English Premier League: Preview of Window to Prepare for Champions League

At this point, it is relatively fair to say we have encountered our Top 4 and our title winning team of the 2014-15 EPL season. However, this season England’s Top 4 teams looked relatively off the pace compared to usual. Louis Van Gaal famously said to build a squad capable of being in consistent European contention, the squad must have “2 players capable of playing each position”. Looking at the provisional Top 4, they seem to be quite close to achieving this goal, but there are some places in which each side needs a little spark.

Goalkeepers: Arsenal, Manchester United, Manchester City and Chelsea seem to have some of the best goalkeeping units in the world. Chelsea can choose from Petr Cech and Thibaut Courtois, while Manchester City has the resurging Joe Hart and steady Argentinean Wily Caballero. Arsenal can depend on David Ospina when Wojciech Szczesny is playing badly. Even if David De Gea leaves Manchester United, they still have Victor Valdes and Anders Lindegaard. That being said, it seems unlikely the world class shot stopper will leave just yet, and given his meteoric rise, many young goalkeepers would want to be coached by the staff at United.

Fullbacks: Chelsea’s trio of Branislav Ivanovic, Cesar Azpilicueta and Filipe Luis is functional and world class, but it could be aided by a promotion from the youth academy. Manchester City has Aleksandar Kolarov, Gael Clichy, Pablo Zabaleta and Bacary Sagna, and though all 4 will be 30 by the end of next season, they can last until then. Arsenal’s quintuplet of Calum Chambers, Hector Bellerin, Mathieu Debuchy, Kieran Gibbs and Nacho Monreal offers the perfect balance between youth, experience and competition. Monreal and Bellerin, in particular, look superb at the moment. Meanwhile, at Manchester United, the left back options go through the roof, as they can choose from Luke Shaw, Daley Blind, Marcos Rojo and even Tyler Blackett (though the latter two are centre-backs). On the other side, though, Rafael can’t stay fit and Antonio Valencia looks poor defensively. United will look for a right back to match Valencia’s work rate and improve on his tackling and crossing. This will be very difficult, but Nathaniel Clyne in particular looks like he can become world class with the demand Louis Van Gaal has for his fullbacks.

Centre-Backs: Kurt Zouma, John Terry and Gary Cahill seems like a good trio, and Branislav Ivanovic can play centre-back for Chelsea. That being said, Chelsea will want to add a player to replace Cahill in their starting XI, and it seems they may want to go for an economical option such as Nicolas N’Koulou from Marseille. Arsenal can look to Gabriel Paulista, Laurent Koscielny, Per Mertesacker and Calum Chambers if needed. Manchester City will need at least one centre back, while Manchester United may too. The Citizens can only really depend on Martin Demichelis, while the Red Devils have Phil Jones, Chris Smalling, Paddy McNair, Tyler Blackett, Jonny Evans and Marcos Rojo but only the latter offers the stability needed. Between the two of them, one should get Nicolas Otamendi from Valencia and one Mats Hummels from the currently maligned Borussia Dortmund.

Midfielders: This is an intriguing one. Arsenal seems stocked in general but an injury to Francis Coquelin would see them in a huge dilemma. They will probably look to a similar stylistic midfielder to Coquelin, and they should bring Alex Song back to the club. Manchester United is stocked, as they can choose from Daley Blind, Michael Carrick, Ander Herrera, Angel Di Maria and Marouane Fellaini, but the latter is the only one who can offer the physicality needed, so United may look to bring in Morgan Schneiderlin from Southampton. Chelsea has some issues here at the moment, as Oscar looks well out of form. In reality, Nemanja Matic and Cesc Fabregas are phenomenal players but they are too heavily depended on, because Chelsea doesn’t have a midfielder to do it all. Expect them to splash on a player like Allan Marques from Udinese, a player that can double to provide cover for either Matic or Oscar. Manchester City needs to play three players in midfield, and they should look to Victor Wanyama from Southampton. Adding Wanyama would allow Fernando to stay back doing what he’s best at, breaking up play.

Wingers: Typically the largest source of playmaking in the EPL, wingers are vital to teams to inject pace. Chelsea has Eden Hazard, Willian and Juan Cuadrado to roam the wide areas, and they can even get Oscar or Loic Remy to play on the wing. Manchester City has James Milner, Samir Nasri, David Silva and Jesus Navas if he actually plays to the standard required. Arsenal can play Danny Welbeck, Alex Oxlade-Chamberlain, Theo Walcott or even Santi Cazorla on the wing. Manchester United has Ashley Young, Juan Mata, Adnan Januzaj and even Angel Di Maria, but they can’t depend on Young to be consistently there, which is why they will look to Memphis Depay.

Forwards: This area is generally stocked amongst the Top 4, and that doesn’t change. Chelsea has Diego Costa, Loic Remy and Didier Drogba, and there are some youngsters at the club raring for a go in the senior team. Manchester United will only need a striker if they let Radamel Falcao and Robin Van Persie leave, but I expect only the former to go, meaning United has the experienced Wayne Rooney and Robin Van Persie along with James Wilson, a fiery youngster. Arsenal needs a striker, as Arsene Wenger sees Danny Welbeck as a winger, so they may look to Palermo starlet Paulo Dybala. Manchester City has Sergio Aguero, Wilfried Bony, Edin Dzeko and Stevan Jovetic in the ranks, so they have the correct assembly of mid-high range strikers to compliment the classy Aguero.

Additional Players: These extra additions would truly put each team over the Top.

Manchester City could go for some steel in midfield, so a great centre defensive midfielder such as Sami Khedira to take the place of Fernando. Arsenal could use a world class goalkeeper to bail them out so they may look to Keylor Navas who (strangely) warms the bench at Real Madrid. Manchester United could use a world class winger/central midfielder to complete a quad squad behind Wayne Rooney of Ander Herrera, Juan Mata and Angel Di Maria, and Marco Reus could be the man. Last but not least, additional steel in midfield could go a long way given how Fabregas melts away the second half of the season, and adding Andre Gomes would truly complete the squad.

We all want to see the big 4 succeed in Europe, and a couple of additions wouldn’t go wrong to help them on their way. That being said, even without them, the sides generally have the right foundations to do well in the Champions League.

Follow me on Twitter @aaronm830_blog

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