10 Bold Predictions for the 2020/21 Season
After the UEFA Women’s Champions League concluded on Sunday, and with it the 2019/20 season, we’ve had to wait for a long… negative two weeks for the 2020/21 campaign to begin. Yes, by the time Lyon were beating Wolfsburg in the final San Sebastian, Lyon right-back Lucy Bronze’s future club Manchester City had suffered defeat against Chelsea in the 2020/21 Community Shield 24 hours earlier – a game that was played even though the 2019/20 FA Cup hasn’t been concluded.
You may not know this, but there’s a global pandemic around, and in football terms, it has broken time. When Bayern Munich saw off Paris St. Germain in the 2019/20 Men’s Champions League final, teams were already been knocked out of the 2020/21 qualifying rounds. Meanwhile, the Spanish football calendar for the new season has been set, yet Real Sociedad and Athletic Bilbao wait to conclude last season’s Spanish Cup. Arsenal won the Men’s English FA Cup and the Community Shield in the space of four weeks.
All of which beg the question: why write about a new season at all? Is it really a new season if it ended two weeks ago… and resumed THREE WEEKS AGO? But, here we are, the 2020/21 season (which sounds weird before anything), and with the nature of everything of late, here are 10 incredibly bold predictions for the new season (which will of course backfire and be the result of ridicule when the season comes to an end):
Wolves to Finish in the Top Four
Wolves finished seventh last season, just as they did in 2018/19, and even bettered their points tally from the previous season. But Nuno Esprito Santo’s men missed out on Europa League football this time, owing to Arsenal’s FA Cup win. Of course, the notion of the Europa League as a distraction is mostly bollocks (Thursday and Sunday is like Wednesday and Saturday, and Champions League teams travel far as well), but for Wolves, it’s probably a point because of their relatively small squad. That small squad definitely played a part in their end of season wobble when having to play games every three days. Nuno’s side are more organised and efficient than a lot of the other Premier League sides, and having significantly less games to play should work in their favour. They’ve lost Matt Doherty to Tottenham, but seem in no rush to replace him in the market, which likely means they have a plan, and have a better drilled team than some of the traditional big six. Play their cards right, and they might be in Ol’ Big Ears by 2021 (much to a potential ire of Andre Agnelli).
Sevilla to Challenge for La Liga Title
Outside the box and too brazen? Well, see the headline. It’s easy to turn up your nose at this, after all, Sevilla had semblances of title challenges in 2016/17 and 2018/19, both of which ended with the club changing managers at the end of the season, and they could have made another change in January, when fans were voicing discontent at Julen Lopetegui. But Lopetegui kept his job, and the former Real man led Los Rojilblancos to a comfortable top-four finish, as well as another Europa League title. Real Madrid won the title last season, but won that by virtue of being the least wobbly team, Atletico Madrid have a knack for not quite being up for it, and the less about Barcelona at the moment, the better. This seems like an opportunity for Sevilla to at least run them close.
Dortmund to sack Lucien Favre
Is this really brave? Calls for Borussia Dortmund to get rid of Lucien Favre certainly haven’t been kept on the down low, after the Ruhr club once again slipped up in the Bundesliga title race, and for many, Favre is the equivalent of ‘a truck driver behind a Porsche’. Favre kept his job at the end of last season, but you sense that was mostly because there weren’t really other candidates lying in wait. But Dortmund under the former Monchengladbach man have a habit of cowering when push turns to shove and the going gets rough, and another season of that will surely be too much to put up with.
Newcastle to get Relegated
You feel for Newcastle United. A club with a proud history and fan base, owned by a plain evil capitalist, who’s only the owner because an oppressive state couldn’t acquire the club. There are talks of other groups being interested in a takeover, but Newcastle are definitely in a state of uncertainty off the pitch. On the pitch, things are probably slightly better, but not so much. Manager Steve Bruce is by no means a darling at Tyneside, and coaches an attritional side, attacking-wise. Newcastle are far too reliant to someone pulling something out of the hat, which isn’t the best strategy for a side. If the Mike Ashley tenure continues, and fans are allowed back into grounds, the mix of incredible unrest and a quite stodgy squad don’t make for good reading.
Manchester City to win the Champions League
Now, there’s boldness. Over the years, Pep Guardiola’s stewardship of Manchester City has borne fruit in terms of titles of playing style. But the one title Pep was brought in to secure, the UEFA Champions League, remains elusive. In fact, City have never reached the semi-finals, thanks to what’s some as their manager overthinking things before ties. Against Lyon last month, he was definitely guilty of that – or rather, getting his tactics horribly wrong – as the state-funded Mancunian side were punched in the throat by the French team, after Pep mirrored his opponents formation. All of which makes the Champions League seem ever elusive, but could this be the year Pep ditches his overcooking, or the year it pays off? Pep enters the final year of his contract at Eastlands, and with this being the longest he has stayed at a club, you sense his motivation is currently whatever mental exhaustion that’s creeping in, and Bayern Munich (and Liverpool) aside, City, if Pep trusts his regular system, are probably the best side in Europe. Speaking of…
Mauricio Pochettino to take charge of City in 2021
Pep has just one year left on his Man City contract, and the fact that the Man City job has been kind of prepped for the Catalan long before he arrived probably explains why he’s choosing to stay this long. By the end of the season, he’ll have completed his fifth year in Manchester, which seems like a manager whose intense touch-line narcissism-like micro-management results in mental exhaustion. It’s not outlandish to suggest this season will be his last at the club. And City haven’t quite got a succession plan – publicly at least – in place, but guess who’s starting this season without a job? Mauricio Pochettino – sacked by Spurs last November – was linked with the Juventus job after the ousting of Maurizio Sarri (though you sense that role didn’t seem right for him), and there were whispers of his name towards the Dortmund role, not to mention the endless links to Manchester United. Nevertheless, Poch starts 2020/21 unemployed, but his stock is still high, and replacing Pep’s intense structure with the Argentine’s almost seems too perfect. So, yes, it’s happening.
Diego Simeone to Leave Atletico Madrid
Perhaps one of the reasons why Poch might not turn up at City (he will) will be Atletico Madrid. There’s hardly any gain saying that Atletico Madrid have been undergoing some kind of change over the past few years. Los Colcheronos have attempted become more expansive under Diego Simeone, but at the slightest hint of discomfort, they revert to the old Atleti. The side from the Spanish capital don’t look like they can’t afford to be safety-first, especially as players have seemingly stagnated, talked about stagnating, and the club haven’t quite cashed in on the uncertainty of the top two in La Liga over the past couple of seasons. Simeone’s success and personality at Atletico means he’s likely to leave the Metropolitano on his own terms, but is there a sense that Atletico under the Argentine might become stale? Perhaps it’s time for Atletico Madrid to go for a more expansive manager (a la Pochettino). Plus, there’s the chance of things going awry with Inter and their manager, opening a spot for Simeone in the near future.
Schalke to Drop Out of the Bundesliga
Sounds ridiculous, doesn’t it? Schalke are part of the German football top-flight furniture, followed up a Champions League semi-final place in 2011 with a quarter-final appearance in the Europa League a year later, and have finished second in the Bundesliga twice in the past ten years. But the Miners haven’t been in good stead for a while; league uncertainty and managerial changes galore – ten changes in the dugout in the past ten years. Then there was last season; in which they started well under David Wagner, were fifth going into the Ruckrunde, only to go winless in 16 games – nine defeats in 12 – and end up in 12th place. No one would have been surprised had the club got rid of Wagner afterwards. Wagner stays, but the club isn’t on the best footing, on or off the pitch. Finances are looking unhealthy – Covid-19 hasn’t helped – and a limited squad hasn’t really been bolstered (their big signing of the summer is 36-year old Vedad Ibisevic) because it probably can’t be. Schalke are heavyweights in Germany, but this is country that’s no stranger in swallowing up the negligent big boys – just ask Hamburg and Kaiserslautern. The monster of German football may be due its next scalp.
Napoli to Win Serie A
Again, level-headed nuanced calls don’t generate wide-eyed shock, so, ta da!! Napoli looked ripe to run Juventus closer than ever last season in Serie A; they signed Kostas Manolas to make up – on paper – the best defence in the league with Kalidou Koulibaly, and added the likes of Hirving Lozano to bolster the attack. But a bad start, accepted ritiro, and rejected ritiro later, Carlo Ancelotti was sacked and Napoli didn’t even come close to challenging for a Champions League spot. But things have been looking quite upwards under Gennaro Gattuso, a sturdier Napoli side crowned off their hard work under the former Milan midfielder by beating Juve to the Coppa Italia in June. The core of last season’s squad still remains – formidable side on their day – and they’ve added Victor Osimhen – another Nigerian on the move – to the attack. Juventus have gone for an experienced former player in Andrea Pirlo as their new manager, presumably with a greater eye on the Champions League, Inter’s relationship with gaffer Antonio Conte is as likely to yield great fruit as it is to implode, and Lazio still have questions to answer. There are questions over the future of Koulibaly, but this seems like an ample opportunity for the Partenopei to bag a first league title in 31 years.
Real Betis to Qualify for Europe
Now, this may be mostly due to undying affection for Betis and their new manager than anything else. But on paper, Betis have a much better squad than last season’s results showed. If a collapse resulted in the sacking of Quique Setien in 2018/19, it was inconsistency and occasionally haplessness that did for Rubi last term as they finished 15th. Under new gaffer Manuel Pellegrini – whose lack of touchline and press room personality wasn’t good enough for the Premier League – Betis have one the most underrated managers in European club football, and you sense the Engineer is capable of finally piecing together this team’s promising attack. Champions League qualification might be a step too far, but the Europa League shouldn’t be out of the question for Los Verdiblancos.
Kunle Ajao126 Posts
Kunle Ajao is a football writer and columnist for spotkick. Having made a toss of himself trying to actually play the game, he knew better and got a pen instead of boots. Spends a bit of his time with the game, and thinks he's a bit like Sid Lowe. He's not