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2020-21 Premier League Preview: mid-table snoozers

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Good enough to avoid the bottom, not good enough to challenge for Europe. Welcome to the Mediocre Zone.

Everton v Preston North End - Pre-Season Friendly Photo by Tony McArdle/Everton FC via Getty Images

We’ve arrived at the mid-table, where all the clubs are the same and the points don’t matter. Sorry Burnley, Everton, Leeds United, Newcastle, Sheffield United, and Southampton. The good news is I don’t think any of you are going down. The bad news is I don’t think you’ve got a shot at Europe, either. Yes, even you, deluded Everton fans who think you can challenge for Top 4 this year.

The more cynical Arsenal fans might stick the Gunners in this group, but I will tolerate none of that slander here. Not on my Christian Minecraft Server. No sir. Yesterday, we previewed the relegation fodder. Perhaps I should have included Newcastle in that bunch. Tomorrow, it’s Euro-tourist hopefuls. But right now, into the middle we go.

Burnley
Last season: 10th
Key Additions: Will Norris (GK)
Key Losses: Jeff Hendrick (CM), Joe Hart (GK), Aaron Lennon (RW)
Predicted Finish: 12th

Do I really have to write about Burnley? Burnley are so boring. And I don’t like Sean Dyche. As you can see, they’ve got virtually the same side as last year, which might not be a bad thing. According to understat, the Clarets won nearly 4.5 points fewer than they should have. Even though they underperformed expected points last season, it always feels like Dyche has the side overperforming the talent on the roster. And I don’t want to bet on that continuing.

Everton
Last season: 12th
Key Additions: James Rodriguez (CM), Allan (CM), Abdoulaye Doucoure (CM), Niels Nkounkou (LB)
Key Losses: Leighton Baines (LB), Morgan Schneiderlin (DM), Djibril Sidibe (RB)
Predicted Finish: 9th

Everton definitely had the flashiest transfer window of the mid-table teams. The mid-season hiring of Carlo Ancellotti worked out well and definitely improved the team. Will that trend continue in his first full season in charge with “his” guys brought in? My bet is yes. I don’t think they have the horses to run with the big boys. But congratulations, Everton. You’ve firmly cemented 9th place.

Teaser: if my bold prediction (that you’ll see tomorrow) comes true, Everton are the side that stand to benefit and maybe slip into a European place.

Leeds United
Last season: 1st in the Championship
Key Additions: Rodrigo (CF), Helder Costa (RW), Robin Koch (CB), Illan Meslier (GK)
Key Losses: Ben White (CB), Jack Harrison (LW)
Predicted Finish: 13th

I think Marco Bielsa’s side is going to surprise a lot of people in the Premier League this season. He has them well-drilled in the high press, which will give teams without ball-playing quality at the back significant issues.

Losing Ben White and Jack Harrison back to Brighton and Manchester City respectively (end of loans) will hurt. But they’ve gone on the typical promotion money-fueled spending spree to reinforce the squad. I like the Robin Koch signing and a loan-to-permanent on Helder Costa is fine. I’m not sure that spending £27M on Rodrigo, a guy who has scored 12 goals over the last two seasons in La Liga was the best move, but maybe the guys running a football club know more than I do.

Newcastle
Last season: 13th
Key Additions: Callum Wilson (CF), Jamal Lewis (LB), Jeff Hendrick (CM), Ryan Fraser (LW)
Key Losses: Jack Colback (DM)
Predicted Finish: 14th

I may be too high on Newcastle. They might belong in the relegation fodder conversation. Their ownership situation is a mess and that may affect the on-field performance. Their defense is average, at the very best. That they overperformed their expected points by 12 last season is quite concerning, too.

But I like the additions of Jamal Lewis, Callum Wilson, and Ryan Fraser. The combination of Miguel Almiron and Allan Saint-Maximin is a potent one — both guys are good on the ball, creative, and pacey. I’ve recently changed my tune on Almiron. I hope he doesn’t make me look bad for deciding he’s a useful player.

Sheffield United
Last season: 9th
Key Additions: Aaron Ramsdale (GK), Max Lowe (LB), Jayden Bogle (RB), Ethan Ampadu (CB)
Key Losses: Callum Robinson (LW), Mark Duffy (RM)
Predicted Finish: 10th

After the Blades put in a strong start, they came back down to Earth as the season progressed, and cratered during the restart. I think they’re closer to the team we saw at the end of the year rather than the start.

Their defense is going to take a step back. They conceded an impressive 39 goals last season, but outperformed their expected goals against, letting in 13 fewer goals than they “should” have. Two defenders from Championship side Derby County aren’t going to fix that. Sheffield had 26 one-goal games and draws combined, and anecdotally, needed a bunch of late goals for those results. A big jump in goals against will cost them points.

Southampton
Last season: 11th
Key Additions: Kyle Walker-Peters (RB), Mohammed Salisu (CB)
Key Losses: Pierre-Emile Hojberg (CM), Harrison Reed (DM), Mario Lemina (DM), Cedric Soares (RB)
Predicted Finish: 11th

Southampton scored fewer and gave up more goals than they “should” have last season. On expected points, they would have finished 7th in the league according to understat. But there isn’t much that gets me super excited about the Saints. They are well-coached. James Ward-Prowse is an England international and a quite good player. But they were extremely reliant on Danny Ings for goals, and I don’t think he gets back to the 22 he scored last season. I think they have the same season that it feels like they always have.