You know you’ve got big questions ahead of the Premier League season and a PL season preview roundtable is just the scratch for that particular itch.
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Join our staff in digging into the season ahead of Saturday’s kickoff between Fulham and Arsenal (Watch live at 7:30am ET on NBCSN and online via NBCSports.com).
1. Why will Liverpool repeat, or why will they not win a second consecutive PL title?
Joe Prince-Wright: They will be close, but I don’t think so. Saw enough during project restart and over the summer to suggest a few cracks are starting to show.
Nicholas Mendola: No and it’s more about what Man City will do than what Liverpool cannot. I’m not taking anything away from the ruthless Reds and how they ran away with the league last season, but so many numbers say that the 18-point gap between Liverpool and Man City was a very bridgeable one. City scored 17 more goals than Liverpool and allowed just two more than the champs. Five times City dropped points but had an xG advantage of between 2-3.
Andy Edwards: Make no mistake, City will be improved from what they were last season, but 18 points looks a virtually impossible gap to bridge without Liverpool falling off in a big way.
2. Will Man City be improved this year in performances, results, both, or neither?
JPW: I’d say both. Pep will want a response and as long as they improve at the back, the general play is usually superb.
NM: Results for sure. Performances probably, as their defending depth is much improved. Consider this: City scored 79 of its 102 goals from open play. Only one team (Liverpool) scored more than 79 goals period. They had the ball 3 percent more than any other team (Liverpool) and passed nearly 4 percent better than anyone (Chelsea). They put 7 shots on target per game (Liverpool 6.1). All of those numbers are within percentage points of their 100-point season.
AE: For a squad such as theirs, it’s almost impossible to imagine they won’t be better in all areas. There’s only so much they can do to improve themselves, so it’s still a combination of Liverpool massively regressing and City massively improving required for Pep and Co., to reclaim the title.
3. Can Chelsea’s team come together quick enough to stay in the title race before the festive season?
JPW: Hmm, no, I don’t think so. I still worry about them at the back. Going forward they are phenomenal and will be a lot of fun to watch. Not title ready, yet.
NM: There are reasons to believe the Blues could make it a three-horse race if Mateo Kovacic continues his great performances and the side gets off to a good start. Chelsea only faces two top six contenders (Liverpool at home on Sept. 20 and Manchester United away on Oct. 24) in its first nine outings.
AE: Unlikely. They’ll probably find themselves somewhere around 4th or 5th — maybe even 15 points back — when the holidays roll around, but look for them to finish the season stronger than anyone else. Always be skeptical of the “spent a ton of money, brought in half a new team” club.
4. Alright, it’s time for the annual Christian Pulisic stats prediction for league games, goals, assists.
JPW: 32 games. 12 goals. 7 assists. Another brilliant season.
NM: 30 games, 9 goals, 12 assists. He’s got better finishers to feast on his playmaking this year.
AE: 29 appearances (injuries seem to be an unavoidable constant for him, sadly), with 8 goals and 9 assists. He might score quite as many with arguably “bigger” names around him, but that should also allow — if not force — him to become an assist machine.
5. Manchester United, top three or not and why/why not?
JPW: Yes. So many attacking weapons and I think they will continue to improve at the back. That could mean Henderson taking over from David de Gea, though.
NM: I hate the phrasing of this question because it’s like a SportsBet line: designed to challenge! United’s defense gives me a lot of pause, but I think they’ll score a lot of goals. Ultimately I’m most worried about how they fare head-to-head tactically. I’m still not sold on Ole Gunnar Solskjaer as a match director. Ego-handler? For sure. So, no. Just.
AE: Top-four, because Chelsea should be miles better than they were last season and United still have some massive holes in their squad to address. Now, if Sancho arrives between now and Oct. 5…
6. Who finishes higher, Spurs or Arsenal?
JPW: Arsenal. It will be very close, though.
NM: I like Spurs for this because Hojbjerg gives them a steadier, steely midfield. Steven Bergwijn has PL experience under his belt, too. Defensive concerns are real but Jose Mourinho can be trusted to handle that part. Arsenal will be as entertaining as anyone and will be a real force once the defenders gel. I just can’t imagine that happens early given the relative young ages of William Saliba, Gabriel Magalhaes, and Pablo Mari.
AE: Spurs. As much as some might dislike — or, you know, worse — Jose Mourinho, he gets the necessary results that only just get him over the finish line. Also, where are the handful of midfielders and defenders Arsenal so badly need to be signing this window? There might not be a more unbalanced squad in the entire league.
7. What’s stopping Everton from being a bonafide top six contender?
JPW: Defensive issues. Midfield will be more solid this season and James and Richardson will be superb. Michael Keane can’t do it all.
NM: The midfield upgrade is incredible but needs to come together quickly, which is not impossible but worth mentioning. I like Mason Holgate and Dominic Calvert-Lewin to keep improving, but I’m not sure the leaps needed from them — DCL more than Holgate — to join the top six discussion are reasonable. I don’t think goalkeeper is going to kill them, but I’m surprised to see no competition for Jordan Pickford.
AE: Please, don’t take this wrong way, okay, Everton fans? But the answer is: they’re Everton. And let’s just say, in some strange universe, they’re the surprise of the league and finish top-six — it’s only going to be for a season before falling back to mid-table. Ancelotti is the best manager they’ve had this millennium, and he’ll get the most out of the prime-age stars he now has at his disposal, but where’s the core of the future top-six side coming through? They’re spending a lot of money in all the wrong places, in my opinion.
8. Who will drop off further: Wolves, Sheffield United, or Leicester City? Who will stay a top six contender?
JPW: All three will have down years. I think Sheffield United will struggle. I like the way they play a lot but there’s no doubt they massively punched above their weight last season. With no European action this season, Wolves will remain a top six contender and Leicester just below them.
NM: The biggest fall will come from Blades, who will still be okay but fail to catch anyone off guard this go-round (though I love Sander Berge, the finishing and goalkeeping will be questions). Leicester City doesn’t look deep enough to contend with Europa League and will take a hit. Wolves will have the opposite luck and stay in the same basic table area as last season.
AE: Brendan Rodgers is the least inspiring of those three clubs’ respective managers, so I’ll go with Leicester with total and complete confidence. Wolves will again be the closest to top-six contention, without actually contending for it.
9. Who will win the Golden Boot?
AE: Pierre-Emerick Aubameyang, because Arsenal have to score three in every game. He then leaves next summer after Arsenal fail to qualify for Champions League for the fifth straight season. Five years — that’s a half-decade!
10. Who will be in the Team of the Year?
JPW: Alisson; Alexander-Arnold, Van Dijk, Laporte, Chilwell; De Bruyne, Fernandes, Kante; Sterling, Kane, Werner
NM: Leno; Alexander-Arnold, Van Dijk, Laporte, Digne; Kovacic, De Bruyne, Fernandes; Sterling, Aubameyang, Werner
AE: Alisson; Cancelo, Van Dijk, Boly, Digne; Pogba, Bernardo Silva, Fernandes; Mane, Aubameyang, Sterling
11. Who will get relegated?
JPW: Fulham, West Brom, Crystal Palace.
NM: Fulham, Burnley, West Brom
AE: West Brom, Crystal Palace and Leeds United. Tough time to be a newly promoted side, given the financial ramifications of COVID-19.
12. Who is coming up from the Championship?
JPW: Bournemouth, Watford, and Brentford.
NM: Swansea City, Nottingham Forest, Watford
AE: Watford, Brentford, and Cardiff City