LONDON: The dust is only just settling on a dramatic Premier League season, but there will be a handful of managers already plotting how to wrest control of the title away from Manchester City as they wake up this morning.
For all its drama and intrigue, one thing had been a certainty since the turn of the year — Pep Guardiola’s rampant City would be crowned champions. In a record-breaking season, they managed that feat with five games to spare, while leaving the rest of the field in their wake.
In the build-up to Sunday’s final round of fixtures, Guardiola had started the mind games early by praising Liverpool’s manager Jurgen Klopp and telling the world that he expects a much tougher challenge from the Merseyside club next year.
“This season they were a big contender and they will be again next season,” he said.
For Klopp, it will be about keeping the core of the squad together. With the addition in the January transfer window of Virgil Van Dijk in defense and the blossoming of Georginio Wijnaldum in the midfield, the German coach managed to supplement the Reds’ lethal front line led by the mercurial Mohamed Salah and turn them into challengers and potential European champions overnight.
Liverpool were also one of the few teams to stop the City juggernaut in the Premier League this year — one that lost only twice all season — managing, also, to do it again in the Champions League in both legs of their quarterfinal clash.
But it was not against clubs such as City that Liverpool allowed such a gap to emerge, it was too many dropped points against weaker opposition that damaged their bid to keep up. There will be no room next season for draws at home and defeats away against the likes of relegated West Bromwich Albion and Swansea City. And Klopp knows that.
Meanwhile, runners-up and cross-city rivals Manchester United are well aware of the importance of “buying right” in the summer transfer window. With Guardiola looking to strengthen a City squad which already looks staggeringly strong, Jose Mourinho will have to outmanuever his arch-rival in the market and get his squad balance right from day one of the new season.
A new central midfielder has to be a priority for Mourinho, but the Portuguese has already warned fans that summer recruitment will be tough with so much ground to make up. It is true, also, that Mourinho’s result-over-performance approach was blown out of the water by Guardiola’s charges this season, whose results were secured with a style and relentless attacking mentality, which was breathtaking to watch — a stark contrast to the often dour showings from United.
The departure of his long-time collaborator Rui Faria gives Mourinho a chance to bring in fresh blood to the United dugout and fans will hope Faria’s exit will lead to a more exciting brand of football being played at Old Trafford next season. Fan-favorite Rene Muelensteen would be a wise choice, considering his penchant for free-flowing, attacking football.
As for the rest — Chelsea could well be getting used to life after Antonio Conte come August, Tottenham Hotspur face a summer dismantling of Mauricio Pochettino’s settled and talented squad and Arsenal’s fortunes will depend entirely on the man they bring in to replace Arsene Wenger.
While the rest of the world turns its attention to the glitz and glamor of the World Cup, for a select few the hard work already begins to topple the all-conquering reign of Guardiola and Manchester City.