December 7, 2021

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Premier League predictions 2021-22: Expect the title winners to announce themselves in next 44 chaotic days

Premier League predictions 2021-22: Expect the title winners to announce themselves in next 44 chaotic days
Strap yourselves in. Take the phone off the hook (and then put it back, this is only a metaphor and someone might need to get through). Plump up those sofa cushions. Check your bank account anxiously and prepare for your away trip plans to be changed at the whims of broadcasters, leaving you wondering whether you can cut the Google Maps predicted walk time for the last train in half. The Premier League is back and it’s moving season.

Between now and 2 January, there will be 10 completed Premier League match weeks. More than a quarter of the league season will be played across 44 days. Those participating in European competition and EFL Cup quarter-finals have a further three matches to squeeze in.

International breaks are not everyone’s cup of tea. Perhaps they never were; they have simply fallen victim to the modern trend of getting angry about things that you could easily ignore, like bad TV sitcoms and Piers Morgan.

This week, people cried foul against England winning 10-0 in a non-competitive competitive game. At the same time, Northern Ireland were pushing Italy into the World Cup playoffs and the previous evening Serbia broke Cristiano Ronaldo’s heart. There’s always joy to be found – you just need to know where to look for it.

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But then that is the strength of the Premier League. You do not need to search for its best bits because they are pushed into the pores of your skin and scorched into your eyeball. It is a masterclass of hype, an all-consuming, always clanging news train.

There’s a vague – but growing – theory that it isn’t the actual matches supporters miss so much as the deafening mania that sandwiches them. Still, good news: you don’t need to go without your fix again until March.

A fortnight without this relentless addiction does at least allow a little evaluation. After the logistical headaches of the last two seasons, England’s top flight has returned to normality.

Three of the likely title challengers are separated by four points. West Ham are wedged between them, the new control experiment for the value of sensible recruitment and possessing an identity (yes, really, West Ham). Below them sit Arsenal and Manchester United, one club committed towards a new era of sustainability through the strength of the whole and another that currently stands for the opposite.

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The Premier League returns with several familiar faces in new positions. Steven Gerrard, Eddie Howe and Dean Smith were all away from English football for periods ranging between six days and six years and await their first matches in charge of clubs keen to escape the impending doom that relegation would provide. Antonio Conte is still settling in at Tottenham.

The November international break is heralded as the perfect time to make a change, but it comes ahead of a punishing schedule that makes immediate results necessary to avoid a sense of diminishing control. Unless you’re Watford, and you can just sack a second manager.

The next eight weeks are particularly crucial this season, given the Africa Cup of Nations headache-provoking placement in the new year. From the biggest clubs alone, Mahrez, Aubameyang, Partey, Mendy, Salah and Mane will all disappear for weeks. Elsewhere, key cogs of Premier League teams are also expected to travel: Bissouma, Ndidi, Cornet, Zaha, Iheanacho, Salisu, Sarr, Dennis and Benrahma. That may cause a temporary blip in form.

This is typically when the best teams excel. Last season, Manchester City lost to Tottenham on 21 November and then dropped four points in the subsequent 19 league games. In 2019-20, Liverpool won all 14 league games in November, December and January. That stands to reason: when players enter the injury “red zone” and risk fatigue en masse, those managers who are more able to rest and rotate without the quality of the starting XI suffering begin to thrive. The richest were always the strongest, but the chasm widens with each transfer window.

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This period of the season, a bunfight of midweek rounds followed immediately by weekend preparation, raises the issue of burnout. It is something on which elite footballers are increasingly inclined to speak out. For all their power in isolation, players are worried that the game’s governing bodies are asking too much too often.

Next summer is sold as an empty offseason to allow for midseason World Cup preparation, but there are four Uefa Nations League rounds and an early season start to factor in. That leaves 54 days between seasons ahead of the busiest campaign in the game’s history.

Still, forget all that. That’s just scaremongering by snowflakes and footballers are paid too much anyway so they can have no complaints with simultaneously operating as beasts of burden and performing circus animals. The biggest league in the world is back and there’s no time to breathe, let alone rest. There are titles to be won, legacies to be established and, most importantly, new frauds to be identified.

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More than a quarter of the league season will be played between now and 2 January – it promises to be a relentless bunfight