Where the 4 EPL challengers need to improve to match Chelsea next season
The Premier League challengers were off pace this season, what do they need to improve next time around?
With this season coming to a close, of the big 5, none of the 4 challengers have been able to match up or catch up to champions Chelsea. Having beaten Sunderland at home, they lifted the Premier League trophy after a five-year spell without it – they are indeed deserved champions. The rest of the pack have had great disparity in their performances this season and have found it a struggle to cope up with the Blues’ results, both head-to-head and throughout the season.
Let’s examine what went wrong for the rest and find solutions as to how they can fix their issues next season.
It's been the same old story for Arsenal, all style but lesser substance in the league. Their slick passing and silky football might have pleased the fans but they found themselves wanting in the games they had to mix it up with the likes of Stoke City and Manchester United, especially in the first half of the season. Although they have finished the second half of the season strongly and reached the FA Cup final, the fans would have wanted more from the Gunners in the league to get their hands on the elusive Premier League title.
For the Gunners finishing the season strongly was mainly down to the regaining of fitness of all of their players towards February and March and for all their criticism, a fully fit Arsenal side is one to be reckoned with. The North London side were thought to be contenders for the Premier League title this season, however, they ended the first half of the season in fifth place.
Ravaged by injuries throughout the first half of the campaign, the Gunners lost Laurent Koscielny, Olivier Giroud, Mesut Ozil, Theo Walcott and Jack Wilshere for most part of the season while Aaron Ramsey and Mikel Arteta were out for a lesser period of time.
Areas of improvement
Midfield: For all the talent Arsenal possess, they still don’t have a recognized top class holding midfield player to sit in front of their back four and anchor their midfield. Francis Coquelin may have won plaudits for his performances anchoring the Gunners midfield while Arteta was out injured but their lack of quality in that position has been exposed by some of the tougher midfield opposition in the EPL.
Recommendation – Morgan Schneiderlin, Ilkay Gundogan
Defence: Arsenal simply need another centre back. Wenger can’t risk playing his defenders out of position. The Gunners lost Koscielny through an Achilles injury in the first half of the season and it shook up their entire back four and derailed their season.
With the glaring lack of depth and options in that position, Wenger was forced to play Calum Chambers, Nacho Monreal and Mathieu Debuchy out of position at centre back – a move which made their defence much more leaky and lost them many a game both away and at the Emirates.
Signing Gabriel Paulista in the January transfer window has given Arsenal some cover for Per Mertesacker and Laurent Koscielny so it looks unlikely that Wenger will spend his budget on a defender next season.
Recommendation – Nicolas Otamendi, Simon Kjaer, Jose Fonte, Phil Jagielka, Ashley Williams, Andrea Ranocchia
Striker: The absence of Giroud forced the Gunners to play the mmisfiringDanny Welbeck up front while Yaya Sanogo filled in as his replacement in crucial games in the Champions League. The lack of a finisher with Giroud injured cost them a lot of forward hold up play and goals from a recognized striker.
The absence of the Frenchman also cost Arsenal a target man. The bulk of Arsenal’s goals have come from Alexis Sanchez, who has lit up the Premier League with his performances. But Arsenal need to bring in at least one forward next season.
Recommendation – Alexandre Lacazette, Alberto Bueno, Gonzalo Higuain, Harry Kane
The Red Devils’ formation changed as many times per game as David Beckham’s hairstyle did over the years in a season of experimentation at Old Trafford. 3-4-3, 3-5-2, 4-3-3, 4-4-2? If anybody has to be called the new tinker man in the league after Rafa Benitez and Claudio Ranieri it has to be Louis van Gaal. Too much uncertainty and experimentation is what has cost United a strong challenge for the league this season.
Van Gaal didn’t have a set back four or three, a set midfield three or a set striking partnership. With the exception of David De Gea in goal, every player at United was shuffled, shifted and made to play out of position.
The new recruits Herrera, Shaw, Rojo and Blind have all been in and out of the side while the EPL’s most expensive player Angel Di Maria has had to sit on the sidelines and watch as well. The resurgence of Marouane Fellaini, the consistency of Rooney, the brilliance of De Gea and contributions from Mata are what have led United to 4th.
United fans couldn't have expected a title charge immediately in Van Gaal’s first season as the club is undergoing a serious transition and change on the pitch, in the dressing room and outside it. Replacing Ferguson and his old team is no simple task. While Moyes failed in spectacular fashion last season, Van Gaal has found a winning formula after chopping and changing for most of the season.
Areas of improvement
Defence: United lack an experienced centre back to lead the defence. After letting Nemanja Vidic and Rio Ferdinand go last season they simply failed to find a replacement. In theory Phil Jones, Chris Smalling, Johnny Evans and Marcos Rojo are a very good centre back roster to have, but they have failed to find proper fitness and form throughout the season.
Constant injuries forced Van Gaal to use reserve players Tyler Blackett and Paddy McNair, who have performed decently enough. A strong defence was the hallmark of an Alex Ferguson team but is lacking in Van Gaal’s side.
Recommendations – Mats Hummels, Simon Kjaer, Rafael Varane, Thiago Silva, Jose Fonte, Phil Jagielka, Leonardo Bonucci, Ashley Williams
Midfield: United have an array of talent in midfield, but since Van Gaal has more or less decided on a 4-3-3 he has to decide how to play his midfielders intelligently. Michael Carrick being injured was a big miss and it is no coincidence that United’s winning streak coincided with Carrick being in the XI.
But a major concern is that he is almost 34 and may just have only another season in him. United must look to replace the man soon enough with Herrera still too young and Blind used in rotation.
Recommendations – Marco Verratti, Gary Medel, Ilkay Gundogan, Miralem Pjanic, Xabi Prieto
Striker: United need a striker to score. I wouldn’t think so if Falcao didn’t leave but with his departure they need one. Despite being played out of position, Rooney is a striker and along with Robin Van Persie and thats the best striking lineup in the league.
The question is can Van Gaal get them to start scoring again? I think its only a matter of time Van Persie needs to just stay fit and regain form, Rooney needs to be played as striker or support striker. United could go in for a big name this summer to bolster up their striking options. But I see flaws in their play which are leading to lack of supply and hence lack of goals up front, something which Van Gaal needs to address.
Recommendation – Mauro Icardi, Edinson Cavani, Alvaro Morata, Gonzalo Higuain, Alexandre Lacazette, Alberto Bueno