The new Premier League season is upon us but the established top six is looking more vulnerable than ever. It remains to be seen whether the likes of Leicester City, Everton or Wolverhampton Wanderers have strengthened their pack of players enough but they should feel encouraged by the fragility of those above them.
How Likely is a Top Six Breakup?
A United Front?
Manchester United face a dilemma with their star player wanting to leave. That leaves the club in a bad situation as Paul Pogba could be sold, leaving Ole Gunnar Solskjaer desperately short of midfield quality. He could stay with United but the club will know that he will lack commitment to the cause. The Norwegian manager will not accept players who lack that focus.
Aaron Wan-Bissaka and Harry Maguire are the right kinds of signings. They want to join Manchester United because it is a club with a tremendous heritage, not because they can command £250,000-per-week and get it.
Solskjaer wants players who are one-hundred per cent committed to playing for the club. United have struggled to fashion a group that is focused on delivering the main task of winning football matches. Instead, the players have inherited a mindset where they hold a lot of power. That mentality doesn’t just go away when a new manager comes in.
Solskjaer is the complete opposite of his predecessor Jose Mourinho. He’s upbeat and happy but that attitude is very much open to exploitation. He feels very much like a placeholder. A fundamental reason Mourinho struggled was that the players knew they were more powerful than him.
A United team without the midfield quality of Pogba and the guile of Ander Herrera could find itself coming up short in this battle for the Champions League places. It’s tough because, on the one hand, they need to change the toxic attitude of greed that has manifested at the club but that means they have to take a hit on players on bigger-name players.
Arsenal signing Nicolas Pepe was akin to arriving at hospital with a broken leg and asking for plastic surgery! Unai Emery already boasted a mouthwatering attack which Pepe only reinforces; it is very much cherry on the icing on the cake. The problem is that the defensive setup is rather shambolic.
The Gunners are believed to be searching for a new centre-back and want to tie up a deal for Celtic left-back Kieran Tierney. Admittedly, two defensive transfers could make a world of difference but there is also an issue with timing.
Any further arrivals will need time to adjust to their new club and could take a while to find their feet. Manchester City, for example, get their business done early which gives their new signings a full pre-season to adapt. Arsenal have been struggling to bring players in due to their budget restrictions.
One saving grace for Emery is his attacking options. It will be very difficult to stop his team when all of his attacking assets are available to him. Another positive is that Emery has already been the Arsenal head-coach for a full season. The players know what to expect.
Lamp-Hard Job Ahead
Frank Lampard has taken on a very difficult task. Chelsea have begrudgingly sold their talisman, Eden Hazard, to Real Madrid and cannot bring in any new players because they are in a transfer ban. Hazard was the get-out-of-jail-free card that former managers could rely on in the face of adversity. Lampard will not have this luxury.
Instead, the former club legend will have to make do with what he has. Chelsea have a lot of promising young players and a lot is expected of them. Tammy Abraham has carved himself a glowing reputation in the Championship but there is a huge leap between England’s first and second tier. Pre-season has suggested that Lampard sees Abraham as one of his main attacking options.
This squad is by no means a lost cause. It’s tough to rival a potential double-pivot of Jorginho and N’Golo Kante. Callum Hudson-Odoi, Ross Barkley, Mason Mount and Ruben Loftus-Cheek are all players that genuinely excite the Chelsea faithful; the likes of Cesar Azpilicueta, Olivier Giroud, Willian and Pedro counter that freshness with their experience. There is a good mix of ages but that shouldn’t deter people from the scale of the task that Lampard has on his hands.
This is only the second year of Lampard’s managerial career. He had challenges at Derby but this is a much more intense experience. The Chelsea dressing room has been notorious for downing tools in the past to it would be naive to think that player power will not resurface in the future. He will hope that Kepa Arrizabalaga no longer has intentions to become the manager!
Is It Too Soon for the Chasing Pack?
Leicester have a real chance to push forward this season but the departure of Harry Maguire doesn’t help their cause.
Similarly, Everton will benefit from being in the second season of Marco Silva’s reign but not having the services of Idrissa Gueye and Kurt Zouma is a big blow to their defensive shield. Jean-Philippe Gbamin, a £25m buy from Mainz, will look to plug the gap left by Gueye but the loss of Zouma has yet to be rectified.
Wolves would be well primed to attack the established order but they have the Europa League to focus on. Nuno Espirito Santo may see European success as an opportunity rather than a hindrance and that could affect their league form.
West Ham United are another team that look promising but they looked good on paper last season as well. They need to make sure that they don’t lose their focus against the division’s smaller teams.
So, in short, the big boys might get away with their slip in standards. Then again, they might not!
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