Jack Hallows compares Liverpool’s summer transfer window with those of the sides expected to be their direct rivals for Champions League football.
The 2018/19 Premier League season is upon us!
Liverpool and Manchester City got off to flying starts, while Chelsea, Tottenham and Manchester United also recorded opening day victories to get their campaigns rolling.
Of course, with the new rules surrounding the closing of the summer window, with the kick-off of the new season came the deadline for English top-flight clubs to do business.
It’s a risky tactic, given that other European leagues can still do business until the end of August and English clubs will be hoping that some of the continents’ giants who thus far haven’t been so active such as Paris Saint Germain, Bayern Munich, Real Madrid and Barcelona don’t make any last second moves for their top players.
As much as I’d love to analyse the business done by every single one of the 20 teams in the Premier League, I’ve decided to – for now – just take a look at the sides expected to battle it out for the top six spots in the table.
Of course, someone could come along and pop up with a surprise entry into that little mini-league but when you ask a majority of Premier League die-hards and of course consult betting sides, these six are the favourites.
Liverpool Football Club: 9/10.
Major Incomings: Fabinho, Xherdan Shaqiri, Alisson Becker, Naby Keïta (Purchased last summer to arrive this summer).
Permanent first-team outgoings (so far): Emre Can, Jon Flanagan, Danny Ward.
Let’s get started with our boys.
Liverpool have done some bloody good business this summer and the Nabil Fekir ‘saga’ aside, it’s been a fairly straight forward window for the Reds.
Naby Keïta looks a sublime addition and is my early pick for an outside-the-box Player of the Season contender. Generally touted as a hybrid of N’Golo Kanté and Andres Iniesta, the former Leipzig man is the perfect Klopp midfielder.
Equally adept at winning the ball back as he is dribbling past four players and laying on lethal through balls, the reported £52m that the Reds’ have paid looks a bargain.
With the departure of Emre Can to Juventus, Klopp made the decision to further strengthen his midfield options through the addition of Fabinho and the Brazilian’s signing means even the most dedicated fans of Emre have seemingly forgotten he was even at the club last season.
The former Monaco midfielder adds extra defensive nous, height and intelligence to the club’s midfield and he’s proven over the years to be a proficient penalty taker.
Continuing further up the pitch, is the potential bargain-buy-of-the-summer Xherdan Shaqiri.
The Swiss international raised eyebrows when he joined Liverpool in a £13m move from recently relegated Stoke but an overhead goal against Manchester United in pre-season seemed to calm those doubts.
With the ability to produce a moment of magic out of nothing, a versatile outlook to his preferred position and an already impressive understanding with the rest of the club’s attackers, Shaqiri provides some much needed depth to the squad.
Perhaps the clubs’ most important signing was saved for last: Alisson Becker.
The Brazilian was signed for an eye-watering £65m, making him (albeit briefly) the world’s most expensive goalkeeper and the former Roma man comes in with expectation rife given the Reds’ prior struggles in the keeper department.
A fairly low-key debut against West Ham at home will have helped to settle any nerves the keeper may have, while his already established relationship with international team-mates Roberto Firmino and Fabinho will also help in that respect.
There is also the small matter of Mohamed Salah, consistently linked last season with a move to Real Madrid after banging 44 goals in all competitions, agreeing a new deal with no present release clause.
The consequence of a brave decision not to sign further attacking midfield depth given the injury record of Adam Lallana and unavailability of Alex Oxlade-Chamberlain will remain to be seen but it’s hard to argue that Liverpool have had a stellar summer window.
Arsenal Football Club: 7/10.
Major Incomings: Bernd Leno, Stephan Lichtsteiner, Sokratis Papastathopoulos, Lucas Torreira, Mattéo Guendouzi.
Permanent first-team outgoings (so far): Per Mertesacker, Santi Cazorla, Jack Wilshere, Jeff Reine-Adélaïde, Chuba Akpom.
Arsenal managed to get their new manager Unai Emery in fairly early, aiding in getting their business sorted towards the front end of the window and allowing the squad to settle.
However, while they’ve made some big moves in the market this summer, I’m not too convinced over the Gunners summer spending spree.
Lucas Torreira though, is the name that stands out to me as a fantastic buy and one to keep an eye on. The Uruguayan midfielder will bring mobility, intelligence and composure to Arsenal’s midfield, something they were in desperate need of if Granit Xhaka is to remain a consistent starter.
However, the rest of the signings will need to convince me as the season goes on.
At just 19 years of age, Mattéo Guendouzi is a fairly unknown quantity and to his credit has impressed over pre-season. The Frenchman has slotted into Arsenal’s midfielder almost seamlessly and was handed a full debut against Manchester City on the opening day, outplaying his senior team-mate Granit Xhaka massively.
At the back, an ageing Stephan Lichtsteiner has been brought in to provide competition for the full-back spots and while he brings experience and a ‘nasty streak’ to the Gunners back-line, I don’t see what else he really offers.
‘Sokratis’ is a signing of a similar ilk.
The former Dortmund man on his day can be one of the better central defenders in Europe but in an Arsenal backline that has struggled for defensive security over recent years and paired with Shkodran Mustafi who is often one long ball over the top away from a meltdown, will he be as effective?
Finally, Bernd Leno is a great signing in terms of being the keeper Unai Emery needs to implement a play out from the back style. The German is – as most German keepers are – good with his feet and there aren’t too many questions over his distribution.
However, his shot stopping ability has been brought into question frequently the last couple of years and it will be interesting to see whether he actually provides much of an upgrade on the ageing Petr Cech.
The fact that it was Cech who started against City in their opening fixture may have already answered that question.
For me, the best piece of business Arsenal have done in 2018 was back in January when they signed Pierre-Emerick Aubameyang.
The Gabonese forward is a genuine goal-machine and whether he plays on the left to accomodate Lacazette, or through the middle like against City, I’m certain that he’ll finish the season as Arsenal’s top goalscorer and may even feature in the golden boot conversation.
Chelsea Football Club: 8/10.
Major Incomings: Jorginho, Kepa Arrizabalaga, Rob Green, Mateo Kovačić (Loan).
Permanent first-team outgoings (so far): Thibaut Courtois, Jérémie Boga.
Given how long it took Chelsea to confirm that Maurizio Sarri would be replacing Antonio Conte as manager, the Blues have done some decent work in the final weeks of the window.
A key cog in Sarri’s Napoli game-plan was Italian midfielder Jorginho and the manager has recognised as much, beating away competition from Manchester City and signing him as the club’s first major summer deal for £50m.
Rob Green was brought in for what is probably the most unusual move of the summer but with Thibaut Courtois forcing his way to Real Madrid, the club opted for the other end of the scale for a replacement, triggering a £70m release clause to poach ‘Kepa’ from Bilbao.
The keeper is evidently highly rated in his native Spain and was the target of a £20m move from Real Madrid back in January. However, his new contract agreement saw Chelsea have to overpay immensely to secure his services and whether he’ll quite live up to that exorbitant price tag is another question.
The final incoming the Blues sanctioned was that of Croatian midfielder Mateo Kovačić on loan from Real Madrid. For me, this would have been a fantastic move… had the player come with an option to buy.
The reality is though, that with an absence of this clause, Chelsea are simply helping develop a player for Madrid and giving minutes to someone that the Spanish giants have no intention of letting go. Bizarre.
In terms of the best business Chelsea have done however, it’s got to be in the outgoing column or, lack thereof.
Eden Hazard, N’Golo Kanté, Willian and Thibaut Courtois were all linked with big money moves away from London this summer with Real Madrid in particular interested in stripping Chelsea bare after Ronaldo’s move to Juventus.
Only one however has moved on – so far – and in a huge boost for Sarri, it looks as if the other trio will definitely be staying put for at least one more season.
Manchester City: 8/10.
Major Incomings: Riyad Mahrez, Philippe Sandler.
Permanent first-team outgoings (so far): Angus Gunn, Joe Hart, Angeliño.
Like Chelsea, City’s best business has been ensuring none of their stars move on after last season’s heroics.
Guardiola’s squad hasn’t been strengthened immensely and it’ll remain to be seen whether missing out on Jorginho and Fred to rivals will hurt them but the fact that the Catalan has kept his core completely intact is going to go a huge way towards helping them retain the Premier League title.
We’ve also already seen the new dimension brought to City’s play by the signing of Riyad Mahrez and the return to fitness of Benjamin Mendy will bring yet another major threat to Guardiola’s ranks – as if they needed one.
You just have to look at the ‘Citizens’ bench on the opening day against Arsenal to see just how dominant they can expect to be once again this season.
To convincingly beat a potential top four rival while not even having to start the likes of Kevin de Bruyne, Leroy Sane or Gabriel Jesus is genuinely ridiculous.
They’ve not done much this summer but really, as long as they held onto their players, they didn’t have to.
Manchester United: 7.5/10.
Major Incomings: Fred, Diogo Dalot, Lee Grant.
Permanent first-team outgoings (so far): Daley Blind.
It probably says a lot really that the big story of Manchester United’s pre-season has been surprise, surprise: José Mourinho.
The Red Devils were linked heavily with numerous centre halves during the summer, causing controversy within the club after it was revealed that Mourinho and the board did not see eye-to-eye on who should be a priority.
Leicester’s Harry Maguire was said to be the board’s favourite, representing a younger, more marketable option while Toby Alderweireld of Tottenham was seen as Mourinho’s preference.
Despite this clash and consistent talk of unhappiness and discontent within the camp, Mourinho has managed to keep ahold of his biggest stars – most notably Paul Pogba who was linked with a big money move to one of Paris and Barcelona over the summer and of course, their main man: David de Gea.
He’s also added a dynamic midfielder in Brazilian Fred while strengthening his full-back ranks by bringing in former Porto defender Dalot.
Lee Grant is an eyebrow raising transfer but it’s not expected that he’ll be challenging number one David de Gea any time soon.
If Mourinho can keep his head, he certainly has the talent in his ranks to be up there this season and it’s easy to forget that Alexis Sanchez joined back in January.
The Chilean forward has now had an entire pre-season to become properly bedded in to his new surroundings and his manager believes we’ll see the best of him this campaign.
They have however, failed to bring in a new centre half which despite Mourinho and the board executives not seeing eye to eye on targets, was something truly needed.
Tottenham Hotspur: 6/10.
Major Incomings: N/A
Permanent first-team outgoings (so far): N/A
Was this the most “Spurs-y” window of all time?
The North Londoners didn’t make a single signing over the summer transfer window, with manager Mauricio Pochettino forced to stick with what he’s got for another campaign due to costs from the new – now behind schedule – stadium.
However, looking at it below the surface of not signing a single player, Spurs also didn’t lose anyone.
Key players Harry Kane and Son Heung-Min both renewed their contracts as perhaps most importantly, did Pochettino.
As rival fans, we can laugh at Spurs all they want but they’ve certainly put heavy faith into the idea that consistency can breed success and over the last couple of seasons, while they haven’t exactly had silverware to show for it, they’ve at least been a Champions League main-stay.
Pochettino has done some fantastic work at Tottenham, especially given the mess ‘AVB’ left them in post Gareth Bale and if Dele Alli, Harry Kane and the like can stay injury-free, then they’re likely to be in for another good season.
That is a big IF though.
The risk that Spurs are coming dangerously close to running, is that their rivals have also all managed to retain their key players while strengthening alongside.
It’s no certainty but this strategy could feasibly see the likes of Liverpool and Manchester City put some real distance between themselves and the North Londoners this campaign – something they really can’t afford.
Spurs have done really well to keep ahold of their stars but one feels that given the shallow depth of their squad and the lack of additions on top, that their conservative approach could come back to bite them.