By Brian Beard | 17th AUG 2021
So Manchester City trump their city rivals Manchester United with the British transfer record signing of Jack Grealish, who covered himself with much dignity with the way the life-time Villa fan conducted his departure from the club he had been with since the age of six, some 19 years.
Not only have City pulled off that significant capture they will take giant strides to yet another Premier League title if they can add Harry Kane to an already formidable armoury – Jesus and Sterling beware.
For me, apart from the obvious attributes they will bring to the Etihad table, Daniel Levy permitting, there is one glorious plus for Pep. He will not have to integrate `foreign signings` into the British football culture both Kane and Grealish grew up with. A word on the opening to their season though and I think, I may live to regret this, the lack of a cutting edge and free spins should signal the end of Pep`s philosophy that his team can do without a striker/centre forward. Yes goals are there from other areas but a predator in the box they do not have, yet.
I expect Chelsea and Liverpool to push City all the way and despite the fact that Jurgen Klopp has Virgil van Dijk and Joe Gomez back and Diego Jota, who can only get better I think one major factor favours Chelsea, well, two really. One, Romelu Lukaku is the one magic ingredient that was missing last season, in the penalty area. I believe he can have more of an impact on Chelsea than either Grealish or Kane at City.
The other factor that will aid Chelsea is the coach Thomas Tuchel. There is something drastically understated about his approach but it works, just look at the trophy cabinet since he arrived. I get the same feeling about him as fellow-countryman Jurgen Klopp when he first breezed into Anfield. Tuchel followed Klopp in winning the Champions` League, next stop, the Premier League?
I think Liverpool`s lack of incoming transfer activity has seen them creep under the radar somewhat. A goal-scoring midfielder is a priority. Maybe convert Bobby Firmino, there isn`t a more skilful player in the Anfield squad and he does know the way to goal. Oh for a younger James Milner. As for the last few years much will be expected of the `Holy Trinity` up front and judging by the way they performed against Norwich I think the current campaign will have far more ups than downs for Liverpool. I have a strong hunch there will be silverware but maybe not the PL.
Manchester United, until they win a trophy under OGS, will be a team associated with the expression, `Flatter to deceive`. Yes, they have brought in the exciting Jadon Sancho and the foil that is Raphael Varane to go alongside the sabre that is Harry Maguire but what they do lack is leadership, on the field. I don`t mean a fist-clenching, loud-roaring voice in a football kit I mean true leadership.
Where is the Bryan Robson, Paul Ince, Roy Keane, Steve Bruce, players who combined being top footballers with more than a smidgen of character. It could be an even longer list but I think you get my gist. Okay, they did sweep Leeds aside but can they produce that kind of performance week in, week out? Greenwood for Martial and Rashford waiting in the wings, they have a chance. Mind set required.
That`s the top four dealt with but next we must consider several sides who may just break up that elite quartet.
Leicester City missed out on Champions` League football two years in a row. I think they will make it third time lucky. They have so much quality in depth and a consistent level of performance from more than the mandatory three or four players per game.
They have one of the top three goalkeepers in the top flight, a defence that makes Scrooge appear generous, a midfield that can run any side ragged and as if the ageless Jamie Vardy wasn`t, well, ageless enough they have the returning Harvey Barnes, Patson Daka, Iheanacho, and Boubakery Soumare. They also have the most consistent player at the club, probably the league, Marc Albrighton and the vast experience of Ryan Bertrand. A couple of decent runs of point gathering and they could well get top four.
Tottenham Hotspur, to be or not to be, that is the question. Well, no, it isn`t. The question is Harry Kane, Spurs or City. `One man doesn`t make a team` goes the old expression but Tottenham frequently knocked that one on the head as `H` topped the scoring charts and assists last campaign. Nuno has swept in from Wolves but can he have a similar affect on Spurs to the one he executed at Molineux? The signings of a £42 million defender, Cristian Romero may not be enough, neither might winger Bryan Gil from Sevilla.
Tottenham fans, not to mention Mr Levy, are not renowned for their patience. What was significant about the opening day win over Manchester City was the fresh appetite Spurs showed and the counter-attacking thrust, at pace, with Moura and Bergwijn ably supporting perhaps the most underrated striker in world football, Son, nice one. One swallow doesn`t make a summer but if Tottenham can be more consistent in showing the appetite they showed against City I would back them for silverware this season.
Arsenal`s aims may be Champions` League but Europa League is more likely, maybe, UNLESS, the vast potential at the Emirates is finally galvanised by Mikel Arteta. The Gunners` major failings in recent seasons can be summed up in one word, RECRUITMENT. Whoever was responsible, depending on what day of the week it was, forgot the single most important factor when signing a player. There are many words that could be used to sum up what has been missing from Arsenal ranks for some time now, here are just a few;
Character, backbone, desire, passion, balls or if you want to be really clever;
Jack Wilshere or Aaron Ramsey.
Arsenal`s great hope lies in their youngsters; Ben White, at £50 million is still a work in progress but needs to hit the ground running, but he did neither, run or hit the ground running against Brentford. Bukayo Saka, Emile Rowe Smith and Eddie Nketia along with Kieran Tiernay are the future and should be the backbone to the team. If Arteta gives them their heads they may just surprise us all, If not, it may be Arteta who loses his, head.
Aston Villa, minus Jack Grealish but PLUS £100 million could be the surprise package. They stole a march when plunging for Danny Ings, the closest we have these days to a Robbie Fowler. Pairing him with Ollie Watkins will frighten the life out of any PL defence. Emiliano Buendia may not be Jack Grealish but he can become one of the best midfielders in the top flight. Oh, yes, in Emiliano Martinez won the Copa America with Argentina, what a steal that was to pinch him from Arsenal. If they can improve their goals from midfield and sign a top quality central defender who will make Tyrone Mings a top-quality central defender then top-six is a possibility.
I can`t make my mind up about West Ham United. Declan Rice, Tomas Soucek and Michail Antonio and the under-rated Jared Bowen give Hammers` fans cause for optimism although I think they need a younger version of Mark Noble. Rumours of Sullivan and Gold selling up have not helped plans for the coming season although new owners might just provide the funding for West Ham to build on last season`s punching above their weight and just missing out on CL.
Everton. Well, what can you say? New season, another manager, Rafa Benitez. Carlo Ancelotti he is not and while folk can point to his success over the other side of Stanley Park – we won`t be able to use that proximity metaphor for much longer- he has really taken the blue side of the city by the horns. He`ll be hoping it doesn`t become the horns of a dilemma.
Andros Townsend is a sound acquisition, although there are shades of Theo Walcott about it. Demarai Gray is still regard as a `selective application` player, or a fair weather player in old speak. He`s been inconsistent throughout his career, although he is still only 25, with a less than impressive goal tally of less than twenty goals in 215 career games. Leading scorer material he is not. I have a feeling Senor Benitez will not see out the season. Duncan Ferguson awaits.
Leeds United, will it be second season syndrome or will the team build on Marcelo Bielsa`s magic touch season last time out. Kalvin Phillips will no doubt have the team built around him but Patrick Bamford needs help up front from a proper striker, a fox in the box predator. Barca left back Junior Firpo will be an interesting one to watch. A couple of top, Premier League signings would go a long way to improving on last season`s 9th place finish.
Wolverhampton Wanderers. My gut feeling is a worry that the post NES era will coincide with a campaign spent in the lower half of the league table. Raul Jimenez is back after his fractured skull and oh how they missed his contribution. Will Jose Sa be a good enough replacement for Rui Patricio in goal, not sure. And then you have the enigmatic Adama Traore. If he stays can Bruno Lage get more consistency out of the muscular pace of a player who improved last year but still lags way behind a level to which he should aspire, more often.
Southampton have lost Danny Ings and with him a dependable goal threat. They hung on to James Ward Prowse but for how long. Ryan Bertrand`s departure took vast top-flight experience out of St Mary`s and I think it is a dearth of experience that may result in a long season for Saints, possibly even a relegation battle.
Crystal Palace`s best signing may turn out to be Patrick Vieira, their new manager. He`s brought in the potential of Connor Gallagher from Chelsea as well as his team mate Marc Guehi. Remi Mathews has come in from Sunderland and also Michael Olise but I think the absence of what Palace needs more than anything, Premier League experience, could prove too much for the Eagles. As ever they will rely so much on Zaha.
Brentford reminded us all why we love football. They took the occasion, the game and Arsenal by the scruff of the neck in their Premier League debut and boy did they show a rudderless Gunners team how to approach a game. The newbies have made a number of summer signings and I think they can look forward to a successful season.
Norwich City had a smack in the face against Liverpool on their return to the top flight, yet again reinforcing the gap there is between Championship and Premier League. Pukki will have to be at his very best and I hope Canaries`fans don`t expect Billy Gilmour, on a season loan from Chelsea to carry the side. As with a number of clubs I think the key for Norwich is trying to sign as much Premier League experience as possible otherwise it could be a slippery slope back to the Championship.
Newcastle United, with the Sword of Damocles hanging over them re potential sale by Mike Ashley, will do well to improve on last season. Steve Bruce has made a wise investment in bringing in Joe Willock who set all kinds of scoring records last season but Newcastle still need a centre back and a holding midfielder of note. I think also it is time for the enigmatic Allan Saint-Maximin to blossom.
He showed signs of improvement last season now he needs to kick on and exploit a wealth of natural talent. He is a game changer and potentially one of the players of the season, he could certainly earn a big move but the odd burst of brilliance which can turn a game needs to happen more often than it has to date. I think mid-table for Newcastle.
Burnley have been punching above their weight since they reached the Premier League and with a close-season of singularly unimpressive transfer activity I feel this season may be a bridge too far. The only signing of note was 34 year old goalkeeper Wayne Hennessey and while the squad from last season was good enough to keep them up their limited budget will almost certainly restrict the quality of players they can attract and their opening day defeat to Brighton I fear is a portent of what lies ahead.
Brighton & Hove Albion pocketed £50 million form the sale of Ben White and in Graham Potter they have a man canny enough to use that wedge wisely. Jeremy Sarmiento has come in from Benfica on a two-year deal. The 19 year old spent three years with the Portuguese giants since joining them from Charlton. If Adam Lallana can stay fit and get regular game time with Danny Welbeck still one of the best strikers in the Premier League I think The Seagulls can improve on last season`s 16th place finish.
Watford were promoted from the Championship with the best home record in the top four tiers of English football and they maintained that home form with a surprise 3-2 victory over Aston Villa on the opening day. Emmanuel Dennis and substitute Cucho Hernandez within seconds of coming on both marked their Watford debut with a goal. Hornets fans will want more of the same as the season progresses. Tom Cleverley and 33 year old Troy Deeney with their Premier League experience will be crucial if Watford are to maintain their hard-won top flight status. I think they will.
By Brian Beard, Associate Historian to the Football Association