At the risk of looking very stupid in a year, theScore predicts what could happen during the next Premier League campaign.
Solskjaer is gone by Christmas Day
Ole’s at the wheel, but for how much longer?
There was a constant gloom over Old Trafford while Jose Mourinho was in charge, and Ole Gunnar Solskjaer changed that. Here was a club legend prepared to recount the good old days under Sir Alex Ferguson and unshackle the likes of Paul Pogba and Anthony Martial. Young players got a chance and “The Manchester United way” became a mantra. He was a crowd-pleaser.
Then, results faltered and patience with Solskjaer dwindled. His apparent refusal to use the manager’s parking spot at Carrington out of respect for Ferguson was just plain weird, and his decision to stage training at The Cliff – the base United left in 2000 – before April’s Manchester derby backfired.
The summer transfer window will be huge for Solskjaer and United. Some players want to leave and some should be pushed out the door, but it’s their replacements that are so, so important. Can a relatively inexperienced manager who signed a gaggle of subpar Scandinavians during his sorry time in charge of Cardiff be trusted to conduct this crucial business? Solskjaer will need to sell the United project to players who could find joining one of the teams that finished inside the top four a more appetizing proposition.
If he fails to recruit well in the close season, it’s unlikely he’ll be trusted to spend again in the January sales.
Aarons gives Southgate selection headache
Max Aarons’ professional league debut against Norwich City’s archrivals Ipswich Town seemed to mark a low in East Anglian football.
“Neither team looks remotely equipped to bother the promotion challengers and both looked exactly what they are: mediocre second-tier sides in flux, with new relationships yet to be perfected but no sign of the presence or cutting edge possessed by the best at this level,” the Guardian’s Nick Ames wrote last September following the clubs’ draw.
Norwich went on to finish top of the Championship while Ipswich finished rooted to the bottom. The match proved to be a turning point in the Canaries’ campaign and the exact moment when Aarons began to establish himself as one of the finest full-backs in the country.
His football intellect is high, as demonstrated in the timing of his attacks and mature defensive play. The only thing that can get between him and Gareth Southgate’s England squad is competition, with Trent Alexander-Arnold, Kyle Walker, Aaron Wan-Bissaka, and others currently vying for the right-back slot.
Leicester make top-4 push
Wolverhampton Wanderers are everybody’s pick to break the glass ceiling into the big six, but the added rigors of a likely Europa League crusade could prove too much for Nuno Espirito Santo’s squad. Wolves only started 18 different players in the 2018-19 Premier League term – the lowest number across the division – so they need to quickly fatten up their roster.
Leicester City, meanwhile, don’t require too many tweaks. Jamie Vardy needs support – Kelechi Iheanacho isn’t good enough – and another wideman would further assist their attack, but Brendan Rodgers has otherwise inherited an exciting team in the East Midlands.
If Ben Chilwell stays put, the Foxes have one of the best full-back pairings in the top flight with the Englishman and Ricardo Pereira, who won both the club’s Player of the Season and Players’ Player of the Season awards. Signing Youri Tielemans to permanent terms would be a huge coup, allowing him to form an intimidating midfield trio with Wilfred Ndidi and James Maddison.
And in Hamza Choudhury, Harvey Barnes, and Demarai Gray, there’s more young talent for Rodgers to develop.
The future is bright for Leicester.
Chelsea’s transfer ban is a blessing in disguise
“I think that we have to buy only one, two players, otherwise it’s very difficult to improve immediately,” Maurizio Sarri complained following news that Chelsea’s one-year transfer ban was upheld.
The Blues can’t necessarily close the gap behind Liverpool and Manchester City when they’re unable to recruit, but some players who were loaned out over the 2018-19 season are capable of maintaining Chelsea’s competitiveness in the top four and sending them to the Champions League’s later rounds in the next campaign.
Eleven star pupils from Chelsea’s 2018-19 loan class:
|Tammy Abraham||FW||Aston Villa|
|*Tiemoue Bakayoko||MF||AC Milan|
|Michy Batshuayi||FW||Crystal Palace|
|Jay Dasilva||DF||Bristol City|
|Reece James||DF||Wigan Athletic|
|Mason Mount||MF||Derby County|
|**Christian Pulisic||FW||Borussia Dortmund|
|Fikayo Tomori||DF||Derby County|
* Temporary club has option to buy
** Signed permanently in January, then immediately loaned back to Dortmund until end of season as part of the deal
Chelsea’s preseason tour and early competitive games should be fascinating. Can Reece James challenge Cesar Azpilicueta’s sovereignty of the right-back slot? Is the much-improved Tammy Abraham finally able to rehash his goal-scoring exploits in the Premier League? Can Derby County standouts Mason Mount and Fikayo Tomori stake a claim for regular first-team action?
Sarri prides himself on being a manager that doesn’t get involved in the transfer tattle, preferring to work with what he’s given. Now, fans of English football will get to see what he can do.
Liverpool win the league
This wasn’t a one-off. Liverpool – bankrolled by back-to-back Champions League finals and with a legion of youthful stars – are here to stay.
Where do you begin to strengthen the Reds? There’s no need to fiddle with the starting XI, so instead focus on bringing in a third- or fourth-choice center-back and someone more reliable than Daniel Sturridge to pressure the seemingly impenetrable attacking triumvirate for minutes. Divock Origi has probably earned another year at the club and at least a plaque on the pavement of Anfield Road for his huge goals during the 2018-19 season.
Manchester City, meanwhile, have plenty to address. Leroy Sane has a tendency to sulk and skulk, and that was reflected in the fact that only one of his 21 league starts was against a top-six side; Vincent Kompany, Fernandinho, and David Silva are aging; Benjamin Mendy and Fabian Delph are constantly injured; Ilkay Gundogan has one year left on his contract and is rumored to be eyeing a return to Germany.
There could be a raft of changes in Beswick.
The difference between the Merseysiders and City in 2018-19 were minimal, and it seems Liverpool already have a head start in preparations for the new season.