After probably the strangest season we have ever seen in world football, the Covid-19 pandemic is set to cause further complications for the sport. There are still no fans and we’re starting late, whilst clubs have not had a full pre-season to prepare and the transfer window will remain open until early October. Despite all that, optimism remains high and there are many important questions to ponder about what will happen in a season that is set to be as unpredictable as ever – in more ways than one.
Will the season’s schedule be interrupted again?
Many stars such as Kylian Mbappe, Paul Pogba, Riyad Mahrez and Neymar have all tested positive for the coronavirus in the last few weeks, begging the inevitable question of can football go ahead with so many players contracting the virus? Until now there has been no suggestion of games being suspended but the recent rise of Covid-19 cases in England, coupled with the return of schools across the country, could force a second lockdown. To continue football amongst these conditions would be almost impossible: in cricket we have seen teams playing in ‘bubbles’, where they only come into contact with their team-mates and cannot meet with anyone outside of the bubble, but this has meant that the players have gone without seeing their families for extended periods of time, and the schedule in place for European football with players playing virtually all year round makes this idea seem far from feasible.
How will Chelsea’s new signings fare?
After their transfer ban created a welcome opportunity for Frank Lampard to blood youngsters such as Mason Mount and Tammy Abraham last season, Chelsea owner Roman Abramovich has flexed his financial muscle with an incredible summer shopping spree. Defensively, former Brazil captain Thiago Silva comes in from PSG after reaching last season’s Champions League final, whilst £50m was paid to Leicester for left-back Ben Chilwell. After the departures of Pedro and Willian, highly rated Hakim Ziyech has been brought in from Ajax followed by the impressive coup of 21 year-old Kai Havertz, considered to be one of Germany’s brightest young stars. Perhaps most important of all their signings is the arrival of striker Timo Werner from RB Leipzig after his haul of 28 goals in last season’s Bundesliga season – after Tammy Abraham’s form appeared to drop off as last season went and despite his ability Olivier Giroud probably still can’t be called a world-class striker, Werner’s goals could take Chelsea to the next level. Albeit still with much to improve in his game, the 24 year-old has come on leaps and bounds over the last few seasons and under the right management could get even better – so is Chelsea the right place for Werner and the rest of Chelsea’s many new purchases?
After securing Champions League football with a 4th place finish last season, they will have the opportunity to compete at the highest level (which rarely harms the development of young players) and the increased number of games they will be playing will allow for healthy rotation, especially with their new-found abundance of quality attacking options. This should help avoid burnout in the squad whilst also giving enough players the game time that they want. Furthermore, Lampard’s love for the club will mean that however long he stays in charge, he will always have Chelsea’s best interest in his heart, meaning that he will undoubtedly do everything in his power to progress the development of the new youngsters. However, it is rare that you see a team buy so many top players in one window and in such a unique situation Frank Lampard will have a tough job to help the team gel quickly enough if they wish to mount a serious title challenge.
Can Marcelo Bielsa’s Leeds impress in the Premier League?
Following their near-miss at promotion in 2018/19, some may have begun to doubt Marcelo Bielsa, or as he’s nicknamed ‘El Loco’s’ magic. But there is a reason why managers such as Pep Guardiola and Mauricio Pochettino consider him the best coach in the world. Last season, they swept the Championship away with their positional play and attacking football, and after 15 seasons away, Leeds United are finally back in the Premier League. But will they cope with the step up?
New signing Rodrigo has been brought in following some superb seasons with Valencia that have made him arguably Spain’s first choice striker, but as impressive as this signing is for a newly promoted team, some think that current striker Patrick Bamford’s movement and link up play is too integral to Bielsa’s system for him to be dropped, despite his lack of goals.
We’ve recently seen Wolves be promoted to the Premier League and instantly look at home in the top half of the table, but it would be fair to say that Wolves relied quite heavily on heavy financial backing (and essentially signing half of the Portuguese national team).
Although he is still considered by many as the best coach there is, El Loco has failed to ever achieve as much as one would expect, and recent stints at Lille, Lazio and Marseille have all failed. At Leeds, he is adored by the huge fan base of what is a huge club that has been out of the big time for too long, so after delivering promotion in style last season, watching Bielsa attempt to secure Leeds’ position as a Premier League team could be one of the most intriguing things we see all season.
How will Liverpool cope with their title defence?
After winning the Premier League for the first time since its creation, Liverpool fans can finally be happy. Jurgen Klopp has taken them from a Europa League side that pushes for top four to Champions League and Premier League winners. But as we know, defending the Premier League crown is easier said than done. In 2019, Manchester City became the first team to do so since Manchester United in 2009, and as strong as their squad was last season, they ultimately fell well short, finishing 18 points behind Liverpool.
As good as Liverpool were last season, the fact that few of their important players suffered severe injuries was pivotal, as injuries can make or break a season. City suffered losses to key names such as Aymeric Laporte, Leroy Sane and Sergio Aguero, whilst Marcus Rashford’s injury could have unravelled Man United’s season if it weren’t for the lockdown break allowing him to return fully fit when the season began.
Whilst City, with Pep still in charge, will be hungry for revenge, it is also probably fair to say that this is the strongest ‘top six’ we have seen in the Premier League in years. Chelsea now have a squad that could rival anyone in Europe whilst Man United’s post-lockdown form following Bruno Fernandes’ arrival from Sporting in January make them title contenders too. Arteta has already improved Arsenal in the short time that he’s been there and Spurs have Jose Mourinho at the helm so trophies could finally beckon for them, but the North London clubs are unlikely to mount a serious title challenge.