Wednesday, October 28, 2020
Home Football Signings could open up title race - Shearer

Signings could open up title race – Shearer

Match of the Day

Alan Shearer joins Gary Lineker and Ian Wright on Match of the Day at 22:20 BST on Saturday on BBC One and the BBC Sport website for highlights of four Premier League games. You can also listen to Shearer previewing the new season from 12:00-12:25 on Saturday on BBC Radio 5 Live, which then has live commentary of Crystal Palace v Southampton at 15:00, the first of its 140 Premier League commentaries in 2020-21.

Here he looks at the contenders in the title race, and the prospects for his former club Newcastle.

It is only 42 days since the FA Cup final so it doesn’t really feel as if we have been away, but we are off again with the first Match of the Day of the season on Saturday – and I can’t wait.

This is just the start of a fascinating few months and the Premier League title race is going to be far closer than it was last time out, when Liverpool had it sewn up by Christmas.

I have gone with Manchester City to be champions this time, but it is very hard to make predictions now about what will happen as the transfer window does not close until 5 October.

If anyone needs any evidence of what a huge difference a signing or two can make, they need look no further than Bruno Fernandes at Manchester United.

I need to be ‘much better’ before Cantona comparisons – Fernandes

When he joined United at the end of January, they had just been booed off at Old Trafford after losing to Burnley – their fourth defeat in seven matches. If I’d said then that United would go on a 17-game unbeaten run, I would have been laughed out of the studio.

But Fernandes’ arrival transformed the whole team, not just by his own skill and ability to find a killer pass, but because his presence seemed to add an extra 10% to every other United player too.

That kind of impact is what every team wants from the signings they have already made this summer – or the ones they hope are still to come.

‘There are still questions over City’s defence’

I thought Liverpool would have been more active already in terms of signing squad players but there is still time for that to happen, as well as strong talk about them getting Bayern Munich midfielder Thiago Alcantara.

He would be an excellent buy. It would take some player to join Liverpool and go straight into their starting XI and improve them, but he would if they can get him.

Klopp defends Liverpool’s lack of transfer activity

When I talk about game-changing transfers, though, nothing compares to how special it would have been to have seen Lionel Messi in the Premier League.

It’s a real shame he didn’t come to Manchester City for whatever reason. Instead, Pep Guardiola will have to crack on with just the firepower of Sergio Aguero, Gabriel Jesus and Raheem Sterling, which is going to be tough for him!

Seriously, though, I am expecting a big reaction from City as they try to win the title back.

The big question over Guardiola’s side is still about their defence, and we will have to wait to see if they have put it right. They simply have to improve there, but I am expecting them to spend more money in order to do it.

Aymeric Laporte, who missed so much of last season, is fit again and Nathan Ake is a good signing – but I can understand why they are still being linked with more reinforcements in that department.

Snapshot showing top of the Premier League: 1st Liverpool, 2nd Man City, 3rd Man Utd, 4th Chelsea, 5th Leicester, 6th Tottenham
Liverpool finished 18 points clear of second-placed City last season, and 33 points ahead of Manchester United and Chelsea

Can Chelsea or Man Utd challenge too?

City are not the only team who will think they are capable of closing the gap on Liverpool. Chelsea have spent £200m already, so it is clear what their intentions are.

Frank Lampard had a very positive first season in charge given the circumstances, with the club under a transfer embargo, but now they have splashed the cash, the expectation level changes.

Suddenly his target goes from hoping they can get in the top four, to a demand that they challenge for the title. You don’t spend that sort of money otherwise but, while I am sure they will improve, I still think winning the league will be beyond them.

Chelsea's Hakim Ziyech, Kai Havertz, Ben Chilwell and Thiago Silva
Chelsea agreed a deal with Hakim Ziyech in February and have continued their spending with Kai Havertz, Ben Chilwell and Thiago Silva, splashing out a total of around £200m on six major signings during this transfer window

United, too, will be looking up the table after their great run to finish third, but bettering that finish is going to be extremely hard for them as things stand.

I’m not sure they have the depth to sustain a challenge, although I’m expecting one or two more signings to go with Donny van de Beek and if Jadon Sancho is one of them I could understand if their fans started getting excited.

United are going to be good to watch even if they don’t get Sancho, but I am really interested to see how their goalkeeping situation plays out because we could see a real battle to be number one between David de Gea and Dean Henderson.

Gossip: Can Man Utd sign Jadon Sancho & Jack Grealish this summer?

Are Newcastle on the up, at last?

1. Man City 2. Liverpool 3. Chelsea 4. Man Utd

The title race is really between Liverpool and City, but the fight for the top four is going to be interesting in itself. Lots of teams will fancy it.

Leicester and Wolves will be up there again and I’m not discounting Tottenham, either. They will be better organised than last season and, in Matt Doherty and Pierre-Emile Hojbjerg, Jose Mourinho has made a couple of very astute signings even though they are not necessarily glamour buys.

Arsenal are another team that seem to be going places, and you cannot help but be impressed by what Mikel Arteta has done since he took charge at the end of last year.

He has won the FA Cup and now the Community Shield and, when you watch his side, you can see they look a lot tighter and are a proper unit when they face the top teams.

It’s not just signings that can change the whole mood of a club, though. Keeping a player can be massive and what might be key for the Gunners and where they go from here is what happens next with their star striker Pierre-Emerick Aubameyang.

The Arsenal fans are sitting and waiting, desperate for Aubameyang to sign his new deal. I know he’s got a year left on his contract but it would be a major boost if he committed his future to the club.

As for my old team Newcastle, well we are not going to be in the mix for the Champions League places but there have been some signs that things are possibly on the up at last.

Split pic of Callum Wilson and Ryan Fraser holding up Newcastle shirts
Callum Wilson (left) and Ryan Fraser have both arrived at Newcastle from relegated Bournemouth. The Magpies have also signed midfielder Jeff Hendrick after he left Burnley and Norwich defender Jamal Lewis

The signings that Steve Bruce has made so far are definitely encouraging – we desperately needed a goalscorer but buying Callum Wilson has covered that off. He is a player I think highly of and he is capable of scoring the goals to keep us out of another relegation battle.

Our top league scorer last season was a midfielder, Jonjo Shelvey, with six goals so it was pretty obvious that our attack was somewhere we needed to improve. Ryan Fraser will help in that area too.

Callum is 28 and a proven Premier League goalscorer – he was valued at around £30-40m a few years ago but Newcastle have got him for £20m, which is a steal. If he hits form he might just get back in the England squad too – I hope so anyway.

He contacted me before he joined to ask about the club and the area. As you can imagine, I was very positive about it all.

In fact, I would have given him a lift up to St James’ Park to sign his contract, if he’d wanted one!

Alan Shearer was speaking to BBC Sport’s Chris Bevan.

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