Premier League Preview 2021-2022
The Premier League preview you were looking for
It’s that time of the year again. It’s hot outside and football’s revving back up. It’s been so long. An entire month since the European Championship ended in Wembley. Although, if you really give into the indulgence, football never stopped. It didn’t stop during the height of the pandemic (hello Belarus and Nicaragua, the streets will never forget), it wasn’t gonna stop now. If you want to become one with the football, you can. 24/7 and forever.
As good content creators, every major football league would probably opt into always playing. Never stop, perpetually believe in the product, and produce more and more of it. And some more. We are returning to the churn, but this time, unlike the last, and even if was just a month, with more proper rest. The bridged gap between the 2019-2020 and 2020-2021 seasons, too compressed, the lack of normality, of human warmth emanating from the crowd even if was just in the form of varied verbal insults and hand gestures, too much… It made it all very quite strange. It wasn’t enthralling enough in many senses. Manchester City, in the Premier League, would soon go on to pulverize the league as it all faded into the thin air of the empty stands.
But here the excitement seems recaptured. Although it’s always tricky to tell. Football’s self-loathing, within us, football intellectuals, can sometimes blur the bulk of reality. Leo Messi to PSG stirs the pot of our broken football hearts. The empire wins, once again. But it can still be fun. Just as this Premier League season can. Yes, Manchester City have broken the Premier League signing record with Jack Grealish’s 100 million sterling (heh) pounds, but the monster doesn’t seem “procession-ly” on its way to the conquest of the title. They are betting favorites, but Chelsea, the Champions League reigning champions, will play in the same league. To what they already were, they are now that plus a world Top-2 striker named Romelu Lukaku. Havertz, Mount, Pulisic and Werner a year older, more experienced, as well.
It can be a bleak world, but it already was before. For football, and especially for everything else — even before the conception of modern-day PSG and Manchester City. The issues with them are quasi-endless, most definitely. But as the extraordinary architecture and cycling writer Kate Wagner said not long ago, caveats are the enemy of good writing.
We need some sort of pause button, not because we don’t care about the issues or that everything that’s wrong with football isn’t important – it is – but because there is no point to suffocate and drown in it; furthermore, it just becomes white noise. Precisely by virtue of thinking that it already is white noise and insisting on repeating it. It’s a good thing that we are so aware, that we care so passionately about these different things. It all might be a mess, with few solutions in sight, but it does seem like we are contending with all these things more so than ever before.
Again, life’s terrible aspects haven’t just appeared. They’ve been there since before time itself. Many times, also, it’s not that things are worse, it’s that as they get better, our perception becomes hyper-focused on that that yet isn’t. That does not apply to 2021 Tottenham Hotspur.
The Premier League elite’s eternal bastard child, that thanks to impeccable management, Mauricio Pochettino and players that were legitimate stars, they broke through the ceiling into fighting for two-straight Premier League titles, into still maintaining themselves thereafter as Top-4ers and reach a Champions League final in Madrid that was there for the taking until magic man Divock Origi sealed a horrific affair of a game. But neither here nor there, Daniel Levy became a bit too self-infatuated, victim of overpowering big-brain syndrome and blew it all up.
Now comes the expenses bill of having wanted to play with malfunctioning dynamite – also known as “José Mourinho”. While people are going through the typical motions of talking themselves into (probably) fables of things not being what they actually are, like that of Nuno Espirito Santo not being “Mourinho 2.0” (and he very well may not be, who knows…), the season is closer and closer, just about upon us, mere hours away. Harry Kane still wants to leave no matter what and who could blame him. Tottenham didn’t have to self-immolate, but they did and there’s a team left that is in no capacity to challenge for the Premier League or Champions League titles. Even years from now he’ll probably have the opportunity to do something like Carmelo Anthony is doing right now the Los Angeles Lakers and go a to a team, even if in a secondary role, to win the big stuff. But Kane’s peak performance window is closing. And Tottenham’s, on the flipside, is nowhere to be seen.
In his personal silhouette resides one of the keys of this upcoming Premier League season. If he ends up being transferred to Manchester City, the title possibly falls just out of reach for the rest. Not even a Lukaku-powered Chelsea may stand in the way of a Man City with Harry Kane. Not even the darlings of the Premier League that Jadon Sancho, Marcus Rashford and Co. are making of Manchester United (Manchester United as darlings… god) may pose a threat. Nor the resurgent Liverpool. But we’re dealing in suppositions here. Kane may have to actually fulfill his 2018-signed six-year Tottenham contract, imagine that.
Man City, however, have this strange uninterestingness to them. Especially after proving capable of winning the Premier League even without a normal striker. A team like PSG may now have the currently three-best football players in the entire world in Mbappé, Neymar and Messi – yet there’s this sensation of effervescent volatility. There’s this feeling, maybe mixed with twisted desire, that it can all become a giant train-wreck when push comes to shove [is that a redundant concept? Can a train-wreck not be giant?]. And in fairness, Manchester City did get a little humiliated in 2019-2020. But even then, their expected goals numbers, their underlying, semi-pernicious dominance was still kinda there. And this year, their hypothetical capturing of the title, may be thanks to freaking geese. As many have made the point before, there’s just this excessive clinical-ness to them.
And to fight, to dethrone them, as already mentioned, we have Chelsea. Plus, to more instable degrees United and Liverpool. But it’s Thomas Tuchel with the upper hand, not least because they were the one to end Manchester City’s season, that handed Pep and the boys their last fully official loss to date. Are they built and prepared to power through matchday 1 through 38? Given how they kinda abruptly faded and would have fallen out of the Top-4 if weren’t for Tottenham beating Leicester at the King Power, that seems like the last question remaining of a team confected for greatness. Tuchel is great, but so are the players that allowed him to be so on almost the snap of a finger after he walked through the Cobham doors. Mendy has been so in and around the woodwork, Thiago Silva and the crew have been equally stellar in defense (furthermore, Christensen and Rüdiger have been brought back from the depths of performance hell), Jorginho and Kanté have clicked with one another like they never had before, the wingbacks have been as surgically dynamic as desired, and the offensive unit has been divine.
To all that, Lukaku. Coming back to where it was supposed to happen all along, now at the absolute, overwhelming pinnacle of his powers. If it all meshes, flows within itself, it’s gonna be a wondrous sight.
Same goes for the other two candidates. Solskjaer might be a little crazy, a little out of his mind to want to play 4-3-3 and have Scotty McT’s as the anchor to the artillery. Varane and Maguire might die because of it, but hey, more goals, more fun! Apart from that, United may be a contender that we are not respecting enough. Bruno Fernandes, Donny van de Beek/Paul Pogba, Jadon Sancho, Marcus Rashford and Edinson Cavani. Not to mention the rest of them. That is goddamn spectacular. They are the reigning runner-ups, as well. There might be a championship team in there, even if stuff like Aaron Wan-Bissaka not being an actual defensive specialist is a fact that we have uncovered over the last year and change. And if not, they kinda seem built to be able to run over any Champions League opponent in a two-legged affair.
That is the thing, after all, with “previews”, with beginnings: the unknown. The relentless theorizing, speculating, world-building inside our heads. We impose limits inside our minds in order to keep ourselves engaged and that’s why we aren’t thinking that Burnley are gonna win the league. But apart from that, it’s all kinda possible at this stage of the year, where the concert, the show, hasn’t even started.
So with Liverpool it is complicated because they’ve gone from relentless Big Red Machine (no, not that one) to complicated football souls; a project that shone so bright, but that got run over by circumstance last year, losing their best player to injury and the unravelling that would soon follow all throughout the team. They had cratered. And then rose like the proverbial Phoenix to punch their ticket into this year’s Champions League. They were done, dusted, finished — right up until they weren’t. All of a sudden, an insane, surreal Alisson Becker goal at The Hawthorns to beat West Brom and violently swing the momentum back in their favor was the spark that reignited them from the side of the highway, in the dark night that had risen. So much of the structural analysis that was made throughout the months-long “What is wrong with Liverpool?” question, however, weirdly still feels valid. The zenith of what they’ve been, seems to have passed. Still within range to strike and win it all; a comeback in style, like true champions. But the refreshing of it all, beyond Thiago and now Ibrahima Konaté, still raises doubts. They are, in terms of being a team at the top and better than everyone around them, sort of old. But also incredibly good, still. So who the eff knows.
Perhaps their former manager, mister Brendan Rodgers. Oh dear, oh dear, Leicester City. They spent almost all 76 matchdays that constituted the whole of the last two seasons in the Top-4. They ended the season out of it both times, back-to-back, in incrementally heart-breaking fashion. But as the very good team that they are, between one disappointment and the other, they won their first FA Cup since forever ago. It was all set up to be completed as a perfect season. Then they lost to Tottenham on the last day. At home. With everything in their favor. The indirect stare-off with Chelsea and, precisely, Liverpool, ended with them blinking — quavering and cracking under pressure.
“Bottled it” is such a stupid term of the English football lexicon, but it is unfortunately what happened in, at least, some way. Not because they are a better team than Chelsea or Liverpool – the difference in raw quality and depth of squad remains pretty monumental – but because it was right there, to grab and not lose grip of. Within the very Tottenham game they were gonna do it, win, and then they cracked. But somehow, after two seasons of bitter, potentially locker-room-destroying disappointment, they’ve rallied again. They are here once again. With a ship that should have sailed, with at least four Top-6 teams back to form, it is unlikely that the opportunity will present itself again this year. But they started off by looking as good as ever, even without Jonny Evans and Wesley Fofana, and they beat Man City at Wembley to add the Community Shield to their FA Cup. It is unlikely that third time will be the charm, but life is a constant scene of the unlikely becoming true.
To not be overly dismissive, let’s do some Arsenal before we round out with Aston Villa and the relegation battle. Arsenal? I don’t know, they seem unbearably stagnant but that they will, also, improve on last year? It’s hard to tell. They are fighting against not being consumed to the nth degree by the prospect of becoming a complete and full shadow of themselves. Ben White is an amazing signing for them, immediately positioned to be the best defender they’ve had seen peak Koscielny (whose name, by the way, I heard the other day listening to a two-year-old podcast and it dawned on me how he has just fallen of the face of the earth from my – albeit narrow – personal perspective). Anyhow, if they kind of get the gears to move, Aubameyang to score some goals, Xhaka to not be Xhaka, Leno to stop some balls, Emile Smith-Rowe (one of those names you have to say in full) to keep progressing and Bukayo Saka as well, they might have an outside chance of breaking their irrelevancy spell.
They who feel much more straightforwardly set to do something cool and interesting, wrapped in a sparkling sense of joy, are Aston Villa. They’ve sold their undisputed star in Jack Grealish and now, however, have a better team than last season. Dean Smith still wants a lights out defensive midfielder that neither Douglas Luiz nor the Marvelous Nakamba have been quite able to become. Other than that, their attacking starters of last year (such as your Bertrand Traores, Anwar El Ghazis and Trezeguets) are now the squad depth they then needed; now second fiddles to the startling trio of Emi Buendía, Leon Bailey and Danny Ings. Which Ollie Watkins should make a charming quartet. You do have Ashley Young who is an all sincerity a bit of a weird, anticlimactic move but hey, he’s decent backup to Matt Targett. Mings, Konsa and obviously Emi Martínez and you have levitative fun all around. They’ll go now, of course, to royally disappoint. But hopefully not!
And we close off this preview extravaganza with the fight for Premier League survival. The curtain raiser of the season is pairing Top-6ness and the bottom’s existential arms race. Arsenal can sort of afford to cruise and live in their own shadow forever; their opponents tonight, Brentford, would fall all the way to the 5th division of English football. There isn’t a safety net. Which adds a mega-compelling layer of thrill. Maybe not so with another of the 3 promoted teams: Few things are certain in this existence that we call life, but one of those things is that Norwich City will yo-yo (or, as we say in Spanish, be an “elevator team”) between the Premier and the Champ’ until the end of time. That’s why they’re favorites to go down, by double the odds of Brentford and Watford, according to VegasInsider.com (yes, I have gone to check Vegas and not the standard British betting firms because I could). Norwich probably even have a better team right now than the two ‘Fords. But we’ve lived through this before with Norwich. Their counterparts in the battle will likely include Crystal Palace, Southampton, Newcastle, Burnley and perhaps even Wolves and (sigh) Brighton. It can all spin in many directions still, and though still big, we hope the gap contrives and closes to give us the first last-day relegation fight in years (there might have one or two in the last few seasons, but I can’t remember it for the life of me).
Whether it’s for the title or, especially for the eluding of relegation, like one of the current best comedians on the planet, Tim Dillon, would say: “It’s a knife fight out there”. Hopefully (always metaphorically, of course) it will be one.