WHERE WILL ASTON VILLA FINISH THIS SEASON?
Phil Vogel: The target has to be 60 points, a five point increase from last year to show signs of progress. In the previous four years, 60 points would have meant finishing 9th, 8th, 7th & 6th. That is the goal. Contrary to many, I expect a slow start because of an interrupted preseason, a need for the new players to settle in and the adjustments to playing without the former captain. I know that a slow start may frustrate some people because the fixtures are fairly kind the first opening weeks, but things may not click for a bit.
I think the club may fall just short of 60, so I’ll go with 9th place. And I don’t think that is a bad return.
Dan Pritchard: 7th – Villa will start slow, particularly in attack, but will build up steam after Christmas.
Jake Fenicle: Give me 8th and i’ll take dipping our toes into European football with the Conference League or whatever they’re calling it. Get us adjusted to playing midweek in Europe, but without thumping Europa or Champions League on us right of the bat. But I’d obviously be more than happy with any of those spots too, don’t get me wrong.
Cole Pettem: I’m always nervous when it comes to having high expectations for Villa, but i’ll be ambitious this time and say 8th. It’ll take a big push and some help from other teams to get us into a better position than that in my opinion.
WHO GETS RELEGATED & WHO WINS THE LEAGUE?
Phil Vogel: Man City win. Less said the better.
Watford, Burnley, and Brentford to go down.
Dan Pritchard: Watford — Watford were promoted with an open style of play that when asked to be pragmatic, looked unconvincing.
Norwich — Norwich will be leaky in defense again, conceding more in their promotion than in 2018-19 and not replacing their attacking threat.
Southampton — Southampton’s high press will cause their thin squad issues and leave them short and Adam Armstrong, while promising, is likely to miss chances that Danny Ings would bury.
Man City win — Chelsea still have the capacity to draw to mid-table clubs where City will, in the league at least, not have this issue and get to the high 90 point mark.
Jake Fenicle: City win the league. Bottom three is actually harder to predict than previous years in my opinion. A lot of wild cards. I want double-check, but I think I nailed my predictions for who was to get relegated last season. Doubtful on this year’s. I think Brentford may go straight back down, Watford too. And I don’t actually think this last one will actually go down, but it makes the most sense in my head — Southampton. I don’t know who else to pick for this and can see them struggling with the sales they’ve made. Hard to be reliant on certain players in the Premier League that haven’t proved themselves
Cole Pettem: Norwich, Southampton, and Watford are getting relegated.
When it comes to the Premier League title, i’m going to be slightly controversial and say Chelsea. The return of Lukaku will cause trouble for a lot of teams.
WHO WILL BE VILLA’S TOP GOAL SCORER?
Phil Vogel: Ollie Watkins again. I think Ings will be up there too, but I think Ings will spend some time dropping a little deeper. Also, hopefully, the marginal offside calls this season don’t all go against Watkins.
Dan Pritchard: Watkins – Ings will be asked to drop off and feed the striker, add Buendia’s ability to find a pass, and I expect to see Watkins at the back post become a theme this season.
Jake Fenicle: Ollie Watkins again baby. People may think Danny Ings was brought in to be the goal-scorer, but in reality, he’s come over to bring out the best in Ollie. On the field, getting Ollie into better positions and off the field, pushing him to be the best striker he can be.
Cole Pettem: Going against the grain and saying Danny Ings. Ollie Watkins will score plenty of goals too, but we’ve seen his distribution last season and I think it’ll be important to give him a bit of rest at points this season — something we couldn’t do at all last season.
WHICH YOUTH PLAYER DO YOU BACK TO MAKE AN IMPACT IN THE FIRST TEAM?
Phil Vogel: It looks like Jaden Philogene-Bidace is at the front of the pack of the kids ready to play for the first team, especially early in the year, with injuries and new players needing to settle in. I think JPB may start at Watford because of Bailey quarantining and if Traore is not fully healthy. If he starts, then he has the opportunity to grab the spot and hold on with clever performances. Also, winger is a position where a young player can settle in a bit quicker.
Dan Pritchard: Jaden Philogene-Bidace – the winger seems to find himself in the right place at the right time on the pitch and Grealish leaving leaves an opportunity for it to happen off the pitch too.
Jake Fenicle: If he can stay healthy, Jaden Philogene-Bidace looked insane all throughout pre-season. An absolute menace to deal with on the field; if he can produce at the Premier League level, he’ll be a gem. But that’s not a knock on any of the other extreme talents we have coming up too.
Cole Pettem: It has to be Jaden Philogene-Bidace. The youngster has burst onto the scene and with some game time, I think he could become a first team regular.
WHICH TEAM WILL BE A SURPRISE PACKAGE?
Phil Vogel: Before picking a team – I’m really curious to see how fans back in stadiums changes some team and does it re-balance the home/away form. I think we may be surprised how some teams react for better or worse.
In terms of a team, I’ll say Brighton. I know there are loads of people saying they are in real trouble. But I like the way they play and enjoy watching them. So I hope they do well.
Dan Pritchard: Brighton – Will still fall short of their xG figures, but be a lot closer to the mark this season, are solid at the back, and will cause a couple of upsets this year.
Jake Fenicle: It’s Aston Villa, of course. Sure, we just lost J—k Gr---ish, but if we’re talking complete packages ready to surprise people? It’s gotta be us as a squad. For the first time in a while, I feel comfortable with our depth at every single position on the field. If I wasn’t allowed to answer Villa for this question, I’ll say Brighton. They’ve always been lower in the table than their play throughout the season deserves. This could be the year they put things together and make the jump up.
Cole Pettem: I think Crystal Palace could surprise a few this season. Patrick Vieira had some early success at Nice and I think he can carry that over to the South London outfit. Also, Palace have made some canny signings in Marc Guehi, Michael Olise, and Joachim Andersen — good value for money to say the least!
WHO WILL BE THE FIRST MANAGER SACKED?
Phil Vogel: Nobody went broke betting on Watford firing their manager. So I’ll go with Xisco Muñoz.
Dan Pritchard: Xisco at Watford – The club’s upper management is notoriously trigger happy and Xisco’s style will leak goals at this level.
Jake Fenicle: Bye, bye Brucey. Newcastle may struggle, they may do well. Who knows, but i’m sure those fans will finally get fed up with Steve Bruce’s play. They’ve got to, at some point, right? Sound the cabbage alarms.
Cole Pettem: It has to be Xisco at Watford. The club’s ownership is extremely trigger happy and with a slow start/patchy form, he could easily by on his way out of the club by November.
CHAMPIONS LEAGUE / EUROPA LEAGUE WINNERS?
Phil Vogel: Manchester City and Real Sociedad.
Dan Pritchard: PSG – If it doesn’t happen this year when will it? No other elite European club has been able to strengthen as much as PSG with the pandemic.
Olympique Lyon – Their squad is a step above the other qualified teams short of Champions League dropouts and Peter Bosz is a good coach.
Jake Fenicle: P$G and Napoli.
Cole Pettem: PSG and Leicester City.
OUTSIDE OF THE PREMIER LEAGUE, IS THERE ANOTHER TEAM YOU’LL BE KEEPING AN EYE ON?
Phil Vogel: I’ll be watching the Bundesliga and the battle taking place below Bayern Munich. I really want to see if Borussia Mönchengladbach can bounce back from a very strange year where they blew leads against some of the top teams in the world in the Champions League (Inter Milan — Lukaku 90’ goal and Real Madrid — Benzema 87’, Casemiro 90’+3) and then their manager, Marco Rose, announced he was leaving for Dortmund and the wheels fell off. Can they put the pieces back in place and push for Champions League again or will others come sniffing around some of the real talent on the team?
Dan Pritchard: Atalanta B.C. & Borussia Mönchengladbach — Atalanta are a really exciting team to watch, sticking it to the big boys in Serie A and the Champions League. And if I don’t put Gladbach down, my partner would be mad, but new coach Adi Hütter is a great appointment and many of their players have come off the back of a good Euros. Particularly. Swiss shootout hero, Yann Sommer, who might be the best keeper in the Bundesliga short of Manuel Neuer.
Jake Fenicle: Basically everyone in Europe that has an American on the team to be honest. And DC United in MLS. And PSG now with Messi. Probably a bit of Barcelona still too. I actually still love watching Championship football when I can; especially nearing the playoffs. So yes, I think that’s fair to say I’ll be keeping an eye on some teams outside of the Premier League.
Cole Pettem: I love watching games in the Championship, League One, and League Two. In particular, i’m interested to see if Sunderland can finally get out of League One and whether or not the likes of QPR and Blackpool can surprise a few in the Championship.