Despite a late ending to the 2019-20 Premier League campaign in late July with “Project Restart,” the 2020-21 season proceeded mostly on a normal schedule, albeit, without fans until late in the season. For the first half of the season, many clubs such as Southampton, Aston Villa and West Ham United surged to the top of the table, knocking or drawing off the giants of the league such as Liverpool, Chelsea and Manchester City.
However, the second half of the season saw the pretenders sink in the table and the giants of the league reassert their dominance with a few exceptions. Manchester City won their third Premier League title in four years by 12 points over second-place Manchester United. United, along with Liverpool and Chelsea, qualified for the 2021-22 UEFA Champions League season. Leicester City once again collapsed and lost their top-four standing on Championship Sunday for the second season in a row. Leicester will join West Ham and Tottenham Hotspur in the UEFA Europa Conference League next season.
Fulham and West Bromwich Albion will be relegated back down to the EFL Championship one season after being promoted to the Premier League. Sheffield United finished in last place and will go back down to the Championship after two seasons in the Premier League.
After another thrilling season in the books, here are my four takeaways from the 2020-21 Premier League campaign.
1. Liverpool will be dangerous in the 2021-22 season
Despite finishing third place in the final Premier League table, it was a challenging season for Liverpool. After losing 7-2 to Aston Villa on Oct. 4, they lost centreback Virgil Van Dijk for the season with a torn ACL in a controversial 2-2 draw in the Merseyside Derby against Everton. In January and February, Liverpool dropped matches against the likes of Everton, Bright & Hove Albion and Burnley. They rebounded and won their last five matches of the season to finish ahead of Leicester and Chelsea, qualifying for next season’s UCL campaign.
They persevered and found success despite the absence of Van Dijk and two of their front-three mainstays, Roberto Firmino and Sadio Mane, struggling to maintain form throughout the season. Also, with the rash of injuries on the backline, midfielders such as Jordan Henderson and Fabinho were pushed from their positions to fill in the spots in the backline, causing the midfield to suffer on the attack.
When Van Dijk returns for Liverpool this upcoming season, Liverpool will have stability in the backline for the first time since his injury, meaning that the midfield will not have to cover for injuries out of position. Liverpool will bolster a similar squad that won the Premier League last year for the 2020-21 season, making them a formidable challenger for Manchester City as Liverpool will have the balance to compete with the resurgent defense and firepower of Man City.
2. Chelsea is one star striker from winning the Premier League
While Man City and Liverpool look to be the frontrunners for the Premier League title in the 2021-22 season, Chelsea is one big move away from possibly overtaking both of them in the title race.
This season was a mess for Chelsea, switching managers in the middle of the season while having to implement all their big transfer window signings into their young squad. Also, their addition of Timo Werner did not pan out as they hoped, constantly missing chances and having goals disallowed due to being offsides. When watching a Chelsea match with Werner starting, one can expect to see Werner offsides a multitude of times.
Despite all this, Chelsea still finished in the top four and are currently preparing for the Champions League Final against Man City on Saturday. New manager Thomas Tuchel has overseen a renaissance at Chelsea, creating an emphasis on a strong backline and midfield. This allowed Chelsea to thrive despite the struggles on the front line and find success against some of the top clubs in England and Spain.
Imagine if the same Chelsea club that bolstered possibly the best defense and midfield in the Premier League could be reinforced by a superstar striker that would provide the scoring Chelsea needs to finish higher than fourth in the table. If Chelsea add Harry Kane, Tottenham Hotspur’s superstar striker who won this year’s Golden Boot award and won the 2018 World Cup Golden Boot, Chelsea will field possibly the most complete squad in all of Europe and will be a serious threat to not only win the Premier League, but also the Champions League as well.
3. Leicester City needs a better backline
For the second season in a row, Leicester City spent most of the season in the top four, then collapsed late in the season and fell to fifth on Championship Sunday. This time, Leicester faltered over their final five matches, winning only one match, drawing against 15th-place Southampton and losing three matches, including a shocking 4-2 loss to Newcastle United.
Last season, the main reason for their collapse was relying too much on striker Jamie Vardy to carry the scoring load. This season, the culprit was a leaky backline that conceded a combined eight goals in two late-season matches against Newcastle and Tottenham, along with finishing 11th out of 20 clubs in goals conceded this Premier League campaign.
While Leicester found success by winning their first ever FA Cup earlier in May, they once again blew a chance to play in the Champions League for the first time since the 2016-17 season. If they are truly going to compete and supplement the great play of Vardy and forward Kelechi Iheanacho, who had a breakout season for Leicester, they need to invest in a backline that stays healthy and locks down counterattacks like current Chelsea leftback Ben Chilwell did for most of last season.
4. Arsenal has a culture problem
Arsenal, despite bolstering a bevy of young talent and scoring threats, had a disaster of a 2020-21 season. They finished in eighth, missing European play for the first time in 25 years and lost to Villarreal in the Europa League Semifinals by one goal, losing to former manager Unai Emery.
Arteta is partly to blame due to his inability to put together a consistent starting 11 that can maximize the talent Arsenal fields. However, what Arsenal’s fall from grace ultimately comes down to is the complacency of the ownership group and the Kroenkes. Arsenal finishing eighth each of the last two seasons is unacceptable for a club that once made the Champions League 19 consecutive times under legendary manager Arsene Wenger.
There does not seem to be a sense of urgency to improve with the lack of funds provided from the board for transfers. On top of this, Arsenal continues to face the same problem for the last few years: a lack of urgency on the pitch. Against Villarreal, the passion to score the one goal Arsenal needed to advance to the Europa League Final was missing, and oftentimes this season, Arsenal simply went through the motions when trying to win key Premier League matches.
The only way Arsenal is going to return to glory is if the Kroenkes, by some miracle, swallow their pride and sell the club to owners who will be more passionate about the club’s success. Until then, Arsenal will have a hard time pulling themselves out of the doldrums of mediocrity.