Wednesday, 30 July 2014

One Month To Go: What The Top Sides Need to be Contenders

Just over two weeks until the start of the season and one month until the transfer window slams shut. There are probably five teams with realistic enough ambitions of winning the league this season and seven with very real Champions League hopes. City are the champions having stolen the title from Liverpool in the closing weeks of last season. Chelsea have strengthened significantly already. Arsenal have splashed out again on proven talent. Everton were pretty close to them last season and Spurs were not much further back. The former champions Man United are under new (proper) management again and looking to reclaim their place at the top table.

Regardless of what happens, this season is shaping up nicely. Here's a run-down of what additions the contenders could do with making to their squads in the coming months.

Man City

The champions won the league last year by simply being a lot better than their opposition quite often. They were great and there's not much areas for them to strengthen going into Pellegrini's sophomore year and the defence of their crown. In previous summer's City would spend lavish amounts of money on whoever they wanted. Recently they've fallen foul on Financial Fair Play regulations so I'd imagine the days of dropping £200m a summer are gone. I think this summer will be a rather quiet one for City and their major business is probably already done.

The centre of the defence is the most obvious area they need to improve in. Too often last season did they have to rely on Martin Demichelis and too often did he let them down. Eliaquim Managla, a monster of a centre half should shore up the defence which, despite it's frailties, conceded less than all but Chelsea last season.

Another option in central midfield was one thing they needed and Fernando has arrived, like Mangala, from Porto to provide this. He'll provide competition for Fernandinho alongside Yaya Toure in City's two-man midfield and, again, prevent them from relying on Martin Demichelis playing football for them.

Further forward, City have plenty of strikers to choose from, the problem is getting them all fit. Aguero hasn't looked himself since getting injured last December. Jovetic spent most of last season on the sidelines, only managing two league starts, and Alvargo Negredo is set to miss the opening months of the season through injury. This left the bulk of the goalscoring at the end of last season to Edin Dzeko. Jovetic has looked sharp in pre-season so this will allay some of their fears and if they have Aguero back to his best they will take some stopping as it is, regardless of who they might bring in during August.


What they need is not to become this season's Spurs.

Last summer, Spurs cashed in on their biggest asset, Gareth Bale, for a hefty £86m. This year, Liverpool have done the same, selling the volatile Luis Suarez to Barcelona for a rumoured £75m. Spurs spent virtually the whole amount on new players without strengthening the side at all. Liverpool simply cannot afford to do the same.

And it doesn't look like they will. Lallana, Lambert, Markovic and Can are already on board, Lovren has followed them this week. The Croatian's arrival should shore up a defence whose porosity arguably cost Liverpool the title last season. Lallana and Lambert are both coming off the back of excellent seasons with Southampton but it remains to be seen if they can make the step up. Markovic and Can are both very exciting young talents.

The deal for Loic Remy has fallen through which I think is a bit of a blessing in disguise for Liverpool. I don't think that was the right move for either party. He wouldn't have been the main man and Liverpool would be better off using this cash windfall on a top quality striker. I think they should go for Falcao, Cavani or the slightly cheaper option in Lukaku. Balotelli is not happy at Milan and Benzema is surely on borrowed time in that Madrid side. One of the biggest clubs in England, with Champions League football and a talented, ambitious young manager. Why should Liverpool settle for anything but the best?

One other thing they have to look at is a succession plan for Steven Gerrard. The captain is 34 now and can't play every game next season surely. With him out of the team the centre of midfield looks weak. Can can (lol) play there but he's unproven in England and 20 years old with just one season of football under his belt. Rodgers may look to use some of his cash windfall to strengthen this area too.


They needed a replacement for whatever of the senior players they were letting go as well as a new top quality striker. Lampard and Cole moved on. Cesc Fabregas and Felipe Luis have moved in. Diego Costa has also arrived from Atletico Madrid where he will again link up with Luis and Courtouis, all of whom were part of Atletico's title winning side last season. Oh and in terms of replacing the dressing room leaders who have left, Didier Drogba has returned to the club, two years after leaving on the back of a Champions League triumph. Job pretty much done there for Jose.

These additions make Chelsea the pre-season favourites for the title in my eyes and I don't expect them to do much more serious business in the next thirty days. In terms of FFP they are in much better shape than fellow splurgers City having brought in over £100m in player sales.

They do, however, need a centre back. David Luiz has gone to PSG for a ridiculously inflated fee of £50m which leaves Terry and Cahill as the only two senior centre backs at the club with Ivanovic providing cover if needs be. John Terry will be 34 this December and a 38 game season combined with European and cup commitments is surely beyond him. Kurt Zouma has returned from loan with St. Ettiene but may find himself farmed out again to gain some more first team experience. Chances are Mourinho will dip into the market again for a moderately priced (£10 - £15m) central defender.


Before last September, Arsenal had never paid more than £16m for a player. Now they've broken the £30m mark twice in the space of a year. Alexis Sanchez becoming the second superstar arrival at the Emirates in the past twelve months.

Mathieu Debuchy has arrived from Newcastle as a direct replacement for Bacary Sagna who's decided to follow the lead of countless other Arsenal and take Man City's dollar. Priority for them now is a new striker. Giroud is not as bad as many make him out to be but he's not the attacking spearhead that Arsenal need.

If the money is there, Wenger should go ahead and spend it on a top quality striker. Mario Balotelli is one of the names being banded about but I can't see Wenger taking that risk. Mourinho wouldn't sell Lukaku to him for anything close to a reasonable price. Benzema won't want to leave Madrid. Cavani would cost £50+, Falcao something similar. I don't think Wenger would part with that sort of money for anyone, particularly after shelling out almost £100m in the past twelve months.

If Arsenal can add a striker who'll contribute 30 goals in all competitions to this attacking midfield oozing creativity, they will be a serious force to be reckoned with next season. The amount of flair they have is ridiculous but it's not going to be half as effective without a focal point.

Another centre half is next on the agenda. Both Koscielny and Mertesacker had fine seasons last year but they're thin on the ground when it comes to cover for them, particularly if Vermaelen leaves.

Douglas Costa is a perfect example of exactly what Arsenal don't need. In midfield, competition for Flamini in the defensive midfield role would be desirable. Sami Khedira has been strongly linked for a while now. They need someone to sit in front of the back four who'll let Aaron Ramsey bomb forward at will. Their weakness in this position was exposed horrifically at Anfield and Stamford Bridge last season.


They have to replace Lukaku if he isn't coming back. The monstrous Belgian scored double what any other Everton player got last season. To be fair, the spread of goals in the team was quite good with most players getting at least one or two throughout the year, but if Everton have serious Champions League ambitions this year, and they will, then they will need a 20-per-season striker.

They were pretty solid last season and there's not one single area they need to improve. Holding onto Ross Barkley would be a great piece of business. The defence is sound and the midfield of Barry and McCarthy was one of the better pairings last season. If the money is available of course, they could always do with better players and more strength in depth, who couldn't?

They have to look at replenishing the defence. Jagielka and Distin aren't getting any younger. Further up the pitch, a few extra attacking options wouldn't go amiss. Steven Naismith was a good 'utility' attacking player last season, particularly towards the end, filling in at several different positions. Everton's resources are bound to be stretched this year with the added demands of European football so some extra bodies will definitely be required.

Now, Wednesday evening, it does in fact look like Lukaku will be arriving at the club for good. One problem solved but the need for added firepower still remains.


Spurs need a lot. They were really dreadful at times last year.

Michel Vorm is a strange one. They have a top class keeper in Lloris and a reliable understudy in Friedel so I can't say I fully understand that one. Pochetiino will be disappointed that the majority of his Southampton old-boys seem to be favouring Anfield and Champions League football over White Hart Lane and the slog of the Europa League.

Last summer, Roberto Soldado and Erik Lamela cost Spurs over £50m between them without contributing anything significant to the cause at all throughout the year. I suspect Lamela might have a more prominent role to play this year under Pochettino than he did last season under Tim Sherwood.

Spurs need to strengthen just about everywhere if they are to mount a challenge for the top four this year. Their defence was horribly exposed by the top sides last season. Liverpool put 9 past them over the two games, City topped that with 11.  Chelsea too managed to stick 4 past them at Stamford Bridge. I'm surprised Pochettino didn't push harder to sign Lovren to be honest. That defence needs some serious leadership and organisation.

I would also say they need two new central midfielders. Paulinho can't play there. Not for Brazil and not for Spurs. Sandro and Capoue are decent squad players. Neither of them managed over 20 games last season and probably can't be counted on as first choice players. Nabir Bentaleb was one of the players who impressed during the brief Sherwood reign. It remains to see if Pochettino will favour him.

Finally they need to bolster the forward line. Roberto Soldado has been a flop and the enigma that is Emmanuel Adebayor is not the type of player you want to be resting your hopes on. Romelu Lukaku would have been a much more 'stable' option. As would Wilfried Bony or Loic Remy if he is capable of passing a medical. Alternatively if they want to look abroad (slightly more risky given Soldado's failure to adapt), Klass Jan-Huntelaar. Memphis Depay or another versatile attacker would be a good signing for them.

Man United

Two players in by the end of July, last year they had zero in at the end of August and only the flop that was Marouane Fellaini arrived that summer. Of course United have already addressed their biggest shortcoming last season and hired a manager who's up to the job of managing the biggest club in the world.

Now for the rebuilding of the squad...

United definitely need to be busier in the next month than any of the other six teams on this list. The old defence is basically gone. Vidic, Ferdinand and Evra have all moved to pastures new this summer, leaving behind an absolute chasm in a defence that was fragile enough as it was last season. Tomas Vermaelen has been a long rumoured arrival. Matts Hummels would be perfect but that looks unlikely. Long term target Ezekiel Garay has just signed for Benfica. United can't afford to leave this until the last minute and end up panic buying. They need two new centre halves before the season starts.

Smalling, Evans and Jones are the only three centre halves in the first team right now. None have established themselves as top drawer so far.

The midfield problem is beginning to be addressed. Twelve months later Herrera has arrived. They will still need a ball-winner though. Fellaini isn't good enough at that and Fletcher can't be counted upon either for consistency, or to play a full season of games. Vidal is close to the perfect central midfielder but has ruled out the possibility of a move so far. A holding midfielder would be ideal as Herrera does like to venture forward. Ironic that exactly the type of player they need right now is one they let slip on a free to Juventus a couple of years ago.

Up front I think United will be ok. It depends on who van Gaal wants to keep. The likes of Nani, Young and Zaha have never really delivered for United and now must be sweating on their futures. Young may have to find a new home at wing-back if he wants a future at the club. If two or all of these are sold, van Gaal will surely look for a replacement attacker, probably someone Dutch although the Di Maria rumours will refuse to go away until he's signed for someone else.

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