Chelsea have one foot in the Carabao Cup final after their 2-0 win over Tottenham at Stamford Bridge last night.
Thomas Tuchel’s side took a 2-0 lead into half-time thanks to goals from Kai Havertz and a Japhet Tanganga own goal, as they lined up with a back-four for the first time under the German coach.
Immediately the differences could be seen in their play, and Chelsea fans were delighted with the differences in their performance.
Tuchel opted for a 4-2-3-1 formation early on, with Cesar Azpilicueta and Marcos Alonso installed as traditional full-backs rather than wing-backs. In a midfield two was Jorginho and Saul Niguez, with Mason Mount just ahead of them. Havertz and Hakim Ziyech took up the winger positions with Romelu Lukaku up front.
It didn’t take long for Chelsea to implement themselves on the game, pressing high and keeping possession well in the early minutes.
They quickly established a press too that didn’t allow Spurs out of their own half. A box between the two central midfielders and the two centre-backs meant that whenever the ball reached that zone, they would all squeeze and force possession to be given up immediately.
There was also their man-to-man press, which caught Spurs out early as Alonso pinched the ball from Emerson Royal for the opening goal to assist Havertz.
After that goal though, is when we saw the difference in performance between the back three and the back four really come to life.
Chelsea played with a much higher tempo with one, two and three touch passes in midfield to keep the ball ticking over and force Spurs to chase them.
They were patient in their play, but also had far more intensity in their game and far more intent in their attacks than we’ve seen any time recently.
Lukaku just missed with a header after excellent wing play by Ziyech, while Saul and Jorginho completely dominated the midfield areas. By the time the half-time whistle blew, Spurs hadn’t had a single attempt on goal, had just four touches in the Chelsea box and had just 31% possession.
The second half was much less eventful, with the Blues happy to manage the lead with Spurs not carrying a threat but the performance as a whole was a sign of Chelsea’s potential under Tuchel.
The 3-4-3 has gone stale recently and their attacking potential was limited in that shape anyway. They now have proven that they have the capability to play in a more expansive way with a different system if needs be, and that should strike fear into the rest of the Premier League and Europe.
It seems like drama just follows Chelsea and Romelu Lukaku around wherever he goes, but he certainly doesn’t help himself sometimes.
The £97.5m signing from Inter Milan in the summer has scored seven goals so far for his new club this season, after going on a run of ten appearances without a goal before and after injury.
Now he has come out and publicly criticised his manager and new club for their setup, while revealing that he is hopeful of returning to Inter Milan one day to win more trophies with them.
In an interview with Sky Italia, Lukaku was quoted as saying he ‘wasn’t happy’ with Tuchel’s system but said he would ‘continue to be professional’ and give everything for the team.
The comments come at a time where Chelsea are struggling for form in the Premier League, dropping eight points behind Manchester City in the title race and question marks have been raised over the system Tuchel has employed.
The 3-4-3 system has brought great success already, with the Blues winning the Champions League and leading the way for much of this Premier League campaign so far.
But Lukaku has found himself in a target man role for a lot of his time at Stamford Bridge, something that has been made abundantly clear in the past is not his best or favoured role.
So it’s no surprise that Lukaku is unhappy about it, especially cosidering where he’s come from and what he was doing to earn the record breaking move in the first place.
The Belgian is quite clearly at his best when he is facing the goal and running at defenders into space, not with his back to goal,
While it’s more than fair that Lukaku should be able to voice his concerns, he shouldn’t be doing it in a public forum.
It has now been revealed however that this was an interview conducted about three weeks ago, which makes the comments less worrying.
Lukaku revealed after the game against Aston Villa that he and Tuchel had some talks to iron some issues out and that they were sorted now.
Even still though, the timing of the remarks and the way he has gone about it is really poor on his part.
Some Chelsea fans have reacted with anger, but Lukaku has every right to complain if he feels he isn’t being used correctly and can be doing better.
He has always been a player that has adored Chelsea and has always been outspoken. It’s not that deep for him to want to better himself, and therefore the team, but maybe he should think twice about the way he does it in future.
The UEFA Champions League last 16 draw has been re-drawn after a botched attempt on Monday morning, and has thrown up some cracking ties.
At the second attempt of trying, Manchester United were drawn with Spanish champions Atletico Madrid while Real Madrid will take on Paris Saint-Germain in the tie of the round.
Manchester City will face Sporting CP, while Liverpool take on Inter Milan. Chelsea were the winners of the redraw, keeping their original opponents in Ligue 1’s Lille.
The original draw saw Manchester United once again set to face off against Paris Saint-Germain, with Cristiano Ronaldo to go head-to-head with Lionel Messi once again in the tie of the round.
Atletico Madrid were scheduled to take on Bayern Munich in the other mega tie, while the other English sides would have been happy with their draws as Liverpool faced Salzburg, Man City faced Villarreal.
However UEFA accidentally put Manchester United into the pot to be drawn against Villarreal and then they were selected, despite being ineligible to do so having come from the same group.
United then weren’t put into the pot for the potential opponents of Atletico amid the confusion, meaning they could never have been drawn against each other.
The draw will now be re-done at 14:00 UK time after several complaints that the botched draw affected the integrity of the competition going forward.
The fixtures will take place in February, with the first legs taking place on February 15/16 or 22/23 with the second legs taking place on March 8/9 or 15/16. Group winners will play their home game in the second leg.
Full draw and fixture dates:
FC Salzburg vs Bayern Munich – February 16th 2022 Bayern Munich vs FC Salzburg – March 8th 2022
Sporting CP vs Manchester City – February 15th 2022 Manchester City vs Sporting CP – March 9th 2022
SL Benfica vs Ajax – February 23rd 2022 Ajax vs SL Benfica – March 15th 2022
Chelsea vs Lille – February 22nd 2022 Lille vs Chelsea – March 16th 2022
Atletico Madrid vs Manchester United – February 23rd 2022 Manchester United vs Atletico Madrid – March 15th 2022
Villarreal vs Juventus – February 22nd 2022 Juventus vs Villarreal – March 16th 2022
Inter Milan vs Liverpool – February 16th 2022 Liverpool vs Inter Milan – March 8th 2022
Paris Saint-Germain vs Real Madrid – February 15th 2022 Real Madrid vs Paris Saint-Germain – March 9th 2022
Lionel Messi has won the Ballon d’Or for the seventh time in his career, extending his record as the player to win it the most times.
The Argentine captain capped off a wonderful year for himself by pipping Robert Lewandowski and Jorginho to the award, making him the first Ligue 1 player to win the honour since Jean-Pierre Papin in 1991.
Messi had previously won each of his six awards with FC Barcelona, the club he played his entire career for before a summer move to Paris Saint-Germain.
The award was met with a mixed response from fans, with many believing Bayern Munich and Poland striker Lewandowski deserved the honour.
But in the end, Messi’s victory in the Copa America and Copa Del Rey as well as finishing as the top goalscorer in both tournaments and La Liga was enough to secure him the record breaking achievement.
Lewandowski finished second while Chelsea’s Jorginho rounded off the podium in third, having helped his club win the Champions League and led Italy to winning Euro 2020 in the summer.
Karim Benzema finished fourth, while N’Golo Kante finished fifth. The Premier League continued to dominate the top ten as Cristiano Ronaldo finished sixth, Mohamed Salah finished seventh and Kevin De Bruyne finished eighth, while PSG stars Kylian Mbappe and Gianluigi Donnarumma completed the top ten.
FIFA ensured that Lewandowski didn’t go home empty handed however, as the inaugral “Striker of the Year” award was given to the man who scored 64 goals in 54 games last season en route to yet another Bundesliga title.
Chelsea were crowned the inaugral “Club of the Year” winners, while Pedri was confirmed as the Kopa Trophy winner -given to the best Under-21 player in the world.
Messi’s victory moves him two clear of Ronaldo in the record hunt, as the Portuguese legend finished outside of the top three for the first time since 2010.
Premier League leaders Chelsea play host to Manchester United on Sunday afternoon in the big game of the weekend, with more than just three points on the line.
Both sides picked up wins in midweek in the Champions League, with United earning a 2-0 win over Villarreal thanks to goals from Cristiano Ronaldo and Jadon Sancho, while Chelsea smashed Juventus 4-0 at Stamford Bridge with Trevoh Chalobah, Reece James, Callum Hudson-Odoi and Timo Werner on the scoresheet.
But it’s the managerial position at both clubs that is currently in the headline most, and for very different reasons.
Tuchel celebrated his 50th game in charge against Juventus and it brought to light an incredible statistic showing just how good he has made his side in a short space of time.
It was his 32nd win as manager, but amazingly it was also the 31st clean sheet he has overseen as boss. In the other 19 games, Chelsea have conceded just 24 goals with five of those coming in that shock defeat to West Brom last season.
He has absolutely maximised the talent in his team and by tweaking his system throughout his time at the club, he has made them look formidable in all aspects of play.
For Manchester United, they need something very similar to happen for them. After sacking Ole Gunnar Solskjaer on Sunday, they find themselves in a position where the season could still be saved if the right man could be brought in.
There were countless names linked to the job, but Rangnick can be seen as the man with a plan so to speak.
He will have the right ideas, right mentality and right character to try and save the season for the club while also laying the foundations for whoever it is the club are planning to bring in on a full-time basis. He just needs to execute now.
The results of what could happen if they get the next decision right will be staring them right in the face on Sunday at Stamford Bridge.
With Women’s Football Weekend fast approaching, it wouldn’t be fair to not dissect the players that you should you keep your eyes absolutely peeled to.
Due to injury we don’t have the full radar of the leagues talent on show, but there’s still so many showstoppers that you should be on the lookout for.
In order to not overwhelm you, I’ll keep the list brief – but you definitely don’t want to miss these players during this upcoming game week.
Lauren Hemp (Manchester City) Position: Winger
It wouldn’t be right to do a ‘ones to watch’ list without the talent that is Lauren Hemp.
Outside of her Manchester City and England teammate Chloe Kelly (who is still recovering from her ACL injury), she’s probably the most electric player in the league. What makes her stand out amongst other people is the fact that she can beat every single full-back in the world with her direct and positive running.
Her first thought always seems to be beating the defender and driving into the dangerous areas in the final third. Another thing that makes her so electric also revolves around the fact that she is comfortable going down the byline and whipping in a cross, but also cutting in on the inside and delivering a shot or killer pass.
Either way, her unpredictable nature, speed and decision making makes her an easy decision for ones to watch – both this weekend and beyond.
Kim Little (Arsenal) Position: Midfielder
Kim Little – where do I start? Probably the most dependable player in the league.
Between her intelligent movement, understanding of her teammates movement, and her ability to make a moment (even when dealing with scraps) is unmatched.
What makes her so dependable is the fact that this ‘moment’ with Little, may not even necessarily be a goal. She seems to just understand exactly what her team needs at that given moment and she delivers it.
This could be her ball retention when her team is under severe pressure, but also the fact that she can single-handedly dance her way through a midfield and put it on a plate for her attackers.
Based on how Arsenal have been looking this season, it’s been the latter as she’s been popping up with goals and assists weekly. But her intelligence is a joy to watch and someone that I recommend playing close attention to as she’s at the heart of everything good Arsenal do.
Sarah Mayling (Aston Villa) Position: Full-back
Sarah Mayling is known for the whip she gets on all her crosses, set-pieces or not. She has to be included in this ones to watch list because given the fact that it’s a local derby against what was her former club Birmingham City, I expect her to have to say in what the eventual result is.
We’ve all heard of a set-piece specialist, but Mayling appears to have mastered how to manipulate the ball especially when crossing or taking free-kicks.
More notably, her set pieces have sparked numerous comebacks for her club and I wouldn’t be surprised to see her changing the game with her deliveries this weekend.
Villa have started well and so I expect them to be on the front foot in this game – giving Mayling the license to go forward and shine.
Jessie Fleming (Chelsea) Position: Midfielder
Since Fleming’s arrival last season, she has struggled for minutes in this absolutely stacked Chelsea side.
This has had less to do with her ability, but more so the fact that this Chelsea team is filled with top class talent all over the pitch. Following her success with Canada at the Olympics, she seems to have started this season full of confidence off the back of winning Olympic gold.
Her cameo performances earlier on in the season have seen her rewarded with consecutive starts – and she’s been sure to take her chance.
The thing that makes her a standout for this weekend is the fact that she’s unpredictable. She fully understands the role that’s required of her in that Chelsea midfield – between supplying the wingers but also making sure that she’s aiding the attack by making third-player runs into the box and arriving late.
Her ability to do this has made her so dangerous because she’s an excellent finisher as well as the fact that her decision making is beyond her years. I can see her making more strides this weekend as Chelsea look to make strides towards the title.
After spending eight years of her senior career at Chelsea, Hannah Blundell made the switch up north – in search of more playing time.
Her ability to stay calm defensively as well as in offensive areas has seen her slot into the United line-up seamlessly. She’s already registered three assists this season, and I can see her adding to that tally this weekend.
Despite the difference in location, United vs Everton games have been played as though it were a derby since Casey Stoney’s tenure – with United coming out victorious most of the time.
That being said I expect Blundell to have a lot to do this weekend and she will need to be switched on, but there will be space for her to exploit and offer support to the forwards.
United have a legacy to protect when it comes to our fixtures against Everton and I’m sure Blundell will thrive on that pressure.
We are already into match day six of the 2021/22 Women’s Super League season and so far, other than the injury-stricken start to the season that Manchester City are having, we are yet to see many upsets to the other components of the ‘Big Three’.
Whilst City have dropped numerous points to opposition that they previously would have comfortably beaten, Arsenal have been completely dominant – yet to drop a single point in the WSL so far, and only conceding two goals in the first game of the season against reigning champions Chelsea.
Meanwhile Tottenham, who in the previous season found themselves in a relegation battle, have enjoyed a great start with four wins out of the first five games.
Week six brought us some matchups that saw teams that we could expect to finish in and around that fourth spot – with Manchester United taking on Spurs while Everton and Brighton faced off. Here’s what happened.
Aston Villa 0-1 Chelsea
Ever the embodiment of a Carla Ward side, Aston Villa presented a difficult entity for Chelsea to breakdown.
As expected Chelsea absolutely dominated the ball, having 76 percent possession and boasting 16 shots in the game, despite Emma Hayes heavily rotating her starting lineup.
Within this, a rare start for the talented Canadian starlet Jessie Fleming – who went on to score the eventual winner; scoring a neat and composed finish following a great pick out from Ji.
The defensive set-up from Villa definitely did its job in frustrating Chelsea, but the quality that they possess – even when they rotate – is clear to see.
Everton 0-1 Brighton
Following the managerial change that happened at Everton after the sacking of Willie Kirk, I was interested to see how they’d look against a well drilled side in Brighton who like Tottenham, have enjoyed a good start to this new season.
New Everton manager Jean-Luc Vasseur attempted to provide some stability to his new squad by keeping the same starting XI as the midweek cup match, and someone who benefited from this was Kenza Dali, who again looked like a bright spot in the Everton team.
Despite this, it was Brighton that were able to score the winner in the second half, after Danielle Carter played in Aileen Whelan – a win that puts them fourth in the table as it stands.
Tottenham 1-1 Manchester United
As a United fan assessing the opposition before the game, I was aware that Tottenham were going to be narrow and compact – a problem that Manchester United boss Marc Skinner also alluded to both pre and post-match.
There seems to be a real lack of width in Skinner’s United side – an area that was previously used as a point of emphasis under Casey Stoney. Under Stoney we saw left-winger Leah Galton being utilised a lot more than she currently is, stretching opponents with not only width but also her pace and trickery at the by-line with her ability to accurately cross.
However, against Spurs, we once again saw a real lack of width which often made it easy for them to stop United in their attacks.
A key missing point for the United side was also the absence of midfielder Jackie Groenen who is vital in how they set the pace of the game.
Too many times were the United midfield especially caught on the ball in that first half and they were lucky to go into the half 1-0 up. That goal does however need its own special mention as Alessia Russo (who I’ve previously spoken so highly of), brought some individual brilliance with a wonder strike on the brink of HT.
She was on bully mode for the entire game – constantly pinning defenders on the halfway line and beyond. This allowed her not only to relieve pressure on the team, but also to bring the wingers and fullbacks into play. Her fantastic performance, as well as crucial saves once again from United keeper Mary Earps almost brought the team the three points.
However, Spurs stayed in the game till the very end, and their determination paid dividend as defender Millie Percival saw her 94th minute free-kick sail all the way in without a touch. The bounce appeared to confuse everybody in the box and much to the delight of the Spurs players, rewarded the side with a well-earned point.
Leicester 1-4 Man City
Leicester scored what was only their third goal of this league campaign against a City side that are slowly starting to get important players trickling back into the side following injury lay-offs.
However, the Foxes goal in the first 90 seconds of the game didn’t stop City from sealing all three points – with Leicester continuing to give away too many chances in games.
They managed to carve out some chances in the game, but overall City were too good for them and managed to overpower them in the end. Lauren Hemp was a constant threat and the pick of the bunch from the City goals has to be awarded to Keira Walsh who unleashed an unstoppable shot from outside of the area giving the keeper no chance.
Birmingham City 0-3 Reading
Birmingham City were unable to respond to Reading’s dominant display at their ground – with another young Canadian starlet Deanne Rose shining brightest.
Kelly Chambers’ Reading side looks to be shaking off their initial early season rust and have now put together two consecutively strong performances in the league, with the forwards especially in this game combining well.
The loss however puts an even bigger strain on Birmingham City in their bid to stay in the league, as they still only have one point on the table. They’ll be looking to start building in next week’s derby against Villa.
Once again, the ever-dependable Kim Little was front and centre to everything good that Arsenal did in the game. The nimble and intelligent Little opened the scoring with some clinical finishing late into the first half and not content with just scoring one, she went on to score her 50th league goal soon into the second half also.
Not wanting to miss out on the fun, probably one of the most in-form people in football right now Beth Mead joined in, adding a third after great work from Nikita Parris in the middle of the pitch.
The great thing about this Arsenal side is that they look like they can score from any area of the pitch, as well as the fact that they work with such intensity even when out of possession in order to win the ball back. West Ham made some good openings, but Arsenal never really looked like conceding.
Next Week is Women’s Football Week, so look out for some ones to watch on Friday!
When a top English team is linked with a defensive midfielder, Declan Rice is the first name on almost all of their wishlists currently.
The West Ham vice-captain has been linked with a move to Chelsea, Manchester United and most recently Man City after a string of impressive performances last season and now this for the Hammers and England.
He shone once again for David Moyes’ side in their 1-0 win over Everton on Sunday at Goodison Park and the praise has been non-stop ever since.
Rice has been playing in a more box-to-box role this season with West Ham, given license to push forward and attack more than previously.
The reason he was linked to the top clubs in the league was his ability to win the ball back, while his positioning and aggression was also attractive to sides who tend to retain large amount of possession.
But during the current campaign he has shown a new side to his game. The drives forward with the ball show he is capable of being a threat in the other direction, while his passing has improved too.
In possession he is still not of the required level to be an £80m+ player in my opinion, but there are signs of someone working hard to improve their game and get there.
Rice would undoubtedly be a fine addition in the defensive midfield role for any of the previously mentioned sides. He is a great ball winner, he is a great leader and he is a top professional.
The new all-action side to his game is certainly a positive and his athleticism is highly impressive. He has shone on the biggest stages, arguably being England’s best player before his substitution against Italy in the Euro 2020 final, and has been a stand-out performer for West Ham on a highly consistent basis.
Now he must maintain this new level in his new role in order to continue improving and ensure that when he does eventually move for a fee in that world-class category, that he is deserving and that the performances at least warrant it.
Rice is only 22-years-old and when he talks about the game he seems a keen learner and someone who wants to always improve.
He looks to be the perfect choice for the midfield position, but the price is something that has fans and clubs wondering and doubting. He needs to leave them in no doubt that he is the man this season.
Sunday evening’s Super Sunday clash between Liverpool and Man City was the perfect advertisement for the Premier League’s top teams.
The Anfield atmosphere was rocking as the Reds fans cheered on their side, while Pep Guardiola’s Man City team turned up looking to stifle the fans with patient, possession football that had precision and quality.
While the game played out to a 2-2 draw it showed that these two sides are the best attacking outfits in the league (and maybe Europe), but it raised question marks over their defences.
There was some brilliant passages of play from both teams, which showed the quality and skill that they possess in attack and all over the pitch. Liverpool’s first goal was a silky passing move where they came out from the back, before Mo Salah skipped past Joao Cancelo and slipped a wonderful pass into Sadio Mane to tuck away.
The attack was brilliant but the defending was shoddy from both Cancelo and Aymeric Laporte, who found himself in no-mans land once Salah began running at him.
Liverpool haven’t looked particularly solid all season either, and City consistently targeted James Milner in the right-back position with Jack Grealish and Phil Foden working in tandem to rotate between the left-wing and the left sided number 8 to cause him problems.
While the attacks shone brightly, it offered some hope to Chelsea that in the title race that while they may not be the best team in the race they definitely have the tools to win the title.
It’s a famous old saying – attacks win you games, defence wins you titles. Chelsea have got undoubtedly the best defence in the Premier League.
These three teams have already played against each other and the pattern in the games was visible for all to see. When Chelsea played City, they set up to defend and moved away from their usual system. They were beaten by the better team on the day as City dominated, but the previous three meetings between the sides saw Chelsea earn three wins.
When Liverpool hosted Chelsea, it was a very even and back-and-forth game which Chelsea led thanks to a stunning (and maybe a bit lucky) header. They defended well and never really looked under too much threat, even after being reduced controversially to ten men.
The three best coaches in the league, with the three best teams are all vying for the title. Manchester United’s lack of a top coach is hindering them and the results are currently showing that. So it’s currently a three-horse race and when the level between the sides is so close, it’s often the defences that come out on top.
It sounds really obvious, but if you don’t concede goals then you don’t lose games. Chelsea are really good at not conceding goals and they’re really good at winning games. Two results don’t win or lose you the league but they give a good indication as to what’s to come, and that’s that the title race is going to be very close this year.
The Premier League is arguably at the strongest and most competitive that it’s been at since the 2015/16 season when all of Pep Guardiola, Jose Mourinho, Antonio Conte, Mauricio Pochettino and Arsene Wenger were managers and Leicester City were crowned champions.
This time around though it’s not the managers that make the competition competitive however, it’s the actual players available to all the different squads.
This summer we saw the arrival of Cristiano Ronaldo, Romelu Lukaku, Raphael Varane and Jadon Sancho to the league, while Jack Grealish was also on the move as one of the better players in the division.
Despite Arsenal spending over £150m on new players their squad is arguably weaker than it was at the end of last season and they will find it a struggle to get back into the top six this season when compared to the likes of Leicester and West Ham.
But after three Premier League games, the transfer window is complete, so these are our pre-season picks for the top six positions in the Premier League this season.
6TH TOTTENHAM Likely lineup: Lloris; Emerson, Romero, Dier, Reguilon; Skipp, Hojbjerg, Alli; Bergwijn, Kane, Son
It seems to always be the same teams in and around these conversations but Tottenham actually had a pretty good transfer window this time around.
They kept hold of Harry Kane after months of speculation, signed Cristiano Romero for their problem centre-back position, signed Emerson Royal at right-back and have also managed to integrate Oliver Skipp and Dele Alli into their midfield.
They lack serious depth and injuries at any point in the season could be an issue for them, but keeping Kane is huge. He guarantees them goals throughout the season and means they always have a chance to win games, but his overall enthusiasm to be at the club could be an issue.
My gut tells me that defensively they’ll be strong but they won’t score enough goals and that will see them get too many draws to finish in the top four, plus Kane won’t be as productive as he has been in recent years.
Many thought it would be third time lucky for Brendan Rodgers’ side this season to finally break back into the top four after their summer window, but I think they’ll fall just short once again.
The Foxes added Patson Daka, Boubakary Soumare, Ademola Lookman (loan), Jannik Vestergaard and Ryan Bertrand to their squad and for the first time managed to keep their previous squad together into the new season, with no major sales. However the serious injury to Wesley Fofana in pre-season will have harmed their defensive strength and Jamie Vardy is one year older now.
They’ve started the season well but I feel the teams above them last year have further strengthened too and it means that unfortunately for them, they’ll just miss out once more.
4TH LIVERPOOL Likely lineup: Alisson; Alexander-Arnold, Matip, Van Dijk, Robertson; Fabinho, Henderson, Thiago; Salah, Jota, Mane
I’m going to get this in there early, but the top four I have selected could genuinely interchange in any way and I wouldn’t be that surprised. But something in my gut tells me that Liverpool will finish fourth this season.
Jurgen Klopp’s side managed to scrape a third place finish last season despite having minimal defenders for most of the campaign, and this season they welcome back all of Virgil Van Dijk, Joel Matip, Joe Gomez and new signing Ibrahima Konate in the heart of their defence.
Unfortunately for Reds fans though, they failed to strengthen the squad anywhere else. Harvey Elliott returned from loan and has done well so far in the Premier League but I don’t think he is quite at the level where he can help launch a title challenge and their lack of depth means they’ll likely fall off as the season goes on.
At their best though they’re without a doubt one of the best teams in the world, and with one of the best managers in the world on the bench it’s really hard to completely write them off.
3RD MANCHESTER CITY Likely lineup: Ederson; Walker, Dias, Stones, Cancelo; Rodri, De Bruyne, Grealish; Mahrez, Torres, Foden
The reigning champions were just three wins away from winning the lot last season and then went and added the first £100m player in Premier League history to their squad, yet I think they’ll fall off this year.
Jack Grealish’s arrival to the squad obviously boosts them, but the failure to sign a top striker to replace Sergio Aguero is a problem. Yes, they won the league last season without a striker but to expect to do that again seems short-sighted and Guardiola’s chase of Harry Kane all summer tells me he knows that too.
Ferran Torres has started the season well in that role but I’m not totally convinced he can be that consistent goalscorer they need, so I think they may struggle in games against the better defences this season. Defensively they’re arguably stronger this season with Aymeric Laporte playing himself back into form, but the team just doesn’t strike fear into me like it once did.
As good as they are, with the depth and manager they have, they just don’t have that aura about them for me this season and for that reason I think they’ll fall to their lowest finish under Guardiola.
2ND MANCHESTER UNITED Likely lineup: De Gea; Wan-Bissaka, Varane, Maguire, Shaw; McTominay, Pogba; Sancho, Fernandes, Rashford; Ronaldo
I’m willing to admit this could be a bit of bias, but Manchester United look so strong this season.
As a unit they have one of the best defences in the league and their attacking options can compete with Paris Saint-Germain for depth and talent. They have match winners all over the pitch and credit must go to Ole Gunnar Solskjaer for building a squad that is now expected to compete on all fronts.
There is a glaring midfield weakness though and ultimately, that could be what lets them down. Against the top sides, the lack of a top defensive midfielder could be an issue and Solskjaer is likely to make up for that by using both members of McFred together and sacrificing an attacker.
While they’re probably best placed to win things this year moreso than any other since Sir Alex Ferguson’s retirement, it may be a cup competition that falls their way rather than the league because the gap between the top managers and Solskjaer is just that big. They’ll run it close, but ultimately it’ll just be one step too far.
1ST CHELSEA Likely lineup: Mendy; Azpilicueta, Christensen, Rudiger; James, Jorginho, Kante, Chilwell; Havertz, Lukaku, Mount
The champions of Europe looked formidable under Thomas Tuchel in the second half of last season but they had one glaring weakness – finishing in front of goal.
So what did Uncle Roman do? He signed Romelu Lukaku for £97.5m fresh off arguably the best season of his career to date to lead the line. The Belgian scored in first game against Arsenal and played well against Liverpool as Chelsea earned a draw with ten men at Anfield and already looks the perfect man to shoulder their title challenge.
Defensively they still look imperious but they look even more well drilled and with added depth to their midfield with Saul Niguez joining on loan from Atletico Madrid it’s hard to see where they will come apart this season.
A top manager, arguably the best squad in the league, a solid defence, a world class midfield, a goalscoring machine up front and a system that they’ve seemingly mastered – Chelsea are my picks to win the title this season.