It seems only yesterday that the 2019/20 football season ended, and Liverpool were crowned Premier League Champions. Well, this coming weekend heralds the start of the 2020/21 season, and yet somehow the usual pre-season excitement doesn’t feel the same. Maybe it is because we can’t attend matches or maybe it’s because the close season has been so short. Either way it just doesn’t feel like normal service is being resumed just yet.
Liverpool deservedly won the Premier League last season, but they haven’t strengthened the first team squad and could well find things harder this time around. On their day Manchester City are unplayable but defensively they looked very vulnerable at times last season, but I expect them to be stronger this season and they are my choice to reclaim the title. Manchester United will also be stronger and more competitive this season and I expect either them or Liverpool to secure the runners up spot. I believe the final Champions League place will be contested between Arsenal, Spurs and Wolves. The battle to avoid relegation to the Championship could well involve eight teams and it will be difficult for the promoted sides to bridge the gulf that undoubtedly exists between the top two divisions. Leeds United have invested significantly in recent weeks and should do best of the three promoted sides and in Marcelo Bielsa they have an innovative coach with great tactical know how and they were promoted with a number of players of genuine Premiership quality. Sheffield United, West Bromwich Albion and Fulham are my three for the drop.
The EFL Championship is one of the most competitive leagues anywhere in the world and sides relegated from the Premier League often struggle to adapt to their new surroundings and over the years some have even suffered a second consecutive relegation. The relegated sides also tend to lose their best players to the Premier League which can impact negatively on the remaining players. I expect Middlesbrough under Neil Warnock to do well this season, but my idea of the Champions is Watford and I take Derby County and Nottingham Forest to secure the remaining two promotion places.
Nowhere will the effect of no or reduced attendances be more acutely felt than in EFL Leagues One and Two. The fact both leagues voted to abandon the 2019/20 season tells you everything you need to know about football finance in the lower leagues and I can see a number of clubs entering into administration. Charlton, Portsmouth and Sunderland are the big three clubs in League One but the new salary cap which restricts clubs to a total budget of £2.5m will serve to even things up but I am hoping my old club Charlton can solve their off the field problems and secure promotion along with Sunderland and Peterborough United and in League Two I fancy Exeter City, Cheltenham Town, Carlisle United and Forest Green Rovers to fill the top four promotion slots.
I think the trend of the bigger teams fielding weakened sides in the cup competitions will be even more prevalent this season because of the short turnaround and I take Wolves to win The League Cup and Manchester United to take The FA Cup.
On the European scene, I believe that Manchester City will finally come good in Europe and win the Champions League trophy and the Europa League will go to Spurs.
I hope that it is not too long before fans can get back to watching matches as it is the passion of the fans that makes English football so exciting and so watchable around the world. Without fans it is just not the same.
Peter Varney – Chairman, Integral Sports Management
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Photograph: Martin Rickett/PA