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 Waddle Man Utd Man City Liverpool Chelsea
Alan Shearer Man City Liverpool Chelsea Man Utd
Alex Scott Man City Liverpool Chelsea Man Utd
Pat Nevin Man City Liverpool Chelsea Man Utd
Michael Brown Man City Liverpool Chelsea Man Utd
Micah Richards Man City Liverpool Man Utd Chelsea
Rachel Brown-Finnis Man City Liverpool Man Utd Chelsea
Chris Sutton Man City Liverpool Man Utd Chelsea
Lindsay Johnson Man City Liverpool Man Utd Chelsea
Rob Green Man City Chelsea Liverpool Man Utd
Ruud Gullit Man City Chelsea Liverpool Man Utd
Mark Schwarzer Man City Chelsea Liverpool Man Utd
Jermaine Jenas Liverpool Man City Chelsea Man Utd
Karen Carney Liverpool Man City Chelsea Man Utd
Danny Murphy Liverpool Man City Chelsea Man Utd
Martin Keown Liverpool Man City Chelsea Man Utd
Sue Smith Liverpool Man City Chelsea Man Utd
Stephen Warnock Liverpool Man City Chelsea Man Utd
Leon Osman Liverpool Man City Chelsea Man Utd
Matthew Upson Liverpool Man City Chelsea Man Utd
Clinton Morrison Liverpool Man City Chelsea Man Utd
Mark Lawrenson Liverpool Man City Man Utd Chelsea
Dion Dublin Liverpool Man City Man Utd Chelsea
Joleon Lescott Liverpool Man City Arsenal Man Utd
Ian Wright Liverpool Man City Chelsea Arsenal

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.

1. Man City 2. Liverpool 3. Chelsea 4. Man Utd 5. Arsenal
86 pts 84 pts 44 pts 33 pts 3 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.

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

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.

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

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

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

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.

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.

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