I know, I know. We're primed for a crazy final day of the Premier League season with Chelsea, Manchester United, and Leicester City tussling for Champions League spots; Wolves and Spurs both trying to guarantee a spot in the Europa League; and the three-way death match between Aston Villa, Watford, and Bournemouth to be the one to avoid the drop. It leaves us with only four matches on Sunday's program that are, essentially, meaningless which is a pretty good return for the final day of a season.
If you're still in a battle for a draft championship, here are some quick thoughts on waiver wire priorities before I start looking ahead to the transfer window:
- Eric Garcia - The young City defender is likely to get a start against Norwich City in a meaningless match and, given what we've seen from the Canaries, that could be an easy clean sheet.
- Troy Deeney - He seems to delight in bullying the Arsenal back four and the Gunners don't have much to play for (and, in fact, may be resting starters so they're healthy for the FA Cup final next weekend) while the Hornets will be playing for their lives.
- Trezeguet - It feels like no one has taken his goal-scoring seriously but after his goal against the Gunners, he's on 33 FPL points over the five matches since returning to the starting line-up. With it all to play for, he'll be motivated to make it another banner match to close out the season.
- Ben Foster - Arsenal have quietly struggled to create chances so if you're looking for a back door clean sheet, this could be the one.
Moving ahead to the transfer window, it promises to be a wild "summer" as teams confront budget shortfalls and attempt to figure out what revenue to expect from fans coming to the matches and spending on tickets, concessions, and merchandise. There is also the ever-present specter of the season being stopped altogether if things turn for the worse as the weather gets colder again. With that said, here's a look at the clubs remaining in the Premier League and their agendas for the summer.
If you read the rumors columns then you'd be left thinking that center back is still Arsenal's greatest need. If they could afford and attract a high end option like Dayot Upamecano then I'm sure they'd bring him in but, failing that, I think they're actually set. They've resigned David Luiz, have William Saliba arriving from Ligue Un, and have Pablo Marí coming back from his injury to add to Rob Holding and whomever of Sokratis and Shkodran Mustafi might be left after the window closes. Throw in using Kieran Tierney and Sead Kolasinac as the left-most player in a CB trio, there seems to be adequate talent and depth. Where Mikel Arteta really needs to invest is in his central midfield. The combination of Granit Xhaka and Dani Ceballos with three attackers ahead of them and wingbacks beside them seem to work when the Gunners are counterattacking but they lack both a true holding midfielder and creative force for situations where they know they are likely to have a significant possession advantage. I know the discussion has been about Thomas Partey or someone similar as a midfield destroyer-type and I don't think Arsenal supporters would object to that but, if you're looking for one thing that they need to do over the summer it is figuring out how to create more chances and that speaks to an attacking midfielder. It could be that they'll count on their youngsters maturing into those roles but that would appear to be a mistake. The kids - Saka, Nelson, Martinelli, Pepe, and Nketiah - are all players who have bright futures but seem like they need someone to get them into their best positions rather than being the ones to create such situations themselves.
Graham Potter's men may have been fighting against relegation until relatively late in the season but it was certainly a step in the right direction as they brought in some younger players and pushed toward a more positive style of football without getting caught in the switch and relegated. That said, if there is going to be a move up to the relative safety of mid-table, then there needs to be some investment in some goals. Specifically, Albion need to create more from open play. They are above average when it comes to scoring from set pieces but they must improve from the run of play with a focus on goals that come from outside of the six-yard box and creating those sorts of chances. If Glenn Murray is anything other than a "break in case of emergency" option next season then it stands to reason that one need is a forward to push/supplant Neal Maupay who seems like a fine second fiddle but doesn't scream "lead forward on a mid-table side". Graham Potter could also do with an improvement on Aaron Mooy as a creator. Mooy has his moments but isn't very consistent. If I were shopping the bargain racks then I'd be considering players like Gylfi Sigurdsson or Emi Buendía in a creative role and then looking at someone like Aleksandar Mitrovic from Fulham should the Cottagers not come up to the Premier League via the promotion playoffs.
The Clarets just keep doing what they do. It isn't exciting but it has been effective. More importantly, they've shown the ability to restock as key players like Kieran Trippier and Michael Keane have moved on in the wake of personal and club successes. It seems unlikely that Sean Dyche is going to lose any significant players in the transfer window so the smart move will be to start restocking the shelves ahead of future sales. The positive is that the lack of desperation means that Dyche will be bargaining from a position of strength. Throw in the fact that they usually shop from secondary leagues like the SPL and the Championship. I can't claim to know exactly where to look but the formula seems to be to look for big club cast-offs who didn't quite make the cut coming out of their academy and ended up going the lower division route and developing a little later or with a slightly lower ceiling than necessary to make it at Manchester United or Liverpool or the like. Dyche already followed the former-United trainee formula when he picked up Josh Brownhill from Bristol City in January and that looks like it is starting to pay dividends. Look for someone like Ben Pearson, Josh Harrop (both Preston North End), or Ethan Pinnock (Brentford) to be on the cards.
We already have a pretty good idea what the Blues are going to do with their attack this summer. They've already completed deals for Timo Werner and Hakim Ziyech and look like the prohibitive favorites to land Kai Havertz as well. That's all great as they need to replace aging attackers like Willian, Olivier Giroud, and Pedro. The bigger concern, though, is at the back for Frank Lampard's side. With goalkeeper and center back being definitive needs with left back and a settled holding midfield situation also pretty high on the list. You would think the team boasting N'Golo Kanté wouldn't have to worry about the holding midfield spot but between lingering injuries and an unsettled group around him, it just doesn't seem to be working the way Lampard would like. It is hard to blame Kante with so much softness behind him in the team's spine. None of the center backs have asserted themselves as clear and consistent above average players capable of anchoring a title contender. Kepa has been a point of frustration all season. Chelsea will have even more money to spend between not having spent during their transfer moratorium and having plenty of players to sell to balance the books if needs be. Look for one of the usual names to arrive at center back and Ben Chilwell to arrive from Leicester City to hold down the left side of the defense. Declan Rice has been frequently mentioned as the holding midfielder of the future at Stamford Bridge but won’t come cheap. The big question is what they do in net as Kepa is going to be hard to sell and there aren't a lot of top tier options available on the market right now.
What don't Crystal Palace need? Watching them after the restart it's a good thing that they had the points necessary to stay up before the season was halted because they look pretty rough. If you look around the pitch and on the bench you see only Wilf Zaha as an above average player and even he seems to be fading slightly as his physical gifts start to peak and start to decline. Having sold Aaron Wan-Bissaka without having effectively reinvested that money in further rising young players and probably missed out on selling Zaha for a crazy valuation, one wonders how things are going to turn around. Palace have never been exceptional at identifying and attracting inexpensive talent on the rise from places like Holland, Scotland, or the Championship which, frankly, is where they can afford to shop. They seem to be able to find more than enough adequate players for reasonable money but that sort of approach needs to be punctuated by the occasional big hit on a Virgil Van Dyke at Southampton who can be sold for enough to restock multiple positions or even a Gylfi Sigurdsson who was sold twice for decent fees by Swansea. Ultimately, Palace need some new ideas in the market and they need them fast before Zaha declines further and they're left with just a bunch of average players with no match winner anywhere to be found and a managerial transition when Roy Hodgson inevitably retires in the next year or two.
Unlike Palace, Everton seem to have money to spend trying to figure it out. The problem is that they seem to spend all of their time and money chasing names over substance. Lucas Digne and Richarlison seem to have been solid purchases (if too-expensive) and maybe you could make a case for Jordan Pickford but the rest of their recent business has been pretty rough. The root of the issue is managerial instability. The Toffees haven't settled on a manager and the rotation in the lead seat means that the big money spent on the previous transfer window's arrivals were intended for a different system or approach. What is left behind aren't necessarily bad players but ones that might not fit what the current manager wants to do. Take our friend Gylfi Sigurdsson as an example. His game has never been predicated on speed so the fact that he's getting a bit older shouldn't matter too much. What seems to be true is that Carlo Ancelotti doesn't seem to rate him. Unfortunately, he's also the only Everton player who regularly creates in the middle of the park. The first step is to commit to Ancelotti (and make sure he remains committed to Everton) and then to find him a creator who can unleash the speed and attacking capability of Dominic Calvert-Lewin, Richarlison, and even Arsenal cast-offs like Theo Walcott and Alex Iwobi. The Toffees need their version of Christen Eriksen to get the most out of the parts they've already accumulated. They also might want to adequately replace Idrissa Gueye after his departure last summer. If they can get the center of the midfield right, the front and the back will probably fall into place enough to challenge for a Europa League spot.
How the Foxes approach the summer will depend greatly on how Week 38 turns out for them. If they win and find themselves in the Champions League then they'll be inclined to invest in some significant talent. If they end up in the Europa League instead then the best case scenario for the summer would be keeping the players they have (e.g., Ben Chilwell, James Maddison, Çaglar Soyuncu) and acquiring some depth at center back and holding midfield. Despite the rough recent form, due significantly to injuries to Ricardo Pereira, Ben Chilwell, James Maddison, and Wilfred Ndidi, Brendan Rodgers has learned where he does and doesn't have effective depth. The outside back spots seem to be in relatively good shape but the spine - center back, holding midfield, and central attacking midfield - were exposed when the injuries occurred. Look for Rodgers to look to bring in some competition for those spots and, as always, be on the lookout for Jamie Vardy's successor to be acquired before he falls apart physically. No one has ever accused Brendan Rodgers of being particularly creative in the transfer market so expect links to players like Odsonne Edouarde (F) and Kristofer Ajer (CB) of Celtic.
What do you get the guy who has everything? The attacking group is in its prime but could use some depth as Divock Origi doesn't seem like the answer no matter what the question is. With Adam Lallana and (likely) Xherdan Shaqiri leaving and James Milner getting yet another year older so solid role players content with being just that on a team contending for titles seems like the most likely business. Given the success that Liverpool have had pulling in players like Andy Robertson from lower level and relegated sides, it seems like a strategy that the Reds are likely to follow again. If he didn't want to stay in London then someone like Willian would make a ton of sense as a reserve attacker. More likely, the Reds will find a couple of bargain veteran utility players on the international market.
For a team that finished second and could still win the Champions League, City seem to have a lot of needs. They definitely need a center back to pair Aymeric Laporte and a wide attacker to replace the departed Leroy Sané. They could also stand to get ahead of the aging curve and line up a replacement for Sergio Agüero who is coming close to joining David Silva as a club legend whose time to move on has come. Frankly, City could also use upgrades at both outside back spots as well. Kyle Walker's best feature was always his speed and at 30-years-old the presumption is that his decline has already started. On the other side, Benjamin Mendy hasn't seemed to recover from the combination of injuries and being in Pep's doghouse. City almost certainly aren't going to acquire players in all of those positions. Center back is certainly going to happen with one of the big names (Ruben Dias, Upamecamo, Kalidou Koulibaly, or Milan Skrinar) the most likely to arrive. Out wide, the conversation seems to have turned to Ferran Torres. Ben Chilwell has been mooted regularly at left back. The crown of the summer class would be Lautaro Martinez from Inter to replace his countryman Aguero but Martinez is rumored to be pining for a move to Barcelona so that one seems slightly less likely. Expect some major buys now that City's Champions League status for next season has been restored with center back leading the way.
The conversation is all about Jadon Sancho but, like the conversation about Arsenal, the common wisdom seems to be focused on the wrong area of the pitch. Yes, adding a talent like Sancho would be great for both attacking effectiveness and marketing (never far from the thinking at United) but the real problem with this team is the spine of the defense - David De Gea, Victor Lindelof, and Nemanja Matic/Scott McTominay/Fred. United have De Gea's replacement on the books in Dean Henderson so it remains to be seen if they have the stones to bench a guy they paid THAT much money in wages to keep. At center back, United SHOULD be shopping from the same list that City are shopping from if they don't spend their entire budget on Sancho. As far as holding midfielders, it isn't 100% clear that United are committed to making a change. They have been liked with Idrissa Gueye but bringing in a player on the wrong side of 30 doesn't seem like their recent MO. Regardless, it will be a test of United's executive team as to whether they focus their transfer activity where it is needed most or if they chase the headlines in an effort to get one over on their local rivals, City, by signing their former trainee.
Who knows what's going to happen at St James Park this off-season. Steve Bruce had a surprisingly effective season. When many predicted a relegation battle he produced safety shortly after the restart and even some green shoots of a potential step or two forward to come from the current squad. Layer in the potential takeover by a Saudi-backed group who would be looking to spend big and just about everything is in flux. Mauricio Pochettino has been linked as have players like James Rodriguez who are a big step up from the aisles the Magpies are usually shopping in. As much as I'd like to think that the Premier League will block this particular takeover, I suspect that it will go forward and Newcastle will be a new big spender in the market. They won't be competing at the absolute top of the market but this would be the perfect transfer window to be one of the few clubs with money to spend. With clubs like Barcelona, Liverpool, and Real Madrid all at least signaling a more conservative summer, it may be that agents start lining up their clients for an intermediate payday at Newcastle before a move on to a truly big club once the economy has recovered. I can't claim to know which ones it will be but expect a couple of truly surprising names to be lining up in Newcastle next season.
Like Burnley, Sheffield United are a hard side to figure. There isn't any outrageous talent but the manager has found a way to make sure that the whole is greater than the sum of its parts. Given that we only have a single season of this, we also can't quite say that there's a pattern to use to predict where Chris Wilder is going to go looking for reinforcements. I could go searching for some obscure names that you might nod your head at but I'd be making it up so we're going to have to wait and see what sort of rumors emerge. Expect a goalkeeper to be high on the list though.
The Saints are a hard side to figure. They played well down the stretch last season and looked for all the world like they were going to be in a great position to kick on and look like the Southampton sides of the Pochettino era that were hanging around at the bottom half of the top ten. Then this season started and things didn’t quite work out that way. Here we are again with Southampton looking strong down the stretch and trying to figure out how to handle the loss of a key player (Pierre-Emile Hojbjerg) and make up ground on the clubs around them in mid-table. The first key will be keeping Danny Ings who has had a spectacular season. After that it will be replacing Hojbjerg and finding a compliment to Nathan Redmond in attack to create a more reliable production line for Ings and the attack in general. Southampton has a history of finding holding midfielders that fit their system on the cheap from abroad including Wanyama, Schneiderlin, and Hojbjerg and I expect them to do the same here. Where they have been less effective is finding attackers. A return by Adam Lallana has been rumored which would be a great addition as well as a good story. Adding a young attacker to come up behind Lallana would be wise. Expect someone you probably haven’t heard much about before like a Niclas Eliasson (Bristol City) or Abdou Harroui (Sparta Rotterdam).
It seems like time for a bit of an overhaul at Spurs with the core of Mauricio Pochettino’s side, especially on the defensive side, aging out. Toby Alderweireld is sticking around but Jan Vertonghen is likely gone and Davinson Sánchez and Eric Dier don’t inspire confidence that there will be another Champions League campaign forthcoming. Similarly, marquee summer signing Tangay Ndombele hasn’t worked out and a divorce looks like it is coming. The wide defense, a core strength of Pochettino’s sides, has eroded in the blink of an eye with Ben Davies and Serge Aurier mediocre with little depth behind them. Finally, Hugo Lloris seems to be declining at least slightly with the worry being that there is more regression to come. For a side that played well down the stretch, that’s a lot to work on. Look for Spurs to revert to trying to find ascending talents from lesser-known quarters as they did with Dele Alli rather than buying the finished article. Spurs have always placed a premium on fiscal conservatism. With a new stadium to pay off and uncertainty around revenues for a club that is more dependent on gate receipts than most, especially without Champions League, it’s easy to see a fairly quiet window (well, except from Jose who is rarely quiet unless he’s bringing in some players at the top of the market).
The season has finished well for the Hammers with Mikel Antonio and Tomas Soucek injecting some much needed oomph into the line-up. Soucek and Declan Rice have provided a strong shield for the underrated pair of Angelo Ogbonna and Issa Diop. In addition to Antonio, January acquisition Jarrod Bowen has looked bright playing to the right of the center forward. When healthy, Aaron Cresswell is an above average left back. The concern with West Ham is inconsistency and the threat of losing Rice to Chelsea in the window. In addition to keeping or adequately replacing Rice, the Hammers would do well to bring in a new wide left attacker if Filipe Anderson isn’t going to get another chance. They would also do well to bring in an above average right back. Beyond that, figuring out the succession plan for Mark Noble and Antonio is a big priority. Sébastien Haller was supposed to be the center forward but Antonio has taken his spot. He’ll likely get another shot to prove himself before he’s written off. In the center of the park, there is less in the way of an in-house solution. West Ham should be in on someone like Matty Cash (Nottingham Forrest) for their right back vacancy and might want to see if Manchester United are ready to give up on Daniel James if Jadon Sancho arrives and the Red Devils need to balance the books at least a little bit.
Wolves are in a great spot. Sure, they could lose one or two of their top performers during the transfer window – Raúl Jiménez and Adama Traoré seem most likely – but they’ve already started the process of backfilling. The conveyor belt of young players started almost at promotion and has continued with the likes of Daniel Podence and Pedro Neto starting to show well when given a chance. They don’t have an answer if Jimenez leaves or is injured but just about everywhere else on the pitch they have multiple answers. Look for Wolves to be shopping for more young players on the way up. US international Weston McKennie has been rumored as Joao Moutinho gets closer to calling it a career but there haven’t been too many other concrete rumors. Perhaps they’re waiting to see what their fate is with respect to European competition next season. The options range from potentially competing in the Champions League (via a Europa League title) to dropping out altogether if they fall below Spurs in the standings on the final day and Arsenal beat Chelsea in the FA Cup final to take the last Europa League spot from England.
Anyone you’d like to see your favorite club go shopping for? Interested to hear your wish list or particularly promising rumors @nealjthurman on Twitter.