by Ryan Hernan 5/26/2022
The 2021/2022 Premier League season came to a dramatic close this past weekend, with Manchester City defending their title and the other Big 6 teams left to figure out how to catch Pep Guardiola’s blue machine. Some teams are more equipped than others to close the gap at the top, while some have work to do if they want to get their hands on the trophy. Whether your team is using the transfer window to spend or to rest, here’s a look at what each club has to look forward to this summer and beyond.
And… exhale. Wow, I bet you never thought you’d go through another moment like that, City fans (all five of you). İlkay Gündoğan just did his best Sergio Agüero impersonation and, let’s be frank, saved your season. While all the talk has been “best team in the world,” City were about 15 minutes away from a trophyless season and a Liverpool team poised for a historic quadruple. Even with another Premier League trophy under their belt, can this season be called a success for City? I’m not so sure. There’s no diminishing the feat of winning the Premier League over and over again. The season is long and grueling, and the competition is stacked with some of the most talented teams in the world. It’s a credit to City’s world-class squad, depth, and manager that they’ve essentially turned the Premier League into their playground. But… we all know what City really want. The Champions League trophy. City fans have witnessed Champions League calamity year after year after year. Walloped by Liverpool. The debacle against Tottenham. Losing to Lyon (I feel like we need to talk about that one more). Heartbreak in Porto. The collapse against Real. City have bowed out of the Champions League in seemingly every way possible. And now they face the prospect of having to watch fellow English clubs Chelsea and Liverpool lift it in successive years. Time is running out and excuses are running thin. City need that trophy. Until they have their hands on Big Ears, their claims of “best team in Europe” will continue to fall on deaf ones.
But boy, do they look primed to light Europe on fire next year. If there’s one move this offseason that has Premier League teams shaking in their proverbial boots, it’s the arrival of Erling Haaland to the blue side of Manchester. Haaland is the real deal: a smart, powerful striker with elite movement inside the box, a willingness to do whatever is needed to win, and a left foot that can put the ball in the net from anywhere in his opponents’ half of the field. Some people may question Haaland’s fit in a City team that has set the benchmark for the use of a False 9, but there’s no need to question Pep Guardiola’s ability to adjust and put forth a system that will get the best out of his young talisman. Let’s not forget about Julian Álvarez either. The River Plate striker has been tearing Argentina apart, recently scoring six (6!) goals in a Copa Libertadores match and will be arriving in Manchester soon. Haaland and Álvarez have the potential to be the best one-two punch in football in the coming years, and they’re City’s latest and best (and last?) bet to finally win the Champions League under Guardiola.
City has already done most of their work. Even if Raheem Sterling or Riyad Mahrez depart and regardless of if players like Kalvin Phillips and Marc Cucurella come to the Etihad or not this summer, City have no more excuses and nothing left to do. Besides win the damn thing.
Well, this is a tricky one. How do you judge Liverpool’s season? Does it depend on if they win the Champions League? Or is a domestic cup double, 92 league points, and a UCL Final appearance enough to be called a success? For most teams, the answer would be a resounding yes, but this Liverpool team is special. A quadruple certainly would not have flattered them. They have truly been a juggernaut this season. A cup treble may still be on the horizon, and that of course is the first focus. Win the Champions League and the decision day heartbreak is forgotten. Lose it? Well… now you might have to start asking questions. The good news for Liverpool fans is that the future is bright. Young forwards Diogo Jota and Luis Díaz (what a talent he is) have already shown that they are more than capable of becoming the next generation of Liverpool stars. Even younger attackers like Fábio Carvalho and Harvey Elliot are ready to prove themselves as well this upcoming season. And young defenders Trent Alexander-Arnold, Andy Robertson, Joe Gomez, and Ibrahima Konaté are in place at the back. What about the old guard? Mostly, fine. Virgil van Dijk, Jordan Henderson, Fabinho, Roberto Firmino, Alisson, and the rest of the Liverpool stalwarts are still performing at the highest level and look set to do so for the foreseeable future.
If there’s a question mark (or two) for Liverpool this offseason it comes in the form of their African superstars: Mohamed Salah and Sadio Mané. Salah should be a no-brainer. Pay the man. Right now, Mo Salah is Liverpool, as much as any player can be. They would likely be fine without him, but this Liverpool team has higher aspirations than fine. Salah is one of the best players in the world, should have won Premier League Player of the Season, and terrorizes back lines like few attackers not named Messi or Ronaldo can. There’s no reason to think that Liverpool won’t bring back Salah, but if they somehow don’t, that would be a major mistake. Salah wants to stay, and that’s all the impetus the Liverpool leadership should need to give him whatever he wants. That may not be how they typically operate, but Mo Salah is no typical player. If Liverpool wants to keep chasing quadruples, they need their Egyptian star.
The other question mark is a bit less black and white. Sadio Mané seems prepared to leave Anfield this summer, and Liverpool may just let him go. Jota, Díaz, and Carvalho are ready to step in and fill his shoes, and moves for a player like Ajax star Antony can quickly be lined up if Mané does indeed depart. Liverpool fans will surely be sad to see the Senegalese leave, especially on the back of a fantastic season, but the club will not miss a beat without him. Truthfully, Liverpool have little to do this offseason besides rest and get healthy. Yes, adding young stud Aurélien Tchouaméni would have been a fantastic move, but they may just find their consolation in PSV’s Ibrahim Sangare. The aging midfield will need to be addressed further in the future, but for now Liverpool are ok. They will head into next season, Mané or no Mané, primed to challenge City once again (and potentially defend their Champions League trophy). That is, if they resign Mohamed Salah. Pay the man!
Chelsea fans, it’s over. The long period of uncertainty that ended the Abramovich era has finally come to a close, and the reign of Todd Boehly (and friends) has begun. Reportedly, it has begun with a bang, with up to 200 million Euros promised to help Thomas Tuchel’s squad catch up with the likes of City and Liverpool. Chelsea are one year removed from a Champions League triumph, but this season brought them back down to earth. Furthermore, the confirmed or potential departures of key players such as Antonio Rüdiger, Marcos Alonso, César Azpilicueta, and Jorginho and a potential reshuffling of the attack, with players like Christian Pulisic, Timo Werner, Hakim Ziyech, and Romelu Lukaku all less than certain to be wearing the royal blue next season, has made this a crucial offseason in SW6. But don’t be mistaken. Chelsea is not in rebuild mode. Consider it more of a retooling. Chelsea are still one of the top clubs in the world. They finished third in the Premier League, went toe-to-toe with Liverpool in two cup finals, and were oh-so-close to another Champions League semi-final appearance. Not to mention they picked up the Super Cup and the Club World Cup along the way. Yes, the expectations at Chelsea are high, but this season was not a failure, and the pieces are in place to catch Manchester City and Liverpool.
Just not in one offseason. The priority for Chelsea this summer needs to be bolstering the defense, and the rumored focus on Jules Kounde and Joško Gvardiol, as well as the potential of a Kalidou Koulibaly pursuit, is a fantastic start on that front. Adding a veteran player like Ivan Perišić to compete at LWB with the returning Ben Chilwell would be another great move. If indeed a few attackers leave London this summer, players like Ousmane Dembélé and Christopher Nkunku could also find themselves in the mix as replacements. What seems most likely, however, is that the bulk of the influx of Boehly Bucks be spent on patching up the defense and midfield (perhaps this is finally the transfer window that marks the return of Declan Rice). Chelsea should not spend this offseason chasing players like Robert Lewandowski. Instead, they should bring back Lukaku (a striker who ended the season in fine form) and let their youth flourish. This Chelsea team is still incredibly young. Reece James, Mason Mount, Kai Havertz, and the returning-from-loan Conor Gallagher are a strong foundation to build upon. Not to mention other young talents like Trevoh Chalobah, Billy Gilmour, and Harvey Vale. Just like in 1965, the kids are alright in London.
Chelsea may have been ahead of the curve when they lifted the Champions League in 2021, but they have the pieces in place to reach that pinnacle once again. They simply must be patient, trust the youth, trust Thomas Tuchel, and be smart with how they spend their money. Players should be bought because they fit Tuchel’s system and Chelsea’s timeline, not because they are big names or flashy signings. It’s a new era in West London, and it’s fair to say that the future, while not entirely clear, is bright.
Three words: let Conte cook. Just like with Chelsea, Tottenham are expected to have a war chest of cash to play with this summer. There’s two ways this could go. Buy players that Antonio Conte doesn’t like or buy players that Antonio Conte does like. Now, if you’re the owner of a major football club, sometimes the players that Antonio Conte likes are not the players that you want to spend your money on. That’s fine, don’t buy them. Antonio Conte will leave your club faster than you can say “we should’ve kept Pochettino.”
If you do buy those players that Conte wants, you could end up with a team that can do something that Spurs teams are not exactly used to doing: challenge for trophies. Major trophies. Tottenham has a mixed bag of a squad right now. There’s youth along with veterans, attacking-minded players along with defensive-first players, quality along with… well, you get the idea. Any team that stars the deadly duo of Harry Kane and Son Heung-min up front (not to mention Dejan Kulusevski) should be doing better than charging into fourth by the seat of their pants and bowing out of the UEFA Conference League. The influx of cash is a great sign that Tottenham is prepared to build a team around their stars that can truly compete, but money doesn’t buy trophies. Smart money buys trophies. Conte is a polarizing manager, but he’s also a successful one, and one who knows how to win the Premier League. He does it his way, and his way may not be the Spurs way, but if they want to finally get their hands on a Premier League trophy (likely not next year or even the year after, but at some point) they need to be a bit more open-minded.
To be fair, all signs point to them being prepared to fully back Conte this summer. And the emphasis seems to be in the right place: wing back, center back, and midfield. (Ivan Perišić has also been linked with a move to the North side of London). These are certainly areas that Spurs can improve upon. The players don’t have to (and wont) be world-class. Signings like John McGinn and Konrad Laimer could do wonders for simply shoring up some of the holes and questions of depth in the Spurs squad. While a Christian Eriksen return or a move for a big-name defender would certainly make the headlines, it isn’t in Tottenham’s best interest. This is a Spurs team that finished the year incredibly strong and has shown the most promise since making the Champions League Final in 2019. For all his… difficulties… Antonio Conte is a world-class manager, and if Spurs bring in the players he wants this offseason, there may be a Premier League darkhorse to watch out for in 2022/2023.
Trust in the youth. Yes, Arsenal fans may be (rightfully) disappointed by the late season collapse that saw them drop out of the Champions League in place of bitter rivals Tottenham, but after the calamitous start to the season, Arsenal showed real promise in even being in that position in the first place. That will be no consolation for how Arsenal fans view the 2021/2022 season, but it does offer some optimism for the 2022/2023 season. Not only does Arsenal have young talent in players like Aaron Ramsdale, Bukayo Saka, Emile Smith-Rowe, Martin Ødegaard, Gabriel Martinelli, and Eddie Nketiah, but they also have a young manager in Mikel Arteta that truly appeared to find his footing in this past season. For all the justified criticism he and Arsenal have taken in recent years, this past season provided reasoning to believe that he is the right man to lead the Gunners back to the promised land.
Well, not so fast. The promised land is still a ways away for this Arsenal squad, but there’s at least a visible path to get there now. That path is certainly more difficult without Champions League football at the Emirates next season, but Arsenal like to do things the hard way. Think of this offseason as a sort of bridge for Arsenal from the doldrums of recent years to the future of trophies that they envision. Players like Gabriel Jesus, Rúben Neves, and Tammy Abaraham have all been heavily linked with Arsenal in recent weeks. Other such as Victor Osimhen and Youri Tielemans are also potential targets. All are very good players that would fit in well with the young squad that Arsenal boasts, but they’re not in-their-prime world-beaters that will take them straight back to the top.
That is perfectly ok. In fact, it’s the exact right thing for Arsenal to do. This summer the priority will simply be qualifying for the Champions League, and the signings that Arsenal makes should help them get there. Manchester City and Liverpool are virtually locked into two of the four spots, but if Arsenal makes the right moves, they can make the race with Chelsea and Tottenham for the last two very competitive. It sounds simple because it is. Sign solid players and don’t overpay. Prioritize your youth and let the future come to you. Don’t chase it and find yourself disappointed like Chelsea was this past season. Also, do a bit of offloading. There are a number of fringe players and disappointments (like club-record signing Nicolas Pépé) that could come off Arsenal’s books this summer. Any money made from these departures would certainly help their pursuit of the more ambitious players on their shortlist like Neves and Osimhen.
The pieces are there, and the good news is, they’re overwhelmingly young and will only get better. To trot out the youngest team on average this season and finish fifth should be seen as a triumph for Arsenal, and an indicator of a future that, as with Spurs, looks brighter than it has in quite a while.
West Ham Manchester United
Well. Where to begin. Perhaps with a thank you card to Brighton? I mean, wow. The Europa League is bad enough for a Manchester United team that notably brought in Raphaël Varane and Cristiano Ronaldo this offseason, but the Europa Conference League… that would have been a colossal failure. Luckily for the Reds, West Ham couldn’t close the deal, and so they’ll be chasing the trophy that Frankfurt won this season, rather than the one claimed by Roma. European football is weird.
As for where Manchester United should go from here? It would be easy and cliché to say that the only place they can go is up, but unfortunately it is not too far-fetched to imagine them going quite a bit down. They are a club that appears to be in free fall rather than at rock bottom. Luckily they have their potential answer in Erik ten Hag, a decorated and celebrated manager who has finally stepped out of the Netherlands to right the sinking ship of Manchester United. He has some work to do. United is a team that possesses talent in the aforementioned Varane and Ronaldo, as well as Jadon Sancho, David de Gea, Bruno Fernandes, and Anthony Elanga. They also have some interesting question marks in Luke Shaw, Alex Telles, Aaron Wan-Bissaka, Scott McTominay, Marcus Rashford, Harry Maguire, and the on-loan Donny van de Beek. These players have all shown their brilliance, either in flashes or over full seasons, but have also had periods of poor play that have caused some to question their place in the team. ten Hag will certainly question them as well, and rumors of his intent to not only analyze the players based on their performance on the pitch but also look into their lives off it serves as a credit to his intention to make sweeping changes across the club.
In theory, these are all supremely talented players who will be back with the Reds in 2022/2023, hoping to find their top form under their new manager. However, it is not a guarantee that any of these players will fit in ten Hag’s long term plans. United have drifted from manager to manager in recent years, with each boss failing to fully put their stamp on the club and to truly command the polarizing group of players at his disposal. If he wants to truly lift United out of the ashes, ten Hag will have to put an end to this cycle and remake United in his image, beginning with a full analysis of the squad and followed by a summer of selling and buying.
Names like Darwin Núñez, Declan Rice, Frenkie de Jong, Kalvin Phillips, and Milan Škriniar have all been floated as potential targets for United, but the Reds do not seem to be leading any of the races to sign these players. One player who may be acquired soon is Villarreal’s Pau Torres, and he would certainly be a good start, but this team needs more. With players like Paul Pogba, Jesse Lingard, and Dean Henderson already having one (or two) feet out the door and no real plan for who to bring in, the talent gap between United and the best teams in England (such as their city rivals) will only increase this summer. Players like United-linked Sergej Milinković-Savić and James Ward-Prowse will not fix that. ten Hag will certainly impact the team no matter who comes or goes this summer, but the Dutchman can only do so much. With no Champions League to play for, a mountain to climb to reach the levels of City and Liverpool, the only-increasing quality of Chelsea, and the resurgence of Tottenham and Arsenal, Manchester United faces a potentially bleak summer.