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Around the Pitch: Premier League Primer – Crystal Palace to Leicester City

Here’s a look at 5 teams from this year’s PL and our expectations of each

Leicester City - Champions by Phil McIver is licensed under CC BY-NC 2.0

Around the Pitch: Premier League Primer – Crystal Palace to Leicester City


Estimated Reading Time: 10 Minutes

The Premier League made a successful return to play in order to finish out the 2019/20 season, and did so with flair. They backed social justice by kneeling before each kickoff, had Black Lives Matter patches on their kits, and played behind closed doors, with each home stadium looking like one big TV advertisement.

As we approach kickoff of the new season on September 12th, we’re going to take a walk around the league and check in on each club. Where did they finish last season? What are their realistic expectations? How will packing a full season into fewer months affect them?


Crystal Palace

Kevin Michael Morin

Palace is an enigma. For me, they’re one of the most fascinating clubs in England. On paper they have an immense amount of talent. Wifried Zaha is far and away their best player, and seems to be the center of rumors every transfer period. But beyond the Ivorian is a plethora of skill. Jordan Ayew, Christian Benteke, and Andros Townsend can all be dangerous on their best day. The problem is they can also be self-destructive on their worst.

Gary Cahill was a stalwart in Chelsea’s defense for many years, and wears the level-headed veteran leader crown the best he can. And alongside Scott Dann, they have a defense that should actually keep them in any given match.

The exciting thing about a club like Palace is that there’s no expectation that they’re going to finish in the top 4, but they could battle for a European place. It’s unlikely they’ll be relegated, even though they’ve certainly flirted with it a few times. Additions of young midfielders Eberechi Eze and Nathan Ferguson could stoke some hope for the South London club. They’re still looking at a mid-table finish, though.

Andrew Mark Wilhelm

Crystal Palace, not to be confused with a different London club wearing their awful 3rd kits, is an unbelievably frustrating club. Ayew and Zaha can be amongst the best in the world… when they want to. Gary Cahill is an elite defender… when he’s healthy. As a whole they seem poised to win most matches… as long as they stay focused. Which they don’t. So they slide down the table. And then they pull a huge “upset” out of nowhere when they get their act together against a big club. Which is, I repeat, very frustrating. And it’s likely good for a 10th place finish.

Joe Danbusky

In 2017 this club was a mess. They had started that season 0-4 without scoring a single goal. Frank de Boer (who had only been hired before the season) was sacked as manager and a gentleman by the name of Roy Hodgson was brought in. You may have heard of him? Anyway – after a few weeks of “growing pains” with the club, he managed not only to turn them around to keep them in the Premier League that season, but they ended up finishing 11th! It was the first time a club had not been relegated after losing their first 7 games in the Premier League. Many of the players on this year’s roster were there when that happened.

It’s a testament to what Kevin mentions above – the plethora of talent this side possess. They’re a side full of promise and potential – and every season they make for a fascinating watch to see just how far that potential will carry them. In 2020-2021 I think they’ll land 10th or 11th.

Justin Colombo

Crystal Palace will win the Premier League. I will not be taking questions at this time.


Everton

Kevin Michael Morin

Ah, Everton. Perennially mid-table, and stocked full of players who should be able to get them into Europe. Carlo Ancelotti surprised many last year when he took the helm. But after spending some time in his system, as well as some potentially big signings, Everton could get themselves back into Europa League play.

Richarlison, Alex Iwobi, Moise Kean, Dominic Calvert-Lewin, and Tom Davies form a youthful core that has the chance to sparkle. Throw in some midfield veterans like Gylfi Sigurdsson and Fabian Delph, and England’s #1 Jordan Pickford, and you have a team that should finish 7th or 8th. They’ve also recently signed Allan from Napoli and James Rodriguez from Real Madrid. Everton could finish as high as 6th.

Andrew Mark Wilhelm

Tim Howard has not played a match for Everton since May 2016. He’s still the first name that comes to my mind when I hear “Everton.” That’s a problem. Especially since they have some talent of their own. Jordan Pickford may never reach the heights of Timmy, but he’s a damn fine keeper in his own right. Gylfi Sigurdsson seems to come alive under Carlo Ancelotti last season, and the young talent of Iwodi and Richarlison should see Everton continue to improve. I think they will be competing for Europa League this season, and that 7th place on the table seems to be theirs for the taking.

Joe Danbusky

Everton are one of the clubs always mentioned right after the “Top 6”. The last 5 seasons have seen them finish 11th, 7th, 8th, 8th, and 12th. This last campaign saw them bring in legendary manager Carlo Ancelotti in December to help right the ship. The club has made no secret about their desire to get back to European football, and they have also illustrated a willingness to spend in an attempt to get there.

However, the money spent on the pitch hasn’t produced the desired results. At least not yet. Allan’s move from Napoli is one of what could be a trio of signings to help shore up the midfield for Ancelotti. Watford’s Abdoulaye Doucouré is likely to join Allan and James Rodríguez in the fold. Adding them to the mix of talent already at Goodison, and the goal of European football should be within reach. A 6th place finish is not out of the question this season.


Fulham

Kevin Michael Morin

Poor Fulham. The last time they were in the Premier League, they spent over £100 million and were relegated immediately. This time around, they seem to be taking a decidedly different approach. They haven’t made any flashy moves, instead forming a team of mid-level skill players who hope to form a cohesive enough unit whose goal is simply to stay up. Scott Parker has been a solid presence as manager, and I think he can steer the ship to bring more than one season of Premier League play back to Craven Cottage. They’ll stay up, but barely.

Andrew Mark Wilhelm

The best thing about Fulham being in the Premier League is we’ll get a couple West London derby’s this season. I couldn’t really tell you who’s currently on their squad, or what their talents are, and frankly, I’m not sure I’ll be able to do that at the end of the season either. I think it’s a one and done situation for Fulham this time around in the PL.

Joe Danbusky

I first learned about Fulham thanks to the US National Team. Guys like Clint Dempsey, Carlos Bocanegra, and Brian McBride all suited up at Craven Cottage over the years. This year, the American in the squad I’ll be watching is Tim Ream, who’s been through the ups and downs of this club since 2015. Now that they’ve gotten back to the top flight, will they be able to put in the work necessary to “hang with the big boys”, or will an immediate return to the Championship be in the cards? While I think they may make a good showing this season, I’m not sure they survive the drop.


Leeds United

Kevin Michael Morin

Sixteen years is a long time. But Leeds are poised to not only come back into England’s top flight, but to pull a Kool-Aid man and break through the wall. Marcelo Bielsa will have a statue erected outside Elland Road, no doubt. It’s entirely possible that the Argentine will lead them straight to a top 10 finish. With the addition of Rodrigo and a few other names being floated about, the Whites are poised to put down roots in the Premier League.

Andrew Mark Wilhelm

Jamie Lannister’s team. Their rise into the Prem is historic and will be remembered. This team isn’t going anywhere anytime soon from the looks of it. After winning the Championship, they’ve added Rodrigo, Robin Koch, Helder Costa, Jack Harrison, and Illan Meslier. Add to that a sense of Cinderella story and a top 10 finish is not out of the question. If enough teams underestimate them? They could finish above a few far more famous teams with lofty expectations. I see them falling just outside Europe in 9th.

Joe Danbusky

Much like Fulham, I didn’t know a lot about the club itself, but rather a player from the club. When it comes to Leeds United, the first thing that always comes to my mind is GORDON STRACHAN. I can’t tell you why, he just does. Maybe it’s because he played for Manchester United? Maybe it’s simply because he’s a fiery red-headed Scotsman. I have no idea.

Anyway – like Kevin said, this team could very well become a mainstay in the top flight now that they’ve climbed the mountain after a 16 year absence. Their manager is considered a tactical wizard, but will the players at his disposal rise to the challenge of the new level of competition?

Everyone is wondering what kind of showing they’ll make. Will they emulate Sheffield United, who arrived back in the Premier League with a bang last season (finishing 9th)? Or will they mirror Norwich City, who arrived – impressed early, and ultimately wilted over the course of the season only to finish dead last and be relegated? While I’m not quite as optimistic as Kevin and Andrew, I don’t see them going anywhere, at least not yet. I feel they’ll end up somewhere between 10th and 13th.


Leicester City

Kevin Michael Morin

The Foxes qualified for the Europa League, continuing to punch above their weight. After their Cinderella run to become Premier League Champions in 2016, Leicester has stayed in the conversation. The key to their success must lie beyond Jamie Vardy, though. The English international is still a force up top, but he’s 33 years old. One of these days he’s going to lose a step, and it’s going to be noticeable.

In an attempt to curb any fall they may have they’ll be relying on Ayoze Perez, James Maddison, and Kelechi Iheanacho to provide creativity and goals. With the impending arrival of Belgian Timothy Castagne, Brendan Rodgers is suring up the defense in hopes they don’t stay out of the top 4. However, I think they fall down potentially as low as 8th or 9th by the end of this season.

Andrew Mark Wilhelm

I think it’s finally past midnight on this Cinderella story. As in, I think they finish 12th. Jamie Vardy is not what he once was, and I don’t see anyone coming up to take his place. Now, to be fair, no one saw his emergence coming either, but Leicester didn’t have the expectations it does now when that happened. I think the team that emerged after the pandemic shut down the season is the team the Foxes are now, and they just aren’t deep enough to play European soccer and PL soccer. And they’re going to suffer for it.

Joe Danbusky

Is the bloom off the rose? When they made their magical run to the title, it was the talk of the town (rightfully so). They were the proof to anyone outside the “big 6” that you can reach the top of the mountain. After their crowning achievement, they dropped all the way to 12th the following season and have been slowly re-ascending the past few years.

Last year’s 5th place finish was bizarre. Their form last season mirrored their annual finishes recently. They started the season brilliantly. Their only losses were to Manchester City, ManUnited, and Liverpool (twice). They drew 3 other fixtures. Every other match in 2019 was a victory – some were even resounding (a 9-0 thumping of Southampton and a 5-0 drubbing of Newcastle come to mind). They played 8 games in 2020 before the season was paused. They won only 2 of those matches, while losing 4 and drawing the other 2.

After the re-start, their form continued to waver. While they ultimately held onto a spot in Europe, it was bittersweet considering the tear they started the season on. If they’re to return to anything resembling the glory days of 2016 they’ll need to solidify the defense and continue to provide attacking options that aren’t named Jamie Vardy. They’ll also need to remain healthy. They seem to be on the right track in those departments, and I think it’ll lead to a top half finish for sure. I just think it’s more likely to be 7th or 8th than anything higher.

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