Premier League top four hopefuls primed for tight race


Desperate to close the gap on Manchester City and Liverpool at the top of the Premier League, Chelsea, Tottenham, Arsenal and Manchester United have spent the close season aggressively pursuing new recruits with varying degrees of success.

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All four have little margin for error if they have any hope of challenging champions City and perennial contenders Liverpool in the title race.

But even if the top two are eliminated once more, expect another tight race for the final two lucrative spots in the Champions League.

A look at how the battle for the top four is shaping up.

Chelsea

Charged with ensuring Chelsea’s new era gets off to a flying start, Blues boss Thomas Tuchel has shown signs of feeling the heat during his club’s hectic summer.

With former owner Roman Abramovich’s lieutenants sidelined as part of a housecleaning at Stamford Bridge, Tuchel took on more responsibility as the German worked with new co-owner Todd Bohly to revamp his squad.

First impressions were mixed, with Bohly flirting with a move for Cristiano Ronaldo before Tuchel lingered over the prospect of handling the volatile Manchester United star.

Raheem Sterling became Chelsea’s first signing of the Bohly era following his £47.5 million ($57.8 million) move from Manchester City, but the England international is the only addition to the attack as Tuchel looks set to start the season without a natural striker after Romelu. Lukaku was sent back to Inter Milan on loan.

Instead, Chelsea are focused on replacing lost centre-backs Antonio Rudiger and Andreas Christensen, who joined Real Madrid and Barcelona respectively on free transfers.

The Blues paid £33million for Napoli’s Kalidou Koulibaly and are said to be close to a £50million deal for Brighton’s Marc Cucurella.

Tuchel is also growing frustrated with Cesar Azpilicueta, Marcos Alonso, Timo Werner and Hakim Ziyech, questioning his squad’s commitment in an angry tirade following Chelsea’s 4-0 defeat to Arsenal in pre-season.

Manchester United

Erik ten Hague’s first pre-season as United manager was overshadowed by Ronaldo’s demands to leave Old Trafford.

The studious ten Hague is said to have impressed his team with his attention to detail and intensive training sessions since arriving from Ajax in May.

But the Dutchman’s ability to lift United from the depths of their disappointing sixth-place finish last season will depend on how he handles the fallout from the Ronaldo bombshell.

The Portugal striker wants to join a club in the Champions League and missed United’s pre-season tour of Thailand and Australia for “family reasons”.

Losing a player with Ronaldo’s lethal instincts in front of goal is not how Ten Hague would have liked to start his time in Manchester, but he will ultimately feel that the departure of such a demanding superstar will be a sum by minus.

Adding to Ten Hague’s woes, United have found it impossible to land their top target – Barcelona midfielder Frankie de Jong.

Instead, they have settled for Denmark midfielder Christian Eriksen, Argentina’s Lisandro Martinez – the Premier League’s shortest centre-back at 5ft 9in – and Dutch left-back Tyrrell Malacia.

A return to the top four cannot be guaranteed against such a troubled backdrop.

Tottenham and Arsenal

In north London, Tottenham and Arsenal are engaged in a fierce arms race after their battle for domestic supremacy reached a dramatic conclusion last season.

Tottenham knocked Arsenal out of the top four in the final game of the season after Mikel Arteta’s side bounced back, including a 3-0 win over the Gunners.

Antonio Conte’s response to achieving what he described as a “miracle” in qualifying for the Champions League was to demand Tottenham chairman Daniel Levy loosen the purse strings, a request that has so far signed Richarlison, Yves Bissoma, DJ Spence, Evans. Perisic and Fraser Forster.

Arsenal have bounced back from the bitter disappointment of how last season ended by splashing out over £100 million in new signings.

Arteta lashed out at Brazilian striker Gabriel Jesus and his old club Manchester City Ukraine Defender Oleksandr Zinchenko in a deal worth a combined £75 million.

Fabio Vieira, a £34 million signing from Porto, is heralded as a potential future star.

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