Premier League storylines: Matchweek 1

A new Premier League season is upon us, with the 2021-22 campaign set to kick off when newly-promoted Brentford host Arsenal on Friday (Watch live, 3 pm ET, on NBCSN and online via NBCSports.com).

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A four-team Premier League title race

Manchester City, Manchester United, Liverpool and Chelsea — that’s how the Premier League’s top-four finished a season ago. This time around? Take those four clubs, rearrange them in any order (intentional or randomized, it doesn’t matter) and you might have the winning combination ahead of what is sure to be the best Premier League title race in… most of our lifetimes?

  • Manchester City – The defending champions are back to defend their title, with Jack Grealish arriving to refresh and push Pep Guardiola’s squad into a new era.

  • Manchester United – The core of last season’s second-place finishers remains intact, plus the added boost of signing Jadon Sancho and Raphael Varane to be elite contributors at either end of the field.

  • Liverpool – With any luck, Jurgen Klopp’s side won’t lose an entire unit to season-ending injuries this time around. Center backs Virgil van Dijk, Joel Matip and Joe Gomez are all back.

  • Chelsea – The defending European champions also have their continent-conquering core around for another season, with Romelu Lukaku set to arrive within a matter of days hours to solidify Thomas Tuchel’s most inconsistent position.

Whether you’re a fan of any of the four sides mentioned above, or simply looking on at the title race from a bit farther down the table, we can all agree it’s a wide open title race in 2021-22.

Premier League stadiums full of fans again

As entertaining and enthralling as the 2020-21 Premier League season proved to be, one key factor was undeniably missing from the spectacle of it all: the fans. Whether it’s 17,250 fans at Brentford or 75,600 at Manchester United, every single voice inside every single ground adds to the atmosphere and the occasion. After 18 months without a Premier League fixture played in front of more than 10,000 fans, we, just like you, eagerly await the return of crowds roaring with each goal scored up and down England this weekend.

Note: As a result of the return of fans, the Premier League has reverted back to its traditional kickoff schedule, which will see the return of multi-game windows (most notably, Saturdays at 10 am ET) rather than each game having its own dedicated time slot.

Tottenham, Arsenal at a crossroads

Just outside the title race, you’ll likely find Tottenham and Arsenal — or, is it Arsenal and Tottenham? — leading the fight for the title of “best of the rest.” The above is subject to change if Harry Kane leaves Tottenham between now and transfer deadline day (Aug. 31). Despite the introduction of a new European competition, the Europa Conference League, this season, Arsenal are set for their first season without continental football since the 1995-95 season. Time will tell if that turns out to be a blessing in disguise for Mikel Arteta’s side at the same time that Tottenham themselves become the Premier League’s maiden entrants into the third-tier tournament.

Latest Premier League news

PSG confirm Messi signing; will wear no. 30 Premier League injury report, 2021-22 season Transfer news: Lukaku completes Chelsea medical ahead of flight to London

Which 2nd-year team takes another step forward (or back)?

Leeds United and Aston Villa were the overachievers of the 2020-21 season as they finished 9th and 11th, respectively, in their first seasons back in the Premier League. The question is now: Can they live up to increased expectations replicate last year’s successes, or will they fall back down to Earth (and the chasing pack) in season no. 2? Leeds will surely have to improve defensively (54 goals conceded – 7th-most in the PL), while Aston Villa must quickly adjust to the post-Grealish era (6 goals, 10 assists).

Another relegation battle for Southampton, Brighton & Burnley?

Something has to give for these perennially relegation-threatened sides — either the bad luck which has haunted each of them for a few years now, or their Premier League status. Since Burnley returned to the Premier League five years ago, the trio has achieved the following finishes (from most to least recent):

  • Southampton – 15th, 11th, 16th, 17th and 8th

  • Brighton – 16th, 15th, 17th and 15th (only four in the PL)

  • Burnley – 17th, 10th, 15th, 7th and 16th

Both Southampton and Burnley enjoyed an outlier season in the last half-decade, but other than the anomaly it’s been relegation battle after relegation battle. Not-so-bold prediction: one of these three goes down this season. Less bold: probably two of them. Actually bold: why not all three of them?

Meet the new kids, same as (some of) the old kids

Norwich City and Watford were relegated from the Premier League together in the spring of 2020, but the Canaries and Hornets spent last season running roughshod over the EFL Championship en route to a one-two finish and a return promotion at the first time of asking. Then there’s Brentford, who have never played in the Premier League and haven’t been in the top flight of English football since the 1946-47 season.

Premier League transfer news

PSG confirm Messi signing; will wear no. 30 Transfer news: Lukaku completes Chelsea medical ahead of flight to London USMNT’s Josh Sargent completes transfer to Norwich City

Premier League storylines: Matchweek 1 originally appeared on NBCSports.com