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Questions Raised By The Last Premier League Season

How Can Liverpool Close the Gap with Manchester City?

Liverpool came close this season but still weren’t good enough. To make matters worse, over the summer Manchester City are bound to strengthen themselves through the transfer window. Liverpool’s Jurgen Klopp is likely to do the same, but he is faced with the challenge of finding a way to take his team up a level, something that has never happened before to a manager who finished a season with 97 points.

Liverpool does not have the money to compete with City in the transfer market. However, they are excellent at developing talent. Players such as Mohamed Salah, Roberto Firmino and Sadio Mane were all very good before they arrived at Liverpool, but it was the club that has elevated them to stars.  Klopp does occasionally pay for big name players, such as Virgil van Dijk and Alisson, but that is not the team’s usual method. Rather, Liverpool have been helped along by the likes of Trent Alexander-Arnold, Andrew Robertson, Jordan Henderson and Georginio Wijnaldum.

All Klopp can really do is keep on going. He has an extremely high quality squad and all he can hope is that if they keep working the same way then next time things will turn out differently.

What Will Happen Next with Manchester United?

Many people are assuming that Manchester United have reached a low point but that next season they will come back in better shape having used the summer to sort out some of their problems and bring in new talent. However, there is no guarantee of this whatsoever.

The team is yet to make any progress in regards to a sporting director. Furthermore, Ole Gunnar Solskjaer’s style of management does not seem to be having match of an impact. The team seem to have inconsistent focus and make many mistakes. If things continue in the current manner then it seems inevitable that Solskjaer will soon be looking for a new job.

There is of course a chance that the team will recruit well over the coming months. However, once again there is every chance that the team will repeat past mistakes and sign players who are over-paid for their talents but big enough names to keep sponsors interested in the team.

As a result, there is a very real chance that Manchester United will be even worse next season. They have reached the Europa League, which will give fans some hope. However, there is little evidence of management truly acting to change things at the club. Perhaps it will take an even more humiliating season to spur them into action.

How Much Can Tottenham Improve Through Spending?

This summer Tottenham Hotspur finally look set to spend some money, which could highlight just how good this past season has been for them. There squad has been somewhat limiting, as was evident in the final weeks of the season, but spending may not solve all of the team’s problems.

They reached the Champions League final through continuity and flexible coaching rather than star players. There are many excellent aspects of the squad, but they need to strengthen their full-back positions and they need a pair of midfielders. However, it could be tricky to introduce those new players into the team without upsetting the balance of the group.

In other words, the current Spurs squad works fantastically as a team and this has taken them a long way. Mauricio Pochettino now has the challenge of plugging gaps in the team without ruining what he already has. It won’t be easy, and there is no guarantee that Spurs will improve with the addition of new players.

Will the Newly Promoted Teams Avoid Fulham’s Mistakes?

Fulham had a terrible season and set an example for other promoted clubs of what not to do. They seemed to throwaway all of the good things that worked for them in the Championship. At the same time, they increased the club wage bill to the point where relegation becomes dangerous for the club, and they succeeded in alienating their fans.

It will be interesting to see how Norwich City and Sheffield United handle their promotion to the top flight. Both teams are built on more than just heavy spending, they both sold very influential players last summer and went on to adapt and grow while still making a profit. Daniel Farke’s coaching has worked extremely well with Norwich’s scouting and Chris Wilder has done wonders promoting home grown talent at Sheffield.

Both teams have reached the Premier League through subtle skill, but that is what people were saying about Fulham this time last year. Only time will tell if they manage to make a better go of things and avoid making the same mistakes.

How Will Potential UEFA Sanctions Affect Pep Guardiola?

Manchester City have been referred to the CFCB adjudicatory chamber over allegations of breaching financial fair play rules and there is a chance that they could be given a Champions League ban. The club is of course determined to prove its innocence and avoid any form of sanctions, however mild they may turn out to be.

However, whatever happens may have a direct impact on Pep Guardiola. He has just guided the team to a domestic treble and some are saying that this effectively means that he has conquered English football. Other than looking to break records for points and goals, there is very little more that he can achieve. Furthermore, he has a history of moving on after a relatively short time. He was at Barcelona for four years before taking a sabbatical and then joining Bayern Munich for three years. Next season will be his fourth with Manchester City, and if he is faced with a ban from European football then he may well decide that it is his last.

Will Southampton’s Turnaround Continue?

Ralph Hasenhuttl was brought into Southampton at just the right time to save their season. He brought with him fresh ideas that were both welcome and necessary. He has also brought a different atmosphere to the club. Where Mark Hughes would begin and end press conferences with excuses, Hasenhuttl seems more authoritative and prepared to be held accountable. All of this could be seen in the team’s performances under him.

More importantly, the team’s results immediately improved and he rescued them from relegation despite a confused squad full of players that he probably would never have signed. Over the summer, he has the chance to reorganise the team, vice-chairman Les Reed has gone and the players brought in under his direction are likely to follow. Hopefully the club will give Hasenhuttl the resources he needs to develop the team in his own way.

Of course, it is early days but there was enough of an improvement towards the end of last season to give a hint of what may be possible, and Southampton fans appear to have every reason to be optimistic about the future.

Will the Decline in the Numbers of English Players Continue?

Since the World Cup there has been a great deal of optimism surrounding the England team but recently Gareth Southgate issued a warning. His warning came after data was released showing the fall in the number of English players in the Premier League. They had 33.2% of starting spots in 2017/18 and just 30% last season. As a result, Southgate urged clubs to work harder at developing English talent.

In some ways there seems to be more English talent around than ever before. However, included in the 30% are Ademola Lookman at Everton, Phil Foden at Manchester City, and Ruben Loftus-Cheek and Callum Hudson-Odoi at Chelsea. While there may be English players available, they are still faced with challenges such as limited playing time and intense competition for starting roles.

There are also questions surrounding how English talent in the Championship can be developed. Players such as Mason Mount and Fikayo Tomori, who have been at Derby County, and also players such as Reiss Nelson, who have been abroad.

There are a number of English players at important stages in their development. People such as Tom Davies, Jake Clarke-Salter, Tammy Abraham, Kieran Dowell, and Reece James. However, none of them has a secure place on any side. Some will go out on loan, but many will be reduced to playing just a few minutes in lower leagues. When looked at this way, it is clear why Southgate is concerned.

Will VAR Continue to Be so Controversial?

Since referees were first introduced there have been refereeing controversies, but those surrounding VAR are new. There were a number of controversies in the Premier League with VAR, but they tended to disappear relatively quickly. However, that certainly wasn’t the case in the Champions League.

Perhaps the most divisive decision was to rule out Raheem Sterling’s late goal in the quarterfinal against Tottenham Hotspur, and that proved to be a correct decision. The incident served to highlight one of the biggest problems with VAR, namely that fans do not accept it. Given this, it seems that there are set to be many more intense arguments around the technology in the coming months and years.

OCA News Editor