Although no player in the current United squad is a stranger to the pressures of being a perennial Premier League title contender, Jose Mourinho’s men will need to be on top form to wrest the title back across Manchester. Currently, attacking midfielder Fred is the only signing of note, and with an ever-widening gap between the last two seasons’ top six, United will once more be required to fend off improved versions of their elite peers.
With City seemingly hell-bent on taking the first step towards matching United’s tally of three European Cups (including two Champions League titles), links between the club and Riyadh Mahrez have resurfaced. So too have links to Jorginho, who was a good all-rounder in midfield for Napoli throughout a title race with Juventus that went to the wire.
Both men boast ample experience of title races, and sadly, it seems as though United’s mortal rivals will only get better. Nonetheless, the stunning nature of United’s 3-2 derby win at the Etihad Stadium in April shows just how fallible Pep Guardiola’s men can be when fighting on multiple fronts, especially at the business end of a European campaign.
“Turin, tur-out!” – Mario Mandzukic is one player that was mooted by the Express on 5 July as a potential United target, after Cristiano Ronaldo appeared to snub United in favour of Juventus.
In keeping with his reputation, Unai Emery is not doing half-measures ahead of his first season in Ashburton Grove, signing three players already. As of 6 July, Arsenal are the only club in the top six of 2016-18 with odds against across the board at bookmakers, such as Betway, which offer specific odds for a team to finish in the top four. They’re around 11/4 to secure Champions League football. The Spaniard, it seems, was born to breed winning squads, with target Steven N’Zonzi an integral part of the Sevilla squad that once dominated the Europa League under Emery. Indeed, as reported in the Metro, early July saw N’Zonzi hand in a transfer request to ‘speed up’ his reunion with Emery.
In the opinion of some, the signing of N’Zonzi would add the sort of steel missing from Arsenal’s midfield since Patrick Vieira captained Arsenal to a famous season of invincibility in 2003/04 – but little else. Though Emery is expected to improve upon the sixth-place finish of his predecessor’s final season, it is hard to see which of the other clubs in the ‘elite’ segment of the Premier League can fall far enough to replace them. Current odds reflect a work in progress, with fifth – perhaps – par for the Arsenal course at this time.
Fresh off the back of a Champions League final, the reds of Merseyside stand out as particularly capable of improving on their finish of 2018. New signings Rafinha and Naby Keita have shown their worth in early training sessions at Melwood. In reaching the Champions League final, and proving that Virgil Van Dijk is the real deal at the back, United will need to be wary if they are to defy current expectations that the two North West rivals – with a history spanning back 124 years – will swap places.
Across the board, the average odds in ‘top four’ prediction markets (as they stand in July 2018) assert that this scenario will unfold. Though the men from Anfield have improved defensively this calendar year, the Champions League final is a perfect illustration as to why Liverpool FC remain far from ‘title material’ under Jurgen Klopp. The Merseysiders are a worthy threat in the looming title race, but a title-winning goalkeeper worthy of the jersey once worn by Grobbelaar (and Clemence) remains elusive.
The latest outright odds and top four odds for the 2018/19 Premier League season – correct as of 6 July 2018.
In winning the FA Cup semi-final against Tottenham this year, United may well have set a precedent to swoop for Tottenham’s top English talents, with the London club’s trophyless run continuing into an eleventh year. Such talents, of course, include Kieran Trippier, Eric Dier Dele Alli and Kane himself. None of them appear to have unlimited patience when it comes to waiting for silverware, and ex-Lilywhite Kyle Walker’s transfer to Manchester City last summer is testament to that.
Dier, in particular, has seen his stock rise, albeit in somewhat reactionary fashion, having (as recalled by BBC Sport) recently become the man to end twenty-two years of penalty hurt for England. However, the likelihood is that players given a chance to prove themselves by Pochettino will, in turn, almost certainly give their manager at least one more year. This makes it difficult to foresee Tottenham’s hold on the top four disappearing in the short term.
Ultimately, the situations at other clubs suggest that a seismic shift, which could put United’s credentials for a podium finish in jeopardy, is unlikely. Now set to embark on his third season at the Old Trafford helm, Mourinho and his charges know what is at stake.