi Iheanacho and Wilfred Ndidi away in January at the Africa Cup of Nations.

Prediction: fifth

Brendan Rogers Leicester City Win

Leicester City manager Brendan Rogers (Photo by Jon Bromley/ MI News/NurPhoto via Getty Images)

Liverpool
Where they’re at
: Just as Virgil van Dijk’s returned last weekend for the first time in ten months since doing his ACL, the Reds lost left back Andy Robertson to an ankle injury that will see him miss the first month of the season.

Injuries at the back and some form lapses up top cost Liverpool any chance of a meaningful title defence last season, although they did finish their campaign strongly.

There has been little transfer activity so far from the Reds with Ibrahima Konate joining in the centre of defence the only first team movement.

Gini Wijnaldum’s departure to Paris Saint-Germain could prove significant.

Prediction: third

Manchester City
Where they’re at: City broke the British transfer record to sign Jack Grealish from Aston Villa and add him to their stellar array of attacking talent. Raheem Sterling could barely get a look in at the end of last season before playing a starring role for England.

City also have designed on Tottenham’s Harry Kane, although the London club are playing hard ball, although the England skipper initially refused to join them for training.

Sergio Aguero and Eric Garcia have joined Barcelona, but City are struggling to move on some other surplus players, including the man most affected by Grealish’s arrival Bernardo Silva.

Prediction: second

Raheem Sterling of Manchester City celebrates

(Photo by Matt McNulty – Manchester City/Manchester City FC via Getty Images)

Manchester United
Where they’re at: All eyes will be on 21-year-old Jadon Sancho, who made his long-awaited move from Borussia Dortmund on a £73 million fee.

Sancho was a bit part player for Gareth Southgate’s England at the Euros, with Bukayo Saka preferred in the latter stages of the tournament on the right side of attack.

It’s a big ask to peg back crosstown rivals Man City and while United did well over the second half of last season there are still so many question marks over the squad.

Raphael Varane’s arrival from Real Madrid, to partner Harry Maguire, should solve one area of concern, but the lack of a fresh striker and inconsistency of Marcus Rashford and Anthony Martial leaves a big weight of expectation on 35-year-old Edinson Cavani, who will miss the start of the season after arriving late home from Uruguay.

Prediction: fourth.

Newcastle
Where they’re at: Steve Bruce continues to divide the fans between those who expect more from the club under his helm and those who feel owner Mike Ashley is a heavy anchor dragging them inexorably towards the Championship.

Newcastle manager Steve Bruce watches on.

Steve Bruce is under pressure. (Serena Taylor/Newcastle United via Getty Images)

That certainly looked a strong possibility last season before the on-loan arrival of Joe Willock, who scored in a record seven straight games to help secure safety.

Willock is said to be on his way on a permanent deal to St James’ Park, but there is no way he can repeat his rate of scoring from last season and Bruce may need at least one more midfielder and left sided defender to feel any semblance of security.

Will this be the season where it comes crashing down?

Prediction: 18th.

Norwich
Where they’re at: Two seasons ago the Canaries became the first club to be relegated from the Premier League five times, as they crumbled to defeat in their final ten games. Before that they had shown glimpses that they belonged, with Finland’s Teemu Pukki scoring for fun.

Pukki carried an injury into the Euros and looked a shadow of the player whose goals won Norwich promotion last season, and they’ve also lost influential playmaker Emi Buendia to Aston Villa.

Milot Rashica and Pierre Lees-Melou have arrived and so far Todd Cantwell remains, but with one of smallest budgets in the league and a pre-season Covid outbreak in the club, this looks like a doomed 38-game battle for survival.

Prediction: 20th

Teemu Pukki and Todd Cantwell.

Teemu Pukki and Todd Cantwell (Photo by Steven Paston/EMPICS/PA Images via Getty Images)

Southampton
Where they’re at: The Saints had a roller coaster season last time out, leading the league for a day early on, then crashing down the table during Danny Ings’ injury absence before recovering to finish 11th. Ings’ departure to Aston Villa could have a massive impact, with Che Adams and Theo Walcott, having made his deal from Everton permanent, needing to step up for Ralph Hasenhuttl’s team.

Prediction: 15th

Tottenham
Where they’re at: Spurs have a new manager with Nuno Espirito Santo moving from Wolves and the Portuguese walked straight into a firefight over the future of Harry Kane.

Kane has made it crystal clear he wants a move to a bigger club and Tottenham have put a hefty £150 million asking price on his back.

Spurs’ season fortunes seem linked to the next few weeks of the window. If Kane stays to partner Hueng-min Son for another season they can threaten the top four, without him there isn’t an obvious replacement for his goals and assists.

(Photo by Vincent Mignott/DeFodi Images via Getty Images)

They have strengthened with defender Cristian Romero from Atalanta and winger Bryan Gil, while there are rumours linking them with Inter striker Lautaro Martinez.

Prediction: seventh

Watford
Where they’re at: The Hornets have been busy trying to bolster their squad after their promotion from the Championship.

Former Spurs defender Danny Rose, 31, ill add experience while ex-Bournemouth striker Joshua King, Emmanuel Dennis, Kwadwo Baah and Ashley Fletcher, all add to the attacking options, while Troy Deeney is a proven Premier League goal scorer.

Their fortunes, though, could depend on if they can keep winger Ismailia Sarr, who is a target of Tottenham among others. The Senegalese player is valued at £50 million.

Prediction: 19th.

West Ham
Where they’re at
: The Hammers’ superb run to sixth last season was largely helped by an injection of quality and goals from Jesse Lingard who arrived on loan in January.

Lingard has returned to Manchester United however, and David Moyes’ team must find a spark from elsewhere. So far they have managed to retain England starter Declan Rice and, along with Tomas Soucek, their midfield stocks look encouraging.

Declan Rice (L) of West Ham United

Declan Rice (L) of West Ham United (Photo by James Griffiths/West Ham United FC via Getty Images)

But there remains an over-reliance on striker Michail Antonio, who will be hoping to avoid the constant injury struggles he had last campaign.

The club has added midfielder Pierre Ekwah Elimby and forward Thierry Nevers while Felipe Anderson and Fabian Balbuena have left.

Prediction: tenth

Wolves
Where they’re at
: Former Benfica manager Bruno Lage takes charge, continuing the Portuguese connection at Molineux, and so far Wolves have seen little change in the transfer window.

Portugal’s national team goalkeeper has departed and replaced by countryman Jose Sa from Olympiacos while Rayan Ait-Nouri, who impressed on loan last season has had his deal made permanent.

Adama Traore remains despite transfer links to several clubs. The best news for the new boss is the return of striker Raul Jimenez who suffered a fractured skull in an early season head clash with Daid Luiz last season and missed nine months.

His replacements struggled to find the net and Wolves finished 13th with just 36 goals. The season before they were in seventh with 51.

Prediction: 13th.

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