There's every chance the celebrations in Liverpool are still going on - after all, it doesn't seem very long ago that the last season just ended. Indeed, it's only been six weeks since the full English Premier League (EPL) line-up was finally confirmed, with Fulham once again earning the right to rejoin the top flight. If last year's stats are anything to go by, the Cottagers will do well to avoid another relegation yo-yo year. At the top of the table, the usual suspects line up as pre-season favourites, with Manchester City and Liverpool the two early favourites, with big-spending Chelsea in the hunt as well.
With everything else going on in the world, there must be a certain amount of joy to be had from the start of a new season - though to be fair, that no doubt depends largely on who you support and what your aspirations for your team are this year. Manchester United, Arsenal and Tottenham fans no doubt want to see more - together they form the next tier of clubs looking to compete. But in 2020 - a year that will no doubt go down in infamy - perhaps the one thing we know is that uncertainty will prevail. With so much unknown, this could be the toughest EPL season to try to predict.
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2020-21 Premier League season promises to be fascinating
The first campaign to ever begin closed doors, it will be interesting to see how teams react to the situation when every match is of great importance - unlike those we saw at the end of the 2019-20 season, many of which were already dead rubbers. Cloudbet took a close look at the importance of home-advantage when the EPL resumed play, and sharp bettors may want to remind themselves of that analysis, even though the circumstances are different now as the new start means players have all to play for.
The compacted schedule will also prove to be incredibly challenging, especially for those teams who do not possess the largest squads or lack strength in depth.
It is also a relatively rare season in that the big six clubs are beginning the campaign with the same manager that finished the previous campaign. It is only the third time this has occurred in the last decade, and the fortunes of Mikel Arteta at Arsenal and Jose Mourinho at Tottenham will be of particular interest as they begin their first full seasons in charge.
Carlo Ancelotti is set to embark on his first full campaign in over two decades, in which he is at a club that is expected to build rather than compete for the title, while veteran coaching genius Marcelo Bielsa will be taking his first steps in the Premier League with Leeds.
There are some serious managerial heavyweights who will be locking horns in England’s top division in 2020-21
While Chelsea’s Frank Lampard is still a relative novice, his club is making up for that by vastly outspending everybody else in the transfer market. Kai Havertz, Ben Chilwell, Timo Werner and Hakim Ziyech have all been bought for between £33m and £72m, while Thiago Silva will be on substantial wages, even if he was a free transfer.
The Blues’ net spend of around £130m is at least twice as large as every other club’s outlay at the time of writing - so does this mean they are a good bet for the title?
Their odds have improved a little, but it still looks likely to be Manchester City and Liverpool battling it out for the main prize for the third season running.
The defending champions have only added a back-up left back in Kostas Tsimikas, at this point, though January signing Takumi Minamino had a good summer and may contribute more at Anfield than he did in a disjointed first half-season in England.
For Man City, Pep Guardiola has to hope that new boy Nathan Ake can help shore up a defence that was far too porous last year. The Citizens are favourites to win the league thanks to their strong underlying numbers, but will need to respond better to set backs than they did last term. When conceding the opening goal, City went further behind more often than they recovered points.
This was perhaps Liverpool’s greatest strength, as their statistics were largely the same whether they were ahead, level or behind. They didn’t hit the heights that City frequently did too often - but neither did they plumb the depths. When going for the title, consistency can be everything.
Chelsea’s approach is interesting as they don’t seem to have entirely addressed their issues with their transfer business. Only the top two teams in the Premier League scored more goals than the Blues last season, but only eight clubs – none of which finished in the top half – conceded more goals. So while they should be devastating going forward, can they outscore the opposition week in, week out?
Chelsea have spent big again - will it be enough?
There’s a great sense of optimism at Manchester United that they might be able to compete for the title this season. However, that was founded on a strong run of form following the restart – only their city rivals earned more points in that period – when they had a relatively kind fixture list. The Red Devils also set a new Premier League record for penalties won last season, and can’t assume referees will be so kind in 2020-21.
While Arsenal and Spurs are expected to finish in the top six in May, they both had poor underlying statistics last season, so it remains to be seen how much they can improve. Their summer business looks to be sensible enough, but neither have they signed players at this point who will truly set the league alight.
Cloudbet's outright winner's odds
West Ham United
West Bromwich Albion
Brighton & Hove Albion
For a dark horse in terms of European qualification, keep an eye on Southampton. The Saints rightly stuck with Ralph Hasenhuttl when many clubs would have pulled the trigger after their humiliating 9-0 home defeat to Leicester, and they reaped the rewards.
They were in the top seven teams for both expected goal and shots on target stats last season, and should be very capable of beating the 52 points they accrued last season. Supporters will have to keep their fingers crossed that Danny Ings stays fit though, or else they may struggle for goals.
At the wrong end of the table, two of the promoted sides can expect to endure difficult seasons. According to expected goals, Fulham should have ended 2019-20 ninth in the Championship, while West Brom had fewer shots on target than their opponents in far too many of their matches (14).
Leeds should have no concerns though, as they were the second flight’s strongest team for both expected goals and shots on target last season. Their price for relegation reflects this, and it would be a surprise if they were to struggle in view of their strong underlying process.
History suggests that Aston Villa will face difficulty, as they became only the fourth team since 1995-96 to stay up with 35 points or fewer. The previous three were all relegated the following season too, so a testing 2020-21 campaign likely lies in wait for Dean Smith and his side.
Based on last season’s statistics, Newcastle should’ve sunk without a trace and now be gearing up for one of their semi-regular Championship campaigns. However, the Magpies will hope that the former Bournemouth combination of Ryan Fraser and Callum Wilson – who linked up to create 12 goals between them in 2018-19 – can fire them up the table. But if not, Steve Bruce’s team may be in trouble.
But this is all very theoretical at this point.
The tight schedule, empty stands and ever-looming threat of the pandemic mean that this will be the hardest Premier League season to predict for a very long time - possibly ever.
To say that the teams who deal with the challenges best will be the ones who prosper may seem like a rather simple statement of the obvious - but as fans eagerly await the start of the new season, this may well be a year where so many (to borrow the phrase) unknown unknowns come into play.
One thing is for sure though - Cloudbet will be following the action as closely as anyone, and we look forward to bringing you more insights into the game once the season kicks off and the action gets underway.
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