Tough summer for EPL chasing pack

LONDON • Liverpool's attempt to dethrone Manchester City as Premier League champions ended in glorious failure on Sunday, but at least Jurgen Klopp's team proved it was possible to take the title race to the wire.

For Chelsea, Tottenham, Arsenal and Manchester United - the quartet who ended up in an undistinguished tussle for third and fourth spots in the league - a summer of navel-gazing awaits.

In running away with the title in record-breaking fashion last term, with 100 points and 106 goals, City raised the bar into the stratosphere. And Liverpool have since scaled new heights this time, finishing a point behind on 97 points for the third-highest tally in league history.

For the rest of the "Big Six" though, it has been a story of stagnation or regression, for a variety of reasons, and it is hard to see the duopoly being broken soon.

Mauricio Sarri's debut campaign with Chelsea has been a rocky one at times. His "Sarri-ball" tactics have not suited the likes of N'Golo Kante and the team have relied too heavily on Eden Hazard, who looks poised to leave with just one year left on his deal.

The Belgium forward also cryptically revealed on Sunday that he had already "made his decision", with the announcement set for after the May 29 Europa League final against Arsenal.

While fourth-placed Spurs have reached the Champions League final with Liverpool on June 1, they face a critical summer ahead.

There are signs manager Mauricio Pochettino has grown weary of fighting for the league title without the tools that City boss Pep Guardiola and Klopp have at their disposal.

Spurs are the only club in league history not to sign any players in the past two transfer windows.

London rivals Arsenal also finished outside the top four for the third straight season and, while they could yet get into the Champions League by lifting the Europa League, Unai Emery has not rid them of the frailties that marked the later Arsene Wenger years.

They lost eight times away and a defence propped up by Laurent Koscielny looks in need of major surgery after conceding 51 goals.

However, while all three clubs have plenty of work to do in the close season, the biggest challenge will be faced by United boss Ole Gunnar Solskjaer.

When Jose Mourinho insisted leading United to second the previous season was one of his best achievements, many mocked the Portuguese, who was sacked in December. That claim now looks valid, with the sixth-placed Red Devils playing like a team of disconnected individuals.

Although fans have demanded an immediate improvement, Solskjaer has urged a dose of reality, admitting a title challenge was "not realistic because the two teams now at the top of the table are far ahead of the chasing pack".

Pochettino, Sarri and Emery may well share that sentiment.

REUTERS

A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Straits Times on May 14, 2019, with the headline 'Tough summer for EPL chasing pack'. Print Edition | Subscribe