It may not have been the contested end to the season that Sky and BT wanted, but that only enhances the performance of the league’s best team this year. Chelsea have dominated this season, largely thanks to Antonio Conte’s inspired tactical switch following defeats to Arsenal and Liverpool in September, as other teams have faltered or fallen below expectations. Having benefited from the lack of European football following last season’s tenth place finish, the Blues have won 29 out of 37 matches and will record the highest score in a Premiership season of 93 since 2004-05, with a win against Sunderland on Sunday. But this summer’s transfer dealings will alter the balance of the league once again with those unsuccessful members of Premier League royalty looking to reclaim the title next year. For the happily mid-table, the off-season will offer an opportunity to sign reinforcements and shore up problematic positions and for those in the lower reaches, it will be a battle for bargains and real talent in a hugely inflated marketplace.
The Big Movers
Manchester City: Pep Guardiola has yet to put his mark on the Manchester club having recorded a disappointing first season in the North West. Pablo Zabaleta had an emotional send-off last weekend and will likely be followed out of the door by Bacary Sagna, Jesus Navas, Gael Clichy, Willy Caballero, Nolito, Joe Hart and possibly Yaya Toure, Kelechi Iheanacho and Aleksandar Kolarov. Guardiola will be looking to build his team around the quality of Kevin de Bruyne and Leroy Sane whilst enhancing his defensive and goalkeeping options after being exposed in Europe and against the likes of Everton and Leicester in the league. Although their pressing style has proved fairly effective against lower level teams, this squad has gotten to the end of its shelf-life with many of those leaving over thirty. Guardiola will need to replicate that experience in his signings, but crucially will need players capable of performing against the very best and inspired to win domestic titles in arguably the world’s toughest league. Keeping Sergio Aguero is a must and signing Kyle Walker would also be a step in the right direction.
Swansea: A deeply disappointing season for the Swans and one which they will be thankful to leave behind. Having secured safety on 38 points, Paul Clement will be looking to considerably improve his squad for the following campaign with defence a particular concern. In the triumvirate of Federico Fernandez, Alfie Mawson and Mike van der Hoorn, Clement does not have a centre-back partnership capable of surviving another Premier League season and therefore needs to look for experienced alternatives who can mentor the inexperienced Mawson and restore the defence to its position whilst Ashley Williams was at the helm. Off-loading some of the dead weight in Borja Baston, Marvin Emnes and Bafetimbi Gomis would be beneficial although it is crucial that Gylfi Sigurdsson, Ki Sung-yeung and Fernando Llorente remain with the team. Despite Swans’ chairman Huw Jenkins claiming it would be “dangerous” to make serious squad alterations, I would expect there to be movement at the Liberty Stadium, and John Terry may be one of those incoming.
Stoke: Largely under the radar once again, but having struggled to get the best out of their talented squad, Mark Hughes needs to reassess his playing staff having dropped from a ninth place finish last season to the (current) obscurity of fourteenth. Of those who haven’t performed, it is likely that Giani Imbula, Stephen Ireland and Ibrahim Afellay could be headed for the door, whilst Lee Grant may leave in search of first team football following Jack Butland’s return from injury. Glen Johnson has been confirmed as staying, but Wilfried Bony will return to Manchester City following his loan spell. Hughes would do worse than integrate Philipp Wollscheid back into the team following his loan spell at Wolfsburg and work hard with Saido Berahino over the off-season, but it will be a surprise if there are not some incomers. He may well push the panic button this summer, off-loading long-serving strikers such as Jonathan Walters and Peter Crouch in favour of younger models such as Bournemouth’s Josh King or Southampton’s Shane Long.
A few changes:
Southampton: Southampton have not had a bad season by any means, they are the leaders in the middle-pack of Premier League teams ahead of West Brom and Bournemouth and look likely to finish in the top half. But, the ownership are not convinced that Claude Puel has achieved this season’s objectives and with a managerial change in the offing its likely there will be some changes in the playing staff. If Southampton want to better this year’s league position it will likely take major investment, as they are fifteen points off Everton in 7th with a game of the season to go, but it is more likely they will try to improve the squad on margin in order to maintain a top-half finish. For this, the Saints will once again reply heavily on their academy and may let bit part players such as Jeremy Pied and Shane Long leave St Marys. But keeping Virgil van Dijk and Ryan Bertrand is crucial.
Leicester: Craig Shakespeare has done an excellent job in revitalising Leicester following the club’s collapse under Claudio Ranieri mid-season. He has instilled the steel needed for the team to remain in the league, but refortifying will be required to ensure what happened this season doesn’t happen again next year. Leonardo Ulloa and Bartosz Kapustka are likely to leave although it is likely Shakespeare will retain the core of the squad that took the title twelve months ago. He will be looking to get the best out of Jamie Vardy once again, but may well freshen up his defence with Robert Huth and Wes Morgan ageing. Maya Yoshida, Ben Gibson or Calum Chambers may well be on the cards.
Everton: A positive season for Ronald Koeman’s men has culminated in a seventh place finish way ahead of the chasing pack. But although Koeman has a squad he is happy with and that surpasses that of many of their Premier League rivals, the threat of Romalu Lukaku and Ross Barkley leaving means that the Toffees may need to reinforce. Fortunately, were Lukaku and Barkley to depart, then Koeman would have considerable funds with which to bolster his squad with Gylfi Sigurdsson and Ajax captain on his wish list. Everton will still be unable to attract the very best talents, but with a £70 Million price in the offing for Lukaku, they should be able to sweep up most others.
Spurs: For Spurs this summer will be about maintaining squad cohesion following a brilliant campaign in which they trumped more heralded names. They look likely to lose Kyle Walker to Man City, but it would be a shock were Eric Dier, Christian Eriksen or Hugo Lloris were to depart. Mauricio Pochettino is constrained by the club’s wage policy and there will be interest from abroad, but I expect Spurs to dig in their heels during negotiations as they have a contented squad with Champions League football ahead of them. If Spurs felt they did require new signings it would likely be up front with Harry Kane having borne a disproportionate scoring burden this season.
Burnley: Not a team known for their high-spending or slapdash nature in the transfer market, Burnley will likely remain stoical while others bid over the odds for players who will get little game time. Not that that means Burnley do not need improvements. They have defended well this season, but losing Michael Keane would be a mighty blow and in front of goal they have struggled, having scored the fewest number of goals in the league other than the three relegated teams. Expect Dyche to dabble in the transfer market with Jermain Defoe likely near the top of the list.
Bournemouth: The unheralded Southerners have proved the doubters wrong once again, improving on last season’s 16th place and providing entertaining football having scored and conceded more goals than any other middle table team. Eddie Howe is not blessed with extravagant amounts of cash at the Vitality Stadium and will be hugely satisfied with the club’s progression, but will be looking for a few new names to replace the departing Jack Wilshere. He will also have to be mindful of others seeking the likes of Josh King and the impressive Ryan Fraser. Defence has to be Howe’s priority in the off-season with Stoke’s Marc Muniesa, Ben Gibson and Calum Chambers all options. A smart move would also be to bring Marc Wilson back from his loan at West Brom and integrate him within the team. Others tipped include Dijon’s Lois Diony and the Chelsea pair of Nathan Ake and Asmir Begovic.