WHICH teams will punch above their weight in 2020/21? Who will underachieve? Brett Curtis (@Brett_Curtis92) examines the potential over and underachieving outfits ahead of the new season.
WLB Season Preview 2020/21 | Underachieving and overachieving teams to follow
The 2020/21 campaign is set to kick-off on 11th September, just six weeks after Arsenal beat Chelsea in the FA Cup final. The COVID-19 pandemic has played havoc with all of our lives in so many ways, with the football calendar one of the most notable (if less important) examples.
It's undoubtedly made predicting how teams will fare in an upcoming campaign even harder than ever, particularly with the transfer window open until 5th October. A plethora of big names on the European market – most notably Thiago Alcantara and Jadon Sancho – are potentially on the move with no specific destination or date anything like a certainty at this stage of proceedings.
However, as always, there are a few teams I expect to overachieve and underachieve based on the current odds available in various markets.
Chelsea to win ‘Without Liverpool and Manchester City’ (2/1 Betway)
First up is Chelsea. The Blues have made some seriously impressive signings in this window, spending over £200m on Timo Werner, Hakim Ziyech and Ben Chilwell, with Thiago Silva signing on a free transfer, and Kai Havertz the latest big-money arrival.
With Liverpool and Manchester City essentially standing still at present I was surprised to receive 14/1 on Chelsea to win the title. Gelling half a new team together will not be easy, but I rate all of these individuals very highly and they should help close the gap to the top two.
The bet I am more confident on is 2/1 (Betway) on the Blues winning the league without Liverpool or Manchester City. While Manchester United finished ahead of Frank Lampard's side on goal difference last term, I personally feel Chelsea's performances were of a consistently higher quality throughout the campaign and they have a higher ceiling.
If the West Londoners can sign a goalkeeper who actually saves shots then I don't think a title challenge is beyond them.
Southampton to finish in the top-half (13/8 Bet365)
Another team I am keen on is Southampton. After their record-equalling 9-0 defeat at home to Leicester last season, manager Ralph Hasenhuttl looked a dead man walking with his side languishing in the bottom-three.
However, after a couple more defeats, the Saints bounced back to take 44 points from 26 games and finish in 11th. Extrapolated across a season that would amount to an impressive 64 points, though of course it rarely works out that way.
Southampton have lost midfielder Pierre-Emile Hojbjerg to Tottenham, with full-back Kyle Walker-Peters moving in the opposite direction on a permanent basis. Highly-rated young centre-back Mohammed Salisu has signed for around £10m from Real Valladolid and should improve by far their weakest position since Virgil van Dijk departed for Liverpool in 2018.
Much will hinge on Danny Ings staying fit, but there were signs after the restart that Che Adams has adjusted to the top-flight and he could provide a more reliable alternative stream of goals than workhorse Shane Long.
Nathan Redmond and Stuart Armstrong are a well-balanced pair of wide midfielders, with captain James Ward-Prowse finally looking at home in a central midfield role. If they can find a more convincing partner for him than Oriol Romeu, that's a potentially brilliant front six.
I think 13/8 (bet365) on a top-half finish for Southampton is good value, then, given they were only two points from achieving this last season despite their horrific start to the season. 10/1 (SkyBet) on them winning the league without the Big Six is also an outside shot I like. I'd favour Wolves in this market, but they're much shorter and have issues to solve in the wing-back areas.
Leicester to collect Under 58 Points (5/6 Bet365)
As far as underachievers go, I expect Leicester to drop off considerably this season. Admittedly, they were unfortunate with injuries towards the end of last season, but it was still a serious collapse not to secure a top-four position having held a 14-point lead over fifth place in January.
However, 17 points from their last 17 games was little better than relegation form and means they will instead be playing Europa League football. At present, I'm not sure they have the squad depth to cope particularly well with this, especially in an already compressed calendar.
While I'd probably expect the Foxes to sneak into ninth or 10th, it wouldn't amaze me to see them drop into the upper reaches of the bottom half, so 11/4 (BetVictor) looks a decent price on them doing so.
Perhaps a safer bet, though, would be 5/6 (bet365) on them attaining fewer than 58 points. The truth is they're probably somewhere between their brilliant first-half and dismal second-half of last term, so 1.5 points-per-game should be their ceiling this campaign with European football to contend with.
Aston Villa to be relegated (2/1 William Hill)
I also expect their Midlands rivals Aston Villa to struggle this season after surviving by the skin of their teeth last season. Their tally of 35 points would have seen them relegated in most campaigns, and they are yet to seriously add to their squad.
Villa have completed the promising capture of Matty Cash and been linked with Ollie Watkins, , signing both would represent good business and a step in the right direction. However, I still think it's going to be a tall order to survive again.
Dean Smith doesn't really convince me as a manager and seems incapable of striking the right balance at the club; they're either decent on the eye but leaky at the back, or the opposite.
Jack Grealish was one of my favourite players in the league to watch last season but I think it'd be almost impossible for him to perform any better than he did. 2/1 (William Hill) on them being relegated is the obvious play here.
Fulham to be the Premier’s League Lowest Goalscorers (5/1 Betfair)
Not a great deal is expected of Fulham, so it'd be tough to class them as underachievers, but I have gobbled up the 5/1 (Betfair) available on them being the division's lowest goalscorers.
The last side to be promoted having scored fewer goals than the Cottagers’ was Huddersfield in the 2016/17 campaign, with David Wagner's side proceeding to score a joint-low total of 28 goals in the top-flight (despite somehow surviving!).
At present, Fulham are hugely reliant on Aleksander Mitrovic for goals and Scott Parker's patient passing game could see plenty of low-scoring affairs.
2020/21 ante-post Football League fancies
As far as the lower leagues go, 9/4 (Sky Bet) on Sheffield Wednesday being relegated from the Championship looks a great price given they are set to start the campaign with a 12-point deduction and have lost a lot of players without bringing many in. I like Garry Monk but that's a huge ask.
Swansea ended last season like a train and although they will almost certainly not retain the services of Rhian Brewster from Liverpool, they have brought in the highly-rated midfielder Morgan Gibbs-White from Wolves on-loan as well as adding winger Jamal Lowe from Wigan, which could mean Andre Ayew moving into a more central role.
3/1 (Unibet) on the Swans securing another top-six finish looks good value.
4/1 (Unibet) on Millwall achieving the same feat also suggests they're being underestimated yet again. They've finished eighth in two of the last three seasons and are playing more attractive football under Gary Rowett.
Signing striker Troy Parrott on-loan from Tottenham feels like a major coup and, with one of the league's most underrated players in Jed Wallace feeding him, could see them finally break into the play-offs to the bookmakers' and many neutrals' disappointment.
In League One, I can't ignore 6/1 (BetVictor) on Wigan being relegated given their struggles on and off the pitch. They've had their squad absolutely raided with very few additions in return as yet. They could turn it around before the end of the window if they find a buyer for the club, but it's going to be a very tough ask.
It's never nice potentially profiting from misfortune, but the 16/1 (SkyBet) relegation double with Sheffield Wednesday is a price I simply can't resist.
Finally, I'm also surprised to see Barrow as big as 7/1 (Sky Bet) to be relegated from League Two having lost former manager Ian Evatt to Bolton and replaced him with the unproven David Dunn.
Premier League 2020/21 – Southampton to finish in the top-half (13/8 Bet365)
Premier League 2020/21 – Leicester to collect Under 58 Points (5/6 Bet365)
Premier League 2020/21 – Aston Villa to be relegated (2/1 William Hill)
Premier League 2020/21 – Fulham to be the Lowest Goalscorers (5/1 Betfair)
Championship 2020/21 – Sheffield Wednesday to be relegated (9/4 SkyBet)
Championship 2020/21 – Millwall to finish in the top-six (4/1 Unibet)
League One 2020/21 – Wigan to be relegated (6/1 BetVictor)
League Two 2020/21 – Barrow to be relegated (7/1 SkyBet)