After what must be the shortest summer break ever known, the 2020/21 Premier League season kicks-off this weekend.
With the domestic campaign only concluding in late July and the European competitions running well into August, we are about to go again with no real pre-season to talk of.
So who will lift the Premier League title next May, what teams will be fighting for those four Champions League spaces, who will go down and where might the surprises come from?
We’ve crunched the numbers ahead of the big-kick off.
Once again it will be difficult to see past Liverpool and Manchester City when it comes to the title race in 2020/21.
Liverpool were finally crowned champions last summer after they were made to wait 30 years – plus a few extra months due to the Covid-19 outbreak – and it’ll be difficult to see anyone wrestling it off them.
They lost just three times in the league last season but two of those defeats came after they had the title in the bag.
Despite those losses, Liverpool still finished 18 points clear of second-place Manchester City and 33 ahead of Manchester United and Chelsea in third and fourth respectively.
Left-back Kostas Tsimikas is the only player to arrive at Anfield this summer. Joining from Olympiakos for signing for £11.7m, though reports suggest Bayern Munich ace Thiago Alcantara could also be on his way.
Klopp has bolstered his squad with several teenagers over the past couple of seasons, while the club’s academy continues to produce some exciting talent.
Rhian Brewster and Harry Wilson also impressed while out on loan last campaign, so could also have a part to play in the Reds’ plans this season.
As for Liverpool’s nearest challengers, Manchester City. They endured something of a disappointing 2019/20 campaign by their own high standards and will be looking to put that right this time around.
Despite winning the EFL Cup, Pep Guardiola’s side never really looked like challenging Liverpool for the Premier League, and they crashed out of the Champions League against Lyon.
Boss Pep Guardiola expects the highest standards from his teams and losing nine league games last term would have hurt the 49-year-old. Especially seeing as Liverpool have gone down just four times in two seasons in the league.
That disappointment could well add fresh impetus to a squad that has already been strengthened by the arrivals of Nathan Ake from Bournemouth and Ferran Torres from Valencia.
The continued development of Phil Foden could compensate for the loss of David Silva. If City can tighten things up defensively, perhaps they can regain their Premier League crown; assuming they don’t go all out for Champions League glory.
The Chasing Pack
Chelsea fans can be forgiven for feeling optimistic ahead of the 2020/21 campaign after finishing fourth and reaching an FA Cup final in Frank Lampard’s first season in charge.
His task was made all the more difficult by the departure of Eden Hazard, who agreed a switch to Real Madrid, but the Blues have certainly made-up for their lack of transfer activity last summer with some big arrivals already this year.
The Blues have completed the signings of Hakim Ziyech, Timo Werner, Ben Chilwell, Malang Sarr, Thiago Silva and Kai Havertz with still plenty of time before the Transfer Window closes.
The only question mark for Lampard could be ‘keeper Kepa Arrizabalaga, who has enjoyed mixed fortunes and kept just eight clean sheets in 33 top-flight appearances last term.
Rumours have linked The Blues to Jan Oblak, Nick Pope and Andre Onana but Lampard will be keen to resolve the situation quickly as he looks to build on a promising first season in charge.
Another manager to enjoy a fruitful first season in the job was Arsenal boss Mikel Arteta, who led his side to an FA Cup win over Frank Lampard’s Chelsea back in August.
Granit Xhaka looks revitalised in the centre of the pitch with Kieran Tierney a quality addition on the left. The goalkeeping situation looks encouraging with Emiliano Martinez showing he could be more than just an understudy to Bernd Leno.
Meanwhile, Willian has been brought in to add experience as well as goals to a young forward line, though perhaps Arteta’s biggest challenge remains securing the services of Pierre-Emerick Aubameyang.
The Gabon international, who is yet to put pen to paper on a new deal, was far and away Arsenal’s best player last season with 22 goals, as well as the winner in the FA Cup final.
Tottenham suffered their worst Premier League finish in six seasons in 2019/20 but there are reasons for Spurs fans to be optimistic under Jose Mourinho.
Only Liverpool, Manchester City and Manchester United accumulated more Premier League points than Spurs after Mourinho took over in November, which suggests that he has got the club moving in the right direction.
England captain Harry Kane scored 18 league goals last season and he was ably backed up by Son Heung-Min, who netted 11 times in 30 appearances, as Spurs scored 61 league goals, the sixth-highest tally in the division
Lifting a trophy should be a priority for Spurs, as they have not won silverware since 2008. Though they might be an outside bet for the Premier League, they are also in the Europa League for the first time in three years – a trophy Mourinho won with Manchester United back in 2017.
Ones to Watch
While all eyes will be on the battle for the Premier League title and the race for Champions League spaces, there are a number of sides who will be fascinating to watch in the coming season.
Everton ended a lowly 12th last term and know a big improvement is required, but with the addition of some big names to their squad, there is plenty for the Blues to get excited about.
Allan will add more stability in midfield while James Rodriguez joins a front line of Richarlison and Dominic Calvert-Lewin who shared 26 Premier League goals between them last term.
Leicester City looked nailed on for a Champions League last Christmas, only to fall spectacularly at the last hurdle, so seeing how Brendan Rogers’ men respond will be an interesting watch having seen Ben Chilwell depart for Chelsea.
Sheffield United will do well to match last season’s achievements but a relegation battle looks unlikely right now as Chris Wilder can take plenty of confidence from his side’s ninth-place finish last season.
Leeds United were very much the entertainers under Marcello Bielsa in the Championship last season as they achieved promotion to the Premier League for the first time in 16 years and could well be the surprise package of 2020/21.
They won five of their last six games on the road as they clinched the Championship title, scoring 12 goals during that run while two or more goals were scored in nine of their last 11 games of the campaign.
The Basement Battle
Not surprisingly, West Bromwich Albion are the early favourites for Premier League relegation for the 2020/21 season having been promoted last season in second place behind Championship winners Leeds United.
Like the Baggies, having won promotion back to the Premier League via the play-offs after relegation in 2018/19, a lack of signings means that Scott Parker’s Fulham are also likely to struggle back in the big time.
Crystal Palace finished in 14th place last season and 10 points above the relegation zone, but four losses in a row at the end of the season does not strike confidence for the coming campaign and the pressure will be on Roy Hodgson already after the shortest of summer breaks.
Steve Bruce remains in charge at Newcastle and has strengthened his side considerably with the arrivals of Ryan Fraser and Callum Wilson with Jamal Lewis also expected to join, though will it be enough to avoid another relegation battle?
Perhaps the biggest question mark remains over Aston Villa who had to wait until the last day of the season to confirm their Premier League status for this season, eventually staying up by just one point at the expense of Bournemouth and Watford.
Dean Smith’s men scored just 41 goals last campaign on their way to picking-up just 35 points, so no wonder the Villa boss is looking to strengthen a misfiring front line, as he can’t rely simply on the talent of Jack Grealish to get his side out of trouble.
So Much to Consider
The problem with predicting the outcome of any season before a ball is kicked is that there is so little form to go on.
Yes, the 2019/20 season may have just finished, which would normally give us a pretty good idea, but that was probably the most unprecedented, not to mention long, campaigns in living memory.
Players were returning from an enforced break which had seen them isolated from their teammates, so how much we can take from that as we look to place a bet on the coming campaign is more than debatable.
Don’t forget, when the action resumed back in June, the majority of the season was over with only a few issues to be decided – now we’re starting from scratch.
Expectation and anticipation would have been high after such a long layoff and many players would have been running on little more than adrenaline.
Even the shortest of breaks might well have broken a cycle which saw most teams playing a competitive game every few days, not to mention the added “distraction” of the Nations League.
Then there’s the crowd factor.
Playing in front of empty stadiums on warm summer evenings when the title is in the bag or a European place already secured is a very different prospect from a relegation battle or title tussle in November with nobody in attendance.
Liverpool thrived at a packed Anfield last season as they came flying out of the blocks to win their first 17 home Premier League games, but how will they perform without that famous “twelfth man” behind them?
Any league season is usually considered to be a marathon rather than a sprint, but more so than ever in the current climate – and it’s the same when it comes to having a bet.
With 38 games ahead of us being played in an environment never seen or experienced before, there’s absolutely nothing wrong with biding your time in order to see the full picture.
Of course, the extreme and often bizarre conditions the game is being played in right now affect each team, but not every side reacts in the same way, and for that reason it may be better to keep your money in your pocket for a few more weeks yet.