Premier League: Can there be a shake up at the top?

Next season's Premier League is fast approaching, John Roycroft looks at how it might shape up. 
Premier League: Can there be a shake up at the top?

Manchester City manager Pep Guardiola with the 2022 Premier League trophy. Picture:  Martin Rickett/PA Wire.

THE weird world of FIFA sees us staging a World Cup in the middle of winter, and that means that the Community Shield between Man City and Liverpool is now just three weeks away, on July 31.

No sooner has the dust settled on what was an enthralling 2021-22 Premier League season than we are already licking our lips in anticipation of what 2022/23 will offer.

In August of last year, all the talk was about the prospects of a unique four-way chase for the title between Chelsea, Liverpool, and the two Manchester giants.

Man United's second-place finish the previous season turned out to be a false dawn for the Old Trafford faithful and, more seriously, for Ole Gunnar Solskjaer's career.

Chelsea's Romelu Lukaku during the Premier League match at Old Trafford, Manchester, last season. He did not have the type of season he would have desired at the start of the year.
Chelsea's Romelu Lukaku during the Premier League match at Old Trafford, Manchester, last season. He did not have the type of season he would have desired at the start of the year.

The arrival of Romelu Lukaku at Stamford Bridge raised expectations that Chelsea would be propelled into a race for the title. And, to be fair, for a few months, they were competitive. However, the post-Christmas schedule pressure and Lukaku's indifferent form, saw the Pensioner also fall away in the title race.

Two horses

So we had the familiar sight of Man City and Liverpool dicing for the league crown, with arguably some of the highest quality football on show in the competition's history. And while it returned to a two-horse race, the outcome remained enticingly unresolved until the last game of the season.

In the end, the top two sides accumulated 90 plus points, running-up impressive unbeaten runs along the way. Indeed, Liverpool only lost two games across their entire league season yet still managed to finish in the runner-up spot. Their propensity to let some winning positions slip into draws again being their undoing. But it's a harsh criticism for a side that ran-up 92 points.

Man City's machine-like adherence to near perfection proved enough to edge the race on 93 points. The team and Pep Guardiola deserve great credit for the determination and purpose to once again hold off the Liverpool onslaught. This jubilation tempered only by the reality of them, once again, missing out on their holy grail of the Champions League.

So what of next season? Well, unsurprisingly, it is hard to see beyond Man City or Liverpool again for 2022/23. Their acquisitions, money and managers put them clear of the rest. But can they match the exceptional play of the previous season? Before last season, the hopes of new talent, such as Lukaku and previous advances by sides like Man United and Arsenal had people hoping they could close the gap on the top two.

Objectively, next season, it may well be the top two sides that struggle to match their previous season's performances.

Liverpool's Sadio Mané celebrates with the trophy after winning the Emirates FA Cup final at Wembley Stadium, London. How will Liverpool do without their talismanic scorer next season?
Liverpool's Sadio Mané celebrates with the trophy after winning the Emirates FA Cup final at Wembley Stadium, London. How will Liverpool do without their talismanic scorer next season?

Balance

Liverpool and Man City have undergone big changes this summer that might unsettle their finely tuned machines. Sadio Mané's move to Bayern Munich may hurt the Merseysiders if his replacement Darwin Nunez does not hit the ground running.

Meanwhile, Pep Guardiola has gambled on a dramatic tactical shift by signing Erling Haaland, whose weakness outside the penalty area has the potential to upset Guardiola's fine framework of 10 midfielders, possibly making things worse rather than better. These scenarios could have the impact of making the two top sides weaker next season.

Of course, this would be great news for the likes of Chelsea and Spurs.

However, Thomas Tuchel's side is undergoing a pretty significant rebuild of its own, with much depending on how their transfer window goes and the impact Russian sanctions had on the club finances before they were sold.

Spurs have been busy in the transfer window with significant signings such as Richarlison from Everton and Ivan Perisic from Inter bolstering the side. Blending new and old talent has traditionally been a Spurs problem, but under Antonio Conte's tactical nous, one would think they have a better than average hope of achieving it. With Harry Kane and Son Heung-min on board, Spurs can be a genuine threat next season.

 Manchester United manager, Erik ten Hag during his unveiling at Old Trafford, Manchester. Will he get the time to prove himself?	 Picture:  Manchester United Handout/PA Wire.
 Manchester United manager, Erik ten Hag during his unveiling at Old Trafford, Manchester. Will he get the time to prove himself? Picture:  Manchester United Handout/PA Wire.

Lonely at the top

Many of the Irish fans of Manchester United will be eager to see how new manager Erik ten Hag will get on as the club approaches the tenth anniversary of their last league title. No pressure then!

Ten Hag is a superb tactician but inexperienced and one wonders will he get the time he needs to make an impact. He does come into the job without the weight of expectation that the previous incumbents laboured under.

Then there is Arsenal and Mikel Arteta, who has laid down a serious claim on the title with the acquisition of Gabriel Jesus. Arteta's rebuild of the Gunners has been painfully slow (not always down to him), but one assumes that it has been going in the right direction. There is a sneaky feeling that next season may be the breakthrough year for the Arteta project. We will wait and see.

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