Bottom Half Predictions
The anticipation is building ahead of the start of the 2020/21 Premier League season.
After the ecstasy of lifting a first ever Premier League title, Liverpool face the entirely new challenge of mounting a title defence – a feat that has eluded every reigning champion bar Pep Guardiola’s Man City over the last decade.
Leeds Utd are back under the maverick Marcelo Bielsa and will be desperate to stick around for the long haul after a 16-year absence.
Part one of our Premier League predictions for 2020/21 looks at the likely contenders to be scrapping it out towards the bottom of the table…
Premier League Predictions: Bottom Half
20TH – WEST BROM
Manager: Slaven Bilić
Reasons to be cheerful: As one of the Premier League’s archetypal yo-yo sides, the Baggies are mentally prepared for the battle ahead. Don’t expect any immediate knee-jerk reactions should their latest top flight campaign get off to a bumpy start. Holding their nerve could be the key to West Brom’s survival bid.
Reasons to be fearful The manner they limped over the finish line in the EFL Championship means West Brom may lack the feel-good factor of fellow promoted sides Leeds and Fulham. Matheus Pereira aside, this squad also looks thin on potential Premier League gamechangers as things stand.
Key man: Matheus Pereira
19TH – FULHAM
Manager: Scott Parker
Reasons to be cheerful: Pragmatism looks to be the watchword at Craven Cottage for 2020/21. After the wild summer spending spree that unsettled a winning dressing room on their last stop-off in the top flight, Fulham have toned down on lavish transfer activity this time around. That might just play in their favour if it helps maintain a sense of togetherness in this squad for the season-long battle ahead. Scott Parker and captain Tom Cairney will look to build on that ‘band of brothers’ mentality.
Reasons to be fearful: It’s not exactly Fulham’s fault, but the short gap between two seasons was always going to put the 2019/20 Championship play-off winner at a significant disadvantage, regardless of who secured the final Premier League slot. With precious little time to prepare for this campaign, the Cottagers will be out to avoid losing too much ground in the opening weeks of the season.
Key man: Aleksandar Mitrović
18TH – NEWCASTLE UTD
Manager: Steve Bruce
Reasons to be cheerful: Under Rafa Benitez and now Steve Bruce, Newcastle have hit upon a handy formula for grinding out the results needed to glide above the relegation battle since returning to the top flight. It wasn’t always easy on the eye but Bruce demonstrated he still has what it takes to organise a limited Premier League squad last season. He’s more than merited another crack of the whip.
Reasons to be fearful: How long can a team keep treading water? Improvement will be needed from the much-maligned Joelinton if the Magpies are going to find the goals needed to avoid a struggle. The arrival of Callum Wilson and Ryan Fraser will add some much-needed ammunition, but uncertainty around the club’s long-term ambitions still looks a major roadblock to progress.
Key man: Allan Saint-Maximin
17TH – CRYSTAL PALACE
Manager: Roy Hodgson
Reasons to be cheerful: Palace’s ageing squad has been a worry for some time, but the club finally look to be taking tentative steps forward to neutralise that issue. Eberechi Eze was one of the Championship’s most exciting young talents last season and his arrival could finally mark a sea-change in recruitment at Selhurst Park.
Reasons to be fearful: Same as it ever was for the Eagles: the long-standing Wilfried Zaha saga. Palace’s talisman went missing far too often for the Eagles last season, and now could be the time to bring some closure to one of the Premier League’s longest-running plot-lines. Hodgson’s long-term future also looks ropey if they start this season in the same manner they ended the last.
Key man: Wilfried Zaha – if he stays.
16TH – ASTON VILLA
Manager: Dean Smith
Reasons to be cheerful: The escape act at the end of last season should ensure Villa start this campaign with the wind in their sails. For now, it also looks like Jack Grealish is going nowhere and that news alone could give everyone at Villa a lift. More targeted spending this summer should also help after last year’s haphazard trolley dash.
Reasons to be fearful: A brutal April and May already looks ominous for Villa should they fail to click into gear in the first half of this campaign. With Liverpool, Man City, Man Utd, Spurs and Chelsea all to play from mid-April onwards, they’ll surely need a buffer heading into the final few weeks of the 2020/21 season.
Key man: Jack Grealish
15TH – BRIGHTON & HOVE ALBION
Manager: Graham Potter
Reasons to be cheerful: The Potter revolution passed its first test with flying colours. Albion’s forward-thinking manager kept the Seagulls up with relative ease with Project Restart, making them harder to beat while successfully evolving the style of play. They also acted quickly to strengthen this summer, bringing in the vastly experienced Adam Lallana and Joel Veltman.
Reasons to be fearful: For all their improved playing style, Brighton still look distinctly patchy in the final third. Neal Maupay enjoyed a fine debut campaign in the Premier League in notching 10 goals, but an injury to the Frenchman would leave the Seagulls alarmingly light up front. Extra firepower looks a must.
Key man: Neal Maupay
14TH – LEEDS UTD
Manager: Marcelo Bielsa
Reasons to be cheerful: Bielsa has a plan, and he’s unlikely to deviate from it even if times get tough. As we saw from Sheffield Utd last season, a well-executed tactical approach can pay dividends even when a squad lacks guaranteed Premier League pedigree, and every player in Bielsa’s squad will understand the job asked of them. Leeds also look to have leaders throughout their squad to help them through difficult moments. From captain Liam Cooper to veteran playmaker Pablo Hernández – still pulling strings at 35 – this squad looks to have enough leaders throughout the spine of the team to manage the step up.
Reasons to be fearful: An electric atmosphere every other week at Elland Road would have been a massive tonic for Leeds’ survival hopes, given how often their fans can be the 12th man in tight games. Leeds will be hoping it’s a return to business as normal sooner rather than later in terms of the matchday experience as they look to re-establish themselves among the elite.
Key man: Pablo Hernández
13TH – WEST HAM
Manager: David Moyes
Reasons to be cheerful: West Ham have some ‘free hits’ to the start of the season – if they approach things optimistically. Hammers fans could be forgiven for a collective sharp intake of breath after casting their eyes over a fixture list that sees them play six of last season’s top seven in their first seven games. However, a glass-half full attitude could see Moyes’ men take full advantage of any signs of ring rust from the likely challengers early on. The capture of Tomáš Souček on a full-time basis was an encouraging start to their transfer business, with the Czech helping the Hammers gradually turn the tide post lockdown
Reasons to be fearful: The other side of the coin: that start could go spectacularly wrong. After steadying the ship at the London Stadium, David Moyes will know the knives will be out should his team find themselves playing catch-up after the first few months of the season. Moyes needs the rub of the green to fall his way or it could be another season of instability in East London.
Key man: Tomáš Souček
12TH – SHEFFIELD UTD
Manager: Chris Wilder
Reasons to be cheerful: They’ve already shown they can adapt to the demands of Premier League football with the minimum of fuss. Why can’t they repeat that trick in 2020/21? The Blades lost some of their bounce after the restart but still showed enough to suggest they could punch above their weight once again this time around. The capture of Aaron Ramsdale looks astute business as Wilder works to fill the gap left by Dean Henderson.
Reasons to be fearful: Any creeping signs of ‘second season syndrome’ leading to a few grumbles from the more fickle elements of the Blades’ fanbase. Even if Utd fail to scale the same heights of 2019/20, a season of mid-table consolidation would still be a fine achievement. Wilder’s novel tactical approach rightly won widespread plaudits last year. He’ll know more than anyone the importance of not getting found out as he continues to fine-tune his squad.
Key man: Sander Berge
11TH – BURNLEY
Manager: Sean Dyche
Reasons to be cheerful: A last day defeat to Brighton aside, Burnley ended the 2019/20 campaign as one of the form teams in the division. A 5-0 humbling away at Man City straight after the restart was their only other defeat in their final 10 games. It’s that level of consistency that means only four years after winning promotion back to the top flight, Burnley are no longer talked about as realistic relegation contenders.
Reasons to be fearful: Is Dyche at risk of becoming stale at the Clarets? Burnley’s survival hopes are so intertwined with their inspirational manager. Any loss of enthusiasm for the job from the 49-year-old could see them enter a tailspin – just look at poor old Eddie Howe’s fate at Bournemouth. The Burnley boss has made his displeasure at Burnley’s reluctance in the transfer window abundantly clear. The board may now need to make some late moves in the transfer market to ensure Dyche, the glue that holds this club together, doesn’t start to cast his eye towards a new challenge.
Key man: Sean Dyche
PREDICTED PREMIER LEAGUE TABLE – BOTTOM HALF
- SHEFFIELD UTD
- WEST HAM
- LEEDS UTD
- BRIGHTON & HOVE ALBION
- ASTON VILLA
- CRYSTAL PALACE
- WEST BROM