Year Zero for the Premier League's top five

Michael Regan

Manchester United, Manchester City, Chelsea, Arsenal and Tottenham Hotspur are about to embark on summers that will leave them vastly different teams to the previous year, as the Premier League changes beyond recognition.

As the big clubs in the Premier League wait with full pockets for the first big transfer to drop before engaging in a frenzied race to hurl money at anything Iberian with nice eyes and shiny hair, we'll be seeing the conclusion of a long-held prophecy. Even before Alex Ferguson called time on his reign, it had long been known that this would be one of the biggest and most important summers for many years, but it now appears even the most bombastic predictions were underselling it. At the top end at least, it appears the Premier League is going back to Year Zero.

At Manchester United, the most obvious sign that the times have changed may come with Ferguson's retirement, but with him should go the old structural flaws of his last uncompleted side. Arguably, United have the most room in which to improve, and a functional midfield would improve them immensely, let alone a dominant one. In terms of playing style, the addition of a couple of players will be all David Moyes needs to be at the helm of a radically different side from the one that finished as champions last year.

Manchester City had no on-field structural problems, but an apparently mental weakness and tactical naivety prevented them from progress in Europe and made them surrender the title without a fight. Manuel Pellegrini's introduction as manager should correct much of that, with a remarkable recent Champions League run to his name and experience of negotiating a potentially toxic dressing-room.

Over at Chelsea, there will be not one, but two significant upgrades: the replacement of the hapless Rafael Benitez with a newly-enraged José Mourinho after being spurned by United. In addition, they will fix their own midfield structural problems, and likely add a world-class striker. That trio of reasons is why they will probably enter the next season as favourites.

The real elites aren't the only ones changing, either. Tottenham Hotspur should, at last, find room to give Andre Villas-Boas the chance to stamp his own identity on the team. Last year's campaign was a rather cobbled-together affair out of the unwanted and unneeded players at his disposal, whose last-day loss of fourth place was only made a failure by virtue of how close they came. Even if Gareth Bale leaves, it will be for the sort of fee that, sensibly reinvested, will see them emerge a stronger team regardless, and lose their striking and playmaking black holes.

Finally, at Arsenal, Arsene Wenger's long game is nearing its conclusion, with enough money finally being released in order to build a new team. Whether Wenger has it in him to do that is open to question, but his recent purchases have been an extremely mixed bag, his deployment of them on the field would have been peerless were it not for Ferguson. If he can do for the likes of Gonzalo Higuain and Marouane Fellaini what he did for Olivier Giroud and Mikel Arteta then there is every reason to believe that an Arsenal renaissance is imminent.

What all this means is that it is next to impossible to judge what will happen in next year's campaign, before or after signings have been concluded. Each of the top five teams last year had an identity which was as much to do with their achilles' heels than any virtue or talisman, and now all of the weaknesses will be gone, to be inevitably replaced with newer ones at some point that will accompany the specific foibles of the new managers.

The top three clubs may have been the only ones of the five to replace their coaches, but if André Villas-Boas was managing someone elses team, and Arsene Wenger making do with bargain-basement journeymen, the effect will be the same at both North London clubs too. It is as if they all decided to rip it up and start again, and reshuffle the pack in the hope of finding something new. Many of those in the know will have claims of varying legitimacy to know how the summer will pan out, but there isn't anyone who knows what the ultimate results will be.

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