The Race for Top Four
The potential champions of the 2020/21 Premier League season is widely tipped to be one of Manchester City or reigning champions Liverpool. The same can’t be said for the race for the two remaining Champions League places. Two of the teams that are realistic challengers for these spots are also two heavyweights of English and world football; Manchester United and Chelsea. This is certainly not to say that these two clubs are the only prospective teams to achieve this feat. The likes of Arsenal, Spurs, Everton and to a lesser extent Wolves also firmly believe that they too belong on the biggest stage in club football.
Chelsea are a supremely interesting case this season. They did not delay in neutralising the time lost during their transfer ban and reacted by obtaining supremely talented footballers, specifically in Timo Werner and Kai Havertz. Not to mention the acquisition of Thiago Silva, Ben Chilwell and Hakim Ziyech. A promising sign for Chelsea, in that, they are able to lure some of football’s most desired talents to Stamford Bridge. Whether this has been affected by the financial situations of clubs following the coronavirus pandemic is unclear, however Chelsea have been astute in their business.
They did manage to achieve a top four finish last season despite having a transfer ban imposed on them and having a first time Premier League manager at the helm in Frank Lampard. However, there were glaring issues that needed to be rectified. They finished the season on 66 points, a relatively low points tally to achieve a top four finish and conceded 54 goals in the process, the most out of any team in the top 10.
The signings of Havertz, Ziyech and Werner are widely exciting for Chelsea fans and the Premier League in general. Coupled with the emerging talent of Christian Pulisic and options including; Mason Mount, Hudson-Odoi and Tammy Abraham, it is clear that Cheslea have frighteningly good forward and attacking midfield options. This is not where their problems will lie this season.
Chelsea have a serious crisis between the sticks. Kepa Arrizabalaga is a competent goalkeeper, however is prone to mistakes and evidently is severely lacking confidence.
He will be acutely aware of the scrutiny he is facing. These problems are only exacerbated by the colossal £71 million fee paid for him in 2018 (The most in Chelsea’s history, before the arrival of Havertz). Lampard is not blind to this issue however and the signing of Edouard Mendy from Rennes is an attempt to quell this issue. It is unclear what role Mendy will play immediately, whether he will be there to provide pressure on the number 1 position or be an attempt to rid Lampard of his issue altogether. This solution working is all predicated on Chelsea being able to plug the leaks in their defence, with many arguing that the acquisition of a 35 year old defender who is new to the Premier League is not a sufficient addition to the middle of defence.
Another Premier League season and with it, another season that is difficult to predict for Manchester United. They could feasibly finish anywhere from 7th to 3rd. Ole Gunnar Solskjær seems to have found a starting team that manages to overcome the smaller teams in the league, which has been an issue for the Reds ever since the end of the Fergie era.
Although the end of the last season showed some very positive signs for Man Utd there are still issues that have been left unchecked going into this season. Namely the lack of quality added to the starting 11. This isn’t through lack of trying however, with United missing out on several big players, namely; Gareth Bale, Sergio Reguilón, Thiago Alcantara and of course Jadon Sancho. All of which would have been significant improvements on what they have in those positions currently. The reasons for United’s lack of willingness/ability to close these deals is of course unknown, however, one reason may be that several of their big name transfers in recent times have failed to live up to the huge expectations that follow a player to Old Trafford.
One player who has lived up to these expectations since arriving is Bruno Fernandes, who, along with Rashford, Greenwood and the revitalised Martial are giving United superb attacking options.
Much like Chelsea their problems lie defensively with a suitable partner for Harry Maguire still alluding them and an overall crippling level of inconsistency at the back.
It is hard to know if Manchester United will be able to outweigh their defensive issues with their attacking prowess, or if Chelsea’s new signings will click in their first season together. Either way the 3rd and 4th spot remain wide open in this season.