More than ever before, squad depth has become a vital ingredient for Premier League sides – especially if they harbour any hopes of winning the title.
With Covid wreaking havoc on football last season, clubs used more players than ever. While we’re hoping for and expecting an improvement on that front, clubs have learned their lessons this summer and moved to enlarge their squads.
After a busier-than-usual summer transfer window, Sportsmail looks at the strength in depth of the Premier League’s traditional ‘Big Six’.
Manchester City celebrate winning the Premier League title in May
MAJOR SIGNINGS: Jack Grealish (Aston Villa, £100m), Scott Carson (Derby, free)
MAJOR DEPARTURES: Angelino (RB Leipzig, £16m), Sergio Aguero, Eric Garcia (both Barcelona, free), Jack Harrison (Leeds, £11m)
Manchester City are the team to beat this season having finished 12 points clear as champions last time out, but there is a nagging feeling Pep Guardiola might have left himself a little bit short in terms of his squad size this season – especially up front.
Sergio Aguero may have only played 12 times last season – mostly as a sub – but the club’s failed pursuit of Harry Kane will cast a shadow this season. Everyone knows Pep wanted him and not only did they not get him, they didn’t sign a striker at all.
Jack Grealish can only improve their frontline, however, largely coming in off the left and freeing up either Ferran Torres, Raheem Sterling or Phil Foden to play as the false nine.
At the back, Eric Garcia has joined Aguero at Barcelona and not been replaced as a fifth centre back, while Benjamin Mendy’s unavailability makes selling Angelino look questionable. In midfield too, City are arguably a body light and may have to rely on youngster Cole Palmer, as well as fellow teenager Liam Delap up front.
FIRST XI: Ederson; Walker, Stones, Dias, Zinchenko; De Bruyne, Rodri, Gundogan; Foden, Sterling, Grealish
SECOND XI: Steffen; Cancelo, Laporte, Ake, Mendy; Bernardo, Fernandinho, Palmer; Mahrez, Torres, Jesus
RESERVES: Carson, Delap
SQUAD DEPTH RATING: 6/10
City did not sign a striker this summer despite the departure of Sergio Aguero (pictured)
SIGNINGS: Jadon Sancho (Dortmund, £73m), Raphael Varane (Real Madrid, £42m), Cristiano Ronaldo (Juventus, £19.8m), Tom Heaton (Burnley, free)
DEPARTURES: Daniel James (Leeds, £30m), Sergio Romero (released), Axel Tuanzebe (Aston Villa, loan), Brandon Williams (Norwich, loan), Andreas Pereira (Flamengo, loan)
Having finished a comfortable second ahead of Liverpool and Chelsea, United did not rest on their laurels this summer as they look to go one better, splashing out nearly £135m on proven world-class talent.
Two key areas most United fans were desperate to see improved were the centre of defence and up front, and they certainly have depth as well as star quality in those areas now. The arrivals of Ronaldo and Sancho means there isn’t even room for Donny van de Beek and Juan Mata in United’s second string.
One problem position for United remains holding midfield, with Ole Gunnar Solskjaer opting against strengthening there. Moving Paul Pogba back could solve that problem, while also freeing up space for United’s plethora of attackers.
FIRST XI: De Gea; Wan-Bissaka, Varane, Maguire, Shaw; McTominay, Pogba; Sancho, Fernandes, Rashford; Ronaldo
SECOND XI: Henderson; Dalot, Bailly, Lindelof, Telles; Matic, Fred; Greenwood, Lingard, Martial; Cavani
RESERVES: Heaton, Jones, Van de Beek, Mata
SQUAD DEPTH RATING: 9/10
United’s strength in depth is such that the likes of Jesse Lingard barely make a second XI
SIGNINGS: Ibrahima Konate (RB Leipzig, £36m)
DEPARTURES: Harry Wilson (Fulham, £12m), Xherdan Shaqiri (Lyon, £9.5m), Gini Wijnaldum (PSG, free)
Liverpool’s title defence last season quickly turned into a nightmare as their three first-choice centre backs all suffered long-term injuries off the back of the sale of Dejan Lovren, and Jurgen Klopp has certainly learned his lesson there.
The signing of Ibrahima Konate was confirmed as early as May and along with the return to fitness of Virgil van Dijk, Joe Gomez and Joel Matip, central defence has become Liverpool’s strongest position again, with fifth-choice Nat Phillips having proved himself as a solid option last season.
In midfield, Klopp opted not to replace the outgoing Georginio Wijnaldum, but given the emergence of Harvey Elliott and Curtis Jones they still look well stocked. Up front it’s a different story, where the Reds lack a top-class alternative to Roberto Firmino, bar the injury-prone Diogo Jota.
FIRST XI: Alisson; Alexander-Arnold, Gomez, Van Dijk, Robertson; Henderson, Fabinho, Thiago; Salah, Firmino, Mane
SECOND XI: Kelleher; N Williams, Konate, Matip, Tsimikas; Oxlade-Chamberlain, Milner, Keita; Elliott, Origi, Jota
RESERVES: Adrian, Phillips, Jones, Minamino
SQUAD DEPTH RATING: 7/10
Liverpool fixed a problem position in May by signing Ibrahima Konate from RB Leipzig
SIGNINGS: Romelu Lukaku (Inter Milan, £98m), Marcus Bettinelli (Fulham, free), Saul Niguez (Atletico Madrid, loan)
DEPARTURES: Tammy Abraham (Roma, £34m), Kurt Zouma (West Ham, £30m), Fikayo Tomori (AC Milan, £25m), Marc Guehi (Chelsea, £18m), Olivier Giroud (£1m), Willy Caballero (released), Emerson (Lyon, loan), Billy Gilmour (Norwich, loan)
Having won the Champions League last season and feeling they were only a world-class striker away from challenging City for the title, Chelsea put all their eggs in one basket this summer by selling, loaning and releasing a combined total of 35 players to raise money for the signing of Romelu Lukaku.
Such was their squad depth anyway, the Blues still have a wealth of options in most positions, however they may have left themselves light at the back – particularly if injuries strike – after failing to sign Jules Kounde from Sevilla.
Perhaps keeping either Kurt Zouma, Fikayo Tomori or Marc Guehi would have made sense, though the loan arrival from Atletico Madrid of Saul Niguez is capable of playing as a left-side centre back. The club could decide to keep Malang Sarr, who is also left-footed, rather than loan him out.
FIRST XI: Mendy; Azpilicueta, Silva, Rudiger; James, Kante, Jorginho, Chilwell; Mount, Havertz; Lukaku
SECOND XI: Kepa; Chalobah, Christensen, Saul; Hudson-Odoi, Loftus-Cheek, Kovacic, Alonso; Ziyech, Pulisic; Werner
RESERVES: Bettinelli, Sarr, Barkley
SQUAD DEPTH RATING: 7/10
Chelsea let Kurt Zouma join West Ham but did not bring in a centre back to replace him
SIGNINGS: Cristian Romero (Atalanta, £47m), Bryan Gil (Sevilla, £21m + Erik Lamela), Pierluigi Gollini (Atalanta, loan), Pape Matar Sarr (Metz, £14.5m), Emerson Royal (Barcelona, £25.7m)
DEPARTURES: Toby Alderweireld (Al-Duhail, £13m), Moussa Sissoko (Watford, £3m), Joe Hart (Celtic, £1m), Erik Lamela (player exchange), Danny Rose (Watford, free), Paulo Gazzaniga (Fulham, free), Juan Foyth (Villarreal, £13.5m), Pape Matar Sarr (Metz, loan)
Like Manchester City, the success of Tottenham’s transfer window hinged on the future of Harry Kane, so they will be naturally delighted that their talisman has stayed. However, Nuno Espirito Santo inherited an unbalanced squad from Jose Mourinho, and that remains the case even after a summer of comings and goings.
As has been the case for several years, Spurs lack a viable alternative to Kane, with wingers Son Heung-min, Lucas Moura and Steven Bergwijn having to fill in when he is unavailable. And their problems do not end there.
With Tanguy Ndombele frozen out after expressing his desire to leave the club, the midfield looks imbalanced. Nuno looks set to persevere with a 4-2-3-1, which leaves only Dele Alli as a natural No 10. Giovani Lo Celso can play there, but is also competing for a holding midfield spot. At the back Spurs are well stocked, but they lack an experienced third-choice goalkeeper.
FIRST XI: Lloris; Emerson, Sanchez, Romero, Reguilon; Hojbjerg, Skipp; Bergwijn, Alli, Son; Kane
SECOND XI: Gollini; Tanganga, Dier, Rodon, Davies; Winks, Lo Celso; Gil, Ndombele, Sessegnon; Moura
RESERVES: Doherty, Clarke
SQUAD DEPTH RATING: 5/10
Spain international Bryan Gil has strengthened Tottenham’s options out wide
SIGNINGS: Ben White (Brighton, £50m), Martin Odegaard (Real Madrid, £30m), Aaron Ramsdale (Sheffield United, £24m), Albert Sambi Lokonga (Anderlecht, £18m), Nuno Tavares (Benfica, £7m), Takehiro Tomiyasu (Bologna, £16m)
DEPARTURES: Joe Willock (Newcastle, £22m), David Luiz, Willian (both released), Reiss Nelson (Feyenoord, loan), Alex Runarsson (OH Leuven, loan), Hector Bellerin (Real Betis, loan), Lucas Torreira (Fiorentina, loan), Matteo Guendouzi, William Saliba (both Marseille, loan)
As Sportsmail‘s Chris Sutton aptly put it this week, Arsenal have managed to spend nearly £150m this summer without really improving their squad.
Having signed mainly young players with potential, Arsenal lack proven Premier League quality, but they are well covered in terms of numbers now – particularly in defence, central midfield and up front.
The one area the Gunners do look light is out wide, with Bukayo Saka and Nicolas Pepe their only genuine wingers following the departure of Willian. Emile Smith Rowe, Martin Odegaard and Gabriel Martinelli can play on the flanks, but allowing Reiss Nelson to leave on loan looks a questionable decision.
FIRST XI: Leno; Tomiyasu, White, Gabriel, Tierney; Partey, Xhaka; Saka, Odegaard, Smith Rowe; Aubameyang
SECOND XI: Ramsdale; Cedric, Holding, Mari, Tavares; Elneny, Lokonga; Pepe, Maitland-Niles, Martinelli; Lacazette
RESERVES: Chambers, Kolasinac, Balogun, Nketiah
SQUAD DEPTH RATING: 5/10
Martin Odegaard joined Arsenal in a permanent deal after spending time on loan last season