The Premier League season is drawing ever closer with pre-season well under way for most teams, but it already looks like two, if not three, of the Champions League spaces could be awarded now. Let’s delve into what backs that claim up and also determine what side is favourite to capture the last spot.
At the front of the betting are Manchester City, who Pep Guardiola seems to improve every year. They’ve won two titles on the spin and with additions like the £62m Rodri arriving to support their one weakness – competition for Fernandinho – it would be a brave man the one who bets against them ahead of the new campaign.
Their closest challenger last time out was Liverpool, who finished second with a record-breaking runner up tally and just the one defeat, but for many it felt like last year was the time for Liverpool to break their near 30 year wait for a league triumph. Unfortunately, for the Reds it looks like second place again for them, but you can guarantee they’ll be a joy to watch again, especially since they seem to be keeping all their gems.
The third team who appear in a strong position to nab one of the Champions League spots is Tottenham, although they often make the matter rather trickier than it should be. Mauricio Pochettino’s men will get their campaign started with their new state of the art ground, which will host a NFL matchup double header in October, as home.
It was supposed to be last season but didn’t come until later and that will help Spurs this year as the anticipation has gone and the new season will begin with familiarity for the squad. On the pitch, Harry Kane will – providing he remains fit – score a vast number of goals and new signing Tanguy NDombele, who joined from Lyon in a club record deal, will immediately improve an already decent 11.
Whilst those three teams are seemingly making steady progress the same cannot be said for the chasing pack who, based on history, have to be shooting for the top four.
The first up is Chelsea, who have recently appointed Frank Lampard as head coach. The Blues had a good season last year with a third-place finish and Europa League success but the style of football under Maurizio Sarri – now with Juventus – was drawn into question and legendary Frankie has another situation to address too. The loss of Eden Hazard and a transfer embargo meaning a replacement has to be found in house.
Lampard is widely expected to call on the youngsters with the likes of England duo Ruben Loftus-Cheek and Callum Hudson-Odoi tipped for big campaigns whilst players such as Mason Mount and Tammy Abraham, who both shone in the Championship last year, will hope to play a big part. Lampard could well build something at Chelsea but it’s going to be a tough 12 months of transition and he’ll need time. Pulisic, signed in January and Kovacic, whose loan deal from Real Madrid was made permanent are the only signings they were allowed to do.
Another in need of time is Ole Gunnar Solskjaer, who’s in the early stages of overhauling Manchester United. The Reds were shoddy to say the least last season and Solskjaer’s new manager bounce shouldn’t paper over any cracks. Jose Mourinho couldn’t get a consistent tune out of, well, hardly anyone and given the circus surrounding Paul Pogba over the summer it looks like he might be a cause of unrest rather than the victim.
Solskjaer is turning his back on spending big sums on proven talent, instead looking at younger players, which is a throwback to the old United ethos albeit still involving hefty sums of money. Like with Lampard at Chelsea, it could prove beneficial in the long run but the fans and board need to realise you don’t transform a situation like the one at Old Trafford over night – or a transfer window.
They have already signed young Daniel James from Swansea and also Wan-Bissaka, a sensational fullback from Crystal Palace, but they need quickly to move for a centerback and the options available are getting limited.
That brings us to Arsenal, who find themselves in with a good shout of sneaking fourth. Unai Emery has had a year with his team now and will hope to land a couple more of his own players over the next month. The free transfer of Aaron Ramsey is a blow, particularly to the fans, and they’ll need to get off to a good start to avoid any bad feeling creeping in.
The firepower of Pierre-Emerick Aubameyang and Alexandre Lacazette will be enough to win games, however, there will be times when the Gunners have to bolt the back door and that problem still needs to be solved. So far, they have only signed a quite unknown Brazilian talent: Gabriel Martinelli, but it seems they will move for Saliba, a young centerback from Saint Etienne who could help to finally improve that backline. Can Emery land a target to address the issue? It could prove vital.
So, there you go, with Man City, Liverpool and Spurs nailed on for a top four finish, but who joins them? Surely one of the other big boys or will there be any surprises? Will Wolves consolidate their outstanding climbing and sneak into the last 4thplace? Or will Leicester be able to come back in front, after Brendan Rodgers secured Tielemans and Ayoze Perez?
Maybe the rebuilding process at Arsenal, Chelsea and United will be the perfect opportunity for someone to leapfrog the lot of them for a European tour in 20/21…