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Where each top six club must strengthen to keep apace with Man City

Another year, another title. After four Premier League crowns in five seasons, it’s often hard to imagine Manchester City getting any stronger.

Yet every summer, the Etihad chiefs splash out with consistency – Jack Grealish for £100million in 2021, Ruben Dias for £64m in 2020, Joao Cancelo and Rodri for a combined £118m in 2019.

In fact, the last time the champions failed to spend more than £50m on a single player was back in 2014, when Wilfried Bony, Eliaquim Mangala and Bacary Sagna were on the list of summer signings.

Erling Haaland’s £51m move to City has continued to improve the Premier League champions

After quickly shelling out £51m on Borussia Dortmund star Erling Haaland and £42m on England international Kalvin Phillips, Man City have already strengthened ahead of another assault on the Premier League next campaign.

Liverpool are undoubtedly the closest behind the champions, having stretched Pep Guardiola’s side to the final day once again last season, as they did in 2017-18.

Despite losing star winger Sadio Mane to Bayern Munich, Reds fans will hope that the arrival of Darwin Nunez for £85m – and the new contract for Mo Salah – will help propel Jurgen Klopp’s troops to new heights and usurp Man City at the league’s summit.

Meanwhile, Chelsea are just over one month into the Todd Boehly-led era, stacked with a consortium of five billionaires ready to splash out on summer signings.

Sadio Mane called an end to his six-year spell at Anfield as he moved to Bayern Munich

Sadio Mane called an end to his six-year spell at Anfield as he moved to Bayern Munich

Romelu Lukaku completed his loan to Inter less than a year after joining Chelsea for £97.5m

However, as overwhelming £97.5m transfer flop Romelu Lukaku returns to Inter and highly-rated defenders Antonio Rudiger and Andreas Christensen exit to LaLiga, Thomas Tuchel finds his squad a cut behind last season’s two Premier League title-contenders.

After snatching Champions League qualification away from Arsenal in May, Spurs have supplied Antonio Conte with a glut of new talent in Richarlison, Yves Bissouma and Ivan Perisic.

And yet, much like the Gunners, who announced the £45m arrival of Gabriel Jesus last week, the north London club still have a long way to go before challenging Man City and Liverpool for the title.

Erik ten Hag was expected to oversee a summer overhaul but no signings have yet been made

Erik ten Hag was expected to oversee a summer overhaul but no signings have yet been made

Manchester United finally caught a transfer breakthrough this week as Christian Eriksen verbally agreed a three-year deal, and Tyrell Malacia signed on the dotted line.

The £14.6m arrival from Feyenoord is the first of the Ten Hag revolution, and gets the ball rolling under the new boss. On a slightly less positive note, the club’s long-time pursuit of Barcelona midfielder Frenkie de Jong is still yet to be finalised.

New boss Ten Hag has inherited a squad that finished last campaign with the club’s lowest ever points tally and a star player in Cristiano Ronaldo who is eagerly pursuing an exit.

As Man City prepare to reload ahead of another title surge next season, Sportsmail has identified the positions in which each top six side must strengthen this summer, if they hope to keep apace with the Premier League champions.

Liverpool

The Anfield chiefs have done almost everything right so far in the transfer window.

Freshening up the frontline with star striker Nunez – albeit for a pricey £85m – and finding a new home for wantaway Mane before the start of pre-season has given Jurgen Klopp the best chance to settle his squad ahead of August.

Teenagers Fabio Carvalho and Calvin Ramsay joined Liverpool to inject a dose of youth into the squad, as Takumi Minamino exited to Monaco for £15.5m. 

Liverpool smashed their transfer record after sealing the £85m signing of Darwin Nunez

Liverpool smashed their transfer record after sealing the £85m signing of Darwin Nunez

Mohamed Salah signed a three-year extension worth £400,000-a-week at Liverpool last week

Mohamed Salah signed a three-year extension worth £400,000-a-week at Liverpool last week

And perhaps most importantly, the board managed to convince Mohamed Salah to sign a £400,000-a-week contract extension, keeping him at Anfield until June 2025.

The Reds have now shut the treasury this summer and are expected to head into next season with no more new additions, ready to lock horns with Man City in yet another title chase.

Klopp’s side boasted the joint-best defence in the Premier League last campaign, as Virgil van Dijk cemented a fruitful partnership with Joel Matip, and Trent Alexander-Arnold and Andrew Robertson continued to prosper with goal contributions at full-back.

Andrew Robertson has developed into one of the world's best left-backs at Anfield

Trent Alexander-Arnold has created 12 or more Premier League assists in every season since 2018-19

Andrew Robertson (L) and Trent Alexander-Arnold (R) combined for 33 assists last campaign

Moreover, with inspired January addition Luis Diaz and new signing Nunez having bolstered the Reds up front, Klopp now has an embarrassment of riches in forward areas, with Salah, Diogo Jota and Roberto Firmino making up the German’s star-studded five-man attack.  

But Liverpool, who are a little thin on the ground in terms of options in midfield, would arguably benefit from an extra playmaker in the engine room.

As 32-year-old captain Jordan Henderson and 36-year-old veteran James Milner continue to advance in years, Thiago has yet to play more than 25 league matches at Anfield since joining Liverpool.

Liverpool only managed 22 points from 33 whilst Thiago was injured last season

Liverpool only managed 22 points from 33 whilst Thiago was injured last season

Despite showcasing an impressive season, the Spaniard was plagued with a range of calf, hip and thigh injuries, causing him to miss 11 games.

Liverpool picked up just 22 points from a possible 33 whilst Thiago was sidelined, a crucial deficit which more than cost them the title.

Whilst youngsters Harvey Elliott and Curtis Jones have showed promise, Naby Keita and Alex Oxlade-Chamberlain have yet to show dependability in the absence of Thiago and Henderson.

Liverpool once again heavily relied on their full-backs to provide creativity, with Alexander-Arnold and Robertson notching 33 assists in all competitions between them.

Even deputy left back Konstantinos Tsimikas managed the same number of assists as Henderson, who set up the most goals at Liverpool amongst midfielders.

Klopp undoubtedly favours industrious and hard-working midfielders to provide cover for the advancing wing-backs, but adding another playmaker into the engine room would seemingly help Liverpool in crucial matches against the top six.

Chelsea

First Raheem Sterling, now Ronaldo. Chelsea have been linked with some blockbuster moves, and there is certainly no denying Boehly’s ambition.

However, despite the daily transfer links, the Blues have significantly regressed in terms of squad depth since the end of last season, having waved farewell to Lukaku, Rudiger, Christensen and Saul Niguez.

The return of England international Conor Gallagher from Crystal Palace is certain to bear fruit, although Chelsea are already well-stocked in defensive and attacking midfield ahead of next season.

Timo Werner has failed to impress with his goal scoring tally since arriving at Stamford Bridge

Timo Werner has failed to impress with his goal scoring tally since arriving at Stamford Bridge

A one-for-all approach to scoring goals can be profitable in the Premier League – just look at Manchester City – but Tuchel will be no doubt concerned as to the lack of natural goalscorers at Stamford Bridge.

The Blues have relied upon a goal-hungry striker during the club’s last three title-winning seasons.

During both 2016-17 under Conte and 2014-15 under Jose Mourinho, Spanish hitman Diego Costa netted 20 times to crown Chelsea champions.

Two 20-goal seasons from Diego Costa helped Chelsea secure the title in 2014-15 and 2016-17

Two 20-goal seasons from Diego Costa helped Chelsea secure the title in 2014-15 and 2016-17

Rewind further and during Carlos Ancelotti’s title-winning 2009-10 campaign, club legend Didier Drogba scored 29 goals.

By contrast, creative midfielder Mason Mount finished last season as Chelsea’s top scorer with 11 goals, whilst strikers Lukaku and Timo Werner netted just eight and four respectively.

Kai Havertz, who also bagged eight last campaign, has become the favoured option at centre-forward under Tuchel but has only managed to score more than 15 league goals once during his senior career.

Mason Mount was the only Chelsea player to score double digits in the league last season (11)

Mason Mount was the only Chelsea player to score double digits in the league last season (11)

Meanwhile, Chelsea will need an addition or two at centre-half should they wish to close the gap to Man City.

Unless Trevoh Chalobah and Malang Sarr are trusted to take on significant increases in play-time next season, the Blues must recruit replacements for Rudiger and Christensen. 

Even if Tuchel opts to deploy a back four next season, veterans Thiago Silva, 37, and Cesar Azpilicueta, 32, will struggle physically to navigate the ruthless weekend-midweek schedule, in what promises to be another jam-packed campaign for the west London club.

Spurs

Having pipped Arsenal at the post in the hunt for Champions League qualification, Conte will be keen to push Spurs a step further next season and mount a title challenge. 

Although the Tottenham squad lacks the depth of Man City and Liverpool, it is adorned with two world-class talents in Harry Kane and Son Heung-min, who combined to score 40 Premier League goals last season.

The Italian boss favours structure, organisation and discipline in his 5-2-3 system, building a solid foundation in defence to permit freedom further forward.

Ben Davies is currently the first-choice left-sided centre back at Spurs ahead of next season

Ben Davies is currently the first-choice left-sided centre back at Spurs ahead of next season

Kane and Son have each demonstrated a tendency to drift away from their positions on the teamsheet, much like Eden Hazard and Costa did during Conte’s title triumph with Chelsea six seasons ago.

Perisic, who played under the Spurs manager at Inter, has seemingly been brought in to operate as a left wing-back, with new recruit Bissouma partnering Pierre-Emile Hojbjerg or Rodrigo Bentacur in the double pivot.

The Croatian will be expected to maraud forward and support the attack, leaving the left side of Conte’s back three vulnerable.

Harry Kane (L) and Son Heung-min (R) bagged 40 goals between them as Spurs finished fourth

Harry Kane (L) and Son Heung-min (R) bagged 40 goals between them as Spurs finished fourth

Should Spurs wish to launch a meaningful title challenge, the north London club would be wise to replace Ben Davies – conventionally a full-back – with a new left-sided centre-half alongside Eric Dier and Cristian Romero.

The Wales defender picked up three yellow cards during the last five matches of the season and may struggle to cover for Perisic as he advances forward in support of Son.

As Conte is on the brink of adding set-piece expert Gianni Vio to his coaching staff, Tottenham might be tempted to sign an aerially-dominant defender with a track record of scoring frequently from dead-ball situations.

Antonio Conte will need defensive reinforcements before taking on the Champions League

Antonio Conte will need defensive reinforcements before taking on the Champions League

Vio reportedly designed 4,830 unique set-piece routines for Italy during their Euro 2020 success, having previously held coaching positions at AC Milan, Brentford, Leeds and Palermo.

The north London club ranked in the bottom-half for set-piece goals scored last campaign, after netting just nine times from dead ball situations.

In contrast, champions Man City and title-chasers Liverpool were the most prolific teams from set-pieces, scoring 22 and 19 respectively. 

Although there are still a handful of signings needed to match Man City – namely another centre-back, right-back and creative midfielder – Spurs’ addition of a towering central defender would bring them one step closer to the elusive Premier League crown.

In a more attacking position, Conte’s side have been linked with a move for former Manchester United winger Memphis Depay.

After leaving Old Trafford in 2017, he shone at Lyon and is currently at Barcelona, where he enjoyed a positive 2021-22 season.

His arrival at Spurs would be a huge shock, but would add yet another string to the attacking bow of Conte’s squad. 

Arsenal

The Gunners achieved what they set out to this summer – replacing Alexandre Lacazette with a talented centre-forward. 

Jesus arrives at the Emirates with the ideal skillset for Mikel Arteta. Above all, he can score goals, but he is also capable of bringing in attacking midfielders and creating chances of his own.

Although brimming with potential, Arsenal lacked real experience at the end of last season as they slipped to fifth, missing out on the Champions League dream for yet another year.

Gabriel Jesus arrived at the Emirates for £45m last week and is set to lead the line next season

Gabriel Jesus arrived at the Emirates for £45m last week and is set to lead the line next season

Arsenal boss Mikel Arteta built a promising relationship with Jesus during his time at Man City

Arsenal boss Mikel Arteta built a promising relationship with Jesus during his time at Man City

And yet, whilst a sizeable distance away from the likes of Man City and Liverpool, Arteta has managed to reinject a feeling of hope at the Emirates, entrusting his young squad both to win football matches and excite the Arsenal faithful.

With starlets Bukayo Saka, Emile Smith-Rowe and Gabriel Martinelli each aged 21 or under, Arsenal could benefit from a couple of experienced additions as they push once again for Champions League qualification.

As Arteta continues to allow his young attacking players to express themselves freely, Arsenal lack a spine in midfield to anchor the operation, particularly in the absence of Thomas Partey.

During the Ghanaian’s nine-game injury at the end of last season, Arsenal lost four crucial matches to hand Spurs a shot at fourth spot.

The Gunners struggled during Thomas Partey's absence towards the end of last campaign

The Gunners struggled during Thomas Partey’s absence towards the end of last campaign

A well-experienced defensive midfielder – similar to that of Henderson or Milner at Liverpool – would enhance the Gunners’ resilience and toughness during important moments in crucial matches.

Although there is still room for improvement defensively, Arteta has been handed a boost with the return of Ligue 1 Young Player of the Year William Saliba, who helped Marseille to a second-place finish in the French top flight.

The centre-half will provide competition and depth in defence as Gabriel and last year’s summer signing Ben White continue to develop their partnership at the back.

Arteta would benefit from having an extra left-back and defensive midfielder within his ranks

Arteta would benefit from having an extra left-back and defensive midfielder within his ranks

However, much like with Partey, Arsenal have struggled significantly in the absence of Kieran Tierney at left-back.

The Scotsman also missed the final nine matches of the season after requiring knee surgery, which left 22-year-old Nuno Tavares or right-footed Cedric Soares to deputise during the run-in.

Arsenal no doubt need to bolster the squad with plenty more star talent to bridge the gap to Man City, but recruiting an experienced defensive midfielder and deputy left-back would be a solid place to start.

Manchester United

Inheriting a squad void of confidence, a fanbase in turmoil and a star player who wants out, Ten Hag has certainly been handed a tough assignment ahead of next season.

Although the long-term goal is to return to the Premier League summit, Ten Hag will first have to turn the tide by firing Man United back into the Champions League.

The squad is not too far removed from the team that finished second behind Man City in 2020-21 – albeit by 12 points – but several stars have regressed in form to leave a unsettled and unconfident crop of players.

Marcus Rashford recorded his worst season in a Manchester United shirt in 2021-22

Jadon Sancho only managed five goals and three assists in all competitions following his £73m move last summer

England duo Marcus Rashford and Jadon Sancho struggled to impress last campaign

To start, Marcus Rashford recorded his worst ever season at Old Trafford, Anthony Martial was exiled on loan to Sevilla and Paul Pogba continued to flirt with a move away from the club from the sidelines.

Frankly, if challenging the likes of Man City and Liverpool is to be achieved, it will take more than just a few summer signings to stop the rot.

As Man United fans have watched the painfully-slow pursuits of Frenkie de Jong, Jurrien Timber and Antony, every top six club except Chelsea has strengthened, furthering the gap between themselves and the Red Devils.

Assuming the signings of Eriksen and De Jong are added to that of Malacia before the start of next season, Man United would be wise to invest at centre-half as a top priority.

Cristiano Ronaldo's plea to leave the club could be a blessing in disguise for Man United

Cristiano Ronaldo’s plea to leave the club could be a blessing in disguise for Man United

The Red Devils leaked a club-record high 57 goals last campaign as both Raphael Varane and Harry Maguire struggled to produce anything near their best.

A defensive anchor to slot behind De Jong and Bruno Fernandes in the midfield three would also benefit the side, providing protection to Ten Hag’s frail back four.

Ronaldo’s exit could also be a blessing in disguise for Man United, as the new Dutch boss favours a high-intensity pressing game – something which the 37-year-old failed to do under Ole Gunnar Solskjaer last season.

Allowing the Portuguese forward to leave and replacing him with a hungry, hard-working striker could bear fruit for Ten Hag, as he looks to rebuild the confidence of Rashford and Jadon Sancho on the wings.

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