Chelsea's rivals must spend and plug gaps quickly

Chelsea's rivals must spend and plug gaps quickly
Chelsea players line up before a match.

Manchester United versus Arsenal used to be titanic clashes involving two top teams battling for supremacy in the English Premier League.

So it was quite an anti-climax when they met on Sunday for a match to determine who finish third or fourth.

Chelsea have already clinched the crown while Manchester City look likely to end up second.

If anyone's interested, it ended 1-1.

It's a damning indictment of how poor they, and last year's champions Manchester City, have been this season, as runaway leaders Chelsea wrapped up the title with three games to spare.

The trio have much to do to catch up with Jose Mourinho's team whose players, with an average age of 26.9 years, look set to dominate English football in the next few years.

In the current football landscape, one thing is certain - they need to spend. Not recklessly but quickly and decisively.

Just look at Chelsea.

Last summer, the Blues pinpointed problem areas in their squads and rectified them quickly. In came Cesc Fabregas (£30 million or S$62 million) and Diego Costa (£32 million) before July to beef up their offensive options.

That's not to say these two players - Fabregas had 18 assists while Costa had 19 goals - were why Chelsea won the title but they definitely played a huge role.

Likewise, it is imperative the challengers do so this pre-season, especially without a major international tournament disrupting their preparations.

In my view, City, with their good core and deep pockets, are best-placed to rival Chelsea

What the Sky Blues need to do is freshen up the squad. Up front, they are sound with Sergio Aguero and Wilfried Bony.

But City's defence needs to be plugged. Vincent Kompany was unusually inconsistent while Eliaquim Mangala and Martin Demichelis look out of their depth.

In midfield, Yaya Toure looked disillusioned while Samir Nasri, James Milner and Fernando were all unimpressive.

Key for beleaguered manager Manuel Pellegrini, who deserves another season at the Etihad, is to sign young players who would give them more zip next season.

The club are linked with Juventus' Paul Pogba and the Frenchman would be perfect to kick-start their spending spree.

United, meanwhile, have a lot of work to do. I'm unconvinced by Louis van Gaal's ability.

He spent £150 million last summer, the highest in Europe, but still United look set to finish only fourth.

Offensively, with Robin van Persie past his prime and Falcao still misfiring, the Red Devils need a world-class striker and a creative midfielder.

In defence, Chris Smalling, who captained the team against Arsenal, and Phil Jones may have done well lately but, to me, they are not good enough to be the bedrock of a title-winning team.

United also have to worry about the void in goal, with David de Gea likely to join Real Madrid.

As for Arsenal, I left them last for a reason. Arsene Wenger's financial prudence means he is unlikely to splash the cash although the Gunners must sign at least two world-class players to effectively challenge Chelsea.

I've said before many times that Olivier Giroud is a good player but is not the kind of striker who will win you a title.

He might have 14 league goals but, on Sunday, missed at least two good chances.

You need your strikers to put those away, especially against the top teams.

Arsenal also need a central defender, with the slow Per Mertesacker turning 31 in September.

If the challengers don't bolster their ranks in the off-season, don't be surprised if Mourinho and Co. wrap up the title early once more.

stsports@sph.com.sg


This article was first published on May 19, 2015.
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