2020/21 Preview: Questions for the new Season
How will Barcelona’s Season Turn Out?
Of course, this is the first of the 2020/21 questions. Barcelona’s pre-season – if you can call it that – has been chaotic that it was hard to find a question in the sub-heading. Lionel Messi wanted out, claimed he had a clause that meant he could leave for free. Barcelona said he didn’t, La Liga agreed with them. Messi then speaks out about how he’ll stay, but not really by choice, and how he’s unhappy at Barcelona. That’s the big thing; not that Messi left or decided to make a U-Turn, but that he reluctantly chose to stay, and has become so fed up with things at the Nou Camp, that he didn’t mind giving an interview with Goal and saying how messed up everything was. And that’s just part of things for Barca and new manager Ronald Koeman. Most of the squad is reportedly up for sale, Ivan Rakitic has already left for Sevilla, Arthur’s move to Juventus has finally happened, while Luis Suarez could join him there. All the rot that had been setting in for some five years – Champions League collapses at Rome and Anfield among others – looked to show itself last season, with the unceremonious sacking of Ernesto Valverde, and desperate appointment of Quique Setien, whom they also let go, and you wouldn’t be ridiculous if you thought things could get worse before they get better. It’s not just that we don’t know how Barcelona’s 2020/21 will go, it’s that we don’t even know who’ll be there for it.
Can Iheanacho really become cool Again?
This time last season, Kelechi Iheanacho looked like stale news at Leicester. The Nigerian was about to start his third season at the King Power and his biggest moment before then was missing a chance against former club Manchester City in April 2019, his squad number (8) fell to Youri Tielemans, and while he wasn’t on his way out of the club – probably because no one came in for him – he was almost certainly deadweight. But Iheanacho found some, err, promise, again last season. 10 goals last season were impressive for him, especially with the fact that they came in 960 minutes of football, and he looked to be enjoying playing club football again. One of the reasons why Leicester fell apart from December and dropped out of the top four was a lack of squad depth, and a promising (stop doing that!) year last time out from Iheanacho might have Brendan Rodgers looking at other players of the side more often. Plus, despite not quite slowing down, main man Jamie Vardy is 33, and likely to play less games, and while Iheanacho might not be the orthodox of strikers, he certainly has the ability to the lines at Leicester. Could this be the year he becomes cool again?
What are Valencia on about?
Maybe good things don’t happen with Valencia during the times when they win the Spanish Cup. They won the Copa Del Rey in 2008, amidst a shoddy season that saw the club come nowhere the European spots in the league and had manager Ronald Koeman at odds with key players in the side. 11 years later, they won it again, beating Barcelona – who had won the previous four. Then, Marcelino got sacked as manager, presumably because he dared to win the cup, and while they managed to get out of a tough Champions League group under replacement Albert Celades, the former Real Madrid man definitely looked out of his league at times. Celades has also been dismissed by the club, now replaced by former Watford manager Javi Gracia, yet the fact that Valencia have made their 12th managerial change since Unai Emery left in 2012 isn’t the most alarming thing for Los Che. Valencia have put up virtually the whole squad for sale, a move club president Anil Murthy calls necessary to prevent bankruptcy. But the move – which has seen fan favourites in Rodrigo, Ferran Torres, Dani Parejo and Francis Coquelin leave the club – has prevented massive backlash from the supporters, and a group called Salvem Nostre Valencia – aimed at saving the club from owner Peter Lim – as well as many others leading protests. To say the 2004 La Liga winners are in uncertainty is putting it mildly, and at this point, who knows if the club will have enough when the 2020/21 season kicks off?
Will Everton finally get it Right?
Over the past few years, Everton have being the definitely of flattering to deceive. Since the arrival of Farhad Moshiri, not only have they failed to deliver, they’ve always made sure – that no matter how much you write them off after failing – to promise so much that you fall for it again, only to be let down. Perhaps there’s no accurate summation of the Toffees than being called the catfish by the Stadio podcast. In 2014, they looked promising under Roberto Martinez, then followed that up with two lacklustre seasons to lead to his sacking. Then came Ronald Koeman, who followed up a seventh place finish in 2016/17 by signing a horde of number 10s and getting sacked the following October. Then the 2018/19 season ended with Marco Silva – who came after Sam Allardyce – leading something of a resurgence, yet by December of 2019, Silva was gone. Under Carlo Ancelotti, there have signs of promise again, but at least they managed to temper that with some frustrating inconsistency. However, in this off-season, they’ve made some astute additions, James Rodriguez joins from Real Madrid to work with a manager under whom he flourished, while Allan arrives to plug a midfield hole that’s been gaping since the departure of Idrissa Gueye, and the arrival of Abdoulaye Doucoure seems imminent. Perhaps what’s most important is who’s on the dugout. Carlo Ancelotti isn’t just a three-time Champions League winner, he’s a manager known for tailoring his tactics in accordance with his squad, and a full season under the Italian could see Everton looking up for the first time in a while, and not down.
Are Milan finally on the right track under Pioli?
The last time Milan – seven-time winners of the Champions League – made Europe’s top club competition, Erling Haaland was 14. Over the past few years, it’s looked like one step forward, one bump back for the club. First, there looked to be signs of progress under Vincenzo Montella in 2017, then the club shelled huge sums in the transfer window, but things turned sour and Montella was sacked midway into the 2017/18 season. Side note: between 2017 and 2018, Milan signed Leonardo Bonucci, Gonzalo Higuain, and Mattia Caldara from Juventus, and all three are back at Juve (although two of those deals were loans, those loans came about after the first transfer didn’t work out). After Montella came Gennaro Gattuso, under whom things looked to be turning for the better. Then Gattuso left in the summer of 2019, and replacement Marco Giampaolo lasted just three months before being told to hit the road. But, under Stefano Pioli, Milan have looked on the up again, and their form – nine wins in their final 12 league games – has been so impressive the club had to renege on their decision to replace Pioli in the dugout with Ralf Rangnick. Milan have been making smart signings in the past few windows, and this time they’ve made astute additions in Simon Kjaer, and youngsters Pierre Kalulu and Brahim Diaz, the latter on loan from Real Madrid. Of course, it’s Milan, and something happening to scupper their clear progress isn’t the most absurd scenario to paint, but things finally to be on the up, as the Rossoneri aim to get back into the top table of Italian – and European – football.
What happens now with Chelsea and Lampard?
There were signs of progress at Chelsea under Frank Lampard last season, despite the flaws, as the Blues finished fourth in the league. One of the chess moves defenders of Lampard had was to point out him using players from the academy; partly by choice, partly due to a transfer ban, the likes of Fikayo Tomori, Reece James, Mason Mount and Tammy Abraham got significant game time under the former Chelsea midfielder, not to mention the likes of Billy Gilmour being blooded into the first team. But in this window, Chelsea have shelled on Hakim Ziyech, Kai Havertz, and Ben Chilwell et al, which seems a little like Lampard ditching his academy project at first opportunity. That might not be the case and the signings are promising – other than 35-year old Thiago Silva (whose leadership at the back is something Chelsea have needed) – the other signings are very much under 27, but the window outlay has certainly raised expectations. They might not be expected to be at the level of Liverpool and Manchester City just yet, but the Blues haven’t spent some £200 million to finish 33 points behind the champions again. Lampard’s academy alibi seems to have run its course, and despite him still having a lot of goodwill on his side to stave off any potential snags early on, money spent in modern football equals expectations of success, and more pressure. The purse strings have been loosened, chucking some leeway with it. Success is likely to become a demand this time.
Will Inter and Conte Explode or Combust?
Inter under Antonio Conte came as close as they’ve come to winning Serie A title in 10 years last season. One point behind Juventus may have been a much more flattering stat to show how comfortable Juve had it in the end, but the Nerazzurri did run them close. Inter could probably have themselves, as they fell short thanks to some absurd stalemates against the likes of Bologna and Sassuolo, then there’s Conte, who’s made no secret of his displeasure at the Inter board. At first it seemed to be as a result of non-transfers, but Inter basically signed every footballer around in the January window, and Conte has pointed out his frustration isn’t about transfers. Or wasn’t about them. After the Europa League final defeat to Sevilla, Conte spoke of not being certain about staying on. Inter later on confirmed that he would be staying on, but the former Juventus manager has a history of not repairing his relationship once he starts to fall out, and there’s the potential of combustion. Then again, Conte might knuckle and try to make Inter champions again, which seems plausible giving champions Juve have appointed a rookie manager for 2020/21. For Inter and Conte, this seems something that could in both extremes; either explosive success, or great implosion. Either way, it’ll surely be thrilling to watch.
Is it time for Liverpool to begin remoulding the squad?
How do you try to poke holes at a team who, in the past two seasons, have won the Premier League, the Champions League, and amassed 196 points in the league? You could make the case that Liverpool are – despite their collapse against Atletico Madrid in March – the best team in Europe, and with probably the most settled side on the continent. Aside from goalkeeper Alisson, the core of Jurgen Klopp’s side has been in place since the start of 2018, and this season will make it three with basically the same team. There’s always talk of cycles and the need to rebuild after spells, and while some of it might be nonsense, one starts to ask how much more this set of players could achieve together. A rebuild might be a tad too extreme – and rebuilding a winning team is as risky as it seems absurd – but refreshing the squad has to be on the agenda. Of course, there’ll be little doubt of Klopp’s ability to re-energise and motivate his side, but there’s only so much that could be galvanised in the same set of players for so long. Maybe it’s time to start killing your darlings, Jurgen.
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