Chelsea already playing catch-up
MANCHESTER, United Kingdom, Aug 9, (AFP): Manchester United have to defy their own manager Jose Mourinho’s fears for a season of doom and gloom when they kick off the Premier League campaign against Leicester City on Friday.
Mourinho has repeatedly called for more backing in the transfer market if United are to close the record 19-point gap they trailed Manchester City by last season despite finishing second in the table.Instead, the Portuguese’s mood has been further soured by seeing another fierce rival Liverpool steal a march with a £170-million ($220 million) splurge on new signings.
“If we don’t make our team better it will be a difficult season for us,” Mourinho warned earlier this week, so far to no avail ahead of Thursday’s transfer deadline.After securing the signatures of Brazilian international midfielder Fred and Portuguese teenage full-back Diogo Dalot early in the window, strengthening his centre-back options has been Mourinho’s priority.Yet, United could end up facing one of Mourinho’s top targets in Harry Maguire at Old Trafford, with Leicester reportedly holding out for a world-record fee for a defender to land one of England’s heroes from a run to the World Cup semifinals.Maguire and Leicester’s main goal threat, Jamie Vardy, may not start having just returned to pre-season training this week after their exertions in Russia.
United shorthanded – but United are even more shorthanded by the quick turnaround between the World Cup and the start of the new season.
Romelu Lukaku, Marcus Rashford, Phil Jones and Victor Lindelof were all praised by Mourinho for cutting short their holidays to return to training and be in the frame to play a part on Friday.
Paul Pogba did not follow suit as the French World Cup winner’s frosty relationship with Mourinho has sparked interest from Barcelona.
But Mourinho must finally get the best from his star midfielder and Alexis Sanchez to avoid his third season in charge turning sour as it did in his second spell at Chelsea and Real Madrid.
Mourinho was sacked by Chelsea in December 2015 with the then-Premier League champions languishing in 16th, just one point above the relegation places.Likewise in his final campaign in the Spanish capital in 2012/13, Mourinho clashed with a number of senior players in a trophyless season.The ingredients appear to be in place for another Mourinho meltdown should United get off to a bad start and he believes even the scheduling of his side’s opening fixture has made his task even harder.“I want to say a nice word, we were unlucky to get the Friday match as we could get the Sunday,” he bemoaned at opening the campaign.
“Monday, Tuesday, Wednesday, Thursday (to prepare) is not enough.” One of Mourinho’s most trusted lieutenants Nemanja Matic will miss the start of the season due to surgery on an abdominal injury, while Eric Bailly and Ander Herrera are also doubts after picking up knocks in United’s final pre-season friendly defeat by Bayern Munich.There is little time for the Premier League’s stars to shake off a World Cup hangover as less than a month on from Russia’s summer showpiece, the chase to catch champions Manchester City begins in earnest on Friday.On top of the quick turnaround from the World Cup, a shortened transfer window that closes 24 hours before the season kicks off has left many sides scrambling at the last minute to strengthen their squads, none more so than Manchester United.The Red Devils raise the curtain on the campaign at home to Leicester on Friday night hoping to put a troubled pre-season dominated by manager Jose Mourinho’s outbursts behind them.
Mourinho has rounded on the club’s hierarchy for failing to sufficiently strengthen in his opinion despite the signings of Brazilian international midfielder Fred and Portuguese full-back Diogo Dalot.
As United dither, Liverpool have emerged as second favourites for the title behind City after splashing over £170 million ($220 million) on goalkeeper Alisson and midfielders Fabinho, Naby Keita and Xherdan Shaqiri.
“The other clubs who compete with us are really strong and already have fantastic teams. Or they are investing massively like Liverpool, who are buying everything and everybody,” warned Mourinho.
“If we don’t make our team better it will be a difficult season for us.” United are further hamstrung with a host of key players including Paul Pogba, Romelu Lukaku and Marcus Rashford involved in the later stages of the World Cup limiting their pre-season preparations.
By contrast, Liverpool are well-placed to hit the ground running ahead of Sunday’s kick-off at home to West Ham as Virgil van Dijk, Keita and Fabinho missed out on the World Cup, while Mohamed Salah and Sadio Mane bowed out at the group stage with Egypt and Senegal.
Jurgen Klopp’s men demonstrated their ability to beat City on the big occasion last season, winning three of the four meetings between the sides, including a 5-1 aggregate win in the Champions League quarter-finals.
However, they finished 25 points back in the league as Pep Guardiola’s men romped to the title with a record 100 points.
“The players from last year are responsible for the excitement, and then we brought in a few new players as an icing on the cake,” said Klopp on the club’s promising pre-season tour in the States.
“It’s not just that we have to be more consistent, we have to create circumstances where we can be more consistent,” he added. “Nobody is consistent with 11 players. What we are working on is the depth of the squad because you need it.”
Chelsea also have a new boss but are already playing catch-up with Maurizio Sarri only appointed a month before the start of the campaign.
However, the Blues swung into action late Wednesday when they agreed to sell goalkeeper Thibaut Courtois to Real Madrid in a deal which paved the way for Athletic Bilbao ‘keeper Kepa Arrizabalaga to move to Stamford Bridge on a seven-year deal worth an estimated £71 million.
Kepa becomes the most expensive goalkeeper of all time.
In contrast to the change across London, Tottenham Hotspur have yet to add a single signing ahead of their first season in a new 62,000 capacity stadium.
Yet, based on the World Cup performances of Golden Boot winner Harry Kane, Hugo Lloris and Christian Eriksen among others, there is still plenty for Mauricio Pochettino to look forward to.