Football

Manchester rivals splash the cash in bid to topple Chelsea

Manchester rivals splash the cash in bid to topple Chelsea
Chelsea manager Antonio Conte. Photo: Getty Images
Published: 4:00 AM, August 11, 2017

LONDON – The way Pep Guardiola and Jose Mourinho have been spending, the Premier League trophy should be returning to Manchester in May.

In an off-season that has seen more than £1 billion (S$1.77 billion) invested in players, Mancunian rivals City and United have accounted for more than a third of that spending.

It was the inevitable reaction to feeble title challenges that saw Guardiola’s City finish 15 points behind the victorious Chelsea side in third place and Mourinho’s United drift over the line nine points further south.

If the overhaul of City’s squad, costing over £200 million, does not deliver silverware there will be further uncomfortable questions for the Spaniard, who finished his first season in English football without a single title.

Guardiola has started rebuilding from the back by recruiting fullbacks Benjamin Mendy and Kyle Walker for around £50 million apiece.

In search of goals, United turned to last season’s second-highest scorer. Striker Romelu Lukaku cost at least £75 million, while Mourinho offloaded captain Wayne Rooney to Everton.

Mourinho also convinced former club Chelsea to sell Nemanja Matic to United. A £40 million fee proved too much for Blues owner Roman Abramovich to turn down, even if manager Antonio Conte wanted to retain the midfielder. “Sometimes you must accept this crazy transfer market,” said Conte. “And sometimes you must accept different decisions. But he is a great loss for us.”

The danger for Chelsea is that the harmonious atmosphere re-established by Conte after Mourinho’s bitter departure is eroded. Although Conte has brought in striker Alvaro Morata from Real Madrid, he is finding it hard to sell Diego Costa.

Chelsea had wanted to bring Lukaku back to Stamford Bridge, a transfer thwarted by Mourinho. Despite finishing sixth in the league, Mourinho completed his first season at United with two trophies.

While the League Cup is little regarded, the Europa League provided a ticket into the Champions League – and probably the signature of Lukaku.

It was one of the costliest moves in Europe during a summer transfer window that saw United midfielder Paul Pogba replaced as the most expensive player in football by Neymar, who joined Paris Saint-Germain for €222 million (S$355 million).

“I don’t think we’re going to see that replicated (in England),” said Premier League chairman Richard Scudamore. “And, in some ways, I’m glad it’s not the Premier League holding that particular record.”

Yet, there is set to be a knock-on effect, particularly at Liverpool who appear to have a fight on their hands to retain attacking midfielder Philippe Coutinho as Barcelona look to reinvest some of their Neymar windfall in another Brazilian. Losing such a key player would hamper Juergen Klopp’s hopes of using his second full season at Anfield to show his upbeat demeanour can be matched with silverware.

Arsenal also embark on a new campaign uncertain whether they will hold onto a key member of its squad. Striker Alexis Sanchez, who has been ruled out of tomorrow’s (2.45am Singapore time) opener against Leicester, is in the final season of his contract.

While Arsenal have beefed up their attack with Alexandre Lacazette and brought in burly defender Sead Kolasinac, losing Sanchez would jeopardise their attempt to rejoin the elite. For the first time in 20 years, Arsene Wenger’s side will be missing from the Champions League due to their fifth-place Premier League finish. AP