Thursday 17 October 2019

Premier League top six: Who they've signed, what they need and how they will line up

JJ Bull

Clubs only have until the 9th of August to get all their business done this season and rather a few are a little short of where they'd like to be. The top six is a mini-league of its own in the money-rich world of England's elite but who's used that wealth to recruit well? Which clubs have made big changes?

Of that top six, who looks best ahead of the new season?


What they needed to address

Lack of bite, determination and defensive discipline. Proven winners. Players who fit into Arsenal's (now) traditional football aesthetic but who are a little different from what's already available.

What they've signed

Matteo Guendouzi

A high-potential, deep-lying playmaker. French. Sounds… a little familiar....

Bernd Leno

Top quality goalkeeper. Excellent at anticipating trouble and cutting it out early - like a sweeper keeper - though not as comfortable with the ball at his feet as countrymen Marc Andre ter Stegen and Manuel Neuer. An improvement on the out-of-sorts Petr Cech.

Stephan Lichtsteiner

Massively experienced and determined right-back who has starred for Switzerland at international level and won seven Scudetto titles in a row (!!!) with Juventus.

At 34-years-old he won't start in every game but represents a far more defensively sound alternative (and competition) to Hector Bellerin and brings a winners' mentality to the dressing room.

Sokratis Papastathopoulos

The Greek centre-back is quick, strong, brave, excellent at defensive organisation and - in theory - about to reach his peak. Defenders tend to be best around 28-32 and Papastathopoulos (you can just call him Sokratis for short) is 30-years-old. A leader on the pitch. Also speaks German, which will help with Leno behind him and Shkodran Mustafi beside.

Lucas Torreira

Big things are expected of this Uruguayan defensive midfielder, who was decent enough in the World Cup to suggest he'll do a job straight away for Arsenal. Played 36 Serie A games for Sampdoria last season, and 35 the season before, breaking into the first team at 20-years-old. Can be a star in years to come but will also bring much needed snap and positional discipline to Arsenal's midfield.

How they're going to play

Unai Emery is almost certainly going to play a 4-2-3-1 or 4-3-3 system this season, continuing the attractive football traditions of the club (which Arsene Wenger is fully responsible for implementing).

Unlike Wenger, Emery regularly adapts to his opponents and has the options to do so, having spent big to improve the squad. Giving players chance after chance to prove their potential isn't acceptable anymore - Arsenal need to win today.


What they still need

Some height, dynamism and power in midfield. Emery has often employed a counter-attack style and Arsenal's midfield is short of someone who can really make the difference in transition. Steven Nzonzi has been heavily linked and although he lacks the pace and stride (and you might argue the talent) of someone like Patrick Vieira or Paul Pogba, he's really smart with the ball and makes the right decisions. That is something Arsenal have lacked for what feels like far too long.


What they needed to address

Who's in charge, how they want to play, will Eden Hazard stay, who will be the striker, who's going to play in goal, whether to keep youngsters like Ruben Loftus-Cheek and actually use them or bring in proven Champions League level replacements, what is a Danny Drinkwater and what does he do? So many things.

What they've signed


Much coveted, technically-gifted midfielder who operates as a deep-lying playmaker. Pep Guardiola wanted him as a replacement for Yaya Toure, if that helps give you an idea of what he's a little bit like. Maurizio Sarri got the best out of him in his previous job.

How they're going to play

Sarri's style of play is a high-energy, high-press 4-3-3, pass-and-move, win the ball quickly, suffocate the opponent with waves of attack… and when it works it's great. It's a little bit Jurgen Klopp, rather more Guardiola-ish without perhaps the same manic sideline approach - and with an empty trophy cabinet.

Sarri won the Serie A Coach of the Year award in 2016/17 and plaudits from around the football world for the way his Napoli team played. The Champions League games between Napoli and Man City last season were outstanding and Sarri's side really pushed a seemingly invincible Juventus to the Serie A title. But he hasn't won anything with any of his teams. Yet.

Victor Moses might be in a little bit of trouble - he's been a great wing-back and would be required to defend a lot more in Sarri's 4-3-3. Marcos Alonso could be in the same boat.


What they still need

Stability. A new goalkeeper if Thibaut Courtois leaves, an elite replacement for Hazard if Real Madrid can afford him too and a way to get Alvaro Morata firing again. Gonzalo Higuain has been linked.

Chelsea will also need the full-backs to adapt to Sarri's Guardiola-esque ways but it's likely they'll be given time for exactly this.


What they needed to address

A goalkeeper who is in anyway reliable. Cover for the injured Alex Oxlade-Chamberlain (out for the whole season) and some general improvements to midfield to take the team to the next level.

What they've signed


Might not be the saviour Liverpool fans might quickly hail him as but is a very good goalkeeper. Starts ahead of Ederson for Brazil, has been extremely impressive for Roma… but showed signs of nerves in the latter stages of the Champions League. Conceded seven goals in two games against Liverpool, for example.


Brilliant defensive midfielder who can also play at right-back, right wing-back and as an attacking midfielder. Both a replacement for and improvement on Emre Can. Won the league in that over-achieving Monaco side of 2016/17.

Xherdan Shaqiri

As Klopp has said, it's a “no-brainer” to sign a player of Shaqiri's talent for £13million. Probably won't be a first choice but provides excellent cover and will be used in rotation to afford rest to the star studded front three. Pulls rabbits out of the hat and that can make all the difference when Liverpool find themselves knocking on a locked door against the likes of Burnley etc.

Naby Keita

An energetic, highly creative and dynamic box-to-box midfielder. Will be great in transitions in particular, making Liverpool's counter-attack even more dangerous.

How they're going to play

The same as last season, the same as every season: 4-3-3. Maybe a 4-2-3-1 now and again. Always Blitzkrieg Kop.

Keita is a box-to-box player who will make Liverpool massively (even more so) dangerous in transition, the wing-backs will provide width for a fairly narrow front three, with Jordan Henderson and Fabinho keeping the midfield shape. There are plenty of options in reserve too, with James Milner, Shaqiri, Adam Lallana and Georginio Wijnaldum excellent squad players.


What they still need

They look pretty good right now. If we're really picky, Klopp could do with a way of keeping up that unrelenting energy required to make his attacking approach work throughout an entire season... 

They have a squad of players and first team as good as any of the top six (except perhaps Man City) now though. The youth players can step up and push the big names for a starting place too - Rhian Brewster and Ben Woodburn could do it.

Manchester City

What they needed to address

Nothing really... but it can't hurt to have different options and better backup available, especially if the ultimate ambition is to win the Champions League. City's starting XI was amazing last season but a swift comparison between their squad and Real Madrid's, for example, showed a slight disparity.

The one thing that City are missing right now is a star player who guarantees goals when they are needed - a Leo Messi, Robert Lewandowski type - but the counter-argument is sharing the pressure of goal-getting throughout the squad is better. Besides, they have Sergio Aguero, Gabriel Jesus and even Raheem Sterling scoring (tap-ins). Who's better (and available) than those three?

What they've signed

Riyad Mahrez

A Pep Guardiola kind of player. Can play as a 10, a false nine, an inside-forward, a winger - Mahrez is supremely talented, can create and score out of nothing and can play a myriad of positions to help with Guardiola's in-game tinkering. Gives Man City an even better choice of front three.

How they're going to play

The same as last season with some added twists and even more tactical innovations and call-backs.

man city.jpg

The shape will change but the approach will be forward-thinking, with a high defensive line and more of that entertaining positional play which allowed City to dominate the Premier League in their record-breaking 2017/18 campaign. To show their strength in depth, a reserve XI could probably finish top four on its own:

man ciity 2.jpg

The only obvious lack of backup is for David Silva and Kevin De Bruyne in midfield but youngsters Phil Foden and Brahim Diaz can play here. And that's only if they're needed - the 'eight' midfield slots could be filled by Bernardo Silva, Fabian Delph, Ilkay Gundogan or Fernandinho if it came to it.

What they still need

More trophies. They're probably going to get them too.

Manchester United

What they need to address

A lack of balance in the side, under-performing players and questionable centre-backs. Really need some more classic Jose Mourinho style players too - those willing to shunt up and down the wing like cogs in a machine are most welcome.

What they've signed

Diogo Dalot

Portuguese full-back who can play on the right or left of a back four. Can provide competition and backup to Antonio Valencia, as well as being a longterm replacement and could just as easily steal Luke Shaw's potential left-back spot and force Ashley Young into a backup role.


Midfielder who might bring the balance to the United midfield that Mourinho is after. He's a Brazilian midfielder who can do a little bit of Paul Pogba, and a little bit of Nemanja Matic.

Lee Grant

A reserve goalkeeper to provide a bit of cover without ever being needed for first-team duty. Either that, or Mourinho believes he's discovered a future gem to have passed everyone else by.

How they'll line up

As ever with Mourinho, it'll be a counter-attack strategy in a rigid 4-2-3-1 or 4-3-3 with the team setup to avoid making mistakes or conceding goals. Romelu Lukaku will lead the line, players will battle it out for the rest of the places and if it works the way it's supposed to, very few teams will get anything out of them.

man united.jpg

What they still need

A superstar winger to really take the team to its next level. Ivan Perisic - or someone like him - is the kind of footballer that Man Utd could do with. A hard-working, team-focused wide player.

A central defender who isn't Phil Jones would be hugely beneficial too and Harry Maguire could fill that role. Leonardo Bonucci is another hotly linked and would bring leadership and pure class to a defence sometimes lacking in it.

Tottenham Hotspur

What they need to address

Improve on last season, supplement squad with genuine quality without over-spending or disrupting squad harmony.

What they've signed


How they'll line up

Mostly exactly the same as last season. It worked then so why not?


What they still need

Players who make the the team/squad better. Lucas Moura hasn't really made an impression yet but should this season, and there are youngsters waiting to break through (Mauricio Pochettino is great for introducing them) who have learned the ways of Spurs for the last few years of their development - Barcelona's La Masia style - and could make an impression.

Other needs are someone who can provide competition to Harry Kane but is OK with being left on the bench most of the time.

If Spurs perform as they did last season, and the season before that, they'll be absolutely fine - the players who can make them better cost hundreds of millions now and there's no way Daniel Levy will sanction that with a stadium to pay for.

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