A look at the ‘Big 3’

Written by John Kent

I wrote my predictions for the upcoming season yesterday based on the current squads at the manager’s disposal, and it went as below.

  1. Manchester City
  2. Chelsea
  3. Manchester United

As ever, twitter was full of opinion, so I would like to outline below my thinking for this. Please bare in mind, this is on current squad strength.

Goalkeeper

Manchester City – Joe Hart – 8/10

This is an area of some concern for City fans, as I do not believe Pep will fancy Joe Hart as his number one. Whilst being a perfectly able keeper, Hart is having to fill the considerable shoes of Neuer in the eyes of his new manager, and the big concern is his ability with the ball at his feet. Nobody would question the shot-stopping skills of the England Number one, which could be his saving grace for at least another 12 months, but the signature of Rulli has already been confirmed for the future, whilst Bravo may still make his way over from the Camp Nou. With 15 clean sheets to his name last year, he conceded only an average of 1.03 goals per game, Hart would rightly feel some disgruntlement should he find himself on the bench.

Possible Signing: Bravo (7/10) Rui Patricio (7/10)

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credit Ben Sutherland

Chelsea – Thibaut Courtois – 8/10

Chelsea made a big call last year to sell Peter Cech to rivals Arsenal, safeguarding Thibaut Courtois as their number one. Last season though was disastrous though for a keeper who had looked so secure in the Premier League the previous season, getting sent off in the opening fixture, before missing nearly a quarter of the season with an injury. Still, an impressive 98% success rate when claiming the ball shows a keeper who commands the area, and a turn around in form should not be far away, as he is still only 24 years of age

Alternative: Begovic – 7/10

Manchester United – David De Gea – 9/10

Even with Paul Pogba on the verge of joining, the most influential player at the club will remain their Spanish Number 1. You would be tough to find a player who has developed more over the last few years then the young Spaniard, labelled as a donut stealing figure on fun when he first arrived, to becoming arguably the world’s finest shot-stopper. His value is seen by the fact Duncan Castles reported it was one of Jose Mourinho’s primary objective to ensure Real Madrid would not come calling again, new fax machine and all. With an impress 0.97 goals per game conceded, and an ever improving 93% success rate when claiming the ball, the Red Devils have this position sorted for years to come.

Alternative: Oscar Romero – 5/10

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 credit Corey-Adam Crowley

Defence

Manchester City – 7/10

I feel Manchester City are underrated in this area, especially in terms of the starting two in the centre of defence. Otamendi was arguably the number one central defender in Spain a couple of years ago, and has a year in the Premier League under his belt now as well. Partnering him will be a player who barring fitness issues would still be the first name on many team sheets throughout the world, captain Vincent Kompany. No player likes coming up against the Belgian, and if he can stay fit, the Citizens will be a tough team to break down. For me, the two full back positions will be occupied for Sagna & Clichy, who will both offer plenty of attacking support in the system favoured by Pep, but may be a little suspect defensively. I would expect Mangala to make his way out of the club on loan, whilst Denayer, labelled by many as the next Kompany, will be keen to make an impression. Should they also sign John Stones as expected, they will have a player who still has the talent to be a mainstay of club and country defence for years to come, but needs the right environment to be nurtured in.

Chelsea – 6/10

I am surprised Chelsea have not reinforced in this area, especially considering Conte’s preference for 3 central defenders. Question marks will remain over Terry’s ability to play every game, whilst Cahill is not getting any younger. Ivanovic may very well find his way back towards the centre of the defence should the Italian persist with the 3 man system. The return of Zouma will be a massive plus for the Blues, but expect reinforcements along the lines of Manolas from Roma, or Koulibaly from Napoli, both the subjects of sizeable bids. Chelsea are still pretty well off in terms of left back, where Azpilicueta will play virtually every game, though the right back spot could be an issue, with youngster Ola Aina reportedly impressing during pre-season.

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Manchester United – 6/10

One thing for sure, the returning Luke Shaw will be a massive plus for Manchester United. Arguably the form left back in the league before his horrific injury last year, the sight of the young English £30m signing charging down the left side of the pitch will be a welcome site for both club and country. This should not mask further problems though, as the joint top defence in the league last year will know that this stat is largely due to defensive style of player, alongside a keeper who on any given day can be impossible to beat. Central defence is still a man short, with any sensible fan realising Bailly may well go to the top, but will need time, whilst Blind is surely not the player Mourinho wants to partner Smalling. Do not be surprised to see an experienced head come in alongside him, with a bid for Fonte being muted in the past couple of days. The right side is also a major question mark, with Darmian in particular not impressing his new Portuguese manager with his defensive capabilities. Jones may get a chance in this position, though question marks remain on both his fitness and game intelligence. Valencia seems to hold the position based on pre-season form according to Andy Mitten, though do not be surprised if a bid for Fabinho from Monaco does materialise.

 

Midfield 

Manchester City – 8

Yaya Toure will not leave this summer, as Pep will realise he cannot change the style of play enough in such a short space of time that the Ivorian international becomes disposable to him. I would expect to see him play slightly further forward, and display more of the surging runs through the middle we have become accustomed to, certainly against lower-table sides. Alongside him is a tricky one, as either one or two players have to be chosen on the basis they will sit back and defend. Gundogan is a player Pep has admired for a long time, and should he come back from injury will dictate play from deep for his side, though his tackling power may be an issue,with Fernandinho providing the cover in this department. Whilst it is a big ‘IF’, should Pep get these 3 playing the way he wishes, City have a midfield to match any in the Premier League.

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credit Ben Sutherland

Chelsea – 9

Possibly signing of the summer so far is Kante for the side from South-West London, with Conte knowing he has a player who epitomises the fighting spirit he desires within this Chelsea side. A big key in any success that Chelsea will have this year largely hinges on who will be partnering Kante in the centre of the pitch. In Matic, Conte potentially has a duo which will guarantee the Blues will rarely concede, as a couple of years ago the Serbian was widely regarded as the finest defensive midfielder in European Football. This is not to say the Midfield will be devoid of attacking talent though, as in Fabregas they have a player who is still able to perform at the highest level should he be played correctly by his manager, something that was certainly not done last season; the Spanish international is at his best when he doesn’t have to concern himself with the defensive side of the game, and if he can perform for a whole season, and not tail of post-christmas as he is inclined to do, then Chelsea have a formidable trio they can pack the Midfield with. In my opinion, in Ruben Loftus-Creek, they also have a player who is ready to make his mark at the highest level, and offers a similar creativity to Fabregas, whilst also being arguably more mobile at this moment of time. Their trouble will come if Conte is unable to keep hold of Matic, with it being rumoured he could be off to Juventus once they lose a certain Frenchman in the coming week or so. John Obi Mikel is the player you would think would come in in his place, and there remain doubts of the Nigerian’s ability to perform week in, week out at the highest level, and he has never truly looked at home at Stamford Bridge. Should Matic leave therefore, Conte may yet dip back into the market.

Manchester United – 5

This is the major area of concern for the United manager right now, and this is the reason such large amounts of money is potentially about to be invested in Paul Pogba (https://theproperpundit.com/2016/07/31/the-birth-of-jose-mourinhos-fantastic-four/). Without Pogba though, this midfield will get run over by any top team, as well as lower table teams who attack this area of the pitch. We all know the criticism of Ferguson that he did not buy a single central midfielder post 2008, and even allowed our favourite Frenchman to leave on a free; two managers have since been and gone trying to address this issue, with little success. Moyes saw this problem, and publicly targeted both Pogba and Fabregas, but in the end only brought in Fellaini. Van Gaal also shares a portion of the blame, as he reportedly turned down a ready agreed deal for Kroos, and instead brough in Schneiderlin and Schweinsteiger, neither of whom have made the centre of the pitch their own, and then Herrera, who is a favourite amongst the Old Trafford faithful, but never won the trust of Van Gaal. Michael Carrick is of course still there, but does not offer the dynamism needed in the Premier League anymore. So where does this leave Jose? Schweinsteiger has found himself training with the reserves, although I’m not sure this does not have a little more to do with injury then some suggest, and Fellaini is a decent plan B, but is not a Manchester United level starter. This leaves Carrick, Herrera & Schneiderlin, all decent players in their own right, but will not send shivers down the spines of the rest of the Premier League….Bring in Pogba, and this changes drastically.

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credit Corey-Adam Crowley

ATTACK

Manchester City – 9

Manchester City will blitz teams this year with both speed and creativity. Sergio Aguero will be the focal point of their attack, and should the Argentinean international stay fit, they still have a player who rivals any in the world as a ‘pure’ number 9. The pace will be suppled by both Sane and Sterling, two of the most exciting young attackers in world football. For anyone doubting Sterling, watch his form at Liverpool, and it is obvious a player is in their somewhere. In terms of Sane, I will not pretend to be an expert, but I watched him absolutely destroy Real Madrid at their home stadium a couple of years ago, and a cameo against Italy at the Euros showed a glimpse of the direct running he will being to the side. Creativity exists in abundance at the feet of Silva and De Bruyne, and should these players get a grasp of running lines and timing, they will be incredibly difficult to stop. Backing them up is Iheanacho, who is making a name for himself as one of the most lethal predators in the Premier League, and scored an impressive 8 goals in the league last year, in only 7 starts. Also coming on could be Nolito, who turned down the overtures of Barcelona to come to Manchester, and was chosen above several big names in the Spanish Squad, including a certain Diego Costa, after scoring 12 goals in La Liga last year. More importantly is these players will all rotate amongst each other, with Pep already indicating Sane is equally apt on the wings or in the centre, similar to Sterling. I would not believe the rumours Pep will want rid of the young England International, especially considering he was interested in him whilst he was at Bayern Munich.

Chelsea – 8

Chelsea are a prolific goalscorer away from being on a similar level to Manchester City. I have also written about this at length in a previous post, but if the rumours of Lukaku are true I believe Chelsea have this player, and should pay what it takes to get the big Belgian back at their club. In the nature of this article though, we are looking at who they have at their current disposal, and that man is Diego Costa, who will guarantee to ruffle a few feathers in the opposition defence, but has not convinced me he will deliver over a whole season, both due to fitness and mentality. Yes, he may have scored 20 goals in his opening season, but 8 of those came in the first 7 games, when the league was not yet accustomed how to combat him. Alongside him then is another young Belgian in Batshuayi, who comes with an impressive record of 1 in 2 from France. At the age of 23 though he is not a physical brute like Costa who had an impact from the word go, but could very well need time to acclimatise, more like his compatriot Origi who is making serious waves over at Anfield. On either wing then, you would expect to see Hazard, their most talented player by a distance, and Willian, the current player of the year. If Hazard shows the level of performance we saw intermittently at the Euros (game vs Hungary), or in the pre-season match vs Real Madrid, Chelsea will be right up there, as they have one of only genuine game winners within the Premier League. On the other side you have Willian, who may not have the talent of Hazard, but certainly makes up for it in desire, as well as set-piece quality. Ultimately I feel these two will be wide with a potential duo of Belgians up front, whilst the three midfield players operate behind them. This is the sort of formation Conte has found success with at previous club Juventus, as well as during his time with Italy. Cuadrado may yet have a role to play, who the manager rates highly, but may yet push for a move to Italy.

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Manchester United – 8

The big question mark up front lies in what Jose Mourinho has planned for Wayne Rooney, and I shall be writing more on this in the coming days. The manager made it pretty clear that he would not be playing Rooney in the centre of the park, much to the relief of many of their fans, and that instead he would be either the main man at the front, or playing just behind the striker. New arrival, Zlatan Ibrahimovic may have something to say about this, as he certainly looks fit enough to play the majority of games for the Red Devils, and will certainly not have come to sit on the bench. Rashford has also made it clear he has ambitions to play down the middle, though Jose may fancy the idea of using his pace on the wing, and it will be interesting to see if the youngster has it in his locker to move out wide in such a way. One player who I would not be surprised to see Jose build his team around is Antony Martial, who I think caught everyone by surprise last year with his combination of close control and genuine pace; he needs to improve on his finishing though, which is only me being extra critical as I believe he has what it takes to reach the pinnacle of the world game. Coming in on the left flank as well will be Memphis, who has shown glimpses during pre-season, but has a lot to prove to justify the hype when he arrived 12 months ago. On the other side then is the creative player that Mourinho loves in Mkhitarayan; last years player of the year in Germany will relish the runners around him, and will be supplying plenty of opportunities for Zlatan et al; Manchester United will not struggle to score against the lesser teams like they have done for the past couple of years. The number 10 position is seemingly the big question mark then, and whilst many would rather see Mata then Rooney, I believe the latter will start the season there as club captain. My prediction would be though by the end we see more of a combination of Zlatan, Rashford, Martial and Mkhitarayan. Either way, Jose certainly has options.

Managers

Pep – 9

Jose – 9

Conte – 8

Totals:

  1. Manchester City – 41
  2. Chelsea – 39
  3. Manchester Untied -37

Who do you think will win the Premier League this season? Let us know in the comments below!

featured image by Alexsandr Osipov

Article written by @johnkent1991

Originally published on theproperpundit.com