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Saturday 24 August 2019

Race is on as clubs get set for new season

Premier League bosses in scramble for much-needed home improvements

Ole Gunnar Solskjaer
Ole Gunnar Solskjaer

Premier League clubs have seven weeks to get their squads sorted ahead of the new season which begins on Friday, 9 August when Liverpool host Norwich at Anfield.

There'll be seven fixtures on the following day.

The words of Julius Caesar, "Alea iacta est" will resound around clubs at 5 o'clock that afternoon as the Premier League summer transfer window closes.

The Roman military general had more on his mind than football when he declared: "The die is cast," as he led his army across the Rubicon.

Already, the race is on as clubs scramble to sign players in preparation for the campaigns ahead.

Last season's top two, Manchester City and Liverpool, are actively engaged in home improvements during the close season.

But at Manchester United, Arsenal, Chelsea and Tottenham Hotspur notable structural work is required as creaking squads demand rebuilding.

While it's all relative, the task facing every club manager is demanding.

The top two teams are seeking to ensure they have the advantage going into next season.

Both Pep Guardiola and Jurgen Klopp have concerns they need to address. And both men want to win what the other already has.

Man City impressed last season by winning an historic treble of League, FA Cup and EFL Cup, but with the Champions League proving elusive, Guardiola will make some calculated additions to his squad in the coming weeks.

Pep will have the money but how will he replace the club's talisman Vincent Kompany?

At Anfield, Jurgen Klopp will, no doubt, stick to a similar strategy as that outlined by Man City's chairman a few months back when he spoke of targeting "young players with high potential".

As with Man City, Liverpool's fundamentals are sound so Klopp has the luxury of adding depth to his squad following the success of his rebuilding programme that last season saw Brazilian goalkeeper Alisson and midfielder Fabinho make a dramatic contribution to the squad.

The story is very different at Old Trafford where the club has been in free-fall over the six seasons since Alex Ferguson retired.

The glimmer of hope that was provided for Manchester United supporters by Ole Gunnar Solskjaer's winning streak as caretaker manager, (14 wins in 19 matches) was cruelly extinguished when the team hit a string of mediocre performances after Solskjaer was confirmed permanent manager.

Reconstruction

Having finished sixth, United will play in the Europa League next season.

With captain Antonio Valencia and midfielder Ander Herrera gone from the squad, Solskjaer has a major reconstruction job on his hands as he aims to bring the good times back to Old Trafford.

Youth seems to be an important attribute in Solskjaer's vision of new talent.

His only signing to date is Swansea's 21-year-old Wales international winger Daniel James. Also coming through will be the three players who were given their debut by Solskjaer. Mason Greenwood, James Garner and Tahith Chong can expect to feature next season.

Unimpressed by lack of Champions League football, potential big name signings may swerve Man United, where marquee names such as Paul Pogba and David De Gea (above) are uncertain about their future.

With two years left on his contract, Pogba would be costly to prise away. And, even if he sulks, United's mandarins value his potential to sell merchandise globally.

Disappointed that, after his first season with Arsenal, the Gunners will be playing Europa League football next season, manager Unai Emery appears committed to some pruning of his squad in the coming weeks.

Money is tight so Emery needs to sell players to create a war chest as he scans the market for players to freshen up his side.

Among those most likely on their way out are temperamental Mesut Ozil and inconsistent Henrik Mkhitaryan.

While Emery hasn't revealed the areas he hopes to strengthen, pundits point to the team's defence as being the most likely concern.

The manager who takes over at Chelsea from Maurizio Sarri will inherit a portfolio of personnel problems.

With star turn Eden Hazard gone and European clubs expressing interest in other members of Chelsea's squad, many of whom have just one season left on their contract, the incoming manager will have his work cut out to keep the club in the top four - especially given that the club has to cope with a two transfer-window ban.

Mauricio Pochettino worked miracles with a Spurs squad that hadn't made a signing in the last two transfer windows.

If major players such as Christian Eriksen and Toby Alderweireld can be wooed away, the club will desperately require an infusion of special talent to convince Pochettino that it shares his ambitions.

For the next seven weeks, club executives, players' agents and harassed managers will go through their pre-season negotiation rituals. And then we're off again.

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