Pre-season, huh, what is it good for? Well not preparation judging by the opening two rounds of Premier League football from 2016/17. All those tours, all those ‘tournaments’, the transfers and money spent and yet, the teams that have a settled starting line up at this point of the season are few and far between.
This had led to an underwhelming start, with competitors lumbering, slowly emerging from the cocoon of July, rather than exploding into life. Yes, there have been exciting new signings scoring (Zlatan!), new managers emoting (Conte) we’ve had villains (Costa) and late winners (Costa again), so why the sense that something is missing?
Jurgen Klopp’s plans have been disrupted by injury to Saido Mane, and he has resorted to playing James Milner at left back due to the ineptitude of Alberto Moreno. Mauricio Pochettino meanwhile, seems worried about Harry Kane without feeling able to rest him, and is still waiting on Mousa Dembele to return from suspension and challenge Vincent Wanyama for a place in the Spurs midfield. Jose Mourinho has had an uncharacteristically serene start to life at Manchester United, but it is still to be seen how he will include Rooney, Pogba and Mkhitaryan in the same team.
Pundits will often solemnly declare that a coach “doesn’t know his best eleven”, but many of the much vaunted managers still seem to be tweaking, testing and perhaps less forgivably, still getting to know the players at their disposal.
There is nothing new in calling for the transfer window to close before the start of the season, but if the action on the pitch is what matters then why is the pre-season circus allowed to rumble on through 3 rounds of fixtures? Before we know it an international break will be upon us, and the fresh start that should be marked in mid-August, will fall back to mid-September.
Or are this all excuses, pedalled in advance by coaches seeking to minimise an uninspiring start to proceedings? Pep Guardiola seems to be making light work of implementing his methods at Man City, while Mourinho seems to have added some cut and thrust to Manchester United already.
Leicester, among other things, demonstrated the value of a settled line up in their incredible 15/16 season. However, until preparation takes precedent over the need to open up new markets, then managers will be unable to take real control until the first weekend of the season.
Andrew Grillo, The Sweeper Football Blog