The Premier League season 2021/22 is almost upon us.
The fun-filled European Championships chewed up most of the football headlines in the off-season, but now it’s time to get back into the swing of another league season.
After the fan-less experience of last year, stands will be packed once again this campaign, bringing sound and colour back to England’s great sporting cathedrals.
Manchester City will start as heavy favourites to defend their title, but there are plenty of other storylines to look out for across the season, and we’ve got you covered with our concise guide to the season.
Manchester City will win the title
The embarrassment of riches in Manchester’s east should make a mockery of any pretence of a title race year on year — and little has changed enough to dispel any notions that this campaign will be any different.
Adding Jack Grealish to the squad for the princely sum of 100 million pounds ($189 million) bolsters an attacking unit that simply oozes talent, although quite how the maverick Brummie midfielder will fare in a more rigid system is one of the big question marks about his transfer.
Pep Guardiola fell just short of winning the Champions League last year and that will remain a focus for the club, which gives the rest of the pack some hope they’ll take their eye off the domestic ball, but the Premier League is still an important prize and he will want to go back-to-back.
What about Liverpool? Or Manchester United? Or Chelsea?
This season will be an important one for Liverpool and Jurgan Klopp to prove that last year — when the reigning champions rallied late to finished third — was just an aberration caused by injuries to key players and an inevitable title-winning hangover.
France U21 centre back Ibrahima Konaté’s signing is hugely important, as is the return to fitness of Virgil van Dijk, which will surely firm up a defence that was uncharacteristically brittle last season.
But where Liverpool have strengthened, so too have their closest rivals.
The introduction of Jadon Sancho and Raphael Varane to the red half of Manchester in the off season will be a huge boost to a squad that finished second in the table last season.
Adding to the list of chasers is a revitalised Chelsea team.
The Champions League and newly crowned Super Cup winners will fancy themselves a real chance after flexing their muscles at the back end of the season under new coach Thomas Tuchel.
With Tuchel now given a full pre-season to impose his structure on a receptive squad that now includes one of Europe’s most threatening strikers in Romelu Lukaku, Chelsea will be serious contenders.
What about the rest of the league?
Tottenham has a new manager in Nuno Espírito Santo and, at the moment at least, retains the services of its talismanic striker, Harry Kane.
Kane’s desire for a move has clouded Spurs’ off-season, but at the moment he is in line to start in the blockbuster season opener against Manchester City. If he does leave, where does that leave Spurs?
Arsenal still has question marks hanging over it, but not playing in Europe this season will leave the north Londoners free to focus on the league at least.
Leicester fell agonisingly short of a Champions League spot last year, but are still a team that can mix it with the leaders.
Can West Ham challenge again? David Moyes signed a three-year contract extension at the end of last season but lengthy mid-week Europa League trips always add significant strain to a squad and that could hurt the Hammers’ challenge this year.
Rafael Benitez is an eye-catching appointment for Everton, although whether he has the acumen or, more importantly, the resources to properly challenge for a top-four spot is debatable.
Let’s not rule out Leeds United either. Marcelo Bielsa had his side playing some of the best football in the league last year and, with a full Elland Road crowd backing them this season, they will threaten the biggest teams again.
Aston Villa has invested the Grealish money well, but will do well to make the top half of the table.
Who will go down?
The bookies have Norwich, Brentford and Watford, the three promoted teams from last year’s Championship, as favourites for the drop.
But don’t rule them all out just yet, particularly Brentford, the 50th different team to play in the Premier League, who will hopefully head into the season with the joyous exuberance of a team playing in the top flight for the first time since 1947, plus the added bonus of a brand new stadium to bed in.
The inherent financial disparity between the first and second tiers means there’s every chance those teams will tumble back into the Championship at the first time of asking, but there are also established teams with some huge question marks hanging over them.
Crystal Palace, for one, had a real dearth of players tied down ahead of the season, and an inexperienced manager in Patrick Viera at the helm.
Since getting the job, Viera has said he wants to let his players “express themselves” thanks to a new, attack-minded philosophy.
This is undoubtedly a risky proposition given last time Palace took a gamble on a manager who wanted to play possession-based football, it ended in the worst-ever start by a team in the Premier League — Frank de Boer was sacked after failing to win a league game, or score a league goal, in four matches.
Southampton were terrible at the back end of last season. And they have reason to be concerned after the sale of Danny Ings and Ryan Bertrand in the off-season, particularly if they start slowly, as do will Brighton and Hove Albion, who narrowly avoided the drop last year.
Burnley, Wolves and Newcastle United also feature highly in pundits’ lists of teams that could be in trouble.