While Chelsea head into the close season serene in the knowledge of their Premier League supremacy, the English summer holds weeks of recalibration for the teams seeking to topple them.
Can Manchester City, the usurped champions and runners-up this season, successfully rejuvenate a starting XI that has barely changed since their 2012 title triumph?
Will third-place Arsenal, newly streetwise in confrontations with their major rivals, finally shake off the fragility that has prevented them from maintaining a sustained title challenge since 2004?
Are Manchester United, back in the Champions League after a season of uneven progress under Louis van Gaal and with millions to spend on new players, equipped to return to centre-stage?
And can Liverpool, shorn of Steven Gerrard and chastened by a 6-1 drubbing at Stoke City on the final day, rediscover the winning formula that took them to the brink of the title 12 months ago?
Chelsea moved quickly and decisively in last year’s transfer window, recruiting Cesc Fabregas and Diego Costa, and looked like champions in waiting from the moment they won 3-1 at Burnley on the season’s opening weekend.
Having seen his side finish the campaign eight points clear of City at the top of the pile, manager Jose Mourinho says his only priority during the close season will be making sure he keeps his squad together.
“The base last year was to sell some to buy some,” Mourinho said. “The base this season (2015-16) is to keep my squad.”
Didier Drogba has already confirmed his departure and Mourinho is likely to lose second-choice goalkeeper Petr Cech, but he will approach next season with his armoury fully intact, if not enhanced by supplementary signings.
– Another United splurge? –
City, Arsenal, United and Liverpool will all be active in the transfer market and with the Premier League’s new £5.14 billion ($7.98 billion, 7.2 billion euros) television rights deal kicking in next year, the expectation is that they will spend big.
City must seek to revitalise a squad that has become overly reliant on the goal-scoring brilliance of 26-goal Golden Boot-winner Sergio Aguero.
Yaya Toure’s future remains unresolved, but reports suggest City will keep faith with manager Manuel Pellegrini.
Goalkeeper and striker would appear to be priority positions for Arsenal, but as the arrivals of Mesut Ozil and Alexis Sanchez demonstrated, it is difficult to second-guess manager Arsene Wenger’s transfer strategy.
United, meanwhile, find themselves linked with an ever-lengthening list of superstar names, following reports they will match or even exceed their £150 million splurge from last year.
Should goalkeeper David de Gea join Real Madrid, as widely predicted, a replacement will be sought, while Memphis Depay has already been brought in to add pace and vim to Van Gaal’s attack.
“We’re establishing a very good squad who I believe can go on and win silverware next year,” says United captain Wayne Rooney.
Liverpool’s transfer committee also seeks goal-scorers, after their forwards could only muster a meagre haul of 52 goals in the first campaign of the post-Luis Suarez age.
Tottenham Hotspur, beaten by Chelsea in the League Cup final, looked no closer to breaking into the top four and would have finished much lower than fifth had it not been for the stunning emergence of Harry Kane.
– Decisions for Newcastle, Sunderland –
Southampton may yet join Liverpool and Spurs in the Europa League after finishing seventh, adorned with more plaudits than almost any other team after Ronald Koeman’s superb job of galvanising a squad pillaged by the big beasts in 2014.
Following impressive campaigns, Swansea City and Stoke will target European qualification in 2015-16, while Everton will hope to fare better without Europa League commitments to juggle.
Crystal Palace, West Bromwich Albion and FA Cup finalists Aston Villa, reborn following the respective managerial appointments of Alan Pardew, Tony Pulis and Tim Sherwood, will all have designs on the top half.
Leicester City will hope to harness the momentum from their extraordinary escape from relegation under controversy-prone manager Nigel Pearson.
But West Ham United, whose season peaked in December, find themselves in the hunt for a new manager after confirming Sam Allardyce’s exit within minutes of their 2-0 loss at Newcastle United on the final day.
The two northeast powerhouses, Newcastle and Sunderland, also face important managerial decisions.
Dick Advocaat is expected to reveal this week whether he will remain at the Sunderland helm, while John Carver will soon learn his fate at Newcastle after a traumatic brush with relegation.
As ever, the promoted teams — Watford, newcomers Bournemouth and either Middlesbrough or Norwich City — will face a struggle to evade the fate that befell Burnley and Queens Park Rangers, both of whom went straight back down alongside Hull City.
With the TV deal floodgates poised to burst open, 2016 will not be the year to dabble with relegation. – Agence France-Presse