With the curtain down on another season of Premier League football, theScore takes an early look at what each top-six club needs to do before the 2018-19 season commences.
State of affairs
There’s no danger of Pep Guardiola leaving before the expiration of his agreement in 2019, and there have been numerous reports that he will extend his stay with Manchester City. The quality of football in 2017-18 promised more silverware than the Premier League and League Cup, but Guardiola’s status as the club’s manager isn’t in any doubt.
Related: How Guardiola turned Manchester City into Premier League’s all-time best
There has already been a raft of improvements from individuals in the squad, but Guardiola will try to wring more out of them. He will be looking for some youth-team graduates to make a stronger case for first-team minutes – especially Phil Foden, Brahim Diaz, and Pablo Maffeo, the latter of whom returns from a loan spell with Girona. From the regulars in the lineup, Raheem Sterling can get even better if he loses the nagging wastefulness from his game, and John Stones needs to revive his form from early in the 2017-18 term.
Guardiola won’t be pilloried if he doesn’t collect Champions League honours next season, but the boardroom will expect a deeper run in the continental competition. The Eastlands outfit should also be favourite to win back-to-back Premier League titles, a feat that hasn’t been achieved for nine years.
Yaya Toure was thrown a leaving party, and was consigned to the annals of Premier League football as a buccaneering runner, unique dispatcher of free-kicks, and a man with a deep appreciation for birthday cakes. City will also try to see the back of Eliaquim Mangala, and may cash in on loaned-out youngsters Aleix Garcia and Patrick Roberts. The blossoming reputations of Angus Gunn, Daniel Grimshaw, and Arijanet Muric could result in veteran goalkeeper Claudio Bravo’s departure.
Manchester City has been heavily linked with deep-lying midfielders – someone who can step in for Toure, and challenge 33-year-old Fernandinho’s spot – with Napoli’s Jorginho and Shakhtar Donetsk’s Fred among many names uttered in reports. Another attacker and a left-back option behind Benjamin Mendy should be explored.
State of affairs
Jose Mourinho seems to have backing from those above him at Manchester United, especially from executive vice-chairman Ed Woodward, but the oft-dreary showings from his team cannot please a crowd reared on Sir Alex Ferguson’s swashbuckling sides.
Mourinho isn’t restrained when assessing his players. Luke Shaw and Chris Smalling have only received fleeting compliments on their play, most commonly attracting attention over perceived poor professionalism or for willingly retiring to the treatment room with mere niggles. It will take a lot for both to curry favour with their Portuguese handler. More consistency is needed from Alexis Sanchez and Paul Pogba, and there will likely be pressure from the club brass and Old Trafford stands for Marcus Rashford to be fielded more often.
The FA Cup can still be captured in next Saturday’s final against Chelsea, but the distance behind Manchester City, elimination to Sevilla in the Champions League, and a shameful League Cup exit to Bristol City doesn’t sit well with a club of United’s stature. Next season’s priority has to be the league, which was last won in 2013.
Michael Carrick is retiring and joining the coaching team, where he may be spared of putting Matteo Darmian and Daley Blind through their paces. The duo had bit parts over the past term, and are likely to be available for transfer. In addition to that pair and the aforementioned Shaw and Smalling, there’s a chance of summer sales for Anthony Martial and Marouane Fellaini, who is stalling on a new deal.
Like its rival from across the city, Manchester United is rumoured to have an interest in withdrawn midfielders Jorginho and Fred. The tattle suggesting the Red Devils will try to bring in a marquee forward won’t abate either, with Neymar, Paulo Dybala, and Gareth Bale linked to a Stretford stay.
State of affairs
If Tottenham is to progress to the next level, Mauricio Pochettino wants to see chairman Daniel Levy take risks. “They have a clear idea of what we need to do and I don’t know if the club will agree with me or not but we need to talk next week to create the new project or what I think we need to do together again to try and improve,” Pochettino said after Sunday’s thrilling 5-4 win over Leicester City.
The trio of Harry Kane, Christian Eriksen, and Dele Alli are important to whatever future plans are laid by Pochettino and the club’s hierarchy, and there are few stories on the back pages suggesting they could be leaving north London. Erik Lamela’s second-half performance against Leicester on the final day showed that strengthening the attacking-midfield department isn’t a necessity, while more improvement can be expected from Davinson Sanchez, who was used more than anticipated in his debut English season. Serge Aurier needs to pose a tougher challenge for Kieran Trippier’s right-back berth. Moussa Sissoko, nobody’s favourite player, is under contract until 2021 and would prefer to see out his paperwork.
Once again, there’s nothing tangible to show for Tottenham’s continued improvement under Pochettino, but to say silverware is required to prove the club has taken steps forward is short-sighted. “Nobody, surely, thinks the last Spurs manager to lift silverware, Juande Ramos, did a better job than Pochettino is doing,” the Guardian’s Jonathan Wilson wrote following April’s FA Cup semi-final expulsion.
Pochettino doesn’t entertain those who are not committed to his philosophy. It wouldn’t be a surprise if Danny Rose and Toby Alderweireld moved on this summer.
Heung-Min Son had a fantastic season, but Fernando Llorente follows Vincent Janssen as another unable deputy to Kane. Another striking option will likely be explored, with Manchester United’s Martial among those linked. An approach for long-term target Ryan Sessegnon may finally happen, with the Fulham youngster contributing 15 goals and six assists in the Championship despite playing the first half of the season at left-back.
State of affairs
Jurgen Klopp can do no wrong, and the scouting and recruitment departments at Liverpool are doing their jobs following years of criticism. The club began the season as an entertaining but dysfunctional collective, but Klopp excellently addressed the gaps in his approach through loyalty to certain players and the expensive purchase of Virgil van Dijk.
Related: How Klopp ironed the creases to put Liverpool on verge of European glory
There is already a strong spine in this squad. Dejan Lovren looks a different player alongside Van Dijk, and the frontline of Mohamed Salah, Roberto Firmino, and Sadio Mane is impenetrable barring a colossal bid from Real Madrid or another spendthrift European bully. Naby Keita is on his way; he is another perfect player of Klopp’s philosophy, with his bustling, box-to-box game bringing more breathlessness but not necessarily a huge amount of defensive solidity to the XI.
Liverpool may win its sixth title in Europe’s leading club competition. The Champions League final is set for May 26 in Kyiv, but for silverware, Klopp’s men will have to overcome Zinedine Zidane’s maturing dynasty at Real Madrid. Efforts to procure domestic cups fell short, but great confidence can be drawn from how the side dealt with runaway Premier League champion Manchester City in 2017-18.
Simon Mignolet will not accept being a second-choice goalkeeper on Merseyside and should push for a transfer in the summer. Otherwise, a period of great upheaval doesn’t seem on the cards, with just Mignolet, Emre Can, Nathaniel Clyne, Daniel Sturridge, and peripheral players potentially shifting elsewhere.
The club’s supporters want another defensive midfielder – Jordan Henderson’s mediocre outings are more memorable than the occasions when he conducts the team – and Loris Karius’ boosted confidence since being identified as the No. 1 goalkeeper might not be enough to prevent talent-spotters wading into the window for another shot-stopper. Options behind the famed frontline are also thin, with Dominic Solanke scoring just one goal all season and Danny Ings still shaking off the remnants of repeated injury problems.
State of affairs
“When you are at the end of the season, this performance can happen, but the first person to answer for this must be the coach. I wasn’t able to convey that determination to my players,” Antonio Conte confessed after Sunday’s 3-0 loss at Newcastle United. The Italian’s expression always tells a story, and at St James’ Park it was one of a manager who will be packing his bags after next weekend’s FA Cup final.
As for the playing staff, a change of manager could bring David Luiz in from the cold, and a full pre-season could remedy the slow starts to Stamford Bridge life made by Ross Barkley and Danny Drinkwater. Antonio Rudiger went about his business quietly in his first English term and can establish himself as an integral part of the first-team fold. Will Alvaro Morata be handed a lifeline by Conte’s successor?
The FA Cup would be welcomed, but it will feel like a consolation prize considering the flaccidity of the Blues’ title defence. Conte’s side was also booted from the semi-finals of the League Cup and only reached the Champions League’s round of 16.
There could be two notable outgoing players. Eden Hazard has been flirting with Real Madrid for some time, and Thibaut Courtois has been subject to stuttering contract talks with Chelsea. A new, measured approach behind the scenes may grant Tiemoue Bakayoko patience: The Blues don’t want to rue players who go on to prosper elsewhere, like Salah, Kevin De Bruyne, and Romelu Lukaku.
Finally, Chelsea seems dedicated to giving its long-dominant academy a go. Hazard will need to be replaced if he is tempted away, but otherwise, there could a host of youth-team products emerging. Ruben Loftus-Cheek is more than ready for an extended opportunity with Chelsea’s senior ranks, while the talented Mason Mount should be given another year away to hone his nascent skills.
Napoli’s Maurizio Sarri isn’t a wheeler-dealer in the transfer market, priding himself on working with what he’s given. Right now, the purveyor of stunning attacking play looks an ideal managerial hire.
State of affairs
The latest news on Arsenal’s hunt for Arsene Wenger’s successor is that it’s no closer to a conclusion, although Mikel Arteta, part of Guardiola’s backroom staff at Manchester City, is apparently under serious consideration for the role. With the scouting fair known as the World Cup on the horizon, the Gunners should act fast so they can begin honing in on players who suit the new manager’s vision. Relationships also need to be forged between the chosen one and the new scouting and recruitment team at the Emirates Stadium.
There were some promising signs near the tail end of the campaign. Pierre-Emerick Aubameyang ended the season with one more Premier League goal than January sale Sanchez, despite appearing in 18 fewer games, and Henrikh Mkhitaryan appeared at ease in north London. The incoming manager will want to see Sead Kolasinac rehash his high standards from early in 2017-18, and also see emerging academy graduate Ainsley Maitland-Niles kick on after his breakthrough year. There could also be futures for Reiss Nelson, Eddie Nketiah, and Joe Willock at the club. There could additionally be a return for long-term injury victim Santi Cazorla in the next campaign.
Ultimately, a club of this stature should refer to the trophy cabinet when assessing its success, and it’s bare. The comprehensive League Cup final defeat to Manchester City and elimination from the Europa League semi-finals by Atletico Madrid will sting for some time.
Per Mertesacker will now head up the youth academy after hanging up his boots, and there could be an unfortunate premature end to Laurent Koscielny’s career following surgery on the weathered defender’s ruptured Achilles tendon. Jack Wilshere is likely to be spending afternoons down the job centre, with his contract set to expire at the end of June.
The depleted backline will need work in the summer transfer window, and many Gunners fans are wishing for a defensive midfielder who can defend following two years of Granit Xhaka’s futile wanderings in the middle of the park. Bayer Leverkusen’s Bernd Leno is heavily rumoured to be subject of approaches from Arsenal, potentially meaning the end of Petr Cech’s hesitant goalkeeping. The Czech turns 36 next Sunday.
(Photos courtesy: Getty Images)