Premier League 2020/21: Where the Big Six need to strengthen
Shiv Kataria (UG21) and Rahul Agarwal (UG22)
Calling this season “unique” would be an understatement. Be it the unprecedented and turbulent attack of the Coronavirus, leading to a 3-month shutdown or the coterie of wild decisions taken by the newly introduced Video Assistant Referee (VAR) technology to help out on-field referees, 2019/20 has thrown up more surprises than anybody could have ever envisioned. The Premier League had its share of thrills and spills all around the year, with Liverpool finally emerging victorious and fulfilling their 30-year long dream. Their predecessors, Manchester City, came in second place and the other Big Six followed with their top half finishes. Having said that, there are loads of improvements to be made by every team for the upcoming season. And here we are with exactly that!
It’s taken him over 4 years but Jurgen Klopp has finally given Liverpool what they’ve been craving for three decades! A season full of sensational team performances combined with individual brilliance from certain players saw the Premier League trophy travel to the Red half of Merseyside. With a total of 99 points, this almost perfect Liverpool team broke several records and showed the league why they deserved to be champions. Be it grinding out victories or simply outclassing their opponents; they also managed to stay unbeaten in the league at the fortress we call Anfield, for a third consecutive season. Although their focus was definitely on the Premier League itself, these losses can be attributed to a lack of squad depth.
Full Backs/Goalkeeper: Every football fan out there knows how important Liverpool’s full-backs are to their style of play. With just the combination of Trent Alexander-Arnold and Andy Robertson, Liverpool has recorded 48 assists over the last two seasons! They have bought the young Kostas Tsimikas from Olympiacos, who could turn out to be a great backup to Andy Robertson. However, there isn’t anyone who can replace Trent Alexander-Arnold, who has been exceptional in the right-back position (racking up the second-highest assists across the top-flight last season) ever since he’s become the first choice. Liverpool has also had their love-hate relationships with goalkeepers and although Alisson (34 clean sheets in the last two seasons) has steadied that ship excellently, they would still fancy someone really astute to step into his shoes when needed.
Midfielder: With the imminent departure of Gini Wijnaldum, Liverpool would probably love to dive into the transfer market for someone like Thiago. Although he’s 30, they can get him for a reasonable price and the quality he could add to that midfield would be immense. His range of passing and vision is beyond brilliant and his composure on the ball is as good as any top midfielder out there. In short, he would be the perfect signing for Klopp’s Reds.
Going into last season, Pep Guardiola and his Blues would’ve fancied a hat-trick of league titles but it was far from it. Although City still showed their magic and quality all over the pitch, it was, like always, defensive frailties (worsened by Laporte’s injury problems) and a lack of grit that scarred their season. A whopping 9 losses besides conceding unnecessary goals from individual errors highlighted exactly where Pep needs to strengthen. With David Silva leaving his legacy behind and Leroy Sane’s unexpected departure, Txiki Begiristain and the City board really have a lot to think about in the transfer market.
Central Defenders: Manchester City’s defense is still the one area that needs massive improvement. Since the departure of former captain Vincent Kompany, City has lacked a leader at the back. There have also been concerns about Aymeric Laporte’s long term partner – this, however, has settled a little since the arrival of Nathan Ake; who seems to be a solid signing (0 individual errors leading to goals last season!). However, a strong and capable center-back like Kalidou Koulibaly or Milan Skriniar should still be primary targets. The talks between Napoli and City have reached “advanced stages” and City seem to be slowly closing in on Kalidou Koulibaly. As mentioned, he would be just the right signing to massively bolster the City backline.
Striker: Apart from this, City will probably also fancy signing another striker given Sergio Aguero’s frequent injury calamities. The zest and energy of Gabriel Jesus is certainly a bonus but the signing of Ferran Torres is also a welcome addition as the youngster is versatile enough to play anywhere in the front line.
The Red Devils’ season began poorly but a certain Portuguese playmaker’s arrival in January completely turned the tide. Bruno Fernandes took to the Premier League like a duck to water and by providing service to the fearsome front three of Rashford, Martial, and Greenwood, Manchester United finished the Premier League season strongly, clinching the third spot. It is safe to say that Ole Gunnar Solskjær’s team is on an upward trajectory. Although United looked unbeatable during the latter stages of the season, fatigue did catch up to the players and there was unquestionably a dip in standards. The club will have to delve deep into their pockets in the transfer window.
Right Winger: Mason Greenwood looks to be a future star but at the tender age of 18, it’s impossible to expect him to play over fifty games in a season. Martial and Rashford have also had niggling injuries so squad depth is needed in attacking positions. United have been linked with Borussia Dortmund’s Jadon Sancho throughout the summer and although he is likely to command large transfer fees, it will be a statement signing that would lift the team to another level. Only 21, Sancho has showcased his ability in the Bundesliga notching up 33 goal involvements (goals and assists) in 32 games in the 2019-20 season.
Centre Back: United have to deal with troubles in their backline as well. In spite of the fact that Victor Lindelof has put in some solid performances, the Old Trafford faithful would love to bolster their defence by adding a high-caliber player to partner Harry Maguire. Dayot Upamecano seems to be an ideal option for the club, having had a stellar breakthrough season with RB Leipzig. In comparison with United’s current centre back alternatives, Upamecano ranks best for successful tackles per 90 minutes (2.0) as well as passing accuracy (89.1%). A significant upgrade, he could increase the club’s chances of mounting a title charge, similar to how Virgil Van Dijk transformed Liverpool’s backline.
Chelsea have moved quickly in the transfer window and strengthened their squad with the arrivals of Hakim Ziyech, Timo Werner, Ben Chilwell, Thiago Silva and more recently, German wonder kid Kai Havertz. But just like many others in the league, Chelsea have struggled defensively. In fact, they conceded the most number of goals in the top half of the table (54).
Centre Back: The poor form of Andreas Christensen and Antonio Rudiger as well as injuries to Fikayo Tomori left the Blues short-handed at the back last season. Thiago Silva is in the twilight of his career and unquestionably a mere short term fix. With an eye for the future West Ham’s Declan Rice could provide the club with a strong, tall and physical leader for many years to come. A former Chelsea youth product who has played as a centre back in his formative years, Rice has impressed many with his versatility and performances over the past few years. In the previous Premier League season, Rice ranked 3rd for interceptions and possession won in the defensive third while ranking 4th in tackles and possession won in the middle third out of all players in the league.
Goalkeeper: The most frustrating of positions that Chelsea need to address is the goalkeeper. Kepa Arrizabalaga had the worst save percentage (55.4%) of all goalkeepers in England and has lately been dropped by Lampard following a series of unconvincing performances for 39 year old Willy Caballero. Ajax’s Andre Onana would be a realistic transfer which would help the club massively in the goalkeeping department. Onana is not only an excellent shot-stopper but he is also extremely adept with the ball at his feet, which would fit Chelsea’s style of play perfectly.
What a topsy turvy season Spurs had! From starting off after a Champions League final to sacking Mauricio Pochettino mid-season and bringing in Jose Mourinho, they somehow managed to make the Europa league spots after mostly lingering in the bottom half of the table all season. With loads of injuries, lineup rotations as well as disappointing performances overall, Spurs haven’t looked like their usual fighting and persevered self this year. Harry Kane, Hueng-Min Son and Giovanni Lo Celso do provide hope with their immense talent but the side needs a major shakeover in order to challenge the Big Six again. It’s only safe to say that Mourinho’s men require improvements all over the pitch.
Defenders: The problem of replacing the often criticized Serge Aurier has now been solved thanks to the signing of Matt Doherty from Wolves. He’s a very versatile right-hand side defender who can also be a menace in the final third. With the departure of Jan Vertonghen, Spurs should also ideally sign a centre-back. They have some great options with the likes of RB Leipzig’s Ibrahima Konate or Sevilla’s Jules Kounde. If they can be persuasive, Spurs might just be able to sign someone as impressive as RB Leipzig’s Dayot Upamecano, with their defensive frailties highlighting the need for a solid, young defender.
Striker: An issue that is usually overlooked when it comes to Spurs is the missing replacement for Harry Kane. Although Lucas Moura and Hueng-Min Son are versatile enough to play in the central position upfront, signing a striker really seems to be the play for Mourinho here. There’s a variety of options to explore from across the globe, but someone like Real Madrid’s out-of-favour Luka Jovic could be a welcome arrival as he is good with both feet, an threat in the air and has proven himself at the continental stage as well.
Arsenal finished the season strong under Mikel Arteta by lifting the FA Cup and Community Shield, but an eighth-place league finish along with a shabby ending to their European campaign made for a mediocre season for the Gunners. Undoubtedly, the youthful and exuberant team has shown signs of promise but the problem that has plagued Arsenal for the past decade still persists. They have a wealth of offensive options, but their defensive recruitments have let the fans down on a consistent basis. Luiz, Mustafi and Holding are prone to high-profile errors every weekend, whilst Hector Bellerin and Sead Kolasinac have lacked consistency.
Centre Back: An experienced centre back would definitely aid Arsenal’s defensive woes. Pablo Mari did not have much time to showcase his talents while William Saliba and Gabriel Magalhaes are still inexperienced. World Cup winner Samuel Umtiti could be added to the ranks and he would surely bring his world class ability to the Emirates and sure up a young defensive unit. Surplus to requirements at current club Barcelona, it would not take much for Arsenal to prize him away.
Defensive Midfielder: Reinforcements in the middle of the park are also required, granted that Granit Xhaka and Dani Ceballos have put in better performances recently. Atletico Madrid’s Thomas Partey is a viable contender for this role and the holding midfielder has been linked with the club over the past few months. The tall and strong Ghanaian would act as a solid anchor in the Arsenal midfield having a successful tackle rate of 69.4% over the last season, which betters all of Arsenal’s other midfield options.