Following what was a disrupted and out-of-control 2020 season, as COVID-19 took the world and professional sports by storm, the English Premier League had a new but familiar champion as Liverpool reasserted their dominance. It was a deserved ending to the type of season Klopp’s men were having and marked a victory for professional sports over a pandemic that rocked the very foundations of all established patterns in the world. What finishing the season did was also to set the stage for the strangest and most demanding seasons in the history of the EPL, a season in which football betting apps had just as crazy a time as the fans. There were upsets that made the books and fans look silly (for example, Aston Villa’s thumping of Liverpool, Liverpool’s title odds, Tottenham and Mou, etc). We take a look at the season that was.
COVID-19 & Impact
The 2020 season took a hit when the coronavirus became a global pandemic, particularly hitting the United Kingdom very hard. Almost four months of confinement spelled doom for the season but the will of the players and the FA turned the tide and found a solution despite the odds. The season continued in a bubble and though it was not the same vibe playing in, and watching empty stands, it is toll had the very essence of what we have all come to love, competition and entertainment. The bubble was not without its challenges. It was a first for everyone involved and the constant testing and confinement away from family was tasking, demanding and pushed the discipline of the players. Somehow the virus always trickled into team bubbles and caused suspensions, but the season soldiered on and finally found its mark when Liverpool were crowned worthy champions. The Reds had dominated the early stages of the season before the break and looked every bit the champions that they eventually ended up as. In the shadow of Liverpool’s win, a few teams stood out as possible gems and ones to watch out for next season, with Liverpool still topping that list. The way the team played left only one thought in many minds, they were favourites to their own succession.
The new season will have to suffer the consequences of the pandemic and playing in the bubble. Matches will be packed into a shorter time, and players will have to manage their energy levels and navigate through playing for club and country, while watching out for the virus by sticking to restrictive health and safety protocols.
The new season
Four months without any proper training and all of a sudden thrust back into action had to have an incidence on the players. The level of injuries spiked and teams had to find ways to manage players and ambitions for the season. Champions, Liverpool, were one of the first to get hit as injury seeped through a team that was already not deep enough to call stable quality from its bench. Alexander-Arnold went down, and then captain Virgil van Dijk. A couple of other first team players fell to the sick bay and Liverpool had to make emergency buys and then roll with a make shift back line and an out-of-form attack. The result was accumulated draws and defeats. Many teams took injury hits and COVID-19 cases to varying degrees, making it hard to call out any real pattern and favorite for the season. Southampton had shown a lot of promise last season but Danny Ings went down and the Saints could not find potent offense. Leicester went for a while without Jamie Vardy, who was not always the best version of himself when available. Then stepped in Chelsea, who had dropped major cash in the off-season to give Frank Lampard a treasure trove of world-class youngsters primed for a breakout season. Hakim Ziyech, Kai Havertz, and Timo Werner, joined American wunderkind Pulisic, English rising star, Mason Mount, and staples like N’golo Kante, Jorginho, César Azpilicueta, and veteran centre back, Thiago Silva. The Blues looked the part for a minute, playing scintillating football until all of a sudden they were not. Lampard looked like he had more gold than he knew what to do with and the players could find no rhythm in his constant rotations. A series of winless games meant he got the boot and German tactician Thomas Tuchel stepped in.
Over in Manchester, Ole Gunnar Solksjaer shook off an abysmal start of the season, which saw star man Paul Pogba push for an exit and a string of poor results that left fans clamoring for his sack. Somehow turning the season on its head, United rediscovered winning again and were headed to the top of the table.
Then came Manchester City to spoil the fun. Pep Guardiola’s men would go on a tear of 10+ unbeaten games to find their way atop the table and building a gap between them and everyone else.
In London, Arsenal and Tottenham were having one of the most daunting seasons in the top flight, with Tottenham starting strong, looking like true contenders, only to fall into the chaos the like of which only Jose Mourinho can bring about. Mike Arteta had some high profile wins to make fans hope but ultimately the Gunners were far from their glory days and the departure of Mesut Ozil almost felt like the death knell.
The European Super League fallout and champions crowned
Just when it felt the season was past the worst days and football was taking central stage again, controversy struck in the form of the European Super League. In what would be the most whirlwind days in recent football memory, European big wig clubs, including Arsenal, Manchester United, Liverpool, Chelsea, and Manchester City, announced their commitment to the newly formed European Super League, which would be a new competition in the image of the Champions League. The backlash was immediate, unabashed, and unrelenting. Players and fans decried and protested and the UEFA promised harsh sanctions, enough to deter the English clubs. Manchester United and Liverpool have had the hardest times, with fans organizing protests enough to cause postponement of games.
In the midst of the drama, Manchester City were putting finishing touches to a grueling campaign and the title run. Crowned champions before their final round of games, Guardiola’s men had their sights set on winning the elusive but deserved Champions League trophy, that would have marked the complete success of the Qatari investment. But, alas, Chelsea took the glory on the day. This has been the English Premier League season in a nutshell.