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04:57
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25.09.2021
Three games into the season give an early chance to look at which teams will finish top and bottom of the league.
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If the English Premier League lasted only three games, Tottenham Hotspur (Spurs) would be champions for the first time in 60 years and Arsenal would be relegated for the first time ever. But there are another 35 games to go and things will change.

The top

With respect to Spurs, the English champions will probably be either Manchester City, Chelsea, Manchester United or Liverpool. Manchester City are favourites. They have dominated English football in the last 10 years, winning five league titles. City already have the strongest squad and for 115 million euro have added English midfielder Jack Grealish to a team that already has players such as Ruben Dias and Kevin de Bruyne. Last year, after a poor start, City manager Pep Guardiola made changes and his team became champions with games to spare.

But City are not invincible. They lost to Spurs in their first match of the season and to Chelsea in May’s Champions League final. Chelsea fans sense that the Champions League win could be just the beginning. In N’Golo Kante and Jorginho, Chelsea have two of the world’s best midfield players. Chelsea also have gifted youngsters who are already established internationals, such as England’s Mason Mount and Germany’s Kai Havertz. Manager Thomas Tuchel has added attacking firepower by paying Inter Milan 113 million euro to bring Romelu Lukaku back to Chelsea. Chelsea have impressed already by holding Liverpool to a 1-1 draw at Anfield, despite playing the second half with only 10 men.

Doubts remain at Manchester United over Ole Gunnar Solskjaer’s ability to win the Premier League, despite finishing second last season. Solskjaer has strengthened United’s squad by signing Varane from Real Madrid, for 40 million euro and Jordan Sancho from Dortmund for 85 million euro. 

It is unclear what impact the return of Cristiano Ronaldo will have. United stopped him going to Manchester City, who were ‘interested’, but it’s difficult to see how the 36-year old will fit into a team with Paul Pogba, Mason Greenwood, Jordan Sancho and Edison Cavani. Ronaldo’s signing boosted United’s share price by 10% and, perhaps, this is what United’s owners, the Glazer family, want. United fansdespise the Glazers, who, they believe prioritisemoney over winning on the pitch. The Glazer’s deep unpopularity overshadows everything at United and fans would still be unhappy even if United won their first championship since 2013.

Injuries to key players in defence and midfield and the inconsistent form of Firminho and Sadio Mane in attack meant that Liverpool struggled last season. Now, the Liverpool that dominated the league in 2020 is back to full strength, but the familiarity of the team may be why Liverpool are not seen as likely champions in 2022. Manager Jorgen Klopp has only signed central defender Konate for 42million euro from Leipzig this summer, and despite the emergence of Costas Tsimiksas and Harvey Elliot, the Liverpool squad looks thin compared to its rivals. This is especially in attack where Mo Salah and Mane will be away in January playing in the Africa Cup of Nations.

Prediction: 1. Chelsea 2. Manchester City 3. Liverpool 4. Manchester United

The bottom

Life in the bottom half of the Premier League is hard. Any three from 10 teams could be relegated, but five clubs, in particular, are expected to struggle.

Three of those five are the newly promoted, Brentford, Norwich City and Watford. Brentford manager, Thomas Frank, likes to play open attacking football, and his team has started well by beating Arsenal. They have strengthened their midfield, buying Kristoffer Ajer from Celtic for 14 million euro, but the question is whether their players can make the big step up from the Championship to the Premier League. If their best striker Ivan Toney can continue to score goals as he did last season in the lower league, then Brentford could survive.

Norwich are back in the Premier league after being relegated in 2020. Norwich paid PAOK 14 million euro for Christos Tzolis, who will join Dimitris Giannoulis and Finnish international Teemu Pukki at the club. However, Norwich have the smallest budget in the Premier League and have lost their best player, Emin Buendia, who has joined Aston Villa.

Watford have also returned to the Premier League after being relegated in 2020. Thirteen players have arrived at Watford during the summer, while eight have left. It is unclear if even manager Gino Pozzo knows his best team. Watford staying up will be a surprise.

Brighton and Crystal Palace are also likely to be in the relegation battle. Under Graham Potter, Brighton have won praise for their playing style. Brighton sold defender Ben White to Arsenal and used the money to buy midfield players Enock Mwepo from Salzburg for 14 million euro and Marc Cucurella for 17 million euro from Getafe. But Brighton’s big problem is not creating chances but scoring goals and this difficulty remains.

French football legend Patrick Vieira has taken over from former England manager Roy Hodgson at Crystal Palace. Unfortunately for Vieira, 10 players have also left, while eight new players have arrived. A combination of an unsettled team and inexperienced manager does not bode well for Palace. To add to Vieira’s problems, Palace’s best player Wilfred Zaha has wanted to leave the club for a while. A lot may depend on how he plays this season.

Prediction: 18. Crystal Palace19. Norwich City 20. Watford

Then again, I may be wrong.

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