Premier League clubs have been tested like never before in 2020; the year of social distancing, empty stadiums and jam-packed fixture schedules.
Despite the global coronavirus crisis, top-flight sides have been able to bring us box-office action, albeit from the comfort of our own living rooms, since football resumed in June.
And to reflect what has been a surreal year for the obvious reasons, the 2020/21 Premier League season has got off to a crazy start, with the likes of Aston Villa, Everton and Leicester mixing it with the so-called ‘Big Six’ early on.
Liverpool still lead the way out in first place, although Manchester United are hot on their heels at the division’s summit, while Sheffield United and West Brom are in dire straits at the bottom of the pack.
So what should each Premier League club’s New Year’s resolution be for 2021?
Arsenal – Cut out the Ls
It’s fair to say Mikel Arteta’s first full season in charge at The Emirates hasn’t gone to plan thus far.
Before recording two crucial wins over Chelsea and Brighton, the Gunners suffered their worst start to a top-flight campaign for almost 45 years, losing an unfathomable seven of their first 13 games, including a 3-0 thumping at the hands of Aston Villa.
An obvious New Year’s resolution for Arteta is to keep Arsenal’s recent resurgence going and prevent their L column from spiralling any further out of control.
Aston Villa – Build on big wins
Villa are responsible for two of the most mesmerising and unexpected victories of the season to date; a somewhat freakish 7-2 pummelling of record-breaking champions Liverpool in October before an utterly dominant 3-0 thrashing of Arsenal one month later.
Dean Smith’s men also claimed narrow wins away at Leicester and West Midlands rivals Wolves, yet their form against lesser sides has not been as pretty.
There have been defeats at the hands of Brighton, West Ham, Southampton and Leeds – the latter of which saw them trounced 3-0 at home – meaning Jack Grealish and co should take motivation from the scalps they have claimed to find a level of consistency in 2021.
Brighton – Break the Amex duck
Along with a Sheffield United side rooted to the bottom of the table with two points out of a possible 45, Graham Potter’s men are one of only two sides to have not claimed a home victory all season.
The Seagulls have suffered four defeats out of eight at the Amex and drawn on four occasions, which explains why they have been hovering above the relegation zone for most of the campaign.
Their away form is not exactly sensational, with two wins to show for their eight road trips so far, but if Brighton can resurrect their fortunes on the south coast Potter will feel confident about steering clear of a relegation dogfight in 2021.
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Burnley – Attack, attack, attack
The Turf Moor faithful haven’t exactly been kept on the edge of their seats in the first half of the season, as their side have scored a measly nine goals in 15 games – which is the second-worst attacking record in the top flight.
Sean Dyche’s gritty style has worked wonders for the club in recent years, but it isn’t producing enough results this term, with his team still hovering above the relegation zone after claiming just four wins.
For the sake of Burnley fans’ sanity, and also with the looming threat of relegation in mind, Dyche’s New Year resolution should be to inject some life into the Clarets next year.
Chelsea – Break down big guns
During a 17-match unbeaten run which perhaps papered over some cracks in Frank Lampard’s new-look side, many were tipping the Blues to contest this year’s title race along with champions Liverpool and potential candidates Tottenham.
Back-to-back defeats against Everton and Wolves, followed by a Boxing Day stuffing away at Arsenal, have brought them crashing back down to earth, and it’s clear that scoring goals is not coming easy to Chelsea when faced with the toughest of tests.
They have drawn blank in meetings with Liverpool, Manchester United, Sevilla, Tottenham and Everton this season, while only scoring once in losses at Wolves and Arsenal.
Thus, Lampard needs to find a solution to his team’s attacking impotence against top sides in 2021.
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Crystal Palace – Eye up new manager
Since his appointment in September 2017, Roy Hodgson has failed to secure a top-half Premier League finish with Palace and it’s highly unlikely that will change this season.
Aston Villa, Southampton, Everton and West Ham all look better equipped to do so, while Wolves and Leicester have made a habit of finishing in and around the top six in recent years.
There’s no doubting Hodgson will inevitably guide Palace to another respectable position in the bottom half of the table this term – but is that really the ceiling of their aspirations?
While it may not be wise to do so during the campaign, Steve Parish should have one eye on a potential replacement for Roy that will bring some excitement and ambition back to Selhurst Park next summer.
Everton – Avoid another wobble
Carlo Ancelotti’s men looked like dark horses in the race for top four when they won each of their first four games and held Liverpool to a 2-2 draw in September.
Though after that share of the spoils the wheels came off at Goodison Park, with Everton losing four of their next five games and taking just four points out of 15.
Recent victories over Chelsea, Leicester and Arsenal have pulled them out of that rut, and Ancelotti will be keen to avoid another dip in form in the second half of the season.
Fulham – Practice penalties
It would be a surprise not to see the Cottagers scrapping it out in the relegation battle come the end of the season, given Scott Parker has one of the top-flight’s most inadequate squads on paper.
Avoiding the drop is not out of the question despite losing eight of their opening 13 games – but perfecting the art of penalties is an essential New Year resolution if they are to stay afloat.
Before Ivan Cavaleiro’s successful effort in their 2-1 win away at Leicester on November 30, Fulham had missed each of their last three spot-kicks and lost out on an extra four points as a result – which could prove costly come the end of the season.
Leeds – Fix the leak
If you were to ask Premier League supporters which team they most enjoy watching aside from their own, the majority would probably say Leeds.
Marcelo Bielsa’s Championship winners have been box-office entertainment so far, scoring the fourth-highest amount of goals (30) and taking a satisfying 23 points out of 48.
With that being said, the Whites’ New Year resolution should be to fix their leaky defence; as they have the division’s second-worst defensive record after conceding as many goals.
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Leicester – Make the King Power a fortress
The Foxes are proving that last season’s fifth-place finish was by no means a fluke, winning nine games out of 16 this term to stay hot on Liverpool’s tails at the top of the table.
Brendan Rodgers has their away form to thank for that, with six victories out of eight on the road – including at Manchester City, Arsenal and Tottenham – the second best record in the top flight.
At home, however, there have been defeats at the hands of West Ham, Aston Villa, Fulham and Everton – meaning Rodgers should focus on turning the King Power back into a fortress in the second half of the campaign.
Liverpool – Stay in shape
The fact Liverpool remain out in front in the Premier League title race, in spite of the major injury crisis Jurgen Klopp has been dealt this term, is testament to both the strength of their playing squad and the talents of their coach.
Potential season-ending injuries to first-choice defensive duo Virgil van Dijk and Joe Gomez did not even derail them, and if they can avoid any further fitness blows in the first few months of 2021 don’t be surprised if they pull away again.
The champions’ New Year resolution will undoubtedly be to keep as many players in tip-top shape as possible.
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Manchester City – Rediscover their mojo
After being blown away by Liverpool in the title race last season, Pep Guardiola and co needed to hit the ground running at top speed this season and state their intent to reclaim the crown.
Yet, it’s fair to say that hasn’t happened in the slightest, as City’s underwhelming and uninspired form has led to just seven wins out of 14 and a measly 21 goals scored – less than newly-promoted Leeds, Southampton, Aston Villa and West Ham.
Guardiola needs to rediscover his side’s attacking mojo to leave fans on the edge of their seats again – or more fittingly in the current climate, on the edge of their sofas.
Manchester United – Make most of Europa
While it was undoubtedly a crushing blow to fall at the first Champions League hurdle, United should treat their demotion to the Europa League as a blessing in disguise heading into the new year.
Despite recently climbing towards Liverpool at the summit, a top-four finish remains the priority for Ole Gunnar Solskjaer this season, and in the midst of increased competition from the likes of Everton, Southampton, Leicester and a rejuvenated Tottenham side, Europe’s second-tier competition could provide them with a pivotal backdoor route into next season’s Champions League.
Solskjaer should set his sights on going all the way in the Europa League after their semi-final defeat in the competition last term.
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Newcastle – Claim a big scalp
The Magpies blew a glorious chance to reach the Carabao Cup semi-final just before Christmas, slumping to a shock 1-0 defeat at the hands of Championship outfit Brentford and leaving their supporters furious.
To get them back on side, Steve Bruce needs to mastermind an unexpected victory over one of England’s biggest clubs – something they are yet to achieve this season.
A win away at Arsenal in the third round of the FA Cup on January 9 would go down a treat with the Geordie faithful…
Sheffield United – Quite frankly, win
Chris Wilder’s men were the surprise package of last season, finishing just five points adrift of a European spot after punching well above their weight for the majority of the campaign.
Yet, the Blades are completely unrecognisable this term and, having lost 14 out of 16 games and failed to claim a single victory, find themselves rooted to the bottom of the table.
Their New Year resolution, then, hardly takes any strenuous brain-racking: put some wins on the board and hope it’s enough to complete what would be a great escape.
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Southampton – Sneak into Europe
Saints fans will be chuffed with the first half of their 2020/21 campaign, which got off to a rocky start when they were beaten by Crystal Palace and Tottenham in their opening two matches.
Since then, Ralph Hasenhuttl’s free-flowing side have picked up seven wins out of 14 in the Premier League, while earning draws with Chelsea, Arsenal and Wolves and suffering narrow defeats against the two Manchester clubs.
As things stand they are in with a shout of qualifying for the Europa League in ninth, and after an impressive start doing so should be a realistic target next year.
Tottenham – End trophy drought
With back-to-back defeats against Liverpool and Leicester indicating they’re not quite ready for a title charge just yet, Spurs’ focus between now and the end of the season should be claiming their first piece of silverware for 13 years.
The north London club, who last got their hands on a trophy in the 2008 League Cup final, have a great chance of winning the same competition next year after drawing Championship club Brentford in the semi-final.
Jose Mourinho’s men are also one of the leading contenders to win the Europa League, while their FA Cup journey only just begins against non-league outfit Marine in the new year.
Those competitions represent three golden opportunities for Spurs to end their long trophy drought.
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West Brom – Pick on people their own size
After picking up just one win all season, Big Sam has been drafted in at the Hawthorns to do what he does best: complete a great escape.
West Brom will be desperate to avoid an immediate drop back down to the Championship in 2021, but if they don’t start picking up wins sooner or later that gloomy prospect will soon become a reality.
The Baggies haven’t performed badly against English football’s big guns this term, earning a 3-3 draw with Chelsea back in September and 1-1 draws with Manchester City and Liverpool in December.
They also only slumped to 1-0 defeats against Tottenham and Manchester United.
If Allardyce ensures his side head into matches against teams in and around them with the same determined spirit, he could add another relegation-saving success to his unparalleled record.
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West Ham – Strike while the Irons are hot
It has been an encouraging start to the season for West Ham thanks to several David Moyes recruits; namely Tomas Soucek, Vladimir Coufal and Jarred Bowen.
Moyes’ recent success in the transfer market shows Hammers chiefs should back him again come January and bolster his squad with one or two solid additions to build on an impressive first half of the campaign.
Say it quietly, but European qualification won’t be out of the question if they do…
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Wolves – Replace Raul
Since Raul Jimenez fractured his skull in their 2-1 win away at Arsenal on November 29, Wolves have only scored four goals in the six games that have followed, earning four points as a result.
Youngster Fabio Silva has often led the line in the Mexican’s absence, but the 18-year-old remains a work in progress and has therefore not been able to fill his shoes properly.
With a return date for Jimenez still unclear, Nuno Espirito Santo should think about bringing in a ready-made centre-forward in the January transfer window.
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