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Why are Premier League clubs refusing to learn from their mistakes?

Nobody in the Premier League appears to learn from the mistakes of the past. Knee-jerk reactions aside, the opening weekend of the 2021/22 Premier League season saw Manchester United, Chelsea and Liverpool lay down impressive markers. Manchester City, meanwhile, looked flat.

The manner of their rather dismal loss at Tottenham Hotspur spoke of a side who have once again failed to strengthen after winning the title. Jack Grealish, of course, has arrived for a record-breaking £100m but question marks remain as to whether or not Pep Guardiola needed another creative midfielder at this juncture.

Indeed, Benjamin Mendy’s torrid afternoon in north London, riddled with mistakes, highlighted the urgent need for a Premier League qualty left-back – a problem City have just about navigated for a few years now – while Fernandinho is slowly starting to look his age.

Harry Kane may well arrive but considering the lack of pace and penetration in the City frontline at times, even the England captain may struggle to change that kind of game for Guardiola’s side. The one we’ve seen before. The one where, for all their talent, City cannot seem to break through.

Kevin De Bruyne and Phil Foden are talented players to bring in but the structural problems at left-back and defensive midfield will invariably mean City are caught on the counter, a long-running motif amid Guardiola’s Champions League exits over the past decade.

Why, then, have City ignored their problems and failed to learn from their mistakes in the Premier League? Perhaps it’s simply because everybody else does too.

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Even with the difficulty of a post-pandemic market in mind, champions have rarely brought in reinforcements from a position of strength over the past few years. After winning a first league title in 30 years, Liverpool brought in Diogo Jota and Thiago Alcantara, two players who would struggle to get into Jurgen Klopp’s first-choice XI.

Before them, City refused to replace Vincent Kompany and saw their defence ripped apart before Ruben Dias arrived while Antonio Conte’s Chelsea backed up their Premier League title win in 2017 with the signings of Danny Drinkwater and Alvaro Morata.

Retaining the league title is clearly one of the hardest achievements in English football given how little it happens and, obviously, it’s not as easy as simply bringing in a raft of new players after enjoying such success for the sake of squad harmony.

Still, the fact that so few champions have answered their problems – no matter how small they might seem during their initial coronation – has to play into that. When the champagne is flowing and Premier League medals are draped around necks, it is naturally easier to ignore potentially fatal flaws in their infancy and the inevitable mistakes that follow.

City’s last defence, the 2018-19 season, followed a summer in which they brought Riyad Mahrez in to supplement their attacking line. A marquee addition of course but not quite big enough to completely undermine the stars who had won the league at a canter the year before.

Prior to that, the last defence came when Manchester United introduced Michael Carrick, Nani, Anderson, Owen Hargreaves and Carlos Tevez into their squad over the course of consecutive summers between 2006 and 2007. An evolution, rather than a revolution but, crucially, all of those signings at least provided a solution.

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As much as the transfer circus grates, especially when compared to the purity of lauding coaches to have won league titles through their ability to craft successful tactical frameworks, it is a necessary drama. Urging clubs to continue spending big money even after winning the Premier League might seem a little grotesque. Purists will point to a manager’s job being to get the best out of what they have on offer already.

However, what we do celebrate the Premier League for, even in this age of a looming European Super League, is the competition amongst the top clubs. In order to maximse that, Premier League clubs need to start learning from each other’s mistakes.

 


 

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