With yet another season of domestic European football set to start less than two weeks from now, we have witnessed yet another exciting summer transfer window across Europe. Leonardo Bonucci shocked the world by joining the Rossoneri, James Rodriguez joined Bayern on a two-year loan (what?), and Kylian Mbappé seems to be set on staying with Monaco for at least one more season despite receiving heavy interest from every top club in the world.
And as per usual, the Premier League has seen the most productive activity in the transfer window, largely amongst the teams who finished in the top six last season (Chelsea, Tottenham, Manchester City, Liverpool, Arsenal and Manchester United). All but one side has made numerous additions to their respective sides in hopes of strengthening their squad to cope with the ever-compiling competitive nature of the best league in the world.
But who among last season’s top six has maneuvered the 2017 summer transfer window the best?
Coming off of a dominant debut season in the Premier League, Chelsea boss Antonio Conte is not playing around in preparing a defense worthy of yet another league title. Conte has parted ways with 27 players this summer, with 15 of them going out on loan for the season and 12 of them leaving on a permanent transfer. Notable departures include two promising young players in powerful striker Dominic Solanke (who we will come back to later) and composed center back Nathan Ake, as well as the experienced Nemanja Matić (who we will also come back to later).
While Conte has been busy cleaning up shop, he has also made sure to revamp the backbone of his Chelsea side with a new center back, defensive midfielder and striker. At CB, 24-year-old Antonio Rüdiger spent the last two seasons at Roma and won the Confederations Cup this summer with Germany, meaning his defensive IQ and high level of experience are exactly what Conte needs in the back line. At DM, 22-year-old Frenchman Tiemoué Bakayoko helped Monaco win Ligue 1 and reach the semi-finals of the Champions League last year.
Finally, at ST, Álvaro Morata has joined the Blues from Real Madrid in hopes of seeing the starting XI on a more consistent basis. At 24 years of age, Morata has already played in three Champions League finals, and won two of them, although he appeared as a substitute in both victories. He is a technically gifted striker with an eye for goal, but only time will tell whether he has the physical tenacity to handle the pace and power of the Premier League.
Overall Grade: B+
Mauricio Pochettino’s Tottenham side has arguably been the best side in the Premier League for the past two seasons, despite finishing in third place and second place, respectively. With the youngest average aged team in the league, Pochettino has fostered an exciting style of play that has seen English striker Harry Kane win the league’s Golden Boot for the past two seasons running, and the emergence of Dele Alli as one of the best young footballers in the world.
This summer, Tottenham has let go of ten players. Shockingly, on the other side of business, Pochettino has not purchased a single player during the summer 2017 transfer window. While Tottenham hosts the most well-rounded starting XI in the league, they can certainly improve their squad’s depth. Kane & Alli may be carrying the team in terms of goal-scoring, along with the help of Christian Eriksen and Son Heung-Min; but Vincent Janssen, Tottenham’s only true out and out backup striker, has not carried his weight since making the move to London last summer. Kane will need rest from time to time, and based on what he has shown so far, Janssen is light years away from filling those shoes.
Overall Grade: B
Pep Guardiola had a disappointing first season with his new club by his own standards, seeing his side finish in 3rd place after beginning the season in blistering form. Throughout the year, his City side showed flashes of the beautiful football that Pep is known for producing, but inconsistency kept them from reaching the heights they were expected to reach.
This summer was always going to be an extremely active one for Manchester City, considering the reputation of both Guardiola and City’s owners for blowing the bank. In preparation, City parted ways with 20 players, only five of which left on loan, including Joe Hart to West Ham. Remarkably, on the other hand, City have spent almost $200 million this summer exclusively on their defense, including three full backs in Kyle Walker from Tottenham, Benjamin Mendy from Monaco and Danilo from Real Madrid. Leading the defense will be goalkeeper Ederson, who has looked impressive this summer since his arrival from Benfica, and Guardiola is praying that he will be the solid keeper who City has been missing for a few years now. Lastly, Monaco’s now former playmaker Bernardo Silva looks as though he will take City’s offense to new frightening heights.
Guardiola has spoken on the fact that City does not have enough remaining funds to purchase a new center back, and he probably should have thought about that before buying two right backs for over $100 million. There is no questioning the potency of this City side’s offensive ability, but their defense does not quite tell the same story. Not yet, at least.
Overall Grade: B-
Having qualified for the Champions League for the first time since the 2014-2015 season, Jürgen Klopp’s first full season in the Premier League was ultimately a success. Like Manchester City, Liverpool put out some inspired performances against the bigger teams, but somehow managed to lose critical games including home fixtures against Swansea and Crystal Palace, both of whom had abysmal seasons.
Certainly, Liverpool’s defense was to be restructured this summer.
So far, Liverpool has let go of nine players, five of which were released from the club. Surprisingly, Klopp has been rather conservative with his checkbook, which is further affirmation of the faith that the German coach has always shown in his teams. Still, it goes to beg the question of how far that faith will take him this year. Despite already featuring a creative offense that was unstoppable at times last season, two of Klopp’s three purchases have been offensive ones. Egyptian winger Mohamed Salah recently made the move to Merseyside from Roma, and with his direct style of play driven by his pace, he will likely flourish under Klopp. The second signing, Dominic Solanke, a 19 year old who was let go by Chelsea, will only end up costing Klopp around $3.5 million. He may already have Chelsea regretting their decision to let him go, showcasing his strength and his eye for goal in his first two appearances for Liverpool.
Their third signing, oddly, is former Hull City left back Andrew Robertson, whom they do not truly need at the moment. In modern football, a side must have a world class goalkeeper in order to be considered amongst the best teams in the world, and this is the one position in which Liverpool is seriously suffering. Neither Simon Mignolet or Loris Karius were all that convincing last season, and until they find a proper fit between the posts, Liverpool will likely struggle when the season gets gritty.
Another center back might help as well…
Overall Grade: C
Last season told the typical tale of an Arsenal season: start shakily, clean things up during the fall, fall off in wintertime, and wake up in the closing stretch of the season. The only difference is that in past years, it ended up being enough to get us in the Champions League, whereas this year, we fell just short of fourth place. Yes, for the first time in Arsene Wenger’s 20 years as Arsenal manager, the Gunners have failed to qualify for the prestigious Champions League. These are strange times for us Arsenal fans, as many of us have never felt this feeling before.
Arsene did a little bit of cleaning up this summer as well, releasing five players, loaning out two and selling two more. There have been just two additions this summer, including left midfielder Sead Kolašinac from Schalke on a free transfer, and the long overdue, club record transfer of striker Alexandre Lacazette from Lyon. Following Wenger’s surprise change to a 3-4-3 formation in the final stretch of last season, Kolašinac will fit smoothly into this newly arranged Arsenal side with his ability to perform both as a powerful defender and as a deceivingly quick and technical outside midfielder. Lacazette, on the other hand, felt like a Godsend for us Gunners after years of being linked with just about every top-shelf striker in the game, only to come out empty handed time and again. He was borderline prolific last year in Ligue 1, and he finally has his chance to shine at the top level. I want to believe that Lacazette will adapt to the Premier League well, but only time will tell.
While multiple midfielders in Arsenal’s current roster have the potential to take on leadership roles at the club, the Gunners have not had a world class defensive midfielder since Patrick Vieira over a decade ago. Santi Cazorla is world class, but he only plays in the defensive role occasionally, and his absence through consecutive long-term injuries in the last two years has hurt Arsenal deeply. Two seasons ago, Coquelin seemed to be growing into the leadership role at DM, but that faded after a while. This is the only hole in Arsenal’s lineup that is keeping them from being serious title contenders again.
On a side note, the prolonged contract extension drama with Alexis Sánchez and Mesut Özil has not helped out the morale of the team.
Overall Grade: B
José Mourinho and Manchester United had a strange season by multiple standards. They finished in sixth place in the Premier League, which by both the club’s standards and Mourinho’s standards, is awful. Yet in the same time, they also won the Community Shield, the Football League Cup and the Europa League (for the first time). This led Mourinho and some United fans to (jokingly?) claim that they had won a treble. This is certainly not the case, but alas, a subtly impressive season for the Red Devils.
This summer saw the departure of nine players, including the release of Zlatan Ibrahimović and the selling of Wayne Rooney back to his boyhood club, Everton. There was not much improving to do for Manchester United, other than to replace Zlatan, as well as to find a proper center back to pair with the commanding Eric Bailly, and they did just that. After being on United’s radar for quite some time, they finally acquired the services of Victor Lindelöf, the Swedish center back, from Benfica.
Of course, Manchester United also purchased Romelu Lukaku after an impressive season at Everton, where he proved once and for all his ability to handle the demands of the Premier League. Other than his occasional poor first touch, in contrast to Zlatan’s revered godly first touch, Lukaku has the full package. With a young and speedy offense to his left and right, and the backing of Paul Pogba and Ander Herrera, Lukaku will flourish at Manchester United just as he did at Everton.
Additionally, just as he did in his return to Chelsea, Mourinho has lured the sturdy Nemanja Matić back into his side to further strengthen this impressive Manchester United midfield.
Overall Grade: A
Summer 2017 Transfer Window Grading Amongst Last Season’s Top Six:
Manchester City: B-
Manchester United: A
West Ham: B+: Chicharito, Joe Hart, Pablo Zabaleta
Everton: A-: Wayne Rooney, Jordan Pickford, Davy Klaassen, Sandro Ramírez