10) Everton – Satisfactory reserve options
There’s a good deal to like about Everton’s first-choice XI. Leighton Baines, James McCarthy, Seamus Coleman, John Stones, Phil Jagielka, Muhamed Besic and Romelu Lukaku may all merit starts at neighbours Liverpool, for example. What lets Roberto Martinez down is the bare cupboard left once the finest ingredients are removed.
Tony Hibbert as the reserve right-back, Aroune Kone as the back-up for Lukaku and Antonin Alcaraz (now gone) in central defence – these are all things that require significant upgrade if Everton are going to improve. Last summer the majority of the transfer budget was spent on one striker, but this year Everton must spread their cash more thinly across the squad. The crucial trick is to do so without simply replacing mediocrity with mediocrity. Apropros of exactly that, Tom Cleverley has already arrived.
9) Newcastle United – Wingers
Sammy Ameobi? No. Yoan Gouffran? No. Gabriel Obertan? No. Jonas Gutierrez? Gone. Sylvain Marveaux? No. Romain Amalfitano? No. Rolando Aarons? Yes, but still very raw.
Any Newcastle supporter will give you a list as long as their arm for how Steve McClaren (and Mike Ashley) must improve this stagnant squad, but it is in wide areas that they are most lacking. Papis Cisse’s chance conversion was remarkable last season, but both him and Ayoze Perez were forced to feed on relative scraps. As a rule, Newcastle’s crossing and set-piece taking is at primary school level.
With Siem de Jong, Remy Cabella and Moussa Sissoko all capable of creating behind the striker, signing a wide player (or two) would do much to lift the mood on Tyneside. Newcastle fans have a long history of adoring a winger (think Ruel Fox, David Ginola, Laurent Robert, Nobby Solano and Hatem Ben Arfa). All they want is someone to make them dream.
8) Promoted clubs – Defenders
It is the one constant of the Premier League era. In every single season, the team that has conceded the most goals has been relegated. Sunderland and Aston Villa survived in May despite only scoring 31 times all season, compared to QPR’s 42 (a total higher than six other teams). Letting them in at a rate of almost two a game is the perfect recipe for relegation.
Hull are another case in point. Steve Bruce spent £32m on Abel Hernandez, Robert Snodgrass, Jake Livermore, Mohamed Diame, Dame N’Doye and Tom Ince, but Michael Dawson was the only central defender added to the first-team squad. They still scored five fewer goals from the season previously, and were relegated. Meanwhile, Southampton qualified for Europe despite scoring fewer times than Blackpool in 2010/11; Ian Holloway’s side were relegated. There’s no point running hot water into the bath if you haven’t put the plug in first.
QPR and Hull should act as a lesson. Harry Redknapp’s side conceded 44 goals in 46 Championship matches in 2013/14, a better defensive record than Bournemouth, Watford and Norwich last season. It may seem harsh not to reward the achievements of the defence that got you promoted, but loyalty can be a dangerous virtue. Rather than splashing out on strikers, make defence the priority.
7) Southampton – A central defender
It was one of the most astounding achievements in Premier League history. Having conceded 106 goals in their previous two league seasons, Southampton promptly boasted the second best defensive record in the Premier League after selling three of their first-team defenders.
Now the hard work starts again for Southampton. Toby Alderweireld’s loan from Atletico Madrid has ended, Jos Hooiveld has been released and Mayo Yoshida just isn’t good enough for the top half of the top flight. Add the interest in Nathaniel Clyne and Jose Fonte and probable loss of the perfect protector Morgan Schneiderlin, and the problem is clear. Ronald Koeman must work his transfer market magic again.
6) Chelsea – A back-up striker
With Didier Drogba leaving and Loic Remy wanting a more prominent role at another Premier League club, Jose Mourinho finally has some necessary work to carry out on his otherwise shiny squad. Two forwards arriving at Stamford Bridge might be fanciful, but one coming in is a certainty.
The answer is becoming more obvious by the day, as Jorge Mendes client Radamel Falcao attracts the interest of Jorge Mendes client Mourinho. Mendes is presumably looking forward to drawing faces on both of his hands in order to act out a farcical negotiation scene. Only counting his money comes higher on his list of hobbies.
5) Tottenham – Reliable experience
Behold the list of Tottenham’s nine oldest outfield appearances makers last season, in order: Emmanuel Adebayor, Roberto Soldado, Younes Kaboul, Jan Vertonghen, Aaron Lennon, Federico Fazio, Moussa Dembele, Etienne Capoue, Paulinho and Vlad Chiriches. Urgh.
That’s effectively a who’s who of White Hart Lane disappointment. Perhaps more than at any major club in Europe, it’s the kids showing the way at Spurs. Mauricio Pochettino’s summer task is to complement his exciting young players with know-how that doesn’t bring down the average so sharply.
Fail to add a spine of experience to the squad (and then inspire that experience to achieve), and Pochettino will just face the same old problems. It’s the simple Spurs dance – two steps forward, another two back.
4) Manchester United – A right-back
It’s not that Louis van Gaal doesn’t have right-backs to choose from, but looking at Antonio Valencia, Chris Smalling and Phil Jones playing there in training must make him shudder. The other alternative is Rafael, favourite of the United crowd but kryptonite to the club’s coaches since Alex Ferguson left.
Dani Alves was the ideal option with Nathaniel Clyne as the fall-back, but the Brazilian’s decision to stay in Barcelona has heightened the chase. Clyne himself is rumoured to prefer a move to Liverpool or to stay under Ronald Koeman at St. Mary’s. Has Luke Shaw had a quiet word?
Seamus Coleman, Dani Carvajal, Matteo Darmian and Gregory van der Wiel are other possible options but, for now, United’s search goes on. Surely we can’t have another season of Valencia?
3) Arsenal – A central midfielder
Googling ‘Arsenal central midfielder’ emphasises just how long this issue has rumbled on. Every transfer window sees countless lists of four, five, six or ten central midfielders Arsene Wenger could target. Geoffrey Kondogbia alone has packed his bags 30 or 40 times, but the wait continues.
This is that special time of year when Arsenal’s players take turns to tell us how they can, will, or might win the title next season, all talking about meaningful improvement as if we haven’t heard it all before. The argument over Olivier Giroud may never be resolved, but it’s a world-class holding midfielder Arsenal really need if they are to strike it rich.
Has Francis Coquelin surpassed everyone’s expectations? Of course. Can he be relied upon to continue his form? No. Is it time for Arsenal to spend £30m on this piece of the jigsaw? A thousand times yes.
2) Liverpool – Players to fit the system
It’s an obvious and well-repeated statement, but Brendan Rodgers really does need to start trying round pegs in round holes. Liverpool need reinforcements across the squad, but new signings must be utilised more logically.
The examples are numerous. Rickie Lambert as a lone striker. Emre Can as a right-back and central defender. Glen Johnson as a left-back. Javier Manquillo as a left-back. Adam Lallana, Jordan Henderson, Raheem Sterling and Lazar Markovic as wing-backs. Sterling also as a central striker. Philippe Coutinho on the right wing. Sometimes the simple option is the most effective.
If Rodgers wants to continue with his 3-4-3 experiment then a right wing-back and central defender must be bought, rather than using Can and Markovic as expensive guinea pigs. If he wants to play with a single striker then a forward must be bought who is comfortable playing on their own with back to goal and bringing others into play. If he wants to allow wing-backs to surge forward then he needs a holding midfielder rather than a helpless Steven Gerrard or Joe Allen.
It all sounds so bloody simple, but we remain unconvinced.
1) Manchester City – Homegrown players
‘All 20 Clubs must include eight Homegrown players out of a squad of 25 for that Premier League season,’ read the Premier League’s own rulebook. ‘A Home Grown player will be defined as one who, irrespective of his nationality or age, has been registered with any club affiliated to the Football Association or the Football Association of Wales for a period, continuous or not, of three entire seasons or 36 months prior to his 21st birthday (or the end of the season during which he turns 21).’
They are official words to send shivers through Manchester City’s hierarchy. Let’s run through City’s eight homegrown players from last season: Dedryck Boyata (left), Gael Clichy, John Guidetti (left), Joe Hart, Frank Lampard (left), James Milner (left), Scott Sinclair (left) and Richard Wright. And then there were three (and one of them was Richard Wright).
It’s difficult to know quite what City are intending to do other than exactly what they did before – pepper their squad with English players who aren’t, and never will be, good enough. Raheem Sterling may be an honourable exception, but that still leaves City with a 21-man squad and four English gaps to fill. Are they going to have to finally trust some of their development squad, or spend megabucks on players like Aaron Cresswell?