2021/22 Season Preview
Sit back and strap yourselves in as we gear up to the new football season across Europe – beginning this weekend in England, Germany and Spain before the Italian Serie A gets underway one week later.
The '21/22 season comes on the back of UEFA Euro 2020, one of the most enthralling international tournaments in history where Italy celebrated a 2nd continental triumph.
The new Premier League campaign brings some light at the end of a pitch dark tunnel that has been the Covid-19 pandemic, as clubs prepare to welcome back capacity crowds for league games.
The vast majority of matches in '20/21 were played without in-house attendances, with the exception of a select few prior to Christmas as well as the final couple gameweeks of the season.
As with most new seasons, there were a host of PL teams in the market for a new manager.
Tottenham Hotspur spent more than two months on the managerial merry-go-round after parting ways with José Mourinho, eventually appointing his countryman Nuno Espirito Santo in late June.
Spurs' new footballing director Fabio Paratici was a strong pushing factor behind the decision to bring Nuno to North London.
Nuno left his post as Wolves boss after four years at the Molineux, where the Portuguese manager made an instant impact. In Nuno's first season in charge Wolves won the ‘17/18 EFL Championship to earn PL football for the first time since the club succumbed to relegation in 2012.
Wolves challenged firmly upon returning to the summit of the English football pyramid and landed a terrific 7th-placed finish to earn Europa League football for the following season. Nuno guided Wolves to 7th spot for a second successive year and they also reached the quarter-finals in Europa, crashing out to eventual winners Sevilla.
With their beloved coach departed for Spurs, Wolves brought in another Portuguese manager – Bruno Lage – to continue building on Nuno’s foundations.
Unlike Spurs and Wolves, Everton were not anticipating to be wound up in a search party for a new head coach, until Real Madrid came calling for Carlo Ancelotti.
For the first time in 120 years the Toffees hired an ex-Liverpool manager in Rafa Benitez, who was in charge of Everton's Merseyside rivals between 2004-10.
The 61-year-old Spaniard also had spells at Real Madrid, Valencia & Napoli after leaving Anfield.
Crystal Palace, too, were on the hunt for a new gaffer after Roy Hodgson called time on a 45-year managerial career.
Hodgson took over at Selhurst Park in September 2017 when Frank de Boer was dismissed after four defeats on the spin with Palace failing to score in 360 minutes.
Hodgson dug Palace out of their rut and saw the Eagles fly high, ending the ‘17/18 season in 11th position. Hodgson remained in the Selhurst dugout for a further three years in which Palace finished 12th, 14th & 14th.
Palace last finished inside the top half of the table in '14/15 under Alan Pardew.
Ahead of pre-season Palace were linked with a flurry of candidates such as Frank Lampard, Eddie Howe and Lucien Favre, however chairman Steve Parish and the board opted to approach Patrick Vieira – Arsenal icon and captain of the Invincibles in 2003/04.
Vieira lacks managerial experience in England however Palace are by no means devoid in quality amongst a considerably youthful squad. Despite previously itching for a move away from Selhurst Park, Wilf Zaha looks set to remain in South London to lead the line for Vieira's charges alongside Eberechi Eze (when fit).
The 45-year-old Frenchman faces a tricky start to life as Palace boss, with his Eagles facing all of Chelsea, Spurs and Liverpool inside their opening five league encounters.
Arsenal travel to PL newcomers Brentford on Friday evening to get the ‘21/22 PL campaign underway.
After losing out to Leicester City, 0-1, in the FA Community Shield, PL holders Manchester City begin their title defence on the road to Nuno's Spurs whilst Liverpool visit newly-promoted Norwich.
Man Utd & Leeds Utd kick-off the new season with a Roses derby at Old Trafford, FA Cup holders Leicester entertain Wolves, and Chelsea welcome Vieira's Crystal Palace.
Man City face a tricky handful of fixtures in the opening stages of the league, including trips to Spurs (GW1), Leicester (GW4), Chelsea (GW6) and Liverpool (GW7), surrounding a home clash against Arsenal (GW3).
Chelsea prepare for an early London derby at Arsenal (GW2), before the Blues battle Liverpool at Anfield six days later.
Chelsea, Liverpool and Man Utd will all be aiming to dethrone the Citizens as champions of England, and just as much it will take a colossal effort from Pep Guardiola‘s side to keep them all at bay.
It would surprise many should either of these clubs fail to finish in the top four places come May 2022 albeit Arsenal, Leicester or Spurs could give them a run for their money.
At the foot of the table the pressure will be mounting upon new boys on the block Brentford, who partake in an English top-flight season for the first time since 1947.
The Bees become the 50th club in PL history and they together with fellow promoted teams Norwich & Watford will be busting their bottoms to avoid the drop come season close.
Burnley and Brighton meet this weekend in the season-opener and both may well be contenders to fight a relegation battle in 9 months’ time.
It is believed 40 points would generally suffice to survive relegation to the Championship and with that being said both the Clarets and the Seagulls could struggle, if last season is anything to go by.
Graham Potter’s Brighton finished 16th with 41 points whilst Burnley scraped only 39 points to end in 17th – during what was Sean Dyche’s 10th season in charge at Turf Moor – averaging little over one point per game. Dyche is currently the longest-serving manager active in the PL, overseeing the Clarets since October 2012.
My Predictions for Premier League ’21/22:
Defending champions Man City have finished as either league winners or runners-up for four seasons on the bounce and placing Guardiola's team outside the top 2 this year is unlikely to hold a firm bet.
Man Utd are yet to finish above City since Sir Alex Ferguson retired in 2013 albeit their recruitment ahead of the new season has so far been phenomenal.
The Red Devils could stand their best chance to outdo their noisy neighbours for the first time in nearly a decade.
C. Man Utd
2. Man City
First manager sacked: Xisco (Watford)
Golden Boot: Mo Salah (Liverpool)
Golden Glove: Edouard Mendy (Chelsea)
Overachievers: Aston Villa (8-10)
Underachievers: Southampton (15-17)
As the German Bundesliga also commences, the top 3 clubs from last season all start the new campaign with fresh managers.
Bayern Munich seized Julian Nagelsmann from RB Leipzig, and the 34-year-old was succeeded by American coach Jesse Marsch – joining Leipzig from affiliate club Red Bull Salzburg. Marsch was previously assistant manager at Leipzig under Ralf Rangnick (Nagelsmann's predecessor) during the ‘18/19 season.
Marco Rose filled the vacant manager's seat at Borussia Dortmund, leaving local foes Mönchengladbach and signing a 3-year deal with Dortmund.
The Italian Serie A also witnessed a round of manager roulette following last season's conclusion.
Scudetto holders Inter parted ways with Antonio Conte, as Simone Inzaghi joined the Nerazzurri from Lazio.
Juventus sacked Andrea Pirlo after a single season at the helm in Turin and he was promptly succeeded by the returning Max Allegri – mastermind behind Juve's domination in Italy starting 2011.
Allegri had been eyeing the Real Madrid job but ultimately opted for a return to the Old Lady.
Lazio replaced Inter-bound Inzaghi with Maurizio Sarri as new manager, and Napoli appointed Luciano Spalletti who last managed Inter before Conte took over the reigns in Milan.
Lazio's city rivals Roma made a huge appointment with José Mourinho returning to Italy, 11 years since completing the treble with Inter.
Elsewhere in Europe, Barcelona and Paris Saint-Germain both significantly bolstered their squads as they seek to reclaim the La Liga and Ligue 1 titles, respectively.
Mauricio Pochettino's PSG attained Lionel Messi, Sergio Ramos, Gini Wijnaldum & Gigi Donnarumma all on free transfers, and signed Achraf Hakimi from Inter for €60million.
Also stocking up on free agents were Barça who persuaded Sergio Aguerö, Memphis Depay and Eric Garcia to join the Catalan club upon their last contracts expiring in June.
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