The English Premier League heads into another summer with Manchester City as its reigning champion, and, despite challenges to the hierarchy, a table that for the fourth time in the last six seasons has, in some order, the richest clubs in the league (according to the Deloitte Money League) as its top six.
The hierarchy will be challenged next season, though, with a number of clubs threatening to break into (or break back into) the top tier, notably a Newcastle side that’s entering its first offseason backed by its new Saudi billions. And beyond that, with a World Cup that’s smack in the middle of the season potentially yielding a snowball effect—both physically and psychologically—on dozens of the Premier League’s finest players, there stand to be a few more variables for managers to take into account. It’s one thing to have teams competing on four fronts—league, domestic cups, European cup—over the course of the season, but the monthlong strain on players in Qatar will be another hurdle for clubs and one that will shine a light on squad depth throughout the league—and perhaps offer somewhat of an advantage for those not fortunate enough to be blessed by a reliance on world-class talent.
As it relates to the Big Six, though, there are significant questions facing each club, ones that will determine where in the pecking order they’ll fall at this time next year—and if they’ll even remain in that top tier at all.
How will Haaland be integrated?
Manchester City faces the least uncertainty of all of the top six. It has already sorted its chief summer business, that being adding a reliable striker. It went above and beyond that, adding arguably the most prolific young center forward in the world in Erling Haaland, and save for some other contract issues regarding key, albeit replaceable players, it’ll enter next season as the favorite to win the title again. But to achieve that three-peat (and a fifth title in six years), it’ll need to work Haaland into Pep Guardiola’s intricate system, and it’s not always an instant success for new, high-profile signings.
Riyad Mahrez needed a season before fully adjusting to the club. Jack Grealish, last summer’s £100 million signing, didn’t bring the immediate production to match that price tag (even if he celebrated the title harder than anyone else in Monday’s parade and rally). The expectation will be that Haaland will do what he’s always done and score just about every time he takes to the field, but the 21-year-old will need time to integrate and pick up on the nuances that allow City to be so dominant. That he won’t be going to the World Cup after Norway’s failure to qualify at least removes the possibility of some extra miles on his tires after a season in which he dealt with multiple muscle injuries.
Salah ... oh Mané, Mané
Liverpool’s two vital attacking stars both have one more year to run on their contracts, and both have been continuously linked with moves away from the club as progress on new deals stays stagnant. Bayern Munich, in particular, reportedly has its sights on Sadio Mané should it cave and sell Robert Lewandowski in accordance with the striker’s wishes (he, too, has one more year to run on his deal, and the club has maintained publicly that it won’t sell). Mohamed Salah and Mané have also been linked to Real Madrid now that its pursuit of Kylian Mbappé has fallen flat. (Surely, the timing of those thinks also has nothing to do with Real Madrid and Liverpool meeting in the Champions League final this Saturday, right?)
Liverpool has some superb next men up in Luis Díaz and Diogo Jota, but parting ways with either star would put a serious dent in the club’s depth, which has been so crucial in its quest to compete for four trophies this season. Liverpool has already won the League Cup and FA Cup and could add another Champions League title to its trophy case. After that? Ensuring that another such quest is possible next season by addressing the needs of its top two attacking talents.
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The impact of Chelsea’s new ownership
The group led by Todd Boehly is reportedly set to have its Chelsea takeover rubber stamped as soon as this week. That should, in theory, allow the club to conduct proper business again and look forward without the specter of the unknown hanging over Stamford Bridge like a storm cloud. This was a trying season off the field, and there were times when it appeared as if the Roman Abramovich saga presented a distraction on it, despite everything manager Thomas Tuchel and his players said publicly.
With Tuchel saying he’s committed to staying on, that’s one big piece of the puzzle sorted. But the giant Romelu Lukaku question lingers after a disappointing first season back in London for the Belgian star, while a host of veterans are set to depart, including Antonio Rüdiger, Cesar Azpilicueta, Andreas Christensen and Marcos Alonso. Other attackers who have had their moments but haven’t offered the kind of consistency the club would probably like to see—U.S. star Christian Pulisic, Hakim Ziyech, Timo Werner—also could find themselves in the transfer crosshairs.
Amid everything, Chelsea still managed to finish third, and never really had to sweat out its place in next season’s Champions League. And once its ownership turnover is sorted, it can fully focus on the on-field performance aspect of being a football club.
What will Tottenham do with its cash influx?
After clinching its Champions League berth, Tottenham revealed Tuesday that it is being given a cash injection of up to £150 million ($188 million) by its majority shareholder, which gives the club “greater financial flexibility and the ability to further invest on and off the pitch.”
That, plus the revenue generated by reaching the Champions League group stage, should help ease any fears Antonio Conte may have about squad investment as the manager considers his future, while also providing encouragement for Harry Kane a year after the striker attempted to orchestrate a move away from the club. That cash influx alone might not put the club on par with Man City or Liverpool in order to be able to compete at the top for the duration of the season, but it should go a long way in helping the club retain top-four status as the likes of Manchester United and Arsenal charge hard to return to the upper echelon.
How costly will Arsenal’s top-four failure be?
It was all right there for the taking for Arsenal, but its Champions League drought goes on. Another season spent playing on Thursdays in the Europa League is in the offing for Mikel Arteta’s side, which showed so many glimpses of hope this season, but not enough to offset the disappointing results and catastrophic finish that ultimately characterized its 2021–22 campaign. Will players who would have joined Arsenal had it reached the Champions League be reconsidering their options now (Gabriel Jesus, destined to leave Man City, had appeared to be on his way)? And will the ceding of that fourth place to bitter rival Tottenham result in a chasm that will prove all the more difficult to make up next season?
Arsenal has shown that its young core boasts some resiliency and can compete with some of England's finest, but the club missing out on that top-four revenue and reputation boost when both were there to be had could prove extremely detrimental.
How quickly can ten Hag change the trajectory?
Man United finished out of the top four and 35 points off the pace set by its blue neighbor. It was only 12 behind City last season, which suggests a significant step back taken by a club whose planning has been suspect to say the least. It’s the furthest United has been off the top of the table since its last title (but third time it’s been over 30 points away from the summit), and patience is quite thin at and around Old Trafford, with the BBC even having its news ticker (“accidentally”) claiming “Manchester United are rubbish.”
Enter Erik ten Hag, the impressive former Ajax manager who has become the latest tasked with restoring glory for the Red Devils. He has claimed that Cristiano Ronaldo is part of his plans and that he looks forward to working with Donny van de Beek again after the Dutch midfielder’s loan to Everton concluded, while also having a slew of other roster questions to sort out regarding a team that often looked too imbalanced, dispirited, disinterested or some combination of the three as its top-four hopes slipped away.
There are degrees of success between “rubbish” and “title winner,” and it’s ten Hag’s task to make the necessary adjustments and set the tone from the start in order to start climbing that ladder rung by rung.
More Soccer Coverage:
- Wilson: Haaland, Man City Make for a Frightening Combination
- Wilson: Intense Drama Defines Premier League’s Final Day
- Wilson: The Fallout of Tottenham, Arsenal’s Race for Fourth
- Marsch’s Leeds Survives, Avoids Relegation From Premier League
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