What next for Man Utd, Liverpool, Man City and rest of top six?
Last updated on .From the section Football
The dust has settled on last season and the serious jockeying for position to be in perfect shape for the start of the next Premier League campaign is about to begin.
What will be the top priorities of last term's top six - and who will they sign and sell to ensure they come close to achieving their aspirations?
The fixtures are out and players are starting to report back. So let's have a look at how the summer might unfold for last year's top half-dozen.
Find a top-class replacement for Petr Cech. Jose Mourinho reportedly has reservations about letting the man he regards as one of the best two goalkeepers in the world - along with last season's first choice Thibaut Courtois - make his projected move to Arsenal. Understandably so.
Cech provided the perfect safety net for Courtois last season, relieving Mourinho of any worries about that position.
He will expect a high-quality replacement for Cech - and the word is Stoke City's Asmir Begovic is the name attracting his attention.
Mourinho may also want to strengthen in a couple of other positions. With talk of John Mikel Obi being allowed to leave, a holding midfield player may be acquired as cover for Nemanja Matic, while a striker will also be needed after the departure of Didier Drogba.
Manager Manuel Pellegrini needs to spend the summer rediscovering how to inspire a squad that should have made a much more robust defence of its Premier League title than finishing eight points behind champions Chelsea.
Manchester City chairman Khaldoon Al Mubarak has already put the marker down for both Pellegrini and their rivals by announcing they will build a squad to take them to "the next level".
Pellegrini will be expected not only to assemble that squad but get them firing from the first whistle, otherwise the shadow of Pep Guardiola will loom even larger over his future.
He must relight Yaya Toure's fire and needs to spend big on a new central defender given that Eliaquim Mangala so far represents poor value at £32m. He will also be in the market for midfield reinforcements to partner Toure and supplement the loss of the versatile James Milner.
And the biggest question of all may be asked very soon. How does Raheem Sterling fit in?
The main priority for manager Arsene Wenger is to maintain the outstanding form from the second half of last season that culminated in the ruthless beating handed out to Aston Villa in the FA Cup final.
The Gunners look closer to genuine title challengers than they have for many seasons. But how often have we heard that before only to be disappointed?
The major problem of a high-quality keeper appears to have been solved in style with the imminent signing of Cech - now Wenger must beef up his midfield to allow the skills of the likes of Aaron Ramsey, Jack Wilshere, Mesut Ozil and company to flourish further.
In an ideal world big money would also go on an elite striker to give support to Alexis Sanchez and put pressure on Olivier Giroud.
Top priority is a very simple one. With David De Gea seemingly Real Madrid-bound, manager Louis van Gaal must somehow find the man to replace the player who turned so many draws into wins last season. De Gea was player of the year by a country mile.
Central defence needs work, with Phil Jones, Jonny Evans and Chris Smalling still unconvincing. United looked too vulnerable too often last season.
With a reported £150m to spend, Van Gaal needs to add quality in midfield and must surely bring in a high-class striker, with the failed Falcao experiment over and Robin van Persie fading.
The priority is to find the sort of young, flexible players who fit in with manager Mauricio Pochettino's trademark high-intensity, pressing game. Too often last season it looked like Spurs were struggling to implement his style.
Pochettino also needs a goalscorer to support Harry Kane and somehow get Emmanuel Adebayor off the wage bill. He has outlived his usefulness at White Hart Lane.
And, at all costs, keep goalkeeper Hugo Lloris.
Where do you start? Number one on manager Brendan Rodgers' "to do" list is to make an instant impact in the face of a testing fixture list, starting with a return to the scene of last season's final day debacle at Stoke City, where they lost 6-1.
The bottom line is that if Liverpool make a poor start Rodgers will surely lose his job, such was the ill-feeling by the time the last ball was kicked.
Priorities are everywhere.
Liverpool must sort out Sterling's situation, find a reliable central defender to partner Martin Skrtel, replace Steven Gerrard in midfield, find buyers for the likes of Mario Balotelli and Rickie Lambert - then bring in a reliable, top-class striker to replace the goals Luis Suarez took with him and which were never replaced.
Oh and perform the miracle of keeping Daniel Sturridge fit.
Enough to be going on with Brendan?
Mourinho wants a keeper and Begovic appears to be the main candidate. If he wants him and Begovic can be persuaded to forsake first-team football, expect that to be done.
He has also been linked with Everton's elegant young defender John Stones but that is highly unlikely, this summer at least.
Real Madrid's Raphael Varane is another central defender Mourinho would love but there is no willingness to do a deal at present so unless there is a dramatic alteration of stance this can be ruled out.
The big surprise is the sudden interest in Radamel Falcao after his failure at Manchester United. The Colombian will jump at the chance to see his career revived and that is more or less a done deal.
One more maybe? A holding midfield player? Alex Song is an outsider from Barcelona, as is Zenit St Petersburg's Axel Witsel. Both would be a surprise, especially with AC Milan closing on Witsel.
Liverpool's Sterling appears to be the current top priority and with Roberto Firmino arriving at Anfield, expect this saga to end sooner or later.
The big one for City would be Juventus's Paul Pogba - but they may miss out on this prime target.
Barcelona and Real Madrid are interested in the man Sir Alex Ferguson let escape from Manchester United and while City can compete all the way financially, they remain behind on worldwide stature.
It would be a massive coup if they pull it off but it is hard to see it happening.
So could it be that Arsenal's Wilshere would be an alternative? The England midfielder almost seems surgically attached to Arsenal and his own noises do not suggest he wants a move, but City have proved money talks in the past, especially to the Gunners after signing the likes of Samir Nasri, Emmanuel Adebayor, Gael Clichy and Kolo Toure.
Wolfsburg's Kevin de Bruyne is also on the radar and no doubt he will receive a glowing reference from his Belgium captain Vincent Kompany. Another who, if City really push for the deal, you can see arriving at Etihad Stadium.
Arsenal's big deal is just about done in the shape of goalkeeper Cech from Chelsea - a perfect signing and the type that could give them that extra push they need.
Arsene Wenger still needs to strengthen in central midfield and Sporting Lisbon's William Carvalho looks ideal, if somewhat pricey at £28.5m.
The signing of Alexis Sanchez surely proved the wisdom of the occasional major investment and Wenger certainly has the cash to do the deal if he wants.
Arsenal were linked with Monaco's Geoffrey Kondogbia but he has gone to Inter Milan, so Wenger may have to move fast to get ahead of Monaco if they target Carvalho as a replacement.
Juventus's powerful Chilean Arturo Vidal is another within Arsenal's financial compass and Wenger is an admirer.
Real Madrid's Karim Benzema has also been touted but there would surely be interest from elsewhere if he was available and that's a long shot.
And Zlatan Ibrahimovic? Wouldn't that be wonderful - but hard to see.
Louis van Gaal has cash to splash and would happily part with £40m of it to sign Tottenham's Harry Kane - but that looks very unlikely with the player himself stating he is happy at Spurs and chairman Daniel Levy ready to slam the door in United's faces.
Will he have better luck with Spurs keeper Lloris? Possibly. The Frenchman is not quite as attached to Spurs as Kane, keen for Champions League football and the perfect replacement for soon-to-be-departed De Gea.
He will cost a lot but Van Gaal apparently has £150m to spend. Cech would have been the other ideal purchase but the lure of Arsenal and staying in London swayed that one.
United are in the market for a centre-half and the surprise name has been Real Madrid's Sergio Ramos. A pantomime villain of a footballer but a magnificent defender.
There has been talk of a straight swap for De Gea and of Ramos having a lengthy affection for United. This falls in to the "believe it when you see it" category as Real have no desire to sell and there is also a new contract for Ramos to negotiate. United have proved a useful lever in talks in the past, as Cristiano Ronaldo proved.
Valencia's Argentine Nicolas Otamendi is a more realistic defensive target and that deal is there to be done.
Bastian Schweinsteiger is another name of interest and this could happen as he reaches the conclusion of his Bayern Munich career. A possibility but is he still the old authority? Southampton's France international Morgan Schneiderlin is another option.
Van Gaal will certainly be busy in the weeks ahead - with that new goalkeeper right at the top of his "in" tray.
More a question of keeping rather than signing in the first instance. Hard to see any way Kane will leave but a bit more of a doubt over Lloris, with Manchester United after a keeper.
There will be plenty of outs too in the shape of Aaron Lennon, Roberto Soldado, Paulinho, Adebayor and Mousa Dembele.
This will mean striking reinforcements will be needed and one target may well be West Brom's Saido Berahino. There has already been speculation about an offer of Lennon, Andros Townsend and cash for the England Under-21 striker.
This may appeal to Baggies boss Tony Pulis and Berahino has always given the impression he wants bigger and better things.
It's been busy at Anfield, with Brazil's Firmino the latest through the door at £29m. So what's left?
Rodgers wants a new striker and his ideal choice is Aston Villa's Christian Benteke - but that £32.5m escape clause is currently too much. If it drops, expect a deal, otherwise Liverpool will look at Sevilla's Carlos Bacca and Zenit's Salomon Rondon.
Managers on a mission
Chelsea - Jose Mourinho
"The Special One" got his eye in during the first season of his second spell at Stamford Bridge before satisfying his hunger for trophies with two outstanding signings in Diego Costa and Cesc Fabregas, who inspired a third Premier League title for the Portuguese at Chelsea.
Mourinho will know Manchester City and Manchester United, in particular, will wave the chequebook (if that is what they still do) this summer and while he was relaxing at Queen's Club, make no mistake this ruthless, cunning and brilliantly talented manager will be plotting his next moves.
He now has the comfort of being totally secure in his relationship with Chelsea owner Roman Abramovich - and vice-versa.
Manchester City - Manuel Pellegrini
Manchester City's decent end to last season that secured second place ensured he would get a third year in charge, as did Pep Guardiola's decision to honour the final year of his contract at Bayern Munich.
The feeling remains that Guardiola will eventually end up at Etihad Stadium but Pellegrini will want to blow away the clouds of speculation with a much, much better season. The pressure will only increase with a poor start.
This may be his final season at City and he will want to go out with his reputation enhanced.
Arsenal - Arsene Wenger
Wenger is the eternal optimist and things look to be heading in the right direction again at Arsenal with a talented squad showing real signs of development, augmented by a masterstroke in the £32m signing of Sanchez, and greater resilience that brought wins at Manchester City in the Premier League and Manchester United in the FA Cup quarter-final.
There are still plenty of Arsenal fans out there, however, who will only come back onside with Wenger if he can use this summer to build for a serious title challenge. Can he finally do it?
Manchester United - Louis van Gaal
Last season was mission accomplished for Van Gaal as he put Manchester United back in the Champions League - but it was not totally convincing, with many indifferent performances and transfer disappointments in the shape of Falcao and £59.7m British record buy Angel Di Maria. Luke Shaw, at £27.5m, also still has much to prove.
Van Gaal has already been handed £31m to sign Netherlands forward Memphis Depay from PSV Eindhoven and reportedly has a £150m transfer fund. For the sort of money he will be paying, demands will rise.
Van Gaal has done the job so far but it is unlikely his Old Trafford paymasters will want United off the pace in fourth next season given the vast scale of investment.
Tottenham - Mauricio Pochettino
Spurs looked top-four candidates at one point but faded into fifth place as Liverpool's season went into meltdown. It was a satisfactory first campaign for Pochettino at White Hart Lane, but no more than that.
History tells us how ruthlessly demanding Spurs chairman Daniel Levy can be, so the pressure is always on any manager to deliver. All the moves Pochettino makes this season - keeping Kane and goalkeeper Lloris chief among them - must be aimed at the top four.
The price of failure can be terminal at White Hart Lane.
Liverpool - Brendan Rodgers
This time last year Rodgers was deservedly basking in the glow of a thrilling season that almost brought Liverpool their first title in 24 years - now no other manager will have to fight harder to keep his job.
Backed by Liverpool owners Fenway Sports Group after a dismal end to the season, Rodgers knows he simply cannot afford a false start with an increasingly critical fanbase and managers of high reputation such as Jurgen Klopp and Carlo Ancelotti out of work.
Logic and fair play dictated Rodgers deserved to see in the start of this season but he will know the outcome if the start of this campaign looks anything like the end of the last one.
Who is the dream signing?
Here are the most popular choices when I put that question out on social media - and also my verdict.
Real Madrid duo Raphael Varane and/or Gareth Bale. Will they arrive? Very unlikely.
Paul Pogba from Juventus - the Manchester United "reject" who is now a world-class midfield star. An outside chance but watch for Real or Barca.
Zlatan Ibrahimovic. Never say never with Zlatan but believe this one when you see it.
Cristiano Ronaldo. The annual wish but less likely to happen with every passing year. Gareth Bale? Maybe next summer.
Lots of love for Carlos Bacca and Karim Benzema from Spurs fans. Long shots though.
Luis Suarez. Dream on.
This article is more like a highlight show of the the last two weeks of the gossip column than an insight on what's next for the top 6.
I know the Man United defence is shockingly bad, but £35m+ on a 29 year-old defender?
What the hell is Van Gaal smoking?
What does that say for the current England defence?!
How about the pitiful performance of the U21's?
Complete lack of tactical nous & ambition by the manager could we have played any slower ?
& for the FA to defend the selection policy the players need to learn their trade under tournament conditions
I suppose he will keep the job looks good in the blazer fits in well with the rest of the FA suits
As an LFC fan, I have to disagree with you. The stuff I read from some of our fans is unbelievable. For example half our fan base hate our current owners who have given us interest free loans, started the stadium redevelopment, and done commercially what utd have been for 20 years while we relied on our history.
"Van Gaal has done the job so far"
Please, someone give Phil a breathalyzer, he's clearly drunk on Man United.
How do we go about getting rid of this idiot ?
How low do Liverpool have to be before teams who are almost as good - Southampton - get mentioned in the same "league"?
"when Chesea just keep on winning" - winning what???
1 EPL in 5 years; couldn't beat PSG at home even after Zlatan was sent off; embarrassed by Bradford.
Not much to shout about