SPECIAL PREVIEW: The Sports Team’s 2020/21 London Season Preview

 

So, here we are, opening weekend, and the Sports Team thought we’d treat you with a bumper preview of all of the London Clubs in the Football League ahead of the new season. So sit back, enjoy, and get ready for merry-go-round, and hopefully fans will arrive at some stage.

PREMIER LEAGUE

Arsenal

Last season was mixed for the Gunners as they finished 8th – their lowest league position since 1995 – but knocked out Man City and Chelsea en route to their fourteenth FA Cup title. Manager Mikel Arteta will hope that the huge defensive problems will be resolved through the arrivals of Magalhaes from Lille and Saliba from Saint-Etienne, with Mari and Cedric’s loan moves also being made permanent. While pressure is on Pepe to try to further justify the £72m price tag and not get benched by the experienced Willian, Aubameyang is set to be Arsenal’s main man for the third season in a row and will look to add on to the 54 goals scored since joining in February 2018 – no player has scored more in the league since his arrival. Arteta will have to strengthen the midfield to get his team into the title race, notably by buying a strong and disciplined defensive midfielder. As it stands, Arsenal should be able to fight for the top four but without reinforcements, only 5th place seems likely.

Prediction: 4th- the quality Arteta has shown as a manager could sneak them in

 

Chelsea

Chelsea have had perhaps the most exciting transfer window of all time. The best player in the Eredivisie, England’s starting left-back, the Bundesliga’s hottest prospect, the captain of Brazil and arguably the most promising centre midfielder in the world have all come in over the summer spending spree. The signings of Ziyech, Havertz and Werner have bulked out the attack even more, adding to the quality already there, especially in young academy prospects Callum Hudson-Odoi and poacher Tammy Abraham. However, despite the rearguard additions of Thiago Silva and Ben Chilwell, questions linger over manager Frank Lampard’s ability to turn quality defenders into a quality unit, having dabbled with a mixture of selections and formations to finally find solidity. Alas, this has not yet arrived, and Chelsea fans will be anxious to see if Lampard can finally create a long-term, cohesive solution. That said, the firepower in attacking areas should allow Chelsea to pummel sides they dominate, meaning they’ll improve on last season’s relatively disappointing point haul of 66.

Prediction: 3rd- Champions League qualification and comfortably so, but just short of a title challenge.

 

Crystal Palace

A dismal run of form under Roy Hodgson post-lockdown has left Palace fans sweating- the dismal results coupled with a cripplingly ageing squad and a lack of diverse creativity exacerbating this. However, there is light at the end of tunnel. A solid transfer window has renewed optimism, despite lingering questions over Hodgson’s long-term plans. Right back Nathan Ferguson has come to rejuvenate a defence lacking in pace and technique, both of which Ferguson offers in abundance. The key signing however has undoubtedly been Ebere Eze, arguably the Championship’s hottest prospect whom Palace have picked up for a relative snip at just over £20 million. He will likely slot into the number 10 role in Hodgson’s 4-4-1-1 behind Jordan Ayew, a striker lacking in clinical finishing, so news of a consistent creator behind him will be music to his ears. The goals and creativity will have to diversify if Palace are to beat the drop, but the tools are there for them to do it.
Prediction: 17th- survival, but it’ll go down to the wire.

 

Fulham

Bryan’s heroic brace from left-back in the Promotion play-offs got Fulham back to the promised land. They have in Mitrovic a very solid striker who scored 26 goals last season in the Championship and who has the experience of three Prem’ seasons spent with Newcastle. Areola’s signature on loan should also reassure Fulham fans on their ability to attract “big” names. Unfortunately, a very difficult season awaits now. The Cottagers lack a true number 10 to create chances for Parker’s boys and they would also benefit from buying a quality winger to provide Mitrovic with crosses. The defence also needs reinforcements if Fulham hopes to cope with some of the best forwards in the world. It will be hard to survive in the Premier League with their non-existent squad depth but with a bit of luck and hope on Mitrovic, there might be a chance.

Prediction: 20th- relegation; an unproven manager with an average squad will struggle

 

Tottenham 

A late surge “thanks” to Covid-19 and Kane’s recovery meant that Spurs were able to get 6th, however Jose Mourinho still has much to worry about since losing Eriksen. Spurs’ overreliance on Harry Kane was made obvious when the striker missed two months of football through injury, leading to the team only winning three out of nine games from January to March. A lot will be expected from Højbjerg’s purchase particularly in terms of ball recoveries and interceptions – an area absolutely vital to Mourinho’s style of play. His addition to the squad should complement an otherwise forward-thinking team with rapid wingers such as Son and Bergwijn. Højbjerg’s presence should also allow fellow midfielders Winks, Sissoko or Lo Celso to push forward more often and create chances for Kane. Overall, Tottenham seems to lack the quality to challenge for the top spots and looks set to compete for the Europa League places, but Mourinho is full of surprises.

Prediction: 5th- after gradual improvement under Mou, a focus on the Europa League may hinder league form.

 

West Ham

Ah, here we are, Basket Case FC. West Ham are a shambles both on the pitch and off; Moyes’ ad hoc tactics are matched by an inconsistent transfer on the pitch which resembles a kid in a sweet shop. By and large, flash singings made in previous years of Felipe Anderson, Andriy Yarmolenko and Sébastien Haller have failed to deliver, and it is instead the more frugal, sensible signings that have kept them afloat in the Prem, such as Issa Diop but also January additions Tomáš Souček and Jarrod Bowen. Moyes will have to come across a clear and consistent starting XI, with a clear identity, if he’s to steer the Hammers clear of a relegation battle. However, with a deep, messy squad, with mercurial temptations in many areas, coupled with the practical approach of Moyes, this seems an unlikely scenario, and a season of confusing tactics and selections seems probable again. This time round, it may cost them dearly.

Prediction: 18th- relegation, with off-pitch matters creating an even more toxic atmosphere than normal.

Can Moyes bring the bubbly football back to the Hammers again?

 

CHAMPIONSHIP

Brentford

No side in the EFL was a worse record in the playoffs than Brentford, and it only continued for them last season, bottling automatic promotion and then losing the playoff final in ironic fashion in extra time to West London rivals Fulham. Their squad has not been as decimated as expected, the only true notable exit being that of Ollie Watkins to Aston Villa for a rumoured £28 million. As ever though, the Bees have mitigated the potential for a hangover by swiftly replacing sold men, in this case bringing in League One’s best player last season in Ivan Toney to fill his shoes. Around him, other young talent will only continue to improve, with Shandon Baptiste and Halil Dervişoğlu poised to have breakout seasons. Their mean defence under Frank has remained the same, with all members of the back four staying, leading to further solidity. The Bees will be expected, and likely will, get it right this time.
Prediction: 2nd, automatic promotion, leading to Brentford’s return to the top flight for the first time in over 70 years.

 

Millwall

The appointment of Gary Rowett after the departure of Neil Harris inspired Millwall to an 8th place finish, exceeding virtually all expectations. With a squad largely intact going into the season and Rowett firmly committed to the club it is expected that the club will finish around the play off places and may have an outside chance of making the cut. Millwall are built upon a solid and experienced defence with the likes of Jake Cooper and Murray Wallace. They also have a match winner in Jed Wallace whose dynamism and creativity on the wing coupled with his shooting ability make him a real threat.

Millwall’s greatest asset, however, is their manager Gary Rowett. His ability to adapt his team’s strengths to best exploit the opposition’s weaknesses will always keep Millwall in contention. This is demonstrated by Millwall taking points from teams such as Brentford, Cardiff and Preston. Millwall can beat teams who finished below them last season and as long as they can keep getting results against the high-flying sides they’ll always be in contention.

Prediction: 7th, just missing out on playoffs

 

QPR

There are three certainties in life- death, taxes and QPR ending up in the mid table mire. Last season, aspirations of playoffs quickly turned into relegation fears, turning into promotion hopes again before being dashed in dramatic fashion. The drama has continued over the summer- star man Ebere Eze being sold to fellow London club Crystal Palace has left Rangers looking nervously over their shoulder as they look to fill the newfound creative void. That said, there are players already there that could already take up the mantle, including Ilias Chair and tricky winger Bright Osayi-Samuel. New number nine Lyndon Dykes is already off the mark for Scotland, and so Warburton will hope that he can continue this vein at Loftus Road. The signing of ball playing centre back Rob Dickie from Oxford will ease defensive concerns. However, the lack of consistent quality throughout the squad will lead to inconsistent performances, exacerbated by the streaky nature of Warburton.

Prediction: 20th, survival, but in the cluster of sides in the relegation dogfight

 

LEAGUE ONE

Charlton Athletic

Charlton’s ownership issues reached their nadir during 2020, with the club potentially facing administration. However, with the arrival of Thomas Sandgaard on the scene there does seem to be light at the end of the tunnel. Though 19/20 did ultimately end in disappointment there were signs of encouragement. Good form was shown early in the season, and Charlton showed good form early on. Lee Bowyer is loved by Charlton fans and, in my eyes, he has demonstrated both the tactical nous and man management of a manager well beyond his years.
Charlton have lost the likes of Lyle Taylor, Tom Lockyer and Naby Sarr. Nevertheless, they still have a squad which can thrive at League 1 level. Macauley Bonne and Conor Washington are capable of firing prolifically at this level. Charlton also have creativity in midfield springing from Jonny Williams and Erhun Oztumer. Charlton are lacking numbers in defence, a problem which they hope to mitigate by the end of the transfer window. All in all, Charlton fans can expect a top half finish, with a potential for the playoffs.

Prediction: Sandgaard takeover- promotion, otherwise- god knows

Can Sandgaard be the Addicks’ saviour?

AFC Wimbledon

Two questions dominate the conversation over the Wombles for the upcoming season, 1- can they survive in League One against the odds again, and 2- when will they finally move into Plough Lane? As for the first, had the season continued, their poor turn of form may have been pounced upon by an up and coming Tranmere, so they must guard against complacency and stick to their hardworking style which has got them so far up the pyramid. They’ll need Joe Pigott to bang in the goals again but have made some very shrewd loan signings from the Championship such as Connal Trueman and Jaakko Oksanen. The move to Plough Lane, planned for October, may galvanise them but without the fans there to thrive off it, it may be somewhat moot initially. Either way, they face a very difficult challenge to beat the drop and may rely on further shambolic finances at other League One clubs to bail them out.
League Prediction: 21st, relegation

 

LEAGUE TWO

Leyton Orient

Last season unfortunately became somewhat of a write-off for the Os, their optimism on the back of their promotion back to the EFL in 2019 shattered by the tragic and unexpected passing of manager Justin Edinburgh after the summer. Survival became the objective and was duly achieved, though not a particularly taxing task given how difficult it is to be relegated from League Two. An improvement may be expected this season, but it seems difficult to see drastic change, due to unknown entity in first-time manager Ross Embleton. That said, there are some players who belong at the top end of the division, notably Chilean goalkeeper Lawrence Vigouroux and exciting young winger Jordan Maguire-Drew, so will be banking on them to make the difference. These factors balancing each other out into a mid-table finish looks likely.

Prediction: 18th, avoid relegation fight but never push top half either.

 

For more footy talk from the Sports Team, be sure to listen to the weekly podcast the Kingsway Kickabout, on KCL Radio and on Soundcloud. Just search “Kingsway Kickabout”.

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