The 2017-18 Premier League season is just 39 days away and clubs are starting to make their moves in the transfer market in preparation for the big kick-off. The top six from last season will all be looking to mount a serious challenge for the title. Where can each side can improve, both in terms of incoming transfers and tactically on the pitch?
Chelsea’s 3-5-2 system won them a lot of plaudits throughout the season as Antonio Conte’s men clinched the title by a comfortable seven points. Towards the back end of the season, however, weaknesses started to emerge within the system, notably in games against Manchester United and Crystal Palace. In both games, José Mourinho and Sam Allardyce both deployed two up front and unsettled the Chelsea back three which had grown accustomed only to having the one central striker to deal with.
In the game against Manchester United especially, the pace and movement of Marcus Rashford and Jesse Lingard were too much for an aging Gary Cahill and bumbling David Luiz to handle and United ran out comfortable winners. Conte will have a big problem on his hands in the coming season if more managers pick on this and decide to use it against him.
Another area of concern for Conte will be in the striker’s position. Diego Costa admitted that the Italian told him that he is not wanted at the club, and getting the right replacement in will be a difficult task. Romelu Lukaku, linked with a move all summer, has all the required attributes, but question marks still remain over his ability to produce against the very best as consistently as he does against lesser opposition.
The Blues have been looking to improve in the wing-back areas, having been heavily linked with a move for Juventus left-back Alex Sandro. Marcos Alonso and Victor Moses were both major success stories last season, but while both have capabilities to do the role well, they both lack the dynamism that many modern full-backs possess. It is hardly surprising that the club are after someone like Sandro.
Chelsea were undoubtedly the best team in the last season’s campaign, but work needs to be done over the summer to make sure that they are in a strong position to defend their title.
Tottenham’s young squad and fast, attacking football is very easy on the eye, but this has not been turned into silverware. If they wish to get over the line and finally win their first league title since 1961, they’ll need to change the profile of player they are bringing into the club. The likes of Harry Kane and Dele Alli are exciting young players, but lack the know-how to win titles.
Since manager Mauricio Pochettino came to the club in 2014, he has typically opted to purchase younger players who have the potential to develop and grow into world-class talent. He and chairman Daniel Levy should seriously consider revising this current strategy in the transfer market. The profile of player in the 27-32 age group with experience of winning titles and other big tournaments may just be the missing ingredient to help this very side reach its full potential.
This is particularly relevant considering that the side will be playing their home games at Wembley while the new White Hart Lane is being built. They’ve had a poor record in games played at the stadium in recent times and it’s a mental barrier that some of these young players may not be able to overcome. A few older and wiser heads in the dressing room may be just the tonic to break the Wembley curse and help them achieve great things.
Pep Guardiola found life in his first season in Manchester tough after a brilliant start of tenwins from his first ten games. City finished third in the Premier League and failed to pick up any silverware; the first time this has happened to Guardiola in his first season at any club he’s managed.
So far this summer, City have acted with an urgency not seen by any of the other leading clubs in England. Bacary Sagna, Jesus Navas, Gael Clichy, Pablo Zabaleta and Willy Caballero have all moved on, with more facing the exit door. Joe Hart is certain to be the sixth name out; the England number 1 has been frozen out and now replaced with Brazilian goalkeeper Ederson. As well as the departures, Guardiola sanctioned a move for winger Bernardo Silva on a deal worth approximately £43 million.
If the Sky Blues want to have a real push at winning the league in the coming season then the centre-back problem will also need to be addressed. £50 million-man John Stones hasn’t progressed as expected and captain Vincent Kompany’s continued injury problems have been a massive issue. Nicolas Otamendi has also failed to impress for the majority of the time he’s spent at the club. At least one more quality player in this position is needed.
When they found their rhythm, Liverpool played some of the best attacking football in the league last season, but it was defensively where their title bid ultimately fell down. 42 goals conceded—the second worst in the top six—was a major area of concern which manager Jürgen Klopp wasn’t able to fix as the season went on.
The constant uncertainty with goalkeepers Simon Mignolet and Loris Karius caused the side major headaches throughout the season and although Mignolet did improve at the back end of the campaign, a more stable number one will be required if Liverpool want to win their first league title since 1990.
The back line in front of the goalkeepers were also a huge problem. Ever-versatile James Milner was filling in at left-back to cover for the hapless Alberto Moreno; Joel Matip had some good performances but had a lot of injuries and couldn’t really find any consistent form; question marks still remain over Dejan Lovren’s ability at the top level. Klopp will need to sure up his back line in time for the start of the season.
The club have already added Mohamed Salah to the ranks to bolster their impressive attacking options, but it’s the defence that is Liverpool’s weak spot. If this is not addressed, any chances of winning the title will be slim.
Arsenal have the most to sort out in the summer of anyone. While Arsène Wenger’s situation is now clear, there are still many things that are up in the air, namely the futures of record signing Mesut Özil and star player Alexis Sanchez. Both players only have one year remaining on their current deals and could easily be sold in the summer. Several other players have been linked with moves away, including midfielder Alex Oxlade-Chamberlain, who has enjoyed a fine run of form in a wing-back role in the side’s new 3-5-2 system.
Arsenal failed to finish in the top four for the first time under Wenger last season and will play in the Europa League next year. The club have a big job on to get themselves back into the Champions League at the first attempt and Wenger will have to be decisive in the transfer market in order to do this.
The Arsenal manager is under severe pressure to spend in this transfer window, and the club were linked with a record-breaking move for Kylian Mbappé earlier on in the summer. Lyon striker Alexandre Lacazette, at the very least, looks set to join the club and Wenger has also a made public his interest in Leicester midfielder Riyad Mahrez. Both would be welcome additions to get the squad closer to where it needs to be to challenge for the title.
José Mourinho had a very mixed first season at Old Trafford. A sixth place finish in the league was obviously disappointing, but United won both the EFL Cup and the Europa League, the latter triumph securing a place in the Champions League. There was a serious problem with the lack of attacking flair and cutting edge being produced, and Mourinho has looked to address this firstly with the failed attempt to sign Antoine Griezmann and now the pursuit of Spanish forward Alvaro Morata.
There has been difficulty in forging a cohesive centre-back partnership, which prompted the signing of Victor Lindelof, but the full-back issue still needs solving. Luke Shaw’s struggles since his long-term injury in the past meant that the likes of Daley Blind, Marcos Rojo and Matteo Darmian have all filled in, but none are of the quality which is needed. The foundation of any title-winning side is having a defence that can be relied upon and played every week and the left-back position will have to be addressed if United are to challenge,
The sales of Morgan Schneiderlin and Bastian Schweinsteiger left United with only four recognised central midfielders in the second half of the campaign. The holding midfield area has become pivotal in the modern game, and although Michael Carrick has been fantastic for over the last decade, a long-term replacement must be secured. It could be the missing piece in the jigsaw to allow United to win their first league title since Sir Alex Ferguson retired.