In part one of our Premier League preview, Malcolm Boughen looks at the clubs likely to be contesting the top four places and assesses how transfer activity could have a bearing on the new campaign.
Austerity, what austerity? For football clubs seeking Premier League glory – or in some cases survival – there has been plenty of money sloshing around in the transfer market this summer. More than £300m already with, one suspects, much more to come.
But it has predominantly been a story of big-name managers who have moved on and big-name players who – so far, at least – have not.
This will, of course, be the first-ever Premier League season without Sir Alex Ferguson. His retirement at the end of last season gave a spin to the managerial merry-go-round, seeing David Moyes move to Old Trafford, with Roberto Martinez leaving the relegated FA Cup winners, Wigan, to take over from him at Everton.
With the return of Jose Mourinho – now self-rebranded as “the happy one” – to Chelsea, and Manuel Pellegrini replacing Roberto Mancini at Manchester City, Arsene Wenger is left as the only long-serving boss at the top of the Premier League.
But, starting his 18th season in charge of Arsenal, even Wenger could find himself under pressure if he fails again to deliver any silverware to the Emirates – especially after the club hierarchy gave him the signal that the coffers were open for big signings this summer.
So far, the only new face to arrive is the young French striker, Yaya Sanogo, as Wenger has concentrated his attention on seeking to poach Luis Suarez from Liverpool. Suarez – banned from the first six matches of the new season after biting Chelsea’s Branislav Ivanovic – has been forced to work out alone at Liverpool’s Melwood training ground until he apologises for accusing the club of breaking a promise that he would be allowed to leave if Liverpool failed to qualify for the Champions League.
Liverpool have angrily rejected a £40m bid from Arsenal and have said there is no chance of them selling to a rival for Champions League places, but there is now talk of the Gunners going back in with an offer of around £49m – and with Suarez blowing hot and cold as he kicks his heels, anything could happen.
That on-off sale has been symptomatic of the transfer scene generally this summer.
Manchester United have been similarly frustrated in their repeated bids for Barcelona’s Cesc Fabregas – though they are now weighing up another offer of around £40m – while David Moyes desperately tries to hold on to Wayne Rooney, who has been tempted by Jose Mourinho’s efforts to take him to Stamford Bridge.
Like Liverpool, United do not want to see one of their most prized assets skipping off to a Premier League rival, however unhappy the player remains in the meantime.
And then, of course, there is the Gareth Bale saga. While Spurs Chairman Daniel Levy has been playing hardball with Real Madrid, demanding a world record £100m for the Welsh wizard, manager Andre Villas-Boas has been busy spending the club’s money on a clutch of expensive new stars.
The Spanish striker, Roberto Soldado, has come in for £26m, Brazilian midfielder Paulinho has cost around £17m, another midfielder – Etienne Capoue – has joined from Toulouse for £9m, and the Moroccan winger Nacer Chadli is reported to have cost £7m from FC Twente.
Spurs’ total spending is around £80m – about what they might end up receiving for Gareth Bale.
And there is still talk of another £20m being paid for the Roma striker Erik Lamela. That is a total of around £80m – about what they might end up receiving for Bale.
Those purchases have demonstrated Spurs’ determination to elbow aside their north London rivals for Champions League qualification next season. But can they break in to a title race that looks like it will still come down to a three-horse race between a Mourinho-inspired Chelsea and the two Manchester clubs?
Like Spurs, Manchester City have spent big this summer, as Pellegrini has set about re-shaping the occasionally misfiring and unhappy outfit left behind by his predecessor.
Carlos Tevez has joined Juventus for a fee likely to rise to around £12m, while City have splashed around £90m on the Brazilian midfielder Fernandinho, striker Stevan Jovetic from Fiorentina and the Sevilla pair, winger Jesus Navas and striker Alvaro Negredo.
While Moyes waits on Fabregas and seeks to build on his Ferguson legacy, Jose Mourinho has made a handful of intriguing signings at Chelsea, including the German international forward Andre Schurrle from Bayer Leverkusen for around £18m, the promising Dutch midfielder Mario van Ginkel and the Fulham keeper Mark Schwarzer, who will seek to push Petr Cech for a starting place.
Liverpool have shipped out a number of big names – including Andy Carroll, Pepe Reina, Stewart Downing and Jonjo Shelvey – bringing in keeper Simon Mignolet from Sunderland, defender Kolo Toure from Man City and a couple of young Spanish forwards – Iago Aspas and Luis Alberto.
Across Stanley Park, Roberto Martinez will be hoping to build on the David Moyes years and keep Everton in the top six. He has brought the Ivory Coast striker Arouna Kone, defender Antolin Alcaraz and goalkeeper Joel Robles with him from Wigan, while signing the 19-year-old Barcelona forward Gerard Deulofeu on a season-long loan.
But Martinez is still anxiously awaiting the closing of the transfer window – apparently having fought off Manchester United interest in full-back Leighton Baines but still at risk of losing midfielder Marouane Fellaini to Old Trafford.
Read part two of Malcolm Boughen's Premier League preview here:
Premier League 2013-14: the struggle for survival