Premier League Stories - Pablo ZabaletaMar 22
BT Sport’s Six Bold Premier League Predictions 2021/22
BT Sport have made six bold Premier League predictions ahead of the new season, including potential trouble ahead for Southampton.
With the ecstasy and agony of Euro 2020 now a fading memory, the Premier League season returns to your screens this weekend promising another campaign of unmissable drama.
Fans will be permitted to fill stadiums across the country for the first time since March 2020, providing the inimitable soundtrack to the beautiful game – and BT Sport will be at the heart of the action with 52 games exclusively live over the course of the season.
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What will happen over the next nine months? Can Manchester City make it back-to-back titles once again under Pep Guardiola? Can Liverpool rediscover their championship form? How will the newly-promoted sides fare in the top tier?
We’ve made six bold Premier League predictions for the 2020/21 season. Read on to find out how we think things might shake out.
Jack Harrison for England
Leeds United may well have made the signing of the summer last month as they secured a permanent move for Jack Harrison from Manchester City after two successive loan spells at the Yorkshire club.
The 24-year-old winger endured an unusual journey on his way to becoming a star man in Marcelo Bielsa’s thrilling outfit, graduating through the ranks at New York City FC – Man City’s sister club owned by the City Football Group – before struggling on an ill-fated loan move to Middlesbrough in 2018.
Granted another crack at the Championship by Leeds the following season, Harrison has repaid their faith in him twofold over the course of more than 120 appearances since.
Considering the premium placed on English talent, the reported fee of £11m looks like an absolute snip for a player who stood out in a side packed full of impressive performers.
From the prolific Patrick Bamford to the emergence of young French shot stopper Ilian Meslier, England’s new midfield general Kalvin Phillips and effervescent Raphinha, Leeds are not short on talent.
But it is Harrison who looks capable of kicking on to another level next season following an eye-catching conclusion to the 2020/21 campaign.
His 16 direct goal contributions (8 goals, 8 assists) in 36 Premier League appearances put him in esteemed company among his fellow wide forwards, producing a similar outlay to the likes of Sadio Mane (11 goals, 7 assists), Raheem Sterling (10 goals, 7 assists) and Jack Grealish (6 goals, 10 assists).
As would be expected from a regular starter under Bielsa, Harrison is among the fastest and fittest players in the league, registering a top speed last season that put him among the top two per cent of wide forwards in the division.
The distance, frequency and intensity of his sprints also put him among the elite of wide players in the Premier League while his defensive work rate and willingness to make a tackle make him an asset to any side.
Can Harrison force his way into England manager Gareth Southgate’s plans over the course of the next 12 months?
There is no doubt the Leeds man will be on the watch list this season and, with the injured Phil Foden likely to miss the first international break in early September, Harrison could well earn a maiden call-up if he picks up where he left off in May.
Crystal Palace to secure a top-half finish
Believe what you read in many quarters of the football media and you would think Crystal Palace are already doomed for the drop.
Murmurings of an impending malaise began towards the end of last season, with a raft of first-team regulars out of contract and the departure of Roy Hodgson as Eagles boss.
Indeed, on the eve of their season opener away at Chelsea, you'll find Palace in most people's bottom-three predictions.
But despite the negative projections there is a growing air of optimism around Selhurst Park as Patrick Vieira prepares to take charge of his first game.
The summer arrival of Marc Guehi was regarded as a major coup for the club after a breakthrough season on loan at Derby County.
The centre back remains highly-thought of at his former club Chelsea, so much so that the Blues have installed a first-option should Palace decide to sell in future.
Denmark international Joachim Andersen, an astute summer signing from Lyon, will most likely play alongside him after an impressive showing in his country's road to the semi-finals of the Euros.
Conor Gallagher, another Chelsea academy product, has made an immediate impression on the coaching staff since arriving on loan.
Eberechi Eze, out until next year with a ruptured Achilles will be sorely missed, but former Reading starlet Michael Olise, once he recovers from his own injury, should provide flair and invention in his place.
Elsewhere in attack Wilfried Zaha, free of speculation around a move away from south London, will once again be the talisman of the team and could be inspired to reach new heights with the captain's armband.
Even Christian Benteke, the so-called busted flush whose best days were behind him, appears to have re-discovered the killer instinct that made him one of the league's most formidable strikers not too long ago.
You heard it here first: ignore the naysayers and watch the Eagles soar.
Emiliano Buendia to make the PFA Team of the Year
With seven assists in a Norwich side that finished bottom of the league, Emi Buendia demonstrated enough in his one season in the top flight to convince Aston Villa to splash out £34.5million on his services after backing up those performances during the Canaries' Championship winning campaign last year.
Now talisman Jack Grealish has departed for Manchester City, most of the responsibility in replacing the club captain will fall on the summer signing.
It’s a considerable burden to bear but in Buendia, Villa possess a tenacious, creative attacking midfielder who probes opposition defences and creates opportunities for his team-mates.
Similarly to Grealish, Buendia thrives coming on from the wide attacking midfield birth and creating centrally.
With Danny Ings joining Ollie Watkins in attack, Buendia will have plenty of firepower to supply at Villa Park and Dean Smith will be hoping his new signing can strike up a similar understanding with the duo that he managed with Teemu Pukki at Norwich.
Villa started last season like a house on fire with a 7-2 thrashing of defending champions Liverpool the most notable of their four successive wins to begin the campaign.
However, injuries and Covid-19 cases soon caught up with them and a thin squad’s form tailed off to a respectable 11th-placed finish.
With more options at Smith’s disposal - and even without Grealish - Villa fans will be hopeful of sustaining a challenge for the European places.
Buendia will be key to that push.
Spurs miss out on the top six
No Mourinho, no problem? It might not be quite as simple as that for Tottenham and Nuno Espirito Santo this season as the Portuguese boss looks to lead the squad his compatriot departed in April.
First on the agenda is convincing wantaway star striker Harry Kane his future remains at Europa Conference League Tottenham and not with the defending Premier League champions and Champions League finalists, Manchester City.
Should Kane leave, replacing the England skipper will be nigh-on impossible.
In 35 Premier League games last season, the 28-year-old scored 23 times, as well as laying on a further 14 assists.
Heung-min Son was Spurs’ next highest scorer but much of the South Korean’s success was down to his partnership with Kane. The departed Gareth Bale and Carlos Vinicius were third and fourth respectively.
Losing Kane leaves not so much a hole in the squad as a gaping chasm the size of the Grand Canyon.
Given Tottenham limped to a seventh-placed finish with Kane, a drop-off out of the European places should be expected if their talismanic forward is granted his exit.
And for those fans who felt Mourinho’s defence-first philosophy was hampering Tottenham’s chances last campaign, Wolves towards the end of Santo’s reign were hardly 1970 Brazil.
Pepe to score more than Sancho
Manchester United made one of the biggest splashes of the summer so far when they landed Jadon Sancho from Borussia Dortmund for £72 million.
Plenty of intrigue will surround the former Manchester City youngster as he belatedly makes his Premier League bow in Saturday’s clash with Leeds United, exclusively live on BT Sport.
On the surface, the signing is an eye-catching statement of intent from United as they attempt to wrest the title from the grasp of their increasingly noisy neighbours.
There’s no doubt the Sancho brand has been strongly enhanced during four productive years in Germany that yielded 50 goals in all competitions and his directness, trickery and finishing will add strings to United’s attacking bow.
But can he hit the ground running and sustain a high level over a demanding full season?
Sancho is still just 21 and with competition for places fierce at Old Trafford, it’s conceivable that his maiden campaign in England’s top flight will be solid rather than spectacular.
It should also be noted that he struggled to convince Gareth Southgate to pick him ahead of Arsenal’s Bukayo Saka on the right side of England’s attack at Euro 2020.
At which point, enter another Gunners star who plays off the right: Nicolas Pepe.
The Ivorian has been the butt of many a joke – not least among some Arsenal fans - since his arrival at the Emirates in the summer of 2019 for £1 million more than Sancho cost United.
However, after finally convincing boss Mikel Arteta of his worth, Pepe enjoyed a much improved 2020/21 campaign, notching 16 goals in all competitions – double the tally from his admittedly underwhelming debut season and the same as Sancho managed last term.
Ten of those strikes came in the league (Sancho scored eight), with five alone in the Gunners’ final three outings as he channelled his inner Arjen Robben with a succession of classy cut-inside-and-finish efforts.
The 26-year-old is a more mature proposition these days and has looked sharp and refreshed in pre-season.
He remains a genuine threat from direct free-kicks and with penalty duties also possible if Alexandre Lacazette departs before the end of the current window, another double-figure goal return looks assured.
It could well be a close-run thing, but don’t be surprised if Sancho finds himself looking up at Pepe in the goalscoring charts come the end of the season.
Southampton sucked into the relegation mix
It could be a funny old season on the south coast with Southampton once again shaping up to be the enigmatic outfit capable of the sublime and – with increasing frequency – the ordinary.
Now entering his third full season in charge at St Mary’s, Ralph Hassenhuttl may have anticipated his Saints outfit would be a little further on in their quest to become a disruptive force among the division’s elite.
At times over the course of the Austrian’s tenure, Southampton have appeared on the cusp of making that leap – even topping the Premier League table at one point early last season.
However, a familiar tale of late season inconsistency and an unshakeable patch of rough form consigned them to an eventual 15th-placed finish.
Losing their prolific talisman Danny Ings to Aston Villa would hardly seem the ideal platform from which to build into the new season, even if that departure has since been addressed by the arrival of Blackburn’s Adam Armstrong.
The diminutive striker bagged 28 league goals for Rovers last season, behind only Ivan Toney in the Championship scoring charts but is an unknown force at Premier League level. Is he ready to fill the rather large boots left by predecessor Ings?
Ongoing uncertainty around the futures of both James Ward-Prowse – the subject of interest from Aston Villa – and Jannik Vestergaard – reportedly courted by Leicester City in recent weeks – mean the spine of Hassenhuttl’s side could yet be weakened further before the transfer window closes.
Southampton’s recent track record on recruitment over the last few years does little to inspire confidence that they would be able to replace such key performers should the worst come to pass.
Saints’ dismal end to the previous campaign will have alerted many fans to the possibility of trouble lurking on the horizon.
They won just five of 23 league games after Christmas, losing 15 including another 9-0 mauling – the second of Hassenhuttl’s Saints tenure.
Their inability to break out of a winless rut cost them a top half finish last season. A repeat of those struggles this time around could prove far more costly.