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Premier League 2021-22 experts’ preview: Predictions from those in the know

The Euros were a laugh, and the Olympics were fun while they lasted, but we all know where the best drama unfolds don’t we?

Leaving out the Sky Sports-style cliches, it really is the Premier League where the action is, and we’re about to go on another wild ride.

Twenty clubs enter the new season with almost 20 different sets of hopes, expectations and worries, and we’ll be telling their stories every step of the way.

To preview the new season we’ve spread out across the Reach Sport network to bring you the lowdown from those in the know – from regional reporters to national journalists and huge fans, our contributors know their clubs like the back of their hands.

Let them tell you what to expect from all 20 clubs in the 2021-22 season.

Arsenal

Kaya Kaynak – Arsenal writer, football.london



Mikel Arteta goes into the new season with renewed expectations placed upon him
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Hopes and dreams: As they enter their fifth season outside the Champions League, the aim for Arsenal has to be getting back in the top four.

That’s probably the very best this squad is capable of achieving right now, but with how strong Manchester United, Manchester City, Chelsea and Liverpool all look, it’s a daunting task.

Biggest fears: The fear is that Arsenal will go into the season without having signed a number 10.

Not having a creative presence really cost them in the first half of last season, and putting the entire burden on Emile Smith Rowe for the whole campaign would be too big an ask.

Key player: Kieran Tierney is absolutely crucial to the way Arsenal attack, and if he’s able to stay fit this season then the Gunners will be a much better team for it.

Keep an eye out for Nicolas Pepe as well who finished the last campaign strongly and could be set to finally deliver on his £72 million price tag.



A fully fit Kieran Tierney will make a world of difference to Arsenal
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Young player to watch: Bukayo Saka is well known to most fans by now but it’s easy to forget he’s only 19!

He’s already done so much in his short career and could be set to kick on to another level this season. Smith Rowe is another academy graduate likely to shine, while lesser-known youngsters Folarin Balogun and Miguel Azeez could be given chances if they don’t go on loan.









The impact of the fans: Not having fans during the winless run of November and December last season meant that Mikel Arteta was probably under a lot less pressure than he would have been in normal circumstances.

Most of the fanbase are still with him despite failure to qualify for Europe, but that can turn very quickly and if Arsenal don’t pick up some early results, we could see a repeat of the toxic atmosphere seen at the Emirates during the latter days of the Arsene Wenger and Unai Emery eras.

Prediction: The board are fully behind Arteta and unless something really catastrophic happens they will give him the whole season to try and get Arsenal back into the top four.

Whether he’s able to do that though, with the competition in the Premier League this year, remains to be seen.

Aston Villa

Ashley Preece – Aston Villa reporter, Birmingham Live



Dean Smith has plenty to build on despite the loss of Jack Grealish
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Hopes and dreams: To not hear the words ‘Villa are really missing Jack Grealish’ would be a good start.

Villa have been brash for the third summer transfer window running given the addition of Emi Buendia, Leon Bailey and Danny Ings who’ll all form Villa’s exciting new attack.

The main hope for the season is, of course, European qualification. Villa notched 55 points last term; seeing that bumped up by 10 points to 65 would, hopefully, see Villa qualify for Europe. I’d also love an FA Cup run after the chance was taken away last season due to a Covid outbreak.

Biggest fears: A poor start could really harm Villa here.

Their first three games are Watford away and Newcastle and Brentford both at home before it’s Chelsea, Everton, Man United and Tottenham.

Pre-season has been a tad disruptive as well; Smith had to isolate because his wife had Covid while Buendia and Ollie Watkins have injuries going into this week. New addition Bailey is in quarantine after he arrived from Jamaica.

Preparation hasn’t been ideal knowing the new boys haven’t played together yet.



Martinez has been a superb signing for Villa
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Key player: Emi Martinez. He’s one of – if not – the best in the league.

If Villa go close to last season’s 15 clean sheet total they’re nailed on to have a great season knowing Ings, Watkins and co. will score goals up the other end.

Young player to watch: Jaden Philogene-Bidace. The 19-year-old’s been Villa’s standout in pre-season with two assists and two goals from four games. He’s a proper, lightning-quick winger.

The impact of the fans: A rocking Villa Park has made plenty of opposing teams in the Premier League just wilt. When it’s bouncing there’s no place like it.

With packed houses returning this season, Villa can guarantee a few points on the board already given what’s a brilliant, raucous home crowd. Oh Jack, you’re going to miss playing in B6!

Prediction: It’s been 17th and then 11th for Smith in his first two seasons as a Premier League boss. He must kick on again with top-half the bare minimum here.

Europe’s the aim so in and around those Europa League spots would be ace. Smith’s got more than enough credit in the bank, however, the big question is can he do it as Villa’s gaffer without a certain Mr Grealish to rely on? This season could well be his most-difficult to date. The floor’s yours, Dean.

Brentford

Jake Murtagh – Reach Head of National Sports (Digital)



Thomas Frank has guided the Bees to the big time
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Hopes and dreams: The dream scenario is for Brentford to be safe from relegation before the run in and finish comfortably in mid-table. The reality is they could be involved in a survival scrap right down to the wire.

Biggest fears: The way the club’s recruitment policy works means the squad is untested at the highest level, so the biggest worry is that they will not be able to make the step up.

However, they have a wealth of international experience and had five players at this summer’s Euros.

Key player: Ivan Toney.

The striker has scored goals at every level but has unfinished business in the Premier League after a couple of appearances for Newcastle as a youngster. His contribution will be vital if Brentford are to beat the drop.



Ivan Toney will be looking to take his prolific form in the Championship into the Premier League
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Young player to watch: Mads Roerslev.

One of the club’s growing Danish contingent, the right-sided wing-back has bundles of energy and is a threat going forward.

The impact of the fans: Brentford fans are on cloud nine after winning promotion last season. For many it will also be the first time they get to experience the new stadium as well.









The ground is tight, wedged between the M4 and the train line, and the supporters can create an intimidating atmosphere for visiting sides.

Prediction: Brentford are one of the favourites to be relegated and with one of the smallest budgets it’s not really a surprise. Only time will tell if they sink or swim but they could cause a few shocks along the way.

Brighton

Charlie Parker-Turner – National Sports Network Desk writer



Graham Potter’s side could easily have finished much higher last season
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Hopes and dreams: If everything clicks, we could challenge for European football.

Missing simple chances cost us massively last season, as shown by how we consistently scored less than our xG said we should have, but we proved we can go toe-to-toe with the very best in the league and get results.

Biggest fears: Danny Welbeck is injury-prone, Neal Maupay is better utilised as a creator than a finisher, Andi Zeqiri and Aaron Connolly are both too inexperienced to be relied upon and Florin Andone is returning from a long-term injury – we need another striker, and we still haven’t signed one.

Key player: Yves Bissouma.

The Malian midfielder is crucial for the Seagulls. He protects our defence well, fuels attacks and is capable of producing a bit of magic in the final third too.

Bissouma is destined for big things in the future, may that be on the south coast or elsewhere.



Yves Bissouma has been attracting some admiring glances from elsewhere
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Young player to watch: Tariq Lamptey.

In just eleven appearances last season, Lamptey became a fan’s favourite. The 20-year-old has the attributes of both a winger and a defender, making him the ultimate wing-back, and he may well be another Chelsea academy product that they sent packing too soon.

The impact of the fans: The one game that our supporters were able to attend last season was a 3-2 victory over Man City, so the cheers and shouts may have been the difference.

We have several players that need the confidence boost provided by a crowd, so fans returning should benefit the team overall.

Prediction: Last season our performances warranted more points than we achieved, the team should learn plenty from that.

Everyone has bought into Potter’s vision of playing neat, attacking football to push the club up the table, therefore, a mid table finish is realistic progression.

Burnley

Alex James – Football writer, Lancashire Live



Sean Dyche is again seeking to help Burnley punch above their weight
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Hopes and dreams: The hope is that Burnley secure another season of top flight football with a squad in need of strengthening.

Anything more will be considered a success while a decent cup run wouldn’t go amiss but that is probably asking for too much with survival the main aim.

Biggest fears: Relegation, Sean Dyche not signing a new contract and no more new signings arriving.

Key player: Burnley have a strong core and a first XI more than capable of staying up.

Honourable mentions for Nick Pope, Ben Mee and Dwight McNeil but Chris Wood’s goals will be vital for a side who aren’t free-scoring.



Chris Wood was in fine form in the latter part of last season
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Young player to watch: Lewis Richardson has long been touted as a star of the future and at 18 has featured in pre-season, while Bobby Thomas and Anthony Gomez-Mancini have impressed this summer

The impact of the fans: A lot of Burnley’s Premier League success has been built on strong home form and that dissipated last term in front of empty stands.

Turf Moor is a tight, atmospheric ground and the supporters have shown on plenty of previous occasions that they can lift and inspire their side. It will be a welcome return all round.

Prediction: A couple of new faces and survival should be well within Burnley’s grasp.

Go as they are and you would back Dyche and the experienced squad to have enough to get the job done but it won’t be plain sailing

Chelsea

Adam Newson – Chelsea writer, football.london



Thomas Tuchel will seek to back up last season’s Champions League success
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Hopes and dreams : The big hope will be that Chelsea challenge for the Premier League title for the first time in four years and also mount a strong defence of their Champions League crown.

Oh, and it would be great to win the Club World Cup and have the tag of world champions.

Biggest fears : That Chelsea panic at the first sign of trouble and dispense with Thomas Tuchel; they’ve got him at the right time and need to hold onto him. Also, it would be a huge shame to see more talented young players from the academy depart because first-team pathways have been closed off.

Key player : The obvious here is Romelu Lukaku, but I’m going to say Kai Havertz.

His Champions League winner was exactly what he needed to feel accepted at Stamford Bridge. He’ll blossom into a star this season, no doubt.



Kai Havertz can now blossom after last season’s Champions League final winner
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Young player to watch : This is tricky but I’m going to go with the known quantity of Callum Hudson-Odoi.

He’s finally got over the Achilles injury he picked up in 2019 and has looked very sharp during pre-season. If he gets a run on the left of the Chelsea attack, I think he will surprise a lot of people.

The impact of the fans : It will maybe be a little strange for a few players who’ve barely played in front of the club’s supporters since joining more than a year ago. For the fans themselves, it’s huge. That sense of belonging is so important for many and has been absent for too long.

Credit to the Chelsea Supporters’ Trust on that front for launching a new mental health initiative – Over The Line – to support those who are struggling.

Prediction : Top four is again the minimum.

It would be nice for Chelsea’s place in the Champions League to be sewn up long before the final day too.

Crystal Palace

Matt Maltby – Head of National Sports Network Desk



Patrick Vieira takes on his first Premier League managerial role
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Hopes and dreams: Europa League football. It’s been a dream for so long and we came so close five years ago, only for Manchester United and a certain Jesse Lingard to dash our hopes.

Qualifying via the Premier League positions is unlikely to happen, but why can’t Palace put together another decent FA Cup run?

Patrick Vieira won it four times as a player at Arsenal – and if he can get his newly-assembled young squad playing well, trophy No.5 could be on its way to Selhurst Park.

Biggest fears:
A repeat of the Frank de Boer debacle.

I’m sure I wasn’t alone in my optimism when the Dutchman arrived at the club but, four league games later, and soon became clear that De Boer was out of his depth.

He attempted too much too soon; and the players didn’t buy into it. I’m more optimistic about Vieira but there’s always a risk that things could end badly.

Key player: Wilfried Zaha.

Had Eberechi Eze not suffered the serious injury which will keep him out for a large chunk of this season, it would have been a close battle between those two. But with Eze out, the pressure is on Zaha to deliver; and that he will.



Zaha is still at Palace despite persistent links with moves away
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Young player to watch: Marc Guehi.

Palace have completely overhauled their defence this summer, getting rid of their ageing stars and bringing in young talent.

Among those arrivals is Guehi, who has signed from Chelsea in a surprise £18m switch. It’s a big risk by the Eagles, taking a punt on an unproven defender, so he’ll certainly have a point to prove.

The impact of the fans: There’s a reason everyone raves about Selhurst Park – and the Holmesdale Fanatics supporters. The atmosphere at Palace is head and shoulders above their Premier League rivals, and Vieira and his players will relish the chance to play in front of them again this season.

Prediction:
It will be a season of progress. Palace became stale under Roy Hodgson, so Vieira will have to get the fans on side by playing exciting, attacking football. There will be some setbacks, as expected, while lessons will have been learnt from the De Boer era.

Everton

Phil Kirkbride – Everton reporter, Liverpool Echo



Benitez’s appointment has been hugely controversial
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Hopes and dreams: The realistic hope is for Everton to book a return to Europe, but that will be far from easy, while success in either the FA Cup or League Cup, and ending a trophy drought dating back to 1995, would also be a dream.

The home fans will also hope – and expect – to see the team make Goodison a tough ground for the opposition again after a wretched record on their own patch last season.

Biggest fears: That Everton flatter to deceive again and that the club goes another season with success, exiting the cup competitions early and missing out on Europe.

Everton also face a task in trimming a bloated, expensive, squad and the fear is that struggles in offloading players could hinder what Rafa Benitez is able to do in improving the squad before deadline day.

Key player: Richarlison.

While the Brazilian did not reach the heights of his first two seasons at Everton last term, he remains the most important player in the squad. A fit and motivated Richarlison is a difference-maker for the Blues.



After impressing at the Olympics, Richarlison could just make the difference again for Everton
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Young player to watch: There are many in an exciting under-23s squad but striker Lewis Dobbin caught the eye in pre-season with three hat-tricks for the second string and was rewarded with a substitute appearance for the first-team at Old Trafford.

The impact of the fans: Benitez has been the most controversial appointment in the club’s history and he faces a fight to win over sections of the fan-base.

There is nothing more intimidating for opponents than a united Goodison but few things more troubling for home players than when there is discontent in the stands.

Hopefully Everton, and Benitez, can avoid the latter because with the fans behind the team, the Blues will fancy their chances against anyone at home.

Prediction: Qualifying for Europe is the target and, depending on what happens between now and August 31, has to be a realistic aim. Cup success is another hope.

Leeds

Sam Meade Sports writer, Mirror



Marcelo Bielsa’s Leeds will again be box office
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Hopes and dreams: Last season exceeded expectations in all honesty, so to finish ninth once again would be brilliant.

Of course every club wants progression but realistically the clubs who finished above us aren’t going to drop off significantly enough that we can leapfrog them.

Another big year from Patrick Bamford would also be welcomed by Leeds fans, who appreciate his quality more than opposition supporters.

Biggest fears: Second season syndrome and Kalvin Phillips having his head turned after his brilliant summer with England, although this is unlikely.

Key player: Phillips. He proved at the Euros that he can mix it with the best in Europe.



Phillips came of age for England in the summer
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Young player to watch: Ian Poveda.

In very small doses he has looked a prospect. Would love him to force his way into the attacking picture of a regular basis.

The impact of the fans: For us this can only be a good thing.

Elland Road bouncing is worth several points a season and, being bias I accept, is probably only second to Anfield for how it drives the team on. The fact Leeds fans haven’t seen top flight football for what will be 17 years will only add to the anticipation.

Prediction: Mid-table of some sort, we might not match ninth but it won’t be far off. Don’t expect much of a cup run however.

Worryingly, after a fourth year in charge, questions over whether Marcelo Bielsa will stay on may be asked come the turn of the year.

Leicester

Jordan Blackwell – Leicester City correspondent, Leicestershire Live



Brendan Rodgers will be desperate to take Leicester into the Champions League
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Hopes and dreams: After two very near misses, the aim for Leicester City has to be to sneak their way into the Champions League spots, even if the current top four are splashing the cash to keep their grip on the positions.

Winning the Europa League provides another route into the continent’s top competition, and Leicester have the talent to go all the way if their key players remain fit.

Biggest fears: With dynamic defender Wesley Fofana out until 2022 and concerns around Jonny Evans’ foot problem, Leicester are short at centre-back.

If they do not bring in a new signing before the deadline, their season will have taken a massive blow before it’s really begun.



Harvey Barnes is back fit again and will be vital for Leicester
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Key player: Harvey Barnes. While Leicester did win the FA Cup without him, their Premier League form stuttered a little without the pace and directness of Barnes on the left flank for the final three months.

The winger is fit again and if he shows the threat and composure he did last season, he will be a nightmare for every defence in the division.

Young player to watch: Luke Thomas. An academy graduate thrust into the senior squad 12 months ago, he is getting visibly stronger and more confident by the game, while his link-up with fellow local lad Barnes is one fans are excited by.

The impact of the fans: Leicester will hope supporters’ return changes their home fortunes and returns the King Power Stadium to the fortress it once was.

Last season, without crowds, Leicester lost nine home matches, while were only defeated three times on the road.

Prediction: Leicester will again push for a top-four spot and put the big boys under pressure, but the summer spending by those clubs means it’s an almighty task to usurp them.

Liverpool

Paul Gorst – Liverpool FC correspondent, Liverpool Echo



Jurgen Klopp will hope for much better luck with injuries this time around
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Hopes and dreams: Liverpool’s hope is that an injury-free season will get them back towards the levels of 2019/20 when they won the Premier League by 18 points and barely dropped any at all before the title was confirmed.

If the likes of Virgil van Dijk and Mohamed Salah – to name just two – do steer clear of any lengthy lay-offs then the Reds will be the closest challengers to Manchester City’s crown.

Biggest fears: On the other side of that coin, the biggest fear is perhaps that the malaise that set in around the start of 2021 is more deep rooted than just a lack of fit centre-backs and no fans inside the ground.

Liverpool lost six successive home games for the first time ever and went hours and hours without scoring from open play. That surely won’t be repeated, right?

Key player: If Liverpool are to win the title this season, then it will be Salah’s goals that will power it. Thirty-one in total last term marked him out for the fourth successive season as the Reds’ top scorer.

He just nudges out Van Dijk here. The best defender in the world is back in Liverpool red.



Salah has been Liverpool’s top scorer in each of the last four seasons
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Young player to watch: Harvey Elliott has been playing more of a central midfield role this pre-season and it doesn’t look as though a loan move is in the offing for him. Certainly one to keep an eye on at Anfield.

The impact of the fans: It really is immeasurable. After nearly four years unbeaten at home in the Premier League, a lack of fans contributed towards a half-dozen defeats on the spin for the first time in 129 years of Liverpool FC history last season.

Their return simply cannot be overstated. Not least for players like Sadio Mane and Roberto Firmino.









Prediction: The ‘big six’ is no longer. It’s back to being ‘the top four’ and I expect Manchester City, United, Liverpool and Chelsea to once again take those spots when the final whistle is blown next May.

Where they land, though, will be as intriguing and difficult to predict as it has been for years. Anyone who finishes above Man City may just be champions. Liverpool are best equipped to do that for me.

Manchester City

Aaron Flanagan – Digital Sports Editor, Daily Star



Pep Guardiola picked up his third Premier League title last season
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Hopes and dreams: To win the Champions League. It’s the only thing missing from the cabinet and last season should have finally been our time.

But here we are, at square one again, with the same aim.

Biggest fears: Not signing a striker. There were times last season, despite City’s dominance domestically, that it was clear a true marksman was required.

The Premier League is much stronger this season – Chelsea, Liverpool and United are all better than they were – and there is less room for error.

Key player: Harry Kane. Seriously. For reasons stated above.

The reason United stayed so good for so long in the noughties was that they didn’t let their rivals catch up. Failure to sign a world class striker only allows that gap between the rivals to be closed.



City are desperate to add Harry Kane to their ranks this summer
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Young player to watch: Cole Palmer. A left-footed right-winger who Pep clearly has a fondness for.

He made appearances in both the Champions League and Carabao Cup last year and started the Community Shield against Leicester last week. Although possibly on the lightweight side, he’s all-action and doesn’t know the definition of a backwards pass. Expect him to get plenty of chances to shine this season.

The impact of the fans: “It’s no different if the fans aren’t there,” jokes the world’s most boring football fan, who has clearly never heard the pin drops inside Anfield after kick-off.

Like most teams, City fans have a great relationship with the team. There’s a real family vibe. To be reunited once again will be special.

Prediction: European champions. Domestic champions. FA Cup winners.

We might let someone else have a go at winning the Carabao Cup this year, though. I look forward to the screenshots of this doing the rounds in May.

Manchester United

Rich Fay – Senior Manchester United writer, Manchester Evening News



Ole Gunnar Solskjaer has seen his position at Manchester United strengthen with a new contract
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Hopes and dreams: United have not won a trophy under Ole Gunnar Solskjaer yet, but they are getting closer.

The summer additions of Jadon Sancho and Raphael Varane bring extra quality to a squad which was already the second-best last season and they certainly have the individual talent to match any side.

If everything clicks and they stay injury free then United have every right to dream of winning the Premier League and going far in all cup competitions.

Biggest fears: An overreliance on key players. Solskjaer regularly praises the squad depth at his disposal but is guilty of never using it properly.

The last two campaigns have seen United tail-off right at the end having become too dependent on Bruno Fernandes, Marcus Rashford and Harry Maguire.

The big challenge will be rotating properly and managing the fitness of their best players.

Key player: Raphael Varane.

The criticism is always that United don’t have a centre-back partnership good enough to win the title, now they do.

Coupled with the international form of Luke Shaw and Harry Maguire there is a case to argue United even have the best back-four in world football now. Achieving their goals will rely on the success of their summer signing.



Raphael Varane arrives at United with the pedigree of a serial winner
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Young player to watch: Anthony Elanga.

The Swedish teenager could yet leave on loan if an appropriate offer comes in but Solskjaer will be reluctant to actually sanction it.

Elanga scored twice in three pre-season fixtures and has seemingly overtaken Shola Shoretire and Hannibal Mejbri to be the closest youngster to a permanent first-team promotion.

The impact of the fans: The return of fans should help restore Old Trafford’s fear factor and the atmosphere could prove pivotal in spurring the side onto great things.

Many recent stars such as Fernandes and Cavani have only played in front of home fans a handful of times since arriving last year and will be eager to make up for lost time.

On the flip side, United didn’t lose an away league game last season and are unbeaten on the road in the Premier League since January 2020 – hostile away days could make it trickier to emulate such a feat.

Prediction: United haven’t won a trophy under Ole Gunnar Solskjaer and haven’t lifted any silverware since the Europa League back in 2017.

The bare minimum this season is a serious Premier League title challenge and to win a trophy. They were a penalty kick away from doing so last season, the additions of Sancho and Varane make it a realistic aim.

Newcastle

Aaron Stokes – Assistant Sports Editor, Daily Star



Fans returning to St James’ Park might not be good news for Steve Bruce
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Hopes and dreams: Newcastle fans are arguably the least optimistic of all 20 Premier League sides heading into the new season, with many fearing relegation is all-but nailed on.

However, it’s worth remembering the Magpies have survived fairly comfortably in the last two seasons. A mid-table finish and a decent cup run would probably be classed as a good campaign come May 2022.

Biggest fears : Jamaal Lascelles, Paul Dummett, Isaac Hayden, Matt Ritchie and Dwight Gayle all started Newcastle’s first game in the Championship back in 2016… and they could all realistically start in this season’s curtain-raiser with West Ham too.

That is a big worry for fans on Tyneside who are fed up with owner Mike Ashley not putting his hand in his pocket. Steve Bruce’s style of football has also been questioned since his arrival.

Key player: Many supporters would argue Allan Saint-Maximin is the key man this season. But it has to be Callum Wilson.

The ex-Bournemouth striker netted almost 40 per cent of Newcastle’s goals last term despite struggling with injuries. Keeping the 29-year-old fit is imperative this year.



Callum Wilson’s goals will again be key for the Magpies
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Young player to watch: Jamal Lewis failed to hit the heights during his first season in the North East. But the former Norwich man has bags of talent, as seen during his time with the Canaries.

Hopefully with a run of games under his belt the left-back will enjoy a better campaign this time around.

Impact of fans : The return of supporters may be good for the players – but it won’t be for the manager. Newcastle fans were allowed to attend one home game at the business end of last season and they wasted no time making their feelings known towards Steve Bruce.

Prediction: Another year of mid-table mediocrity. Flirting with the relegation zone until February before pulling clear of the drop in the final months of the season.

Norwich

Michael Mutch – Norwich City writer, Norfolk Live



Daniel Farke and Norwich are back in the big time
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Hopes and dreams: Survival. It’s as simple as that.

Norwich City are one of those clubs who get to the party but are kicked out early doors. They have only managed to achieve three consecutive seasons in the top flight and the club want, née need, to rip off the yo-yo label to be taken seriously as a Premier League side.

Survival is the main aim but fans will be hoping for some memorable moments along the way to achieving this. Another 3-2 win against Manchester City at Carrow Road would be very nice.

Biggest fears: When Norwich were relegated after the 2019/20 campaign sporting director Stuart Webber said ‘it’s like we’ve gone to war without a gun and guess what? We’ve been shot?’

The question now is whether they have learnt from their mistakes and have this time come to the Premier League armed.

There is still work to be done to bolster the squad. The club are still in search of another full-back and their pursuit of a central defender has gone quiet after the failed attempts to bring Kristoffer Ajer to Carrow Road.

There is still time in the transfer window and there is still work to do.



Local lad Todd Cantwell will play an important role
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Key Player: With Emi Buendia gone someone needs to step up and that is where Todd Cantwell comes in.

The 23-year-old local lad broke through the ranks in City’s last outing in the Premier League and has become a mainstay in the starting eleven ever since.

Young player to watch: Billy Gilmour’s arrival on loan from Chelsea has certainly got Norwich City fans excited for the season ahead.

He has already shown what he is capable of in pre-season for the Canaries. His ability to turn away from danger with ease and retain possession is on par with those with much more experience.









The impact of fans: There is no doubt that this season is going to be a struggle for the Canaries and the return of fans into stadiums could not have come at a better time.

When the going gets tough it is the noise of a packed out Carrow Road that will bring them the strength to get through.

Prediction: With tough opening fixtures, it would be no surprise to see the Canaries at the foot of the league table after six games but it is what comes after that that is important.

The best decision the board made last year was not pushing the panic button. The best deal they have done this summer is tying Farke down to a four-year contract.

It is going to be a struggle but the Canaries are somewhat better equipped compared to two years ago and survival is not impossible.

Southampton

Tom Leach – Southampton reporter, Hampshire Live



Ralph Hassenhuttl will have to hope with the loss of Danny ings this season
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Hopes and dreams: Sure, Southampton may have lost star striker Danny Ings this summer but do not count them out for a top half finish just yet.

Backed by a manager on the up, the Saints are looking to do some smart business to prepare them for the new season with strikers Adam Armstrong and Armando Broja on their way to joining Romain Perraud and Tino Livramento on the list of incomings.

A top ten finish is the aim, but having a season more consistent than last would be enough for Ralph Hasenhuttl.

Biggest fears: Defensively, Saints were poor last season but it is the prospect of not scoring enough goals to stay afloat that scares supporters the most.

With Ings, that was never a fear but Armstrong, Adams and Broja are yet to prove themselves in the Premier League.



James Ward-Prowse has remained at St Mary’s despite interest from elsewhere
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Key player: James Ward-Prowse, the captain.

He is central to everything that Southampton do and is being watched by the biggest clubs in England. Despite embarking on his tenth season as a senior Saints player, he is still only 26 and the board at St Mary’s hope that he will still be there when he is 36.

Young player to watch: Keep an eye out for this player, Nathan Tella.

The 22-year-old forward was the star of Southampton’s pre-season after making his breakthrough last term. He is the second coming of his childhood hero, Theo Walcott. He is terrifyingly fast and, if he can add goals to his game, will be a real star.

The impact of the fans: Hasenhuttl is always barking orders at his players from the sidelines, so let’s hope they can still hear him with the stadiums packed!

It could be a tough season and Saints will need their fans to get behind them, drowning out those who booed during a pre-season defeat against Athletic Bilbao.

Prediction: Saints will have enough to stay away from the bottom three but a top ten finish looks unlikely at this stage.

Tottenham

Alex Milne – Sports writer, Mirror



Nuno has walked into a tricky situation at Tottenham
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Hopes and dreams: To enjoy football again – it really is that simple.

The last couple of years have been miserable, with Spurs going from arguably one of the most entertaining teams to support in the country to a dismal, disjointed one which Jose Mourinho and Daniel Levy have done their very best to rip the soul out of.

But if new manager Nuno Espirito Santo can bring back a bit of the feel-good factor and get Spurs playing some entertaining football while integrating the most promising youngsters and getting the best out of the summer signings, that would be enough.

Biggest fears: A season of mid-table mediocrity where the players don’t buy into Nuno’s methods, the games are boring, the divide between the club and fans grows ever larger, the magnificent 60,000-seater stadium is left half-empty for most games and Harry Kane wins the quadruple with Manchester City.

Oh, and further continental embarrassment with defeat to the Albanian runners-up in the Europa Conference League.



Son’s importance could be even greater should Kane leave
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Key player: Son Heung-min.

If Kane does move on there will be huge pressure on the 29-year-old to deliver on a consistent basis – something he has never quite managed amid his reputation as a somewhat streaky player.

Despite last season being the most prolific of his career yet, Son still suffered a period between mid-January and early April where he managed just one goal in 15 appearances.

He will simply not be able to afford to do that again without Kane, and this campaign could be a real indicator as to whether Son is a world-class forward or just a really, really good one.

Young player to watch: Oliver Skipp.

The central midfielder showed promising signs after coming through the academy at Spurs, but it was his loan spell at Norwich last season where he really seemed to go up another level.

Skipp was a huge part of the Canaries’ Championship-winning side, and that vital experience should see him push on for a regular place in the Spurs starting line-up this season.







The impact of the fans: This one really could go either way.

Spurs fans deservedly have a reputation for being somewhat fickle, and if the side get off to a slow start the atmosphere could turn toxic pretty quickly.

Nuno will be given the benefit of the doubt initially, and the hope will be that he can bring the team and supporters together in a similar way that Mauricio Pochettino initially did.

It will also be absolutely fascinating to see whether Kane is ever able to win the Spurs faithful back over if he ends up not getting his move to City.

Prediction: A steady if unspectacular season of transition, with the ‘painful rebuild’ Pochettino once warned of finally taking shape.

Watford

Kyle O’Sullivan – Mirror TV Features Writer and Watford fan



Xisco has guided Watford back to the top-flight
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Hopes and dreams: Repeating the sensational feat of Graham Taylor’s 1982/83 side and finishing runners up in the top-flight after being newly promoted.

Failing that, just staying up would be nice.

Biggest fears: Getting off to a bad start, especially considering our relatively easy opening run of games.

Xisco reignited a struggling side when he came in halfway through last season but has not faced a bad run of form yet. Our Italian owners are famously trigger happy and an early managerial sacking would come as no surprise.

Scoring goals was a problem during stages of last season and will be even more of an issue in the Premier League, so bringing in Josh King seems like a masterstroke. The contract stand-offs with Will Hughes and Nathaniel Chalobah still loom over us and could really dent our midfield.



Ismaila Sarr has been linked with several moves away but ended up staying at Watford
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Key player: Without doubt it’s Ismaila Sarr flying down the wing. How we managed to fend off the likes of Liverpool to keep him in the Championship I’ll never know.

The Senegalese winger got kicked around a lot in the second tier so he’ll be much tougher this season – he just needs to be more consistent with his end product. With ageing talismanic striker Troy Deeney set for a bit part role, Sarr is the man to pick up the baton.

Young player to watch: After a terrific campaign last time round there are high hopes for Joao Pedro.

The 19-year-old Brazilian wonderkid tailed off a bit at the end of the last season so it will be interesting to see how he adapts. There was also a lot of love for 21-year-old winger Joseph Hungbo, who returned from his loan spell at Aldershot in January and impressed during his five appearances for the Hornets.

The impact of the fans: Not being at Vicarage Road to celebrate promotion was gutting but we made up for it in and around the Watford High Street pond.

There is a tiny bit of trepidation in the air but the fans are buzzing to get back into the Vic – as long as they manage to download their virtual season tickets with the controversial new system.

Prediction: The expectation is purely to stay up and I believe we will manage that without any final day drama. It’s party time at the Xisco disco.

West Ham

Jack Staplehurst – Assistant Sports Editor, Daily Star



David Moyes will look to improve on last season’s impressive showing
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Hopes and dreams: West Ham fans are simple at heart. All we want is to dream. Give us hope and reason for optimism, on and off the pitch. We want the club to TRY, from top to bottom.

The owners need to invest and back the manager before the window ends so we have the squad capable of competing on all fronts. We don’t want to have to sacrifice competitions for a chance of progressing well in another.

Reaching the knockout stages of the Europa League, finishing in the top eight and going on one good cup run would be solid.

Biggest fears: Definitely the squad depth.

Our spine is generally great (Rice, Soucek, Ogbonna, Antonio). The starting XI is strong enough to compete. But there is no way we’ll survive with two games a week. Antonio still being our only striker is a joke, so unless we add another four or five players before the window shuts, we’re in trouble.

It would be a real waste of such an opportunity, and prove to players like Rice they are truly better off elsewhere.

Key player: Declan Rice. No doubt.

His injury at the back end of last season showed just how much of an influence he has on the team. Our defence was exposed, while Soucek and others’ performances appeared to drop off.



Declan Rice has grown into a real leader for West Ham and England
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Young player to watch: Conor Coventry.

Our board’s lack of desire to add depth means youngsters are going to be relied upon more than ever ahead of a season in Europe. Soucek and Rice cannot play every week, and with Noble in his final year, Coventry is set to be chucked in the deep end.

He has real quality on the ball, though, and can certainly do a job. I’m excited to see him in action more regularly for West Ham.

The impact of the fans: This is always going to be a difficult topic for West Ham supporters. If the team starts to drop off, the fans will be blamed for adding pressure.

But who’s to say fans being in the stadium last season to cheer on such an improving team full of real quality throughout the XI for the first time in years wouldn’t have spurred them on even more in some matches – even enough to have got those three extra points to qualify for the Champions League?

The ongoing takeover saga probably won’t help, as protests could distract the team and uncertainty is never ideal. On away days in Europe, though, there will be few better followings than the Hammers lot on tour.









Prediction: I’m pessimistic rather than optimistic. I’ve seen us crumble too many times before. But we have the characters to cope now.

Between Rice, Soucek and Coufal, we have three proper warriors. They will drag their team-mates with them into battle each and every game.

So long as we don’t burn out too early in the season, another memorable campaign could await. Transfer speculation around Rice will be inevitable and a downer for fans, but if he can lead us to some truly special nights, it will be worth it.

Wolves

Alex Richards – Assistant Sports Editor, Mirror



Bruno Lage has replaced Nuno in the Wolves hotseat
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Hopes and dreams: Things look very different for Wolves this season, with Nuno Espirito Santo gone and Bruno Lage in.

After last season’s difficulties and on-field struggles, the hope is that a more attacking style of play yields greater entertainment, more goals, points and a climb up the table.

Biggest fears: The squad still doesn’t look strong enough, especially at the heart of defence where there’s been little improvement in recent years; the first-choice centre-backs remain the same guys who won the Championship (when Romain Saiss played in midfield).

The big worry is that Wolves are a great unknown this season under Lage; you knew what you were going to see under Nuno, now the step into the unknown is all a little bit uncomfortable.

Key player: Raul Jimenez.

Back from his career-threatening head injury, Wolves’ hopes dissipated when he went down last term. Pre-season has shown how crucial he will be once more.



Raul Jimenez is back and ready to lead the line for Wolves
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Young player to watch: Morgan Gibbs-White.

Feels like a player in the last chance saloon at Molineux now. Needs to finally turn his undoubted potential into something much more tangible.

The impact of the fans: The return of fans is huge, but Molineux does have a reputation with being one of English football’s most fickle places to play.

If Wolves start the season well and show the kind of attacking intent fans are desperate to see, then it could have a major positive impact. Alternatively, it could go the other way if things don’t start well.

Prediction: Unless there are some smart signings before the end of the transfer window, it looks like a difficult campaign is ahead, particularly while attempting to transition to a new style.

Could end up anywhere between eighth and 18th! A good start looks imperative.











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