We are now a matter of weeks away from the start of the next Premier League season and I don't think anyone quite knows what to expect. Will Manchester United be weaker without Ronaldo? Will Chelsea be stronger with Carlo Ancelotti at the helm? And can Arsenal end that elusive wait for silverware this coming campaign?
All good questions.
To start with, I think looking at each club's transfer activity (so far, at time of writing there are still 44 days left until the Transfer Window closes).
Manchester United have invested a small amount of their money from the sale of Ronaldo on two wingers and a forward. Sir Alex Ferguson claims there will be no more transfer activity at the club only to be totally contradicted by chief executive David Gill days later.
Michael Owen could be the signing of the season if he remains injury free and contributes 15+ goals to the team. Gabriel Obertan has the potential to be a real find, clambering out of Bordeaux's reserves and Antonio Valencia—the most expensive of United's purchases to date—has the added pressure of attempting to replace the irreplaceable.
Mame Biram Diouf and Adem Ljajic are set to arrive from Molde and Partizan Belgrade respectively in January.
Liverpool's title challenge was largely affected by a series of unnecessary draws (both home & away) as well as timely injuries to Steven Gerrard and Fernando Torres. The problem was that Liverpool had no players to call upon in their time of need.
Robbie Keane didn't fit the bill and was shipped back to Tottenham in January and Gerrard remains impossible to replace.
Players like David Silva and David Villa (both from Valencia) would be ideal but would any of these players be happy with a place on the bench? Admittedly they wouldn't be on the bench for long, with Benitez's rotation policy in full swing they would have many opportunities to prove their worth.
But with the signing of either of these players, would Benitez be prepared to change his system? David Villa and Torres would both command a place in any starting XI.
It is the potential exits that worry Benitez the most. Xabi Alonso was close to leaving the club 12 months ago, with Arsenal as potential suitors, as Gareth Barry was so close to joining.
Both moves broke down and Benitez has benefited from a reinvigorated Alonso who now commands a £30 million+ fee if is to get his wish to join the revolution at Real Madrid. His midfield partner, Javier Mascherano, also commands a similar figure and a potential move to Barcelona remains on the cards.
The only business Liverpool have done so far during the window is the signing of teenage midfielder Chris Mavinga from PSG and the rather expensive £17.5 million acquisition of Glen Johnson from Portsmouth.
Chelsea have been unusually quiet this summer. Aside from the purchase of Yuri Zhirkov from CSKA Moscow, Daniel Sturridge from Manchester City and Ross Turnbull from Middlesbrough, there has not been the widely expected "world-class" signing yet.
Many whispers say that Andrea Pirlo is that man but with a midfield that already boasts the likes of Essien, Lampard, Mikel and Ballack it is hard to see where he would fit.
People are also saying that Chelsea's team is now an ageing one but it would not surprise me in the slightest if transfer dealings are not as audacious as they once were at the West London club.
Just look at Ancelotti's former team, AC Milan. An ageing squad that continued to win things until the very last. Albeit they scraped into Champions League qualification this year, that same team continued to win the league and succeed in Europe.
Although that team seems to have run it's course, Ancelotti must make sure that he does not make the same mistake at Chelsea, recognising and replacing players that are long past their best. And this certainly does not include John Terry!
Arsenal. Where to begin? The imminent departure of Emmanuel Adebayor? The encouraging form of Andrei Arshavin toward the end of the season? Many would argue that both of these points are good things.
A lot of people say that Arsenal need to shore up in defence. It seems they have done so now. The £10 million acquisition of Thomas Vermaelen alongside the likes of Gallas, Toure, Clichy, and Sagna should convince fans that the backline is ready for the test of the coming campaign. The sale of the unhappy Phillipe Senderos remains a formality waiting to happen.
It is the holding midfielder that remains a problem area for Arsenal. A Gilberto or Makelele figure to watch over the midfield and retrieve the ball when necessary. Nasri, Fabregas and Denilson all remain too lightweight to fulfil such a role so reinforcements are badly needed in that area.
Wenger must be fuming after missing out on potential target Felipe Melo (who had an outstanding Confederations Cup) after a deal was agreed to take the Brazilian from Fiorentina to Juventus.
But it remains the forward area that seems the likeliest place that Wenger feels he needs to strengthen. A lack of trust in Nicklas Bendtner and the inexperienced Carlos Vela leaves Wenger with Robin van Persie and the injury-prone Eduardo, or even Andrei Arshavin though it seems that not even he knows what position he will be playing next season.
Don't forget the notion that Wenger also sees Theo Walcott as a striker once he has fully developed which could raise further issues and restates the importance of midfield reinforcements.
So that is all for transfers among the "Big Four." Look for another article in the near future regarding further prospects for '09/'10 season for these top teams.
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