2 Positions Every Premier League Club Needs to Urgently Address This Summer
We've just closed the book on England's top-tier season, but B/R are already looking ahead to the summer transfer window and how clubs can improve.
With that in mind, we've deduced two positions on the pitch every club—including the promoted trio of Leicester, Burnley and Derby/Queens Park Rangers—can improve, be it with returning loan stars, promoting academy players or buying replacements.
What are you waiting for? Get primed for the summer!
Mikel Arteta's improved season was not without flaws, and while Mathieu Flamini is an adequate rotation option, he's not world-class. If you could roll them into one it'd be perfect...but unfortunately, that's not physically possible.
Olivier Giroud put in a valiant season, but he's not the striker who can lead Arsenal to a Premier League title. They need a more physically complete player to lead the line—one who doesn't miss a slew of one vs. ones every season.
Aston Villa's primary need is a playmaking No. 10 to unlock defences whilst in possession. There's a reason Villa can "only" score counter-attacking goals, and it's because they've no clue how to break teams down.
There are a number of secondary needs—left-back, defensive midfield, winger—but the former is perhaps most pressing. Villa fans would love to secure Ryan Bertrand, who's accomplished going forward and an underrated defender, on a permanent deal.
Michael Duff and Jason Shackell played well together at the heart of Burnley's defence in their Championship-winning season, but can the former, at 36 years of age, hack it in the top tier?
Kevin Long played very sparingly in the 2013-14 campaign and may not be ready, so manager Sean Dyche should be looking at the market to shore up this spot.
Again, Dyche's central midfield pairing of Dean Marney and David Jones was solid all year, but is it good enough for the Premier League?
It entirely depends on the game plan, but some additional quality either way could really help.
Demba Ba, Fernando Torres and Samuel Eto'o is a striking corps that, predictably, fell short of the requisite quality to win a Premier League title.
Chelsea need a man who can carry the load, hold the ball, make decisive runs and finish chances. Atletico Madrid's Diego Costa, per chance?
Ashley Cole's sell-by date is looming, and even if he were to sign on for another additional season at Chelsea, Jose Mourinho needs long-term options at left-back.
Kagisho Dikgacoi isn't really cutting the mustard in Tony Pulis' midfield, and he's only playing on a regular basis because there are no other options.
If the manager can find the perfect accompaniment to Mile Jedinak and Joe Ledley in his midfield three, Crystal Palace can be more than just "survivors" in the Premier League.
If Pulis can find a left-back he trusts, Joel Ward can move back to his favoured position on the right instead of deputising out of position. That's no slight on Ward—he's been magnificent wherever he's played—but he should be playing in his optimal position.
Derby/Queens Park Rangers
The Championship play-off final will feature Derby and Queens Park Rangers on 24 May at Wembley Stadium, with one of the two outfits set to win a place in the 2014-15 edition of the Premier League.
Derby have questions at right-back unless Andre Wisdom is retained for a second loan spell, and a sprinkling of quality could be added to the front three.
Queens Park Rangers have a Premier League-calibre squad already, but question marks will be floated over the durability of their aging central defensive duo. Left-back, too, is a concern after Benoit Assou-Ekotto returns to Tottenham Hotspur.
The striking situation at Everton needs sorting, and the question this summer will be whether or not Romelu Lukaku returns to the club following a super loan spell.
Arouna Kone is the only other option left; expect movement in this area.
This hinges on Gareth Barry's decision. Will he sign with Everton permanently or chance his luck elsewhere?
If he stays, Roberto Martinez can look at adding a more decisive, productive winger; if not, Martinez needs to conjure a carbon-copy from the unlikeliest of sources.
Jake Livermore had a sublime season at the KC Stadium, and if he's available for £7 million or less, Hull must bite the bullet and secure his services permanently.
If not, they need to find an all-round box-to-box midfielder who can make clever runs, carry the ball and connect with Tom Huddlestone on the same level.
The strikers are set, the midfield is close to set and the defensive line is sturdy. That leaves the only other position in need of improving as wing-back, but it would involve the upheaval of a fan favourite.
Specifically, a better right-wing-back than Ahmed Elmohamady can be found—exciting and hardworking as he is.
Leicester's striking duo of David Nugent and Jamie Vardy scored 36 Championship goals between themselves last season, but can they cut it in the Premier League?
Promoted clubs often stay up after astutely recruiting a reliable striker to fire them to safety.
Refreshed left side
Paul Konchesky and Lloyd Dyer will form Leciester's left side going into preseason. If clubs are looking for an easy method to beat the Foxes, hitting this flank will emerge as the early favourite.
An upgrade in either, or both, positions would be most welcome.
Jon Flanagan is, ideally, a third-choice full-back who provides cover on both sides for Liverpool. He's a defence-first, much-improved option whom Brendan Rodgers has done wonders with, but a title tilt is expected and the Reds need quality.
Glen Johnson's defensive frailties were on show throughout the 2013-14 season, and the club can also do a lot better than Jose Enrique and Aly Cissokho now that they are back in the UEFA Champions League.
There are question marks in central defence, but to answer them Rodgers doesn't necessarily need to buy. Defensive midfield, therefore, becomes the next priority, as Lucas Leiva's performances have dropped sharply since a bad injury.
They need a physical ball-winner in the mould of Victor Wanyama; a different take on what's currently on offer in midfield.
Depth. Manchester City need depth in midfield, as beyond Yaya Toure and Fernandinho—who are both stunning—the options look bleak.
Someone like Fernando, of FC Porto, would be a great rotator for Fernandinho and can even come in for Toure, freeing up his compatriot and allowing him to venture forward.
With Martin Demichelis playing well and Matija Nastasic returning to fitness, Manuel Pellegrini finding a fourth-choice centre-back will be a low-key event.
Instead, we turn our attentions to right-back, as it seems Micah Richards' Manchester City career is over and Pablo Zabaleta needs someone to swap shifts with.
For Manchester United, you have to start at centre-back given the fact that Nemanja Vidic and Rio Ferdinand are both leaving the club.
An established, yet young(ish) defender must be found to begin the foundations of a new long-term partnership this summer. Ezequiel Garay has been linked to the club, via Ed Malyon of the Mirror, and would be a good solution.
With the plethora of attacking talent available to the new manager, we look back down the lineup and find a gargantuan hole at left-back.
Whether or not Patrice Evra stays, help is needed, and Alexander Buttner cannot be trusted. If Luke Shaw's too expensive, United should go for Ricardo Rodriguez of Wolfsburg.
After Yohan Cabaye left Newcastle United in January, the wheels completely fell off. Nothing was being created whatsoever, and none of the forward players were getting any service.
The summer must be used to find Cabaye's replacement, be it in the same deep-lying form the now-Paris Saint-Germain player took, or as a more offensive, No. 10-esque type.
Loic Remy's loan will end and, let's face it, his signature will be thoroughly in demand. Arsenal and Everton should both be looking his way, while Queens Park Rangers could feasibly keep him should they achieve promotion.
Mark Douglas of the Chronicle confirms Luuk de Jong will not be signed permanently and Shola Ameobi could leave. Strikers aplenty required on Tyneside.
If Southampton were to retain all of their prized assets this summer—it's a long shot, yes, but for the sake of arguing—they would be a top-tier striker away from challenging from Europe.
Dani Osvaldo was a punt that went badly, badly wrong. It cost them £15 million, and the next target will be considerably safer.
Artur Boruc is good, but in a team rising fast and boasting quality players in every position, he's the next viable target to replace.
He can make nine absurdly excellent saves then drop an absolute clanger at the worst possible moment.
Everywhere—but not in a harsh way
Stoke City finished ninth this season, settled under Mark Hughes well and played some good football in the process.
What they have right now is a solid, dependable team who can win enough games to stay safe every year; to improve upon that, they need to sprinkle quality in every area on a sporadic basis.
The defensive line is set, Asmir Begovic is class and Peter Odemwingie could yet get better. Peter Crouch had a great season but he's 33, and Glenn Whelan can definitely be improved upon.
Sunderland's full-back corps is largely made up of loanees or players leaving on a free transfer. Jack Colback is the subject of interest from 11 clubs, per James Hunter of the Chronicle, while Ondrej Celustka and Marcos Alonso are borrowed talents.
At least two new players are needed here, with Alonso on permanent deal a very attractive possibility.
The aforementioned Colback plays most of his football in midfield, and he, along with Craig Gardner and Ki Sung-Yueng, are either out of contract or returning to parent clubs.
The entire midfield three needs a rework, and Gus Poyet will need funds regardless of the direction he takes.
Swansea City's wing corps has been tailored to a possession-based game, and while they certainly succeeded under a slew of managers preceding Garry Monk, the new man has a slightly more direct style.
Ironically, someone like Scott Sinclair could suit the system perfectly. He's available, too.
Swansea's central midfield has lost a little of its gloss, and while this is still very much Leon Britton's team, a plan should be put in place to continue the 31-year-old's possession-based charge.
The returning Ki Sung-Yueng, after one year on loan at Sunderland, is an interesting storyline waiting to unfold.
Another left-back-needy Premier League team? It's becoming quite the theme, and it's true there's a shortage of top-quality players in existence in that position.
With Kyle Walker flying forward on the right, a more stable, cautious option could be a wise choice on the left. Danny Rose has struggled to temper his game.
Tottenham Hotspur's midfield are superb at keeping possession of the ball when asked to—that much became clear under Andre Villas-Boas—but creating is a struggle.
If the striking situation stays settled with Emmanuel Adebayor and Roberto Soldado up top, Spurs' new manager should look at a deep-lying creator who can play a Yohan Cabaye-esque role.
West Bromwich Albion
Where to start?
West Bromwich Albion need to hit the reset button this summer, and with Pepe Mel gone, they have the chance to appoint a new manager and rework the philosophy of the club.
Until we know which direction the new manager takes it's hard to know where to start, although the club do look well set in every defensive position other than left-back.
Saido Berahino and Stephane Sessegnon were the club's top scorers in the league with five goals each. If Berahino isn't ready to take on a full-time role up front, some help here would be nice.
West Ham United
George McCartney is a modest left-back by anyone's standards, and if West Ham United are to improve defensively they should start here.
It'd be nice if Andy Carroll scored a few more goals, and it'd be nice if Matt Jarvis was a little more productive, but the next most pressing concern is central midfield.
West Ham need some fresher legs integrated, with Kevin Nolan and Matty Taylor on the wrong side of 30. Taylor's winning record in the side is very impressive, though.