The hidden side of politics

Premier League Handicap: Which teams still have work to do before the transfer window closes?

Reported by ESPN:

The start of the new Premier League season is just days away and clubs have been frantically trying to prepare themselves.

It’s been a summer of transfer activity like no other among most of the Big Six. Manchester City‘s squad will look very different, while Arsenal have embarked on what they hope is an upgrade to their midfield as they look to challenge for the title again. Manchester United have got their business done early, but have they done enough to close the gap on City and Arsenal?

Chelsea are in full transition under new coach Mauricio Pochettino, while Liverpool have seen their squad significantly affected by the emergence of the Saudi Pro League. Tottenham Hotspur, too, are in the middle of a revolution of their own under new coach Ange Postecoglou.

Other teams in the Premier League have problems. West Ham United, fresh from winning the Europa Conference League, are yet to sign a single player, while both Nottingham Forest and Wolverhampton Wanderers look like they need another summer before they would be ready.

So what state are the Premier League’s 20 teams in when compared to last year’s champions? ESPN presents a preseason preview with a difference: The Handicap, in which a league table is created relative to strength of the best team, Man City, showing how many points behind every other team is.

Stream on ESPN+: LaLiga, Bundesliga, more (U.S.)

How the Handicap works

Is it a prediction article? Not quite yet. This is about how teams look with three weeks of the transfer window yet to go; squads may yet look very different. Importantly, we’re not saying this is how the league table will finish — but rather how a team has managed to prepare for the season up to Aug. 7, when the article was published.

For instance, Wolves still don’t have a goal scorer, and Forest haven’t got a first-choice goalkeeper. So today, both clubs look in a bit of bother.

Pep Guardiola’s City team receive the base level of 0, and everyone else plays catch-up. The list shows how many points each club is behind City depending on their level of preparedness and the transfer business they have done.

We’ll revisit the Handicap once the window has closed when teams head off for the international break. How much progress can teams make in this short time, and what difference will it make to the perception of their chances? What business will West Ham get done in the next 25 days? Will Man City strengthen to underline their favourites tag?

Last season’s final league position: 1

Getting some business done, but there is squad uncertainty

Pep Guardiola has lost Ilkay Gundogan and Riyad Mahrez but added Mateo Kovacic (£30m) and Josko Gvardiol (£77.6m). There are also doubts about the futures of Bernardo Silva, Kyle Walker, Aymeric Laporte and Kalvin Phillips.

Silva, in particular, would be a big loss, especially after Gundogan’s departure.

The preseason tour of Japan and South Korea, which included a win over Bayern Munich, went well, but Guardiola will probably feel he needs one more new face before the deadline. Will City be stronger when the transfer window closes? — Rob Dawson

Last season’s final league position: 2
Points behind Man City last season: +5

Spent big to close gap on Man City

Over £200m has been splashed out on Declan Rice, Kai Havertz and Jurrien Timber, with a move in the works for Brentford goalkeeper David Raya, all of which is a statement summer window from Arsenal. Significantly, three of those players were signed early enough to play a full part on the club’s preseason tour of the United States.

There are areas that could be further improved — perhaps a top striker to rival Gabriel Jesus, who will miss the start of the season because of injury — and several fringe players need to be offloaded. Regardless, there is a positive sense of momentum around Arsenal.

With Man City in transition to some degree, Arsenal can start the season with some optimism — James Olley

Last season’s final league position: 3
Points behind Man City last season: +14

Business done early, but is it enough?

Erik ten Hag has done the bulk of his transfer business before the season kicked off, bringing in Mason Mount, Andre Onana and Rasmus Hojlund for over £150m, while David de Gea, Alex Telles and Anthony Elanga have been the most notable departures.

Preparation has been mixed, with defeats to Real Madrid and Borussia Dortmund on the tour of America, but there was also a 2-0 victory over Arsenal.

If Ten Hag can raise funds through departures, it’s possible United might add another midfielder, but there won’t be major changes between now and the deadline. — Dawson

Last season’s final league position: 7
Points behind Man City last season: +28

Squad bolstered after strong end to last season

Finishing seventh in 2022-23 was beyond Villa fans’ wildest dreams when Unai Emery replaced Steve Gerrard as boss in October. But progression, which would be breaking into the top six, looks more difficult than ever. Chelsea and Tottenham will expect to get back into it too, while Newcastle’s arrival onto the scene has added further competition.

Emery has strengthened through the team with centre-back Pau Torres (£31.5m), midfielder Youri Tielemans (free) and winger Moussa Diaby (£51m.) Diaby in particular has impressed in preseason and Villa already look capable of challenging for Europe, though they must cope with the demands of UEFA Europa Conference League football, too. They will need more faces through the door to juggle both successfully, but right now their fans can be among the most optimistic in the league. — Dale Johnson

Last season’s final league position: 4
Points behind Man City last season: +28

Strength in depth looks to be an issue right now

The much-anticipated summer spending spree at Newcastle has yet to take off with just two senior, albeit expensive, additions to a squad that is preparing for a Champions League campaign this season.

Sandro Tonali (£55m) and Harvey Barnes (£38) are the arrivals at St James’ Park, from AC Milan and Leicester, respectively, but manager Eddie Howe has seen Allan Saint-Maximin, Chris Wood and Jamal Lewis leave the club.

Newcastle still need to add quality and depth in all areas ahead of a challenging season, but despite the wealth of their Saudi Arabian owners, financial fair play structures mean they still have to be strategic with future spending to avoid breaking regulations. — Mark Ogden

Last season’s final league position: 5
Points behind Man City last season: +22

Midfield rebuild leaves questions for Klopp

Liverpool moved quickly to sign Alexis Mac Allister (£35m) from Brighton before going on to add RB Leipzig‘s Dominik Szoboszlai (£60m), but having bolstered his midfield with those two key additions, manager Jurgen Klopp has since seen his plans heavily impacted by the exits of both Jordan Henderson and Fabinho to Al Ettifaq and Al Ittihad, respectively.

Klopp had already sanctioned the departures of James Milner and Alex Oxlade-Chamberlain (as well as Roberto Firmino) as free agents, so the loss of Henderson and Fabinho has left Liverpool without crucial experience in midfield.

Efforts to sign Romeo Lavia from Southampton for around £45m are ongoing, but Klopp needs at least one more midfielder to make up for the exits. Having bolstered their attacking options with the signings of Darwin Nunez and Cody Gakpo, among others, during the past two windows, Liverpool are well stocked up front but are short in midfield. — Ogden

Last season’s final league position: 12
Points behind Man City last season: +45

Into the unknown with a whole new squad and manager

Nothing encapsulates the tumult at Chelsea better than the fact that a squad that had undergone so much change in the past 12 months still needed significant surgery, and yet more still in the weeks ahead.

Chelsea have spent a lot to sign forward Christopher Nkunku (£52m), defender Axel Disasi (£37m), striker Nicolas Jackson (£30m) and goalkeeper Robert Sánchez (£25m) but have seen 13 players depart permanently, including Havertz, Mount, Christian Pulisic, Pierre Emerick-Aubameyang and N’Golo Kante. They continue to try to secure an £80m deal for Brighton midfielder Moises Caicedo, and Pochettino admitted in an interview with ESPN last month that it was an area of the team requiring further additions. Lesley Ugochukwu‘s recent £23.2m arrival from Rennes does not solve that need alone, with the 19-year-old possibly departing on loan.

The state of flux has made a lengthy preseason tour to the U.S. somewhat trying, but there have been signs of promise in matches, particularly in the number of goals they scored after struggling badly in that respect last season. That said, another striker probably wouldn’t go amiss, especially given the recent injury to Nkunku. Chelsea have to be better than last season, but by how much? — Olley

Last season’s final league position: 8
Points behind Man City last season: +29

A season that rests on the future of Kane

The Harry Kane contract situation continues to dominate Tottenham’s summer. Spurs at least have some sort of replacement in Richarlison, but the Brazilian player is not the same calibre of proven goal scorer as Kane, who has been heavily linked with a £100m move to Bayern Munich. It would also be a landmark moment psychologically to lose such a talismanic figure as Kane; if he goes, the club’s expectations for the season should be lowered.

New coach Ange Postecoglou no doubt wants clarity either way, as the money received for Kane’s transfer would need to be reinvested quickly. Midfielder James Maddison (£40m) is a good acquisition from Leicester, especially if he is providing chances for Kane, while goalkeeper Guglielmo Vicario (£16m) has big shoes to fill in succeeding Hugo Lloris. However, Spurs still need at least one new centre-back to strengthen a shaky defence. — James Olley

Last season’s final league position: 6
Points behind Man City last season: +27

Mac Allister replacement key to Brighton’s hopes

Mac Allister is the only major departure so far, significant though it is, with Germany international Mahmoud Dahoud arriving on a free transfer from Borussia Dortmund as his replacement, along with James Milner from Liverpool.

With Igor Julio (£14.5m) signed from Fiorentina to strengthen the defence, and Netherlands under-21s goalkeeper Bart Verbruggen arriving from Anderlecht, Brighton look to be a stronger unit, if perhaps not a better team. This could all change in the next few weeks if Chelsea reach an agreement to sign Caicedo, with the player wanting the move. Improving on a sixth-placed finish looks tough, especially as other clubs have strengthened significantly. — Johnson

10. Fulham -38 points

Last season’s final league position: 10
Points behind Man City last season: +37

Saudi Pro League central to Fulham’s season

Fulham’s predicament perhaps hasn’t been as high profile, but nonetheless their preparation has been undermined by the Saudi Pro League. Striker Aleksandar Mitrovic, who scored 14 goals in 24 games last season, continues to be linked with Al Hilal, while coach Marco Silva, who is into the last year of his contract, has so far rejected offers from the league. Willian, who only signed a new contract on July 17, is now wanted by Al Shabab and could leave.

While the Cottagers have enjoyed a positive preseason — despite defeats to Aston Villa and Chelsea — Wolves and Mexico striker Raul Jimenez (£5m) and Nigeria defender Calvin Bassey (£19.3m) from Ajax Amsterdam are the only additions. The rest of the window, for both players and their manager, will prove crucial if Fulham are to progress or regress this season. — Johnson

Last season’s final league position: 11
Points behind Man City last season: +44

Nothing to worry about, if star names stay

Wilfried Zaha has left, Michael Olise has been linked with a £35m move to Chelsea and Eberechi Eze continues to collect admirers across Europe. With James McArthur and Luka Milivojevic also released, manager Roy Hodgson has made little secret of the need to sign players, with only ex-Bournemouth midfielder Jefferson Lerma arriving on a free transfer so far. Lots of uncertainty right now, but they do have the most experienced of managers to deal with it.

Sealing the signature of Brazil U20 international Matheus Franca gives them an unpredictable edge, they just need to keep their other stars. — Olley

12. Burnley -40 points

Last season’s final league position: Promoted to Premier League
Points behind Man City last season: N/A

Smart recruitment puts Burnley on sound footing

Burnley won the championship by 10 points last season, and boss Vincent Kompany will be determined that the Clarets can follow the lead of Fulham and avoid any kind of relegation battle.

Kompany has changed the playing style and invested in youth, signing 20-year-old goalkeeper James Trafford (£19m), the hero of England‘s European Under-21 Championship final success over Spain, and also bringing in FC Basel forward Zeki Amdouni (22), while Borussia Monchengladbach centre-back Jordan Beyer (22) has seen his loan switch become a permanent move.

There’s no doubt that Burnley are the best prepared of the three promoted clubs — but their top goal scorer, Nathan Tella, has returned to Southampton at the end of his season-long loan. A lot will rest on Amdouni, who scored 22 goals in 52 appearances last season but needs to translate that to another level in the Premier League. — Johnson

Last season’s final league position: 9
Points behind Man City last season: +30

No Toney, no goals?

Brentford will do well to replicate last season’s ninth-placed finish without further transfer business this month. Goalkeeper David Raya remains but is not being selected as the club search for a suitor, perhaps Arsenal at around £20m, for a player who has moved into the final 11 months of his contract. Mark Flekken has arrived from SC Freiburg as Raya’s replacement and will need to adapt quickly.

Star striker Ivan Toney, who scored 20 Premier League goals last season, is suspended until Jan. 16 after breaking FA rules related to gambling, and the Bees have as yet opted against signing a replacement. Bryan Mbeumo will be expected to step up, but they are big shoes to fill. Season 3 in the Premier League could be their toughest yet. — Johnson

Last season’s final league position: 15
Points behind Man City last season: +50

Cherries bank on more goals over improved defence

Bournemouth confounded the critics last season by avoiding the drop, then promptly sacked boss Gary O’Neil and replaced him with former Rayo Vallecano coach Andoni Iraola. It’s a bold step from a club that is determined not to be in another relegation battle, but such changes are always a gamble.

Iraola has signed Justin Kluivert (£10m) from AS Roma and Hamed Traore (£20m) from Sassuolo. Is attack the best form of defence? That’s what the Cherries are hoping, but only the bottom two conceded more than their 71 goals last season. The jury is out … for now. — Johnson

Last season’s final league position: 14
Points behind Man City last season: +49

No signings, and no Rice

West Ham’s approach in spending the £100m banked for the exit of Rice to Arsenal has been slow and scattergun, having offers rejected for Man United’s Harry Maguire, Southampton’s James Ward-Prowse, Chelsea’s Conor Gallagher and Fulham’s Joao Palhinha.

They may have won the Europa Conference League last season, but David Moyes badly needs reinforcements — especially a replacement for Rice. West Ham are the only Premier League club not to make a single signing, and the supporters are getting restless.

Rumours of disagreements between Moyes and technical director Tim Steidten over transfers have added to the malaise, and time is running out. — Olley

16. Everton -48 points

Last season’s final league position: 17
Points behind Man City last season: +53

Who is going to score goals?

If fans hoped Sean Dyche would be able to perform a rebuild of a team that narrowly avoided relegation last season, so far they will have been disappointed. The 38-year-old Ashley Young (free) and Arnaut Danjuma (loan) are the only new faces, while close to £45m has been brought in from the departures of several players, including Moise Kean and Ellis Simms.

Dyche has admitted that he has missed out on a few transfer targets, with El Bilal Toure opting to sign for Serie A side Atalanta. Without addressing their shortage of goals — only Wolves scored fewer last season — and further strengthening, it’s hard to envisage anything other than a season of struggle if they are going to rely on Dominic Calvert-Lewin staying fit. — Johnson

Last season’s final league position: Promoted to Premier League
Points behind Man City last season: N/A

No big spending from the Blades

Few expected Sheffield United to be promoted last season, with the club beset by financial problems to such an extent that the boost of a season in the Premier League might well have saved them from disaster,

Striker Benie Traore (£4m), midfielder Anis Slimane (£2.2m) and United States international Auston Trusty (£5m) are the only permanent additions so far, and there is unlikely to be much more to spend. The failure to get Iliman Ndiaye‘s signature on a new contract is the big negative. The Senegal international, who scored 14 goals last season, had reportedly recorded a video to celebrate his new deal, but he joined Marseille in a £20m move before he put pen to paper on the extension.

The Blades were written off in 2019-20 and then finished ninth, so they will be determined to defy poor predictions again. At the moment, they look well positioned to benefit from problems at other clubs. — Johnson

Last season’s final league position: 16
Points behind Man City last season: +51

Forest still without a No. 1

Forest’s transfer business has, so far, been far less frenzied this summer, with the biggest arrival being Anthony Elanga (£15m) from Manchester United. Former Chelsea right-back Ola Aina (free) has also come in from Torino, but other than that, Forest look weaker than they did at the end of last season. Jesse Lingard has departed on a free transfer, while loanees Dean Henderson, Renan Lodi and Keylor Navas have also gone.

Unless boss Steve Cooper can strike a deal with Man United for Henderson, or persuade Arsenal to loan them Matt Turner, he will start the season with the 36-year-old Wayne Hennessey in goal, and he’s barely played a first-team game in the past four seasons.

It’s going to take a lot of movement before the end of the month if Forest are to be any better than they were last season. — Johnson

Last season’s final league position: 13
Points behind Man City last season: +48

Chequebook closed and Wolves still need new signings

Last season Wolves were the lowest scorers in the Premier League by some distance, with just 31 goals in 38 games; it’s a wonder they weren’t in more relegation trouble. Coach Julen Lopetegui masterminded their survival, but his future is in serious doubt after chairman Jeff Shi penned a letter to Wolves supporters effectively saying there was no more money for new signings this summer.

Matheus Cunha‘s loan move from Atletico Madrid automatically became permanent for a reported £44m, but he could only muster two goals in 17 appearances in the second half of last season. There’s been very little transfer activity to suggest Wolves’ goal-scoring ills have been cured, though young Fabio Silva does return after scoring 11 goals in 34 league appearances on loan at Anderlecht and PSV Eindhoven.

The attacking departures are more notable, with Ruben Neves, Joao Moutinho, Diego Costa and Adama Traore off the books to the tune of around £90m. Wolves appear woefully underprepared, and a lot is needed to prevent a relegation battle. — Johnson

Last season’s final league position: Promoted to Premier League
Points behind Man City last season: N/A

Into the unknown, but can the Hatters be a surprise package?

Luton had to spend around £10m just to make their ground fit for the top flight, and they won’t stretch their finances much more in squad strengthening. But have they got enough to be competitive?

Luton are still recovering from financial problems of a decade ago, so they won’t waste their Premier League riches ahead of their move into a new stadium in two years. For a total outlay of around £15m, Chiedozie Ogbene, Mads Andersen and Ryan Giles have been signed for the future as much as this season, while Marvelous Nakamba‘s loan from Aston Villa has been made permanent.

Don’t expect the outlook to change too much in the next few weeks. — Johnson