MANCHESTER, United Kingdom — Bulging squads. Unhappy players. Perhaps a new title favorite. And, of course, Cristiano Ronaldo.
One of the most exciting transfer windows for years has closed, with spending in the Premier League again topping 1 billion pounds (about $1.4 billion) during the pandemic and high-profile players like Ronaldo, Romelu Lukaku, Jack Grealish and Raphael Varane joining new clubs.
It was a 2 1/2-month period that changed the landscape of the league, certainly in terms of the title race but also in highlighting where the power now lies in English soccer.
If Lukaku’s arrival was a game-changer, the deadline-day signing of Saul Niguez from Atletico Madrid was a nice added bonus in a window that might have positioned Chelsea as the team to beat this season.
A prolific striker was the thing missing from last season — even if Thomas Tuchel’s team wound up winning the Champions League — and that was rectified by the purchase of Lukaku for a club-record $135. In the two games he has played, the Belgium international has already shown how much of a difference he can make to Chelsea.
If there was one other area that could be regarded as light, it was central midfield. But Saul’s arriving on a season-long loan gives Tuchel a fourth quality player to rotate with N’Golo Kante, Jorginho and Mateo Kovacic.
Defensively obdurate, powerful in midfield and with Lukaku heading a loaded attack, Chelsea has the deepest and most balanced squad in the league and will be tough to stop.
Like Tuchel, Man United manager Ole Gunnar Solskjaer will have to deal with extra pressure following a transfer window that couldn’t have gone much better.
A center back, a wide forward and a defensive midfielder were the areas where United was lacking and they have fixed two of them in signing Varane, a World Cup-winning defender with France, and England winger Jadon Sancho.
Then, with the sensational return of Ronaldo, United hasn’t just added a player who will guarantee goals but also someone who quickens the pulse and gets fans excited. Certainly the anti-Glazer sentiment toward the owners from last season might quieten somewhat.
How Ronaldo will imbalance the team remains to be seen — his work rate is questionable, even if his influence and pedigree aren’t — and Solskjaer may end up regretting not signing an upgrade on Fred and Nemanja Matic in midfield.
But United will be expected to challenge for the title now. Second place will not be acceptable, even less so a third straight trophyless season under Solskjaer.
Squad rotation and man-management will have to be better than ever by coaches this season. Especially at Chelsea and the two Manchester clubs.
Just look at the attacking players most likely to be left out of Chelsea’s team most weeks: Christian Pulisic, Hakim Ziyech, Timo Werner, and Callum Hudson-Odoi.
At United, Sancho, Marcus Rashford, Anthony Martial and its new emerging star, Mason Greenwood, could easily be fighting over one spot on the wing with Ronaldo likely being the lone striker and Paul Pogba being used increasingly as a left-side attacker.
And at City, the addition of Grealish and Gabriel Jesus’ switch to being a winger leaves Pep Guardiola overloaded with attacking midfield and wide options.
Those three teams will be hoping that going deep in every competition they enter provides game time for big players who are being pushed to the fringes.
“All i wanna do is go where I’m wanted and where I’m gonna play,” read a post on Instagram from Arsenal player Ainsley Maitland-Niles on Monday after a loan move to Everton didn’t come off.
He won’t be the only disgruntled player in the Premier League at the moment.
Guardiola even publicly said last month that Bernardo Silva and two or three other players “want to leave” Man City but didn’t end up doing so. That’s mainly because City was unable to sign Harry Kane, a transfer that would have set off a chain reaction in terms of the club needing to sell players to fund the move.
Ultimately, Kane has stayed at Tottenham for at least this season but comments he made Wednesday while on England duty suggested a lingering sense of unhappiness at not being allowed to move to City.
“I have said before, fans are entitled to their opinion,” Kane said. “Obviously sometimes they don’t get the full story of what’s going on, but from my point of view I have got a clear conscience, and I (have) just got to keep doing what I do.”
Arsenal was one of the six English teams who signed up for the quickly aborted Super League project but the north London club’s transfer strategy signals just how far it has fallen from the country’s elite.
Arsenal was the biggest spender in Europe in the transfer window — at 150 million pounds ($206 million) — but the club appears to have accepted it cannot compete for the same quality of player as Chelsea, City and United. Arsenal is in last place after opening with three losses.
Ben White, Aaron Ramsdale, Martin Odegaard, Takehiro Tomiyasu, Albert Sambi Lokonga and Nuno Tavares are all aged between 21-23 and regarded as promising talents as opposed to anything close to the finished article. It’s a clear shift in strategy and an acceptance by Arsenal’s recruitment team that it cannot shop in the same market as its traditional “Big Six” rivals.
Liverpool, whose only major signing was center back Ibrahima Konate from Leipzig, might even be heading that way.
“We cannot compare to other clubs,” manager Jurgen Klopp said last month, with a nod to Chelsea, City and United. “They obviously have no limits. We have limits. We can’t spend money we don’t have. Others can. We can’t.”