Connect in the back of the net

For the big six in English football, finishing top four in the Premier League is the same as surviving relegation.

Without Champions League football, clubs suddenly panic, as there is the likelihood of having to sell off their stars, falling behind in the transfer window, and losing out on financial resources.

This past season, Chelsea, Tottenham, Manchester City, and Liverpool managed to get across the finish line somewhere in the top four. For them, Champions League football is looming on the horizon and have nothing to worry about just yet.

And somehow joining them will be Jose Mourinho’s Manchester United, who finished sixth in the Premier League but beat Ajax in the Europa League final to qualify.

For the first time in 20 years, Arsenal will not be playing along Europe’s best, and will be playing along Europe’s “second” best.

Each club is headed in a new and different direction with the “off-season” just beginning. Here are three questions that surround each club heading into the summer and next season’s campaign.

 

Chelsea

Chelsea are heading into this summer feeling great.

They are coming off of their second Premier League title in three years. Antonio Conte’s 3-4-3 worked beautifully all season long, but there was no cherry on top of their wonderful campaign as they ended falling short in the FA Cup final against Arsenal.

With Champions League football a guarantee and in pot A of the group stage drawings, this off-season is crucial to continue their successful run under Conte.

Three questions to ask:

1. What players will Chelsea bring in to help out with next season’s hectic schedule—matches in the Champions League, Premier League, and domestic cups?

2. What will Conte do to adjust his style and tactics against European elites—will the 3-4-3 continue to work?

3. Will Diego Costa stay or go, and if he leaves, how will Chelsea replace 20 goals and seven assists?

But the off-season pressure should be easily brushed aside as the most successful English club in the last 15 years knows what they are doing. It helps to have Roman Abramovich’s cash to spend and burn.

 

Tottenham

Tottenham are heading into the summer with more questions than answers, excitement, and nerves.

Their 2016-17 campaign was successful to a degree. They finally finished above arch-rival Arsenal for the first time in 22 years.

They said goodbye to White Hart Lane and are replacing it with a revolutionary football stadium. Best of all they finished second and are going to play Champions League football yet again.

But they did crash out of the Champions League in a very winnable group and have no silverware to show for their brilliant effort this past season.

Three questions to ask:

1. Can Tottenham hold on to their best players—especially from their defense and midfield?

2. How much cash are they willing to spend and for who—needs in the attack?

3. Are they ready to take the leap to becoming a European elite—that is doing much better in the Champions League?

As uncertainty swirls around the club going forward, they are a great position to be more than just noisy neighbors to Chelsea and Arsenal.

 

Manchester City

Manchester City are heading into summer with things to sort out.

The super-rich club clearly under-performed by finishing third in the Premier League, surrendering a two goal advantage in the Champions League round of 16 against Monaco, and losing to Arsenal in the semifinals of the FA Cup.

Pep Guardiola has work to do as they club expects excellence and results. With Champions League football looming and bookies making one of the favorites to lift the Premier League come next May, Guardiola and his men will feel heat.

Lucky for him, City’s pocket books are thick.

Three questions to ask:

1. Without the safety blanket of Lionel Messi and Bayern Munich’s advantage in the Bundesliga, is Pep Guardiola the manager everyone thinks we is—that is, world class?

2. How will they sort out their defensive issues?

3. How will Manchester City manage their squad with so many stars?

Manchester City has the resources to take care of their problems; they just cannot afford to make bad decisions.

 

Liverpool

Liverpool are surprisingly heading into the summer feeling good about themselves.

Jurgen Klopp got his men to do everything it needed to finish above Arsenal for that all-important Champions League spot.

Although Liverpool finished with no silverware or were never a threat to challenge for the Premier League, they took a step in the right direction.

Three questions to ask:

1. Are they ready to be back on the European stage?

2. How will Liverpool’s pursuit of Southampton centerback Virgil van Dijk affect their transfer plans?

3. What will Klopp do about the defensive issues—need of a center back, leftback, and defensive midfielder?

Liverpool could make a big leap forward back to European glory or they could slip up again.

 

Arsenal

Arsenal are heading into summer a mess.

Although they won the FA Cup for a record 13th time, they were humiliated by Bayern Munich in the Champions League, finished outside the top four for the first time in 20 years, and worse of all, somehow managed to finish below hated Tottenham for the first time in 22 years.

It was a year to forget for the fans and yet, Arsene Wenger was signed for another two years.

Three questions to ask:

1. Who are they keeping and who are they selling?

2. Who is the leader of the team—can Granit Xhaka grow up?

3. Are they willing to spend the money for big name talents like James Rodriguez, Kylian Mbappe, or Alexandre Lacazette?

Bonus question: How will they manage their Christmas fixtures?

This upcoming summer and season will no doubt be a turning point for Arsenal—which direction though?

 

Manchester United

Manchester United are headed into summer coming off a successful season.

They lifted two trophies, three if you count the Community Shield, and although Jose Mourinho gave up on the Premier League, he got Manchester United back to the Champions League. United are rich and powerful.

Three questions to ask:

1. Is the spending they are bound to do going to result in better performances?

2. Who will replace Zlatan Ibrahimovic’s output and will Wayne Rooney stay or go?

3. With all the footballers linked with the club and the talents already on the squad, can Mourinho keep everyone happy?

Manchester United are going all in—the pressure will mount quickly if it takes a wrong turn.

With six clubs competing for four spots, it’s go time.

 

Written by Steven Jotterand

Follow Steven on Twitter @StevenJotterand

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