Gary Neville doesn't believe Manchester United and Liverpool can win the Premier League title next season.
The former Red Devils right-back, now an England coach and pundit with Sky Sports, suggests both sides will need to enter the 2014-15 campaign with realistic expectations.
United head into their first season with Louis van Gaal after finishing seventh last year, meaning a lack of European football ensures they can focus on the domestic challenge. Neville indicates Van Gaal hasn't done enough in the transfer market to challenge Manchester City or Chelsea at the top, although United may benefit from greater rest periods, per Sky Sports:
Unless two or three players come in I don’t think it’s realistic that he can win the league this year.
Although there is a potential with what Liverpool did in the fact they had free weeks of Saturday to Saturday, continual perfect preparation. That’s a big advantage for United if they get onto some momentum.
Neville suggests United have the best "pool" of strikers with Wayne Rooney, Robin van Persie, Javier Hernandez and Danny Welbeck at the club, but he doesn't think the side will compete unless "they sign two or three real stars and they all bed in immediately in the next few weeks."
Football writer Sam Pilger underlined Van Gaal's need to bolster the squad:
It would be the greatest achievement of Van Gaal's career if he turned Smalling, Jones and Evans in to a title-winning defence this season— Sam Pilger (@sampilger) August 11, 2014
Contrasting the Old Trafford side's terrible showing under David Moyes, Liverpool head into the new season with rejuvenated hopes after finishing second last year. Brendan Rodgers' men played fast-paced attacking football throughout their title run, defined by Luis Suarez's 31-goal haul. Now that Suarez has joined Barcelona, the Reds face the challenging task of trying to make up for his brilliance.
Liverpool came excruciatingly close to winning their first Premier League title last season. Steven Gerrard's decisive slip against Chelsea and the side's squandering of a 3-0 lead against Crystal Palace stand as the defining moments in an otherwise stunning campaign for Rodgers' team.
The manager has added seven signings to his squad after Suarez's departure, but Neville doubts whether Liverpool can replicate last season's heroics, per Sky Sports:
I don’t think Liverpool will win the league. I think it was a miracle, really, to get to the point that they did last year. I think they were absolutely at full pelt last year, 100 per cent, to get to the standard that they got to, they really were.
I thought at one point with three weeks to go that they were going to win it because the momentum was with them, the performances were outstanding and they just fell away at the last.
Neville believes if Liverpool can make the top four, as well as the knockout phase of the Champions League and put together a domestic cup run, their season will be a success. He doesn't expect the team to complete the first of those objectives, however, and believes City, Chelsea, Arsenal and United will make up the elite places.
Many are sure to disagree with Neville's presumptions, but he certainly raises some interesting points. It's difficult to define exactly what success means for United and Liverpool heading into the new campaign; both teams are in unfamiliar territory after last season and should adjust their expectations accordingly.
Which team will finish higher this coming season?
United's priority must be getting back in the Champions League. The club simply cannot afford to lose up to £70 million per year by failing to make the European showpiece. Even the most optimistic fan will acknowledge the squad just doesn't compare to the endless class and quality currently at City and Chelsea, who should be expected to go the distance.
Behind closed doors, it's likely Ed Woodward and the United money men will celebrate fourth as if it came with red and white ribbons attached.
Van Gaal's first season should be seen as a bedding-in period, like we saw with Rodgers in 2012-13 and Mourinho last year. The Dutchman's lack of urgency in the transfer market confirms this, as he weighs up his options before spending. This is by no means a bad thing in the long-term—United can ill afford to have a repeat of the Marouane Fellaini debacle—but it does make imminent title hopes extremely difficult.
Rodgers' troops have experienced a whirlwind of emotions across the past few months. From the ecstatic high of beating City to the aforementioned low at Selhurst Park, the squad will need to call upon this heartache to mount another challenge. Suarez's spark may have disappeared, but like Van Gaal, Rodgers is currently working on what should be considered a long-term project.
Both sides will likely falter below City and Chelsea, two teams who are groomed for the present. The clubs' mega-rich owners ensure trophies are within reach every season, whereas United and Liverpool must be more scrupulous about their planning. As such, prolonged Champions League football for both would be a major achievement.
Neville isn't one to mince his words and will always provide an honest assessment of the Premier League outlook. While United and Liverpool fans rarely see eye-to-eye, both sets of supporters are likely to share one common goal for the coming year: hearing the Champions League anthem sound out across their home ground when 2015-16 arrives.