Big spenders find they can’t buy success just yet in the Premier League
Manchester City , Tottenham and Chelsea spent more than £250m between them in the summer but are struggling to keep with the pace
Manchester City manager Manuel Pellegrini: His side struggle on the road. Photograph: Chris Brunskill/Getty Images
Tottenham Hotspur manager Andre Villas-Boas: Gareth Bale has left a void. Photograph: Chris Brunskill/Getty Images
Chelsea’s manager Jose Mourinho: A tough start for his side but they are too predictable. Photograph: Dylan Martinez/Reuters
The Premier League’s three big spenders – Tottenham Hotspur, Manchester City and Chelsea – had a combined outlay of £259.4m on transfers last summer but in terms of results and league position, so far their investments have not paid off.
City, who are eighth and six points off the leaders Arsenal, spent £92m on Fernandinho, Jesus Navas, Alvaro Negredo, Stevan Jovetic and Martin Demichelis yet have lost four of their six away games as Manuel Pellegrini struggles to get the best out of his huge squad. Tottenham, the market’s biggest spenders with a £104.7m outlay are five points off the pace, with their form at White Hart Lane the concern. Paulinho, Nacer Chadli, Roberto Soldado, Etienne Capoue, Vlad Chiriches, Christian Eriksen and Erik Lamela were all recruited but Andre Villas-Boas’s band have won only three home matches.
Chelsea, four points adrift, spent £61.5m on Andre Schurrle, Marco van Ginkel, Willian, and Christian Atsu. Samuel Eto’o and Mark Schwarzer also boosted the squad on free transfers yet the Blues have also been dismal on their travels. So what is going wrong?
Manchester City: Pellegrini struggles to cure travel sickness
The manner in which Martin Demichelis and James Milner got into a tangle to allow Phil Bardsley to score the winner for Sunderland on Sunday was the latest illustration of the tentativeness that is killing Manuel Pellegrini’s team away from home. This problem extends from the defence to attack where, broadly, the same amount of chances are being created, in terms of shots a game - 13.67 at home, 12 away - but the conversion rate drops from 30.3% to 10.39%.
The dismal displays on the road began in the opening trip to Cardiff City when they went down 3-2, with Pellegrini’s defence allowing Fraizer Campbell two soft goals, both from corners. Nearly three months on and the fragility was still present at the Stadium of Light, where apart from Milner and Demichelis the question “What the hell did they think they were doing?” extended to Micah Richards, the right-back who was caught badly out of position upfield.
The defeats at Aston Villa and Chelsea came through late goals to further suggest there is a lack of focus in defence, with the City goal having been breached 10 times away compared to twice on their own ground.
At the front there is as much concern for Pellegrini in his team’s inability to finish off the opposition. At the Etihad there has been a goal glut of 20 in five outings. Away from Manchester only eight in six games, which is perhaps the most damning statistic - especially if compared to the title-winning charge of two seasons ago, when 23 goals came from the same amount of matches.
Of the new buys, Alvaro Negredo has the most to ponder, having scored three in five home games against only one in six away. A glance at the £20.6m Spaniard’s conversion rate suggests the problem may be mental as he adjusts to a new league and unfamiliar grounds. At home, Negredo has a 37.5% rate, yet at other stadiums it drops to 11.11%.
More broadly, City can suffer from being too indirect. What has continued to be a problem from last season - the lack of genuine width and the tendency of David Silva and Samir Nasri, the main playmakers, to be overly intricate remains. Jesus Navas was bought to solve these problems but he is yet to complete 90 minutes away from home.
Tottenham Hotspur: Bale was always going to leave a void
It would be easy to dismiss Tottenham Hotspur’s recent splutters merely as teething troubles for a squad that underwent a radical overhaul over the summer. Certainly, their inability to conjure offensive rhythm might boil down to new players at a new club still learning each other’s foibles. Roberto Soldado, the first-choice forward who arrived from Valencia for £26m over the summer, is still coming to terms with the fact he will not benefit from the same kind of supply-line as at the Mestalla, where wingers would hit the by-line and pull crosses regularly across the six-yard box. Erik Lamela, who cost a similar amount from Roma, is still adjusting to life in the Premier League and will need time before he offers up a consistent threat.
The same might apply for Nacer Chadli and Christian Eriksen, the latter having enjoyed a bright start only for his radar now to feel skew-whiff as opponents work to close him down. As Andre Villas-Boas has pointed out, frustration makes itself felt quite readily in that corner of north London. The team has managed a solitary goal in 341 minutes of Premier League football at home, 89 shots in six fixtures at the Lane this season having yielded only six goals to date. Three of their nine goals have been penalties.
That suggests they are struggling to break down massed opponents and it may be natural for the flair players recruited over the summer to take longer to adjust to a more physical league. Spurs have brought in plenty of physically imposing personnel to feature down the spine of their team - Paulinho, Etienne Capoue, Vlad Chiriches. Omit the vaguely freakish 3-0 home reverse to West Ham United and Villas-Boas’ side have shipped only three goals in 10 matches.
All three league defeats have come in the wake of Europa League matches but, given that the manager tends to change his team dramatically between the competitions, fatigue can hardly be an excuse. Instead, the gumminess owes more to integration and the reality that this team has lost a player in Gareth Bale who could conjure victories from tight affairs with outlandish winners. Removing 25 goals was always going to leave a void.
Chelsea: A tough start but still too predictable
Chelsea’s season has been rather stop-start, a campaign undermined by blips more than persistent problems. At present a team who can eclipse Manchester City one week is more than capable of drifting to defeat against Newcastle the next. The management blamed “complacency” for that recent loss, though the team have lacked urgency and pace in the pass too often.
Perhaps that is to be expected. Jose Mourinho has made no secret of the size of the task he has taken on this time round. His squad is imbalanced, whether with a relative lack of striking options or in terms of its development given the relative inexperience of those charged with creating, and often scoring, the team’s opportunities. Whatever combination is flung together in that trio behind the front man, the personnel will still be relatively youthful.
They still struggle when teams bank up against them or clutter midfield to snuff out any space. They endured the same problems on occasion last season but where they used to rely on Juan Mata’s spark to conjure something special the Spaniard’s own spluttering form has denied them that outlet. Frank Lampard has been off-colour of late. Fernando Torres has shown form in fits and starts but has been blighted by suspension and, more significantly, untimely injuries. Romelu Lukaku, who would offer a different dimension to unsettle opponents, has been loaned to Everton with no recall clause in January. All of which has left the team too predictable for comfort. The two major summer additions - Andre Schurrle and Willian - have offered tasters of their talent. Marco van Ginkel, who cost £8m, is injured and will miss the rest of the campaign. Instead they have relied more on Samuel Eto’o’s cheeky ingenuity recently or Eden Hazard’s and Oscar’s eyes for goal from midfield.
Admittedly their start to the campaign has hardly been simple, which goes some way to explaining their average, if not disastrous, away form, and European ties and a level of fixture congestion given TV schedules have riled the management. But, regardless, everything about them smacks of this being a work in progress.