Much to discuss here as we look at the squads of the Premier League’s top six…
Chelsea’s first XI: Courtois; Azpilicueta, Luiz, Cahill; Moses, Kante, Bayayoko, Alonso; Pedro, Hazard; Morata.
Chelsea’s second XI: Cabellero; Rudiger, Christensen, Clarke-Salter; Tomori, Fabregas, Scott, Kenedy; Willian, Musonda; Batshuayi.
A perfect illustration of why Antonio Conte is desperate for new footballers. There are obvious gaps in both wing-back positions, in central midfield (Kyle Scott is a 19-year-old rookie) after the exits of Nemanja Matic and Nat Chalobah and in wide positions behind the striker. Eden Hazard’s injury is a massive problem for Chelsea, perhaps not against Burnley this Saturday but for the following month.
Chelsea do have really quite promising youngsters – neither Lewis Baker nor Jeremie Boga made this list – but there really is a distinct lack of experienced squad strength in depth for a season which sees the return of Champions League football.
Tottenham’s first XI: Lloris; Tripper, Alderweireld, Vertonghen, Rose; Wanyama, Dembele; Son, Alli, Eriksen; Kane
Tottenham’s second XI: Vorm; Walker-Peters, Wimmer, Carter-Vickers, Davies; Dier, Winks; Lamela, Sissoko, N’Koudou; Janssen
It doesn’t look too bad until you remember that Son-Heung Min, Erik Lamela and Danny Rose will all miss the start of the season, and Kieran Trippier is a doubt. The good news is that Eric Dier is the world’s most valuable back-up defender and can comfortably deputise in at least three positions. As we have documented elsewhere, Tottenham can probably only realistically upgrade at right-back and possibly in a wide position in place of Son; they are looking for reserves, and who wants to be a reserve?
But when Moussa Sissoko is the most inspiring name on your list of attacking options, then you have a problem. Young, hungry attacking players are needed post-haste. Keita Balde? Ross Barkley at any price below £30m?
Manchester City’s first XI: Ederson; Stones, Kompany, Otamendi; Gundogan; Walker, De Bruyne, D Silva; Jesus, Aguero
Manchester City’s second XI: Bravo; Denayer, Mangala, Adarabioyo; Toure; Danilo, Fernandinho, Nasri, Sane; B Silva, Sterling.
Having stared at a list of Manchester City players for about 15 minutes, I am still no nearer to working out what any sane person would call a ‘first team’ but that perfectly illustrates the depth of attacking talent at Pep Guardiola’s disposal. There are seven wonderful attacking players (and Samir Nasri) for four positions, which is probably why at least one of those players will get the odd game at wing-back.
But that second line-up is very much a team of two halves – City absolutely need at least one new centre-half and at least one new central midfielder (we advocated throwing money at the problem here). Fabian Delph and Wilfried Bony still can’t get a look-in, while those promising City kids look as far away from first-team football as ever.
Liverpool’s first XI: Mignolet; Clyne, Matip, Lovren, Robertson; Henderson, Lallana, Coutinho; Salah, Firmino, Mane.
Liverpool’s second XI: Karius; Alexander-Arnold, Klavan, Gomez, Moreno; Can, Milner, Wijnaldum; Sturridge, Origi, Solanke.
It’s not quite as unbalanced, but this Liverpool squad is very much a budget Manchester City. There is attacking talent in abundance but there is a distinct weakness in defence, which is explained by Jurgen Klopp’s (too) vigorous pursuit of Virgil van Dijk. Liverpool have an awful lot of central midfielders but do they have even one that Chelsea would want near their first-choice midfield? Klopp’s claim that the signing of left-back Andrew Robertson gave them a ‘new’ midfielder in James Milner would have been panned if uttered by Arsene Wenger.
They will certainly not be short of attacking options off the bench (with Danny Ings not even in the picture), but with Champions League games added to the schedule, they would surely like to be more than one injury away from the honest but limited stylings of Ragnar Klavan.
Arsenal’s first XI: Cech; Monreal, Koscielny, Mustafi; Bellerin, Xhaka, Ramsey, Kolisanac; Ozil, Sanchez; Lacazette
Arsenal’s second XI: Ospina: Gabriel, Holding, Mertesacker; Oxlade-Chamberlain, Coquelin, Elneny, Gibbs; Welbeck, Iwobi; Giroud.
That’s right, no Theo Walcott; he is fifth choice for those two positions behind the striker. The good news is that he is in good company alongside Calum Chambers, Carl Jenkinson, Mathieu Debuchy, Jack Wilshere and Lucas Perez. And Santi Cazorla will leapfrog the lot if either of his glorious two feet ever work again.
Wow, Arsenal have a lot of players. It’s just that rather a lot of them are a much of a muchness. And a lot of them are often injured. But they are better prepared than almost any club to send a second-choice side into European competition this season and concentrate on the league.
Man United’s first XI: De Gea; Valencia, Bailly, Lindelof, Blind; Matic, Herrera, Pogba; Mkhitaryan, Rashford; Lukaku.
Man United’s second XI: Romero; Darmian, Rojo, Smalling, Shaw; Fellaini, Carrick, Perreira; Lingard, Mata; Martial.
They look awful close to the Jose Mourinho ideal of having two senior players for every position, and it certainly looks more balanced than their noisy neighbours. That slightly stodgy central midfield of Marouane Fellaini and Michael Carrick started last year’s Community Shield so it illustrates the quiet revolution going on at Old Trafford. The question is not one of strength in depth but of whether that first XI has quite enough creativity; far, far better second seasons are required from Henrikh Mkhitaryan and Paul Pogba.
Oh and poor Phil Jones and Ashley Young.