Premier League 2021/22

SEASON START CLUB BY CLUB ANALYSIS 

Arsenal

Ins: Ben White (Brighton, €59m), Albert Sambi Lokonga (Anderlecht, €17.7m), Nuno Tavares (Benfica, €9.5m)
  
Outs: Daniel Oyegoke (Brentford, undisclosed), Ben Sheaf (Coventry, undisclosed)

Ambition: The talk will be of top four and a return to the Champions League, which was a minimum for the Arsenal of old. In reality, unless Mikel Arteta’s new-look side clicks quickly, top six and a Europa League spot would not be sniffed at. A domestic cup and a St Totteringham’s Day party would help morale, too. The true test of Arsenal's ambition will come in the transfer window, however.
  
Key man: When even Tottenham fans cheer an Arsenal player you know you have something special on your hands. Bakayo Saka earned that rare accolade in a pre-season north London friendly - and seems to have won hearts and minds with his attitude, skill and honesty both on and off the pitch. He’s crucial to Arsenal’s progress as they bid to shake off the mediocrity and inconsistency of last season.  

 

Ben White of Arsenal during the Pre-season friendly between Tottenham Hotspur and Arsenal at Tottenham Hotspur Stadium on August 08, 2021 in London, England. (Photo by Catherine Ivill/Getty Images)

Recruitment: Some welcome pruning of dead wood and the arrival of defender Ben White from Brighton is a sign of Arsenal’s intent, but only a start. The Gunners have been linked with a vast array of players, from James Maddison to Manuel Locatelli, but so often their initial bid is so far below the valuation. Midfielder Albert Sambi Lokonga and left-back Nuno Tavares are decent squad buys, whilst Emile Smith-Rowe signing a new contract was vital.  
 
What they still need: An attacking midfielder who can create, dribble, break the lines and break the press. But they are expensive and not easy to find. Having lost Dani Ceballos and Martin Odegaard there are glaring gaps in midfield and a lack of assist makers. There is also a need for a goalkeeping back-up to Bernd Leno, a right-back should Hector Bellerin move on, and a long-term successor for Alexandre Lacazette up front. 
  
Verdict: Until we see the full cast list on Sept 1 it’s very difficult to predict Arsenal’s season, and there are imponderables even within the current squad. Will Thomas Partey finally come good now that he knows the league? Will Aubameyang fire again? Will Ben White’s ability on the ball be the answer to Arsenal’s propensity to be harried into mistakes at the back? With a good start and a good window, Arsenal can be top six. But seventh or eighth looks more likely. 

Brighton & Hove Albion

Ins: Enock Mwepu (RB Salzburg €23.5m), Kjell Sherpen (Ajax, €5.3m), Kaoru Mitoma (Kawasaki Front, undisclosed) 

Outs: Ben White (Arsenal, €60m), Alireza Jahanbakhsh (Feyenoord €1m), Davy Propper (PSV, free), Mat Ryan (Real Sociedad, free), Bernardo (Salzburg, free), Matt Clarke (West Brom, loan), Viktor Gyokeres (Coventry, undisclosed), Kaoru Mitoma (Union SG, loan), Jose Izquierdo (released) 

Ambition: Every year Brighton say the ambition is to stay up but in reality it’s time to aim a little higher. So far they have finished 15th, 17th, 15th and 16th in their four campaigns in the Premier League, so top half is the next step. Last season’s thrilling 3-2 victory over champions Manchester City showed their potential, if only they could score more goals. 

Key man: Danny Welbeck. The ex-Man Utd and Arsenal striker has a point to prove after seeing his career fade prematurely. Having signed a new one-year contract at the Amex, this season is his opportunity to prove he still has it. There were signs at the end of the last campaign that he does. But, typically, he’s likely to miss the start of the season with a hamstring problem. Brighton will hope that’s not a portent. 

 

Danny Welbeck of Brighton and Hove Albion during the Premier League match between Wolverhampton Wanderers and Brighton & Hove Albion at Molineux on May 09, 2021 in Wolverhampton, England.  (Photo by Naomi Baker/Getty Images)

Recruitment: You get the impression that Brighton’s recruitment is not yet over for the summer, and fans will hope that’s the case. Young midfielder Enock Mwepu comes with a good reputation, but having lost Ben White to Arsenal for almost 60m Euros there is room for greater ambition. They did tie Adam Webster and Danny Welbeck to new contracts, though. 

What they still need: The glaring omission for a team that regularly dominates possession but doesn’t always turn it into goals is a top-quality striker to turn one point into three; but you get the impression Brighton are on the case. They have been heavily linked with Arsenal’s Eddie Nketiah, who is an out-and-out finisher. 

Verdict: This is a key season for Brighton, who showed significant signs of improvement last season under talented coach Graham Potter, even if it didn’t show in the Premier League table. But they cannot continue to win plaudits for their football whilst still losing games – there needs to be a cutting edge. Expect them to hover around 15th again, but the internal target may be higher. 

Leeds United

Ins: Jack Harrison (Manchester City, €12.8m), Junior Firpo (Barcelona, €15m), Kristoffer Klaesson (Vålerenga, €2m).

Outs: Ezgjan Alioski (Ahli, Free), Barry Douglas (Lech Poznan, Free), Pablo Hernandez (CD Castellon, Free), Kiko Casilla (Elche CF, Loan), Leif Davis (Bournemouth, Loan), Gaetano Berardi (Released).

Ambition: Last season, Leeds exceeded everyone’s expectations as they secured ninth-place in the Premier League. Known for their expansive football under Marcelo Bielsa, Leeds at times were either unplayable, or could not play at all. They are a well-drilled, super-fit team, but with other teams strengthening and Leeds only recruiting one new first team player, it looks like any increased expectations may need to be toned down. They will still do well if they continue to play the way they do, but further strengthening will be needed.

 

Patrick Bamford of Leeds United acknowledges the fans following the Premier League match between Leeds United and West Bromwich Albion at Elland Road on May 23, 2021. (Photo by Lynne Cameron - Pool/Getty Images)

Key man: Patrick Bamford was the star for Leeds last year and he is going to be their main man once again. With 17 goals and eight assists last season, Bamford had the fifth highest combined goals and assists total in the Premier League. He has matured under Bielsa, becoming not only a goal-scorer, but a creator as well. With fellow attackers Rodrigo and Raphinha adapting well to the league with their pace and trickery, Bamford looks set to excel once again, hoping to avoid the title of ‘one season wonder’.

Recruitment: Leeds have been surprisingly quiet in this transfer window, with more outgoings and incomings. Versatile left-back Ezgjan Alioski departed at the end of his contract to Saudi Arabia, and has been replaced by Barcelona defender Junior Firpo, while former long-term loanee, midfielder Jack Harrison, finally makes the permanent switch to Leeds from Premier League champions Manchester City. Young goalkeeper Kristoffer Klaesson arrived from Vålerenga as back up to first choice Illan Meslier after the departure of the experienced Kiko Casilla, who has joined Elche on loan.
What they still need: There is a lot of emphasis on Patrick Bamford to lead the line week in, week out, but Leeds have no cover if he were to get injured. Leeds will need to address this as they are weaker as a team without that focal point up front. Rodrigo can play up top or on either flank, but it seems Bielsa prefers him in a deeper role. A back-up right back to cover Luke Ayling may also be a position of interest, while another box-to-box midfield could help the team.

Verdict: Lack of signings aside, Leeds are a high performing team who, despite exceeding expectations last season, will continue to perform at a similar, or maybe greater level to what they did in the past. The lack of signings will hurt them, but that depends whether injuries become a factor like last season. However, this team play and work as a unit, and they all believe in the system Bielsa plays, so if they cut out the sloppy defensive errors, then potentially Leeds could be looking at another ninth-place finish.Gerry Cox

Manchester United

Ins: Tom Heaton (Aston Villa, free), Jadon Sancho (Borussia Dortmund, £73m), Raphael Varane (Real Madrid, £41m)

Outs: None

Ambition: It has to be the league title although, given events in the transfer window, it is hard to see beyond their neighbours City in that area. That said, United’s title hopes last season were undone, almost before they had begun, by a disastrous home run of one win from their opening six games. Better form at Old Trafford and perhaps a title challenge is not out of the question. Beyond that, this is the season Ole Gunnar Solskjaer MUST win his first trophy as United manager - a cup, any cup, would suffice.

 

Manchester United's French midfielder Paul Pogba reacts at the final whistle of the pre-season friendly football match between Manchester United and Everton at Old Trafford in Manchester, north west England, on August 7, 2021. -  (Photo by LINDSEY PARNABY/AFP via Getty Images)

Key man: Varane. The signing of Sancho was the glamour capture that will excite the casual fan and shift replica shirts off the shelves of the Old Trafford superstore, but more discerning supporters know that the French international could be the crucial difference that lifts United above the status of perennial nearly men. Harry Maguire, by and large, has proved a solid buy, if one worth nothing like the £80m price tag he brought with him two years ago, but his considerable shortcomings have been exposed by the lack of a reliable partner alongside him. Varane appears to solve that conundrum.

Recruitment: Executive vice chairman Ed Woodward, and his unpopular American owners, have long since been pilloried by supporters for their cautious and sluggish approach in the transfer market. Now, perhaps sparked into life by the near revolt from fans at the end of last season, that caution has been thrown to the wind - especially in a marketplace still recovering from the Covid hangover. Sancho and Varane were, relatively speaking, reasonably priced and their signings pulled off with the minimum of drama. Heaton, incidentally, actually represents a great third choice keeper and offers Solskjaer a get out of jail card if he finds he needs to sell David de Gea or Dean Henderson at any point.

What they still need: A right-back would be a luxury but United will not do business at Atletico Madrid’s £40m asking price. Rather, United’s focus now is on a response to if or when they lose Paul Pogba, whose contract expires at the end of this new season. PSG seemed the only plausible suitor but they suddenly discovered other priorities last week when Lionel Messi made his tearful Barca exit. It is hard to see any other club being able to afford Pogba’s salary which means the most likely outcome is the French star going into the new campaign without a contract but agreeing one mid-season. Should he leave, in the short or medium term, United will need to act fast for a replacement.

Verdict: A trophy - a cup - is not out of the question, especially if Manchester City make a concerted run at the Champions League. The Premier League is not impossible and the Reds may come closer than last season’s 12 point deficit to City … but it looks a long shot, given City’s aggressive transfer activity.

Tottenham Hotspur

Ins: Cristian Romero (Atalanta loan), Pierluigi Gollina (Atalanta loan) Bryan Gil (Sevilla €25m plus Lamela in exchange)

Outs: Toby Alderweireld (Al Duhail Qatar €13m), Danny Rose (Watford free), Joe Hart (Celtic €1.5m), Erik Lamela (Sevilla free), Juan Foyth (Villareal €15m), Gareth Bale (end of loan) Carlos Vinicius (end of loan) Paulo Gazzaniga (Fulham, free)

Ambition: New manager Nuno Espirito Santo already has a big job on his hands to get Tottenham back into the top four, where they became a fixture under Mauricio Pochettino, and that will get even harder if Harry Kane leaves. Last season's seventh place qualifies Spurs for the Europa Conference League and it would be embarrassing for them not to reach the latter stages of UEFA's third tier cup. The Premier League is beyond Tottenham's reach, but a cup is not out of the question. Fans would like to see entertaining football once again.

 

Tottenham Hotspur's English striker Harry Kane warms up for the English Premier League football match between Leicester City and Tottenham Hotspur at King Power Stadium in Leicester. (Photo by SHAUN BOTTERILL/POOL/AFP via Getty Images)

Key man: Harry Kane has been the main man for the past five years or so, and was the PL's most effective forward last season, with most assists and most goals. If he stays Spurs have a chance to compete for honours, if he leaves without an adequate replacement, they are mid-table. The arrival of Cristian Romero from Atalanta should help shore up a defence that cost Spurs so many points, and a Top Four spot, last season. The main question will be who partners the Argentinian in central defence – Eric Dier, Davinson Sanchez or even Joe Rodon.

Recruitment: As above, Spurs will hope Cristian Romero will turn out to be the answer to the big problem they have had in the centre of defence since the demise of the Toby Alderweireld/Jan Vertonghen's partnership. Young Spanish winger Bryan Gil has been signed to replace Erik Lamela, who went to Sevilla in return, and Pierluigi Gollini should prove an able back up to Hugo Lloris in goal. Also back from loan spells are youngsters Oliver Skipp and Ryan Sessegnon, who could play more significant roles this season.

What they still need: Right back was a problem last season, with neither Serge Aurier or Matt Doherty as good as the departed Kieran Trippier. Another top class central defender would be ideal, but the big question remains who can replace Kane if the striker leaves. Fiorentina's Dusan Vlahovic is one target, Inter's Lautaro Martinez another, and both forwards are would cost over €50m – money that would have to come from the sale of Kane. A box-to-box midfielder may also be required if Tanguy Ndombele is considered surplus to requirements.

Verdict: Another season of transition for Spurs. Daniel Levy has promised a return to the club's DNA of attacking football using young starlets, but is Nuno the man to deliver, and does he have the squad to compete for trophies? In his favour is the fact that fans' expectations are as low as the bad old days of Andre Villas-Boas and Tim Sherwood. And of course the Kane factor is still huge – keep him and they have a chance, sell him without a proper replacement and Spurs will be back to mid-table mediocrity.

Aston Villa

Ins: Emiliano Buendia (Norwich City, €38.4m), Danny Ings (Southampton, €35.2m), Leon Bailey (Bayer Leverkusen, €32m), Ashley Young (Inter Milan, Free), Axel Tuanzebe (Manchester United, Loan).

Outs: Jack Grealish (Manchester City, €117.5m), Mbwana Samatta (Fenerbahce, €6m), Tom Heaton (Manchester United, Free), Bjӧrn Engels (Royal Antwerp, Free), Ahmed Elmohamady (Released), Neil Taylor (Released).

Ambition: Aston Villa fans should be excited about their prospects for the season ahead. Jack Grealish went for a record British transfer fee, but Villa have spent the money well and brought in players that cover key positions. Dean Smith’s men enjoyed a good second season back in the Premier League, but despite results tailing off towards the end of the season, they finished comfortably. Villa should be looking towards the top ten with their young and exciting team.

 

Emiliano Buendia of Aston Villa in action during a pre-season friendly match between Stoke City and Aston Villa at Britannia Stadium on July 24, 2021 in Stoke on Trent, England. (Photo by Jan Kruger/Getty Images)

Key man: With Grealish’s departure, Villa will be looking for a new star to dazzle the Premier League and Emiliano Buendia looks the perfect replacement, having arrived from Norwich. Much like Grealish, Buendia is a creator and a goal-scorer, with 15 goals and 17 assists in the Championship last season as Norwich cruised to the title. With Premier League experience already, Buendia was wanted by Arsenal, but chose Villa and looks destined to make it to the top.

Recruitment: Villa have probably had one of the best transfer windows in the league. The Jack Grealish windfall has brought wingers Emiliano Buendia and Leon Bailey from Norwich and Bayer Leverkusen respectively, along with striker Danny Ings from Southampton to join Ollie Watkins in attack. The versatile Ashley Young arrived on a free transfer from Inter Milan, while central defender Axel Tuanzebe returns on loan from Manchester United. Villa have had an excellent summer of recruiting and it may not be over yet.

What they still need: Ashley Young’s arrival will provide much needed cover for both full backs, thanks to the 36-year-old’s versatility in defence, but a back-up left back to Matt Targett should be a priority after Neil Taylor’s release. Tom Heaton’s return to Manchester United may force Villa to search for a new second choice goalkeeper behind the impressive Emiliano Martinez, and a new box-to-box midfielder should help lower the burden put on midfielders John McGinn and Douglas Luiz. Tying down key players should be another priority.

Verdict: Villa now have the tools to show the Premier League that they can perform without having to rely on their talisman Grealish. The forward options that they now have should worry most Premier League defences and the team should be ambitious with how they go about things. Strength and depth in key positions will be a priority for the rest of the transfer window, but under Dean Smith, they have a manager who will be able to keep everyone level-headed. Sixth to eighth place is a realistic possibility for Villa.

Chelsea

Ins: Romelu Lukaku from Inter €105m, Marcus Bettinelli (Fulham, free)

Outs: Olivier Giroud (AC Milan €1m), Fikayo Tomori (AC Milan €28m) Billy Gilmour (Norwich, loan) Armando Broja (Southampton, loan), Willy Caballero (released)

Ambition: Simple – win everything possible. Roman Abramovich will settle for nothing less. Having won the Champions League within five months of arriving last January, and the Super Cup this week, Thomas Tuchel knows he has to keep delivering – Roberto Di Matteo was sacked only three months into the season following 2013's Champions League victory. Chelsea are Manchester City's closest rivals for the Premier League, and are in a strong position to be Champions of Europe again. Anything less than a major trophy would be failure.

 

Mason Mount of Chelsea during the Premier League match between Chelsea and Arsenal at Stamford Bridge on May 12, 2021 in London, England. Photo by Catherine Ivill/Getty Images)

Key man: Romelu Lukaku is the final piece in a jigsaw Tuchel inherited from Lampard, given Timo Werner did not turn out to be the goal machine his previous form in Germany had suggested. But even with Lukaku's finishing prowess, Chelsea need more creativity from midfield, and Mateo Kovacic was missed when he was injured last season. The Croatian could be key to unlocking defences and supplying the bullets for Lukaku and Co to fire, and there is no like-for-like cover.

Recruitment: A proven, prolific, Premier league quality striker was missing from the squad that won the Champions League but only scraped into the top four on the final day of last season. Lukaku has clearly filled that hole, which is bad news for Timo Werner, who looked out of his depth last season, along with Hakim Ziyech. Marcus Bettinelli has come down the road from Fulham to replace Willy Caballero as third-choice keeper behind Edouard Mendy and Kepa.

What they still need: Now he has his big target man, Tuchel's only other concern might be a creative midfielder who can complement or cover for Mateo Kovacic. Billy Gilmour showed before and after his injury, and also with Scotland at Euro 2020, that is a fine creative playmaker, but he is on a season long-loan at Norwich. Tuchel's biggest problem is who to offload from a top-heavy squad, especially with some of last summer's big-money signings failing to sparkle. Expect more departures before the window closes.

Verdict: This is the season where we should discover if Tuchel can outfox Pep Guardiola to win the Premier League. The German's priority after taking over from Frank Lampard last January was to stop conceding goals, and Chelsea's defensive form for most of the second half of the season was the stuff of champions. Expectation are always high at Chelsea and winning the Champions League will have raised them a notch. It would be surprising if Chelsea fail to win a trophy – but no shock if such a scenario led to Tuchel's departure.

Leicester City

Ins: Patson Daka (RB Salzburg, €30m), Boubakary Soumaré (LOSC Lille, €20m), Ryan Bertrand (Southampton, Free).

Outs: Matty James (Bristol City, Free), Christian Fuchs (Charlotte FC, Free), Wes Morgan (Retired).

Ambition: Leicester will hope to secure a Champions League place after losing a top four spot on the final day of the season for the second successive year. For the first time in a while, the Foxes are coming into a new season having not sold one of their star players, and instead have strengthened key positions to accommodate another season fighting for the top-four. Having won the FA Cup in May and Community Shield last week, Brendan Rodgers will be hoping for more silverware - with the Europa League a realistic target.

 

Harvey Barnes of Leicester City applauds fans during a Pre Season Friendly match between Leicester City and Villarreal CF at The King Power Stadium on August 04, 2021 in Leicester, England. (Photo by Alex Pantling/Getty Images)

Key man: Leicester as a team are a very strong and organised unit, with cover for most positions, but Harvey Barnes will be of huge importance to them this season. When he was fit, Barnes was unstoppable at times, with his link-up play and pace made him one of the most feared attackers in the Premier League last season. His injury late in April and Leicester’s lack of form resulted in poor end to the campaign, but with a full pre-season under his belt, Barnes will be the one to watch.

Recruitment: Strengthening a successful side was the aim for Rodgers coming into the new season, and the recruitment team at Leicester have done just that. The signings of striker Patson Daka and midfielder Boubakary Soumaré from RB Salzburg and Lille respectively have added quality and depth to key positions, while the acquisition of Ryan Bertrand on a free transfer will provide cover on the left-hand side of defence. Tying down their star players to new contracts should be the next priority for the Foxes.

What they still need: The serious injury suffered by Wesley Fofana in a pre-season friendly was not what Leicester needed just days before the start of the new season, with Wes Morgan having retired. Croatian centre-back Filip Benković has looked impressive in pre-season, but Leicester’s priority should be a new central defender as cover for Fofana, who could be out until 2022. Jannik Vestergaard of Southampton is a target, with the clubs close to agreeing a fee for the Dane.

Verdict: Fofana’s injury has put a dampener on things around the club, but Leicester will be more determined than ever before to reach the Champions League, and not make it a third successive year of just missing out. The new signings will help take the load off key players like Jamie Vardy and Wilfred Ndidi, and Brendan Rodgers will continue to be bold in his decision making. Leicester should now be considered part of the big six, and anything below that will be seen as a failure.

Newcastle United

Ins: No signings yet.

Outs: Yoshinori Muto (Vissel Kobe, Free), Christian Atsu (Al-Raed, Free), Jake Turner (Colchester United, Free), Florian Lejeune (Alaves, Undisclosed Fee), Andy Carroll (Released), Henri Saviet (Released).

Ambition: It is difficult to say what the ambition of Newcastle United actually is, no signings as of yet (a fee has been agreed for midfielder Joe Willock but the deal has not been finalised yet), but with a squad that is largely unchanged in two years, and teams they usually battle with strengthening significantly, Premier League survival seems like the logical expectation from this Newcastle side. Manager Steve Bruce will obviously be aiming higher, but it will be a long season for the team from the North.

 

Callum Wilson of Newcastle United runs with the ball during the Pre-Season Friendly match between Doncaster Rovers and Newcastle United at at Keepmoat Stadium on July 23, 2021 in Doncaster, England. (Photo by Charlotte Tattersall/Getty Images)

Key man: Callum Wilson had a very good campaign last season, with 12 goals and five assists in 26 games, and will be the player Newcastle rely on the most this season as well. If Wilson can stay fit and some of Newcastle’s more skilful players, such as Miguel Almirón and Allan Saint-Maximin, can have more of an impact in games, then more chances will fall to Newcastle’s talisman. If Wilson can bag a handful of goals early in the season, then it will set the path for a successful season.

Recruitment: No new signings as of yet for Newcastle, but a variety of players have left on free transfers, including winger Christian Atsu, midfielder Henri Saviet, and striker Andy Carroll, as well as defender Florian Lejeune on an undisclosed fee. A fee has been agreed with Arsenal for midfielder Joe Willock, but at the moment that is the only transfer news that has come out of Newcastle all summer, which will have fans worried.

What they still need: Another out-and-out striker should be a priority for Newcastle, either to partner with Callum Wilson or rotate with him, as Wilson’s fitness has always been issue, having suffered two ACL knee injuries while at Bournemouth. A box-to-box midfielder capable of scoring goals to help the attackers should also be prioritised, but the impending arrival of Joe Willock will sort that out, while a new right-back to replace DeAndre Yedlin after his departure to Turkish side Galatasaray in January should strengthen that right side significantly.

Verdict: This will be a season of struggle and turmoil for Newcastle United. Lack of funds and signings will contribute to the downfall of the club this season and a return to the Championship is beginning to look more likely every day as the newly promoted clubs and teams from around Newcastle’s position continue to strengthen. If any key players get injured then Newcastle’s woes will only deepen, and the rut will be too big to fix. It will be a season of pain for Newcastle fans with an eighteenth-place finish.

Watford

Ins: Imran Louza (FC Nantes, €10m), Emmanuel Dennis (Club Brugge, €4m), Mattie Pollock (Grimsby Town, €300k), Danny Rose (Tottenham, Free), Josh King (Everton, Free), Ashley Fletcher (Middlesbrough, Free), Peter Etebo (Stoke City, Loan), Juraj Kucka (Parma, Loan), Kwadwo Baah (Rochdale, Tribunal).

Outs: Craig Dawson (West Ham, €3m), Ben Wilmot (Stoke City, €1.75m), Philip Zinckernagel (Nottingham Forest, Loan), Pontus Dahlberg (Doncaster Rovers, Loan), Carlos Sanchez (Released).

Ambition: Premier League survival will be the priority for Xisco Munoz as he embarks on his first full season as a manager in England, and his first managing in the top-flight of English football. With the main core of the promotion-winning squad kept intact, plus a bunch of new faces to contend with the harsh world of the Premier League, Munoz will be hoping that his team can hit the ground running and prove that they have learnt from the mistakes of two years ago. But with Watford, anything can happen.

 

Xisco Munoz, Manager of Watford is thrown into the air by Players of Watford as their side are Promoted to the Premier League during the Sky Bet Championship match between Watford and Millwall at Vicarage Road on April 24, 2021 in Watford. (Photo by Richard Heathcote/Getty Images)

Key man: With the future of midfielder Will Hughes in doubt over contract issues, Senegalese dynamo Ismaila Sarr will be key for Watford. Top scorer for the Hornets last season as they confirmed their swift return to the top division, Sarr’s key assets are his close ball control and his lightning quick pace. Forming a good partnership with Kiko Femenia down the right-hand side will be key to unlocking stubborn defences, an injury-free season will be key to the impact that Sarr has this season.

Recruitment: Watford always go about their business in a shrewd way, and this year is not any different. With the COVID-19 pandemic effecting clubs financially, Watford have dived into the loan market with the acquisitions of midfielders Peter Etebo and Juraj Kucka, along with Josh King on a free. The sales of Craig Dawson to West Ham and Ben Wilmot to Stoke freed up space in the squad, and the Hornets have been able to secure the services of Imran Louza for €10 million and Emmanuel Dennis for €4 million.

What the still need: Will Hughes’ departure looks likely after contract talks hit a stalemate, so a deep lying creative midfielder should be a priority. A pacey out and out striker to succeed Troy Deeney and accommodate the wingers of Dennis and Sarr is a must, as fast counter-attacking football will be a necessity against teams who play high back lines. Mattie Pollock is a defender for the future, so the Hornets need to find a centre back capable of fighting for a starting berth alongside Francisco Sierralta and William Troost-Ekong.

Verdict: A few more faces will come and go by the time September 1st comes around, but Watford will be hoping to set solid foundations down to ensure a prolonged period in the Premier League. Anything other than relegation will be viewed as a success. Owners the Pozzo family will hopefully have learnt from their previous mistakes. With the current group of players at their disposal and the attacking brand of football they play, 14th place looks like a realistic target for the Premier League newcomers.

Burnley

Ins: Wayne Hennessey (Crystal Palace, free), Nathan Collins (Stoke, £12m)

Outs: Ben Gibson (Norwich, £8m), Jimmy Dunne (QPR, free), Josh Benson (Barnsley, free)

Ambition: Survival. Offer Burnley, and their new American owners, 17th place - which is where they finished in May - right now and it is a safe bet they would jump at it. No manager does more with less than Sean Dyche with this chronically under-invested squad and the law of averages suggesting that even he is going to lose his Midas touch sooner rather than later.

 

Chris Wood of Burnley in action during the Premier League match between Burnley and Liverpool at Turf Moor on May 19, 2021 in Burnley, England. A limited number of fans will be allowed into Premier League stadiums as Coronavirus restrictions begin to ease in the UK. (Photo by Martin Rickett - Pool/Getty Images)

Key man: Chris Wood. Keeper Nick Pope and defenders James Tarkowski and Ben Mee form a solid backbone and spine to Burnley’s defence and can expect to be overworked. But goals were their biggest problem last season - their 33 comfortably the lowest of any team not relegated. New Zealand international Wood had 12 of them; Burnley’s next highest scorer had three and it was the fourth consecutive season Wood had hit double figures in the Premier League. Any drop-off in productivity and Burnley could be in real trouble.

Recruitment: The list of Burnley’s “big” buys in the last eight windows reads as follows: Aaron Lennon (free), Ben Gibson (£15m), Peter Crouch (free), Jay Rodriguez (£10m), Josh Brownhill (£9m), Dale Stephens (free), nobody and Collins (£12m). The fact Dyche has managed to keep that squad in the Premier League borders on the outrageous. The new owners, Alan Pace and his US-based ALK Capital Investment Group, have promised big investment and, at the time of writing at least, chronically failed to deliver. Even the signing of Ireland under-21 international defender Collins is offset by the sale of Gibson for £8m - a net spend of £4m.

What they still need: Anything and everything. Burnley’s starting XI is more than passable, although there is a lack of natural goalscoring in the squad with the possible exception of Wood. But beyond that there is little, to the point of no, reliable cover even if the signing of the unproven 20-year-old Collins may offer a contingency should Mee or Tarkowski suffer injuries.

Verdict: Burnley are on their longest run of top-flight football since they exited the old first division in 1971 but the lack of financial support for Dyche hints at the prospect of that run coming to an end. The lack of depth in his squad is astonishing. Eight of his regulars started 30 or more league games last season, and a couple of injuries could completely undermine Dyche’s season. Short of some dramatic late window transfer business, or major investment in the January window - which is rarely possible - and it is hard to make a case for the Clarets surviving, even allowing for their manager’s ability to work miracles.

Crystal Palace

Ins: Marc Guehi (Chelsea €24.8m), Joachim Andersen (Lyon €18.5m), Michael Olise (Reading €9.8m), Remi Matthews (Sunderland free), Conor Gallagher (Chelsea loan)

Outs: Andros Townsend (Everton free), Patrick van Aanholt (Galatasaray free), Mamadou Sakho (Montpellier free), Wayne Hennessey (Burnley free), James McCarthy (Celtic free), Stephen Henderson (released), Gary Cahill (released), Scott Dann (released), Connor Wickham (released)

Ambition: It is the start of a new era at Selhurst Park with the arrival of Patrick Vieira and a major overhaul of players. The capture of Michael Olise seems shrewd business, while retaining Wilfried Zaha is another major plus. Defensive acquisitions Marc Guehi and Joachim Andersen will bolster ranks and provide fans with plenty of optimism heading into the new season. A succession of mid-table finishes under Roy Hodgson were disappointing and there is genuine belief that Palace can push for a place in Europe.

 

Crystal Palace's Ivorian striker Wilfried Zaha gestures during the English Premier League football match between Crystal Palace and Manchester City at Selhurst Park in south London on May 1, 2021. (Photo by CLIVE ROSE/POOL/AFP via Getty Images)

Key Man: There’s little doubt that Wilfried Zaha remains pivotal to Palace’s overall success. Vieira has already spoken of his desire to get Zaha flying straight away and his contribution of goals and assists will likely be the foundation for a charge towards the top 10. If he can build a strong relationship with new arrival Olise then Palace fans could be in for quite a treat.

Recruitment: With 10 players heading through the exit door at Selhurst Park so far, the emphasis was on ensuring no loss in quality to an ageing squad. Defensive duo Andersen and Guehi seem excellent recruits while Conor Gallagher, another capture from Chelsea, will provide much-needed energy in the middle of the park. Olise impressed in the Championship with Reading but will need a quick start to give Palace an alternative threat to Zaha.

What they still need: With only three out-and-out strikers on their books, Palace look short at the top end of the pitch. Zaha was Palace’s top goalscorer last season with 11 in all competitions, while a strong finish to the campaign saw Christian Benteke reach 10. However, Palace’s main three strikers: Benteke, Jordan Ayew and Jean-Philippe Mateta, managed just 12 between them last season and this could prove to be Palace’s undoing if they cannot address this issue before the end of the month.

Verdict: A season of change for Palace under the guidance of a former Premier League winner and the addition of several exciting young talents gives plenty of optimism. Vieira will be given time to implement his style but he cannot afford a slow start. Frank de Boer last just seven matches into the 2017/18 season before Hodgson replaced him and the Dutchman’s reign is something Palace fans will not want a repeat of.

Liverpool

Ins: Ibrahima Konate (RB Lepizig, £36m)

Outs: Georginio Wijnaldum (PSG, free), Kamil Grabara (FC Copenhagen, £3m), Liam Miller (Basel, £1.3m), Marko Grujic (Porto, £10.5m), Harry Wilson (Fulham, £12m).

Ambition: Publicly, Liverpool will say the same as it has been for the past three or four seasons - the league title and Champions League. Realistically? Given what the two teams who finished above Liverpool in May have done in the transfer market this summer, it is hard to make the case that Jurgen Klopp has closed the gap, beyond the fact that the return of majestic Dutch defender Virgil van Dijk offers his squad an instant upgrade. As in any recent season, anything short of a top-four finish will be a disaster but the supporters who will return to Anfield, and thus make it a much harder venue than it proved under lockdown last season, will expect a charge to compete with the Manchester clubs and Chelsea for top spot.

 

Virgil van Dijk of Liverpool is substituted during the pre-season friendly match between Liverpool and Athletic Club at Anfield on August 08, 2021 in Liverpool, England. (Photo by Jan Kruger/Getty Images,)

Key man: Van Dijk. When the man largely accepted as the best defender in the world misses pretty much the entire season, the fall-out is going to be considerable. Klopp was not helped by a whole catalogue of injuries to other central defenders, and midfielders, but it was still the loss of the Dutchman that condemned the defending champions to a season in which they finished third, 17 points off first place. The cliche of a returning player being “like a new signing” has never been more appropriate than in this case.

Recruitment: Liverpool have been ominously quiet. Konate was lined up in advance as a long-term central defensive prospect and his signing is largely offset by the sale of young and fringe players. Instead, Liverpool have focused on signing existing players to longer contracts - Trent Alexander-Arnold, Fabinho and Alisson have them; Mo Salah, van Dijk and Sadio Mane are in talks. That policy, at least, speaks to long-term stability.

What they still need: As Manchester City consistently prove, elite clubs can never have too much cover in any positions - a lesson Liverpool learned in painful fashion last season with a flurry of centre-back injuries. In terms of numbers, however, midfielder Wijnaldum has not been replaced and needs to be. Gomez can offer cover at right-back and Kostas Tsimikas enjoyed a good pre-season and can offer backing for Andrew Robertson at left-back. But, perhaps, specialist full-back deputies for Robertson and Alexander-Arnold would be an idea.

Verdict: Liverpool should be as entertaining to watch as ever - especially at a packed Anfield - but it is hard to make the case that they can compete with City over a 38-game Premier League season.  A top-four finish should be well within their grasp, but beyond that ….

Norwich

Ins: Josh Sargent (Werder Bremen, €10.5m), Milot Rashica (Werder Bremen, €11.8m), Ben Gibson (Burnley, €9.4m), Dimitrios Giannoulis (PAOK Salonika, €8.2m), Pierre Lees Melou (Nice, €6.5m), Angus Gunn (Southampton, £5m), Billy Gilmour (Chelsea, loan), Flynn Clarke (Peterborough, undisclosed) 

Outs: Emiliano Buendia (Aston Villa, €41m), Mario Vrancic (Stoke City, free), Philp Heise (Karlsruher, free), Moritz Leitner (FC Zurich, free), Louis Thompson (Portsmouth, free) 

Ambition: Survival is an obvious target but Norwich’s real long-term goal is sustainable and maintainable growth which sees them become a regular Premier League outfit rather than a yo-yo club. They aren’t afraid to go down to come back up again bigger – but having done it once there’s an appetite to do better this year.  

 

Teemu Pukki of Norwich City celebrates his third goal during the Sky Bet Championship match between Norwich City and Huddersfield Town at Carrow Road on April 06, 2021 in Norwich, England.  (Photo by Stephen Pond/Getty Images)

Key man: Striker Teemu Pukki deserves another crack at the Premier League and you’d expect him to take it with both hands. Last time he was here, in 2019-20, he scored six goals in his first five games before his and Norwich’s form waned later in the campaign. Now he’s back and feeling confident after scoring 31 goals in all competitions last season and it’s his big chance to prove he is Premier League quality.
 
Recruitment: Last time they came up Norwich refused to spend money and ended up heading straight back down, but recruitment this time has been better – and they aren’t finished yet. Billy Gilmour on loan from Chelsea - following his star showing for Scotland at Euro 2020 - is a canny signing, whilst striker Josh Sargent from Werder Bremen looks interesting.  There are Premier League stalwarts arriving in Angus Gunn and Ben Gibson, too. 

What they still need: There’s still work to be done in forward areas, especially after losing their key assist maker Emiliano Buendia to Aston Villa. He made 15 assists in the Championship last season and created more goalscoring chances than any player in the division. Finding a player of his quality to fill the gap won’t be easy.
 
Verdict: Norwich will inevitably be amongst the favourites to be relegated but there’s more to them this time than when they finished bottom with only 21 points in 2020. They are recruiting well, have Premier League experience in the squad and are still dangerous in attack. It will be bottom six – but better than 2020. 

West Ham

Ins: Alphonse Areola (PSG, loan), Craig Dawson (Watford €2.5m); Possible: Nikola Milenkovic (Fiorentina €16m)

Outs: Jesse Lingard (loan expired), Fabian Balbuena (Dinamo Moscow, free) Felipe Anderson (Lazio, €3m)

Ambition: West Ham were one of the surprise packages of last season, punching well above their weight to finish sixth, only the sixth time in 126 years the club has finished in the top six. David Moyes did it without spending big, and it looks like he will be in the same position this season as the club look to improve on that position without major recruitment. A welcome return to Europe is a double-edged sword, as the Europa League will put more strain on a thin squad.

 

Declan Rice of West Ham United acknowledges the fans following the Premier League match between West Ham United and Southampton at London Stadium on May 23, 2021. (Photo by John Sibley - Pool/Getty Images)

Key man: Declan Rice is now playing captain and the linchpin of the side, at only 22, and much depends on his continued presence in the side. The midfielder, who switched allegiance from Ireland to England in 2019, is wanted by Manchester United but West Ham's valuation of €110m should mean he remains in London. Rice and Tomas Soucek are the heartbeat of West Ham's midfield and complement each other perfectly. Keeping the both fit is key to success.

Recruitment: Once again West Ham's owners have kept their hands in their pockets and told Moyes mostly to work with what he has. Craig Dawson's loan from Watford has been turned into a cut-price transfer, which is good business, and PSG's Alphonse Areola has switched one loan deal, from Fulham, to another in London, as back-up to Lukasz Fabianski. Moyes has had his squad bolstered by the rise of academy kids Conor Coventry and Ben Johnson, and he may well need them.

What they still need: More depth all over the pitch. Central defence looks thin, and Moyes wants Nikola Milenkov from Fiorentina or Kurt Zouma from Chelsea, both of whom may be beyond the club's price range. Club captain Mark Noble postponed his retirement for a final season, but is no longer a starter and might struggle to play every game in midfield should Rice or Soucek be injured. But the biggest problem is up front, with no deputy for injury-prone Michail Antonio, the club's only central striker. Antonio played only 27 of West Ham's 44 games last season and cannot be relied on for a full season.

Verdict: Moyes will do well to achieve another top six finish unless he gets substantial additions to the depth of his squad, especially as the Hammers could play an extra 10-20 games this season depending on their cup runs in Europe and at home. The first eleven is uncomplicated, well organised and capable of beating teams beneath them, but they only got one point from a possible 24 against the top four. Could be a tough season ahead, although their days of regular relegation battles should be a thing of the past.

Brentford

Ins: Kristoffer Ajer (Celtic) €16.5m, Frank Onyeka (FC Midtylland, €10.5m), Nathan Young-Coombes (Rangers, undisclosed), Myles Peart-Harris (Chelsea, €1.5m), Yoane Wissa (Lorient, €10.5m) 

Outs: Henrik Dalsgaard (FC Midtylland, free), Emiliano Marcondes (Bournemouth, free) 

Ambition: When you haven’t been in the top flight of English football for 74 years where do you place the bar? Survival is the obvious answer but you get the impression there’s a quiet confidence at Brentford that they can do a little bit better than that. Much will depend on how they start the season and how they cope with those difficult away trips to far bigger clubs. But the Bees have many players who look Premier League ready and have an established well-practiced way of playing. They could be a surprise package. 

 

Ivan Toney of Brentford during the Pre-Season Friendly between AFC Wimbledon and Brentford at Plough Lane on July 17, 2021 in Wimbledon, England. (Photo by Catherine Ivill/Getty Images)

Key man: Ivan Toney, who scored 33 goals in the Championship last season, is the man getting all the publicity – and it’s crucial that Brentford held onto him despite interest from Premier League rivals. If you haven’t seen him take a penalty yet then sit back and enjoy the way he looks at the goalkeeper instead of the ball and calmly places his shot in the back of the net.  Former Liverpool youngster Sergi Canos is one to watch on the wing, too. 

Recruitment: Finding players, developing them and then, when the time is right, selling them at a big profit has been Brentford’s calling card and the model has worked superbly. The question is can that success continue in the Premier League? Centre-back Ajer from Celtic, who loves to bring the ball out from the back, looks another canny signing, as does the athletic midfield super-presser Onyeka from FC Midtylland. They have also invested in young talent and you’d back them to get it right. 

What they still need: Fans in west London seem reasonably happy with the window so far but the consensus is they are still missing a bit of magic dust – the kind that was provided by football magician Said Benrahma before he was sold to West Ham last year. Finding a replica is not going to be easy. There is perhaps a lack of depth at full-back, too, but the management seem relaxed. 

Verdict: It’s never easy predicting how promoted teams will do. Could they end up like Fulham? Or like Leeds? Brentford seem better prepared than the former who have twice been relegated at the first attempt and have more in common with Bielsa’s men – but without the budget. Anything above fourth from bottom is success but expect a little more - and don’t be surprised if it’s better than that. 

Everton

Ins: Asmir Begovic (Bournemouth, free), Andros Townsend (Crystal Palace, free), Demarai Gray (Bayer Leverkusen, £1.7m)

Outs: Theo Walcott (Southampton, free), Josh King (Watford, free), Bernard (Al Sharjah, free), Beni Baningime (Hearts, free)

Ambition: Hard to tell. This summer has seen a major change in Everton’s approach with cost-cutting very much the name of the game, after a couple of summers of big money, and largely big failure, signings. And, of course, there is the uneasy marriage with former Liverpool manager Rafa Benitez which most supporters seem unhappy about. At this point, a season in which Everton shed some unwanted players from their wage bill, finish mid-table and suffer little or no drama would be acceptable.

 

Dominic Calvert-Lewin of Everton during the Premier League match between Everton and Sheffield United at Goodison Park on May 16, 2021 in Liverpool, England. (Photo by Alex Pantling/Getty Images)

Key man: Dominic Calvert-Lewin. His 16 league goals were more than double Everton’s next-leading scorer - Richarlison, with seven - and the young striker blossomed into a player of genuine international calibre. His attitude was also exemplary which, given the potential for off-field problems at Everton this season, could be vital. Richarlison, at his peak, looked virtually unplayable but those moments came all too infrequently. It is hard to avoid the feeling that Everton’s season will go as does Calvert-Lewin’s.

Recruitment: Compare last summer - Allan, James, Abdoulaye Doucoure and Ben Godfrey signed for a combined £86m - to this, and Everton’s predicament is obvious. Reserve keeper Begovic and veteran Townsend have arrived on frees while Gray has returned to England for way under £2m. Arguably, the key recruitment issue for the Everton hierarchy was a new manager to replace Carlo Ancelotti and Benitez remains very much a gamble with the potential to go horribly wrong.

What they still need: What Everton need is to shift unwanted players - an act far easier said than done. James (Real Madrid), Yerry Mina and Andre Gomes (both Barcelona) and Mouse Kean (Juventus) were all signed from European royalty, with contracts to match. Benitez does not plan on using any of them to any great degree. With a new stadium in the pipeline and facing financing issues, Everton need to sell before they can think about giving Benitez money to spend.

Verdict: Not good. History may remember Everton as the team that tried to gatecrash the hold of the “big six” - the arrival of Ancelotti and the raiding of Real and Barca for their cast-offs - but crashed and burned. The prospect of supporters turning on Liverpool legend Benitez if the team gets off to a bad start is very real and, with Richarlison recovering from and exhausting summer of international football with Brazil, a bad start is very much a possibility. If Calvert-Lewin is anything below his imperious best of last season, mid-table might look an optimistic target. 

Manchester City

Ins: Jack Grealish (Aston Villa, £100m), Scott Carson (Derby, free)

Outs: Eric Garcia (Barcelona, free), Sergio Aguero (Barcelona, free), Angelino (RB Leipzig, £16m), Jack Harrison (Leeds, £11m), Lukas Nmecha (Wolfsburg, £11m).

Ambition: Everything … and more. The abject failure in last season’s Champions League Final saw City adopt a more steely and aggressive approach than ever in the transfer market with the old British transfer record shattered in the signing of Grealish and the promise of more to come in the pursuit of £160 million-rated Harry Kane. Critics mutter darkly about potential financial fair play issues but manager Pep Guardiola’s response was to rattle off a supposed £60 million in sales to offset Grealish’s signing and mutter about defending themselves in court against such accusations. That sums up the new bullish, buy-first-ask-questions-later mood from City’s Abu Dhabi ownership.

 

Manchester City's English midfielder Jack Grealish runs with the ball during the English FA Community Shield football match between Manchester City and Leicester City at Wembley Stadium in north London on August 7, 2021. (Photo by ADRIAN DENNIS/AFP via Getty Images)

Key man: This week, Grealish. Before the end of the month, it may well be Kane. Any time the British transfer record is broken by 25%, the spotlight will be on that signing and the former Villa man certainly has the potential to become a massive figure at home and globally, playing in such a star-studded cast. Should they succeed in their pursuit of Kane, however, the emphasis will obviously shift.

Recruitment: A squad that won the title by 12 points, arguably, did not need much adding to it but City’s move for Grealish was the sort of statement buy that should have their rivals running for the hills. Sergio Aguero was the only major figure to depart the Etihad this summer - although Guardiola admits there are “three or four” senior players who want to follow him out, Bernardo Silva and Aymeric Laporte among them. But the signing of Kane would certainly help supporters forget all about the loss of their all-time leading goalscorer.

What they still need: At the time of writing, Gabriel Jesus remains the only senior, orthodox centre-forward on City’s books although, as was the case for most of last season, Guardiola seemed to take great delight in sweeping all before him without a recognised striker on the pitch. He even talked about Grealish as a possible “false nine” this week. That said, the City manager would still rather land Kane than not.

Verdict: The smart money should all be placed on City for the league title; it is virtually impossible to make any other case. Even if City suffered a catastrophic lengthy injury to a key man like Dias, Grealish or De Bruyne, there is so much depth in the squad that they would be able to cope. City’s shadow squad has been good enough to win the last four, and five out of the last six, League Cups so let’s assume that one is in the bag. It then becomes a question, almost, of whether Guardiola can be bothered adding the FA Cup to the list. Domestic issues are incidental, however, As has been the case since he arrived, Guardiola’s sole raison d’être is to win the Champions League.

Southampton

Ins: Adam Armstrong (Blackburn, €19m), Romaine Perraud (Stade Brest, €13m), Valentino Livramento (Chelsea, €6m), Theo Walcott (Everton, free), Armando Broja (Chelsea, loan) 

Outs: Danny Ings (Aston Villa, €38m), Angus Gunn (Norwich, €6m), Ryan Bertrand (Leicester, free), Wesley Hoedt (Anderlecht, undisclosed) 

Ambition: It’s a little hard to gauge. Southampton finished 15th last season in a campaign which featured a 9-0 humiliation at Old Trafford but also some promising performances, including a victory over Liverpool. Which side of the Saints will we get this time? Losing Danny Ings is a blow but Southampton will aim for the top half. 

 

Southampton's English midfielder James Ward-Prowse celebrates after scoring the opening goal from the penalty spot during the English Premier League football match between Southampton and Leicester City at St Mary's Stadium in Southampton. (Photo by NEIL HALL/POOL/AFP via Getty Images)

Key man: Midfielder James Ward-Prowse is the man who makes Southampton tick, a homegrown talent who is one of the best set-piece takers in the Premier League. Fans must have got nervous when Aston Villa made a bid for him this summer, but the signs are that he will stay. That’s vital for Southampton if they want to progress. 

Recruitment: The Saints are another of those clubs who traditionally sell big and recruit well. It looks like that may be the case this time, too. Danny Ings has gone but Adam Armstrong, the second top scorer in the Championship last season, has taken his place. Romaine Perraud looks a good replacement for Ryan Bertrand, too. But is the squad any stronger as a result?
 
What they still need: It’s more about all-round strengthening than any one particular position. Another central midfielder, another centre-half and another winger if you are being greedy. There’s plenty of technicians and strong pressers in the squad, but not enough flair. 

Verdict: The Saints have a good manager in Ralph Hasenhuttl, but it’s hard to see them improving this season. Another dabble with relegation before finishing 14th or 15th looks likely, unless Adam Armstrong proves an instant Premier League hit.  

Wolverhampton

Ins: Rayan Aït Nouri (SCO Angers, €11.1m), Jose Sa (Olympiakos, €8m), Yerson Mosquera (Atlético Nacional, €5.2m), Benedegúz Bolla (Fehérvár, €2m), Francisco Trincão (FC Barcelona, Loan).

Outs: Rui Patricio (AS Roma, €11.5m), Leonardo Campana (Grasshoppers, Free), Rúben Vinagre (Sporting Lisbon, Loan), Renat Dadashov (Tondela, Loan), Matija Sarkic (Birmingham, Loan), Benedegúz Bolla (Grasshoppers, Loan).

Ambition: Nuno Espirito Santo has gone, Bruno Lage has arrived. It’s the start of a new era at Wolves but the Portuguese theme remains strong. Former Benfica coach Lage takes over, looking to improve the team’s fortunes after a tough, emotional season for Wolves, where they could only manage 13th place after missing top-scorer Raul Jimenez for most of the season due to an awful head injury. With a couple of signings and departures, expectations should not be high for Lage’s first season in charge.

 

Raúl Jiménez of Wolverhampton Wanderers looks on during a Pre Season Friendly Match between Real Betis and Wolverhampton Wanderers at Estadio Municipal de la Linea on July 24, 2021 in Cadiz, Spain. (Photo by Fran Santiago/Getty Images)

Key man: Raul Jimenez returning to football was a feel-good story, and Wolves will have to rely on their record Premier League goal-scorer if they are to make any progress after a very stop-start campaign last season. Jimenez will hope the service from Pedro Neto, Adama Traore and co will provide him the opportunities to get back in the goals after a superb first two Premier League campaigns. There is no doubt about the ability of Jimenez and if he can get up and running early on, then Wolves will be fine.

Recruitment: With goalkeeper Rui Patricio leaving for AS Roma, fellow Portuguese keeper Jose Sa arrives from Olympiakos as his replacement, while young defender Rayan Aït Nouri turned his loan move from Angers permanent. Young central defender Yerson Mosquera arrives from Atlético Nacional, but is likely to be loaned out before the start of the season and is seen as one for the future. Winger Francisco Trincão joins the club on loan from Barcelona after struggling in his first season in Spain looking to regain the form that made Barcelona sign him.

What they still need: With the imminent departures of strikers Rafa Mir and Patrick Cutrone, Wolves may look for an additional striker to support Jimenez and young attacker Fabio Silva, while an additional defensive midfielder may be considered, regardless of whether Ruben Neves leaves the club or not, after numerous links away from Wolves. Another central midfielder to take the workload off the ageing Joao Moutinho could tempt manager Bruno Lage to go into the market but he may look towards young midfielders Owen Otasowie and Morgan Gibbs-White to fill this void.

Verdict: After two high-flying seasons following promotion from the Championship, Wolves came crashing back to Earth in the third, learning that it can all go wrong quickly. A different style of play may take time to implement after years of the same system, but with players returning from injury, a new manager with fresh ideas, new signings and exciting young players coming through the academy, things are looking much brighter for Wolves now than they did in previous months.

Irish Examiner Logo

Irish Examiner Longread

 

If you enjoyed this immersive read, you may also like these

Longread Che Guevara
Longread Lockdown
Longrad Clarissa
Longread Covid Photos
Execution Time: 0.245 s