Hawkeye Sidekick

EPL 2020 / 2021 Preview: Teams M – W

EPL Preview: Part 3
Manchester City

The Hope: The hurt of relinquishing their EPL crown will drive Pep Guardiola and the squad to new performance levels. Kevin de Bruyne was incredible last season and with David Silva is the chief orchestrator in the middle of the park. Phil Foden’s emergence at the back end of last season should bode well for this season. A team with plenty of scoring threat; many sides will feel the City onslaught this term.

The Fear: When it came down to the crunch fixtures, the defensive side of the team was exposed. The recruitment or lack of to replace inspirational leader Vincent Kompany was repeatedly punished during key marquee fixtures. Who is City’s first choice central defensive pairing? Who is the leader of that defensive unit? We are only days away from the new season and I am not sure of these answers. Nathan Ake comes into the football club, good footballer but is he the leader in waiting? Given his cameos with AFC Bournemouth last season, the answer might be no.

Expected Outcome: Regardless of David Silva, the side are well equipped to challenge for domestic league honors. The key tests will come against the likes of the top six; their defensive resolve will be tested to the maximum. Will Aguero’s gradual phasing out of the side continue? It is an intriguing club to follow this season and provided a good start to the season, City will be hot on Liverpool’s heels for the majority of the season. The points gap from last season will not happen again.

Manchester United

The Hope: The upsurge in form at the back end of last season should flow into this new season.  Martial, Greenwood aided by Bruno Fernandes helped the side to third in the league. van de Beek signing looks astute business if played in the right position.  

The Fear: The defensive situation at the club remains a huge concern. Who will be number one at the club? De Gea now faces a credible challenge from Dean Henderson. It should drive competition and performance levels but could easily create tension in the dressing room as one player becomes unhappy with the game time assigned. The central defensive partnership is still not convincing. Maguire needs to push on next term and become the leader of this unit. Lindelof may be a good ball player but I have lost count the number of times he has been outmuscled for an aerial header or ball in the box resulting in a goal. Bailly is too injury prone. The full back slots are a work in progress. The talent of Williams, Bissaka is obvious but Sevilla provided a reality check that these players are far from the finished article. Paul Pogba and his commitment to the club is never too far away? Transfer policy continues to baffle. Sancho deal a prime example. Dead wood in squad that needs to be cleared but won’t because teams will not pay the salaries and conditions attached.  

Expected Outcome: I fear more of the same for United this season. The odd flash of potential with a marquee top four win but inconsistency against mid and lower tier league sides is never far away. Rashford’s form dipped massively last term; onus is for the player to step up to the mark or else be left behind as Greenwood and Martial look to score more goals. Top four again given the defensive issues outlined is the smart bet right now.

Newcastle United

The Hope: The summer signings all have the potential to be standout signings. Wilson and Fraser from AFC Bournemouth will combine and create goalscoring opportunities. Jamal Lewis at full back will provide pace and attacking threat from the full back position. Mark Gillespie is for me an EPL keeper lying in wait; massive potential while Jeff Hendrick will provide additional quality in the attacking central midfield area. Good work from Steve Bruce and board to get those players to sign for the club.  

The Fear: Continued boardroom turmoil. The Saudi takeover was doomed once Bein, Sky Sports and advocacy groups got involved. Mike Ashley still looking to offload the club so any new owner may bring fresh ideas and perhaps a new managerial approach on the pitch. Unrest is never too far away at the club and this season could be no different.

Expected Outcome: Newcastle United under Steve Bruce last season considering the boardroom turbulence; zero threat from relegation. The start of the season is key, a solid start for the new signings and the side should be more than capable of consolidating in mid-tier of the league. If injuries arise, then questions may surface but Steve Bruce is an experienced manager to counteract that.

Sheffield United

The Hope: Continue the form of last season. They were a key story to the league next season. They acquitted themselves so well in their debut season. Defensively solid and then took their opportunities when presented. Chris Wilder and squad did an incredible job; cohesion from the Championship campaign. 

The Fear: Second season syndrome. Have opposition teams figured out the Blades this term? The surprise factor is gone. The lack of goals in the side last season was an area of focus in this off-season. Oliver Burke comes to the club with massive potential but has had a turbulent time with WBA. Thirty-nine goals scored last campaign will not cut it this season. Dean Henderson’s departure could be a huge void as well. Ramsdale and Foderingham come in but they have plenty to prove here given Henderson’s standout form for the club in recent seasons.

Expected Outcome: No Europa League is a god scent. Sheffield United need to focus with a quick start; a couple of early results and they should be fine; otherwise it could be a struggle. Lower midtable position for me as I am not convinced that they the scoring power required this term to keep up with the top eight. Rhian Brewster is a striker that could revel with the Blades, a move worth monitoring before the end of this current transfer window.

Southampton

The Hope: Continue the form of the second half of last season. The side regrouped superbly well after that drubbing at home to Leicester City. Danny Ings goals prominent and the side under Hassenhutl secured some keynote end of season results against Manchester City and United. Defensively well organized and with Ings, Obafemi and Adams in excellent form, this was a good end to last term. Youth system at the club continuing to deliver fine prospects. Will Smallbone looks quality already.

The Fear: The squad was culled in the offseason. Ten players have left the club. Hojbjerg and Soares are probably the standout players on that list. Hojbjerg was a tenacious defensive midfielder and do Southampton have a player of that ilk to win the midfield battle?

Expected Outcome: Interesting side to follow this season. The side should be more than capable of hitting the forty-point mark; suspect a top half table finish is the aim. A side who sparkled late last term. If Ings can start the season with goals, then the aim is well attainable.

Tottenham Hotspur

The Hope: Minimal arrivals at the football club means that the playing squad should have cohesion early. Joe Hart will provide experience to the goalkeeping ranks (albeit no genuine first team game minutes) and coaching insight to the young keepers at the club.

Matt Doherty deal is a steal if Mourinho games to Doherty’s strengths as was seen at Wolves. Hojbjerg looks an astute signing; providing depth in that defensive midfield area. Does Erik Dier revert back to the center halve position? The manager now has options in this department.

The Fear: Mourinho and Spurs is from the outside an uneasy relationship. The style of football vs. the deliberate managerial approach is at odds. How does Levy respond if Tottenham have a flat start to the campaign? Can Mourinho evolve his managerial style to get the best of this Tottenham outfit? The results so far have been a mixed bag. Can Dele rebound and be that fulcrum for the side after a subdued last term? 

Expected Outcome: On their day, Tottenham will give any of the top four sides a serious test. The attacking threat needs Kane, Son and Alli on top form. The service from the flanks will be upgraded with the Doherty signing. Spurs under Mourinho will be a fascinating watch, just to see if the players buy into the manager’s philosophy. Unless more defensive options join the club, top six finish at best is the max of their ambitions.

West Bromwich Albion

The Hope: The Baggies are back in the EPL. With an experienced manager in Slaven Bilic at the helm, the side will look to his nous in the transfer market to secure the signings to stave off relegation. The news that Ivanovic (ex-Chelsea) could join soon is good news for the club. The squad stuttered surprisingly over the line to secure promotion from the Championship; squad on paper looks okay but could do with more squad depth.

The Fear: Underwhelming signings so far. Diangana and Robinson return to the club on permanent deals. After that, squad signings in Button and Kipre for goalkeeping and center half positions. Goals could be a problem against more astute EPL defenses.

Expected Outcome: Relegation battle unfortunately here unless Diangana can deliver goals in spades. It is 50/50 on whether to stay up and fixtures against Aston Villa and Brighton could determine if they get relegated. Bilic will look to wheel and deal here but will it be enough? Right now, it looks daunting.

West Ham United

The Hope: Climb up the table and not worry about relegation battles. Pellegrini came and went. It was left to David Moyes to rescue the club again last term. Arrivals have been sparse but that might be a good thing given the transfer policy at the club in recent years. The majority of the players who have arrived have been bang average. Stability is key and Moyes should provide that. Michail Antonio ended the season superbly; more of the same early doors and West Ham United will be doing well.  The permanent signing of Tomas Soucek is an astute move, the player chipped in with goals at the back end of last season.

The Fear: Fans not at the London Stadium may not be a bad thing early this season. Passionate support which quickly turns vicious towards home players if they are seen to be not at it. Players slump, confidence plummets, atmosphere gets toxic. West Ham United need a good start to this campaign; the last thing that Gold and Sullivan need is to replace another manager. Stability is king right now.

Expected Outcome: All depends on the start of the season. If they can start the season well, then I think West Ham United will be able to secure a mid-table position without many complaints. Yes, there will be inconsistencies in performances but Moyes is now the man in charge and his managerial approach should see Antonio be the key man upfront along with Anderson. A team who could surprise one or two teams in the top six early.

Wolverhampton Wanderers

The Hope: Continue to build on from their strong season in Europa League and domestic league action. Squad depth caught up with the team at the end of last term. The Portuguese contingent grows further at the football club, more quality to the squad is the expectation and with it more quality on the pitch.

The Fear: Fourteen players released, loaned or moved on from the club. Doherty deal to Spurs is still a baffling decision. The squad depth is trimmed significantly and can the side cope with an injury crisis defensively and attacking wise if key players go down? I have my doubts right now still.  

Expected Outcome: Traore is a key player that the club will look to keep at the club. Raul Jimenez as well is a player in demand too. If Wolves can retain these players, then no reason why a top eight finish is again secured. Their style of play if on form will cause opponents no end of issues but as mentioned the squad depth cover looks rather thin. More Portuguese imports to follow I imagine!