And so, the start is near. The Premier League will begin the 25th year of its life, and the most successful club in its history will be opening their trophy cabinet once again.
‘But why!?’, I hear you scream into your monitor. ‘United finished sixth (SIXTH) last year!’ or ‘Pogba completely failed to perform’ or ‘There are plenty of clubs that finished above them’ and ‘You obviously know very little about football, stick to delivering post.’ Well the reason is simple; they’ve done excellent business in the transfer window, and none of the other top six have.
Last year, Chelsea won the title at a canter, aided by their absence from European football due to their disastrous campaign a year before. Conte’s excellent start mirrors so many other Chelsea managers, who then are bound in Roman Abramovich’s transfer embargoes and inevitably leave the club with mutual suspicion in December. Tiemoué Bakayoko is untested, Spains’ Alvaro Morata possibly a second coming of Fernando Torres, though Antonio Rudiger has a strong Confederations Cup campaign for Germany.
The loss of Nemanja Matic leaves Chelsea with only three senior centre midfielders before the start of the new season, and the inevitable departure of Diego Costa leaves only two strikers. Furthermore, while Victor Moses and Marcos Alonso are accomplished, they are not Champions League quality, and as Gary Cahill ages and David Luiz continues to fail to develop as a footballer, Chelsea’s squad looks stunningly threadbare.
Spurs haven’t weakened, but they haven’t added to their squad either, a mistake that hurt them badly in their last years’ European campaigns, added to the obvious discomfort at Wembley where they’ll call home next season. However, don’t overlook that Spurs scored the most and conceded the least goals last year. If they can keep the Belgian defensive partnership of Toby Alderweireld and Jan Vertonghen fit, they will always have a chance, coupled with the excellent form of Hugo Lloris.
Swansea’s Gylfi Suggurdsson and Everton’s Ross Barkley could be useful additions, but the club hasn’t made any moves to sign them as yet, leaving Hyeung Min Son as one of the few wide creative outlets. Expect Spurs to falter drastically at Wembley, which boasts a far wider pitch than White Hart Lane, without the pace of Kyle Walker down the right, though Harry Kane and Dele Alli staying is easily Spurs’ best business.
Manchester City have added defensive capability for the future in Benjamin Mendy and Kyle Walker, as well as the versatile Danilo, but there is still a piece missing in the midfield jigsaw with the loss of Fernando and the aging of Yaya Toure, despite the big money transfer of Monaco’s Portuguese midfielder Bernardo Silva.
Coupled with the unrest over the future of Sergio Aguero which marred last season, it will be another year before the pieces fall into place for Pep Guardiola, though their fearsome attack of Kevin De Bruyne, Leroy Sane, Gabriel Jesus and Raheem Sterling would cause any defence nightmares, but City always have problems with fitness and sheer inability to keep focus.
In contrast, Liverpool have probably done the worst business in the window of the top six. Interest in Southampton defender Virgil van Dijk had to be prematurely ended, coupled with a humiliating public apology, though it looks like they will finally get their man (a late offer from Chelsea or Manchester City nonwithstanding). A surprisingly high £70m bid for the largely unknown 22 year old Ghanian midfielder Naby Keita was rejected by Bundesliga runners up RB Leipzig, another setback.
These, though, pale into contrast with the possible loss of Philippe Coutinho. The Brazilian, easily the jewel in Liverpool’s crown, will be nigh on impossible to replace if rumours linking him to Barcelona (recently flush with a certain 222 million Euros) are to be believed, though the acquisition of Egyptian winger Mohammed Salah will soften the blow, if only a little. Should the worst happen, the already disliked FSG will have shown a clear lack of ambition- and it is hard to see where Jurgen Klopp will stand in future.
Of course, Arsenal’s best business was securing the futures of Mesut Ozil and Alexis Sanchez. While he hasn’t hit his peak at Arsenal since becoming their record signing in 2014, it’s fair to say that Giroud and Welbeck do not match Ozil’s wavelength. This will change with the pacey and intelligent Alexandre Lacazette, a striker that Arsenal have needed for years.
Coupled with Arsene Wenger’s sudden ability to implement change (his successful switch to three centre-backs a revelation in Arsenal’s impressive FA Cup win) will see Arsenal move back into the Champions League places. Their dependence upon the injury- and red card- plagued Laurent Koscielny, however, might see them fail to cross the line, though it is possible a year off from the Champions League and associated annual pummellings from Bayern Munich will do them a world of good.
And so, to Manchester United. It remains a fascinating point to see Jose Mourinho handle a transfer window. Not many can isolate a weak point, identify a replacement and then buy him, with minimal fuss. Despite all claims, it must be remembered that Manchester United won the Community Shield, along with two other actual trophies last year, while also qualifying for the Champions League.
A quick glance at last year’s table shows that United drew a huge 15 games last year, losing only five (though letting Kante score a solo effort arguably deserves a points deduction).
They were lax in possession and toothless in attack, while Pogba, who had an excellent season, spent too long trying to justify his fee than playing his natural game. In response to their sixth place finish, Mourinho has allowed Wayne Rooney and Zlatan Ibrahimovic to leave, two 30+ year old strikers on £300,000 a week wages.
He has then brought in Belgian Romelu Lukaku from under the nose of Chelsea, at 24 already on course to net over 100 Premier League goals, working with limited resources at West Brom and Everton (who have also strengthened, and could well be next season’s dark horses). Defensive duties have been passed to new arrivals Victor Lindelof and Chelsea’s Nemanja Matic, a human final whistle.
Possessing the world’s best goalkeeper, the second meanest defence in the league (conceding only three more than the world class defence of Spurs), a midfield full of options and extreme talent (expect Pogba to fulfil his potential this year without the spectre of that transfer fee), and a youthful, hungry strikeforce of Lukaku, Martial and Rashford, combined with a manager famed for winning titles in his second season, there is no way United can’t win.