31 July 2014

Enough about Arsenal. Just what have our rivals been up to? (Part the first)

We've done a nice bit of business to this point in the transfer-window, no doubt about it, having added four players and a physio who might help them and the rest of the squad stay on the pitch. We may still crave and perhaps even need a few more players, such as an out-and-out striker, a holding midfielder, and a centre-back, and rumors abound around a few names sure to get us salivating. However, for as busy as we've been, it's well-worth investigating our competitors' affairs to see whether we're merely running to stand still or running away from the pack. There is still a month and change left before the transfer-window closes, but we can use this time just as well as anyone else in the Prem. Here, we'll look at the clubs that finished above us in 2013-14.

He who laughs last, laughs best...
First up, Man City. They won the Prem, of course, and as such are the club to beat. We'll face off in the Community Shield, to be played 10 August. More on that another day. Our focus is on who will be in the City squad for the season. Of course, we all have one name in mind thus far: Bacary Sagna. Who else, then has City added or lost?
  • Fernando Reges, defensive midfield, FC Porto: £13.2m
  • Willy Caballero, keeper, Malaga: £7.1m.
  • Bruno Zuculini, midfield, Racing (Argentina): £2.2m
  • Bacary Sagna, defense, Arsenal: free.
These are just the major names, so to speak. There are a few others who were loaned out and have returned but who are unlikely to make much of an impact. It's been a markedly modest window for City, who in previous windows have splurged and spent in a fashion that would make drunken sailors blush. They've seen a few players depart, namely Joleon Lescott, Gareth Barry, and Costel Pantilimon, but each of them left on a free transfer. Their balance-sheet is therefore still in the red by about £23m, but this is a pittance by City's standards. None of these additions looks like he'll make a dramatic impact or even start, for that matter, but such is the depth of City's squad that this hardly matters. They're still the club to beat, and if they're content to shuffle a pieces here and there, that signals less a lack of ambition and more an awareness of strength.

Next up is Liverpool. They've been busy little beavers, in part to make up for the departure of one particularly bitey l'il beaver. It's not every summer that a club has to replace a 30-goal, twice-bitey forward, but so it is for the Liverputians. They'll have to figure out how to rebuild a squad that was once built almost entirely around Suarez. If nothing else, they've spent what they got for him:
  • Adam Lallana, midfield, Southampton: £27.3m.
  • Dejan Lovren, centre-back, Southampton: £22.3m
  • Lazar Markovic, winger, Benfica: £22m
  • Divock Origi, forward, Lille: £11.1m
  • Emre Can, defensive midfield, Bayer Leverkusen: £10.6m
  • Rickie Lambert, forward, Southampton: £4.8m
Again, there are others returning from loans elsewhere, such as Pepe Reina (who might just replace Mignolet...). This is an almost-Tottenhamian number of signings, bringing in six new players in one summer, with many of them expecting to start or at least get regular minutes. Incorporating them, especially Lallan, Lovren and Markovic, into the Southampton of the North, will be a challenge to Rodgers, who somehow has to revamp his entire squad after the deparutre of Suarez. How he'll do that while also grappling with the entirely new challenge of European competition will define his season and the success of this transfer-window. I don't see Liverpool staying in the top-four, even if they do get out of the Champions League group-stage.

Which brings us to Chelsea. Chelsea, Chelsea, Chelsea. So resplendent in riches, so destitute of dignity. Keeping up with years past, the Chavvies have been busy in the transfer-market, but whether this is enough to see them keep their desperate little claws clutching to a third straight third-place finish is anyone's guess. It's a bold statement of intent to outspend just about everyone while not improving one's position on the table, but it might be Chelsea's speciality. To wit, they've brought in the following:
  • Diego Costa, forward, Atletico Madrid: £33.5m.
  • Cesc Fabregas, midfield, Barcelona: £29.1m
  • Filipe, left-back, Atletico Madrid: £17.6m
  • Didier Drogba, forward, Galatasaray: free.
  • Thibaut Courtois, keeper, Atletico Madrid: end of loan.
Whenever it comes to Mourinho, we have to keep an eye on mind-games. Did he sign Fabregas because he needs a creative Spaniard in his midfield? Somewhere, Mata mutters. More likely, he wanted to tweak Arsene's nose. Similarly, does he see Drogba terrorizing us as he so often did in bygone years? Perhaps, but this is less likely after having splurged on Costa. With Luiz off to PSG, Lukaku signing with Everton, and Ba off to Besiktas, Costa looks likely to take over the centre-forward role from Torres, who might enjoy scoring more than ten Prem goals for the first time since 2009-10. Whoever it is scoring the goals, we know that besting Chelsea comes down to breaking down their defense. Courtois may have returned to compete with Cech, but somehow Chelsea will have to find a way to replace Luiz, Cole, and Lampard. They'll still be contenders, to be sure, but I'm not sure I see them moving up from that third-place finish that Mourinho apparently covets.

At least as far as transfer-business goes, I have to admit that I feel pretty good about our progress. We've replaced Sagna (some might say upgraded from him, sacrilegious thought that may sound), found a winger-cum-striker who can create for himself, added a keeper who might just be a bit better than our current #1, and, with an eye to the long-view, brought in a player who could end up as a right-back, centre-back, or holding midfielder. Is that enough to climb to the pinnacle of the Prem? Time will tell.