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Jul 26, 2014

Introducing the Prem Transfer League

Chelsea have confirmed that Didier Drogba has returned to the club on a one-year contract.

It may be just under a month until the Premier League begins -- and longer still until the table actually starts to take its true shape -- but the reality is usually that the seeds for the season are sown during the summer window. You have only to consider Manchester City's early work last year, or the chaos of David Moyes' first few months at Manchester United, to see how that activity conditioned the season.

With that in mind, and in a new weekly feature until the season begins, we decided to rank all 20 Premier League clubs in terms of their transfer movements so far, relative to how much they've improved.

1. Chelsea
In: MF Cesc Fabregas, FW Diego Costa, MF Mario Pasalic, DF Filipe Luis, FW Didier Drogba
Out: DF David Luiz, FW Samuel Eto'o, MF Frank Lampard, DF Ashley Cole, FW Demba Ba
What it means: Jose Mourinho consistently said over the past few months that we would not see his real Chelsea until this season, and he has certainly used the summer to bridge the gap in perception. The club have strengthened and upgraded across all key areas, bringing in the kind of prime players (aged 25-27) that Mourinho favours as old hands like Ashley Cole and Frank Lampard have moved on.

The addition of Fabregas is just one of the things that make Chelsea look like Prem front-runners.
The addition of Fabregas is just one of the things that make Chelsea look like Prem front-runners.

Added to the anticipated development of Nemanja Matic and Mohamed Salah, Chelsea simply look a much stronger squad. They look like a title challenger. The other side of that, however, is that they will now be fully expected to do all their explaining on the pitch.

2. Arsenal
In: FW Alexis Sanchez, DF Mathieu Debuchy
Out: DF Bacary Sagna, GK Lukasz Fabianski, FW Nicklas Bendtner
What it means: More than just another statement signing, as Alexis Sanchez follows Mesut Ozil in further display of Arsenal's greater financial power. There's also the mouthwatering prospect of Alexis following Ozil's through-balls in the kind of attacking move that is genuinely elite class.

Given that Arsenal badly lacked that incision in the latter half of last season, it's clear how much Alexis adds to the attack while also offering an alternative at No. 9. Arsene Wenger, meanwhile, has also found a ready-made replacement for Bacary Sagna in Debuchy. As such, there can be little disputing Arsenal have improved, but the one concern is whether these moves are still just dabbing at the side and adding gloss rather than tackling deeper issues -- most notably in defensive midfield.

Wenger and Arsenal have reinforced their squad but still need more power in midfield.
Wenger and Arsenal have reinforced their squad but still need more power in midfield.

3. Hull City
In: MF Jake Livermore, MF Robert Snodgrass, FW Tom Ince
Out: FW Matthew Fryatt, MF Conor Henderson, MF Robert Koren
What it means: After a season in which Steve Bruce's team defied expectation, they are putting together a team that looks much more mid-table thanks to some solid midrange signings. Now, it would be a surprise if they came close to struggling.

4. Newcastle United
In: DF Ayoze, MF Jack Colback, MF/FW Siem de Jong, MF Remy Cabella, FW Emmanuel Riviere, DF Daryl Janmaat
Out: DF/MF Dan Gosling, DF Mathieu Debuchy, FW Shola Ameobi
What it means: In what seems to have become something of a pattern during Mike Ashley's time, Newcastle have at last ended a period of frugality with wide-ranging movements across the squad. They were needed.

Fernando is the anchor of a modest transfer window for Man City, who didn't need much this summer.
Fernando is the anchor of a modest transfer window for Man City, who didn't need much this summer.

5. Manchester City
In: DF Bacary Sagna, MF Fernando, GK Willy Caballero
Out: GK Costel Pantilimon, DF Joleon Lescott, MF Gareth Barry
What it means: Manuel Pellegrini has a squad in the happy situation of not having to do too much, but they've already given themselves extra options in the likes of Sagna and Fernando. Only a centre-back is really needed, which is likely to be Eliaquim Mangala. That does leave a champions' timeless quandary of whether you try to improve a winning team, but it says much that it is their only issue.

6. West Ham
In: FW Mauro Zarate, MF Cheikhou Kouyate, DF Aaron Cresswell, MF Diego Poyet, FW Enner Valencia
Out: MF Joe Cole, MF Matt Taylor, MF Jack Collison, DF George McCartney
What it means: The kind of busy summer that Sam Allardyce craved last summer leaves him with a more "active" team, even if cover for Andy Carroll (out for four months with an ankle injury) still has to be found.

7. Burnley
In: MF Michael Kightly, GK Matthew Gilks, MF Matt Taylor, FW Marvin Sordell, DF Steven Reid, FW Lukas Jutkiewicz
Out: MF Keith Treacy, DF/MF Joseph Mills, DF/MF David Edgar
What it means: Almost a textbook summer for a promoted club as Burnley have brought in a raft of players with Premier League experience or those from the top end of the Championship. The only worry with that, as ever, is it leaves the squad as a whole hovering between those points in terms of quality. So far, Burnley have done the minimum expected, if not a bit more.

8. West Brom
In: FW Brown Ideye, MF Craig Gardner, DF Joleon Lescott, MF Chris Baird, DF Andre Wisdom
Out: MF George Thorne, DF Billy Jones, DF Liam Ridgewell, DF Steven Reid, FW Nicolas Anelka, MF Zoltan Gera, DF Diego Lugano
What it means: A summer somewhat typical of an in-flux mid-table side, as a series of players have moved on and many at a similar level of quality have replaced them. At the very least, Joleon Lescott should offer concrete improvement at the back.

9. Stoke City
In: DF Phil Bardsley, FW Bojan Krkic, MF Steve Sidwell, FW Mame Biram Diouf
Out: MF Michael Kightly, MF Matthew Etherington
What it means: So far, it's been the kind of summer Stoke have attempted before under a different manager (and Mark Hughes has attempted before at different clubs) with varying degrees of success. Either way, it right now seems positive that they are attempting both upgrades and expansion, even if some signings raise an element of doubt.

Van Gaal should be able to get Man Utd back in the top four. Another signing or two could push them higher.
Van Gaal should be able to get Man Utd back in the top four. Another signing or two could push them higher.

10. Manchester United
In: MF Ander Herrera, DF Luke Shaw
Out: DF Alex Buttner, DF Nemanja Vidic, FW Federico Macheda, DF Rio Ferdinand, DF Patrice Evra, MF Ryan Giggs (retired)
What it means: This summer was always going to be about so much more than bringing in new players and replenishing an aged squad, but it still plays an utterly huge role for the new manager. Although United have finally signed the all-action midfielder in Ander Herrera they craved last season, it is still only one of about five areas that need to be addressed.

As it is, Louis van Gaal is probably a good enough manager to get them back to the Champions League. With further signings, however, they could return to the title race. Those are the stakes, so United need some statement signings to go alongside their new boss.

11. Liverpool
In: FW Rickie Lambert, MF Adam Lallana, DF/MF Emre Can, FW Lazar Markovic
Out: FW Luis Suarez
What it means: Liverpool are the club with the most extensive change so far, given they face a decision over that eternally difficult football challenge of replacing a devastatingly dominant player. The bottom line with the Suarez sale so far is this: had Liverpool added the likes of Lambert and Lallana to a squad still boasting the Uruguayan, it would be difficult to argue it was not a fine way to bolster a unit now preparing for the Champions League while giving them greater unpredictability and options -- especially with such brilliant potential as Markovic.

Rickie Lambert can't possibly replace Luis Suarez so who else will Liverpool buy to fill that gap?
Rickie Lambert can't possibly replace Luis Suarez so who else will Liverpool buy to fill that gap?

And yet while they've filled in areas of the squad, there is arguably now a gaping hole at the front. It's hard to say they've actually improved; in fact, they may have gone backward slightly. That was Suarez's effect. So much will depend on what they do with that money.

12. Aston Villa
In: DF Philippe Senderos, MF Joe Cole, DF/MF Kieran Richardson
Out: MF Marc Albrighton, FW Nathan Delfouneso
What it means: Having so badly lacked experience for so long, manager Paul Lambert has almost gone to extremes in rectifying it, bringing in three players who epitomise the notions of "Premier League stalwarts." Just as important is that Senderos, Cole and Richardson offer different options right across the squad, giving Villa more balance both in terms of mental resilience and formation. There is still a feeling, however, that they need much more spark for when Christian Benteke is injured or not firing.

13. Queens Park Rangers
In: DF Rio Ferdinand, DF Steven Caulker
Out: MF Yossi Benayoun, DF/MF Aaron Hughes, MF Hogan Ephraim, FW Andrew Johnson, MF Stephane Mbia
What it means: A team in a slightly curious situation. You would think they already have a Premier League squad -- as well as the crucial element of a fully fit Charlie Austin -- but still there's the need to replenish and make things a bit fresher. Harry Redknapp hasn't exactly done the latter by bringing in a player like Rio Ferdinand as such an advanced stage of his career, but the former Manchester United centre-back and Steven Caulker do represent an upgrade in defence.

Rio Ferdinand is old but still gives QPR an instant upgrade at the back.
Rio Ferdinand is old but still gives QPR an instant upgrade at the back.

14. Leicester City
In: FW Leonardo Ulloa, MF Marc Albrighton, MF/FW Jack Barmby, DF Matthew Upson
Out: MF Neil Danns, MF Lloyd Dyer, DF Zak Whitbread, FW Paul Gallagher, DF Sean St. Ledger

What it means: For all the existing quality of Nigel Pearson's squad and the Premier League additions they've made, there's still the feeling they need more quality throughout.

15. Tottenham Hotspur
In: GK Michel Vorm, DF Ben Davies
Out: MF Gylfi Sigurdsson, MF Jake Livermore, GK Heurelho Gomes
What it means: Spurs already have a solid squad and Mauricio Pochettino is renowned as a coach who can improve the base level of his players, meaning that the real intrigue of their summer is how the two work together. At the same time, some improvements beyond the necessary signing of Ben Davies would do no harm.

16. Swansea City
In: MF Gylfi Sigurdsson, GK Lukasz Fabianski, FW Bafetimbi Gomis, MF/FW Marvin Emnes, MF/FW Jefferson Montero
Out: GK Michel Vorm, DF Ben Davies, FW Leroy Lita, FW David Ngog, FW Michu
What it means: Another new era, some new signings and the return of some old faces. It's still a bit like the club are at their recent level, however, having really just replaced those going out rather than really augmented.

Signing Barry to a permanent deal is good for Everton but their squad remains painfully thin.
Signing Barry to a permanent deal is good for Everton but their squad remains painfully thin.

17. Everton
In: MF Gareth Barry
Out: FW Apostolos Vellios, FW Magaye Gueye
What it means: They've done perhaps the hardest part in keeping Gareth Barry, a man who was so crucial to pinning Roberto Martinez's progressive team together, but it's difficult not to think they're going to need much more given the improvements made by the likes of Tottenham Hotspur and Manchester United. They also need to either secure Romelu Lukaku or properly replace him. Otherwise, for all the long-term positives of the Spaniard's approach, they will find themselves all too quickly replaced in the top five.

18. Sunderland
In: DF Billy Jones, MF Jordi Gomes, GK Costel Pantilimon
Out: DF Phil Bardsley, MF Craig Gardner, MF Jack Colback, MF Keiren Westwood, DF Carlos Cuellar, DF Andrea Dossena, GK Oscar Ustari, MF David Vaughan
What it means: One of those teams that are a little hard to judge because their manager finally gets a full offseason with his squad, but it seems obvious Sunderland need to make more signings if they're to avoid being left rather thin.

19. Crystal Palace
In: GK Chris Kettings, FW Frazier Campbell
Out: MF Jose Campana, MF Kagisho Dikgacoi, DF/MF Dean Moxey, DF Danny Gabbidon
What it means: Transfer activity was the source of some debate for Tony Pulis last season and could yet cause a few issues next campaign if they don't build on a superb 2013-14. Of course it is unlikely the Crystal Palace manager will sit still, and there is certain to be a flurry of activity over August.

20. Southampton
In: MF/FW Dusan Tasic, FW Graziano Pelle
Out: DF Luke Shaw, FW Rickie Lambert, MF Adam Lallana
What it means: A hugely cruel summer so far looks like it's only going to get worse in terms of sales as the Saints have been the ultimate victims of their own success. With Mauricio Pochettino gone along with so many key players, this isn't quite a case of assessing the effect of movement since last season. It's starting from scratch.

Miguel Delaney

Miguel Delaney is London correspondent for ESPN and also writes for the Irish Examiner, the Independent, Blizzard and assorted others. He is the author of an award-nominated book on the Irish national team called 'Stuttgart to Saipan' (Mentor) and was nominated for Irish sports journalist of the year in 2011.