As the longest and strangest Premier League season is at last put to bed, the big clubs are already dreaming of what the next one might hold. There will be a few nightmares, too, if games continue to be played in empty stadiums amid a surge of new coronavirus cases.
The new campaign is set to start on Sept. 12. In other words, the break is only six weeks and even shorter for clubs still engaged in European club competitions. Chelsea‘s interest in the Champions League is likely to end on Friday when they meet Bayern Munich trailing 3-0 from the first leg of their round-of-16 tie, but the two Manchester clubs and Wolves may be involved until late August.
Amid all this, the transfer window is open until early October. Nobody can be sure how cash flow problems caused by the pandemic might impact the market, but it looks like a bad time for all but the richest clubs to break the bank.
Chelsea have been quickest off the mark with early deals for Hakim Ziyech, a noted creator at Ajax coming in off the right wing, and Timo Werner, the speedy and prolific RB Leipzig striker. Kai Havertz, Bayer Leverkusen‘s highly regarded attacking midfielder, also looks set to sign at Stamford Bridge.
That gives manager Frank Lampard an embarrassment of riches in attacking areas, with the new men competing alongside Christian Pulisic, Callum Hudson-Odoi, Olivier Giroud, Tammy Abraham and Mason Mount. Michy Batshuayi is still at the club, though surely available for transfer. Pedro is Roma-bound and there is uncertainty over Willian, who is out of contract and seems disinclined to sign a new one.
Yet Chelsea’s problems are in defence. They conceded 54 goals in the league, as many as 15th-placed Brighton, which is why the pursuit of Declan Rice is so important. The England international is usually deployed as a holding midfielder by West Ham, but is also regarded as their best centre-back and that is where Chelsea may use him. He will not come cheap, though; expect West Ham to play hardball. Lampard also wants England left back Ben Chilwell of Leicester
And Chelsea are in the market for a new goalkeeper. Lampard has been unimpressed with both the form and attitude of Kepa Arrizabalaga, so his omission for the FA Cup final was no surprise. Burnley‘s Nick Pope, who has been superb this season, would be a good idea at an affordable price.
Manchester City have already moved in to sign 20-year-old Valencia winger Ferran Torres as replacement for Bayern Munich-bound Leroy Sane. City have had a £41 million bid accepted by relegated Bournemouth for Nathan Ake, which would strengthen a sometimes shaky defence.
It is clear Pep Guardiola has lost faith in John Stones and Nicolas Otamendi, while Eric Garcia, 19, is reportedly keen to return to Barcelona. So expect City to make another big defensive signing, with Napoli‘s Kalidou Koulibaly and David Alaba of Bayern players who could do for them what Virgil van Dijk has done for Liverpool. Whether they can be signed, however, is quite another matter.
It will be fascinating to see if Guardiola seeks a replacement for David Silva — “Merlin,” as he is known at the club — after 10 wonderful years at the Etihad Stadium. If a move is made, it will be seen as a kick in the teeth for the gifted Phil Foden, who has served a long apprenticeship. Guardiola has repeatedly talked of the 20-year-old in glowing terms; will he trust him to be Silva’s replacement?
Champions Liverpool won the title by 18 points and seem in no hurry to add to a line-up that has no apparent weaknesses. The usual starting XI is supplemented by able deputies like James Milner, Alex Oxlade-Chamberlain, Naby Keita, Joel Matip, Divock Origi, Takumi Minamino, Curtis Jones and Neco Williams, so do not expect a lot of activity, even though Adam Lallana has left for Brighton and Dejan Lovren has joined Zenit Saint Petersburg.
It would be a surprise if Jurgen Klopp did not want to bring in a couple of players, if only to freshen things up and keep his regulars on their toes. A personal view is that Liverpool will be extremely hard to knock off their perch, with a manager who will not allow any complacency and who would take great delight in thwarting Guardiola again.
Without ever dazzling, Spurs climbed from 14th to sixth under Jose Mourinho, but they look to be in need of significant surgery and better recruitment than the expensive midfield misfit Tanguy Ndombele, who struggled after arriving last summer. A top-class midfield creator to supplement Giovani Lo Celso‘s talent is essential.
At the back, Toby Alderweireld stays but is probably past his best. Jan Vertonghen is leaving and needs replacing because Davinson Sanchez is not a long-term answer if Tottenham want to become a top-four team again. The same applies to Eric Dier, while right-back is another problem area.
Then there is the Harry Kane issue. Mourinho smothered him in adoration in the hope his star striker would not get itchy feet, but Kane will want reassurance that Spurs will invest to become trophy candidates. As much as he loves the club, Kane’s head could be turned if the right offer came from one of the European elite, thought the pandemic has probably reduced that chance.
In the meantime, Spurs have started with a £25m offer for Southampton‘s deposed captain Pierre-Emile Hojbjerg, a onetime Guardiola protégé at Bayern Munich, and that signing looks likely despite Everton interest. Interest in Watford ‘s Troy Deeney can only be as cover for Kane.
Manchester United seem well placed to sign the brilliant England international Jadon Sancho from Borussia Dortmund — the deal is reportedly close at £108m (if you include add-ons). Signing Sancho would have as big an impact at Old Trafford as the January acquisition of Bruno Fernandes, who has made United a team worth watching with a flurry of goals and assists. Sancho is a rare talent, gliding into dangerous positions to score and set up goals from all angles. How manager Ole Gunnar Solskjaer fits him into his team alongside Fernandes, Marcus Rashford, Anthony Martial and the emerging Mason Greenwood is a nice problem to have.
But getting the blend right between silk and steel may not be easy. Moreover, what happens to the likes of Dan James and Jesse Lingard? There might be a United clear-out this summer; it is hard to believe the club would not listen to decent offers for those two as well as for Fred, Juan Mata, Phil Jones, Eric Bailly and Diogo Dalot.
There are those who believe United need to strengthen in defence, but significant improvements have been made in that area after £130m was spent on Harry Maguire and Aaron Wan-Bissaka last summer. In goal, whether a vulnerable David De Gea can fend off the challenge of Dean Henderson, who so impressed for Sheffield United, will be an interesting sub plot.
Certainly, the enticement of Champions League football strengthens Solskjaer’s hand in the market place, as does the club’s relatively healthy financial position.
As for Arsenal, who atoned for an awful season that saw them finish eighth in the league by winning the FA Cup, everything depends on getting compulsive goal scorer Pierre-Emerick Aubameyang to sign a new contract. The existing one runs out next summer, so the Gunners risk losing him for nothing if there is no new deal in place. A continued deadlock would surely force them to sell in the next few weeks, and there would be a queue halfway around Europe for his services.
Mikel Arteta has instilled a tougher mentality at Arsenal and is “confident” Aubameyang will stay, though the player himself was plainly unwilling to even discuss the situation after his two-goal match-winning display against Chelsea at Wembley.
It is impossible that Arsenal could get another scorer of the Gabonese international’s quality, so they should pay Aubameyang whatever it takes to stay. He is 31 and could make millions from one last big move. He is entitled to top dollar.
Beyond that crucial issue, Arsenal will have William Saliba, the 19-year-old Saint-Etienne defender who was signed a year ago and then loaned back to the French club. There is talk of Willian moving across London from Chelsea, and another target in defensive midfield is Thomas Partey of Atletico Madrid, though the clubs are way apart in their valuation of a gritty and experienced performer.
What happens to outcasts Matteo Guendouzi and Mesut Ozil is anyone’s guess. Clearly, both are up for sale but who can afford Ozil’s £350,000-a-week wages?
Arteta is good news for Arsenal, but how far he can take them may depend on how deep are the pockets of Stan Kroenke, about whom Gunners fans are deeply cynical. It might be that a worst league finish for 25 years will spark the American owner into action, but many will believe it when they see it.