THE BIG FIVE ARE IN FOR A HOT SUMMER
By Arjun Sridhar
So the Barclays Premier League season 2015/16 has come to an end, with Leicester City being crowned champions. Yes, LEICESTER CITY. The club who just about managed to hang on to their premier league status the season before. And they didn’t just cross over the line, they won the title in a pretty comprehensive manner, leaving the likes of Chelsea, Arsenal, United and Man City far behind. Spurs were the only other ‘big’ club to have had a decent season and could have been classified as genuine title contenders. Arsenal fans may argue that they finished higher than Tottenham AGAIN, which makes their season more successful than their fierce North London rivals. But for a club the size and stature of Arsenal, a season with no silverware isn’t a good one. Yes, they came second (their highest position in the league in 11 years!), but they still ended up being 9 points behind Leicester City, which simply isn’t good enough. We can analyse all we want about how and why the ‘big’ clubs failed to make a sustained impression this season, but credit where it’s due, Leicester City thoroughly deserved to be crowned champions. Was this season a one-off or will something similar to this happen again? Nobody truly knows the answer, and that’s what makes the Premier League what it is- The most ENTERTAINING league in the world, not necessarily the BEST, but definitely the most intense and unpredictable one.
Let’s now look at where and how the traditional juggernauts of English football improve and strengthen themselves, ‘cause I bet even though they were very open in their appreciation towards Leicester City, they will do whatever it takes to make sure that a season like this doesn’t repeat itself. The fact that none of the ‘Elite’ clubs were in contention to lift the Premier League trophy will irk them. A LOT.
Let’s start off by looking at the club who finished 10th, the defending champions (former):
CHELSEA: Now, Chelsea have had a REALLY topsy-turvy season. They started off with a lot of enthusiasm and vigour, Mourinho looking to defend ‘his’ title in what should have been a flawless season, but it was a season to forget. Only after Guus Hiddink was appointed interim manager we could see glimpses of the old Chelsea, and the future looks bright with the appointment of Antonio Conte, which is bound to lift the gloomy atmosphere at Stamford Bridge.
When you look at the squad that they’ve got, one expects them to be competing at the very top level. This is the same team that ran away with the title the previous season. But then again Leicester City won the League with pretty much the same team that flirted with relegation last season, so……
Let’s look at who Chelsea can bring-in and where they can improve in the summer transfer window.
POSITIONS TO STRENGHTEN: Conte will definitely be looking to beef-up his midfield. Pedro looked completely out of sorts in his debut season, Eden Hazard was lacklustre too (though he greatly improved towards the very end of the season). Willian was the one major bright spot in a hugely disappointing campaign. But these are players of very high quality and calibre, the area in midfield that really needs improving is probably the holding midfield spot. Yes, they do have Matic and Fabregas, but the loss of Ramires has had an effect.
The other glaring weakness is in the defence. Ivanovic was torn apart by quick wingers all season long, Zouma suffered an unfortunate injury, and with John Terry seemingly coming to an end of his Chelsea career, that defence really needs some serious reinforcements. Here are some players Chelsea can look at:
Thiago Silva (PSG): Now, what a signing this would be, not just for Chelsea but for the Premier League as well. Thiago Silva is a real leader, he’s shown that with PSG and Brasil, and he is not too shabby a defender as well. He would be the ideal replacement for Terry.
Paul Pogba (Juventus): This is a guy who absolutely ran the show in Serie A this season. There were a few doubters at the start of the season as to whether Juve, in particular Pogba, would be able to cope with the departures of Carlos Tevez, Andrea Pirlo and Arturo Vidal, well, he answered them in some style! He is someone who has the desire to be the best and his best years are yet to come. If Chelsea pull this transfer deal off, then he can take them to another level.
Gonzalo Higuain (Napoli): Now, you may be thinking “What is this guy on about? Another striker? Don’t they already have Diego Costa? “, but just hear me out okay? Yeah, I totally agree that Costa is a fantastic player and is their main man right now, but he is almost their only big goal scoring threat. A quality striker like Higuain doesn’t just guarantee goals, but he’ll also make sure that Costa is kept on his toes. Competition for places is very important and Diego Costa doesn’t really have that at Chelsea.
Chelsea also have some great young players coming through who can provide them with that much needed spark. Looking forward to see how they go about in the transfer window.
Now moving on to the next ‘big’ club:
LIVERPOOL: The only reason that Liverpool are in this list is because they are a huge club, not because they have a very good chance of Premier League glory next season. I still think that they need a couple of seasons to overhaul the current squad and then come back really strong competing on all fronts. Liverpool had a very average season again. Within a few weeks Brendon Rodgers was sacked, but the appointment of Jurgen Klopp was a stroke of genius. He is one of the few managers in the world who can bring Liverpool back to the very top level again. He’s got the determination and the connection with the fans to do the job. He understands the club. They still have the chance to end the season on a high with a European trophy and earn themselves a place in next season’s Champions League.
POSITIONS TO STRENGHTEN: Liverpool are a club that need a massive change. Most of their players are either too old or are injured too often. Like many of the top clubs in England, they do have a terrific group of youngsters, but that isn’t enough. You look at players like Simon Mignolet and Allen, they don’t strike you as Liverpool players. They’re just not good enough to represent a club like Liverpool. Players like Coutinho, Firmino and Sturridge provide flair and quality on the ball, but they need top quality players who are willing to run and win the ball back, and then initiate the next attack. They need to find the next Steven Gerrard. They need to find a leader. If you look at the squad that they’ve got and see where they’ve ended up in the league (8th), it doesn’t surprise you right? It’s a team good enough to challenge the top sides in matches against them, but they lack consistency. Severely. And that needs to change ASAP.
ARSENAL: How many times in the past has this happened? They play some really attractive football, are on top of the league table for a few weeks, and when it’s crunch time, they buckle and just fade away. Granted, they did finish this season strongly, but they didn’t finish the season as champions, which is what they set out to achieve. This season was probably Arsenal’s best chance at the Premier League in recent times as most of the top clubs had faltered, but next season onwards every other major club will be looking to strengthen up and have a real go at the title, also, they have better resources than Arsenal. Majority of the Arsenal supporters were just glad and celebrated to having finished above Spurs and come second in the league. That shouldn’t be something to celebrate over! Arsenal should be competing for the title! They shouldn’t be content with just finishing above their rivals.
POSITIONS TO STRENGHTEN: I don’t think that Arsenal need to spend a fortune in the transfer window, just a few areas to improve the squad. For me, the main problem with Arsenal lies in the Club’s and the player’s attitudes. They need to become tougher mentally. They need another Viera or a Campbell type of character, who can rally the team along during tough situations. That’s not to say that their team is perfect in terms of quality at the moment. Here are a few players that Arsene Wenger may be looking to bring in:
Granit Xhaka (Borussia Mönchengladbach): Xhaka is a Swiss international who is currently contracted to Borussia Mönchengladbach in Germany. He’s a nifty little player, reliable on the ball, and can pick a pass as well. He’s got a very bright future, so if Arsenal are serious about him then they better hurry, because there are other clubs circling around for his signature.
Zlatan Ibrahimovic (Free Agent): Everyone knows that Arsenal need a top quality striker and who better that Zlatan. With him in the side, all of a sudden Arsenal look formidable. The best part is that he is a free agent. The only thing that could prove to be an obstacle are his wages. Arsenal will have to fight off stiff competition from fellow Premier League Giants Man United and also clubs from the MLS.
Whoever Wenger decides to go for, it needs to be someone who can intimidate the opponents just by being named on the team sheet. They need a proven goal scorer who can shoot them towards the title, who knows next season may be his final shot at the Premier League…….
MANCHESTER CITY: Man City will be looking for a fresh start next season. With Pep Guardiola arriving, it should be an exciting season and an exciting transfer window. Who will he acquire, or more importantly, who will he axe from the squad?! He already got rid of Yaya Toure once before in his career, when he was at the helm at Barca. Will the two part ways again? Will he want to have a constantly injured Kompany around? Will he give the youngsters like Kelechi Iheanacho a chance to show their worth? Many questions will be answered this summer. Pep will definitely want to stack up his defence though and will have to fight off competition from Chelsea who also need to strengthen that area of the pitch.
POSITIONS TO STRENGHTEN: Or rather POSITION to strengthen. Once they get their defence sorted, City will again begin to look like a powerhouse side capable of blowing teams away. Scoring goals has never been the problem for Manchester City, it’s the other end of the pitch they need to worry about. Let’s have a look at possible transfer targets:
Thiago Silva (PSG): If Chelsea can afford him then Manchester City surely can. Money isn’t an issue for the club and they also have the added appeal of being managed by arguably the best manager in the world. Again, Thiago Silva brings more than just quality to the game, he has a strong character and that is needed to succeed at a club like City. For example: Mangala is a terrific young defender, but sometimes he looks like he’s all over the place, someone like Thiago Silva would be a perfect partner alongside him. Or imagine him and Vincent Kompany as the central defence, certainly a very intimidating prospect for opposition strikers isn’t it!?!
Diego Godin (Atletico Madrid): Godin has already played against some of the best forwards in the world in La Liga (don’t really need to name the attackers do I?) and has been rock solid in defence. He is one of the main reasons for Atletico’s immense success, both in Spain as well as in the rest of Europe. Handling the physical aspect of the Premier League should not be a huge issue, as his game is VERY ‘physical’. But getting Atletico to sell him will be really difficult.
Marquinhos (PSG): Another PSG player on the list. Marquinhos is a very athletic and talented young defender. He can be the player that everyone expected Mangala to be. There are doubts over his future at the Parc des Princes, and if he is available on the market, City should make a move, as there won’t be a shortage of suitors for his signature.
But whatever happens in the transfer window, the next few years will be the most exciting in Manchester City’s history.
Now on to the last club that we’ll be looking at:
MANCHESTER UNITED: United were expected to challenge for the title this season, but fell miserably short. This season has been one to forget (been saying that for the past 3 seasons though). The fans are really starting to show their anger and frustration towards Louis Van Gaal and his style of play, and rightly so. The football witnessed at Old Trafford has been awful. Football should be exciting to watch at this club. Where is ‘The United Way’ of playing football? Watching Real Madrid’s football is like watching aircrafts in formation, watching Bayern Munich is like enjoying an orchestra, and United? Well it’s like being in a library. Something has to change. Even if they do finish the season with the F.A. Cup trophy, it doesn’t make it a successful season. No champions league football again next season, it’s what United deserve, and on the basis of the performance that has been displayed this season, you can’t argue with that. There is still unrest within the club as well.
United have good players, maybe not good enough to win the Champions League, but definitely good enough to compete for the league title. That main problem with United is that Van Gaal isn’t ready to ditch his so called ‘philosophy’ and adapt. He is a great manager, and he’s proven that over the years already, but to manage the biggest club in the world and be content with an F.A. Cup winner’s medal isn’t good enough. Just like Arsenal, a change in mentality is a bigger priority than change in personnel. But this squad still needs to improve if they are to compete with Britain’s and Europe’s best. Let’s have a look at United’s potential summer buys:
Zlatan Ibrahimovic (Free Agent): EVERYONE has been talking about this story. ‘Ibra’ would make a wonderful addition to any squad in the world. He can prove to be the next Cantona for United, and God knows how badly United have needed a character like him over the past few years. He would also bring a wealth of experience to the youngsters at United. The inspiration and knowledge that they can gain from him will prove to be invaluable. Money isn’t an issue for United, they can easily out muscle any club in the world for his signature.
Paul Pogba (Juventus): A former United player who makes EVERY United supporter pull his/her hair in frustration as to why United let him go. He has developed into one of the best midfielders in the world and from here on he can only improve. If United do manage to get their hands on him, he could finally fill in the void left by Paul Scholes. A big negative this season has been the amount of sideways and backwards passing, Pogba can provide the necessary creativity and incision required.
Samir Handanovic (Inter): With growing speculation that David De Gea might swap Old Trafford for the Santiago Bernabeu, United will want to start looking for possible replacements. The Inter shot-stopper is a top quality keeper and could well be the next No. 1 for United.
Romelu Lukaku (Everton): Lukaku has publicly stated his love for United, and he may want to make the change to United Red from Everton Blue this summer. United cannot just rely on one striker to do the job, the biggest problem this season has been scoring goals, and Lukaku will provide that. He knows the Premier League well, and would be the ideal No. 9 for United.
United need to go big AGAIN this summer, the quality just isn’t there, even after spending a quarter of a billion Pounds. There is also a dire need for a change in the temperament. If Van Gaal is not sacked, many United fans will be disappointed, but all he really needs to do to better the situation is adapt and alter his mind-set.
So the transfer merry go round is all set to begin again, players, managers, coaches, everyone will be alert. Even though the summer will be dominated by the European Championships in France, the transfer window will not be a dull one; with other clubs rising to challenge the traditional giants and disrupt the status-quo; the bigger clubs fighting back to make sure that the 2015/16 season is a one-off. Fasten your seat-belts guys, It’s gonna be a hell of a summer this time round!
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