Recently, as we do every year, 90min‘s editorial team compiled our predictions for the 2021/22 Premier League season.
Our consensus table had Manchester City retaining their Premier League title – but that did not tell the whole story. Out of 90min’s 12 ‘experts’ only two had anyone other than City finishing first. The two that broke rank opted for Champions League holders Chelsea.
This seems to suggest that we are once again in for a somewhat sterile Premier League title race this season.
However, after just 10 games out of 380, our prediction already looks shaky. On the opening gameweek, three other sides – none of them City – laid down a marker for their title ambitions.
The first to do so were Manchester United, who put a midfield-less Leeds United to the sword on Saturday lunchtime. Matching the Whites’ energy and displaying a ruthlessness in front of goal that all champions need, it was one of the most memorable Old Trafford occasions in recent memory.
Bruno Fernandes looked particularly ravenous, taking the match ball home after a terrific hat-trick. Paul Pogba was excellent too, operating off of the left flank. His one-touch pass to set up Fernandes’ opener was the best off his four (yes, four) assists, even if it was not enough to earn any praise from Graeme Souness in the studio.
Soon after United had set their stall out, Chelsea also put on a showcase. Their 3-0 victory over Crystal Palace was as comfortable as they come.
The win also shined a light on their incredible strength in depth. Among those who did not feature at all against the Eagles were Thiago Silva, Ben Chilwell, Callum Hudson-Odoi, N’Golo Kante and Hakim Ziyech. Getting the job done with such ease despite these absentees suggests that Chelsea will have zero problems completing on multiple fronts this season.
There was no place in the squad for Chelsea’s newest signing, Romelu Lukaku, either. His imminent arrival means there will not be a repeat of last term, when no Blues player got into double figures for goals in the Premier League.
The absence that had the biggest impact was Virgil van Dijk. He made a glorious return during Liverpool’s comprehensive 3-0 away victory over Norwich City in the Saturday teatime kick off. The Reds will have sterner tests, but there were plenty of signs that they might be capable of a title challenge too.
As well as Van Dijk’s return, Trent Alexander-Arnold, Roberto Firmino and Diogo Jota – who all had underwhelming seasons due to poor form and/or injury – put in superb displays. Alex Oxlade-Chamberlain’s performance was another big plus point.
These three results set things up nicely ahead of the fourth genuine title contenders’ Premier League curtain raiser on Sunday.
Surprisingly, though, City failed to put in their own statement performance, falling to a shock 1-0 defeat against Tottenham in north London. The narrative going into the game centred around Harry Kane. In the end Spurs did not need him, with Son Heung-min starring as a central forward in a stylish counter-attacking display.
City looked shaky when defending in transition throughout – a problem that has plagued them for some time. Things were not clicking in the final third either. After some early promise, Jack Grealish and Raheem Sterling seemed to be getting in each other’s way in the left half-space. Japhet Tanganga’s wonderfully violent display further dimmed their influence. Meanwhile, Riyad Mahrez was slowing things to a ponderous crawl on the opposite flank.
While City must remain favourites – they still have Kevin De Bruyne and Oleksandr Zinchenko to return and could yet splash the cash on Kane, who topped the Premier League goal and assist charts last season – Guardiola’s charges slipping up so early is a fascinating development.
Perhaps we were wrong. Perhaps we will have a proper title race this season after all.