After an unexpected and exhilarating end to the transfer window it is time to take stock.
Everyone agrees that adding Thomas Partey to our squad has significantly strengthened it. His arrival also gives Action Man more options in how to set up the team.
Signing a 27-year-old at the peak of his game, as well as a Premier League old hand like Willian, inclines me to think that the club is making a serious bid for a Champions League spot this season.
I know some will say “Of course! That should be the least of our aims,” but let’s be realistic: we finished eighth in the league last season, 43 points behind the champions and 10 points adrift of fourth place. It is by no means automatic that we are in the race for top four this time round. In fact, we could have a considerably improved season and finish sixth or fifth, just a point or two off the fourth spot. It would be progress, even if it didn’t get us Champions League football.
But, as I say, I think the club is serious about bouncing back up to where we belong in this campaign and that’s why they splashed out on Partey (the whole amount paid up front in cash, bear in mind), re-signed Aubameyang on a lucrative deal as well as signing Willian.
So, if we’re going for Top 4, whom do we have to be better than?
I’m going to argue that Liverpool and Manchester City are shoo-ins for two of the top four spots (notwithstanding some strange results in the early part of the season). Feel free to argue in comments if you think differently.
So that means we are fighting for one of two spots.
The other main contenders for those places are Chelsea, Leicester, Manchester United and Totteringham. I’m also going to throw Everton in the mix because they have started well under an excellent manager and have also made some really good acquisitions. I am tempted to add Aston Villa too.
Of those teams – our direct rivals, if you like – who is strongest?
The Spuds’ front three of Bale, Kane and Son is extremely dangerous and their manager, for all his faults, is a proven winner. Sad to say, I see our noisy neighbours being very much in the Top 4 chase unless Mourinho’s notorious divide-and-rule approach to management causes internal divisions. However, it’s also worth pointing out that despite that attacking threesome, the Spuds lack strength in depth.
Manchester United are also a serious threat, particularly since adding Cavani to their squad. If he can stay fit (a very big IF) he could transform the team’s fortunes. But United’s biggest handicap is their manager. Ole Gunnar has never looked the part and after the recent thrashing at the hands of the Totts he could soon be Ole Goner. I just hope he’s still there when we play them in a couple of weeks. Despite the money and the history and big signings I see United staying off the pace unless they get a really good new manager in, in which case we’ll need to watch out. Pochettino anyone?
Chelsea made it into fourth place last season and will be there or there abouts this time round. As with Man Utd, I think their coach is their weakness. Although he has looked better than Solskjaer, I don’t find Frank Lampard convincing. Nevertheless, the Chavs were the biggest spenders in the Premier League during this transfer window and they have an abundance of quality players.
Leicester are just always in the mix these days (they finished fifth last year) and always seem to punch above their weight. With Vardy still as lethal as ever they will continue to do well. There’ll be no repeat of their magical 2016 triumph, but they can’t be ruled out of top four contention.
Everton worry me. Ancelotti really knows his business and he’s made some great additions to their squad, not least James Rodriguez and Abdoulaye Doucoure. I see them pushing hard all season long. Maybe overall squad strength will turn out to be their Achille’s heel, particularly if key players get injured.
Finally, a word for Aston Villa. Their thrashing of Liverpool is being considered a one-off, but they are a well organised team with some outstanding players, especially Grealish. Adding Ross Barkley at the end of the transfer window was also an excellent bit of business. He has under-performed for much of his career but I have a feeling that Villa (and a partnership with Grealish) will bring out the best in him.
So where does that leave us?
Right now, I see the fight for third and fourth place coming down to Arsenal, Everton and Totteringham, with the two London clubs having enough to edge out the Toffees at the death.
And my prediction for the end of season table is this:
- Manchester City
- Leicester City
- Aston Villa
- Manchester United
What do you think?