English elite cast about in Chelsea’s wake
LONDON – Agence France-Presse
Reuters PhotoWhile Chelsea heads into the close season serene in the knowledge of its Premier League supremacy, the English summer holds weeks of recalibration for the teams seeking to topple the Londoners.
Can Manchester City, the usurped champion and runner-up this season, successfully rejuvenate a starting XI that has barely changed since the 2012 title triumph?
Will third-place Arsenal, newly streetwise in confrontations with its major rivals, finally shake off the fragility that has prevented the team from maintaining a sustained title challenge since 2004?
Is Manchester United, back in the Champions League after a season of uneven progress under Louis van Gaal and with millions to spend on new players, equipped to return to center-stage?
And can Liverpool, shorn of Steven Gerrard and chastened by a 6-1 drubbing at Stoke City on the final day, rediscover the winning formula that took the club to the brink of the title 12 months ago?
Chelsea moved quickly and decisively in last year’s transfer window, recruiting Cesc Fabregas and Diego Costa, and looked like champion in waiting from the moment it won 3-1 at Burnley on the season’s opening weekend.
Having seen his side finish the campaign eight points clear of City at the top of the pile, manager Jose Mourinho says his only priority during the close season will be making sure he keeps his squad together.
“The base last year was to sell some to buy some,” Mourinho said. “The base this season (2015-16) is to keep my squad.”
Didier Drogba has already confirmed his departure and Mourinho is likely to lose second-choice goalkeeper Petr Cech, but he will approach next season with his armory fully intact, if not enhanced by supplementary signings.
City, Arsenal, United and Liverpool will all be active in the transfer market and with the Premier League’s new $7.98 billion television rights deal kicking in next year, the expectation is that they will spend big.
City must seek to revitalize a squad that has become overly reliant on the goal-scoring brilliance of 26-goal Golden Boot-winner Sergio Aguero.
Yaya Toure’s future remains unresolved, but reports suggest City will keep faith with manager Manuel Pellegrini.
Goalkeeper and striker would appear to be priority positions for Arsenal, but as the arrivals of Mesut Özil and Alexis Sanchez demonstrated, it is difficult to second-guess manager Arsene Wenger’s transfer strategy.
United, meanwhile, find itself linked with an ever-lengthening list of superstar names, following reports the club will match or even exceed its 150 million pound splurge from last year.
Should goalkeeper David de Gea join Real Madrid, as widely predicted, a replacement will be sought, while Memphis Depay has already been brought in to add pace and vim to Van Gaal’s attack.
“We’re establishing a very good squad who I believe can go on and win silverware next year,” says United captain Wayne Rooney.
Liverpool’s transfer committee also seeks goal-scorers, after the club’s forwards could only muster a meagre haul of 52 goals in the first campaign of the post-Luis Suarez age.
As ever, the promoted teams - Watford, newcomer Bournemouth and either Middlesbrough or Norwich City - will face a struggle to evade the fate that befell Burnley and Queens Park Rangers, both of which went straight back down alongside Hull City.
With the TV deal floodgates poised to burst open, 2016 will not be the year to dabble with relegation.