Cheat Sheet: English Premier League 20/21

Are you a new to the EPL or looking for some chat to throw around the office? We’ve got you covered…

By Will Guthrie

STYLE OF PLAY

The Premier League is widely regarded, no more than by themselves, as the fastest and most glamourous league in world football. Despite not containing any of the biggest names like Cristiano Ronaldo or Lionel Messi, what they do have in abundance is world class players from every corner of the globe. Every team is brimming with talent, making this league hard to predict and keeping the title race interesting. Throw in the mix the threat of relegation for some, the jostling for European riches for others, and the general helter-skelter nature of the games and the results, and you’ve got some incredibly entertaining drama.

LIKELY TOP FOUR

Liverpool

The team that nearly smashed all records and won the title at a canter last season look set to go again, they’ve got largely the same squad, full of class in every position with great depth and some talented youngsters coming through from the academy and pushing for more first team action. Throw in the editions of two extremely high-quality players like Thiago and Diogo Jota and they will be seriously hard to beat. The most interesting thing to see will be how hungry they still are after winning the PL title and a Champions League title in the past 18 months and if the fire for success still burns. They’ve started well enough, although have had some rotten luck early with injuries, winning from here would be special.

Manchester City

It burns Manager Pep Guardiola’s soul to not totally dominate the PL like he has other leagues, despite spending more than the GDP of some countries on defenders alone. This squad is full of stars, have great depth at every position and are hungry for trophies. Injuries haven’t been kind, especially in defence to crucial players, however they are definitely title contenders. So desperate is Pep to get the title back that he put an SOS call out to Leo Messi that would have been answered if not for an expired contract clause. Definitely watch this space with interest, they have the best playmaker in the league in Kevin De Bruyne and attack with flair. They’re 6 points off the lead but in a league this competitive, they are still well in contention.

Chelsea

When you’ve had a transfer ban and managed to finally bring through a host of your much-vaunted youth academy talent, it’s only natural for Chelsea to revert to type and go on a spending spree. Not that they’re alone here, it’s just a bit strange, some of the players they have brought through look like future superstars and by all reports, there’s more to come from the academy. Instead, Manager Frank Lampard has opted to sign two of Germany’s best young talents (Kai Havertz and Timo Werner), as well as a host of other players to beef up the squad. Brazilian defender Thiago Silva looms as an interesting addition to remodelled defence. Chelsea might be title contenders; we just don’t know if the new recruits will gel enough to launch a genuine challenge. At the very least, they can’t be accused of not attempting to catch the competition.

Arsenal

This was a tough one to pick, but Arsenal might just squeeze into the top four ahead of Man United and co. With United’s defence looking about as sure as that of Paris in 1940 and another potential Mourinho meltdown on the cards, Arsenal loom as the most stable. They have a seriously good new manager in Mikel Arteta, a deadly strike force of Alexandre Lacazette and Pierre-Emerick Aubameyang, a stable midfield and a host of gifted youngsters starting to make their mark. They’ve started well enough and should the defence hold, it’s hard to see them not making top four given their reliability in front of goal.

FOUR TEAMS TO WATCH

Tottenham

Few men are more capable of blowing up a season before it’s even begun than Spurs Manager Jose Mourinho, he’s done it before at Chelsea and Manchester United and it would appear this might be another season that Jose has a meltdown. Already after their matchday one loss to Everton, he has started to plant the seeds for the winter of discontent that is to come, saying that he “did not like his team” earlier this month. These types of comments normally serve to divide a dressing room, so there’s every chance that come March, Spurs will be searching for a new manager. Throw in the fairy-tale return of Gareth Bale and it’s clear Spurs are a team to watch this season.

Everton

Everton have used the transfer window well buying players to fit a system and style of play that Manager Carlo Ancelotti favours. The purchase of James Rodriguez could prove the steal of the summer, he’s world class and can run a game. They’re full of talent and started like a house on fire with James and Dom Calvert-Lewin combining well in the opening games before a bad run saw them slip a bit, what remains to be seen is if they are genuine contenders or if they just look great on paper.

Leeds

They’re back! And based on their opening day shootout with Liverpool, they aren’t going to die wondering. What’s obvious is that they can score, having banged in 7 goals in their opening two games. With the almost cult-leader charisma of Manager Marcelo Bielsa, there’s something special about this current Leeds outfit. Already on the same amount of points as bitter rivals Man United, they are going to be seriously entertaining so make sure you catch them if you can.

Portugal, sorry…Wolves

Not a great joke I know, but it’s essentially accurate. Wolverhampton Wanderers FC would have to be at least 75% Portuguese players, a lot of them internationals as well. Not that we’re complaining, they play high-octane football and have some of the league’s most watchable talent. Front man Raul Jimenez has stayed on and already has 4 goals in his first 8 games, watch for him to continue to get on the end of hulking winger Adama Traore’s best work.

PLAYERS TO WATCH

Gabriel Magalhaes (ArsenalFC)

 Left footed Centre Backs are all the rage these days, which makes this a potentially crucial signing for the Gunners. A ball playing defender who partners with fellow Brazilian David Luiz, this signing could prove a masterstroke. As always with new signings, the real question is how will he adapt to the faster pace and physicality of the Premier League? He’s started reasonably well so it looks like Arsenal may have found one here.

Kai Havertz (Chelsea FC)

Chelsea have done some fine transfer work during the summer window and none is more interesting than German wonderkid Kai Havertz. For the past 2 years the hype has been building over this playmaker who has an eye for goal and after another impressive season, Chelsea pounced. It seemed strange that seemingly only Chelsea were in for him despite his high price, perhaps there were concerns over his ability to deal with the physicality of the PL. What’s not in dispute is his talent, if Frank Lampard can fit him into a system, Havertz could help fire Chelsea to challenge on multiple fronts. He’s already off the mark with a goal and an assist in his first handful of games, let’s see if he takes off once he finds his feet.

Takumi Minamino (Liverpool FC)

 Liverpool Manager Jurgen Klopp loves a bargain buy, a rough diamond that he can polish. He’s done it so many times before that you’d have to suspect he quietly bought Minamino for a reason in January. Whilst Liverpool have strengthened in the midfield, bringing in Thiago and Jota, they’re also challenging for 4 trophies, not to mention the African Cup of Nations, which will see the squad lose Mo Salah and Sadio Mane for at least a month. It seems that Jota will have priority for chances up forward however Klopp will likely look to rotate his squad and keep them fresh. Minamino has been there almost a year now and is following carefully laid development plants, similar to Mane and co, so it wouldn’t surprise to see him take big strides this season.

Phil Foden (Man City FC)

 Long touted as the next big thing in English football, we’ve been hearing about Foden for what seems like years. He finally started to see more first team action at the back end of last season, and the exit of David Silva has only created more opportunity for him to stamp himself on the competition. A controversy this summer involving breaking Covid rules to smuggle an Icelandic model into his hotel room may just help him to put his head down and work hard. Having opened his account in the first game of the season before scoring again a few games later, it seems like he’s going to grab his opportunity.

FOUR CULT HEROES

Adama Traore

Adama Traore (Wolves FC)

 As mentioned earlier, this man is a serious specimen. He looks more like an NFL player than a Premier League footballer, but despite this, says he doesn’t lift weights. I confess, I’m pretty sceptical about that. Moving on however, there’s no denying he’s a serious talent that could play at any club he wanted to. His pace, power and skills make him a nightmare for defenders, he’s almost unfoulable due to his strength and delivers deadly crosses game after game. He’s started slowly but he’s one of the main reasons Wolves are such a great team to watch, make sure you catch a glimpse of The Hulk while you can.

Allain Saint-Maximin (Newcastle United FC)

 Attacking flair, outrageous hair, excellent Twitter work and an ability to change games single-handedly, not much has gone right for Newcastle as of late, but this player has the x factor that the club desperately needs to stay in the top flight. A failed takeover bid by a Saudi consortium means that there’s unlikely to be much spending on the squad, so it’s important that Saint-Maximin deliver a big season to give the passionate fanbase something to cheer on. He’s had a decent start which has helped keep Newcastle well clear of the relegation zone early in the season.

Jack Grealish (Aston Villa FC)

The man with the thickest calves in football (seriously, go have a look, they are epic), was also the most fouled player in the league last season. He runs the show at Villa and after starring in their relegation battle to help keep them in the PL, recommitted to the club with a 5-year deal. He’s only 24 and has captained Villa for a couple of seasons now. Despite his questionable off-field work, he’s a quality leader on pitch. Even though he carries the hopes of dreams of Villa fans everywhere, he glides around scoring and creating goals, hence the need for gigantic calves. This season is his chance to really stamp himself as one of the League’s best players and with 4 goals and 5 assists in his first 7 games, not to mention a debut for England, he looks like doing just that.

James Rodriguez (Everton FC)

 As mentioned earlier in this piece, James Rodriguez looms as potentially the bargain buy of this season. This marks the third time that Carlo Ancelotti has signed the Colombian, such is his belief in James’ qualities. What makes him a potential cult hero in the making is that he thrives on being the main man, having a team built around him. At the 2014 World Cup in Brazil he tore the competition to shreds, inspiring Colombia to the quarterfinals and winning the Golden Boot as the competition’s top scorer. His subsequent move to Real Madrid didn’t work out due to him being fifth or sixth banana behind the likes of Cristiano Ronaldo, Sergio Ramos, Gareth Bale et al, but at Everton, he will be top dog. Already he’s looked a cut above in the opening games, scoring 3 goals and registering 3 assists in his first 7 games, he’s going to be a great watch this season.

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