How do Liverpool's Premier League title rivals respond next season?
Chelsea have flexed their financial muscle in the transfer market but Manchester City are entering an uncertain phase
Last Updated: 31/07/20 7:13am
The Premier League trophy finally sits swathed in Liverpool red. It has been such a long wait; false dawns, near misses and years of mediocrity.
But Jurgen Klopp was quick to point out that his search for the most precious prize of them all has been relatively little time in the making under his stewardship.
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"I didn't wait 30 years - I've only been here four and a half years, and we didn't have a chance really before last year," he told Sky Sports.
In his first full season, there were signs of progress, and Klopp acknowledges that his side's dominance has been shaped over time. Liverpool were 10th when he took charge.
It has been quite a rise since then, but the nature of their eventual return to the summit strikes an ominous sound to those now trying to prevent the advent of another red dynasty. Klopp unpicked a masterplan to dethrone Manchester City, and the challengers must now do the same.
Manchester United, City and Chelsea have all managed to retain titles with managers who followed this same mantra, but very few champions do.
It is historically very difficult for a side to defend the trophy, with City becoming the first to win successive league titles for a decade only last year.
During Leicester's miraculous campaign in 2016, Chelsea finished 31 points off the top, but in the following season they won the title by seven points and were 49 points ahead of Leicester. Things can change very quickly, and with football in the midst of a financial crisis, that is the message Klopp will be projecting to his players.
City must begin search for new nucleus
How do City replace David Silva? Manchester City have scored 100+ league goals in a top-flight season for a fifth time, an English record, but who will replace the creative genius of David Silva?
Jamie Carragher told Sky Sports: "I always think of three or four players when I think of City's story - Vincent Kompany, Yaya Toure, Sergio Aguero and David Silva. A lot of their early success was built around those four players, but the difference with Silva is that there haven't been many of his type at the other clubs that have had success.
"We marvel at the likes of Xavi and Iniesta but you don't often see players like that in the Premier League. Silva was different and that's what made him so special. I can't think of many, if any, foreign players like him. When you watch David Silva play, he might lose the ball rarely, but he never gets tackled.
"It's almost like trying to tackle dust, because of his body position and the way he protects the ball. You have to say it's almost impossible to try to replace him."
The club appear to have acted swiftly to secure their first summer target, with Valencia winger Ferran Torres set to arrive as a replacement for Leroy Sane but question marks remain over whether Gabriel Jesus is the long-term successor to Sergio Aguero.
But it is not just in the attacking third where City must seek reinforcements. Klopp has shown there is always room to grow, and with four years remaining on his current Liverpool contract, City must now show they too can bounce back, starting with defensive reinforcements.
City have lost more Premier League games this season than in the past two campaigns combined, and they have shown themselves to be vulnerable in the absence of Aymeric Laporte on the back of Vincent Kompany's departure.
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During Guardiola's first season in 2016/17, City conceded 39 goals as they finished 15 points off champions Chelsea, but the £57m arrival of Laporte the following winter contributed to a vastly improved defensive record. Having shipped just 27 and then 23 goals across the 2017/18 and 2018/19 seasons respectively, the number rose to 35 this time around.
Guardiola could not have envisaged the loss of Laporte for a large chunk of the season, but Nicolas Otamendi has been erratic while John Stones has regressed just when the club were in most need of Kompany's void being filled. Bournemouth defender Nathan Ake has been lined up as the man to improve upon that record after Chelsea failed to activate buy-back clause.
Former City defender Micah Richards told Sky Sports: "City are looking at various players for the summer, but for me they need a leader at the back to play alongside Laporte.
"That's no disrespect to Nicolas Otamendi and John Stones, I'd still have Stones around to try and win back the manager's confidence.
"But just buying a centre-back is not going to solve all the issues. People say (Virgil) van Dijk solved Liverpool's problems, and he did to an extent, but his arrival coincided with the improvement in Trent (Alexander-Arnold) and (Andy) Robertson, and also Alisson arrived.
"But getting a centre-half would help so much in terms of consistency, and to have somebody who understands that position more to drive the team forward."
Chelsea need balance to mount challenge
How far away are Chelsea from being title contenders? They are capable of periods of sustained form but across the course of a season, they may still be a year or two off being genuine rivals to Liverpool's crown.
Displays that have dripped with the joys of youth have been interspersed with occasional naivety against stubborn but less technically adept opponents, as witnessed in the recent 3-2 loss at West Ham and 3-0 defeat at Sheffield United.
Chelsea were consigned to a 12th league loss in their penultimate game at Liverpool - the joint-most in a single campaign in the Roman Abramovich era, equalling the number suffered in 2015/16 when the team finished 10th. No side in the top half of the table conceded more than their 54 goals, the same number as 15th-placed Brighton.
But Chelsea have already been busy and Frank Lampard has admitted qualifying for next season's Champions League will boost Chelsea's recruitment drive this summer, already bolstered by the arrivals of Timo Werner and Hakim Ziyech for a combined £83m.
Lampard insisted his decision to start veteran Willy Caballero ahead of Kepa Arrizabalaga revolved only around the Wolves clash, but the Blues could yet change their goalkeeping situation in the close season.
Asked if reaching the Champions League will make recruitment easier, Lampard said: "In brutal honesty I would say yes. Not to say exactly where that will go, because that's not a conversation today off the back of the game straight away.
"We know that the economics of the Champions League are big, we know that. We know the prestige, top players want to play in the Champions League."
Leverkusen midfielder Kai Havertz could yet join, with Chelsea also weighing up recruiting a new goalkeeper and further defensive reinforcements. Leicester's Ben Chilwell has been strongly linked.
Sky Sports News reporter Kaveh Solhekol said: "In the background there are talks being held and plans being made about their transfer strategy this summer. What Lampard really wants is a new goalkeeper, and he also wants another left-back.
"His No 1 target is Ben Chilwell, but the problem is he has a long-term contract at Leicester and they are under no pressure to sell him. It all depends on what Chilwell himself wants to do.
"Is he going to tell Leicester that he wants to leave and play in the Champions League? Even if he did that, Leicester could turn around and say 'you've got a contract, you're staying where you are'.
"The latest we have on the Kai Havertz deal is significant news for Chelsea supporters is that the player himself is very keen to move to the club. He is almost putting pressure on Leverkusen to do a deal with Chelsea because he wants to play under Frank Lampard."
Willian's future is still uncertain with the Brazilian out of contract after the FA Cup final this weekend, after which point he will decide his future. The club are keen for him to stay but the player's agent Kia Joorabchian says he has offers from five clubs elsewhere.
Can improving Man Utd launch a title assault?
Manchester United endured a 26-year wait between 1967 and 1993 to win a top-flight league title, before the club enjoyed sustained success under Sir Alex Ferguson. That is next challenge facing Ole Gunnar Solskjaer after he guided his side back into the Champions League.
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There were no wild celebrations on the final day after winning the showdown with Leicester. The Norwegian is fully aware that cementing a top-four place is the bare minimum at this club, and the task now is to turn his team into Liverpool's main title contenders.
First and foremost, they must improve the starting XI.
"What Sunday gave Manchester United was an element of peace," Gary Neville told Sky Sports. "At Manchester United you need peace sometimes to be able to grow.
"When Sir Alex Ferguson was building his dynasty, he needed to step up a rung on the ladder each year. In the first couple of years he struggled to do that but then he won an FA Cup, a Cup Winners' Cup and got nearer to the league by finish second, there was that step.
"Solskjaer needs to spend money, but not recklessly. There needs to be a right winger, there needs to be a challenge at centre-forward, at left-back, definitely at goalkeeper and they need a centre-back, a top centre-back who can bring that level of domination to a defence like Virgil van Dijk does at Liverpool, like Vincent Kompany did when Manchester City were winning titles.
"I don't think Harry Maguire hasn't had a good season; I just think he needs a partner. That's not being unfair on Victor Lindelof, who may need a partner as well. He and Maguire are both good defenders, but I think United need a centre-back as well."
There certainly needs to be competition for David de Gea, who has made seven errors leading to goals since the start of the 2019/19 season.
Dean Henderson has excelled across a two-year loan spell with Sheffield United but Solskjaer may consider Sergio Romero to be an able deputy for another year to allow the Englishman another season to develop with regular football at Bramall Lane.
Jadon Sancho could be the man to fill one of those transfer slots needed in Neville's eyes to take United onto the next level.
The club are growing increasingly confident a deal can be done with Borussia Dortmund for the transfer of Sancho after cooling interest in Jack Grealish.
Discussions for Sancho centre around the transfer fee and structure of payments. It is understood personal terms will not be an issue. Solskjaer has previously stated he would welcome the return of Alexis Sanchez, but offloading the Chilean to make way for Sancho would align itself with the club's transfer strategy.
The 31-year-old's wages could prove the biggest obstacle to any sale, and while Sanchez improved towards the end of his loan spell at Inter Milan, the younger Sancho has enjoyed another prolific season in Germany.
Sky Sports News reporter Kaveh Solhekol said: "Jadon Sancho is Manchester United's No 1 transfer target this summer. Borussia Dortmund are prepared to sell him because he has just two years left on his contract. He would like to come back and play in England but the big problem is the valuation of the player.
"Dortmund are asking for around £110m - that is more than 10 times the amount Dortmund paid Manchester City for him just three years ago. There's no way United are going to pay anything like £110m so a compromise will need to be reached.
"Our information is that United are the only club who are in talks with Dortmund to sign him so they are in their right to ask why they should pay £110m when they are the only club trying to sign him. It is our understanding that all parties are confident that a deal can be done for Sancho to become a United player this summer."
The summer transfer window will run for 10 weeks from July 27 and close at 11pm on October 5.
A domestic-only window for trades between the Premier League and EFL then runs from October 5 and closes on Friday October 16 at 5pm. Follow all the news and analysis on Sky Sports News and across Sky Sports' digital platforms, including with our dedicated Transfer Centre blog.