Liverpool: –£60 million net spend
Thiago Alcantara, UEFA Champions League winner. He came on at halftime for his debut against Chelsea and promptly broke the modern Premier League record for most completed passes in a half, all for £27 million.
Signing 29-year-olds is a double-edged sword. There’s limited future resale value, but if the player is guaranteed to improve the quality of a side, all is moot. If Liverpool can complete the cherry on top by shipping midfielder Gini Wijnaldum to Barcelona for a similar fee, consider it job done.
Throw in 23-year-old Diogo Jota, a £41 million signing from the Wolverhampton Wanderers who’s not going to demand a spot in the first 11 but can certainly grow into the role in the future — that’s a coup. For a team thought to be penniless, they’ve emerged as serious threats to retain their Premier League crown.
Chelsea: –£152.4 million net spend
Kai Havertz. Timo Werner. Thiago Silva. Hakim Ziyech. Ben Chilwell. Édouard Mendy. Malang Sarr.
Considering the influx of talent, the net spend seems like a robbery, but a closer inspection reveals the £59.2 million sale of Alvaro Morata (a similar fee to which he was bought for) and the £22 million signing of Mendy comes because £75 million Kepa Arrizabalaga was, well, the worst goalkeeper in the Premier League.
Whether Frank Lampard and his tactical naivety can get the most out of this talented squad is the wild card. Will Ross Barkley and Mason Mount start over their more talented and more expensive international teammates? Will Werner be stuck on the wing? And will Andres Christensen continue to start at center-half? Stay tuned.
Manchester United: –£34.7 million net spend
That fee amounts to one signing: talented Dutch midfielder Donny van de Beek from AFC Ajax. Despite clear holes on the wing, center-half and at deep-lying midfield, United signed a hybrid 6/8.
Van de Beek is fine and will improve squad depth. But with this team stuck playing a 4–2–3–1 with Bruno Fernandes at the 10 and Paul Pogba sitting deep, you need a capable destroyer cleaning up. He didn’t come.
The team will start starlet Mason Greenwood on the wing and have Daniel James and Juan Mata as depth. Jadon Sancho was deemed “too expensive.” Was he? This is United’s lowest summer spend in years. Sancho wanted to, but he too didn’t come.
A center-back was needed, and he didn’t come either. Neither did cover at left-back for the oft-injured Luke Shaw, and he didn’t come (they are in talks with Porto left-back Alex Telles).
True to form, United got outscored from a shot-based expected goals (XG) perspective 4.9–2.9 to relegation candidates Crystal Palace and Brighton. How much should the onus fall on manager Ole Gunnar Solskjear versus Ed Woodward and the board?
FC BARCELONA: +£29.1 million net spend
Barcelona is stumbling drunk at the bar. Heavily intoxicated, they rely on positive reassurance of those around them and claim responsibility for the past glory days. Well, the Barcelona board, at least.
That’s because the one player responsible for more silverware than an oligarch’s safe was obligated to stay solely on the premise of legal gymnastics. Here’s the skinny: forward Lionel Messi recently added a clause in his contract that allows him to leave on a free every June — and then promptly expires. This gives the diminutive forward a chance, in a normal season, to assess the composition of Europe’s elite in wake of the Champions League Final.
COVID-19 threw a legal monkey wrench into this process: Despite getting walloped 8–2 to eventual champions Bayern Munich on Aug. 14, Barcelona’s board pulled out the COVID-19 loophole. The clause, technically, had expired by August. Thus, Messi is left with his £700 million transfer fee, an absurd tally that more than triples the current European record. Considering Messi is 33, this is simply a pill that clubs backed with the spending powers entire Gulf States (Manchester City) couldn’t even swallow.
So Barcelona decides to tow the line: We’ll keep Messi for another season instead of selling for a cut-down fee now, and we’ll offload every other 30-plus player on the books. Talisman Luis Suarez was deemed surplus and went to Athletico for £5.5 million, midfielder Ivan Rakitic returned to Sevilla for £1.4 million and destroyer Arturo Vidal went to Inter Milan for under a million pounds.
On the other end, they’ve brought in some talented youngsters: Pedri (17 years old) from Las Palmas, Francisco Trincão (20 years old) from Braga and Matheus Fernandes (22 years old) from Palmeries for under £40 million, which represents great business. But they’re not ready to contribute right away.
Barcelona have completely ignored the Goldilocks zone for age ranges in recent seasons: Players are either too old and have little resale value (Suarez, Rakitic, Sergio Busquets) or too young (Ansu Fati, Trincão, Riqui Puig). The players supposedly in their prime (Antoine Griezmann, Philippe Coutinho and Ousmane Dembele) cost over €350 million combined and have 55 goals in 201 games between them.
Not good enough. This is why Barcelona will finish outside of the top two in La Liga this season.