Only a fool would try to predict the outcome of a football season before a game has been played and a ball has been kicked. I guess that makes us fools, because we’re about to give it a try. The summer break is shorter than usual this season because of the delayed end to the 2019/2020 season, so even though it feels like football just ended, it’s all about to begin again. In two short weeks, the 2020/2021 season will begin in the English Premier League, and we’ll have another nine months of regular weekly football to look forward to.
Most of the articles online that you’ll see previewing the coming season will focus on the question of who’s going to win the league. To us, that’s a boring debate. We expect that Manchester United, Chelsea, Tottenham, and perhaps even Arsenal will be stronger this time around than they were last time, but the eventual winner will still almost certainly be one of Liverpool or Manchester City. The seemingly-possible arrival of Lionel Messi at Manchester City might tilt that balance in the Citizens’ favor, but the truth of that scenario remains to be seen.
Instead of focusing on what’s likely to happen at the top of the table, we’re going to be looking at the bottom instead. The bottom is where anything can happen. This is where soccer turns into a huge, unpredictable game like Piggy Riches Megaways. We’ll take that comparison a little further, because reaching the Premier League in the first place is the ultimate online slots jackpot for any team that climbs the mountain. On the other hand, relegation from the top flight is like plowing all off your money into an online slots website and getting nothing in return. The financial differences really are that huge, and relegation can devastate a club just as easily as a promotion can revitalize one. Who, then, is riding for a fall? Let’s examine the candidates.
Leeds weren’t supposed to be away for this long. They’re one of English football’s great teams, and they’ve won plenty of league titles in the past, including the final league title before the English Division One turned into the English Premier League in 1992. Around the turn of the century, they were regularly qualifying for Europe and even reached the semi-final stages of the Champions League. In 2004 it all turned sour as the club were relegated and nearly went bankrupt, but even then nobody expected it would take sixteen whole years for them to come back. They’ll be determined to avoid an immediate return to the Championship, and in Marcelo Bielsa, they have a manager who’s unlikely to let that happen. We think they’ll be OK.
West Bromwich Albion
Getting promoted and then immediately getting relegated again is kind of what West Brom do. The origin of the phrase ‘boing, boing, Baggies, Baggies,’ is that the club constantly bounces between the top two divisions of English football. Unfortunately for the club and their fans, who would probably like to see them settle in the top flight and grow some roots, we can’t see it happening. The squad looks weak for this level, there’s little sign of reinforcements coming in, and Slaven Bilic has been caught out at Premier League level before. We suspect that West Brom will finish bottom.
Fulham became a minor force in the Premier League for a short while under Roy Hodgson, but the decline set in pretty quickly after he left. Like West Brom, they’ve started to bounce around a little. In 2018 they were in the Championship and gained promotion to the Premier League, only to go straight back down the following season and now straight back up again. Chairman Tony Khan is ambitious and has money to spend, and Scott Parker is a popular and competent manager. Fulham is set up for Premier League operations, but will likely still find life hard. Sorry, Cottagers, but we think you’re headed for the drop.
Speaking of teams managed by Roy Hodgson, Crystal Palace’s decline after the Premier League restart last season was alarming. They lost match after match and struggled badly with putting the ball in the back of the net. The only player they have who you could reasonably call ‘elite level’ is Wilfried Zaha, and he desperately wants to leave Selhurst Park. The squad has minimal firepower, and an aging Gary Cahill is struggling to hold everything together at the other end of the pitch. It would be a terrible way for Roy Hodgson’s long and distinguished career as a manager and coach to end, but we have a nasty feeling that Palace is going to lose the battle against gravity this season.
Brighton & Hove Albion
The saving grace for either Crystal Palace or Fulham is that Brighton & Hove Albion aren’t very good, and Adam Lallana isn’t the kind of marquee signing who’s likely to change that. Only the self-destruction of Watford and the relentless awfulness of Norwich saved Brighton from the drop last time around, and we’re not quite sure any other Premier League club is likely to be quite so reckless this time. Brighton is a fun team to watch, but Graham Potter doesn’t appear to be as solid a bet as Chris Hughton was in the dugout, and a lack of cutting edge on the pitch may prove costly.
Speaking of teams that narrowly avoided a date with disaster, Aston Villa will be hoping for big improvements this time. A club of Villa’s size should be pushing for the top half of the table, not fighting tooth and nail against the trapdoor of relegation. So far, the only signing they’ve made has arrived on a free transfer from Exeter, and the squad looks every bit as weak and unbalanced as it did for the entirety of last term. Jack Grealish is great, but he’s not a magician. He can’t keep the team up on his own again, and he may yet move to Manchester United. Questions about whether Dean Smith is the right man to lead the club in the long term remain, and if the season starts badly, he might be the first managerial casualty of the campaign. It may easily go right down to the wire for Villa again.
We can’t see anyone else getting sucked into as much trouble as the five clubs we’ve mentioned above, so Newcastle fans, that means we think you’re going to be OK. We also think that Sheffield United will avoid ‘second season syndrome.’ Of the six candidates we’ve mentioned, we think it’ll be West Bromwich Albion, Fulham, and Crystal Palace kissing goodbye to the Premier League when the season’s over. Now we have to wait nine months to find out if we were right!