Liverpool, Man Utd, City linchpins among top ten Prem titans requiring a succession plan…

Ian Watson

Liverpool can’t afford to screw up their succession plan for Virgil van Dijk in the way they’ve bungled their midfield rebuild. And Man Utd’s midfield is ageing too. Here are 10 players for whom their clubs ought to be thinking of replacements…


10) Michail Antonio 
It feels like West Ham have tried a few times to replace Antonio, who turns 34 during next season. Every time, so far, they seem to have f***ed it.

Maybe Gianluca Scamacca will come good after a season of acclimatisation to the Premier League but more likely, the Italian will be returned to Serie A. He doesn’t look to fit the profile of a David Moyes centre-forward, but sadly for the Hammers’ boss, he can’t clone Antonio.

The Jamaica international and England call-up, while acknowledging Scamacca as ‘quality’, spoke of what Moyes needs from his No.9: “How Moyes plays, it’s more like if you’re up front, you’re dealing with scraps and you’ve got to be more of a fighter and that’s not him.”

Danny Ings will certainly do a job, but if Moyes is staying, West Ham need to consider finally sourcing a striker more similar to Antonio.


9) Ben Mee
Mee moved to Brentford a year ago largely because no other club was willing to give him anything longer than a one-year contract. The Bees were offering a two-term contract, which very quickly proved to be a savvy move.

The ex-Burnley defender started 37 Premier League matches missing only one: a 4-0 humping by Aston Villa. Which is unlikely to be a coincidence.

Brentford probably need a central defender this summer, even allowing for the fact Mee has another year remaining on his original deal. Kristoffer Ajer is the only Bees centre-back the right side of 30 and he’s struggled with injury last season, playing only nine Premier League matches.


8) Felipe
The Brazilian was brilliant for Forest after arriving on deadline day in January. At £2million from Atletico Madrid, Felipe was a freaking steal.

Having spent four years at the heart of Diego Simeone’s defence, his combative qualities could not be doubted. The addition of Felipe’s fortitude was a huge factor in Forest’s improvement after winter window, especially away from home where previously they were a soft touch.

But there’s a reason Felipe was so cheap – the twice-capped Brazil international is 34. Steve Cooper has plenty of centre-backs on his books, but none as important as Felipe.

7) Tim Ream
Fulham were full of surprises last season but perhaps none bigger than Ream.

Upon the Cottagers’ return to the Premier League, the USA international was largely written off and expected to be phased out. But in Marco Silva’s mind, it has always been Ream-plus-one at the heart of his defence. But it can’t always be like that. Ream might be coming off the back of his best season yet, but he will be 36 in October.

The skipper has been pivotal, not just defensively, but in possession, he dictates much of Fulham’s tempo. So assured is Ream on the ball, Pep Guardiola said he’d make a bid if he were 10 years younger. That was after one meeting with Manchester City when Ream subdued Erling Haaland. In the other, late in the season, the defender broke his arm, breaking a 79-game streak of appearances. So Fulham have had a very brief taste of life without Ream, but it is a prospect they need to be ready for.


6) Hugo Lloris
Manchester United and Tottenham need to arrange a succession in their sticks but both seem to be dallying. United are considering scrimping by keeping David De Gea on reduced wages, but Spurs seem to have accepted the need to replace Lloris. They just don’t want to pay the going rate for David Raya.

Lloris’ void would arguably be bigger than De Gea’s. Each have been with Spurs and United for more than a decade – 11 years for Lloris, 12 for De Gea – with the former France captain, a World Cup winner, also serving as skipper for the last eight seasons.

The time has come to part, despite the remaining year on Lloris’s contract. That seems likely to be torn up, so Spurs can get his salary off their books and Lloris can explore a wider range of options. Still, Tottenham can’t afford to get his replacement wrong, especially if they are as wretched defensively as they were last season.

Hugo Lloris and Clement Lenglet look dejected after conceding a goal

5) Thiago Silva
Arriving at Chelsea aged 36, Silva was never going to be a long-term signing. The Blues are already in bonus territory, having had three seasons out of the veteran with another still to come. But the Brazilian will be 39 just over a month into the new campaign. Contrary to how it may appear, Silva cannot go on forever.

That is perhaps what much of the last year has been about – replacing their reigning player of the season. Chelsea bought Wesley Fofana, Benoit Badiashile and Kalidou Koulibaly, but none yet look ready to fill Silva’s boots.

Chelsea will almost certainly try again this summer, with Josko Gvardiol said to be a target. With other priorities, the Blues might look to kick the can down the road. But the end will come for Silva and Chelsea need to be ready.


4) Kieran Trippier
Newcastle’s player of the season in a crowded field can’t chug up and down the right flank forever. Trippier will turn 33 shortly after the Magpies’ Champions League campaign commences in September and, for most of last season, Eddie Howe didn’t have a stand-in, never mind a successor.

That might prove to be Harrison Ashby in the long-term. But since joining Newcastle in January, the 21-year-old is yet to make a senior appearance, largely due to hamstring problems that kept him sidelined for most fo the second half of the season. Ashby made the bench for the final two matches of the campaign but not yet has he featured for Newcastle in anything more competitive than the Under-23s.

Howe was perhaps fortunate that Trippier needed no stand-in last season – he played all but 46 minutes in the Premier League. Newcastle would be daft to gamble on such resilience lasting, especially with added commitments in Europe. A reliable stand-in is required, who could also serve as a successor.


3) Kevin De Bruyne
Manchester City’s Treble party might just have died down by the time De Bruyne celebrates his 32nd birthday later this month. With that in mind, Pep Guardiola needs to be thinking about life after the Belgian. Pep isn’t daft and City rarely swerve succession planning. But how does any club go about replacing a world-class talent like the two-time Premier League Playmaker?

Arsene Wenger tried to give City a little nudge on Saturday in the wake of the Champions League final. “They will lose maybe important players. This team is not an old team but there are no young players. Apart from Erling Haaland, who is 22 now, all the others are between 24 and 32 years old. So two or three new players will need to change.”

Phil Foden might like a word. But the point still stands. City will need to be thinking about comes next, especially regarding De Bruyne. The Belgian’s body is already creaking somewhat.


2) Casemiro
Manchester United only signed Casemiro last summer. But already, they ought to be thinking about life after the Brazilian given how sh*te they were before they finally found a midfield leader.

Casemiro is only 31 – he turns 32 next February – but it might be wise to get in an apprentice to learn from the master before he departs Old Trafford. United have other priorities this summer, like a centre-forward; a goalkeeper; a centre-back; and, apparently, a midfielder with a more attacking profile – but they can’t be caught cold.

Similar goes for Christian Eriksen. He turns 32 the week before Casemiro and though both were fantastic signings a year ago, they weren’t signed with longevity in mind.


1) Virgil van Dijk
Liverpool are said to be looking for a left-footed centre-back to play alongside Van Dijk. But at some point in the not-too-distant future, they need to consider a succession plan for the main man.

Van Dijk will be 32 before he reports for pre-season training next month ahead of a campaign when we’ll learn more about whether his form last term was a symptom of ageing, or merely a blip. Of course, few Liverpool players escaped last season with much credit, but Van Dijk’s dip was more noticeable given his previous, imperious form. Last season he looked, well, human. Ordinary, even.

Given the defender’s importance to Liverpool, the club needs a clear plan for replacing Van Dijk, regardless of how he performs next season. They cannot afford to screw up their defensive refit in the same way they’ve bungled their midfield rebuild.

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