Man City challengers need big offseason to set up EPL title shot

May 30, 2023
Manchester City’s Ilkay Gundogan lifts the English Premier League trophy after their title win at the end of the football match against Chelsea at the Etihad Stadium in Manchester last Sunday.
Manchester City’s Ilkay Gundogan lifts the English Premier League trophy after their title win at the end of the football match against Chelsea at the Etihad Stadium in Manchester last Sunday.

LONDON, England (AP):

Who can stop Manchester City?

That's the question being asked at the end of another English Premier League (EPL) campaign when they proved too strong, winning the title for the fifth time in six years.

A look at who might be best placed to bring down City next season:

ARSENAL (2nd place)

Juggling another run at the title with the demands of playing in the Champions League looks like Arsenal's biggest problem. Squad depth became a growing issue at the end of this season -- look at the collapse in the defensive stats following the injury to centre-back William Saliba, for example -- and it will be even more stark when they have to play high-level games twice a week. Reinforcements at left back, centre back, and central midfield are needed, especially if Granit Xhaka leaves. However, Mikel Arteta's squad -- the youngest in the Premier League -- will be better for the experience of going toe to toe with City before eventually falling short. "We understand where the level is," Arteta said. "If we want to be the real deal, we can't be happy with what we have, and we have to be next season much better. I think we have some great foundations, that is true but in sport, you have to prove it again."

MAN UNITED (3rd place)

In Erik ten Hag, United appear to finally have the manager to build a longer-term project after he led them back into the Champions League as well as into two domestic cup finals. The Dutchman will need further backing in the transfer market, though, which is why the sale of Man United must go through sooner rather than later. The Glazer family is currently weighing up offers from Qatari banker Sheikh Jassim bin Hamad Al Thani and British billionaire Jim Ratcliffe though could yet stay in control and get external investment. Amid the uncertainty, Ten Hag gave a warning on Sunday after United's final league game. "We know if you want to play top four and compete for trophies in this league, then you have to invest," he said. "Otherwise you don't have a chance because other clubs will." Top of the list of requirements is a striker, with England captain Harry Kane a potential option now that he has just one year left on his Tottenham contract.

NEWCASTLE (4th place)

The Saudi-controlled Newcastle have arrived, and given that they have the wealthiest owners in world football, they are probably here to stay. Will this summer see them flex their financial muscles for the first time since the 2021 takeover, having spent sensibly rather than lavishly in the intervening 20 months? The likes of Callum Wilson, Dan Burn, Miguel Almiron, Jacob Murphy, and Joe Willock have been dependable squad members this season as Newcastle secured a return to the Champions League for the first time in 20 years, but they might be unsure of their futures if the Saudi ownership wants to bring in some higher-profile names, which it can afford. Central midfield and wide forwards are areas that need to be strengthened. The likelihood for the foreseeable future is that Man City and Newcastle will occupy two of the four Champions League qualification spots.

LIVERPOOL (5th place)

A strong end to the season saw Liverpool go unbeaten for their final 11 games and was a sign that Jurgen Klopp might have found a formula that can drive another title push. Trent Alexander-Arnold looks at home in his new hybrid defender-midfielder role, Cody Gakpo appears a natural replacement for Roberto Firmino in the deep-lying striker role and the promise of strengthening in central midfield with younger, fresher legs should address their biggest weakness. However, the big question remains: by not qualifying for the Champions League, will Liverpool be able to attract the type of quality players needed to challenge Man City? Jude Bellingham has been a long-term target, for example, but is likely to choose a team in the Champions League. Alexis Mac Allister of Brighton might prove to be a more realistic option.

CHELSEA (12th place)

Chelsea are the great unknown because who knows what their American owners will do next? Having spent more than $600 million on players in their first two transfer windows in charge, will Todd Boehly and Clearlake Capital go big again this offseason after an unacceptable 12th-place finish? They may not even afford to do that, with the priority likely being trimming a large squad to adhere to financial regulations and give incoming manager Mauricio Pochettino a tighter group of players to work with. Romelu Lukaku's return from a loan spell at Inter Milan gives Chelsea another option up front, while the futures of midfielders Mason Mount, N'Golo Kante, and Mateo Kovacic are uncertain amid the rebuild.

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