Last season’s Premier League title race involved Manchester and Manchester alone, as City and United finished 19 points ahead of third-placed Arsenal. It wasn’t quite the 30 points between Barcelona and Valencia in La Liga, but concerns of a similar dominance occurring are legitimate. Manchester City’s 6-1 win at Old Trafford was a freak result; the 5-1 victory over fourth-placed Tottenham, however, was less so. Manchester United, of course, beat Arsenal 8-2 on the same weekend, foreshadowing an increasing gap between Manchester and the rest of the country.
And it has meant both clubs have been able to largely exert control throughout the transfer window, whilst those below them lose star players whilst scrambling for replacements. Roberto Mancini has notably shown signs of impatience at his Chief Executive, Brian Marwood, however he should leave transfer deadline day satisfied having replaced Nigel De Jong, Stefan Savic and Adam Johnson with Javi Garcia, Matija Nastasic and Scott Sinclair, whilst also adding the experienced wing-back Maicon at a bargain price. This summer may have lacked the marquee signing of Sergio Aguero of last year, but the squad is now stronger and contains another certain Argentinean forward within it once more.
Manchester United, meanwhile, have essentially replaced Dimitar Berbatov and Ji- Sung Park with Robin van Persie and Shinji Kagawa (whilst also popularly bringing in cover for the declining Patrice Evra in Alexander Buttner). Fulham and QPR have gained two fine players in Berbatov and Park respectively, but in return United have arguably acquired two of the world’s finest players in their respective positions. Both have already scored on their home debuts, perhaps signalling the start of things to come.
As noted, Arsenal finished marginally closest to the Manchester duo last season, and yet for the second summer running they have lost a key player to one of them. Arsene Wenger has replaced Robin van Persie with the duo of Lukas Podolski and Olivier Giroud. Between them, they may end up scoring more than the 30 league goals RVP managed alone last season; however, the importance of the Dutchman’s goals will likely be irreplaceable. Arsenal also lost Alex Song to Barcelona, who at times last season resembled more of a creative midfielder than a defensive force; in that sense, Santi Cazorla should be an impressive replacement of sorts, with Mikel Arteta and one other supporting him. Overall, however, it is difficult to see how Arsenal can realistically expect to close the gap given that they have directly strengthened the club that finished directly above them. 3rd or 4th will once again be the aim.
Tottenham, like their North London rivals, have also lost two star players in Luka Modric and Rafael van der Vaart. Moussa Dembele and Gylfi Sigurdsson are two talented replacements, but question marks remain over their ability to dictate a match in the manner of Modric; thus missing out on Joao Moutinho is a big blow. However, unlike Arsenal, they have strengthened in other areas, bringing in Clint Dempsey to compete for the attacking spots, as well as French goalkeeper Hugo Lloris to replace the 41-year-old Brad Friedel. Moreover, Jan Vertonghen is a fine addition at centre back and, once fit, he and Younes Kaboul should form a dynamic partnership. Much will depend on the enigmatic Andre Villas-Boas as to how Tottenham perform, but they look in decent shape to repeat their 4th placed finish last season.
Newcastle have had an exceptionally quiet window, which will no doubt suit their fans given that this time last year avoiding relegation was the aim. Vernon Anita has arrived to provide competition in midfield and at full-back… and that’s about it. They will rely heavily on their star strike force of Demba Ba and Papiss Cisse if they wish to have any chance of challenging for the top four, which surely would have required another signing or two. Everton, meanwhile, lost two long-serving players in Tim Cahill and Jack Rodwell, but have brought in Steven Pienaar, Steven Naismith, Kevin Mirallas and Bryan Oviedo in surely their most successful transfer window in many years. After two wins from two, they look in good shape to “do a Newcastle” this season and may well be the surprise package.
Transfer deadline day was frustrating for Liverpool. Having already lost Dirk Kuyt, Maxi Rodriguez and Craig Bellamy, Andy Carroll’s loan move to West Ham sent fans into overdrive about who – and how many – would replace him. Yet Jim White came and went without declaring any new signings at Anfield, with FSG seemingly unprepared to pay £6m for Clint Dempsey, and Daniel Sturridge and Theo Walcott unavailable. With only Fabio Borini and Luis Suarez as recognised forwards at the club, the gigantic strides taken in midfield with Joe Allen and Nuri Sahin in place of Charlie Adam and Jay Spearing could be left redundant given that any chance created will likely hit the post or Row Z.
Of course, the one major exception to this lack of control outside Manchester amongst the big clubs this summer has been Chelsea. Despite losing the talismanic Didier Drogba, they have completely revolutionised their attack in signing Eden Hazard, Oscar, Marko Marin, and Victor Moses, whilst also finally upgrading Jose Bosingwa with Cesar Azpilicueta at right-back. Meanwhile, on the back of winning the Euro Championships’ Golden Boot, Fernando Torres finally appears to have rediscovered his shooting boots; although any injury to him will mean Daniel Sturridge having to make the grade in a central role at a big club for the first time.
Overall, then, if the transfer window could be converted into a league table, it may not look too dissimilar to last season’s final standing regarding the top eight sides (Sunderland would probably replace Liverpool!). Every side will have reasons to be satisfied, but it is clear which clubs will also have reasons to be unhappy. Having finished 25 points behind the Manchester duo last season, it would take a brave man to even bet on Chelsea closely challenging them this time around. Although, if any team can break the La Liga-nearing duopoly, it is probably Roberto di Matteo’s new-look Chelsea; and that is in large part due to the events of the transfer window.
However, expect more Manchester dominance on the pitch: this time, it could be Manchester United’s marquee signing in Robin van Persie that makes the difference.