Jul 30, 2021
Mark OgdenSenior Writer, ESPN FC
The 2021-22 Premier League season is just two weeks away, with promoted Brentford hosting Arsenal in the first game of the campaign on Friday, Aug. 13, but despite the big kick-off being just around the corner, the leading clubs still have plenty of issues to address before the action gets underway on the pitch.
Manchester United have the early momentum over their rivals so far by completing the £72.9m signing of Borussia Dortmund winger Jadon Sancho and agreeing a £34m deal for Real Madrid defender Raphael Varane, while Liverpool made an early move to trigger Ibrahima Konate's £36m release clause at RB Leipzig. But as the "Big Six" -- United, Liverpool, Chelsea, Manchester City, Arsenal and Tottenham -- prepare for the new season, they all have problems to solve, and some decisions to make on incomings and outgoings.
With the transfer window due to close at 11 p.m. BST on Aug. 31, and every team facing one more month in which to get their business done, what do they all need to do before the market closes until January?
ARSENAL (Last season: 8th place, 61 points)
The deals so far: Mikel Arteta has added Benfica left-back Nuno Tavares (£7.2m) and Anderlecht midfielder Albert Sambi Lokonga (£15.7m) to his squad, while England centre-back Ben White will complete a £50m move from Brighton once the 23-year-old completes a medical.
Yet the Gunners have been busier moving players through the exit door this summer, with Matteo Guendouzi and William Saliba both sealing loans to Marseille, and David Luiz leaving as a free agent. Dani Ceballos, Martin Odegaard (both Real Madrid) and Mat Ryan (Brighton, before moving to Real Sociedad) have all returned to their parent clubs following loan spells at the Emirates last season.
Issues still to address: Midfielder Granit Xhaka remains in talks with AS Roma over a proposed £15m move to Jose Mourinho's team, but no deal has yet been finalised for the Switzerland midfielder. Arsenal are also open to a transfer for Alexandre Lacazette, with the forward now in the final 12 months of his contract and Atletico Madrid interested, while the future of right-back Hector Bellerin remains unclear.
With Arsenal failing to qualify for Europe last season, head coach Arteta is ready to work with a smaller squad than usual due to the reduced fixture workload his team faces in 2021-22. He's also expected to hand the club's youngsters to the opportunity to claim a first-team place, though the club remain in the market for a creative midfielder, with a permanent move for Odegaard and Leicester's James Maddison both prime targets.
A backup goalkeeper to Bernd Leno is also needed, with Sheffield United's Aaron Ramsdale being linked.
Craig Burley and Steve Nicol discuss possible moves Chelsea could make to have a better chance at winning the Premier League.
CHELSEA (Last season: 4th, 67 pts)
The deals so far: Although the European champions moved quickly to hand coach Thomas Tuchel a two-year contract extension following the Champions League final win against Manchester City in May, the club have been quiet in the transfer market. Former Fulham goalkeeper Marcus Bettinelli has arrived on a free transfer to provide competition for Edouard Mendy, but that's it so far.
Olivier Giroud and Fikayo Tomori have left for AC Milan, while Victor Moses has moved to Spartak Moscow -- deals that have raised £32m in transfer fees. Scotland midfielder Billy Gilmour has also left Stamford Bridge on a season-long loan to promoted Norwich.
Issues still to address: Chelsea have made the signing of a proven goal scorer the club's No. 1 priority this summer, and they have a genuine interest in Borussia Dortmund's Erling Haaland. While Haaland has so far shown little interest in leaving the Bundesliga club before a reported £68m release clause becomes active in 2022, Dortmund's determination to keep the Norway international for one more season could be severely tested if Chelsea submit a huge offer for the 21-year-old.
Much depends on owner Roman Abramovich's readiness to sanction a massive bid for Haaland this summer when key rivals have other targets, but with former RB Leipzig striker Timo Werner a potential makeweight in a player-plus-cash deal, it would be foolish to dismiss Chelsea's prospects even though it remains a tough transfer to pull off in this window.
The club are also in talks with Sevilla over 22-year-old centre-back Jules Kounde, sources have told ESPN. The deal could be worth around €70m -- €10m less than Kounde's release clause -- but Chelsea are considering including Kurt Zouma in the deal.
Steve Nicol and Luis Garcia dissect the Premier League favourites and explain where Liverpool lines up among the list.
LIVERPOOL (Last season: 3rd, 69 pts)
The deals so far: France defender Konate is the only major deal done by Liverpool since the end of last season, with midfielder Georginio Wijnaldum leaving for Paris Saint Germain following the expiry of his contract at Anfield.
Liverpool have raised £26m to date with the transfers of Harry Wilson (Fulham), Marko Grujic (Porto) and Taiwo Awoniyi (Union Berlin), while defender Ozan Kabak has returned to Schalke following the end of his six-month loan deal.
Issues still to address: Liverpool's priority is to resolve the contractual situations of several key first-team players, with Fabinho, Mohamed Salah, Sadio Mane, Virgil van Dijk and Jordan Henderson among 13 players who are now in the final two years of their deals.
Fabinho is likely to be the first to be secured to new terms, with Van Dijk, fit again after a cruciate ligament injury, also regarded as a priority. Decisions have to be made over Mane, Salah and Roberto Firmino, while captain Henderson's future is in doubt, with PSG and Atletico Madrid both prepared to move for the 31-year-old if he fails to land a new deal this summer.
Liverpool need to raise funds before making substantial moves, so the likes of Naby Keita, Alex Oxlade-Chamberlain, Divock Origi, Xherdan Shaqiri and goalkeeper Loris Karius could all leave for the right offer. If they manage to get some cash, then a midfielder to replace Wijnaldum could be on the cards, with Brighton's Yves Bissouma and Atletico Madrid's Saul Niguez linked.
Craig Burley says he wouldn't be shocked if Jack Grealish didn't play right away for Man City if he joined.
MAN CITY (Last season: Champions, 86 pts)
The deals so far: The only signing to date has been third-choice goalkeeper Scott Carson, who has completed a free transfer to City following two seasons on loan from Derby. In terms of outgoings, City have raised £34.9m by offloading Angelino (£16.2m to RB Leipzig), Jack Harrison ( £11.5m to Leeds) and Lukas Nmecha (£7.2m to Wolfsburg), while Sergio Aguero and Eric Garcia have left for Barcelona as free agents.
Sources have told ESPN that City are confident that a deal in the region of £100m for Grealish can be done before the start of the season, with Villa having already planned for life without the England player by signing Emi Buendia from Norwich for £33m. But the move for Kane is likely to become a saga that drags on until the end of the transfer window, with Tottenham chairman Daniel Levy refusing to let him go for anything less than £160m -- a figure that City will simply not pay.
City know that Kane wants to move to the Etihad to win trophies but, with three years remaining on his contract at Spurs, negotiating a deal will be extremely tough. A potential compromise could see City agree to pay £100m and then add one or two players to the deal in order to persuade Spurs to do business.
ESPN has reported that City are prepared to part with one of Bernardo Silva, Gabriel Jesus, Benjamin Mendy and Riyad Mahrez to raise funds, with uncertainty also surrounding the future of Raheem Sterling. But with Aguero leaving the club, City need a proven goal scorer and they could yet abandon a move for Kane if they fail to make progress before the final stages of the window. Bayern Munich's Robert Lewandowski is another target, but signing the Poland striker may prove as difficult as landing Kane.
Stewart Robson explains where he thinks Man United need to improve if they are to challenge for the title.
MAN UNITED (Last season: 2nd, 74 pts)
The deals so far: United have led the way in the window so far by sealing deals for Sancho and Varane. Manager Ole Gunnar Solskjaer has also bolstered his goalkeeping options by completing the free transfer signing of former Burnley and Aston Villa No. 1 Tom Heaton.
United have secured Solskjaer to a new long-term contract until 2024, while Juan Mata, Eric Bailly and fourth-choice keeper Lee Grant have also signed new deals. On the outgoing side, youngster Tahith Chong (Birmingham) has moved out on loan, while goalkeepers Sergio Romero and Joel Pereira left at the end of their contracts.
Issues still to address: United are still pursuing Atletico Madrid and England full-back Kieran Trippier and 18-year-old Rennes midfielder Eduardo Camavinga. There is also an interest in Bayern Munich's Leon Goretzka, with United prepared to move for the Germany midfielder if he fails to agree a new deal before it expires next summer.
But before United make further additions to their squad, they will look to raise funds by moving several players out. Jesse Lingard, Brandon Williams, Anthony Martial, Diogo Dalot, Phil Jones, Alex Telles, Andreas Pereira, Daniel James and Axel Tuanzebe are all available for the right offer, but the biggest fee could be for Paul Pogba if the France international generates enough interest.
PSG are reportedly ready to pay £50m for the France midfielder, whose contract expires at Old Trafford next summer. If they can seal a deal for that price, United could end up raising around £100m from outgoings, which would enable them to make late moves to Trippier and Camavinga.
Mark Ogden explains what it will take for Manchester City to acquire Harry Kane from Tottenham this summer.
TOTTENHAM: (Last season: 7th, 62 points)
The deals so far: Winger Bryan Gil has arrived from Sevilla for £21.6m in a player-plus-cash deal that saw Erik Lamela move to the Spanish club in return, while goalkeeper Pierluigi Gollini has arrived on loan from Atalanta.
Juan Foyth (£13.5m to Villarreal) and Toby Alderweireld (Al Duhail) have both moved on, so a new centre-back will be needed, while Danny Rose and Paulo Gazzaniga left as free agents. Gareth Bale has returned to Real Madrid following his season-long loan, while Carlos Vinicius has gone back to Benfica.
While transfer activity has been slow so far, three key pieces of business off the pitch have seen ex-Juventus chief Fabio Paratici arrive as managing director of football, former Wolves manager Nuno Espirito Santo appointed as successor to Jose Mourinho and star forward Son Heung-min sign a new contract until 2025.
Issues still to address: One huge issue continues to dominate the picture at Tottenham, and that is the future of Kane. And until the situation surrounding the 28-year-old centre-forward reaches a conclusion, the uncertainty threatens to impact Spurs' business during the final month of the window.
England captain Kane has made it clear that he wants to leave, but Levy will not allow the player to go unless his £160m valuation is met. If Kane does get his wish to move, Spurs will need to replace their goal scoring talisman -- with Fiorentina's 21-year-old star Dusan Vlahovic linked -- so Levy will have to make a firm decision on his future soon, otherwise he risks the team losing their star player and not having the time to replace him.
When Spurs agreed an £85m move for Bale to Real Madrid in the final hours of the summer transfer window back in 2013, they spent the money on seven players and saw none of them justify the outlay, so they must learn the lessons of that disastrous piece of business. If they don't replace Kane, Spurs will have to keep an unhappy player for another year and miss out on a windfall. Whatever Levy decides to do, the Spurs chairman will find it tough to reach a positive outcome.