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The EPL is back: Can anyone catch Liverpool?

Sorry, Mat Ryan. The following won’t make for pretty reading.After barely a six-week turnaround, the 2020-2021 Premier League season kicks off next weekend.Liverpool will start their title defence at home against newly-promoted Leeds and will be favourite to go back to back.And, as usual, the battle to avoid the drop will be intense, with the…

Sorry, Mat Ryan. The following won’t make for pretty reading.

After barely a six-week turnaround, the 2020-2021 Premier League season kicks off next weekend.

Liverpool will start their title defence at home against newly-promoted Leeds and will be favourite to go back to back.

And, as usual, the battle to avoid the drop will be intense, with the Socceroos goalkeeper set to be dragged into the desperate battle.

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ARSENAL

Manager: Mikel Arteta

Ground: Emirates Stadium

Twitter tag: @Arsenal

Odds: $51

First match: Fulham (a)

Last season’s finish: Eighth

Predicted finish: Fifth. Mikel Arteta is starting to put his stamp on the team, as two recent trophies prove, but it remains to be seen if he can get his side to fire for 38 games instead of just 90 minutes. If the Gunners lose Pierre-Emerick Aubameyang to injury, you have to ask where the goals are coming from, but if Nicolas Pepe can step up, he could spark a memorable season at the Emirates.

Fantasy Football tip: Aubameyang. His stats say it all. Whoever he plays for and whoever he plays against, he scores goals.

If they were a movie: A Quiet Place. Even when fans are allowed in, the only noise at the Emirates is when someone drops their “Wenger out!” placard because they suddenly realise he left two years ago.

Fun fact: Aubameyang could have played international football for Italy, France or Spain. He chose Gabon.

ASTON VILLA

Manager: Dean Smith

Ground: Villa Park

Twitter tag: @AVFCOfficial

Odds: $501

First match: Sheffield United (a)

Last year’s finish: 17th

Predicted finish: 18th.

Villa escaped relegation by the skin of their teeth and the warning signs can’t be ignored. They have very little upfront and a shaky defence. If they swap Jack Grealish for a large cheque, they will go down.

Fantasy Football tip: Grealish is the obvious shout, but he can go quiet for a run of games, so a cheaper option might be John McGinn. The Scottish star showed glimpses of quality in an injury-plagued season and he’ll bag a few goals. Having no Villa players is unlikely to cause you any sleepless nights.

If they were a movie: Baywatch. A lot of running up and down but not achieving a lot.

Fun fact: In March 1976, Aston Villa defender Chris Nicholl scored four goals in a match against Leicester City. Unfortunately for Villa fans, the final score was 2-2.

BRIGHTON

Manager: Graham Potter

Ground: Falmer Stadium.

Twitter tag: @OfficialBHAFC

Odds: $1001

First match: Chelsea (h)

Last year’s finish: 15th

Predicted finish: 20th. Potter did extremely well with limited resources last season, but a lack of quality and depth in the playing ranks suggests he could be looking for a new job as early as December.

Fantasy Football tip: Neal Maupay if you’re looking for a cheap third striker. And new boy Adam Lallana might have a few quality performances left in him. Otherwise, stay clear.

If they were a movie: Godfather III. Everyone tells you they’re terrible, but you feel you should watch them anyway. And you never get those two hours back.

Fun fact: During the Second World War, Adolf Hitler told his pilots not to bomb the Brighton Pavilion because he wanted to use it as a holiday home after he conquered England.

BURNLEY

Manager: Sean Dyche

Ground: Turf Moor

Twitter tag: @BurnleyOfficial

Odds: $1001

First match: Leicester City (a)

Last year’s finish: 10th

Predicted finish: 16th. Burnley somehow managed a creditable 10th last season without making many headlines or seemingly beating many teams, but there were signs Dyche’s well-drilled side are getting found out. This could be a long season for Clarets fans.

Fantasy Football tip: Nick Pope. A talented goalkeeper who is forced to make a lot of saves over the course of a season. Chris Wood will get you points, but putting a Burnley striker in your team just feels wrong.

If they were a movie: The Good, The Bad and The Ugly. It remains to be seen where their defence, midfield and attack fit into the title challenge this season.

Fun fact: In the fourth round of the 1956 FA Cup — in the days before penalty shootouts — Burnley and Chelsea drew 1-1, then 1-1, then 2-2, then 0-0, before Chelsea won the fifth match 2-0.

CHELSEA

Manager: Frank Lampard

Ground: Stamford Bridge

Twitter tag: @chelseafc

Odds: $15

First match: Brighton (a)

Last year’s finish: 4th

Predicted finish: 4th. Forget Messi, Chelsea wins the transfer contest. Adding German stars Timo Werner and Kai Havertz, Brazilian veteran Thiago Silva, Moroccan Hakim Ziyech and Leicester defender Ben Chilwell to an already handy-looking team is a good piece of business. Frank Lampard is new to this managerial game, but he racked up some impressive victories last season and sets his sides out nicely. He just needs to swallow his pride and sack the walking blunder that is Kepa Arrizabalaga.

Fantasy Football tip: Timo Werner. It won’t take him long to get used to the English game and he is quality with a capital Q. If he’s given the penalty-taking duties, it’s a no-brainer.

If they were a movie: From Russia With Love. Roman Abramovich doesn’t say a lot, but spending £50m on Werner, £72m on Havertz, £33m on Ziyech and £48m on Chilwell suggests he’s hungrier than ever for silverware.

Fun fact: Chelsea was the first Premier League club to sack their manager — Ian Porterfield in 1993.

CRYSTAL PALACE

Manager: Roy Hodgson

Ground: Selhurst Park

Twitter tag: @Official_CPFC

Odds: $751

First match: Southampton (h)

Last year’s finish: 14th

Predicted finish: 15th. Another tricky prediction. If Wilfried Zaha gets injured, sold or starts throwing his toys out of his pram, all bets are off. He’s a player who can be the difference between 13th and 18th.

Fantasy Football tip: You won’t suffer by having no Palace players, but striker Jordan Ayew is full of confidence after a successful pre-season and Luka Milivojevic takes the penalties, which makes up for his love of yellow cards.

If they were a movie: Moses. Roy Hodgson, 94, leads his men to the Promised Land. But, in a twist of biblical proportions, they get lost and end up getting smashed in a Brixton beer garden instead.

Fun fact: Palace’s bald eagle mascot, Kayla, which flies around Selhurst Park before matches, appeared on the cover of the Kings of Leon album Only By The Night.

EVERTON

Manager: Carlo Ancelotti

Ground: Goodison Park

Twitter tag: @Everton

Odds: $501

First match: Tottenham (a)

Last year’s finish: 12th

Predicted finish: 10th. Got a funny feeling about Everton this season. I’m not suggesting lumping on them to finish in the top three, but Ancelotti is no mug and he’ll be chasing some silverware. FA Cup at 33/1, anyone?

Fantasy Football tip: Richarlison. Now comfortable in English playing conditions, his seasonal FF returns — 125, 153 and 165 — are heading in the right direction. He’s now rated as a striker, which isn’t ideal, but he could have a big season.

If they were a movie: Groundhog Day. Every season starts with new hope, but the end result is always the same.

Fun fact: When Everton FC opened its second huge merchandise store, they called it Everton Two. And they opened it in the Liverpool One shopping centre in the middle of the city. So the store’s postal address is, rather brilliantly, Everton Two, Liverpool One.

FULHAM

Manager: Scott Parker

Ground: Craven Cottage

Twitter tag: @Fulham FC

Odds: $1001

First match: Arsenal (h)

Last year’s finish: Promoted from Championship

Predicted finish: 17th. It’s going to be a tough season for Fulham, but it’s been up here before not too long ago and that experience might be enough to keep it above the drop. Parker is a talented young manager, destined for better things, and Fulham may just have enough goals in it to survive.

Fantasy Football tip: Aleksandar Mitrovic. The Serbian striker bagged a league-high 26 goals as his side said goodbye to the Championship, and his 151 shots at goal were 73 more than any other Fulham player.

If they were a movie: Mission Impossible. Parker even looks a bit like a young Tom Cruise, although at 5ft 9in he seems at least a foot taller …

Fun fact: As a 13-year-old in 1994, Scott Parker appeared in a McDonald’s World Cup TV ad — as a footballer.

LEEDS UNITED

Manager: Marcelo Bielsa

Ground: Elland Road

Twitter tag: @LUFC

Odds: $151

First match: Liverpool (a)

Last year’s finish: Promoted as Championship winners

Predicted finish: Ninth. Leeds’ promotion has been a couple of years in the planning, and it would be a surprise if they went straight back down. No less than Pep Guardiola says Bielsa is the best manager in the world, so he should be able to outwit the weaker sides in this comp. He’s splashed the cash on some exciting signings (although Rodrigo wouldn’t be the first £35m Premier League flop), and if anyone can get a good season out of Wolves discard Helder Costa, it’s Bielsa.

Fantasy Football tip: Luke Ayling. Leeds was solid at the back last season and Ayling’s four goals and four assists suggest he could produce a few decent points hauls for little outlay.

If they were a movie: A Beautiful Mind. Argentine genius Bielsa out-thinks his rivals as Leeds punch well above its weight.

Fun fact: In 1975, Leeds became the first football club in the world to sell replica shirts to fans.

LEICESTER CITY

Manager: Brendan Rodgers

Ground: King Power Stadium

Twitter tag: @OfficialFOXES

Odds: $151

First match: West Brom (a)

Last year’s finish: 5th

Predicted finish: 7th. Rodgers and his boys put in an impressive shift last season, flirting with a European spot for a long time. They don’t have a lot of weaknesses, apart from a higher-than-ideal reliance on Jamie Vardy to score all the goals.

Fantasy Football tip: Vardy. The “one-season wonder” has now scored 24, 13, 20, 18 and 23 goals in the past five seasons. No reason to suggest he won’t bang in another 20. Kasper Schmeichel’s 13 clean sheets and two penalty saves meant he finished the season with a tempting 156 points — third on the goalkeepers’ list.

If they were a movie: Rocky. The Premier League’s feel-good team who continue to go toe to toe with the traditional big boys. “ADRIEN (Silva)!!!”

Fun fact: Halifax Town signed Jamie Vardy for £10,000 in 2010. Six years later, Arsenal offered Leicester £22m for him but were turned down.

LIVERPOOL

Manager: Jurgen Klopp

Ground: Anfield

Twitter tag: @LFC

Odds: $2.50

First match: Leeds (h)

Last year’s finish: Champions

Predicted finish: Champions. Everything Liverpool has done in the past two seasons suggests it’s the best team in the country. It’s got talent to burn across the back, a hardworking midfield and Mohammed Salah and Sadio Mane to bang in the goals.

Fantasy Football tip: Trent Alexander-Arnold. He’s not cheap, but his game is made for this game. He’s part of a tight-fisted defence, his runs up the right produced 15 assists last season — second only to Kevin de Bruyne in the entire league — and he’s becoming Liverpool’s go-to man for free kicks in sight of goal. For £7.5m, you’re getting a guy who scored more points than all but three other players in the entire comp.

If they were a movie: Godfather II. No way will they be as good as the classic 80s side, said everyone. It turns out they’re better.

Fun fact: Danish goalkeeper Michael Stensgaard arrived at Anfield in 1994 as a replacement for Bruce Grobbelaar, but dislocated a shoulder while setting up an ironing board and never played for the club.

MANCHESTER CITY

Manager: Pep Guardiola

Ground: Etihad Stadium

Twitter tag: @MCFC

Odds: $2.05

First match: Wolves (a)

Last year’s finish: Runners-up

Predicted finish: 3rd. So much class, but almost as many question marks. They lost nine league games last season, which is ridiculous for a title contender. But they scored 102 goals, which is also ridiculous. They’ve lost the brilliant David Silva, Sergio Aguero’s not getting any younger or less injury-prone, and who goes upfront if Gabriel Jesus gets crocked? And there wasn’t a lot to like about the way Lyon spanked them in the Champions League. Underestimate at your peril. Lump on at your peril.

Fantasy Football tip: Phil Foden. Amid Guardiola’s embarrassment of riches, Foden offers a cheap alternative. His game time is increasing every season and there’s talk he’ll play a bit further up the pitch this season, increasing his points hauls. Obviously, leaving out Kevin de Bruyne and/or Raheem Sterling would be madness. Equally, picking all three would be lunacy. And what if they sign Messi? Good luck.

If they were a movie: Avengers: Infinity War. Lots of amazing players, but they came up against an opponent who was just too good. And some of their stars — Kompany, Silva etc — have disappeared.

Fun fact: Sergio Aguero’s son Benjamin is the grandson of Diego Maradona. No pressure, kid.

MANCHESTER UNITED

Manager: Ole Gunnar Solskjaer

Ground: Old Trafford

Twitter tag: @MUFCOFFICIAL

Odds: $8

First match: Crystal Palace (h)

Last year’s finish: 3rd

Predicted finish: 2nd. There was plenty to like about United’s finish to the weirdest season in Premier League history, and they should kick on. Solskjaer has an embarrassment of riches upfront, with Greenwood, Rashford, Martial, Fernandes and Pogba taking turns to score and if he can shore up the back, he’s going to have some fun this season.

Fantasy Football tip: Bruno Fernandes. Provided the spark for United’s surge in the latter half of the season and will go from strength to strength. Averaged a ridiculous 8.4 points a game last season and he is surely the first name in everyone’s team.

If they were a movie: The Magnificent Seven. Brilliant and deadly upfront, but it’s the four at the back who have no idea what they’re doing and get shot to pieces by the bandits. Or Greek police officers.

Fun fact: In 1999, United’s reserve goalkeeper Nick Culkin replaced Raimond van der Gouw in the dying seconds of a match against Arsenal. He took the free kick earned by the foul that injured van der Gouw, and the fulltime whistle went as the ball was in mid-air. Culkin’s debut — and, as it turned out, entire Premier League career — lasted two seconds.

NEWCASTLE

Manager: Steve Bruce

Ground: St James’ Park

Twitter tag: @NUFCOfficial

Odds: $501

First match: West Ham (a)

Last year’s finish: 13th

Predicted finish: 14th. If there’s one constant in the unpredictable world of Premier League football, it’s that Newcastle will look like relegation fodder for most of the season but not get relegated. And, to be fair, the Geordies looked handy towards the end of the season. If Newcastle can hold on to that form, it’ll be fine, although an injury crisis means it might go into the season with Andy “he’ll shoot, he’ll score, he’ll break your f****** jaw” Carroll as their only fit striker, and he hasn’t scored a Premier League goal since Bob Hawke was sculling pints.

Fantasy Football tip: Probably one of their cheap midfielders. The ridiculously talented Miguel Almiron looked a lot more confident in the club’s last few games and he could have a big season. Allan Saint-Maximin is quality, as is goalkeeper Martin Dubravka. Don’t pick all three, though – that would be daft.

If they were a movie: The Old Guard. No matter how many times they get beaten, they just won’t die.

Fun fact: Newcastle fan Gladstone Adams invented the windscreen wiper as he drove home from a cup game in the snow in 1908.

SHEFFIELD UNITED

Manager: Chris Wilder

Ground: Bramall Lane

Twitter tag: @SheffieldUnited

Odds: $1001

First match: Wolves (a)

Last year’s finish: 9th

Predicted finish: 12th. Too good to go down, but the cracks started to show towards the end of the season. Given his limited resources, Wilder must have been a shout for Manager of the Year last season, but it won’t get any easier this season.

Fantasy Football tip: John Egan. Cheap(ish) defender who’s part of a solid backline and chips in with the odd goal.

If they were a movie: The Full Monty. Everybody loves the over-achieving underdogs, but you don’t want to see any of them naked.

Fun fact: In 1978, a promising 17-year-old kid agreed to join the Blades in a £200,000 deal, but the club decided not to go ahead with the transfer. Despite this early setback, Diego Maradona did okay.

SOUTHAMPTON

Manager: Ralph Hasenhuttl

Ground: St Mary’s Stadium

Twitter tag: @SouthamptonFC

Odds: $1001

First match: Crystal Palace (a)

Last year’s finish: 11th

Predicted finish: 13th. You just never know — Southampton could finish anywhere from seventh to 20th and no one would be the least bit surprised, least of all its fans. Every time the Saints play, you think the bubble’s about to burst and they will get smashed. Then Danny Ings pops up with a cheeky goal in Southampton’s only half-decent attack of the afternoon and it gets all three points.

Fantasy Football tip: Ings. He’s not as cheap as last season and he almost certainly won’t get as many goals, but if he can get 15, you’re laughing. James Ward-Prowse is no mug, either.

If they were a movie: Die Hard. With Danny Ings as John McClane. Everyone else runs around like they’re trapped by insane terrorists on the 30th floor of a tower block.

Fun fact: Saints striker Rickie Lambert scored a perfect 34 out of 34 penalty attempts when at the club. He was then sold to Liverpool for silly money and missed his first penalty.

TOTTENHAM HOTSPUR

Manager: Jose Mourinho

Ground: Tottenham Hotspur Stadium

Twitter tag: @SpursOfficial

Odds: $51

First match: Everton (h)

Last year’s finish: 6th

Predicted finish: 6th. Will probably win the League Cup, or whatever it’s called these days, but a title challenge is unlikely.

Fantasy Football tip: Son Heung-min. Quality player whose pace and vision can turn games. Sixth-best FF midfielder in terms of points per match and scored 11 more points than teammate Harry Kane despite being a few million quid cheaper.

If they were a movie: Titanic. Nice to watch and they win a few awards, but with Mourinho in charge, you know it’s just a matter of time until they hit the iceberg. And it won’t be his fault.

Fun fact: Spurs legend David Ginola is the only player in Premier League history whose name is an anagram of “vagina dildo”. At least, so far he is.

WEST BROMWICH ALBION

Manager: Slaven Bilic

Ground: The Hawthorns

Twitter tag: @WBA

Odds: $1001

First match: Leicester City (h)

Last year’s finish: Promoted from Championship

Predicted finish: 19th. West Brom won automatic promotion, but they look the weakest of the three Championship sides making the step up. The first month of games will be crucial to the Baggies’ chances of survival. Much like a wildebeest calf with a gammy leg, once it falls behind and tries to play catch-up, it will be picked off by the big boys.

Fantasy Football tip: Matheus Pereira. The Brazilian midfielder is easily the Baggies’ best player. If he doesn’t fire, they could be down by February.

If they were a movie: The Hangover. Automatic promotion followed a few weeks later by a trip to Anfield will be similar to the wonderful feeling of that 12th pint and the next day’s search for the last aspirin that rolled under the couch.

Fun fact: Bilic plays guitar for rock band Rawbau, who have been described as “the Croatian Foo Fighters”.

WEST HAM

Manager: David Moyes

Ground: London Stadium

Twitter tag: @whufc_official

Odds: $501

First match: Newcastle (h)

Last year’s finish: 16th

Predicted finish: 11th. He didn’t have much fun at Old Trafford, but Moyes knows what he’s doing. He hasn’t got the big names to get into Europe, but there are goals in this team and there shouldn’t be a repeat of last season’s flirtation with the relegation zone.

Fantasy Football tip: Tomas Soucek. The Czech midfielder impressed on loan and has now been signed up. With his quality at set pieces, he’s a steal at £5m.

If they were a movie: Braveheart. Lots of screaming, tattooed lunatics in the background and the occasional famous win over a better-armed opponent.

Fun fact: West Ham was the last club to win an FA Cup final with an all-English side. It beat Fulham 2-0 in 1975.

WOLVES

Manager: Nuno Santo

Ground: Molineux Stadium

Twitter tag: @Wolves

Odds: $201

First match: Sheffield United (a)

Last year’s finish: 7th

Predicted finish: 8th. Wolves had a great season that could have been even better if it had turned a couple of its 14 draws into three-pointers. Santo has moulded a hardworking, talented squad who never say die. It’ll win more than it loses, but may regret selling defender Matt Doherty to Spurs.

Fantasy Football tip: Raul Jimenez. Now used to English conditions and English defenders and he is ready to break the 200-point mark after scoring a not-too-shabby 181 and 194 in the past two seasons.

If they were a movie: The Warriors. They’re one of the coolest gangs in the country, but now everyone is out to get them. “Wolves, come out to pla-aay!”

Fun fact: Residents of Wolverhampton are called Wulfrunians.

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