Manchester United have been warned about their biggest threat next season
There is one club in the Premier League who appear to have missed the memo about the transfer market going into meltdown as football deals with the changing landscape of its finances.
Financial reports, club executives and league bosses have all warned that this summer will be a transfer window like never before, where the era of multi-million-pound deals being finalised on an almost daily basis will end, at least temporarily, as clubs count the cost of a significant dip in revenue.
Most clubs will still seek to be active, but the financial fallout from the coronavirus-enforced suspension to the season means the idea of a successful window at most clubs has changed.
That’s certainly the case at Manchester United, who might now struggle to get all of their top targets over the line. It may come down to a choice between Jadon Sancho and Jack Grealish, whereas four months ago the intention would have been to sign both.
But in west London the message doesn’t seem to have got through. Chelsea had already confirmed a deal to sign Hakim Ziyech from Ajax before the COVID-19 out
The Blues are happy to pay Timo Werner’s release clause to RB Leipzig and are likely to wrap that deal up once the Bundesliga season ends, and it looks like Leicester City left-back Ben Chilwell is next on the wishlist.
Chelsea have also been backed into second favourites – behind Bayern Munich – to sign Kai Havertz from Bayer Leverkusen and they continue to be linked with a move for Sancho as well, which will be a particular concern to United.
While other clubs are pulling out of deals or reassessing their options, Chelsea are upping the ante. If they continue to push ahead with some of these deals it might begin to resemble the early years of the Roman Abramovich era, yet the irony is those days looked to be over until the last couple of months.
Abramovich’s visa dispute with the British government means he is no longer the physical presence at Stamford Bridge and at Chelsea games that he once was. A reduction in Chelsea’s transfer market spending looked like a hint that the club were no longer going to be as aggressive in their dealings, but there is a sense now they see this as an opportunity to capitalise.
The battle between Chelsea and United for fourth place in the Premier League is going to be one of the subplots of the season’s return this week and the outcome could set a trend for next season.
While for both clubs the ultimate aim is to reel in Liverpool, who look likely to keep their powder dry in the window this summer, and Manchester City, who are likely to spend, but United and Chelsea will be competing with each other to climb that ladder back to the top.
It might be that both have what they would do seem a successful transfer window this summer and pull away into an established top four once again, but the reality is Tottenham will expect improvement under Jose Mourinho and Arsenal the same under Mikel Arteta. That’s before we consider Leicester City, currently in third place and no doubt desperate to show next season they can become regular members of a ‘top seven’.
Chelsea’s rediscovered financial muscle might well have all of these clubs on edge. While spending is no guarantee of success, as United have found out in the previous seven years, it can still be a considerable advantage, especially when circumstances are causing your rivals to cut their cloth.
This season United and Chelsea have been on similar trajectories, with young sides on a learning curve under managers with glittering playing CVs at Old Trafford and Stamford Bridge, in Ole Gunnar Solskjaer and Frank Lampard, but not the managerial record to entirely convince yet.
While United started slowly and have picked up a head of steam, Chelsea began the season well but were beginning to struggle when the campaign was halted.
United have won the personal duel this season, winning all three fixtures, and it could be a simmering rivalry once again, but the aggression the London club have shown in the transfer market so far has certainly fired a warning to their rivals.