Premier League predictions 2020-21: BBC Sport pundits pick their top four

By Chris BevanBBC Sport
You can follow the new season on Match of the Day, Final Score, Football Focus, Radio 5 live and Match of the Day 2

Liverpool ended a 30-year wait to be champions last season but can they successfully defend their Premier League crown?

That is the next target for Reds boss Jurgen Klopp, whose side finished 18 points clear of nearest rivals Manchester City last time out. So who will challenge them in 2020-21?

How will City respond after losing their title? Can big-spending Chelsea narrow the gap? Will Manchester United sustain a serious title bid for the first time since they last finished top in 2013? And can Arsenal, Tottenham or anyone else break into the Champions League places?

Before a ball is kicked in the new campaign, we asked 25 BBC TV and radio pundits to pick their top four with explanations for their selections.

Chris WaddleMan UtdMan CityLiverpoolChelsea
Alan ShearerMan CityLiverpoolChelseaMan Utd
Alex ScottMan CityLiverpoolChelseaMan Utd
Pat NevinMan CityLiverpoolChelseaMan Utd
Michael BrownMan CityLiverpoolChelseaMan Utd
Micah RichardsMan CityLiverpoolMan UtdChelsea
Rachel Brown-FinnisMan CityLiverpoolMan UtdChelsea
Chris SuttonMan CityLiverpoolMan UtdChelsea
Lindsay JohnsonMan CityLiverpoolMan UtdChelsea
Rob GreenMan CityChelseaLiverpoolMan Utd
Ruud GullitMan CityChelseaLiverpoolMan Utd
Mark SchwarzerMan CityChelseaLiverpoolMan Utd
Jermaine JenasLiverpoolMan CityChelseaMan Utd
Karen CarneyLiverpoolMan CityChelseaMan Utd
Danny MurphyLiverpoolMan CityChelseaMan Utd
Martin KeownLiverpoolMan CityChelseaMan Utd
Sue SmithLiverpoolMan CityChelseaMan Utd
Stephen WarnockLiverpoolMan CityChelseaMan Utd
Leon OsmanLiverpoolMan CityChelseaMan Utd
Matthew UpsonLiverpoolMan CityChelseaMan Utd
Clinton MorrisonLiverpoolMan CityChelseaMan Utd
Mark LawrensonLiverpoolMan CityMan UtdChelsea
Dion DublinLiverpoolMan CityMan UtdChelsea
Joleon LescottLiverpoolMan CityArsenalMan Utd
Ian WrightLiverpoolMan CityChelseaArsenal

Five teams feature in the forecasted top fours, but only Manchester City and Liverpool feature in all 25. Tottenham, who 21 out of 24 pundits picked to finish third last season, do not make anyone's pick anywhere this time.

In terms of who will win it, Liverpool are favourites, with 13 votes. Manchester City get 11, and Manchester United one. The overall predicted ranking gives a different outcome, however.

Overall predicted ranking, using all 25 BBC predictions
1. Man City2. Liverpool3. Chelsea4. Man Utd5. Arsenal
86 pts84 pts44 pts33 pts3 pts

(using system of 4 pts for a 1st place, 3 pts for 2nd, 2 pts for 3rd and 1 pt for 4th)

An impossible job? What could change before the transfer window closes?

The predictions were made on Friday, 11 September, with more than three weeks to go before the transfer window closes on Monday, 5 October.

Ian Wright: It's impossible to make predictions before we know if Liverpool and United strengthen their squads. We've seen the work Chelsea have done in the window and they will have some serious attacking firepower. Even with Arsenal, the next few days of the transfer window are crucial. Who will be leaving? Will we get another creative attacking player? The key to making these predictions is knowing the final squads.

Alan Shearer: A lot could still change. The big question over City is still about their defence, and we will have to wait to see if they have put it right. They simply have to improve there, but I am expecting them to spend more money in order to do it.

Alan Shearer and Ian Wright join Gary Lineker on Match of the Day at 22:20 BST on Saturday on BBC One and the BBC Sport website for highlights of four Premier League games.

Klopp defends Liverpool's lack of transfer activity

Jermaine Jenas: I am sure United are going to do some serious business in this window - they have to. Unless they sign three or four players, they are facing a real battle to make the top four. They need another centre-half for starters and more numbers at the top end of the pitch, whether it is a recognised centre-forward or Jadon Sancho.

Stephen Warnock: Thiago Alcantara would make a huge difference to Liverpool's midfield if they can get him from Bayern and I still think they need another centre-half, like most of the top teams do. But, even without them buying anyone else, I still go through Klopp's side and think they are the team to beat.

Liverpool - An era of dominance or one year too many?

Last season 33% of the BBC pundits thought Liverpool would win the title and 23 out of 24 thought they would finish in the top two. This season, 52% think they will be champions again while 21 out of 25 think they will finish in the top two.

Ruud Gullit: I saw Liverpool against Arsenal in the Community Shield and I understand it was pre-season but they could not play their normal game. Without it, without their anger and their speed, we saw they are not much better than the other top sides.

I didn't think Liverpool could do it twice - win the Champions League in 2019 and then the Premier League in 2020 - and keep playing the way they did for so long. It was quite remarkable they did it, because that pressing game is hard to do for so many games. The most difficult thing will be to do it again, so I am going with City to win the title - but I thought the same last year, and I was wrong.

Rob Green: After getting 97 and then 99 points in successive seasons, for Liverpool to do it all again for a third year with pretty much the same team is a huge ask.

Danny Murphy: There are always going to be some fans who want new faces just to get excited by, but this is a super-confident side playing consistently well over two years now. It doesn't need fixing, it's pretty perfect in most areas.

Mark Lawrenson: My only worry is that the three front players have been unbelievable in terms of the number of games they have played in the past three seasons, so what happens if they get injuries there?

Sadio Mane's 18 Premier League goals for Liverpool in 2019-20 earned his side 18 points
Sadio Mane's 18 Premier League goals for Liverpool in 2019-20 earned his side 18 points - only Arsenal's Pierre-Emerick Aubameyang (20) and Raul Jimenez of Wolves (19) won more points with their goals last season

Joleon Lescott: I respect their back-up players but Liverpool lose that fear factor when players such as Sadio Mane and Mohamed Salah are not on the team sheet.

Alex Scott: I was certain they would win it last year but defending the title is much harder. They are still going to be very close, but they haven't really strengthened and they could be tired.

Alex Scott and Tim Cahill are the guests on Football Focus on BBC One and the BBC Sport website at 12:00 BST on Saturday.

Jermaine Jenas: I'm surprised so many people don't see Liverpool winning it again. I know their results fell away at the end of the season but you have to remember they had wrapped up the title so early, then had to get to the end of the season with no crowds. Even in normal circumstances, it would be a struggle to maintain their intensity.

So I don't think Klopp will allow their standards drop now. Why would you build something to then just give it away? I can't find a reason anyone will finish above them - I am expecting Liverpool to keep on building an era of dominance.

Liverpool win 2019-20 Premier League title: Henderson on 'amazing feeling' of lifting Premier League trophy

Stephen Warnock: Winning the Champions League will be more important to City whereas with Liverpool it will be about the Premier League again. They will want to prove how good they are, plus they have not been able to celebrate it with their fans because of the coronavirus pandemic so they will be fired up to win it in front of them.

Karen Carney: There's the issue that they won't have the support of fans inside Anfield, which is a potential 10-point drop off. I still think defensively, they are the best, though, and that's where United, Chelsea and City struggle. But if Kalidou Koulibaly joins City, it's a whole different ball game.

With 33 goals conceded in 38 games, Liverpool had the best defensive record in the Premier League last season
With 33 goals conceded in 38 games, Liverpool had the best defensive record in the Premier League last season

Man City - Same frailties or a big response to a 'pathetic' title defence?

This is the fifth season running where City have featured in everyone's forecasted top four. It's also the third successive year where no-one thinks they will finish below second.

Micah Richards: When you look at Liverpool's best XI, their balance and the cohesion between their players is better - and they still have three magicians up front. But I look at City's whole squad and think they will win the title.

Chris Sutton: City are the only team since 2009 to win the Premier League in back-to-back seasons but their title defence last season was pathetic. They will be hurting from that and they be desperate to respond.

Jermaine Jenas: City battered a lot of teams during the restart and played some unbelievable football but at the same time we still saw the same frailties at the back which had affected them all season. I don't think much has changed.

Of course they have got a chance, but they are relying on Liverpool dropping off. They are not as good as the City team that won the title with a record points tally in 2018.

Leon Osman: City have strengthened at the back but whether that will be enough depends on the fitness of Aymeric Laporte. He is still their top defender - and if he gets injured again, then they are back in trouble.

Snapshot showing top of the Premier League: 1st Liverpool, 2nd Man City, 3rd Man Utd, 4th Chelsea, 5th Leicester, 6th Tottenham
Liverpool finished 18 points clear of second-placed City last season, and 33 points ahead of Manchester United and Chelsea

Joleon Lescott: Liverpool are favourites - they have to be because of last season - but City's circumstances played a part in that. Now Pep Guardiola has got more depth at the back after signing Nathan Ake, who might play left-back more than centre-half. He is a good buy - versatile and as consistent as you get in the Premier League. Someone steady is what City need.

Michael Brown: City made a slow start last season, which let Liverpool build a big lead early on. That added pressure in games when it was 0-0 after an hour and City would feel they had to force it, and ended up being open to counter-attacks. Every mistake seemed to cost them too. When they click, though, they are an exceptional team and they edge Liverpool. With a bit more luck in terms of injuries, we might see a more consistent City this time, and they will be hard to stop.

Chelsea - A different challenge for Frank Lampard

Last season, 75% of the BBC pundits thought Chelsea would miss out on the top four - but they finished fourth. This time, 96% are predicting they will make the Champions League places and 19 out of 25 think they will make the top three.

Ruud Gullit: It's clear Chelsea are trying to break into the top two. They have made some good signings but that doesn't mean anything yet. You never know how they will blend in. It's the Premier League, a different league - different pace, different everything. It's not easy.

Stephen Warnock: Frank Lampard has assembled a fantastic squad but now he has a different challenge to last year, which is to keep everyone happy.

Chelsea's Hakim Ziyech, Kai Havertz, Ben Chilwell and Thiago Silva
Chelsea agreed a deal with Hakim Ziyech in February and have continued their spending with Kai Havertz, Ben Chilwell and Thiago Silva, splashing out a total of around 瞿200m on six major signings during this transfer window

Chris Sutton: They have spent big and that changes expectation. They have to win something or there is pressure on Frank.

Rob Green: What Chelsea have been missing is consistency and that relentlessness that Liverpool have. This is the season where they need to find those ways of winning games when things don't go their way.

Matt Upson: They have added some amazing attacking options but I think Lampard has learned a lot too from his first season as a Premier League manager. There were games where they dropped points when they probably looked back and felt they should have won them. He will be wiser for that.

Pat Nevin: You have got the top two and Chelsea will be nipping at their heels. It is not just the fact they have spent money, it is the way they have done it - having Timo Werner and Kai Havertz to go with Christian Pulisic is kind of scary, but probably more for the next three or four seasons as opposed to this one because they will need to settle in.

So, they are looking good. Everyone knows their problem has been defensively, and the centre-back position might still be one. A lot of people say goalkeeper is as well - and it may be - but I don't think it is the reason they conceded so many goals last season; that was a wider defensive issue. I have a feeling they may concede just as many this season, but will score a hell of a lot more.

Man Utd - Set to spring a big surprise or still missing something?

This is the first season since 2017-18 that anyone has tipped Manchester United to be champions. Last year only one of 24 pundits thought they would make the top three and only 29% thought they would make the top four - they finished third. This time, 96% think they will make the top four although 17 of the 24 votes they received placed them in fourth.

Chris Waddle: There are a lot of games jammed into this season and I am looking at the teams with the biggest squads as the ones who will do well. I don't think Liverpool will cope. City will, of course, but I just have a sneaky feeling United will spring a surprise. They already have a lot of quality on their books, and they might sign a couple more.

Gossip: Can Man Utd sign Jadon Sancho & Jack Grealish this summer?

Danny Murphy: United have progressed tremendously well. They look a side full of confidence now and they have got loads of creativity. Donny van de Beek is a great signing and it is going to be interesting to see how they fit him into their team.

Jermaine Jenas: I know Bruno Fernandes came in and lifted them and they are playing lovely stuff but that effect can disappear really quickly. An injury here or there could really hurt them - it is going to be a weird season where teams are going to have to use a lot of their squad, and United will need to add to theirs to be sure of making the top four.

I need to be 'much better' before Cantona comparisons - Fernandes

Sue Smith: I was really impressed with United after the season's restart - you could see Ole Gunnar Solskjaer's strongest XI and he was able to break teams down, not just hit them on the counter. As well as Fernandes, Mason Greenwood was excellent - add in a fully fit Paul Pogba and new signing Van de Beek and they have a top quality midfield. If they get Sancho, another defender and a centre forward, they are title challengers.

Joleon Lescott: I've heard the argument they don't need Sancho - but, really, who doesn't need him? Every Premier League club would take him if they could, including Liverpool. He would impact the United team in a big way.

Karen Carney: United have been building and building. Their defence is better than those of Arsenal and Tottenham and that will be the difference in terms of them in getting a top-four spot. The key thing for me in the top six is who has the best defence, as they have all got that one player they still need apart from Liverpool, who have Virgil van Dijk. If they can sort that issue out, United would be right up there.

Arsenal - Not quite ready, but their identity is in place

Last season, more than half of the 24 BBC pundits thought Arsenal would qualify for the Champions League - they finished eighth. This year, only two out of 25 think they will finish fourth or higher.

Alex Scott: They are not in my top four, but they will not be far away. We've already seen such a big turnaround from them in such a short space of time under Mikel Arteta and I am expecting them to keep on improving too. I just think when you look at the other four teams, they are all stronger. We can compete with them in one-off games, like we showed when we won the FA Cup, but not yet over the course of a league season.

Matt Upson: Leaving them out of my four was a very difficult decision. I don't have one question mark over Arteta - he is the main positive, who has made them harder to play against and has improved his players individually. They have made some good signings too, but maybe the squad is not quite ready this year.

Jermaine Jenas: They are the only other team I can see challenging for the top four, because of the shift in mentality under Arteta and the young players he is bringing through. They look solid and adaptable at the back, which gives them a great foundation.

Rob Green: The way they play may not always be the Arsenal way but Arteta has very quickly got his players on board with what he is doing - and the ones that aren't, he is getting out. There is a lot on Pierre-Emerick Aubameyang's shoulders for goals, though. They can't afford for him to have an off-day at the moment.

Martin Keown's prediction for the 2020-21 season
Premier League champions: LiverpoolRest of top four: Man City, Chelsea, Man Utd
Champions League winners: Bayern MunichFA Cup winners: Liverpool
Carabao Cup winners: ChelseaRelegated: Fulham, Crystal Palace, West Brom
Europa League winners: ArsenalGolden Boot: Pierre-Emerick Aubameyang (Arsenal)

Joleon Lescott: Out of all the sides with new young managers - Lampard at Chelsea and Solskjaer at United - Arsenal's players probably have the best idea of what their manager wants. You can see Arteta's impact and input the most, and their identity as a team is already there.

Tottenham - in a top-six battle with Leicester, Wolves, Everton... and Southampton?

Last season, 21 of 24 BBC pundits thought Spurs would finish third and only two thought they would finish any lower than fourth. They ended up in sixth spot. This time, none of the 25 think they will make the Champions League places.

Chris Sutton: Nobody really knows what Jose Mourinho is going to do with Spurs, and whether they can find some consistency. Yes, they have got some talented players, but I don't think he really improved them after taking over.

Crystal Palace 1-1 Tottenham: My teams always qualify for Europe - Jose Mourinho

Matt Upson: When I watch Spurs play, I have got questions over them but Mourinho clearly knows how to win matches and accumulate points - the stats show that if last season had started when he took charge, Spurs would have finished fourth. That shocked me a bit but it showed why you cannot discount him.

Chris Waddle: Jose actually played on the front foot more than I expected last season but this is his team now and we will not know how he is going to set them up until the new campaign gets started. There is no reason why he can't win games and entertain with the players he has got, but his priority has to be finding a back-up for Harry Kane.

Gossip: Can Jose Mourinho lure Callum Wilson and Ivan Rakitic to Spurs?

Jermaine Jenas: Spurs will be organised and get results but we are talking about a top-six finish rather than the top four. Even that will be a battle because Leicester and Wolves are going to be strong again, and Everton have made some good signings.

Jermaine Jenas joins Micah Richards and Mark Chapman on MOTD2 at 22:30 BST on Sunday on BBC One and the BBC Sport website for highlights of Tottenham vs Everton and West Brom v Leicester.

Danny Murphy: Wolves are going to have another good season but it is difficult for them to get to the next level because they don't have quite the same creativity going forward as the four sides I have gone for.

Pat Nevin: I would love to say Everton will make fourth but I can't. It is lovely to see what they are building, though, and James Rodriguez just added to it and makes it so exciting. They could well land a cup this year, but in the league I think we are looking at the usual suspects.

Chris Waddle: Leicester will still be dangerous and, if they can get off to a flyer, Southampton could be the surprise package. I don't see them getting into the top four but I have watched them a lot and they will upset a few teams.


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