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Around the Pitch: A Premier League Primer – The Top Three… Plus Sheffield and Newcastle..

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

Newcastle United football club badge by Cartridge Save A Day in the Life is licensed under CC BY 2.0

Around the Pitch: A Premier League Primer – The Top Three… Plus Sheffield and Newcastle..

Estimated Reading Time: 13 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?


Kevin Michael Morin

Liverpool is too good. They’re coming into this season having hoisted the Premier League trophy after absolutely running away with the league, 1 point short of tying the all time record. With no real prominent departures, the engine should be running on all cylinders yet again. Klopp’s men are playing at a level of consistency everyone else strives for.

The emergence of Takumi Minamino as well as youth players like Curtis Jones and Rhian Brewster shows that The Reds are here to stay. I don’t see them winning back to back titles, but a second place finish is still pretty solid.

Andrew Mark Wilhelm

Liverpool are defending Champions in the Premier League for the first time. The team that dominated before the shutdown, and did what they had to to secure the trophy in the restart largely stayed pat this summer, with no real departures or signings to speak of. Still, when you have some of the best players in the entire League in Salah, Henderson, van Dijk, Alisson, and others, this is a side that deserves all the respect.

It will be interesting to see how Klopp’s squad handles their title defense, and if they decide to focus more on Champions League now with the Premier League drought off their back. I think they’re due for a bit of a let down. For a team this good, that’s still good enough for a 2nd place finish.

Joe Danbusky

You know – it pains me greatly to say it, but kudos to them. Last season was a lesson in dominance (at least for most of the season). Klopp has his team firing on all cylinders and their style of play is absolutely relentless. It makes me even more bitter that he didn’t come to Old Trafford. The squad remains relatively unchanged, which is both a positive and a potential negative. The chemistry on the pitch is unmistakable and will certainly be an advantage coming into the campaign. However, it could risk breeding a touch of complacency.

Adam Lallana and Dejan Lovren have moved elsewhere and there are a few other players whose future at the club may be up in the air. Given the rigors of the upcoming season, European play, and the added pressure of defending a title, the Reds will need to keep their focus and intensity if they hope to repeat. As a Red Devil fan, I can’t in good conscience choose them to repeat, but a finish outside the top 3 would be shocking to me.

Manchester City

Kevin Michael Morin

City was in for Messi. And even if that happened, I still think they finish third at best. Dare I say they miss out on a Champions League spot? It hurts me that a player that I respect and admire as much as Kevin De Bruyne plays for this club. The season will play out like this… Sterling will cause controversy, “what if Messi actually came” will dominate the headlines, and their defense will continue to let them down.

Okay, letting them down is strong for a team that sees first or second place nearly every year these days. But when you spend so much money that you basically have two Starting XIs that could compete for the league anything short of a title is failure.

Andrew Mark Wilhelm

Make no mistake, Manchester City is absolutely loaded. And Pep Guardiola is one of the best managers in the business. But the loss of Leroy Sané is bigger than I think most people are letting on to. David Silva is also gone, though the emergence of Phil Foden offsets that a bit. I do like the addition of Nathan Aké, but with the rise of some other teams, especially their cross-town rivals, it’s going to be more difficult for City this year.

The annual Messi transfer story week had him tipped to join City, which would’ve made everything different. I’m not entirely sure it wasn’t all a ruse to wrestle Pep away from City after his contract is up at the end of this season. Regardless, Messi is staying in Spain for now, and with no other key additions, Man City fall out of the top 3 for the first time in years as they finish fourth.

Joe Danbusky

I don’t like to use strong words like “hate”, so I’ll go as far as to say I loathe my crosstown rivals. Remember when I lamented missing out on bringing Klopp to Old Trafford? Well I felt the same with Pep. This team is an embarrassment of riches – literally. They spend money like we breathe air. It’s akin to being a Mets fan and watching the Yankees go out and field an all-star team every season.

And make no mistake – this squad is littered with “all-stars”. Their vulnerabilities lie in the back line, which has been an issue for a little while now. They’ve brought in Nathan Aké to help with that situation. With David Silva leaving the Etihad, popular thinking is that Phil Foden will fill those shoes. The other big loss is Leroy Sané, who has moved on to Bayern Munich. Fortunately for City, Ferran Torres has arrived from Valencia – so yeah, there’s that.

Overall, I think the domestic competition is the least of City’s worries. Their recent struggles in Europe will likely be the main talking point through the season, as well as the status of Pep’s tenure – which seems to remain shrouded in mystery beyond this coming season. With regards to the Premier League, I’m confident of a top 3 finish.

Manchester United

Kevin Michael Morin

United surged at the end of last season, rewarding themselves with their first top 4 finish in a while. This surprised me as much as Ole Gunnar Solskjaer keeping his job mid season. But the fact is, the Red Devils are back and are hoping to make moves to keep them there. The addition of Donny van de Beek makes that midfield scary. If Pogba can finally play to his potential in Manchester, they’ll be even scarier.

With the saga surrounding Harry Maguire, defense continues to be what Ole needs to focus on building upon. While a move for Jadon Sancho would be big for the future, additions like Dayot Upamecano are more of a necessity. It remains to be seen how they’ll approach the rest of the window, but it’s going to be a tall order for United to keep themselves in a Champions League spot. While they may be able to do it, they could also find themselves drifting back into their Europa realities as of late.

Andrew Mark Wilhelm

Even if they haven’t been great recently, my hatred for Manchester United runs parallel to my hatred for the New York Yankees (which makes a Mets fan saying it’s been “torture” recently hilarious to me.) I say this to hopefully make understood how much I’ve enjoyed watching them languish since Sir Alex Ferguson left. But those days of futility seem to be behind them now with the addition of Bruno Fernandes. If they gave out a Best Player Post-Restart award last season, he would’ve been the clear favorite.

Donny van de Beek adds to an already impressive midfield, and if used correctly, gives the Red Devils some needed depth to their reserves. The Harry Maguire situation is as problematic as it is unsurprising, but even if they can’t figure that out right away, they have multiple top class goalkeepers between the sticks. I can’t believe I’m about to say this, but if they can continue building on the momentum from the restart, and there’s no reason to think they won’t, a 3rd place finish is not out of the question.

Joe Danbusky

I thought being a Mets fan was enough torture. Imagine how I’ve felt ever since Sir Alex departed Old Trafford and the club puttered around with managers who couldn’t even come close to stepping into his legendary shoes. Couple that with Ed Woodward giving me agita by constantly showing himself to be a businessman and not a football mind, (with his willy-nilly spending on transfers, signings, etc. in recent years) and my blood pressure was simmering for sure. Fast forward to last season. After being appointed caretaker manager in March of 2019, Ole Gunnar Solskjær was given a three year contract to manage the club. While there were some shaky moments where I wondered whether he’d stick, he’s brought a sense of hope back to Old Trafford and the team are definitely moving in the right direction.

If I were to point to a “pivot point” for the turnaround, it’d have to be Bruno Fernandes, whose impact was instant and tangible. Almost from the moment he set foot on the pitch, the air around the grounds seemed to change. The team seemed to find itself and it showed in their play. There were still some stumbles through Project Restart and the finish to the end of last season, but their 3rd place showing and recent run of form offer optimism for this coming campaign.

The attacking front for the Red Devils is formidable.

Greenwood, Martial, and Rashford combined to outscore Liverpool’s top three last season. Add a full season of Fernandes, along with a Pogba who seems to once again be interested in playing for the club, and that end of the pitch should take care of itself. My concerns, and the concerns of plenty of others, are at the back. DeGea has certainly not been the imposing keeper he once was, and with Dean Henderson breathing down his neck, it’ll be worth keeping an eye on.

Perhaps more important is the state of the back line. Harry Maguire hasn’t quite lived up to his billing and with his escapades in Greece during the summer, who knows what might happen. Lindelof, Shaw, Wan-Bissaka, and Williams will need to improve individually and as a unit if United hope to achieve similar success to last season. As much as I’d love to see Jadon Sancho join the club, I think the money would be better spent on a player like Kalidou Koulibaly or a similar player who can help shore up the defense. If the trio up front can replicate or even improve upon their showing from last season, it may take some pressure off of the back and allow United to once again secure European football. I don’t see them cracking the top, but feel they’ll land 4th or 5th.

Newcastle United

Kevin Michael Morin

Sure, there is some talent up at St. James’ Park. However they’re not going anywhere beyond mid-table with Steve Bruce in charge. When Mauricio Pochettino was sacked by Tottenham, a lot of talk swirled about him heading to Newcastle. Until they bring in an energetic manager, relying on the likes of Andy Carroll and Dwight Gayle will keep them floating around 12th. They are putting a lot of faith in bringing in Callum Wilson and Ryan Fraser, but that’s not enough to get the boost they need. #AshleyOut

Andrew Mark Wilhelm

Callum Wilson is a great addition. Which is about the only positive thing I can say for Newcastle. It’s also the only real thing I can say about Newcastle at all. Steve Bruce does nothing to inspire any sort of faith in this club, regardless of the talent on the pitch. A mid-table finish, no higher than 13th for Newcastle United.

Joe Danbusky

Mike Ashley still owns the club – for now. Callum Wilson traded in the red and black stripes of recently relegated Bournemouth for the black and white stripes of Newcastle United. The club also brought Ryan Fraser in, so the look up top will be quite a change from what the Newcastle faithful have grown accustomed to. Hopefully for them, it will translate to more than the 38 goals this team managed in 38 games last season. They’ve already been hit by the injury bug on Tyneside as keeper Martin Dubravka and forward Dwight Gayle have both gone down before the season has even kicked off.

Ultimately, while their offensive prospects may brighten, their depth remains a question. A bad run of form could leave them too far back to make a serious run in search of a top half finish, which I feel will elude them in the end. They’ll likely wind up near the “top” of the “bottom half”.

Sheffield United

Kevin Michael Morin

The Blades really were the class of the Premier League this past season. Sure, they finished 9th, but they were within spitting distance of Europe. Only Liverpool and the two Manchester clubs conceded fewer goals, which is quite the foundation to build upon this year. They’re going to need more out of their forwards to rise in the table. A mid-table finish is their most likely result, but Chris Wilder’s men could exceed expectations for a second year in a row.

Andrew Mark Wilhelm

As Kevin mentioned, the Blades were really the big surprise of the 19/20 season. They may not have been the most exciting club to watch at times, but it was real difficult to score on them. That was in no small part due to Dean Henderson, whom has returned to Manchester United. Aaron Ramsdale, the player brought in to replace him, will have to put on a better showing than he did at Bournemouth to replicate that success. Outside of that, I feel this will be a very similar season for Sheffield, but due to the progress of some other teams, they might be the first team outside the top 10.

Joe Danbusky

Chris Wilder helmed one of the best stories to come out of the Premier League last season – the Blades of Sheffield United. This club returned to the PL as odds-on favorites to go right back down to the Championship. Well – they had other ideas. With a stout defense and a group of players espousing a team first attitude, they not only survived, but went on to finish 9th in the table. I have to wonder how they would’ve finished if some of the numerous VAR decisions had gone their way over the course of the season.

The biggest change for the Blades coming into this campaign will be between the posts. Standout keeper Dean Henderson has returned to Manchester United to give David DeGea a run for his money as the #1 at Old Trafford. It will be a massive hole to fill, but Sheffield have brought Bournemouth’s Aaron Ramsdale into Bramall Lane. He acquitted himself well for the Cherries last season, and they’ll hope he can do the same for them.

Apart from that, there wasn’t much action in the transfer window. It’s something that has left Wilder a bit frustrated. In their second season since their return, they’ll look to avoid falling off. However, given that a lot of the “big boys” above them have been spending on improvements, I fear their top half finish may be in jeopardy. Look for them to end up around 12th.

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