A week is all that remains from the end of the long football hiatus. The new Premier League season dawns and so analysis of the top sides’ teams will undoubtedly begin – of first-team quality and squad depth. Brendan Rodgers’ new-look Liverpool side will have to eclipse one of Chelsea, Manchester City, Arsenal or Manchester United if they are to get into the top four. First up, it is the defensive personnel.
First Choice United 10, Chelsea 10, Arsenal 8.5, City 8, Liverpool 7
Right off the back, the Reds are definitely lagging behind in this department. Belgian Simon Mignolet may have recovered his form in the second half of the season, but in terms of quality, he still lags behind all of the top four’s first choice goalkeepers – especially as Arsenal now have Petr Cech in goal.
mignolet has a long way to go to reach de gea’s standard
The number one spot for No.1s is definitely between United’s David De Gea and Chelsea’s Thibaut Courtois, and the former just edges it seeing how his saves almost single-handedly propelled the Red Devils to 4th. Some way behind, Arsenal’s new man Cech is also only just ahead of City’s English international Joe Hart, due to the Czech’s superior experience. Unfortunately, Mignolet is not only behind these four top goalkeepers, but is also arguably the sixth best goalkeeper in the league – with Tottenham Hotspur’s Hugo Lloris ahead.
Back-up Chelsea 7.5, Arsenal 7, United 6, City 6, Liverpool 5
Depth-wise, Chelsea looks to be in safe hands with their new arrival Asmir Begovic from Stoke. Arsenal’s back-up David Ospina did end last season as first-choice, only for the arrival of Cech. Another new goalkeeping recruit Sergio Romero bolsters United’s goalkeeping options, while last season’s signing Willy Caballero provides a decent option at the Etihad. Liverpool ranks last yet again, with fellow new recruit Adam Bogdan at least an upgrade in this area. Notably, United are well-stocked in this area with fringe goalie Anders Lindegaard in reserve as well.
First Choice Chelsea 8, Arsenal 8, United 6.5, City 6.5, Liverpool 6
Defending champions Chelsea had the second best defensive record last season, and this was undoubtedly due to their first choice centre-back partnership John Terry and Gary Cahill. Arsenal’s relatively steady second half of the campaign that culminated in their successful defence of the FA Cup was also due to their pairing of Per Mertesacker and Laurent Koscielny.
last year’s star pairing in defence
A long way behind are United’s duo of Chris Smalling and Marcos Rojo who provided enough balance and steel, despite the plethora of centre-back combinations deployed by Louis Van Gaal. City’s pairing of captain Vincent Kompany and new signing Nicolas Otamendi just shades Liverpool’s Martin Skrtel and Dejan Lovren.
Back-ups Arsenal 6.5, Liverpool 6.5, Chelsea 6, United 6, City 5.5
Arsenal probably have the optimal number of centre-backs of sufficient quality, with defender Gabriel and utility man Calum Chambers. Chelsea do have a young and quick centre-half in Kurt Zouma, though in an injury crisis would require either right-back Branislav Ivanovic to play centrally. The poor first season Dejan Lovren suffered and the ageing Kolo Toure does pull Liverpool’s ranking down, though they might still have a surprise package in Tiago Ilori. United should be well-stocked with Phil Jones and Jonny Evans, however both are still yet to convince after several seasons at Old Trafford. City’s back-ups in Elaqium Mangala, Martin Demichelis and youngster Jason Denayer will have much to prove when called upon.
First Choice Chelsea 9, Liverpool 8, City 7, Arsenal 7, United 6
Chelsea’s Branislav Ivanovic was last year’s outstanding right-back, and deservedly so, but Liverpool’s new signing Nathaniel Clyne, on last season’s form, is very close behind. Pablo Zabaleta of City has suffered a decline in recent seasons, but is still a very solid option for Pellegrini. Last year’s breakthrough star Hector Bellerin has pace to burn, helping him recover quickly when necessary, while United’s makeshift right-back Antonio Valencia does a decent enough job.
clyne is superior to wenger’s trio of right-backs, but gomez have much to do
Back-ups Arsenal 6.5, City 6, United 5, Liverpool 3, Chelsea 3
Arsenal can call upon the experienced Mathieu Debuchy, who could count himself unlucky after his long-term injury at the start of his Gunners’ career. Ex-Arsenal man Bacary Sagna is a solid if not unspectacular option to Zabaleta at City, while new signing Matteo Darmian will only need to prove he is a solid enough right-back to become first choice at Old Trafford. Liverpool’s own new boy Joe Gomez is still young and very inexperienced, but has all the attributes to do well. Chelsea might have a problem should the ever-reliable Ivanovic break down, with Zouma likely to fill in at right-back.
Chelsea 9, Arsenal 7, City 7, United 5, Liverpool 5
Yet again, Chelsea dominates this area with the highly dependable, right-footed Cesar Azpilicueta filling in at left-back, further proving how their rearguard dragged the Blues across the finishing line (yes Rodgers, please take note). Arsenal’s Kieran Gibbs and City’s Aleksander Kolarov are quite far behind, but both are better known for their forays forward than defensive stability. United’s Luke Shaw and Liverpool’s Alberto Moreno, both signed last year, are still young and face career-defining seasons on the back of mixed starts at their new clubs.
rodgers can only look towards wenger’s left-backs with envy
Arsenal 6.5, City 6.5, Liverpool 5, United 5, Chelsea 4.5
Arsenal have quality in reserve, in the shape of Spaniard Nacho Monreal, while City’s former Gunner Gael Clichy is a speedy option. Liverpool’s Jon Flanagan, when/if fit and firing, is defensively very sound. United’s reserve options are a combination of midfielder Daley Blind or centre-back Marcos Rojo, while Chelsea will likely rotate both full-backs with their signing of Augsburg’s Baba Rahman.
As expected, defending champions’ Chelsea has the best defensive ratings, which reflected their route to the title last season. Interestingly, last year’s runners-up Manchester City scored worse than third placed Arsenal. The Citizens’ poor backline was fortunately bailed out by their attacking talents like David Silva and Sergio Aguero, while the Gunners’ defensive solidarity still saw them lose vital points, a fine example in their home defeat to United.
As for Liverpool, their poor defending in the first-half of the season and at the tail end of the campaign were also evident in these ratings, and the Reds, under the overly-offensive Brendan Rodgers, will have to find a way to improve on his defence if they are to break into the top four next season.
Do check out part II for the personnel in the middle and final third!