Unless you’re in the winning country, it takes about two days for the World Cup attention to fade. Once fanatics and analysts realize that there won’t be any meaningful soccer for the next month, they begin staring at every European club’s transfer moves.
Where better to gaze, then, than the Barclays Premier League where the news is succulent and more enthralling than the top-heavy La Liga and Bundesliga? Liverpool FC’s speedy biter is gone, Manchester United FC try to right their dreams, and Arsenal FC are suddenly spenders—it’s entertainment galore.
But despite everyone else’s moves, Manchester City FC still are—oh yes, that cheesy moniker—the team to beat in the Premier League.
…well, as long as the transfer window doesn’t decide to pull a Man City and snatch away one of their prized stars, a.k.a. the reinvigorated powerhouse Yaya Toure.
That shouldn’t be translated into a bogus claim that City are no longer a good club. The balance the Citizens possess is the best in all the Premier League. Despite how close the EPL race was last season, and despite City only being top of the table for days, no club looked more deadly, more in-form, and less likely to fall apart than City. They allowed 37 goals in 38 league matches and scored one more goal than Liverpool, ergo a goal differential progressively better than every other club in the league. The English champions rectified their leaky away defense, were near unstoppable at home, were hot for huge stretches of the season, and won in all four phases. That’s a lot more than Liverpool (too reliant on their strikers), Chelsea FC (collapsed against small clubs), and Arsenal (throttled by the other Top Five on the road) could say.
But there’s no denying that Man City’s teeth would become a bit duller if they lose Toure. His value to the club is huge. No one at the central midfield position even came close to matching Toure’s output. The rotation of David Silva, Jesus Navas, Samir Nasri, and Toure was mighty behind the City strikers overall. But Fernandinho and Javi Garcia hardly put much of a dent on opposing defenses in Toure’s position.
The burden, then, fell on Toure to push forward in central midfield, and did he ever. Toure not only scored 20 league goals in the position but he also added nine assists. He constantly opened up lanes for Sergio Aguero and Edin Dzeko to attack. Do that while being your club’s top league scorer? Yeah, that’d be hard to replace.
And on top of that offensive output Toure brings to Manchester City, the Ivory Coast international also has the strong distinction of being a defensive midfielder. Toure easily switches between defensive and central midfielder roles, something very few players in the EPL do well, and something no one did as well as Toure last season. To be able to play far back and block shots constantly, and then jet off up the pitch to enter your opponent’s goal area—that was Toure’s usual day in the 2013-2014 season. No club would be as menacing as before if they lost such a player.
A Silva, Navas, Nasri—and now Fernando—core would still be potent behind Aguero and Dzeko, so if Toure leaves Man City it wouldn’t cripple them. They would still be as likely as anyone to win the EPL title.
But that’s exactly it: the door might swing then wide open for Arsenal, Chelsea, and perhaps even Liverpool, to win the Premiership. It’d be anyone’s trophy to win if City can’t rely on Toure. Both the Gunners and the Blues have amped up in the offseason while City moves at a slower pace, and would likely be about even with the Citizens if they lose Toure. Arsenal’s strong defense looks like it will return this season: after surrendering 41 EPL goals in 2013-2014, Arsenal responded to Bacary Sagna joining City by signing Mathieu Debuchy from Newcastle United FC.
More crucial for the FA Cup winners, though, was the signing of Alexis Sanchez from FC Barcelona. While Arsenal overpaid for him, Sanchez’s impressive 27 goals and 19 assists are a good compliment for Arsene Wenger’s club. Sanchez would alleviate the pressure on Mr. Olivier “I-Take-Every-Shot-And-Miss-Most-of-Them” Giroud up front, and could also be a strong wing combination with Theo Walcott. An attack like that, with a competent Arsenal midfield, would give them one of the top offenses in the Premiership, and one that could go toe-to-toe with a Toure-less City.
Chelsea provide just as deadly of an adversary to City’s title defense. The Blues may have lost David Luiz to Paris Saint-Germain FC and took a gamble on Diego Costa, but their midfield is as good as City’s, and they would have the best midfield in England if Toure heads out. Eden Hazard, Willian, and Oscar were already a tantalizing midfield before the transfer window opened. Add Cesc Fabregas, and it’s just not fair to any English club. Fabregas may have questions marks around him, but he put up good numbers for Barca and Spain the last few years, averaging a little over 16 goals and 14 assists the last three full seasons.
Even if Costa doesn’t pan out or is injured too often, that Chelsea midfield would tear apart not only England, but also Europe, and could, with their defense and whatever semblance of attack they’ll have, go head-to-head with Toure-less City and Arsenal this EPL season. Make the storyline the super Chelsea midfield plus Costa picking up where he left off for Atletico Madrid last season, and Chelsea would probably even be the favorites to win the title.
It’s early, even by the summer standards. The middle of July has told us a lot about many clubs—Liverpool are trying desperately but probably in vain to fill the void Luis Suarez’s transfer left them; Arsenal and Chelsea realize they can’t stand still if they want to win the league; and Southampton FC have become the new talent farm for the big clubs. But there are still many potential transfers that could happen. Arsenal and Liverpool, for example, hardly look finished rounding out their clubs. It’s too early to tell who will be the favorite to finish top of the table next May.
But if Manchester City stick to their promise to cut back on their splurging in the transfer market, and Yaya Toure does indeed decide to leave, they might just make the Premier League race absurdly exciting for the second straight season.