For the first time in the Premier League era, the summer transfer window will close before the start of the domestic season. For this reason, many clubs are still struggling to get deals done, not least the top six sides, all of whom have title aspirations.
Each season, a different side tends to rise above the pack to win the title, and transfer improvements will be a huge determining factor in which side is most likely to emerge victorious in the 2018/19 season.
City broke a series of records en route to the Premier League title last season, proving their credentials as the best team in England. However, to suggest that they cannot improve their squad, even after such a successful domestic campaign, would be ludicrous.
It took a stunning £61 million to lure Riyad Mahrez to Manchester even though he may not even start ahead of current wingers Raheem Sterling and Leroy Sané. Mahrez undoubtedly improves this City side even further, though- he was one of the best wingers in the Premier League at Leicester.
City missed out on Jorginho, but they still need a midfield anchor to understudy Fernandinho. The Brazilian needs rest to maintain his form as he inches further into his thirties, and a new signing would allow Pep Guardiola the option of playing two defensively inclined midfielders in the biggest matches.
Various players covered left-back for Manchester City in Benjamin Mendy’s absence, with Fabian Delph playing plenty of Premier League football for the Citizens, but it would be a risk not to add another left-back to their ranks. There remain questions over Mendy’s fitness, and the fact that they have only made one signing so far means that improving this area of the pitch could be a potential goer, especially if Guardiola’s men have ambitions of being one of the best sides in Europe.
Deservedly finishing in second place last season despite the negative press surrounding the club, Manchester United will nonetheless be disappointed with a trophyless campaign that saw them fail to challenge their local rivals in the title race and crash out of the Champions League in embarrassing fashion.
Manager José Mourinho has carefully considered the Red Devils’ first three actions in the market. New £53 million midfielder Fred seeks to bring add greater attacking quality to the core of United’s side without compromising defensive discipline, while Teenager Diogo Dalot provides a long-term replacement for Antonio Valencia and a short-term replacement for the versatile Matteo Darmian. Lee Grant will allow United academy goalkeepers to go on loan and find first-team football.
Mourinho seems content with Ashley Young as his starting left-back, a decision which will either be heavily praised or ridiculed by the end of the season. The same can be said about Andreas Pereira, Scott McTominay, and Marouane Fellaini as backups to Paul Pogba, and Chris Smalling as a first-team defender.
Attacking balance is key for José Mourinho’s men, as the playmaking abilities of Alexis Sànchez, Juan Mata and Jesse Lingard are equally important to the predatory of Anthony Martial and Marcus Rashford. The players to support Romelu Lukaku are already at the club, as well as the players to give him rest, but Mourinho must work out how they all fit into a proper attacking system with a Plan B that doesn’t involve Fellaini.
In an ideal world, an attack-oriented central midfielder, left-back and centre-back would join the first three additions, but at present, United’s starting side has been well-built by Mourinho. It’s getting the best out of them and replacing the underperforming members of the squad with the current promising generation of youth talents where the legendary manager has fallen short thus far.
Tottenham have a great setup for young players and a formidable amount of depth in each position, making it difficult for them to improve their squad significantly in any area. However, they still fell short on all fronts last season, pointing to a potential mentality problem.
Perhaps adding experience in key positions could be the difference-maker for Spurs. Mauricio Pochettino should take from PSG’s signing of Gianluigi Buffon and Dani Alves to attempt to push their side over the line in recent years and attempt to do the same with his men.
In terms of tactical needs, upgrades could always be found to Harry Kane’s current backups. Pochettino’s current 4-2-3-1 formation could be altered to a 4-3-3 with a more attack-oriented central midfield signing to play alongside Christian Eriksen; Victor Wanyama, Mousa Dembélé and Eric Dier are great defensively but pale in comparison to their Danish counterpart when it comes to attacking.
Combining the need for experience and leadership with Toby Alderweireld’s occasional injuries, Pochettino’s tendency to play 3-4-3 at times, and Milan’s suspension from European competition, an ambitious move for Leonardo Bonucci could be made, and would add a third world class centre-back to the ranks.
Jürgen Klopp did well to finish most of Liverpool’s transfer business already, adding world class goalkeeper Alisson, elite ball-playing centre-back Virgil van Dijk, future world-beating midfielders Fabinho and Naby Keïta, and relegated Stoke forward Xherdan Shaqiri to their ranks for a combined figure in excess of £230 million.
These excellent signings blend Premier League experience, long-term vision and starting XI quality, but given the gulf between Liverpool and the rest of the top six when Klopp first joined, improvements could still be made to usurp the above three sides on paper.
Behind van Dijk there are varying questions surrounding each of Liverpool’s defenders; be it Joël Matip’s injury woes, Dejan Lovren’s inconsistency or Joe Gomez’s inexperience, it is arguable that the perfect partner for the towering Dutchman has not yet been found.
Shaqiri adds much-needed depth to Liverpool’s attack, but the other players in his region of the pitch who don’t start for Liverpool are very concerning- Danny Ings, Divock Origi, Dominic Solanke and others will be among the cast of players behind Roberto Firmino and Sadio Mané, and there is a significant gulf of quality there.
Nonetheless, Liverpool have done enough transfer business to ensure great improvements in their Premier League performance this season after a disappointing end to an exciting campaign in which many believed they would have finished in second and taken the final jump in the Champions League.
Of the ten players signed by former Chelsea manager Antonio Conte in 2017/18, only Antonio Rüdiger and Olivier Giroud ended up being starters for the Blues, with most of the others facing difficult acclimatisation periods as the momentum from the title-winning 2016/17 campaign halted.
Chelsea are left with plenty of quality in every position with no clue how they will fare under Maurizio Sarri. As Real Madrid edges towards keeping Gareth Bale, Chelsea will likely be able to do the same with Eden Hazard, and he joins N’Golo Kanté, César Azpilicueta and new signing Jorginho, who followed Sarri to London from Naples, as the untouchable figures in the side.
Chelsea may need to replace goalkeeper Thibaut Courtois, who would also be a staple if rumours linking him to Real Madrid didn’t coincide with Sarri’s desire for a distribution specialist in goal. They could use a young centre-back to replace the ageing David Luiz and Gary Cahill as understudy to Rüdiger and Andreas Christensen, as well as a striker to truly lead the line if they want to return to the Champions League.
Other replacements may well be needed, but they are so unclear at this moment in time due to the mass of signings made by Conte, and it could take a transitional season for Sarri to truly sort through this squad.
Undoubtedly the biggest change at Arsenal has already occurred, as long-serving manager Arsène Wenger resigned and made way for Unai Emery to join the Gunners. Emery will hope he can take the North London side back to the Champions League in his first season, and he will deserve it if his men finish fourth or win the Europa League.
His signings so far have addressed obvious needs in specific ways. Stephan Lichsteiner is a consistent, experienced veteran who will offer great contrast to Héctor Bellerín at right-back, while Lucas Torreira adds energy and potential to a midfield sorely lacking in quality and mobility. Sokratis Papastathopoulos adds leadership to a defence without Per Mertesacker and Laurent Koscielny (until December). Questions have been asked of Bernd Leno as an elite goalkeeper but almost every goalkeeper sees a massive initial change in performances when they join the Premier League.
With a cast of elite forwards joining Arsenal in recent years, there will be much conversation as to how to fit them all onto the pitch. The secret is that they shouldn’t; playing in the Europa League is a disaster without a balanced squad and Emery can use his forward assets tactically depending on the opposition, leaving the rest to come off the bench.
He should be looking to add a high-quality natural winger who will release the burden on the current forwards, all of whom prefer to be deployed centrally. Barring that, though, while improvements can be made to Arsenal’s squad, Emery should leave it relatively unchanged. Allowing players such as Shkodran Mustafi and Granit Xhaka to rediscover their pre-Arsenal form will transform the core of this team into one of the best in Europe.
With four first-team signings already made, the fifth one should be the biggest, and the curtain closer for an Arsenal side that, much like Chelsea, will need more than a season to get back to their absolute best.
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