Chelsea: Third Place; 21 wins, 9 draws, 8 losses, 72 points
Arsenal: Fifth Place; 21 wins, 7 draws, 10 losses
Manchester United: Sixth Place; 19 wins, 9 draws, 10 losses
Compared to where these three sides started last season, a lot has changed in the managerial side of things. The 2018/19 season saw Unai Emery, Jose Mourinho and Maurizio Sarri all start the year at the helm of their respective side with Emery the only one to survive and return for 2019/20 season. Mourinho was ousted in favour of Ole Gunnar Solskjaer and despite Sarri managing to take Chelsea to third place and the EFL Cup final he has been replaced by Chelsea’s favourite son, Frank Lampard.
Managers are often the first ones to be scrutinised when a season goes astray and after looking as though he turned their season around following his arrival in late 2018, Solskjaer and Manchester United still finished a disappointing sixth place. They managed a run of 14 wins in 19 games prior to Solskjaer signing a permanent contract but they ended the season winning just 2 of their last 12 games which included a loss to Arsenal, two losses to Wolves, two losses to Barcelona in the Champion’s League, a 4-0 demolition at the hands of Everton and a 2-0 loss to the relegated Cardiff on the final match day. Solskjaer seems to be getting a lot more out of his players than Mourinho ever managed to with Pogba, Rashford, Martial and Lingard finding new life under the Norwegian however they need to string together that form for a full season before it can be said that Solskjaer’s job is safe.
Unai Emery has a storied past of winning silverware, hence Arsenal looking to bring in the Spanish manager with the English club winning just three major titles in the last 14 years, a trio of FA Cup triumphs in 2014, 2015 and 2017. Emery had big shoes to fill with the departure of Arsene Wenger leading to his employment however his first full season in charge didn’t quite lead to glory as he took the Gunners to fifth place despite scoring the third highest goal tally behind only Liverpool and Manchester City. Emery seems to have the backing of the Arsenal decision makers however with a 4-year contract worth £24 million offered to the Spaniard making him the sixth highest paid manager in the Premier League.
Frank Lampard at Chelsea seems to be the biggest risk of the three mentioned with his only managerial experience at the top level coming last season when he took charge of Derby County in the Championship. Derby ended the season in sixth place and came second in the promotion play-offs however his most impressive achievements came in the cup competitions where Derby reached the fifth round of the FA Cup knocking out Premier League side Southampton on their way, as well as knocking out Oldham, Hull and Manchester United on their way to the fourth round of the League Cup. Little else is known about Lampard as a manager but Chelsea have put their faith in a man who embodies everything the London club stand for as he captained the side during 427 appearances over 14 years. Lampard’s arrival signifies the first time Chelsea have had an English manager in over two decades.
Attempting to pick how these teams will perform based on their squad is a tough task due to the fact that each of the three boast world class players, Champions League winners, World Cup winners and superstars in every definition of the word however they continually fail to live up to their labels domestically. Players like Paul Pogba, Alexis Sanchez, Romelu Lukaku, Mesut Ozil, Jorginho and Tiemoue Bakayoko all came in with huge expectations and show glimpses of their ability from week to week but it’s safe to say none have performed up to the standard expected of their managers and fan-bases.
Of the six players listed above three currently play for Manchester United; Paul Pogba, Alexis Sanchez and Romelu Lukaku. Combined, the three cost Manchester just over 200 million including add-ons and yet last year they scored only 26 goals between them. For context; Roberto Firmino, Sadio Mane and James Milner, Liverpool’s comparative players combined for 39 goals and cost Liverpool just £63 million while Manchester City’s trio of Raheem Sterling, Sergio Aguero and Kevin De Bruyne scored 45 goals. Potentially a positive for the club is the fact that two of the three, Pogba and Lukaku, are looking to achieve transfers in the coming few days before the window closes. Reports are saying that Pogba has gone has far as handing in a transfer request prior to United’s friendly against AC Milan last week and refused to travel to Cardiff for the game in last minute attempt to force a transfer to Real Madrid. Lukaku was being included in talks for a swap deal with Paulo Dybala which seems to have since fallen through and the Belgian striker has recently gone home to train with Anderlecht due to the apparent freeze-out he’s receiving in Manchester. Added positives for United come in the form of three forwards by the name of Jesse Lingard, Anthony Martial and Marcus Rashford who came to life in the tail end of last season and have the potential to be big playmakers for Solskjaer this season. The Red Devils have also spent some much-needed money to bolster their defence in signing Aaron Wan Bissaka (Crystal Palace – £50 million) and Harry Maguire (Leicester City – £80 million) who are going to be key additions to the side. United should be entering this season in much better position that they did the last and look as though their spending hasn’t finished yet.
A club that can’t say the same is Chelsea. The departure of Eden Hazard leaves the club without their top goal scorer of the past two years and a transfer ban means they don’t have the option of replacing the former talisman. There will be new faces around the club however as the arrival of Christian Pulisic following the January transfer from Borussia Dortmund means they have their flashy young winger who they believe will fill the Madrid-bound Hazard’s role. After Alvaro Morata signed for Atletico Madrid on a permanent deal on July 1st the Blues are also left without a clear striker heading into the new season. It seems Tammy Abraham, the former Swansea striker will likely be the man to fill the role starting ahead of Olivier Giroud and Michy Batshuayi given the way he lined up in pre-season however expect a tough battle between the three as any given game-week it could come down to who’s in form. Ross Barkley is one player who seems to be revitalised under Lampard’s watch with the former Everton man taking on a bigger role. He has presided over set-pieces in pre-season and looks to be back to his creative best which is good news for Chelsea fans who have little to celebrate heading into the 2019/20 season.
Arsenal are possibly the club flying under the radar out of the teams in the top six conversation however the money spent over the summer looks to be at the wrong end. The defence of Arsenal were disappointing at best last year conceding 54 goals across their 38 games. That’s more than Leicester, Everton, Wolves and even 13th placed Newcastle. In fact, it’s only four less than Liverpool and Manchester City combined. Their third highest goal tally still lead them to a fifth placed finish however they can’t expect to do better next year if they still ship over 50 goals along the way. It’s a lot of pressure on Aubameyang and Lacazette as they both enter their second full season with the Gunners. Some of that pressure will be taken off the shoulders of the Arsenal strike team as they broke their club transfer record to bring in Nicholas Pepe (Lille – £72 million) likely replacing Alex Iwobi in the wide position however with the departure of Koscielny (Bordeaux – £4.6 million) confirmed it’s the back four, made up of a centre back pairing of Holding, Mustafi, Sokratis or Chambers that has Arsenal fans crossing their fingers that the purse strings haven’t been tied yet.
The title race is likely to be a lot closer this year than it was last with Guardiola claiming that he expects Manchester United to be involved in the race this year ahead of their summer spending. It’s definitely safe to say Chelsea, United and Arsenal will all be taking points from each other as well as Tottenham, Liverpool and Manchester City this year but it’s a big expectation to think they’ll be challenging for the top spot after the disappointing season each team had in 2018/19. There are a lot of variables that are still unknown heading into the last two days of the transfer window and depending on their outcome the fourth spot could go to anyone. If United bring in a striker, if Arsenal can shore up their defence or if Pulisic can fill the shoes of Eden Hazard then all three teams might make an argument for their place in the four. Don’t be surprised if we’re including Wolves, West Ham or the under-the-radar Leicester City in this conversation come December either with my personal prediction being one of these underdog teams finishing in the top six come next May.