WLB Season Preview 2020/21 | Southampton set to seal ‘best of the rest' title
It’s the moment all football fans have been waiting for. With the return of the major European leagues just around the corner, this season will prove to be one of the most action-packed and condensed campaigns of the modern era due to the unprecedented global challenges that have been faced.
With just six-seven weeks of preparation instead of the usual 12-13, there will inevitably be some obstacles that teams will be faced with, such as lack of pre-season friendlies, transfer difficulties and adjustment of tactics/system within a short time frame.
Premier League title race
The Premier League begins on the 12th September and looks set to be another entertaining renewal. Liverpool clinched their first title last season in comfortable fashion after their tremendous opening 27 matches led to victorious on 26 occasions. The Reds secured the trophy with seven games to spare – making it the earliest title triumph in English top-flight history.
Although this Liverpool side oozes quality in every area of the pitch, it would be an extraordinary achievement if the Merseysiders replicate last term's numbers again, especially so given that the likes of Chelsea, Manchester United and Manchester City will be bolstering their squads, with all four clubs having their eyes set on a table-topping challenge.
The race for the Champions League
After serving their two-window ban, Chelsea have stamped their mark in this transfer window by slowly making changes to the key issues that needed to be addressed.
Unsurprisingly, the backline has been one of Frank Lampard’s priorities. Despite finishing in the top-four, the Blues shipped an incredible 54 goals – the most by a top-four side in the top flight-since Norwich back in 1992/93. To add to their defensive misery last season, Chelsea only kept one away clean sheet – against 10-man Tottenham.
Despite turning 36 later this month, the addition of veteran centre back Thiago Silva will provide valuable experience, as well as defensive prowess to help solidify the defence. Securing Ben Chillwell from Leicester will offer a more defensive-minded approach than the likes of Marcus Alonso, which can also be backed up by the stats – the former Fox made significantly more blocks (7), aerial duels (73) and tackles (82) than the Spaniard who produced figures of 2, 51 and 48 respectively.
Manchester United had a strong finish to their campaign, unbeaten in their final 14 matches and securing 32 points – the most of any other team in that same sample. Bruno Fernandes joined the club at the start of this streak and is yet to experience a Premier League loss. Coincidence? Not at all.
The Portuguese maestro has been a revelation for the Red Devils, scoring eight goals and providing seven assists in those 14 outings – a real candidate for Player of the Season if he can maintain those magnifcent numbers.
With Chelsea addressing their key areas and United starting to slowly find their rhythm, it’s hard to see any other team making a real fight for the top-four, as I expect Tottenham, Arsenal and Leicester to fall short again this term.
Man City, Liverpool, Chelsea and Man Utd all to finish top-four in any order is a 15/8 shot at SkyBet and looks to hold value – I’m struggling to see any other outcome.
Southampton set for ‘best of the rest' tag
Leicester were notably the stand-out side outside of the Big Six in 2019/20, finishing in fifth and cementing a spot in Europe. Despite this, the Foxes had an underwhelming second half of the campaign, picking up just 20 points and winning only five matches in their final 18 – ranking them 12th in the calendar year – a worrying sign for Brendan Rodgers who will need to rally up his troops to ensure this trend doesn’t extend to the start of the new season.
In contrary, Southampton ended in style, picking up 30 points from a possible 54, ranking the Saints sixth in 2020 – just one point behind Chelsea.
The transformation that underwent at St Mary’s last season is pretty remarkable. Having won just four games in their first 17 – including a humiliating 9-0 home defeat to Leicester – Ralph Hasenhuttl dragged Southampton out of the relegation zone and fired them up the standings.
Hassenhuttl deserves enormous credit. His managerial style means the Austrian has incorporated a high-pressing, free-flowing team that create a plethora of chances in quick transitions. The way he's installed his side can be backed up through stats: the Saints won the most tackles (483) and made the most pressures throughout the campaign (6821) epitomising the work ethic the Southampton supremo demands.
As effective as Southampton are without the ball, the side also rank sixth for shots per-game with 13.1. This comes as no surprise given the form of their star striker Danny Ings, as well as tricky wingers Nathan Redmond, Stuart Armstrong and James Ward-Prowse's deadly set-pieces.
All-in-all, Southampton seem to have found their feet since their devastating 9-0 loss, playing full of confidence under an excellent manager that is tactically competent. If this side continue their fine form last, it wouldn’t be a surprise to see them hit the 55-60-point mark, a target that will put them in contention for continental competition.
Given this, Southampton to finish in the top-half at 13/8 (Bet365) looks an excellent price. I’m also having a small stake on the Saints to win the Premier League ‘Without The Top-Six’ at 10/1 (SkyBet).
Premier League 2020/21 – Liverpool, Manchester City, Manchester United and Chelsea to finish in the top-four in any order (15/8 SkyBet)
Premier League 2020/21 – Southampton to finish in the top-half (13/8 Bet365)
Premier League 2020/21 – Southampton to win Without The Top-six (10/1 SkyBet)