They operate out of a city that boasts pulling power like few others in world football, yet London’s ‘big three’ are preparing for a new Premier League season with uncertainty clouding their optimism.
This is a summer when London’s Premier League giants need to take strides forward to confirm they are ready to move to the next level, the firmly established top two of Manchester City and Liverpool have never seemed further away and it is hard to imagine that story changing ahead of the August 9th transfer deadline.
The sight of new Chelsea head coach Frank Lampard leading his team into battle for the first time against in pre-season games in Ireland against Bohemians and St Patrick’s Athletic in the coming days will warm the hearts of the club’s supporters, yet the Blues icon has stepped into a perilous job at Stamford Bridge in a summer when a transfer embargo has been imposed on the club.
Chelsea’s spending was done before Lampard’s arrival was confirmed and the addition of American international Christian Pulisic as he completes a move from Borrusia Dortmund that was agreed last January is welcome given the club’s transfer ban.
Completing the £40.5m signing of Mateo Kovacic was another welcome boost for Chelsea, but their need to sign a striker remains a pressing issue that Lampard will not be able to solve with a big money capture in a year when he needs to be given time to find his feet in the job.
With options limited, Lampard has promised to give the exiled duo of Danny Drinkwater and Michy Batshuayi chances to shine in the pre-season games and he is also keen to give the returning Tammy Abraham first team chances after his successful loan spell helped to secure Aston Villa’s promotion last season at the expense of his own Derby side.
“The size of the squad here doesn’t worry me,” insists Lampard. “The transfer situation is there and we all know about it, but write the names down of the players we have here and there are two very good teams there.
“I don’t think the club need to tell me that a top-four finish is needed an expected because this is Chelsea and that is always the basic requirement. I absolutely believe this squad is capable of achieving that.”
Lampard’s targets are clear as he embarks on his mission at Chelsea, yet the aims for Tottenham seem less obvious after manager Mauricio Pochettino sprinkled so much uncertainty over his own future at the club before and after their appearance in last season’s Champions League final.
Pochettino’s persistent claims that he was considering walking away from the club was a clear attempt to play what may have been his final card in a bid to change the mentality of a club that has been punching above their weight under this guidance for five years.
Tottenham had only played in the Champions League once prior to Pochettino’s arrival as manager in 2014, but they are preparing for a fourth successive campaign in Europe’s elite competition and with that in mind, their manager believes he deserves to be backed in his desire to move the club to the next level.
With Pochettino’s commitment uncertain, Spurs chairman Daniel Levy was under pressure to make a statement signing before the club’s players returned to the Enfield base for pre-season training tomorrow and by capturing top target Tanguy Ndombele for a club record fee that could eventually rise to more than £60m, Pochettino appears to have had a response to his demands for changes to the club’s transfer and wage structure.
France midfielder Ndombele caught the eye for Lyon in last season’s Champions League and he should be a fine addition to the Tottenham midfield, but Pochettino will expect more evidence of genuine ambition from Levy in the next month.
Pochettino’s latest comments on Spanish TV expressing his frustrations over his lack of control over transfer policy at the club is a source of real frustration and the jury is out on whether the Tottenham manager will be content to stay with his current employer unless they genuinely start to join the game’s big spenders.
In a transfer window that could see Toby Alderweireld, Danny Rose, Kieran Tripper and Victor Wanyama leave Tottenham, what happens next to midfield maestro Christian Eriksen may be viewed as the ultimate test case for Pochettino.
Denmark star Eriksen has hinted he would like to embark on a ‘new challenge’ awat from Tottenham, but the club’s rising status means that could only be with Real Madrid or Barcelona and if that move is not available to him, he has suggested he would be open to signing an extension to a contract that expires next summer.
If Levy persuades Eriksen to stay, it would be a clear sign that Tottenham are ready to loosen their wage structure in a bid to edge closer to the teams they are trying to compete with.
If Tottenham are at a crossroads as they look to keep their coveted manager and star names on board, their great rivals Arsenal appear to be in a much more serious hole after their laughable efforts to sign Zaha from Palace left the modestly funded Gunners open to ridicule directed by Palace chairman Steve Parish, with manager Unai Emery believed to be working with a budget of around £50m unless the club find a way to off-load out-of-favour big earning misfits Mesut Ozil and Henrikh Mkhitaryan.
In a summer transfer market that is set to break all records, that kind of budget will not be enough to Emery to lift the gloom after a miserable end to last season highlighted the alarming deficiencies in his line-up.
Of the three London clubs, Arsenal’s problems appear to be the most acute, as the club’s owner Stan Kroenke is keen to cost cut rather than invest in a club that is still making him a tidy profit despite their failings on the field.
With Chelsea owner Roman Abramovich and Spurs chief Levy also facing questions over their commitment to bankroll a genuine attempt to change the complexion of next season’s title race, London’s big three already look set to be also-rans in a title race headlined by two familiar big names once again.
BIG SIX NET TRANSFER SPEND OVER LAST 5 YEARS
Tottenham’s net spend in the transfer market over the last five years was a mere £24.4m until they signed Tanguy Ndombele from Lyon on Tuesday, with that modest investment dwarfed by the teams they are competing with for the top honours in the English game.
If they were to sell star midfielder Christian Eriksen for a fee in excess of £100m this summer, Pochettino would be in profit once again on transfers doing an era that has seen the two Manchester clubs spend £1billion between them on net transfer spending since the summer of 2016.
Manchester City (£593.7m)
Manchester United (£421.9m)
Net spend figures from transfermarkt.
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