Manchester City, Arsenal
Peter G. Aiken-USA TODAY Sports

Liverpool are the champions of the 2019-2020 Premier League season. Regardless of whether it starts again in April, June or never, they’re not going to be caught. 

They’re an obscene 25 points ahead of second-place Manchester City and were just two wins from mathematically clinching the title when the league was suspended indefinitely. 

Liverpool’s dominance this season has forced other traditional title-contenders to lower their goals for this season, but they also have themselves to blame. At the same time as Liverpool has had a historically great season, the rest of the top of the league has struggled. 

Manchester City, who won the title the previous season with 98 points, is on pace for only 77. Last year’s third place team, Chelsea, finished with 72. This year they’re on pace for 63. 

In any of the last eight seasons, that 63 would have at best earned them a sixth place finish, out of the prestigious European competition slots. This season, they’re fourth, on track to qualify for the Champions League.

The rest of the Prem needs to look forward to 2020-2021, and what they can do to catch up to the champions. It won’t be easy, but some teams have the resources in place to have a chance. 

Manchester City

As the current second-place team and reigning champions, Manchester City are the obvious choice to compete with Liverpool heading into next season. 

Aside from the likely departure of the aging David Silva, the core of their squad should remain intact, and that squad is certainly capable of winning the league. 

The elephant in the room: The largest question mark in Manchester City’s potential title hopes is the looming spectre of their Champions League ban. Announced in February, the ruling asserts the club violated UEFA’s Financial Fair Play (FFP) laws and bans them from all UEFA competitions for two years. The club is appealing the decision, but, if it stands, the fallout could be massive. Rumors have flown that players or even legendary manager Pep Guardiola could abandon the club for greener pastures, or even that they will be relegated out of the Premier League itself.

For now, assuming City face no further consequences, they can be confident they’ll have a shot at the title. This is in no small part due to Guardiola, who has an incredible track record of success. 

  • In his 10 full seasons as a top-flight manager Guardiola teams have won an insane eight titles. 
  • Even when he doesn’t win the league, Guardiola has never managed a team to a finish lower than third. 
  • Under Guardiola, City have earned a sparkling 2.35 points per match, the best ever record for a Premier League manager. 

However, that average has been dropping for much of this season, as City have looked great, but not historic. A large part of their disappointing (by Guardiola standards) season has been due to inconsistency on the defense end. 

  • City had already allowed eight more goals than they did in all of 2018-2019 when the season with suspended with 10 matches still to play.
  • With Aymeric Laporte, their best centre back, often sidelined by injuries, City have been forced to rely on a mixture of natural midfielder Fernandinho, inconsistent Nicolás Otamendi and error-prone John Stones to anchor the defense, with predictable results. 

If Laporte can get healthy and their defense returns to form (perhaps with the help of a key signing, City has been connected to many top-level centre backs), City will already be a complete team. 

  • They still have one of the most dynamic attacks in Europe, and have actually scored more goals than Liverpool this season, the most in the league. 
  • Kevin De Bruyne is the best player in the Premier League. 
  • Sergio Aguero is the fourth-highest scorer in league history and showing no signs of slowing down. 
  • Leeroy Sane, Riyad Mahrez, Raheem Sterling, City have more world class attackers than they can play at once. 

City is the least steps away from beating Liverpool to a future title, simply because they’ve done it before. Their key pieces are still intact, so if they can dodge more FFP consequences and fix their defense, Guardiola and Co. could easily be lifting their third title in four years. 

Chelsea

Like City, Chelsea could find themselves competing with Liverpool for the title as early as next season. Unlike Man City, their current squad will likely not be enough, and they will require some key additions to make the final step.

Thanks to their own transfer ban, Chelsea have had to rely on young players more than a top team normally would. They have had one of the youngest squads in the league, and that inexperience has often shown, especially defensively, where they struggled often in 2019-2020.

  • Chelsea allowed well over a goal per game, 39 in just 29 matches. To truly pressure for a title, they would have to be allowing closer to 0.8 goals a game.
  • Five of those goals came off counter-attacks, third-highest in the league — a particularly damning stat for a top team attempting to hold possession and control the game. 
  • Chelsea kept only six clean sheets all season, 13th in the league. Being unable to keep even lesser-quality opponents off the score-sheet has led to many dropped points this season. 

Luckily for Chelsea, their transfer ban is ending, and they are looking to spend. They’ve already announced the acquisition of attacking midfielder Hakim Ziyech from Ajax, a great pickup for a team that has been lacking in creativity. 

  • In 2019-2020, Chelsea as a team managed just 12.4 key passes per game. Ziyech alone averaged 3.7 in the Eredivisie in the same season.
  • He has earned an outstanding 8.19 average whoscored match rating for his league performances this season— not a single Premier League has even averaged 8.0. 
  • Ziyech also performs outside of the Eredivisie, on the biggest stage. In six Champions League appearances, he posted four assists (tied for most in the competition) alongside two goals.

Ziyech is a great start, but there are a few more areas the Blues need to address to truly be contenders.

Defense: Chelsea should look to sign at least one, and preferably more defenders. As outlined above their defensive record has been poor, and most of the blame must fall on their rotating cast of defenders. As Liverpool has shown with Virgil van Dijk, even one elite defender can transform a team’s identity, and Chelsea should look to add as much quality to their backline as they can.

Goalkeeper: While there’s still a chance Kepa Arrizabalaga can grow into a reliable force between the posts for Chelsea, he has shown enough inconsistency that they should look to bring in another keeper. A young player to compete with Kepa, or just a more reliable veteran for use if necessary would be ideal. 

Striker: While Tammy Abraham and Olivier Giroud have each performed solidly at times throughout the season, Chelsea could use a true star forward. They’ve been linked to the likes of Ciro Immobile, Timo Werner, Moussa Dembele and Edinson Cavani, all top strikers who would elevate Chelsea’s attack to another level. 

Adding quality veteran players in these areas would transform Chelsea’s squad and allow them to truly compete with Liverpool and other top-level European giants once again. 

Manchester United

Saying Manchester United could be competing for the title next season may seem to be a bit of a reach. However, despite them having what has been called their worst season ever, the Premier League’s most decorated club is still sitting in fourth and has shown encouraging signs. 

For one, their performance has improved throughout the season. After their first 10 matches, United only had 3 wins, and were in a four-way tie for seventh in the table. But taking just the most recent ten, they would rank second, trailing only Liverpool. 

One man who certainly deserves a lot of the credit for this change in form is Bruno Fernandes. 

  • The Portuguese midfielder joined Manchester United during the January transfer window and in his first five games has already contributed two goals and three assists.
  • In those games, he has earned an average whoscored rating of 7.82. Stretched across the season, this would make him the second best player in the league, trailing only De Bruyne. 
  • If Fernandes can keep up this performance, he will certainly propel United to greater success next season — they were undefeated in his five games.

Those games also include a 2-0 win against City, United’s most recent league fixture and likely their most impressive game of the season. In fact, beating other top sides was actually one thing United excelled at throughout the season, a good sign for a potential future title race, in which those tough points are the hardest to come by. 

  • United went 5-0 against the other non-Liverpool top five sides (Chelsea, City and Leicester City), and scored 11 goals while only allowing one. 

However, given that they won most of their matchups against other top squads, United’s current fifth place standing in the table points to another issue. 

  • United often struggle against bottom-half sides that they will have to beat consistently to be true title-contenders.
  • In just the pre-suspension section of the 2019-2020 season United lost to five of the bottom half teams in the league. 
  • Teams like Liverpool and last year’s City lose less than five games total in a season. United will need to work on staying focused on getting results week in and week out to compete. 

Luckily for United fans, they should have the squad to make it happen. United’s management has not been afraid to spend in recent years, and it shows. 

  • Many mocked the price tag they paid for Harry Maguire, but he has become a solid defensive anchor, an invaluable piece to have.
  •  If he stays, as is looking more likely, returning superstar Paul Pogba to the midfield alongside Fernandes would make for one of the most talented midfield pairings in the world. 
  • Their squad is already packed with talent, and they should, and likely will, continue to add more

If any new signings they make excel like Fernades has, and they are able to more consistently produce results up and down the table, United could push Liverpool aside on the way back to their historic place atop the English footballing hierarchy.