Last Sunday, Arsene Wenger finally got the Jose Mourinho-shaped monkey off his back, when he beat a Mourinho-managed team for the first time in 13 attempts in the season-opening Community Shield.
The win, though savoured greatly by Arsenal fans, does not necessarily dislodge Chelsea from favourites to retain their title. What it does is set up the season nicely.
The transfer window hasn’t shut yet, but most of the heavyweights have done some significant buying already, to give their new recruits ample time to gel with teammates and get that all-important pre-season under their belt. Let’s look at the big teams and how they shape up – in the order they finished last season:
Jose Mourinho – who was recently declared the Best Manager in the World by the prestigious magazine Four Four Two – knew exactly what was missing from his Chelsea squad at the end of the 2013-14 season, and plugged those gaps with A-grade talent to win the league in almost a canter last season.
This season, the biggest news out of West London – so far – has been the selling of talismanic goalkeeper Petr Cech to cross-town rivals Arsenal. Mourinho has brought in one-time goal machine Radamel Falcao for a season-long loan. Brazilian teenager Nathan and Stoke’s Asmir Begovic replace Cech as benchwarmer keeper, while there are reports of Mourinho bidding for Everton’s young defender John Stones – a move that has an air of ‘when’ rather than ‘if’ to it. Chelsea has the most settled squad, look the strongest and it would be tough to stop them from retaining the title.
City doesn’t know how to defend a title, does it? They won their first league title in 44 years in 2012, only to meekly surrender it to their bitter rivals Manchester United the next season. The second title came along in 2014, but was, once again, followed by a terrible defence last season. It all points to a City triumph next season, then. City has so far been quiet in the transfer season. Yes, at £50 million, they paid £25 million too many for Raheem Sterling, but the former Liverpool man has his best years ahead of him and will add another dimension to City’s often one-paced attack. Fabian Delph, one suspects, has been bought as much to swell the home-grown player quota as for his form at Aston Villa.
City could still make a big, big move this window – Pogba or Götze, maybe? How their season shapes up will, as ever, depend on which Yaya Toure turns up on match day. The Ivorian can be an unstoppable midfield marshal and diabolically disinterested in equal measure.
We thought of doing this one a little differently. Ex-Invincibles Ray Parlour and Sol Campbell, who were recently in Mumbai for the launch of the new Puma Arsenal kit, told us what they thought of Arsene Wenger’s squad, and previewed Arsenal’s season:
Ray Parlour:“Cech was a big, important transfer. Arsenal needed a strong goalkeeper, and I think Cech will help the back four defend as a unit. If Wenger can bring in one or two more players, he’ll have a very strong squad. Arsenal need to be in the mix at the top till April – then it’s down to the last 3-4 games, and the title can go anywhere.”
Sol Campbell: “Karim Benzema would be a fantastic addition – if they can get him. There’s talk of Arsenal having made contact, but whether he can be coaxed to come over is another question altogether. For Arsenal to have a chance of winning the league, they have to hit the ground running right from the first game. Last season, they started too slow – you can’t wait this long to get into your groove.”
They’ve splashed the cash, and how. After the David Moyes debacle and Louis Van Gaal’s underwhelming first season, Manchester United has taken a leading role in this transfer window, already having spent more than £80 million on four players.
While Morgan Schneiderlin and World Cup-winner Bastian Schweinsteiger will add some much-needed bite in the midfield, Italy’s Matteo Darmian at right-back and Dutch sensation Memphis Depay up front will make United look a much more complete squad than last season. The buying spree is far from over, or so we are led to believe. Sergio Ramos, Thomas Muller and Edinson Cavani are some of the marquee names being linked to United. One suspects that in the aftermath of Robin Van Persie’s exit, Van Gaal will target a striker. A strong Manchester United is good for the league, the sponsors and the fans – let’s hope we get that this season.
It was Liverpool’s league to lose two seasons ago – and they duly lost it. Gerrard slipped, City pounced, and the wait for a league title continued. Since then, they’ve had to sell their best player in Luis Suarez, bid farewell to Steven Gerrard – the very embodiment of the club – and most recently, reluctantly let the prodigious Sterling go.
Still, manager Brendan Rodgers, to his credit, has kept going in search of that perfect balance in his squad. He spent £36 million last summer, and has already spent £45 million this time on Roberto Firmino, Nathaniel Clyne, Danny Ings, James Milner, Adam Bogdan and Joe Gomez, with a £32.5 million deal for Aston Villa striker Christian Benteke reportedly in place. Rodgers will hope this crop of players can get him the Holy Grail come May 2016, but a top-4 finish might be a more realistic target.
The rest of the best
With a new television deal worth £5.14 billion to come into effect from next year, the transfer kitty for all 20 Premier League clubs will swell many times over. The impact of that is already being seen in this window, with mid-table clubs like Crystal Palace (Yohan Cabayefrom PSG) and West Ham (Dimitri Payet from Marseille) attracting talent from top clubs on the Continent.
While the four Champions League places are expected to be fought for among the five clubs we’ve featured – though Tottenham could have a say – it’s the fight to finish as high up as possible for the likes of Stoke, Southampton and West Ham, armed with more money and better talent, which will be an intriguing battle. August the 8th can’t come soon enough.
*The information in this article is current as of July 23, and does not take into consideration transfers that have been confirmed post that date.
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