Sunday 19 January 2020

Rachel Wyse: Diego Costa capture leaves Chelsea's rivals playing for second place

Chelsea striker Diego Costa
Chelsea striker Diego Costa
Manuel Pellegrini

Rachel Wyse

Only last April we were wondering whether Liverpool could remain unbeaten in their final five games and claim the first league title in 24 years. It feels like yesterday.

But four months on as another Premier League season rolls around, much has changed. The usual summer transfer market activity has most certainly strengthened some and weakened others.

The managerial uncertainty that preceded last season, with Manuel Pellegrini, David Moyes and Jose Mourinho all taking jobs at leading clubs isn't a factor now, and the red half of Manchester would appear to be on a far more stable footing to mount a title challenge.

Sky Sports will broadcast the first Super Sunday of the season from Newcastle tomorrow and all of the top four from last season can be seen live on Sky over this weekend.

Last season the lead changed hands an incredible 25 times, and whoever reigns supreme next May, let's hope the spectacle is as memorable as 2013/14.

Whatever the ups and downs ahead, it's a certainty the winner will come from a select group of five. Here, I look at the teams most likely to challenge for the title.

Manchester City

Winning a championship is a fantastic feat; retaining it is considerably more difficult. As he picked up the Premier League trophy last season, City captain Vincent Kompany referenced a desire within the club to create a dynasty and how another title merely marked the start of such progression.

City were entitled to be crowned champions last season - by a considerable distance theirs was the best squad - but they rather stumbled over the line after Liverpool dropped points when within touching distance of the finish line.

Pellegrini is now faced with the task of not only motivating his players once again but extracting a season-long performance that surely must be greater than last years in light of stiffer competition from Chelsea, United and Arsenal.

The uncertainty over Yaya Toure's future, the penalties from Financial Fair Play and the lack of new faces this summer have posed a question over their prospects. Their first fixture of the season is at resurgent Newcastle; games of this nature will reveal very quickly if City poses the appetite to replicate the achievements last year.

I suspect they will find at least one outfit too good this time around.

Chelsea

Prior to the transfer window last January I believe Chelsea were champions in waiting. They were hovering around the table summit, despite operating without a quality centre-forward.

Convinced Mourinho would use the transfer window to address the team's obvious weakness, I expected the Portuguese's return to English football was destined to end in glory. We now know reality played out very different.

Chelsea finished last season with 18 clean sheets and the manger has further strengthened that area with the arrival of Thibaut Courtois and Filipe Luis. The back four will be the rock on which a league assault is founded.

The arrival of Diego Costa from Atletico Madrid sees Chelsea revert to a Didier Drogba-type centre-forward, one who should cope with the physicality of the Premier League.

Frank Lampard and Ashley Cole have departed, but last season confirmed their influence had waned.

The signing of Cesc Fabregas was a little surprising as his form in recent years at Barcelona has been light years away from his time at Arsenal. Mourinho clearly believes he can restore the Spanish playmaker to the heights of old. If he can, it would seem he has the components of a title wining side. Chelsea came close last season.

If the new arrivals hit the ground running, the rest might just be playing for second.

Liverpool

The question hovering over Anfield is how they will cope without Luis Suarez. The Uruguayan got his team out of many a fix last season and world-class players like him aren't easily replaced.

Manager Brendan Rodgers has reinvested the funds made of the Suarez sale in players with Premier League experience.

Rodgers has proved himself a high-class coach. Now we will learn if his ability to coach is matched by his ability to identify top-quality players.

Playing in the Champions League will place a new strain on his squad and if another challenge for the league title is realistic, Rodgers may require further additions.

I sense that last season Liverpool missed their opportunity. They had the title within their grasp; their destiny was within their hands. Now they must start again. Against reinforced opposition and without their star player. It's a big ask, one I suspect is beyond Rodgers and Co for this season at least.

Arsenal

The Gunners spent a total of 128 days at the top of last season's table, yet found themselves battling with Everton for the fourth Champions League spot.

Injuries to Aaron Ramsey and Theo Walcott were damaging but it was the hammerings at Chelsea, Manchester City and Liverpool that proved fatal to Arsenal's title challenge.

This wasn't a new development. It has been evident in numerous campaigns, where Arsenal are expert at dismissing lesser sides but too regularly come unstuck against the fellow title challengers .

New signing Alexis Sanchez should complement the skills of Mesut Ozil and Santi Cazorla but questions remain about their strength and power in midfield.

Such issues raised their head again in pre-season when they found themselves over-run in the midfield department by Monaco. They simply don't poses the dynamism provided by a Nemanja Matic or a Yaya Toure.

Yes, they play beautiful football, but while the soft centre remains, they will forever be susceptible to the power of their nearest rivals. While questions remain over their ability to impose themselves in the crucial matches, I must overlook them as potential champions.

Manchester United

Louis van Gaal appointment has given United fans hope. After the shambolic reign of David Moyes, United can't afford another period of being also-rans, so it's crucial Van Gaal gets results immediately.

To date he has been impressive in his new role. He appears to be of the character needed to manage a big club, a man assured his own beliefs and sufficiently confident to do things his way.

Already you sense he has commanded the respect of his players and they are under no illusions as to the consequences of not meeting his expectations.

We can be certain United will be far more competitive than last year, while their cause should be aided by not having to contend with the Champions League. Being able to concentrate all resources on the league will be an advantage.

The outstanding question remains, is Van Gaal's squad good enough to win the title? Having sold Rio Ferdinand, Nemanja Vidic and Patrice Evra he needs defenders and is continually linked with Mats Hummels and Arturo Vidal.

The appointment of Wayne Rooney as club captain could be a master-stroke, and should Van Gaal coax consistent world-class performances from his new skipper it will put United a long way down the road to retaining their status in England.

Irish Independent

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