With the curtain raising on the Premier League this weekend, Gary Neville and Jamie Carragher give their verdict on whether Liverpool will keep their crown in 2020/21.
The Reds ended a unique 2019/20 finally lifting their first league title in 30 years amid an empty Anfield, with previous back-to-back champions Manchester City finishing 17 points off the pace – and Pep Guardiola presiding over the most league defeats (nine) of any season in his managerial career.
Jurgen Klopp’s men have made only one addition to their ranks this summer, with the arrival of Greek left-back Kostas Tsimikas to provide back-up to Andrew Robertson, and while they have been strongly linked with a move for Bayern Munich midfielder Thiago Alcantara, the Merseyside club have seen all of their top-four rivals add to their squads since the season finished on July 26.
Liverpool’s opener with Leeds is live on Sky Sports Premier League from 5pm on Saturday as one of six Sky Sports games across the first round of fixtures.
So how do Carra and Neville see the Premier League title race going, as we await the return of the top flight this weekend?
Can Liverpool retain their crown?
Liverpool go into the new season in a position they have not been since 1990, as the team to knock off their perch as league champions, something Neville said would become a “stress” for Klopp’s men – especially without any major incomings at Anfield to date.
However, the eight-time Premier League winner thinks Klopp can draw on his side’s past resilience under his leadership as a positive sign ahead of the upcoming campaign.
“Liverpool are the team to catch,” he said. “There’s no doubt it will become a stress for them. They’ve had the same players for almost three seasons now, Champions League final, Champions League victory, going so close in the Premier League but then winning the league. It’s a massive demand psychologically, mentally and physically to place upon the players without stimulating them again.
“Now, Jurgen Klopp has been absolutely unbelievable and he certainly can manage them and get the best out of them, but I think if they were to get Thiago Alcantara from Bayern Munich, it’s the only area of the team where I’d say they were not world class, and they are very good in there because the players in there are fantastic players. They’ve got a great work ethic and attitude, they supplement and compliment the defence, the goalkeeper and the attack brilliantly but you put him in there and you’ve got a genuine world-class presence in the middle of a brilliant team already and that would also do a number of things.
“Jurgen Klopp has proven that Liverpool can go on. You win the Champions League and then you go on to win the league the year after, you’ve proven that you can go on. Even to get the Champions League final and the come back and win it, and then come back to win the league, he’s proven he can get a performance out of them and he can get them to forget what’s happened the season before.
“My only thing this season would be that demand of the same squad, the same players, the same message, the same relationships and the same jokes for two or three years without that something slightly different in the dressing room and that addition, just sometimes it can become a bit draining and the idea of Thiago coming to Liverpool is a big moment because it deals with all those issues that can occur after two or three seasons.”
Will the title be heading to Manchester?
After racking up 198 points across two seasons as they lifted the Premier League trophy in 2017/18 and 2018/19, finishing nearly 20 points off the pace last season was somewhat of a fall from grace for Manchester City under Pep Guardiola, who ended the season with only one trophy on the back of two domestic trebles.
Ferran Torres and Nathan Ake have already been added to Guardiola’s squad since the end of the season, with the club also hoping to also bring in defender Kalidou Koulibaly as they look to wrestle back the title they gave up in July.
The form of Manchester United in the second half of the campaign, eventually propelling them up to third in the league from sitting seventh as late as February, has also raised questions about whether Ole Gunnar Solskjaer can finally lead the club back into title contention, seven years since they last lifted a Premier League trophy in Sir Alex Ferguson’s final season. But who has the better chance come next May?
“I still think Manchester City, rather than Manchester United, will be the biggest obstacle to Liverpool retaining the title but I do see United getting a lot closer,” Carragher said. “The signing of Bruno Fernandes has been fantastic – he was outstanding in the second half of last season and I’m really excited to see him for a full season.
“If Liverpool don’t win the league this season, I don’t think it will be because they will have lacked motivation. This Liverpool team went to a Champions League final, came back the next year and won it, then went on to win the Premier League. The only worry for Liverpool is that the team hasn’t changed too much. Sometimes you just need a bit of freshness adding to it, mentally as much as anything. It will be interesting to see if they get a signing or two across the line.
“I don’t see Chelsea or Manchester United getting to 90-plus points to win a title. I hope they can close the gap to make it more exciting but I still just see Liverpool or City for the league.”
Chelsea’s time to shine?
Despite sitting under a transfer ban last season and blooding a number of young players without any Premier League experience Frank Lampard, himself a relatively rookie boss, led Chelsea to the FA Cup final and another season in the Champions League.
But now with close to £150m already spent on some of Europe’s top talent including Timo Werner and Kai Havertz, the pressure has ramped up around Stamford Bridge – so can the Blues legend deliver?
“Chelsea’s interesting because Roman Abramovich has wanted for 15 years a flamboyant team, and every time he’s gone for the flamboyant managers to try and get the flamboyant team, he’s been pulled back to that more methodical type of approach that’s been successful for the club,” said Neville.
“I think this year he’s probably investing, partly because of Covid and he sees an opportunity to exploit the market, but I think because what Frank Lampard has done has invigorated him. The academy players finally coming through, the emergence of Christian Pulisic and other young players, a team that plays a different way, that’s more energetic and really good to watch.
“More inconsistent, less reliable, you always get that when you are trying to go with younger players and a different style, but I think that’s what he wants. He wants excitement, he wants thrill around Chelsea and that’s why he’s invested this summer, to go again at this moment because he sees a team that’s got something he’s always wanted.”