Through utilisation of a confusing and meagre summer transfer market, clubs left lagging at the end of last season are narrowing the gap. Without breaking their sacrosanct policy of budget responsibility, Arsenal have made two very smart acquisitions, in poacher Oliver Giroud and dynamic attacker Lukas Podolski. North London rivals Tottenham, too, have been extremely pro-active, adding to an impressive squad the much sough-after Gylfi Sigurdsson and hawking with desire the cavalier and exciting Jan Vertonghen. Chelsea, also, have made inroads. Arriving at the Bridge, the mercurial Eden Hazard and talented Marko Marin. By and large, however, Sir Alex Ferguson and Roberto Mancini have stood pat, resisting the urge to tinker with their squads. Thus, credence is finally being given to an accumulative weakening of the Manchester duopoly over the Premier League.
It is hard to diagnose City's exact motive for lack of activity. Since the arrival of Sheikh Mansour at the helm, Manchester City have experienced a rapid metamorphosis. A culture of blockbuster signings on astronomical wages for exorbitant transfer fees became the norm. Such was the agent of their success. However, this summer, Roberto Mancini's side have seldom been explicitly nor accurately linked with a player. Save for the sensationalised and absent-minded rumours professing manic interest in Robin Van Persie, Manchester City have been immobile in a domain whereby they built their success.
In search of a rationale for such unexpected abstinence from transfer excitement, a few hypothesis stand out. Most pertinently, Manchester City's eagerness to comply with the incoming UEFA Financial Fairplay criteria has been of pressing relevance in their dealings over the past twelve months. By remaining stoical in the transfer market, City may be adhering to a vein of pragmatism; after joining the elite by means of financial expenditure, now they may seek to remain at the table with wise and realistic fiscal management.
Further, many will argue that City's lack of activity can constitute an innate confidence in the squad assembled by Mancini over the past couple of seasons. The squad that City currently possess, minus an unimportant and insignificant Wayne Bridge, exiled to Brighton on loan, won the Championship last season, after all! Many question the need to add to a squad that achieved so much as a unit last season, thus risking a detrimental affect on team chemistry and balance.
However, tied up in that logic is the very reason why Manchester City need to improve their squad. Despite shelling out millions of pound on a handful of players prior to the season, the club finished in 2011-12 only ahead of rivals united by goal-difference, changed and moulded in the 93rd minute of the final game. Therefore, the fact that many considered that aforementioned United squad to be one of the weakest of the Ferguson era is indicative of City's need to improve. A poor United side almost got the better of the best side in the history of Manchester City. Upgrades are needed.
United, also, have been relatively inactive over the summer. Whereas Chelsea added, in Hazard, a legitimate and quality playmaker, United have not. Sure, Nick Powell will, in three years time, be an exceptional football player, but right now, he is not what Manchester United need. Add to this the like-for-like replacement of Ji Sung Park with Shinji Kagawa, and United have improved very little as of yet.
The aggression in the market from clubs such as Tottenham, Chelsea and, to a lesser extent, Arsenal, could thus manifest itself in a narrowing of the gap between the top two and the rest. Andre Villas-Boas appears to have at last found a club that views him not as an agent of long-term, impossible change, but rather as a guardian of young, ambitious and hungry players. Tottenham will be competitive again. Chelsea are feeling the effects of Roman Abromovich's rekindling, and once again find themselves in the market for many of the superstar names available. Arsenal will continue to confuse and confound but eventually, should end up with a squad capable of resurfacing at the top.
The lack of aggression in pursuit of players from some clubs, and the palpable aggression of others has made clear certain expectations for the remainder of this transfer window. Almost certainly, blockbuster transfers will take place, with United in dire need of a playmaker and City resiting the tantalising desire to spend. Almost certainly, those clubs who have, for the most part, remained dormant, will make a splash at some point. Almost certainly, the forthcoming Premier League season will be one of greater intrigue, owing, thus, to the differing styles and approaches of transfer market negotiation.