With the transfer deadline for the English Premier League (EPL) clubs on Thursday, August 9, and the season officially kicking off the next day with Manchester United taking on Leicester City, there is frantic scramble for the top flight clubs to put their squads together.
Those at the very top would have to keep in mind multiple assaults, with European football in addition to the domestic competitions. And with the Big Six very much a reality, here is how the top six teams in England are shaping up ahead of the start of the season.
No one has defended the English Premier League title since the 2008-09 Manchester United side. And no one has looked likelier to do so at the beginning of a season since then, than the current Manchester City side.
Having broken all sorts of records last season – including the most points in a single campaign – City haven’t tried to fix what most definitely isn’t broken. With Riyadh Mahrez their only notable signing of the season, Pep Guardiola’s side is looking to bank on the same set of players that did the business last season.
What works for City is that they are brimming over with youngsters – the likes of Gabriel Jesus, Leroy Sane and Raheem Sterling – and with another year under their belt, they would be looking to add further to their game this season.
For City, the priority will be a shot at the Champions League – this side would be taking domestic silverware for granted.
If any side looks like giving City a run this year, it would be the bogey side, which handed them their first league defeat and knocked them out of the Champions League as well. After an already impressive season, which saw them make the Champions League final and a top four finish, Liverpool have looked to plug the loopholes in the off season.
Easily the biggest spenders among the English clubs, Jurgen Klopp’s side have added Fabinho, Naby Keita and Xherdan Shaqiri to the squad. Alisson Becker’s addition in goal, following a world record transfer fee for a goalkeeper, would address the one glitch which might’ve cost the side the Champions League final with Loris Karius’ well documented howlers.
With a psychological edge over Guardiola’s team, and a starting 11 to top any in the league, Liverpool can win it all with a sustained run, expecting City to drop some level from their record breaking season. But consistency hasn’t been Liverpool’s forte, and the team will need to overcome the burden off not winning the league for almost three decades which is perpetually palpable over Anfield.
Since replacing Antonio Conte at the helm of Chelsea, Maurizio Sarri has been eying a superstar signing. At the time of writing, Sarri is still hopeful of landing one of Robert Lewandowski or Gonzalo Higuain after Alvaro Morata’s one season flop convincing the management that a replacement is needed.
What Chelsea have also had to deal with in the transfer window are question marks over the future of Eden Hazard, as Real Madrid look for a big name signing following Cristiano Ronaldo’s departure. With Willian yet to return to training at the time of writing as well, Chelsea have an unsettled squad, with the season fast approaching.
Even so, after finishing outside the top four and missing out on the Champions League, Chelsea will focus entirely on the league this season and posing a title challenge, with a top four finish a bare minimum, coupled maybe with a tilt at one of the cups – of which the Europa League would be one.
Finishing third last season, was a step down for Spurs after back to back runners-up finishes. And after Mauricio Pochettino signed a new five year deal at the club, he is eying Wilfried Zaha from Crystal Palace as perhaps one last addition to a squad that he clearly feels can challenge for the title as it has done in the recent past.
This season would be a test of the club’s ambitions, spearheaded by those of Pochettino and the skipper Harry Kane, who too signed a new bumper contract recently. Are Spurs satisfied with challenging for silverware, being regulars in the Champions League, and playing an attractive brand of football – the combination of which was inconceivable for the club five years ago?
With the opening of a new stadium, does the club feel that it belongs at the very top of English football, or is it satisfied with being among the upper tier?
And while Spurs need to win silverware to self-identify as truly a top club, a consolidation of the current status might be deemed satisfactory as well.
This season truly is make or break for Jose Mourinho at Manchester United. And if the noise coming from the club is anything to go by, it has all the likelihood of being the latter with a veritable threat of self-implosion surrounding Old Trafford.
Mourinho wants to add two more players to a squad which finished runners-up to City in the league last season, runners-up to Chelsea in the FA Cup, and were knocked out in the Round of 16 of the Champions League by Sevilla.
With other teams strengthening and United pretty much the same unit – and in desperate need of a right-sided attacking player – they might well be overtaken by the chasing pack.
Anything less than a league title would be the curtain call on Mourinho’s time at United. And should the side be out of the title race by Christmas, thing could get ugly at Old Trafford.
Unai Emery and Arsenal might be a perfect match for one another, but there remains the question mark over whether together they can match the expectations of the fans. The former Paris Saint Germaine boss replaced Arsene Wenger after Arsenal’s back to back finishes outside the top four, after two decades of being a permanent fixture there. And with ambitions significantly lower than what they were at PSG, Emery can take time to gel in the Arsenal culture.
Signing Stephan Lichtsteiner and Bernd Leno might shore things up at the back, with the attack still looking good for Arsenal. What will define Arsenal’s season is the drive that the squad derive from their new manager, and how the club underlines its ambitions in the post-Wenger era.
Is regular Champions League football and an occasional cup trophy the aim for Arsenal FC, which is what it had been for the last decade under Wenger? If that’s the case, Emery has all the time in the world.