Year 1 down. Year 2 of more getting in and more beauty begins now!
And let me be honest for a second, the World Cup almost ruined me. The emotional toll it took on me left me excruciatingly unprepared for the Premier League season. The hangover of June and July was real and a force.
But now I have returned.
As has football in Britain. One week into the Premier League season and this author has some thoughts!
The transfer window came and went. An unremarkable one at that for the likes of Tottenham and Manchester United. Spurs signed no one. Like, not even one single human body. A first in the Premier League era. And I’m not that surprised. Daniel Levy is a chore to deal with (see Spurs wanting £75m for a 29 year old Toby Alderweireld) and got a taste of his own medicine with clubs overvaluing players to spite him and the club. Levy tried to sign Jack Grealish from Aston Villa for a sum he would have personally burned Villa Park down for had the request come in reverse order. Which leaves the club woefully bare in depth to mount any serious challenge for relevant silverware. Other targets such as Wilfried Zaha and Anthony Martial were never realistically headed to White Hart Lane.
United signed Fred. Their only signing. He is a useful box to box midfielder that will undoubtedly strengthen an area of the pitch the club tends to lack spark and solidity in. But they needed more. The preseason tour of the USA was a catastrophe on a similar echelon to Chernobyl. Players were absent. Jose Mourinho seemingly was auditioning for a Grumpy Old Men reboot. And the play looked disjointed. The only bright spot was Andreas Pereira, who generally does look good on tours, and he can be that sought after weapon on the wing if he can kick on and do it in the league. He will remain with the club as it stands to try and fight for a place. He has the talent but has never been able to reach the requisite next level leading to numerous loan deals to various clubs. United needed a central defender (although I have been encouraged by Victor Lindelöf’s improvement and progress as a part of Sweden’s deep and successful World Cup run and the opening match versus Leicester City). They needed a playmaker and a game changer who can consistently be relied upon (they chased the aforementioned defender Alderweireld, Leicester’s Harry Maguire and Inter’s attacker Ivan Perisić amongst others), but refused to overpay. And now go into the season with no real leadership, injuries and Paul Pogba wanting to play elsewhere.
But that’s the game now. If you want to get players and keep players, you have to overpay them. You have to overpay for them. Liverpool spent £67m on a goalkeeper (Roma’s Alisson), a world record, to only see the record broken mere days later by Chelsea after The Blues splashed an absurd £71.6m on Athletic Bilbao’s Kepa Arrizabalaga. But that’s what they needed and the sellers have the leverage. The only team in the Premiership who can afford to balk and refuse is Manchester City.
City said no to Napoli’s asking price for Jorginho and the midfielder turned around and joined Chelsea for a higher fee (£57m). City can do that. They are stacked in all areas after hemorrhaging funds for superstars and saw many of their fringe players (John Stones, Aymeric Laporte, for instance) become apparent world beaters over the summer. With the casual addition of Riyad Mahrez for £60m, the Premier League will remain with City after this season making 2018/19 an unequivocal quest for Champions League glory. Nobody will even remotely test City’s dominance domestically and I see them defending the title at a canter (even with the recent news of Kevin de Bruyne’s possible somewhat serious knee injury).
However, one team that must deliver after a summer of wild spending is Liverpool. Jürgen Klopp loves being an underdog and seen as this gritty fighter working with pennies, but now he’s joined the big time. If you were breathing and had two legs, Liverpool bought you in this window. At an extremely steep price to boot: Alisson, Naby Keïta, Fabinho and Xherdan Shaqiri for around £176m. And now they must deliver. They looked the part in the first week scoring at will, but will need to remain consistent. Klopp and this side tend to falter against weaker opposition and those dropped points end up being the difference. Trophies will be expected this go round. And with a fresh Mo Salah sprinkled on top of a newly assembled attack, why not?
The parity in the Premier League is such a massive factor that that is why we are seeing the spending that we are. Every single Prem club can compete for almost any signature on the planet (thanks in large part to the television and league sponsorship revenue the clubs divvy up). And that is illustrated by teams like Fulham coming up from the Championship outspending most sides in the world over a three month span. The Cottagers added keepers Fabricio, Sergio Rico (on loan from Sevilla), defenders Joe Bryan, Alfie Mawson (who almost made the England team), Maxime Le Marchand, Calum Chambers (on loan from Arsenal), Timothy Fosu-Mensah (on loan from Manchester United), midfielders André-Frank Zambo Anguissa (for a club record £30m), the highly touted Jean Michaël Seri, André Schürrle (on loan from Borussia Dortmund), and forwards Luciano Vietto (on loan from Atlético Madrid), Aleksandar Mitrović (permanently after scoring 12 goals in 17 Fulham appearances in 2018 when on loan from Newcastle), Terry Ablade. #likewhoa
That is flat out astonishing. But, the norm nowadays. You see teams like Everton dropping £40m on players from Watford (Richarlison) and Crystal Palace paying stars £130,000 a week (Zaha) to stay put. For those who have been fans of football for decades, this is all quite mind boggling. Watching middling English clubs do deals with the likes of Barcelona and Monaco and Dortmund is wholly surreal. And all this cash distorts the market as every club across the globe wants to exploit the wealthy ways of the Premiership sides, put exorbitant price tags on anyone on the roster and get their share of the pot.
But on the plus side, it continues to make the Prem the most exciting competition in the world. By some distance, might I add. The title may be long gone for all but the race for the rest of the league will be wildly unpredictable.
After City, I see Liverpool as the team to beat. They have an insatiable attack and finally a goalkeeper who can not get concussed and catch a ball. Dejan Lovren at the heart of their defence is coming off a World Cup final run with Croatia and could finally turn the corner into being that lockdown defender he thinks he is. And Liverpool have the crucial depth now after all of this 2018 business.
Following them I see a true battle between Tottenham, Chelsea and United for the last Champions League spots. Spurs will do well as long as Harry Kane stays fit. They need more from Dele Alli who is far too inconsistent for all the plaudits and fame he acquires. And they need to keep hold of Christian Eriksen (the window to buy is closed but clubs can sell to European teams whose windows are still open until the end of August).
Chelsea will struggle initially with new manager Maurizio Sarri getting his bearings. Players seem to enjoy playing for him, which can’t necessarily be said about recently sacked Antonio Conte. The back 3 system will change which should have an adjustment period as Chelsea have played and won with that over the last two seasons. Eventually, they should shine now that they managed to keep Eden Hazard from the grasp of Real Madrid (barring any miraculous last ditch efforts) and overpriced Willian to such an extent that Barcelona laughed off Chelsea’s £60m+ valuation for a want away almost 30 year old.
Arsenal will be interesting to observe as they begin life after Arsene Wenger. They bought defensive cover and Uruguayan Lucas Torreira to shore up the midfield, and will have an extremely eager to shutter the global yaps Mesut Özil raring to go. They lost to City in their opening fixture but will be a dangerous team on the fringes of the top 4. Mattéo Guendouzi looks a budding talent and one to watch, but all eyes will be focused on Unai Emery who has mythically large shoes to fill in the dugout. Arsenal have stumbled, but they will be back. I see them finishing sixth but looking slightly more adept than last season.
After Arsenal is where things will truly get nebulous. Everton, Leicester and a consortium of Crystal Palace, Burnley and possibly a revamped West Ham should be battling for Europa League slots and at worst a top half finish. We are likely to be in the throes of another historic relegation battle as well as teams 11 on down should all be quite evenly balanced (I worry for Cardiff City the most).
So, does that sound tasty or what?? We’ve only just gotten started and there’s already so much to discuss! It will be a long season with maximum drama (and interesting kits). One thing I promise is that no match will be worth missing. And no team can remain comfortable.
So strap yourselves in. Viva le Prem. Up the football. Time to go back to fruitlessly yelling at television sets worldwide.