Premier League teams are now back in pre-season and playing their warm-up matches ahead of the new campaign, but there’s work to do off the pitch as well.
Recruitment over the summer can often play a key role in how successful teams are 10 months later, even if plenty of the deals done are with the long-term progress of the club in mind.
So far it has been a reasonably quiet off-season in terms of transfers, with a few notable exceptions, but it can be taken as gospel that all the top clubs are working hard behind the scenes to arrange potential deals in the coming weeks – both in and out of their squads.
Manchester United, Liverpool and Chelsea are playing catch-up to the champions, Man City, but other clubs around them will be doing their best to close the gap and stay competitive too.
Here we identify the biggest transfer need at present for each of last season’s top six sides.
Replace Sergio Aguero, easy.
Easy to pick out, anyway – less straight-forward to actually do in a successful manner. Pep Guardiola has already alluded to as much, suggesting maybe no new striker will be signed on account of finances even after the club had previously said they would do, but it’s more than just money: teams don’t want to let go of the very best in the world, and that’s what City seek in a new No9.
The alternative options are to go for up-and-coming talents or, like Ferran Torres et al, opt for versatile all-round attackers until the perfect centre-forward makes themselves available.
Either that, or just blitz all records for all eternity by offering the full might of the Etihad chequebook and all its many zeros.
Assuming no last-minute hitches with the Jadon Sancho deal, United’s attack looks very secure.
In central midfield, however, there’s still an argument to add a real individual of quality to make a difference in the biggest of fixtures, a player who can control the flow of the game in both halves of the field – but primarily to be a defensive protector.
The Scott McTominay-Fred partnership worked nicely in most games last season, but if they had themselves one of the world’s finest defensive midfielders, they’d both allow the attackers to have more freedom with the platform secure behind them…and possibly get more out of Paul Pogba, too. Questions of selection aside, it’s the holding midfielder that Ole Gunnar Solskjaer has still not been able to get right and United would certainly benefit from making that move this year.
Ibrahima Konate made his Liverpool debut on Tuesday
Centre-back would perhaps have been top of the list, but three seniors recovering from injury and the early-summer signing of Ibrahima Konate changes all that. As a result, the Reds will look further upfield and adding another forward is the priority.
Diogo Jota quickly proved himself a fine addition last year when added to the regular trio of Mohamed Salah, Sadio Mane and Roberto Firmino, but the latter has been inconsistent for some time now and it’s asking a lot of the other two to remain as free-scoring as ever. They’ll also miss a small handful of games later in the year for the Africa Cup of Nations.
Jurgen Klopp has options within the squad; Alex Oxlade-Chamberlain has had the odd run-out in the forward line, Takumi Minamino is back from loan and there are high hopes for Harvey Elliott. But the youngster looks more of a Klopp-style No8 midfielder than a wide forward right now and there’s no certainty the other two can hit the heights of quality or consistency required, making a move into the market once more all the more likely – especially with a few fringe players now being sold.
There’s no shortage of funds and space for the reigning champions of Europe, with fringe players such as Olivier Giroud, Marc Guehi and Victor Moses all offloaded this summer – but most rumours have centred around a striker, particularly a free-scoring Bundesliga-based one. But they have a much more pressing and urgent requirement before giving Timo Werner and Co more competition: central midfield.
The Blues only had three seniors last term for Thomas Tuchel to use, plus Billy Gilmour attempting to break into the set-up, and he has now gone on loan to Norwich.
N’Golo Kante, Mateo Kovacic and Jorginho have already proven themselves a world-class trio, but a minimum of one more central player is required just to allow Tuchel to rotate, cover for any injuries and perhaps provide a little more creativity from deep in certain games.
Patson Daka has signed for Leicester
Some tremendous early work has seen the Foxes tick off cover at full-back, an extra midfield starting option and the long-term Jamie Vardy replacement. It would not be an absolute disaster if they didn’t sign anyone else at all, in truth, but given Brendan Rodgers’ penchant for playing a back three, an additional central defender would be sensible.
Wes Morgan is no longer around and they asked midfielders Wilf Ndidi and Daniel Amartey to fill in last year at different times, so bringing in an alternative to Caglar Soyuncu, Wes Fofana and Jonny Evans would give them a complete set at the back regardless of system.
Rumours continue to suggest they want Ozan Kabak, who showed his worth on loan at Liverpool last season, and he could end up being a cut-price addition to a very complete squad.
The Hammers might be more concerned with keeping hold of players rather than bringing in new ones, but a campaign with European football should aid that. To stay there, they’ll need more quality and more depth this year – and at centre-forward looks to be a key area to recruit in.
Last term they ended with Jesse Lingard playing just off Michail Antonio; the former’s loan is over and the latter, while unquestionably excellent when fit, hasn’t managed more than 26 Premier League appearances in either of the last two campaigns – that’s only 66% of league games he has been available for since the end of 2018/19.
In short, they need a reliable alternative, preferably someone who can play alongside or instead of the 31-year-old…which is also known as the Harry Kane conundrum, which should show just how difficult it might be to get that signing right.
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