2015/16 Premier League - Will the title return to Manchester?
We’re already three weeks into the Premier League season, but it looks pretty evident that there are some pieces of the jigsaw missing from most top-flight squads. Three title contenders Manchester United, Arsenal and Chelsea would have realised the need inject fresh talent to widen their selection options as the season progresses.
Newcomers Bournemouth, despite a spirited beginning to their Premier League campaign must also take a further chunk out of their £120m windfall ( for winning promotion to the Premier League) if they need to give themselves a fighting chance to stay in the League.
However, with what we’ve witnessed so far, early evidence seems to suggest that it is the two arch-rivals from the city of Manchester who will lock horns in the quest for Premier League glory.
Let’s take a closer look at the strengths of these 2 teams and where they should invest further to widen their selection options over the course of what promises to be a long and gruelling Premier League campaign right until the ball is kicked for the last time in May.
8 goals without reply in their opening 3 encounters, and Manuel Pellegrini’s side already look like early favourites to reclaim their Premier League title from Chelsea. However, a couple of bad games and all that could change in an instant.
Manchester City failed to defend their league title last season, finishing 8 points adrift of Chelsea, and their faltering defence and shielding midfielders over the course of the season was responsible for that. Yaya Toure’s irregularity in the squad meant Fernandinho was left with the impossible job of having to stop counter-attacks as well as run from box-to-box to set up an attacking platform for David Silva and Sergio Aguero.
Club captain Vincent Kompany’s torrid form and Elaquim Mangala’s tendency to play the opposition onside while defending set-pieces meant Manchester City had to invest in a quality centre-back, and quickly snapped up the services of the impressive Nicklas Otamendi (who made the most clearances in La Liga last season) from Valencia to sort out their defensive problems.
The void left by the departure of James Milner was filled by bringing in Raheem Sterling from Liverpool for 49m pounds, the most expensive transfer for an English player. He seems to have bonded well into his left-wing role, outpacing the opposition right-backs and winning 50-50 balls in the process, like he did against Seamus Coleman in the Everton game on Sunday.
On paper, the squad looks well-poised to challenge for the Premier League this season, and with the arrival of attacking midfielder Kevin de Bruyne from Wolfsburg imminent, the odds will be in favour of Man City to lift the title come May. De Bruyne’s arrival would mean he starts in an attacking midfield role, with David Silva shifting to the right wing, which would mean Jesus Navas would have to be content with a place on the bench.
If I had to point out any weak link, I would add another defensive midfielder to help out Yaya and Fernandinho in case one or both of them decide to take it easy over the season. Fernando looks a liability in a City shirt, and Pellegrini is still in a dilemma on how to use him to the greatest good.
7 points from their first 3 games can appear an impressive start to dummies, but most Manchester United fans will admit the performances have been far less convincing than what meets the eye. Goals have been hard to come by, with youth product Adnan Januzaj the only player in a Man United shirt to have found the back of the net, that too via. a deflection.
What Louis van Gaal can be highly impressed with is the fact that, like Man City, they haven’t let in a single goal throughout their 270 minutes of the season. Well, at least that part of the field has improved from the previous campaign.
Chris Smalling has quickly turned from a villain to a hero in the eyes of United fans with his solidity in front of goal along with makeshift centre-back Daley Blind. Newly signed Goalkeeper Sergio Romero - starting ahead of David de Gea, whose uncertain future at the club remains an unnecessary distraction for Man United off the field- has also made a few impressive saves, though he hasn’t been tested much over the 3 games.
Morgan Schneiderlein and Matteo Darmian have also been in sizzling form in their respective CDM and Right-Back positions. Schneiderlein has been impressive in stopping potential counter attacks and making crucial interceptions. Darmian is easily amongst United’s most hard-working players on the field- ever so dangerous down the wing and then running back to defend – is he the future Gary Neville? We shall see.
The 21-year-old sensation by the name of Memphis Depay has also found the going tough in his early weeks at Old Trafford. He must be more involved in play, trying to feed the striker and delivering crosses from the wing rather than opt for his long range shooting technique, which brought him so much success during his time at PSV Eindhoven. It will only be a matter of time though, before he adapts to the realities of the Premier League.
Another issue Man United may have faced is the absence of Marouane Fellaini through suspension carried over from last season’s red card at Hull City. In his absence, United have definitely lacked an authoritative figure in the opposition D. Fellaini’s goals in the dying moments of matches, using his height and power to rise up highest to meet long balls was probably what made the difference between a Champions League spot and nothing for LVG’s side.
Not to mention David de Gea’s outstanding form in goal. Fellaini showed United what they missed with his 94th minute header against Club Brugge in the Champions League play-off first leg, which put United in pole position to qualify for the group stage even before the commencement of the second leg this Wednesday. With his suspension completed he will add another dimension to United’s attack when they face in-form Swansea at the Liberty Stadium in Wales on Sunday.
When Real Madrid knock on the back door with a blank cheque, there’s nothing one can do apart from accepting the fact that the player in demand should prepare himself for an immediate future at the Santiago Bernabeu.
The same situation comes into play in the ever-lasting David de Gea transfer saga. Despite continued insistence from Man United that the star goalkeeper would see out the rest of his contract, it seems inevitable that a move to the Spanish giants is imminent.
United have spotted a potential replacement in Sergio Romero, who, despite having made a few good reflex-action saves and having kept 3 clean sheets in as many games, has looked uncertain when it comes to his distribution and decision making when the ball is at his feet. However, his amazing record speaks for itself while playing for his national side, and promises to do the same during his stay at Old Trafford.
Without a doubt, a quality striker. Someone who can be menacing inside the opposition 18-yard-box, someone who can provide a good goal to shots ratio. Javier Hernandez clearly does not appear to Louis van Gaal as a potential ‘leader of the line’. Depending on a misfiring Wayne Rooney through the course of a season can be a dangerous tactic. His high wages make him an un-droppable entity.
Hence, he dearly needs a striking partner, someone who can create the space for him to regain his finishing touch. United have been linked with Brazilian forward Alexandre Pato, Russia’s Alexsandr Kokorin and Real Madrid’s French striker Karim Benzema to add to their striking options.
Man United fans will be anxiously awaiting official confirmation of which of these potential recruits will be seen in a Red Devils jersey come next Tuesday.