Premiership P(R)eview 07/08

Discussion in 'Manchester United' started by Dark Savante, Sep 4, 2007.

  1. Dark Savante

    Dark Savante Member

    Apr 24, 2002
    Become the Tea Pot!!
    Well this month has felt like an age in itself. I’ve been writing a little bit of this from day to day with modifications as required at the end of the window and it’s a lot bigger than I had imagined it would be. Our will we, won’t we with regard to a new striker has finally been concluded for this window and the verdict on that score? ‘Is bad’ as our assistant manager Carlos Quieroz might say. Then again, he might not, as futsal seems to be the direction we actually want to take this team toward.

    This transfer window has been quite insane. The new TV deal and the monies it promises to fill club coffers with has brought with it some outwardly bizarre deals; £16m for Darren Bent from a relegated club; £6m for Kieran Richardson for example. Then there is the collective financial outlay by clubs outside of the ‘big four’ who are trying to break the monopoly of the aforementioned and get a piece of the Champion’s League pie for themselves.

    Tottenham Hotspur, West Ham United, Portsmouth, Liverpool Manchester United and even Sunderland have had a sizeable gross expenditure. More than any of them can afford? Well that particular proof will be in the pudding that May serves up for each of them.

    Unlike last season’s write-up, which was initially written before the season had kicked off, this one could perhaps be influenced by the opening games of the season. In most instances the start of the season is neither here nor there and casts a rather arbitrary shadow over proceedings should one believe it will be extrapolated at face value and look similar come May. In very few instances would I ever take my cue from a handful of games that could be considered the final part of pre-season and the ironing out of coiled limbs before sides get down to the real groove they’ll most likely maintain for the rest of the season.

    To avoid ‘confusion’ and questions about ‘tiers’ in the league that I have made frequent mention of, I will provide a tier table:

    Big Four

    Arsenal, Chelsea, Liverpool and Manchester United.

    Teams that expect to be challenging for the title every single season and when they drop out of the title race it’s seen as a failure or even a disaster if it’s before the run-in. These sides are mainstays in the Champion’s League and expect to stay there.

    Tier 2

    Blackburn Rovers, Everton, Newcastle United, Tottenham Hotspur and Bolton Wanderers (when they were under Big Sam.)

    Teams who expect to be challenging for the Uefa Cup spots from season to season. The top end of tier 2 is full of sides trying to break into the Big Four and the Champion’s League.

    Tier 3

    Aston Villa, Manchester City, Middlesbrough, Portsmouth, Reading and West Ham.

    Sides who should be doing better or have done well to stave off a relegation battle. Their aim at the start of each season is to try and achieve a Uefa Cup place in the table. On many occasions their season is mathematically over before April in that they are safe from relegation but cannot qualify for European competition. At this time, many of these sides become incredibly hard to beat as they play with reckless abandon and look to be a thorn in the side of teams with something left to play for.. or, they just coast till holidays..

    Tier 4

    Promoted sides, Fulham and Wigan.

    Teams fighting tooth and nail to stay in the top flight. Every year they are in the league they have a dogfight and a serious concern of being relegated. The hallowed 40pts is nirvana for these sides and a great season for them is making it into Tier 3.

    These days the league is so harshly structured that these tiers are pretty much concrete and it’s only seen as a glitch when one tier’s team breaches another tier’s teams. For example, if Everton were to qualify for the CL this season at the expense of one of the big four, it would be seen as an inconsequential blip unless they could repeat this feat for a few seasons running.

    The Teams


    Arsenal are a curious outfit this season. Their last two league outings have been blighted by linearity, predictability and an over-reliance on Thierry Henry. No matter whether you believe Cesc or Van Persie were stepping out of Henry’s shadow, there was still an onus on one player to deliver like a battery hen. Then there was the style of play. Whilst a few fans have been in awe of the tight and intricate style of play that is almost too easy on the eye, I’ve called what they’ve been doing ‘futsal’ and at least 40% of it was entirely pointless and costly with regard to points.

    See, the unique thing about Arsenal is that they can play one-touch and triangular football to a level rarely seen in England, but by doing that they often transcended the level needed to win a game. When you’re playing the kind of football an Abramovich dreams of whilst trying to score goals of the season or even century during almost every play, it’s not difficult to lose touch with reality and have the fundamentals of the game desert you. Playing with your bedraggled opposition to the point where it looks like a training session is all well and good if the outcome results in the most precious commodity of all - goals. That is what separates what Arsenal were doing last season and for the most part of the season before it with what their ‘invincible’ team of four years ago mastered or what Manchester United displayed last season. With both of the aforementioned sides there was an air of danger and intent. The build-up may have been sublime, but to be celebrated as something special there has to be a conclusion to the plays that demoralise the opposition and marks the side in question out as a really dangerous one – a genuine goal-threat on near every play.

    Whilst consuming themselves with the splendid build-ups and self-congratulatory pats on the back, Arsenal lost their way a bit and that can’t all be put down to the age or inexperience of their squad – many a time the win was on if a shot had been taken ten passes earlier. What Henry’s ability ended up doing was masking the shortcomings of others as goal-scorers. If one player guarantees his side a world class strike-rate, dependency can easily be borne. Much like United and Madrid of last season had with Ruud, the rest of the side can lose its way in the players’ absence. It manifested itself at Arsenal, for me, with the lack of productivity in front of goal, not in their build-up play at any point before it because with Henry in their team, most of those build-ups would have a shot or dangerous pass at the end, without him it became a very wasteful and over-elaborate endeavour.

    So now we zoom to this season and forget about a great league player who cast a significant dark cloud over his former team by the bigness of his personality and the ego that manifested toward the end of his tenure, and look at the Arsenal side Wenger has settled on for this season. The key areas that needed addressing were:

    1. to bring in a player who will convert the umpteen chances provided by the midfield.
    2. to shrug off the soft tag Arsenal have been labelled with ever since Gary Neville introduced princess Reyes to English football.
    3. to balance youth with experience.
    4. to vastly improve consistency over a season.
    5. for his team to step out as the new representatives of Arsenal in their own right.

    Wenger has addressed most of these issues in his own inimitable style. No star names for him. Indeed, Brazilian born, Eduardo Da Silva, was little more than a footnote for most fans despite his reputation as a hotshot in his adopted country of Croatia. Knowing what he wants and how he wants to play had Wenger allegedly rejecting the chance to sign Adriano on loan – Wenger has his own vision for his team and if a piece doesn’t fit, it is quickly dismissed.

    As far as shrugging off the ‘soft’ tag, we’ll have to see. It’s been a well known fact for a while that Arsenal don’t like it ‘up them’ as it were. Kick ‘em around a little bit and introduce callous un-loving away grounds with partisan support and Arsenal, post-Vieira, will get drawn in, complain and lose sight of the 3pts they came for whilst complaining that the big, bad, (usually) northern side is not letting them play their futsal. Until this label as pushovers is exorcised Arsenal are going to struggle to be taken seriously as a championship challenging side when things push comes to shove and that bit of grit is needed to pull through with the wins when the footy itself is stuttering.

    Has the issue been rectified? Well, it’s hard to say. Cesc is a year older, but that doesn’t mean he’s a year tougher. Gilberto is indifferent to the rough-housing for the most part, but he needs the rest of the midfield to be as well otherwise it is redundant that he can stand up to the hacks that have had Arsenal of the past few years sussed – why bother to chase a ball that is being skilfully circumnavigated around your midfield when you can just boot the tormentors causing the humiliation instead? Any Arsenal reading this may baulk at the injustice of such base logic, but most must surely see that no champions of England are ever soft, no matter the style of play they have. If Arsenal are still unable to handle the Robbie Savage’s and the Kevin Davies’ kicking seven bells out of them, they will be as good as out of the title race before the run-in. Arsenal, more than any side in the division, will be tested to bursting point on this perceived weakness away from their home ground.

    A lot of the responsibility in this side falls on the older heads by age and maturity, rather than foot-balling ability. Cesc, until he proves otherwise, is still likely to get embroiled in heated situations and lose his cool whilst trying to chin the likes of Edward Sheringham at difficult away grounds. By playing-experience alone Cesc is pretty hardened, but his tender 20 earth years belies that in times where life-experience is needed to keep a cool and focused head at the very least. Cesc (until he proves otherwise) still responds incorrectly to poor decisions and games going badly via injustices (bad refereeing at away grounds) and he loses his head along with most of Arsenal’s other youngsters at these times. Lehmann, Toure, Gallas and Gilberto between them have the task of keeping a talented young side in check and I do believe that if these four (the outfielders especially) have a good season, the rest of the side will come of age a season or two earlier than most expect.

    Petulance and feeling sorry for oneself is part of growing up, but when the sulking starts after a bad game or two, the eyes of many a Premiership manager will be on Arsenal to see if they are then able to rise above a slump or whether they get consumed by it. For some sides the first few games of the season are immaterial – they don’t decide anything – but I do feel it was important for Arsenal to have the start they’ve had. They are a confidence team more so than any other in the Big Four, and with belief they are a very dangerous side.

    Can Eduardo da Silva deliver in his first season in a league levels above what he’s used too? I’ve ‘predicted’ he’ll be top-scorer in the division off the back of a few games where he hasn’t even been a starter. Silly as that may be, I feel even a decent finisher is going to have the time of his life at Arsenal once he settles down with his team. From what I’ve seen of Eduardo, he has it in him to find the back of the net with unerring accuracy and he has that ‘goal lust’ you see from time-to-time in poachers and penalty box players. If he does the business for them alongside Van Persie, Arsenal could genuinely open the title-race up to four-way contention.

    Many are predicting great things for Van Persie this season. He’s even been touted as a possible league player of the year in some circles. It’s not hard to see why, and it’s quite obvious that Wenger put most of the burden on Van Persie’s shoulders when allowed Henry to leave. That’s not to say he and Eduardo are alone. Arsenal have added some variety upfront by retaining 19-year-old Niklas Bendtner this season. Unlike Adebayor, who also has a height advantage over many centre-backs in the league, 6’ 3” Bendtner relishes the aerial challenges and physical shoulder-to-shoulder confrontations and thrived at Birmingham on loan in the Championship last season because his game was unaffected by the rough and tumble. If he is given the chances to come off the bench in tough away games, Arsenal may well surprise us all with a much more blunt style of play, namely the long ball and an urgence to get the high crosses in from the touchline and onto Bendtner’s head.

    If there was ever a side who were going to be difficult to call this season, it’s Arsenal for me. The common consensus is that of a three-horse race between the rest of the Big Four for the title with Arsenal apparently no more than an afterthought who are at least a year away from the maturity needed to challenge for the league. I don’t know about that. They currently mirror the United side Alan Hansen infamously wrote off in composition and I do genuinely believe that they will take their lead from the older heads mentioned. If those three outfielders mentioned have a blinding season I do think everything else will fall into place for them. OK, so I’m labouring.. a position in the table? I’m going to go for fourth, but not for the reason that Arsenal are too young, but because of the depth issues in their squad. It’s the least impressive of the four sides expected to challenge and it is easily the most susceptible to insolvability should a Toure, Gallas, Cesc or Van Persie go down with a lengthy injury.

    Probably Line-up

    ----------Van Persie

    Key Men:Toure, Gallas, Gilberto, Cesc, Van Persie and Eduardo (spine and team effort for the Gunners)

    Final Standing: 4th

    Aston Villa

    A lot was promised at Villa Park last season. This season O’Neil was supposed to be given money, enough money to turn Villa into a side who were at least Uefa Cup position contenders. So with the transfer window now closed, I’m left asking what happened there, then?

    O’Neil recognises with certainty that the league demands pace and athletism from its players to the point where technique beyond a certain level is optional – a hard-running, fast-paced side with a plan of action is a problem to anyone, but a side like that which lacks the subsequent quality to fall-back on during off days, is going to burn out at just the wrong time in the season. The hard-running will take its toll at the point where teams are seriously jostling for position in each mini-league division in the table, a side like Villa aren’t going to have much left in tank. Given their squad depth and dearth of back-up talent, it’s hard to envisage them handling a demanding season and doing well over nine months of competition.

    O’Neil has brought in nothing but athletes and workers. Creativity has been forsaken and what offered promise at the start of the transfer window is now a disappointing and predictable squad. Aston Villa lack magic, they don’t have an Anelka, an El Hadj Diouf; a Bentley (if we exclude baby ones, of course) a Tugay or a Kanu, even. The closest they have to anything approaching genuine guile is Ashley Young and whilst I enjoy watching the player I feel he is a good two years away from realising anything like the potential needed to carry a side’s creativity on his back. Gareth Barry and Stilian Petrov offer a smattering of creativity themselves, but when you compare that to the sides in tier 2, there really isn’t enough guile in this Villa side.

    In short, Villa are easily sussed, very honest – overly so – and very, very easy to plan for well in advance. O’Neil has pigeon-holed himself into a 4-3-3 for optimal performance whilst their 4-4-2 is perfect against grafting sides but will be taken apart a fair few times by creative users of the ball. Agbonlahor is one of the quickest players in the league, if not the quickest, Luke Moore also has pace in abundance. John Carew is going to be used at point whether he thrives in the role or not (he doesn’t) and Ashley Young is expected to do his thing on the left side of the pitch. The midfield behind them lacks in the short-passing department and it’ll be many a game where they’re chasing shadows because of unforced errors and misplaced 1-2 pass attempts go astray.

    I see Villa as the ‘heart on your sleeve’ side who’ll win on a good day, draw many through pure determination and lose a fair amount after being outplayed and run into the ground. The style of play they have will cause umpteen problems for sides who simply cannot handle the raw pace and power of the collective, but it shouldn’t be much of a problem for many of the teams with top 6-8 aspirations whose creativity and flair is abundantly superior to this Villa side whilst having a decent selection of athletes of their own to contest against these pace-based sides, once Villa’s attacking pace gets negated, I feel they will really struggle to win such games.

    Martin Laursen, Thomas Mellberg, Curtis Davies, Wilfred Bouma and Zat Knight aren’t that bad a collection of defenders. The problem is that Laursen is plagued with injury and it’s a question of when and not if with regard to him taking a lengthy spell on the sidelines. Zat Knight being purchased for £3.5m is a mystery. He’s a defender who will always struggle against any striker worth his salt, but will contain the lower-ended strikers in the league – this move doesn’t exude ambition, I must say.

    After Steven Taylor and Micah Richards, Curtis Davies is the wunderkind of young English centre-backs at the moment. The evaluation West Brom have put on him and the amount of money it will take to prise him away from a club he’s been at loggerheads with for two seasons now has a lot to do with that. He’s a good defender - Quick, strong and determined in the air and tackle and in this Villa back-line of man-mountain defenders (the tallest CB unit in the league with an average height of 6’4!) it will be a rare occasion where they are scored on from an aerial assault during open play.

    Olaf Mellberg alongside Davies with Barry on the left side of defence is on par with any side below top 7 expectation and if they form a good relationship could well boost Villa’s standing from maybe an eleventh or twelfth to a ninth or even eighth.

    The biggest problem with Villa for me is that they have so few ideal match-ups in the league. They are your true wildcard team that every side in the division should feel they can have a ‘good go’ at before kick-off. They are balanced, yes, but in this instance it’s more of a hindrance than an advantage.

    In procuring a solid and sensible side, O’Neil has sacrificed an edge. You think of most teams in the league in terms of what they are very good at allayed to what they struggle with and then you draw a conclusion. For example, everyone knows that sides like Everton, Blackburn and Bolton are ‘hard’ and robust, that sides like Spurs, West Ham and Reading* are expansive and will give you a game and for each style and each side a manager has to plan accordingly. Apart from trying to break land-speed records down the flanks, Villa aren’t going to present a side with their own signature style of play and cause as much of a problem as they would’ve done with a creator in midfield and worse still, they offer no variety or variables with the personnel they have; a 4-4-2 for them has inherent flaws; the 4-3-3 they will play will rely on routine and industrious play. They won’t lose many athletic confrontations, but they will leave a lot to be desired when the other team start playing creative, possession-based football and they can’t get the ball back for minutes at a time.

    Granted, their pool of players is superior to at least eight sides in the division and that assures them of always staying up, but if O’Neil wants to make inroads on cup competitions and challenge for Uefa Cup spots against the likes of Everton, Newcastle, Spurs, Blackburn, Bolton, Portsmouth, Reading, Man City and West Ham, he’ll need to create a niche for Villa that they simply don’t have this season.

    Villa are at the top end of the 3rd of the mini-leagues as things stand. If we take the ‘big four’ and then the Uefa challenging sides as one and two, Villa are up against the likes of Fulham, Middlesbrough, West Ham and Bolton for the top-end of that third tier and as stated, on any given day they will lose to these sides just as readily as they may beat them.

    probable line-up


    Mellberg -----------------------------Bouma


    Mellberg -----------------------------Bouma

    Key Men: Barry, Mellberg, Reo-Coker, A.Young and Agbonlahor

    Final Standing: 11th

    Birmingham City

    Following Keano’s Sunderland in the Championship last season had me caught up in some of Birmingham’s games as well. I was thoroughly unimpressed with them then and can’t help but think they are part of a triumvirate of promoted teams who are the worst to come up in a good while.

    Steve Bruce was a legend at United for being that kamikaze centre-back who would put his head in where others wouldn’t put boots. He’d score as many goals as a low-ended striker and have the broken noses to show for it. We loved him for it, but many would conclude that playing like that will leave much to be desired aesthetically once said career comes to an end. Steve Bruce’s sides play just like he did. They give it their all, they get stuck in and they’ll fight until the final whistle. Also like Brucey, without a good partner, in this case a plan B, they will leave a lot to be desired and this is where Birmingham City will have their work cut out in a division that does not care for the methods it takes for the average club to get out of the Championship mire and into the big time.

    The question one has to ask is whether City have it in them to rack up the 40 or so points needed with such an abstract methodology. To be fair, no one plays like they do anymore. Take it back 13 years or so and Brucey’s side would not look out of place, but in the here and now there is the air of anachronism to them and their style of play.

    This isn’t meant to be a club assassination but rather a set of observations about them as a side. It’s a familiar tale – a side gets promoted and gives it their absolute all using the mainstays of promotion-play football: grit, determination and all that other stuff that hopes to abridge the failings in quality with the apportioned quantity of heart. The difference with Brucey, though, is that his teams are set-up old school rather than just being too poor to translate a style of play to a higher division.

    I would suggest anyone seeking further affirmation of this so-called old school style seek out some matches from the mid 90’s Premiership to gather a more substantial idea of what I mean. Suffice it to say, I find the Blues a horrid side to watch given that it’s 2007 and that they aren’t aspiring to be a mid 90’s United side (like Coppell’s Reading is), but rather a middle of the road ‘have a good go’ side from that era.

    They have a few players who do look equipped to handle other styles of play and the plan b that isn’t forthcoming, mind. Mikel Forssell, Cameron Jerome and Oliver Kapo have a big role to play in keeping the Blues in this division. It’ll be interesting to see who hands them their biggest home loss of the season come to think of it, because most flair teams will hate the fight they will get at St. Andrews and won’t relish the potential for injury so much heart and commitment brings to the table.

    None of this is to say Birmingham City are destined for the drop. It’s not as simple as that for them. I think a side like Derby can be safely considered the rock bottom side in the division, but after that there are two from three sides who will be fighting tooth and nail to avoid the drop come May 2008.

    With the way they play and the hugely demoralising slumps they are going to face, I think the Blues will go straight back down, personally. They aren’t the only fighters in the division and their style of play isn’t going to get them many victories over superior opponents. They won’t lose as many games as some of the other relegation battlers, but it’s hard to see them winning many either, especially when they have a keeper who looks either wholly overwhelmed by the top flight, or just outright poor between the sticks! And when you consider that 6 draws and 4 losses from 10 games is significantly worse than the 4 wins and 6 losses as side like Sunderland or Wigan will manage, it just doesn’t look likely they’ll stay up. Their only ray of light, imo, is in Forssell and his goal-scoring should he stay fit for the campaign. If he hits a purple patch they may well turn some draws into wins and survive.

    Probable line-up

    De Ridder----------------------------Kapo

    Key players: Forssell, Jerome, Ridgewell and Kapo.

    Final Standing: 19th

    Blackburn Rovers

    Sparky’s boys are back and they’re as mean as ever. Every side in the division hates playing Blackburn and that’s exactly what Hughes has translated from his own playing career to his managerial role with them. The complaints, the moaning about their style of play – it’s all perfect for Hughes and it sows seeds of doubt that gives them a window of opportunity to win games that they wouldn’t otherwise have.

    For the bigger clubs Blackburn are simply an obstacle they must pass en route to whatever ambitions they wish to fulfil. The sense of relief most fans have after coming away from matches with them home or away (especially) is there for all to see. For the smaller sides, Blackburn represent the gulf in class between simply being hard and giving it everything you have and actually having the quality to play football when the situation necessitates. They have found themselves a niche in the division and given Sparky’s budget there, he’s probably a player or two from taking them to their limit.

    Robbie Savage returning will boost them immeasurably. It’s not by position in the table that someone like Savage is most essential, it’s in geeing up his own side and winding the opposition up in equal measure that he is invaluable. Savage enables Sparky to enact (unleash, even) his vision onto the league at large. He is to Mark Hughes what Roy Keane was to Fergie or Patrick Vieira was to Wenger – every club has a player or two who are the perfect vision of what their manager wants to do and Savage channels that vision better than almost any other player does for his boss in the top flight. He is seen as an annoying no-talent hack, but I’ve never thought that of him. He’s a runner that enables an entire midfield to function and just because he is more limited as a player than some of the better runners in the division, it does not take away from the immense job he does for his club.

    I expect to see Pederson and Bentley thrive this season. Bentley is in the dog-house for England and he is on the periphery of being a member of the squad for Euro 2008 should England qualify. This should guarantee the best season the lad has had to date if he remains relatively injury free. He’s also getting up their in age and is soon to transition to a ‘stage 2’ player. Morten Gamst Pederson is now 26 and quite frankly, is at an age where expectation is par for the course. I expect a big goal return from the Blackburn flanks this season. I also expect this to be one of the best midfield units this season relative to their tier in the league. If Savage remains fit, I can’t see many sides taking Blackburn to the cleaners or leaving them with a deficit of more than two goals after ninety minutes.

    The signing of Roque Santa Cruz and the retention of Benni McCarthy are massive for Hughes. McCarthy had a stellar first season in the PL and Santa Cruz is the all-rounder Blackburn have needed for a while. The combination has the merits needed to push Blackburn to 6th or 7th in the table should they stay fit. If you add young Matt Derbyshire into the mix, you have the makings of this year’s league super-sub. The youngster looks like a young Gary Lineker in the way he thinks, his greed and most importantly, the sharpness in his finishing. He looks like he’s going to be a prolific scorer in the future, but for now, he’s an excellent player off the bench and his single-mindedness and burning desire to score goals could well nick Blackburn a fair few points that weren’t on before his arrival.

    There isn’t much to be said about their backline. It’s proven and it works and the addition of Christopher Samba shouldn’t alter that dramatically to the negative. The midfield protect their defence with such energy and determination that having a really good go at Blackburn as a side is very, very difficult. All-in-all, (p)reviewing Blackburn isn’t hard. They don’t change personnel much, they don’t have the considerable lulls in performance peppered over a season other clubs in their tier tend to have and they are very good at what they do.

    Probable line-up

    ----------------McCarthy----Santa Cruz

    Key Men: Savage, Bentley, Pederson, McCarthy, Friedal

    Final Standing 8th

    Bolton Wanderers

    ‘Big Sam’ has gone and ‘Little Sam’ has been promoted to a job that is wholly too grand for him. Sam Allardyce is a very good manager. For my money he is the best English manager in the top flight per results and tactical performance. Whatever little Sammy Lee is, we won’t know whilst the ample shadow of Big Sam’s reign remains at the Reebok.

    The problem Little Sam has is that Bolton are associated with 5th and 6th place finishes in the table, indeed, Bolton were considered a lot of things whilst Big Sam was there and as such, any drop in standards will be seen as a failure or a decline – what won’t be noted is that for the squad Big Sam had, he was vastly overachieving.

    Only Harry Redknapp could get away with forming such a hotch-potch of ‘throwaway’ players and making them work as a team. Big Sam’s forte was taking in very good players at the end of their careers on free transfers, or picking out problem players whose stock has plummeted but whose quality remained abundantly clear and getting them to play quality football again. I would assume that if Big Sam were to play the management simulation, Football Manager, he’d be an elite player, or whatever the best players of that game are considered.

    These aren’t hard shoes to fill, they are impossible shoes for 95% of managers to fill. Only Harry could have taken on Bolton and continued as is with what Big Sam was doing considering the pitiful budget, and even then, given that Big Sam is a better manager, there would be a dip in results. Bolton’s ‘true level’ with the players they have is around 10th and but for the interventions of players like Diouf and Anelka they’d probably plummet further given they don’t have anyone else who you’d deem special – they’d be Blackburn without the skilful players, basically. Fortunately for Little Sam those two have remained and they will patch over a lot of his failings as a top class manager because between them a goal and/or chance can be made from nothing at any given time in most matches they play in.

    Bolton aren’t a two-man team, far from it, but their unit has always been based on hard work and industry over flair and it’s why they will always need one or two players who are removed from that particular grind. Previously it was Okocha and now it’s Anelka who make up for the overly robust nature of the rest of the side.

    Anelka remaining at Bolton until at least January gives Bolton a glimmer of hope with regards to European ambitions, failing that, he should guarantee them PL survival this season, tongue-in-cheek as it may be, if Little Sam loses the faith of this oddball complement of players, they could plummet to levels you wouldn’t associate with them since becoming an established PL team.

    Kevin Nolan seems to have faded back into a so-so player over the last 14months after looking promising enough to kick on and become something impressive in the league. He’s still decent, though, and he should give them the drive through midfield to stave off any exceptionally dire scenarios.

    The notion that chairman, Phil Gartside, will allow Little Sam to take them to their doom is far-fetched in the extreme. If Little Sam can’t do the job to any acceptable standard, he’ll be sacked before December. Bolton aren’t as poor as their chairman makes them out to be and I’m sure any new manager would be given decent funds to purchase a player or two come the winter window. Bolton’s interests this season should still surround the 2nd tier of the league and a challenge for a Uefa Cup spot. Their squad didn’t suffer the exodus of enviable talent that some predicted and as such, if those players try, even without Big Sam at the helm, they should be aiming for mid-table at least.

    probable line-up


    key men: Anelka, El Hadj Diouf, Nolan, Jasskelainen

    final standing: 14th


    There has been a bizarre shift in attention between Manchester United and Chelsea since this time last year. Last Year it was quite obvious that the dire 4-2-2-2 system was set-up more with Europe in mind than the Premiership, and with it, Chelsea got their just desserts in the league. This time around their team looks more geared toward the league than to the Champion’s League and Manchester United’s, the reverse. If trends follow suit, this favours Chelsea lifting the league title greatly.

    With the failure to retain the title last season, Mourinho can turn to his boss and say he wants to do things more his way this time around. With that, the likes of Shevchenko and Ballack are likely to be used as Jose sees fit, he’ll use a formation that implements his ideals rather than one that panders to requirements of two star turns he would probably prefer to be without. Probably even more tellingly, Arjen Robben being replaced by another drone in Florent Malouda is a signal of intent.

    For Chelsea, creativity is obviously not a necessity. They don’t need to play pretty to win, and they certainly don’t need any intricate system to get right in amongst it with the rest of the ‘big four’ and any top side in Europe. Their power and stamina is a match for any side they face, and as such, creativity can be replaced with more industry without upsetting the apple cart too much. The issue though, is that industrious sides don’t win European Cups very often at all and if Ballack and Shevchenko don’t deliver on that front, Chelsea are going to be overly reliant on Drogba scoring more wonder goals than is perhaps healthy given the removal of a true match-winning talent.

    This is a curiosity given the circumstances. Drogba is essential to how they play but when you look at his schedule, what with the African Nation’s Cup and then the recovery period being right in the middle of a hectic assault on three major competitions, you have to wonder if his 29 year old body, (which will turn 30 in March) can hold up to so many demands given his battering ram style of play.

    Chelsea are obviously nowhere near a one-man team, but in Drogba they have the prototypical centre-forward for the modern game and if he goes down, they do not have a like-for-like replacement and that would effectively see them having to change a lot of their tactics, especially with regard to the long-ball-that-sticks they play whenever a game needs breaking up. It is ironic that we have placed as much reliance on a single #9 as they have depending on him to play a similar role knowing he is made out of breadsticks!

    With Petr Cech back, point-saving stops will be the order of the day. We’ve already seen it a few times this season and it’ll definitely be extrapolated with consistency. Their backline is never going to be what it was three years ago again, but this season it does offer variety and not quite so much reliance on Carvalho and Terry. They still lack pace at centre-back, but given how deep they sit, it’s quite irrelevant as it never gets exploited.

    Makelele’s reduced role due to age and injury is a massive loss for them. They will concede more midfield battles now than they have done since his arrival. It’ll be compensated for by the energy and running of Essien and Mikel, but it won’t have the complete sense of dominance and control Makelele ushered in with him. This incarnation of Chelsea would be my bet to concede the most goals and offer the most chance of recovery or even victory for opposing sides who really have a go. Makelele is their conduit to calm control in both defence and attack and if he can’t manage the role any longer, they’ll be left with inexperienced players at DM in comparison who will take on the emotions of a game that isn’t going their way. It’ll be a vulnerability and an opening for other sides as the season gets into full swing.

    The players they have brought in marks some sensibility in the market for once. Whether that is by design or Roman’s apathy remains to be seen, but what it has given them is hierarchy and a sense of order that every squad that hopes to remain agreeable to all involved needs. Pizarro must know he won’t usurp Drogba. Sidwell knows he’s a footnote compared to Essien as do Ben Haim and Alex, who should know that earning any starting time over a fit Terry or Carvalho is remote. This is very different from bringing in monsters of their generation and recognised greats like Shevchenko and Ballack and one would think Mourinho will be back to his autocratic best governing over weaker personalities, or at least ones who are in no position to speak out.

    The Ballack and Shevchenko situations are yet to be resolved, but the best thing for Mourinho in this situation is he has evidence of success without them during the season’s opening games and it may well be his trump card if needed.

    This season has a climatic feel to it with regard to Mourinho. Abramovich has wanted the CL for some time now, and he also wants a style of football that Mourinho simply won’t deliver. If Mourinho doesn’t deliver the EC this season doing things his way, the highway isn’t going to be very far ahead for him. The league seems to be expected there, as if last season was a mere blip.. heads will certainly roll if that doesn’t return to them regardless.

    Integration and man-management are questionable areas of Mourinho’s style. He uses his star turns to the point of exhaustion and then tends to blast the stand-ins who aren’t confident or in full flow because of such a peripheral role in the first place. This time around he has no choice but to address this well before the ANC is played because at that point, if he isn’t careful, he could throw away more than one competition in the space of a month plus the probable two weeks to get back up to speed those players will need. Kalou*, Mikel (if he goes), Drogba* and Essien are big outs given the role the latter three play. Mourinho has to make sure the likes of Sidwell and Ballack have a very strong understanding by then and the default style they use with Drogba in the side will have to be reconsidered.

    *Ivory Coast have yet to qualify.

    Joe Cole is a member of the side who does have a quality and pedigree to him that is to be respected when he is full flight and on-form. The rumours of a ‘bust-up’ between he and Mourinho are interesting, but probably overblown. He is a player that they badly need now given the reduction in creativity and the impact losing a player like Robben causes.

    Flourant Molouda is a decent player. He has the industry and heart that Robben lacks plus he’s a machine when it comes to fitness, but you do get the feeling that if this incarnation of Chelsea needs those special somethings that win games, their output sources have been reduced and it could have consequences for them this season. Malouda will do a very good and consistent job in a successful side, but when the shit hits the fan, he’s not one who can rescue matches like Robben could nor does he offer the threat he may do it either, which was always one of Robben’s trump cards as soon as he got on the pitch; the opposition became wary and instantly recognised him as a threat, thus opening up the field and more space for Drogba and Lampard.

    Overall, I would have penned them to win the league regardless. I think they have the best squad and the most important thing in the here and now is that it is an experienced and battle-ready squad, where as ours is better than last time out but not fortified with players for the here and now; Liverpool’s hasn’t been imbued with been-there-done-that worldliness and Arsenal’s is dependant on too few a number to be powering over the finishing line like others can.

    Probable Line-up


    Key players: Drogba, Cech, Carvalho, Terry, Essien, Lampard

    Final Standing: 1st

    Derby County

    From riches to rags, as it were. I watched Derby County last season purely to keep tabs on David Jones and I have to say, I felt they were shockingly poor and couldn’t believe they were promoted over 50 games playing as they did. The Championship was of a low standard last season in my opinion and the only decent side promoted was Sunderland, who themselves were levels below what is passable for the Premiership, hence their expenditure.

    The problem for Derby, though, is that they were in need of the same kind of expenditure or a wily and cunning manager in the mould of Stevie Coppell who could basically gut that shoddy squad for peanuts and reinvigorate it with far better players.

    I would wager that if Derby were in the Championship this season with the exact same squad they have now, they would not get promoted and would end up outside the top 4 come season’s end. That’s how poor I think they are. Like Watford last season, they are so out of their depth that it could be cringe-worthy for them before long. The last thing anyone would want is for them to be down by March but have to belabour to the finish line as no one offers to put down the lamed horse. Their situation is bleak and I cannot see where they will accrue points via draws from let alone wins. In short, every team in the top flight should have a genuine belief they can take between 4 and 6 points off Derby this season.

    One of the main problems this side has is how disjointed it is with regard to the top flight. Their midfield should be switched to a 5 man jobby, in my opinion and they should try and make themselves as tiresome a team to play against as possible. The problem with this, however, is that Derby are a team that try to be expansive, make a ton of unforced errors, lack pace or technique through the middle and commit too many bodies forward! Their defence is OK, to Championship standard, but it wouldn’t really surprise me if this side conceded close to a record amount of goals how things stand.

    Giles Barnes and David Jones are two actual footballers they have and it is only Giles who in this incarnation of Derby could be expected to thrive. Jones cannot function in a 4-4-2 and unless he is put at point of midfield in a 4-3-3 or in an AM role in a 4-5-1, won’t see much playing time at all this season, which is a shame for him and the club as they desperately need his technical ability out there.

    I’d be glad to eat some humble pie on Derby surviving the drop. They fill me with no hope whatsoever that this won’t be an embarrassing stay in the top flight for them.

    Probable formation


    Key Players: Barnes, Mears, Oakley, Earnshaw and Miller

    Final Standing 20th


    Last season, I wrote that I rated Everton’s 1st xi but felt their depth would see them struggle to make a serious impact on the top end of tier 2 of the table. This time out, I think they’ve done some marvellous business in the transfer market and do feel for them with the Manual Fernandes situation.

    Mikel Arteta is now at the level where he is widely acknowledged as the best midfielder in his position outside of the ‘big four’ and Everton have achieved a minor miracle in keeping him at the club. His stock is such that a bid from a big side either in mainland Europe or England will not be far off if he delivers this season like he has done for the last two. Given that Euro 2008 is at the end of this season, he’ll be playing hell for leather to get a piece of that.

    Another player that Everton have who is going to make waves sooner rather than later is Joleon Lescott, who looks like a very classy and tidy player on the up, to me.

    When you consider their template and the structure that David Moyes employs, you can see that Everton are a side who will be there or thereabouts for 5th or even fourth should one of the Big Four slip up. Everton, like Blackburn, are a tough side who no team relishes playing against. When we went there at the back-end of last season the nerves and doubts paid tribute to the level of opposition our fans considered Everton to be. Our upcoming fixture with them will also be a nightmare if we’re not 100% on our game.

    With such standing, there isn’t much reason for Everton to doubt they can over-achieve into a 4th place finish with the squad they have. A write-up for a side like this is self-explanatory, really. They are a solid, balanced side with two dangerous strikers up front and some genuine creative quality in midfield. Their backline is organised and stable and it is very hard to get at Tim’s propensity for flapping at corners and high balls because of the backline sitting in front of him.

    Yakubu is a signing that can take them from 5th to 4th, no question, and they have to believe such a lofty position in the table is doable for it to become anything like a reality. You get what you put into a season and if Moyes allows a defeatist rebuke to losses or draws that should’ve been wins, his side will quickly slip downstream where the likes of Spurs and Newcastle will be eagerly awaiting to take their spot.

    I’m tipping them for fifth because I believe their squad as a unit is very strong as a team and bench. It’s not the flashiest nor the most creative of the second tier, but I do believe it to be the hardest one to beat on their worst day and their squad is no longer anything to sniff at should one or two first-team members go down.

    Probable Formation:


    Key Men: Arteta, Neville, Lescott, Johnson, Yakubu.

    Final Standing: 5th


    It’s ironic that Mohammed Al Fayed saw fit to give Lawrie Sanchez the funds that Chris Coleman was never privy to. It’s ironic because Al Fayed is a tightwad who was always bleating on about not having cash for Coleman, but managed to give Jean Tigana £11m to splurge on the legendary Steve Marlet back when £11m was the equivalent of £15m or so in the relativity of today’s market.

    Sanchez hasn’t stopped for breath to bring in as many lower division and/or Northern Irish players as he could during the window. I will reserve judgement on what he’s done until at least mid-season. Right now things are going swimmingly for the ex-Wimbledon man and he does seem to have a little something about him as a manger given his exploits with the Northern Irish national team before shamefully abandoning them at the first PL opportunity.

    Fulham are a lower 3rd tier side that share borders with the upper-end of the 4th tier of the league and they can usually expect a dalliance with whatever relegation battle is going on before pulling themselves up to mid-table or at least out of the mire. The players they have should see them right and the poorness of some of the other sides should ensure they stay clear of relegation.

    David Healy and Diomansy Kamara are an interesting partnership given the league we’re in and their inexperience in it. Healy is a fascinating character given his story and the fact he’s come from Lids where he was dumped on the wing to being put in his best position and starting for a top flight side. He has the poacher’s instinct for certain and he’ll convert his fair share should the ball fall decently in his vicinity. Kamara had a field day in the Championship division last season, with his pace and movement being too much for the statuesque defences often found at that level. The question obviously revolves around his ability to do anything remotely similar against infinitely superior backlines who won’t allow him acres of space to run into. If these two hit it off Fulham could well be artificially boosted into a higher tier then they are used to being in.

    The rest of the squad is what you’d expect of a club working hard to stay in this division from season to season. I can’t see any great shakes from Fulham to the negative. They finished 16th last term and I reckon they’ll be there this time round as well. Should Jimmy Bullard return in anything like the form he departed in, I’d expect them to finish higher.

    Probable Line-up:


    Key Men: Niemi, Healy, Smertin, Stefanovic

    Final Standing: 16th


    ‘Rafa’ has been a busy boy this summer. With that amount of cash splashed the pressure is on him big time to deliver or at least come very, very close to the league and Champion’s League titles.

    Liverpool’s start to the season coupled with Rafa’s new beard has many believing that this year could finally be their year to win the league. Torres, Voronin, Babel and Benayoun aren’t a foursome that are likely to strike fear into the hearts of Chelsea or United supporters, who would fairly argue that their respective squads wouldn’t have much use for that calibre of player (sans Torres) some would say Rafa has splashed cash on players who won’t turn Liverpool into champions of England even if they are better off now than they were last season.

    I feel that they are edging closer toward bridging the gap now than they have for years. Indeed, this is their best chance in a long time to really put the frighteners on the top two challenging for the league. What has surprised me most of all with Benitez’s signings is the lack of a goal-scoring punch in any of them. I had expected them to get a proper poacher and taker of chances in before the summer window shut, but one hasn’t been forthcoming. Babel is a notoriously wasteful forward. His accuracy in front of goal to this point in his career has been shocking. Voronin is not known for a prolific goal return and neither is Benayoun and then we come to Torres himself. A player who I’ve spent at least two summers defending on here against what has always been an unfair barrage of criticism.

    I had argued the case for Torres coming here where we don’t need a 20+ goal striker as the effort can be shared. I hadn’t envisioned him going to ‘pool where the goals aren’t really scored in abundance and therefore profligacy should be at more of a premium. I have wondered whether Benitez would try and fit Torres into the system that was already in place or whether he’d create a new one, which played more toward Torres’ strengths and tried to share the goal load past a bunch of strikers and Gerrard. It’s hard to tell what will come to fruition so early in the season. Torres hasn’t had enough games nor has a team they’ve fielded been settled enough to know what Benitez has planned.

    One thing can be said for certain, however, Steven Gerrard will relish the space he gets to operate in behind the runs that Torres makes. I would expect a return to very high goal-scoring form from Gerrard this season.

    Looking at Liverpool’s first xi backline (Finnan, Carragher, Agger, Riise/Arebeola) there is only a moderate amount of pace and I think we’ll see them sitting as deep as ever in the bigger games this season. I had expected them to get a proper, all-round, pacey centre-back in this summer, but no, ‘Rafa’ has left his backline pretty much as is. Because they sit so deep Sami Hyypia is a good sub to have off the bench but you have to wonder how they’d cope in a multiple injury scenario given the sparseness of quality back there.

    Their midfield is solid through the middle. They have a runner in Sissoko who is plenty good enough against the smaller sides; they have the excellent DM, Mascherano, sitting in front of the backline and the deep-lying playmaker in Xabi Alonso to throw into the mix as well. Through the middle they have the players for absolutely any formation Benitez fancies through the entire gamut of 4-4-2’s and its variants, to 4-3-3 systems and the 4-2-3-1 that we played last season. Like Chelsea and ourselves, Liverpool now have the depth and the key players to play systems made to measure against each opponent in the league from the Big Four downward.

    As with any new realistic challenger to the league you have to wonder how this squad will cope with setbacks, how they’d hold up competing across three fronts and how they would perform if Gerrard or Torres went down with an injury at a key time in the season. Not very well, would be my conclusion. Gerrard is still too much of a heartbeat and lone ranger for them and although every club relies on key men at key times in the season, no other is as reliant on one player as Liverpool. None of their signings, new or old are capable of taking on his mantle should he go down for any decent length of time. Yes, the statistics say otherwise, and Liverpool have shown at times they can perform in one or two games without him, but his impact on them is still too immense, being the force of nature that he is. I would think him taking any time out when the chips are really down will see them taper off as league-contenders. Of course, we should give consideration to what they could do if ‘Stevie G’ stays fit and I still think they’ll give a better showing than they have for a long time but that they don’t have the game-breakers across the pitch to make genuine inroads on the title should one or two players go through a dip in form that we, for example, saw with Rooney last Christmas.

    It’ll be closer title race than it has been in a while this season, a three-horse race for some time, even, but I do think Chelsea and United will power away come crunch time, especially if Liverpool are still in the cups.

    Probably Line-up:





    Key men: Gerrard, Carragher, Torres, Mascherano. X.Alonso

    Final Standing: 3rd
  2. Dark Savante

    Dark Savante Member

    Apr 24, 2002
    Become the Tea Pot!!
    Manchester City

    I’ve never seen a City side with any hope in it before. The Thai crook has certainly made City the West Ham of this season in that many are fascinated with just where they will end up in the league come May. The bitters aren’t too bitter right now and unfortunately, that’s set to remain for the most part this season.

    See, for all the slaughtering of Sven in the English press, he is actually a good manager with a solid enough management pedigree to have gotten the England job in the first place. What we learnt from his time with the England NT is that he is easily led by football’s politicians and perhaps lacks the back-bone for that kind of job. His tactics with England were actually quite far removed from the relatively dynamic sides he put out during his time in Italy and the people who only consider Sven as the weak-willed man with an eye for the ladies he has become via the English media may well be surprised by his day-to-day nous in a club set-up.

    When Sven arrived at City’s training ground he swiftly announced he’d be bringing next to an entire side in during the transfer window - he wasn’t joking, and the results so far have been impressive by anyone’s standards. It stands to reason that a side full of new faces, many of whom are speaking languages their team-mates don’t understand, would struggle, but whatever method it is that Sven has used to get them on the same page very quickly has worked and been quite the success. Sadly, a manager, a real manager, like Sven will be fervently working on that side in training and their start to the season will be used as a platform and a bonus before the serious goals and targets are set for this season. Sven has said on more than one occasion he’ll announce his target to the press once the squad is finalised, I’m sure it’ll be a Uefa Cup qualification spot. We’ll see.

    City’s backline is going to be good this season. They’re only just starting out together and yet you get a sense of their organisation being above average. Corluka looks like a proper player to me, and to this point in the opening games he has impressed me more than any other defender in the league. If he keeps that level of performance up or betters it, he’s going to leave his mark on the league in double-quick time.

    Richard Dunne has always been a decent centre-back, he has his shortcomings, but he knows his limitations well and that makes him a wily customer who doesn’t over-extend himself very often and leaves the adventurous stuff to his centre-back partner - who this season is going to be Micah Richards. Richards has been propelled a bit too far into the spotlight now. He’s a good centre-back at the moment, not close to being a great one and his athletism has gotten him out of many erroneous positions of his own creation and will continue to do so until he learns when to go toward the ball and his man and when to stay back and keep the backline’s shape.

    The first thing Sven did that stood out to me was to bring Ditmar Hamann back into the first xi. He shouldn’t have been on the bench in the first place! A DM of that standard is going to boost a team outside the ‘big four’s’ central core immensely and he has done just that for City whilst being partnered with young Michael Johnson who has the energy of a proper midfield runner.

    Sven has been incredibly smart with regard to integrating this team. He has taken the cream of what was there beforehand and made sure they form the central core of his side. This is textbook good management and it has stood them in good stead and given them the foundations an overhauled squad needs. The midfield and even the central core may change slightly or be rotated out, but you can bet Sven won’t tamper with that until the rest of his side is settled as a unit.

    Another smart thing in what Sven has done with using such a central core is in fortifying the bench with quality options and tactical diversity. It’ll take other sides in the league quite a while to truly suss out City. Many of the sides up against them at the moment are going in blind and not finding it easy to really break them down.

    Martin Petrov was another good buy and although he has looked poor thus far, he will be a threat once he calms down and forms a better understanding with his team-mates.

    With regard to breaking this team down further, I feel it rather pointless as they are a definite work in progress and most certainly subject to change or even purchasing during the winter.

    Probable Line-up:


    Key men: Dunne, Richards, Corluka, Hamann and Petrov

    Final Standing: 9th

    Manchester United

    This time last year I did the same thing I’ve done this year – I put us down to finish second, and hopefully I’m wrong in the positive way again this time out.

    I can’t deny my thoughts and I am disappointed with what we’ve got at striker. We have one #9 in the entire 1st team squad now and it’s not like he has 300 injury free professional games under his belt or anything.. it’s Louis ********ing Saha, a man with so many injury problems you wonder just how he survives the day-to-day grind.

    I also can’t help but think that this team has been put together with Europe in mind over the retention of the title we won so majestically last season. That’s not to say we will throw the league out with the bathwater, no, but when push comes to shove, this team smacks more of Eurocentric idiosyncrasy than Premier League robustness.

    With the lack of options at #9 we’re going to see #10’s, #7’s, #8’s and #11’s pushed up there and unfortunately for us, there is substance to each of those numbers as we have two genuine support strikers, a genuine attacking midfielder, a pseudo one and a true right wing-forward as well. This isn’t like having a Karl Heinz Rumenigge or a Ruud Gullit upfront non-plussed by nominal positioning – we have a set of players who would very much rather pass the #9 buck onto somebody else. On the one hand, you want to be 100% positive and believe futsal and jogo bonito will win out against the heathens, but in reality, there’s a time and a place for a system and then there are other times when brute force and some solid, good old fashioned #9 play is essential.

    As usual, none of this would be of vital importance if Saha had anything like the fitness record of an Anelka or Drogba, but as he is closer in injury time to Michael Owen or Darren Anderton, it just doesn’t bode well no matter what the blind faith brigade would say. It’s folly to write us off, we played half a season with O’Shea and Giggs as a CM partnership in a 4-4-2 whilst winning an obscene amount of games the season before last, FFS. But this time I do feel it is a little different. We’ve sold two strikers and had another one retire and only brought one in. You do not need to be a mathematician or a quantum physician to see the flaws in this endeavour. It could prove costly, or it may turn out to be a masterstroke. In the end, irrespective of how it turns out next May, this was an incredibly risky gamble, unless we have something planned for the winter window….

    Our squad has been improved quite considerably with the return of some of the star pupils who went out on loan as well as the four outfield signings made. Fergie is determined not to be caught thin this season and although it reaps greater possibility for reward for the 1st squad proper this season, it’ll play havoc with the development of not only the returning loanees but players like Fletcher and Eagles (cough.)

    This will be an interesting season for us. We’re effectively launching a flagship formation proper this season.. with the dearth at #9 we don’t really have much choice.

    Fergie has said that he sees Wayne as an all-position-playing striker in the future, basically a forward who can do anything… it’s bold and belies Wayne’s natural instinct to drop deep to receive the ball. It’s not impossible, but is it optimal use of the player?

    You have to also think this is the season where we will see Ronaldo playing up-front at times this term. It has been discussed in-depth here two or three years ago and is now likely to come to fuition as we simply do not have an actual striker in the side of his height and prowess should Saha go down. How that’ll unbalance us on the flank remains to be seen, but it’ll be an interesting set of experiments.. as long as it’s not costly, it’s worthwhile.

    The last thing I want to mention is the capriciousness of SAF’s statements about Nani and Anderson being used scarcely whilst being eased into a new league and them being penned in for next season… with our failing to bring in a striker, that simply won’t happen, they’ll both be thrown in at the deep end and we’re sure to find out whether they sink or swim off the bat.

    I feel that the only way we’re going to retain our title is if we get at least 19 games out of Saha. Can he manage that? Let me not tempt fate.. the one thing that needs to be avoided at all costs is entrenchment via linearity. A predictable side can only be a success if what they are doing is really, really hard to stop. We have the ability to make that a reality, but it’s more than a big ask should we go down that route. Saha is more important to us than ever this league campaign. That worries me.

    Probable line-up




    Key Men:Saha, Ferdinand, Ronaldo, Rooney, Scholes

    Final Standing: 2nd


    Steve Gibson is a good and fair-minded chairman. His managers are well backed and he lets them run their team as they see fit. So why then does he always get shafted by underperformers who let him down season after season?

    When you look at boro’s first xi you always get the feeling that this side should be in the top ten in the division. Indeed, they have several players who would easily find employment in the sides that invariably finish above Middlesbrough season after season. Downing, Woodgate, Boateng, Yakubu and Viduka from last season’s side are all easily better than the finishes boro are accustomed too and if you look at the sides who took Viduka and Yakubu off Gibson’s hands you will get a clearer idea of by how much boro manage to underachieve from season to season.

    It would make more sense if the players complementing the star turns were crap, but they are not; boro are a tier 3 side where they should be up their with the tier 2’s jostling for Uefa Cup spots from season to season.

    The players they’ve brought in to replace the star strikers that left are a curious bunch to say the least. Jeremie Aliadiere hasn’t really shown anything in the Premier League to be a replacement for either player in a pairing that has been bailing boro out of trouble for a few years. Tuncay Sanli isn’t proven in England. I admit to not knowing much about him, but have been told on more than one occasion that he is a quality acquisition for them. The Korean, Lee Dong Gok is their fourth striker with Mido completing the quartet. Is that a set of strikers who can do as much damage as Yakubu and Viduka? I really don’t think so.

    Mido is always a few games away from a bust-up with management, Aliadiere is close to an unknown entity who could easily flop and Tuncay, one would imagine, is going to take some time finding his feet in this division.

    The biggest problem I have with boro is in their manager, Gareth Southgate. His age doesn’t have anything to do with it, nor does his lack of experience, afterall, the likes of Chris Coleman, Ade Bothroyd and Roy Keane have all taken helms on at round-abouts the same age. The problem with Southgate, however, is that he just doesn’t ooze the confidence or conviction to inspire a squad over a season, hence the massive dips in form and general malaise one can always expect from boro once they hit the 40 point mark(McLaren was the exact same.)

    Outside of their manager, their fans, who often leave the Riverside a half-barren wasteland, don’t exactly inspire players to give their all when the chips are down. And so I would expect the usual amble through a season to a comfortable non-desirable position the order of the day for Middlesbrough, again.

    One of boro’s biggest weaknesses is the void they have in terms of creativity throughout their team. For years all invention would come via Viduka. Downing will run for you, he will score a few and he will whip in many a dangerous ball over 35+ games, but there is no magic in his boots and very rarely will anything out of the ordinary come about with him on the ball. Lee Cattermole, Fabio Rochemback and new signing, Gary O’Neil, do absolutely nothing between them to bridge the creative chasm and very much like Aston Villa, you will get game after game involving boro that are 50-50 affairs that give them as much chance of beating a big side on any given day as they do of them folding like a deck chair against relegation fodder. With such inherent faults in their squad set-up you can see why minor blips become multiple point-dropping dilemmas in no time at all.

    The one thing I’d advise people to look out for is the relationship that develops between Mido and Downing. From Downing’s quality crosses I would expect Mido to convert at least 6 headed goals this season.

    Being predictable, bland and determined won’t get you very fair in the Premier League when you have no magical players in your side.

    Probable Line-up


    Key men: Woodgate, Boateng, Downing, Mido and Tuncay.

    Final position: 15th

    Newcastle United

    Just as Bolton will drop in the table because Big Sam has moved on, so shall Newcastle move up it. Newcastle have finally gotten themselves a manager who can take them places whilst laying down some long term foundations for the club to nuture.

    The first thing Sam did was gut the club of its deadweight and reshape the first xi. Players like Titus Bramble and Celestine Babayaro had no business starting for a side with any aspirations of a top six finish. Newcastle have been badly run for years. A combination of (Fat) Freddy Shepard, some dire managers, bad buys and poor player aptitude has well and truly consigned the halcyon days of the mid 90’s to history. For the first time this millennium, at least, there is a man at the helm who will take full control of the club’s team affairs and take no nonsense or slacking from any of his charges. Compared to the characters he tamed and harnessed at Bolton, Newcastle’s players should prove to be child’s play for a manager who wants to go places.

    Big Sam has made a lot of sensible buys this summer, there is no one player he has brought in who could take the club to new heights by his lonesome, but as a collective, he’s taken the club on leaps and bounds with his acquisitions.

    Mark Viduka is a very good player.. when he can be arsed.. and his talent borders on the levels of a Bergkamp or Cantona at times. It is this type of ability that can turn a point into three or a potential loss into a draw, and if Big Sam can extract all the good out of this meanderer, Newcastle will have struck gold. Alan Smith, Joey Barton and Abdoulaye Faye bring a level of combativeness and nastiness that will not go amiss at some of the harder grounds around the country. Nicky Butt went through his own spell of depression and apathy when he left Manchester United and wasted a few years basically doing not much of anything. Fortunately for Newcastle, Nicky has once again found his appetite for the game and will prove himself a quality component in what is an impressive midfield for a tier 2 side.

    The back-line was in the most need of restitution and Allardyce went straight to work in finding the correct players for the job. In came Cacapa, the experienced Lyon centre-back who has won 5 consecutive league titles in Ligue 1 as captain of one of the most dynamic sides in Europe. Additionally, David Rozenhal, Jose Enrique, Njitap Geremi and Habib Beye have fortified the back-line and made the squad unrecognisable at the back from last season to this and I would add that not many would see Newcastle as the laughing stock they once did for having the likes of Boumsong and Bramble conspiring to take points off their own side. Newcastle will no longer ship goals or throw away leads like they’ve done in the recent past and that’s at least an additional ten points to any tally they manage to accrue.

    What has to be considered with a side like Newcastle is that they aren’t poor financially or personnel wise, they have always had their fair share of good players and Big Sam had a very tidy pool of talent to build foundations from. Indeed, a side with the likes of Shay Given, Steven Taylor, Charles N’Zogbia, Nicky Butt, Michael Owen, Damien Duff, James Milner, Emre and Obafemi Martins already there is underachieving to not be a consistent top six side. Of course injuries must be taken into account as they blighted Newcastle last season, but you never got the feeling Glenn Roeder could inspire such a bunch of players nor earn their respect in the way that Big Sam will.

    Obafemi Martins staying is as good as getting a new £15m striker. The talk was of him leaving due to the infamous clause in his contract that now looks incredibly retarded given his form since coming to England. He is custom-built for a league like this and pound-for-pound is easily one of the strongest specimens to have ever played in the Premiership. He has no business being benched, even if Owen is now over his injuries, but unfortunately for him, it looks like it will be a small-tall partnership upfront and Viduka is assured his place when fit and Owen, being the golden boy of the era just gone, will be willed back to starting at the expense of Martins irrespective of form, I’m sure.

    Looking at Newcastle’s squad, the experience they have in not only the manager but the players and combining it with Big Sam’s tactical nous, it’s safe to say Newcastle no longer have any excuse for under-achieving. I penned them in for a 7th place finish last season and will do so again more assured as I am that their manager can make it happen or even exceed this target. For once, Shay Given might not be their player of the season, simply for the fact he won’t have to make a million saves this time out. There should be an almighty scrap between Everton, Spurs and Newcastle for position amongst the top seven and at no point should Newcastle feel inferior.

    Probable Line-up:

    Beye/Geremi ---------------------------Enrique

    Key Men: Obafemi Martins, Shay Given, Joey Barton, Steven Taylor, Nicky Butt. Mark Viduka

    Final Standing: 7th


    ‘Appy ‘Arry is at it again. ‘E’s only gone and played a blinda in the market ‘en ‘e? Indeed he has, but unfortunately for him, the teams around him haven’t stood still either and as such, have squads comfortably on par or superior to his. It’s a shame in a way. Harry wheels and deals superbly with the money he’s given whereas other sides and managers are a lot more flippant with their expenditure and base-knowledge/scouting of the market.

    What Harry is very good at doing is creating sides that are problematic for the Big Four – he has a linking for the grander games of the season. Where he often falls down is in beating his direct opponents in the rat-race – Harry’s players tend to overachieve on the bigger stages and underachieve on the stages they need to be at their best for. It’s all well and good being a bogey team for a side like Manchester United and their infinitely superior players, but it means little if you’re then balancing any accrued points you shouldn’t get out against the points you should be banking. I don’t see much in what Harry’s done that makes me think this trend will ease up any time soon.

    Portsmouth have a very good back-line for a tier 2 side and the purchase of Sylvan Distin will only make it better. The problems for Portsmouth tend to be in midfield where they struggle to put a barrier of any quality in front of the backline, which leads to it being unnecessarily stretched time and again. Sol Campbell’s decline was always greatly exaggerated. For my money he is by far the best centre-back seen in England since Paul McGrath way back in the 80’s and early 90’s and like players such as Maldini, Thuram and all the other older greats, simple modification of his game was necessary to prolong his top-flight career. It probably took Sol a while to realise this when he was at Arsenal, but now that he has ironed out his modified game he’s once again comfortably up there with any centre-backs in the country and his fitness, or lack of it, will determine Portsmouth’s final standing in the table. If Sol stays fit for the majority of the 33 remaining games, Pompey will end up at least two places higher in the table than they would have without him.

    The problems Harry has had with Portsmouth’s midfield could well be a thing of the past if he can get the hustling, bustling athletes he’s brought in to play some decent football with an adequate passing game. Sulley Muntari, Papa Bouba Diop, Matthew Taylor, Pedro Mendes, Lauren, Niko Krancjar and Sean Davis are a decent enough set of players for a midfield. It doesn’t scream quality at you in the way some of the higher-end tier 2 sides do, but between that lot, you would certainly expect a much better showing and protection of the backline than we have seen at any time during Harry’s reign. There is no reason at all for this unit combined with the backline and keeper to not aspire for a top six finish. When you add the strikers to the equation it becomes a little bit more unrealistic, however.

    Harry initially did very well to bring in a better collective for this season than he had for the last one. On paper Kanu, Nugent, Utaka and Mwuarani are decent. But if you look at the strikers sides at the higher end of Tier 2, you see that there is a gulf in class at base ends. Spurs, Newcastle, Everton and Blackburn all have comfortably superior strikers and Harry recognised his failing upfront and bizarrely announced that his new £6m signing, David Nugent, could go if a suitable offer came in as he wanted to use those funds to get a “15-20 goal man – them who are like gold dust,” according to Harry. He’s not wrong, but at the same time his methods were shocking and may have damaged relations with Nugent who remained beyond the transfer window. Knowing your boss wanted to throw you away if Nicolas Anelka could be brought in isn’t going to make for the best of working relationships.

    Besides all the politics one has to wonder how Nugent will fare in a harder division where the japery of a lower flight holds no water at all. Nugent looks like a striker who is too good for the championship but perhaps a step below the top-flight to me. He will have to modify his game and make it more cunning to get by with a successful stint in the PL. He isn’t particularly great at any one thing: he’s no poacher; he isn’t overly quick; he’s got a decent shot on him; is an average dribbler; is modest positionally; is quite decent in the air; has a decent engine on him and so on and so forth. He’s a good all-round striker for the Championship, but starts out as a distinctly average one for this, the elite division.

    When you look at the quartet as a whole it isn’t difficult to envisage a goal-scoring slump between them. Utaka is certainly a default Premiership striker given his pace, strength and stamina, but I don’t think he can constantly produce those moments of magic that turn nothing games into winning ones. Kanu does indeed carry that magical touch, but he is by no means prolific and coupled with that, Portsmouth’s midfield lacks the skilled linking CM or the goal-scoring contribution of any of the top-ended tier 2 sides as well. They could do with an Emre or an Arteta but that is one area they are diabolical in and it will cost them when those strikers start to splutter. For this reason, I’m expecting Portsmouth to have a slump that knocks them down into the mid-riff of the league.

    Probable Line-up

    1. Against sides Harry considers better than them.


    2. Against sides they expect to beat.


    Key Men: Campbell, Distin, James, Muntari

    Final Standing: 10th


    I ate the largest serving of humble pie with regard to the predictive relegation fodder I said Reading would be last season. Apparently, they would be caught out playing too cavalier a style with inferior players, which would see them beaten time and again. Apparently, Steve Coppell got the memo and used it to wipe his arse with. In truth, it was a wonderful season for Reading and the proverbial egg on my face tasted delicious. I wrote this piece to make amends for my woeful lack of foresight and have given Reading their dues since September last year.

    I think they are fantastic for what they’ve achieved with so little money. The most overwhelming factor, for me, though, is in how they play the game and the acuteness of their tactical preparation. They frustrate the best sides in the division with what are abnormal tactics for them, but they really go to town on most of the division giving it their all in a cavalier DW4-4-2 that throws everything at the opposition – kitchen sink inclusive.

    2nd year blues are being predicted by some pundits and observers of promoted sides and their trends. After all, it’s happened on more than one occasion and it is an easy and somewhat fair cliché to throw in there. I am hoping for Reading to prove that they are a side that relies on many an old fashioned value which will see them prove the doubters wrong and announce them as a serious threat to the tier 2 sides in this division.

    Of course this won’t be easy for them given the expected interest in half their squad and the tempting doubling, tripling or even quadrupling of wages that could turn this young maverick team’s head and fracture the side beyond repair. Steven Sidwell, one of their top notch performers from last season, was the first to jump ship. Seol Ki-Hyeon has followed suit and it’ll be a struggle for Reading to keep hold of Nicky Shorey (who was the subject of numerous bids this summer that didn’t meet Coppell’s evaluation,) Kevin Doyle, Leroy Lita, Steven Hunt and Marcus Hahnemann if they keep delivering like they have done to this point in time as they will also have money-doubling/tripling offers on the table from other clubs as well. Player wages and the covetous eyes of bigger clubs is a bigger bane to Coppell than having to worry about getting players in. If he can hold on to these players for the whole season, I’m sure he’ll be delighted.

    What a team like Reading truly have in their favour over many a side in the top flight is that they are ‘unsussable’ as a club. They play good football whenever they can and whenever they can’t they baton down the hatches admirably as Manchester United and Chelsea could attest to. This means that on any given match-day they can give any side in the top flight a proper game – not one where they are hanging on for dear life should they score, but rather, a balanced performance that holds all departments of the game dear. This means that they are comfortable attacking, defending, counter-attacking or playing a neutral possession game and it sets them in good stead to continue doing what they did last season.

    Having said all that, player quality does come into play at some stage and to that end, Reading would probably be grateful for a top ten finish as leaps in class do become a consideration over an arduous 38 game campaign. Coppell said he didn’t want to be in Europe nor the latter stages of the cup last season, and I’m pretty sure he’d say the same thing again. Reading’s squad isn’t deep enough for multiple assaults and no matter how well they performed last term they are still a fledgling outfit who need to fortify and then solidify their position and become a permanent fixture in the top flight. In this sense they are on a very similar path to the one Big Sam took Bolton along and in future seasons, once they have established themselves as the real-deal, they can expand their wings fully and try for those distractions outside of the league. For now, they have the ability and the desire to finish comfortably in tier 3 and I think they will manage that at the very least.

    Probable Line-up


    Key Men: Doyle, Shorey, Hunt, Hahnemann, Ingimarsson

    Final Standing: 12th


    As a Manchester United supporter who saw Roy Keane’s entire Premiership career and is as close to man-love as one can be without being gay, it’s fair to say I have a vested interest in his managerial career. He handled the first task with aplomb. His side were promoted a season or two earlier than his backers had penned in, and it shows…

    See, Sunderland’s squad was simply not ready for the top-flight. Like all the promoted sides from last season, they were actually a very poor outfit who looked very good in a Championship division that was not of the quality of the years prior. This isn’t a knock on Sunderland, far from it – you can only beat what’s in front of you, as the saying goes, and they did do that in spectacular fashion having cantered through the turn of 2007 into the home-strait whilst barely breaking sweat.

    The problems lay in how much of a gulf there is between Championship sides and their Premiership brothers. The money in the top flight ensures a constant stream of quality foreign imports you just don’t see the likes of in the Championship. In turn, this means any side that gets promoted has to adjust to styles of football they simply have not encountered before against players who are not interested in a scrap and a battle off the bat – they want to outplay and outsmart you. In a very ‘clean’ division where endeavour and rolling your sleeves up whilst grinding during scrappy games will no longer see you take home the 3pts, things get difficult very, very quickly.

    Even the so-called roughhousing sides in the top flight can put on displays of sumptuous football when the mood takes them and this is again far removed from the division below. For an example of two sides with similar reputations in separate divisions we could perhaps take Blackburn and Stoke – for all their hardness, Blackburn have skilful match-winners peppered around the pitch. Stoke, however, have all the hardness and grit and absolutely nothing else in relative terms. This means that one of the default tactics and ideologies of the league these promoted sides are coming from has to be thrown out immediately.

    Unfortunately for sides like Derby and Birmingham City funds are limited and they are left to fend for themselves with a plastic sword up against the proverbial titanium coated katanas waiting to decapitate them and invariably they go straight back down, criticised by the masses for being a poor outfit. Roy Keane, however, has spent over £35m in the transfer market :eek: and as much as I love the man in a non-sexual way, I think his signings have been absolutely shocking for the most part.

    Fair play, Keano initially set his sights on players outside of his scope, for now. His name is revered around the world and he has the kind of charisma and pull that will see him right, throughout his managerial career once he’s established, but for now, Keano has to make do with players who are perhaps his third or even fourth choices knowing full well the squad he had was entirely out of its depth.

    Spending the monies he has on what he has leaves a lot to be desired. The old-boy networks have been in full swing as Keano has sought out as many United players (ex or otherwise) as he could, as well as any Republic of Ireland players he could entice up north. This lends itself to questions about Keane’s scouts or even his own ability in the transfer market.

    You don’t pay:

    £5.5m for Kieran Richardson
    £2.5m for Danny Higginbotham
    £6m for Kenwyn Jones
    £5m for Michael Chopra

    When there is half or Europe to be plundered for talent. The French, Dutch, Eastern European and Scandinavian leagues have players who can be had for half these fees with double the talent and none of the fear about weather acclimatisation you may concern yourself with when getting Latin or Iberian players in and that is a sticking point when you consider the money Keano had at his disposal - he could have bough thrice the amount of players with similar or even superior quality with that cash! If they were to go down, considering the money he has been given to play with, you’d have to say it was an unadulterated failure. The funds Keano has had wouldn’t look out of place at a Big Four side let alone Tier 2 ones and yet, the 1st xi is barely strengthened never mind the squad. Given Premiership survival should be his only aim this season, his signings may well ‘succeed’ to that end, but for the outlay, a high end Tier 3 finish should be expected.

    Another area where Keane has suffered is in defence. Losing the prodigious Jonathon Evans and able sidekick, Danny Simpson, is bound to hurt them as they were immense mainstays of the side that won the Championship last season. The kick-on effect is that Carlos Edwards, one of the Championship’s absolutely stellar performers last season, will have to curtail his natural lustre for attacking because of having no able right-back flanking him. It’s a massive loss for Keane as the right flank really was their ‘go-to’ side when things weren’t working out last season. I highly doubt it’ll have anything like the importance to Keane’s new-look team.

    I highlighted some of the poorer signings per their price that Keane has splashed out on, but he has made a few key signings during the window as well with the acquisition of Craig Gordon being the feather in his cap.

    If you look at most promoted sides who come up to the top flight you will see that their keepers are absolutely shocking. Once in a while a side will come along with a rare gem such as Marcus Hahnemann or Juusi Jaaskelainen, but for the most part these sides guarantee themselves the loss of points by sticking with the keeper they came up with. Keano knew full well that the man between his side’s sticks was going to face an unhealthy amount of shots and pressure this season and he has made sure to get the best reputed keeper of British extraction on-board after numerous attempts to sign him throughout the summer had failed. He could well be the difference between relegation and survival, such is his importance.

    Paul McShane and Dickson Ethuhu are decent signings as well. McShane has his failings, but he is absolutely majestic in the air in either box and he will prove himself invaluable over a season should he stay fit. Ethuhu probably isn’t Keane’s first choice for DCM, but he desperately needed a runner for the midfield and his energy and aggression is quite essential for a side who will be without the ball for the majority of the season especially when you consider that the soon to be 36yr old Dwight Yorke is his partner – one who cannot last more than 60 minutes of a Premiership game and will surely decline as the season takes it toll and goes into overdrive (Christmas, Easter and the run-in.)

    Dean Whitehead going down for most of the season is a blow, he’s one of their players who would probably be snapped up by a Tier 4 PL side were he not at Sunderland and losing him will downgrade their midfield a fair bit this term.

    Any side that hopes to stay up once promoted has to have something about them, usually a niche which makes them potent enough to survive, be it a star striker or a quality triumvirate littered in with a lower level of player, there is usually something that the side that stays up has over the ones that go down, besides points, obviously. When Wigan stayed up they had Chimbonda, Bullard and Roberts playing out of their skin, Reading were simply a fantastic collective and so I wonder what it is, or isn’t, as the case may be, that could keep Sunderland up this season.

    Keeper? Absolutely
    Is it their defence? I seriously doubt it, it’s no great shakes.
    Their midfield? Once again, nothing special, but perhaps on par with Tier 4 sides who will dangle precariously over the edge into the relegation infested waters.
    Strikers? Possibly.
    Cohesion? They’re no Reading.

    So from that, I would take it to be their keeper and their strikers who will decide their fate with a moderate helping hand from the other departments.

    Andy.. err, sorry - Andrew Cole :rolleyes: , Michael Chopra, Anthony Stokes with Roy O’Donavon and David Connelly providing the wild card element… One thing I will say about Chopra is that he is a poacher and I put him in my fantasy team because of the dependency Sunderland have on him delivering – a lot of their chances will be funnelled through to him to finish off and I really do think that the Geordie (!) will have one of the biggest roles to play in keeping the Mackems in this division, you couldn’t make it up and not have Mackem supporters laugh at you a few months ago..

    Andy won’t score many I don’t think, but his movement will give all those around him as many chances and opportunities as a side like Sunderland can expect during a game, it’ll be up to others to deliver off the back of that more times than not. Stokes looks incredibly wet behind the ears to me. He’s young and has a lot to learn, but his greed and poor decision making has to be ironed out quickly – a relegation battling team cannot afford to have such profligacy in any striker that gets into those goal-scoring chances. I know nothing of the two Irish lads, but have heard they are considered talented in Ireland and after Kevin Doyle’s spectacular arrival it would be a tad foolish to dismiss them out of ignorance.

    I don’t think Sunderland will survive. The honeymoon is definitely over and it will be interesting to see how Keane copes when his side are clearly on the bottom rung on paper. Defeat and Roy Keane don’t really see eye-to-eye, and one wonders how long it will be before he has a full-blown berserker rage from the touchline.. but looking at it objectively, Fulham and Wigan have squads that look more balanced, more experienced and simply better almost man-for-man. Sunderland have a few players that would be snapped up by other Premiership clubs should they go down: Gordon, Edwards, Whitehead and Richardson, but after that, I’m really not sure the others could get a permanent gig in the top flight. When you compare that to Wigan or Fulham’s squads you see a big difference as each easily has ten or more who would find employment and lead an exodus should those clubs go down. Therein lies the difference and it’ll take a Herculean effort for Keano and his men to beat the odds. I really hope they do it, but can’t see how they will unless he buys again in winter... :(

    Probable Line-up


    Key Men: Gordon, Ethuhu, Chopra, Edwards, McShane, Nosworthy

    Final Standing: 18th

    Tottenham Hotspur

    Now this one has been subject to a lot of change influenced by their start to the season and the purchases they’ve made!

    All is not well at White Hart Lane and things are probably going to get worse before they get better. Martin Jol’s job is on tenterhooks irrespective of whether this Spaniard or that Italian had been contacted during the close season. Spurs’ start to the season has been unacceptable by any estimation. They are supposed to be challenging for a Champion’s League spot this season and unlike the Big Four, they cannot afford blips with the assuredness they can and probably will go on a sizeable winning streak collecting points against any opponent they face.

    Not only is breaching the Big Four a serious agenda for Spurs this season they also have to fend off some cracking teams who are looking to take that leap as well. Everton have already hammered Spurs at their own ground and are just as capable of going on the same kind of mini-run Spurs will eventually manage as well. Then you have Big Sam’s Newcastle and maybe even Manchester City to add into the equation. On paper Spurs have a squad as good as any of these, perhaps better, but it really isn’t outside the realms of possibility for them to finish behind all of them if they don’t get their act together.

    Last season Spurs had a messy start to the season due to the loss of Carrick and such was their quality over the others in the second tier they were able to claw back into a 5th place finish. What’s happened this year, however, makes any such similar start to the season far more of an issue to them than it was last time out. When you have four sides of very similar ability and potential, maybe one or two of them could slip up, but three isn’t likely and that would put Spurs in 6th place, at best. It’s a very real threat to them and given their outlay this summer, it would be an absolute disaster.

    I’ve felt Spurs were one or two absolutely top-notch players away from really looking like a side who could expect to breach the top 4. When you talk about the elite of a top three European league, you are truly talking about the cream of world talent. Spurs do not have many world-class players and the two that they do have are in danger of slipping from their grasp for differing reasons. Ledley King is a brilliant centre-back, easily in the higher echelon of this division. His name does not look out of place next to any centre-back in the league and unfortunately for Spurs, they miss him as much as Arsenal missed Henry last season or how we looked last term with Rio out of the picture for the CL semi-final.. it is a crucial blow that Spurs never recover from. They ship goals at an unacceptable rate for a side looking to make the leap and King’s absence is at the heart of this.

    Dimitar Berbatov has captured the heart of our manager and unfortunately for Spurs, this makes for an unsettled player and awareness from the powers that be that a shark is waiting should the water get too blooy. In fact, if Spurs are still ropey or out of the top 4 race by January, I think there will be tremendous pressure from us to acquire the player and that can only lead to an unfocused player and nervous side.

    Spurs should have gotten themselves a proven top quality two-way midfielder. They also needed a class left-back far more than they needed Darren Bent. If you look at any of the Big Four you will see a class central core without fail. It is the basic foundation from which a season is built and without it not only will your defence be put under undue pressure, you will concede far too much vital possession in too many key games than is healthy.

    Zokora, Jenas, Tainio, Huddlestone and Ghaly in charge of protecting a back four as fragile as Spurs is without King..


    Hargeaves, Carrick, Scholes, Fletcher, O’Shea and Gibson
    Makelele, Essien, Mikel, Sidwell, Ballack and Lampard
    Mascherano, Xabi Alonso, Gerrard, Sissoko and Lucas
    Gilberto, Cesc, Denilson, Diarra, Flamini and Song

    With due respect, there is a vast difference in quality and this is an area of the pitch where you cannot afford to concede an inch. Until Spurs get themselves a proper central core, it’ll always be an outside bet that they can truly take and keep a position amongst the élan of the division.

    Gareth Bale is a player I had a proper look at due to us being linked with him before the transfer window had even opened and I always maintained that this lad should be used as a winger or a wing-back at best, and it’s great to see that Jol has balanced up a problem area for his side with a player who really has the appetite and the ability to suppress a flank. Bale has a lot of class to his game. His crosses are fast and accurate. His shooting and decision making during attacks are good especially when you factor in his age. He has height, stamina and enough pace to be a problem. He is the kind of signing that takes Spurs into new territory, beings as it balances their midfield for once and gives them a duel threat when Aaron Lennon returns. If the central core was better, they’d be quite the proposition as a midfield unit.

    As it stands, Spurs will be on the receiving end of a lot a of counter-attacking football this season, and I think it’ll prove costly for them. They can’t afford to lose points very often and with that central core, I can’t really see how they will be able to put their foot down and assure that doesn’t happen. They are very strong upfront, certainly ahead of the other top-end Tier 2 sides, but not by such a distance as the others are ahead of them through the middle of the pitch, in my opinion.

    Tottenham’s backline is a mystery in itself. Is Robinson good or reliable enough to match their ambition? Keepers who make mistakes at the top end of the table are slaughtered for it, it’s unacceptable and blunders are highlighted and analysed to death. Lehmann, Van Der Sar and Reina had their moments last season, but overall they were representative of the level each of their club’s would aspire to. Robinson seems to be declining with every season, however. He’ll have to buck his ideas up massively to justify being Spurs’ number one.

    Chimbonda, Kaboul and Rocha are a decent bunch, Anthony Gardener and Lee Young-Pyo aren’t far off a Titus Bramble and Celestine Babayaro pairing and Spurs needed much better players brought in for their respective roles this summer. One would assume Spurs’ ideal backline would be
    Chimbonda-Kaboul-King-Ekotto and that looks like a backline that could actually shut sides out over a season. Without King in the side it does make you wonder how many clean sheets Spurs will manage over 38 games. I doubt it will hit double figures, personally. Again, contrast that to what the top four will manage.. there will be a gulf.

    Kevin-Prince Boateng made waves in die Bundesliga last season and was voted the best young player in the division to boot. He along with Adel Tarabaat add yet more attacking flair to a side who need more grit. Nevertheless, a promising young attacker or two never did any side any harm and it’ll probably keep with their recent tradition of the offence having to bail out the defence time and time and time again.

    Spurs are a fascinating side to watch given their ambitions and how they go about achieving them. On some days they just ooze class as they ravage a smaller side like a big club should, on other days they look naïve and anxious wasting chance after chance before throwing away a lead or losing a game and this is the kind of erraticism a side looking in on the Big Four cannot afford to have. Looking at their squad and their reliance on an often absent player, I don’t think this will be their season to make waves. It’s also very probable that Jol will be the first PL manager sacked.

    Probable Line-up:


    Key men:King. Berbatov, Keane and Lennon

    Final Standing 6th

    West Ham United

    West Ham made mugs out of everyone last season, myself included. Their season was meant to usher in a new age for them. Backed by MSI, we were supposed to see a whole new era for the Hammers and what we got was a relegation battle and lots of controversy instead.

    West Ham’s ambitions this season aren’t clear. Their side is good in some ways and poor in many others. If you look at the sides around them you have to think they’ll make no great shakes in the division this year and instead amble erratically to a mid-table finish.

    If you want to look at managers like Big Sam, Steve Coppell and Harry Redknapp as masterful spenders in the transfer market, then perhaps we should look along the opposite end of the scale for the circus seen dahn at West ‘Am.

    I’ve felt they had no idea what they were doing with all that cash from the start of the window and the players they brought in and for the prices we’ve seen have been quite bizarre.

    It started very well with Scott Parker coming in - a player of admirable focus and suitable quality to lift a side when it is down and invigorate them with indefatigable zest right through the heart of midfield. But I feel it quickly fell down as the transfers started to come thick and fast: Ljunberg, Bellamy, Dyer, Solano, Faubert and Richard Wright? This is a baffling set of players for all kinds of reasons, none less than West Ham not spending a penny on a back-line that ships goals like a sieve passes water.

    They could’ve done with a right-back, a left-back, a classy central midfielder, a quality keeper and prolific striker if they were going to spend so freely. They haven’t addressed the problems that will take them into serious Uefa Cup contention in that they are still so easy to play through. Ironic given we didn’t score against them as they did the double over us last season.

    The curse of Eggert seems to have besieged their signings as Faubert, and Dyer have long term injuries whilst Ljunberg remains.

    When you look at West Ham’s squad on paper, you realise they have no choice but to take the game to their opponents win, lose or draw. The problem this creates for them is that they have no plan B, and keeping hold of leads means they always have to go for a second goal. That may be fantastic to watch as a fan, when it works out, but I feel it’s a sure-fire way to throw away a lot of unnecessary points over a season.

    Craig Bellamy, Henri Camara, Dean Ashton, Bobby Zamora and Carton Cole are a decent strike force. The starters are comfortably superior to the back-ups, though, and that again makes you wonder what happens if Bellamy or Ashton go down injured for any length of time, although it has to be said that West Ham have balanced their strikers better this season then last.

    You can’t mention Craig Bellamy without affixing the word trouble to him in some way. There’s the brilliant Bellamy that the league saw two seasons ago at Blackburn who Sparky tamed and got the very best out of and then there’s the idiot that made a fool of himself at Newcastle and Liverpool. Curbishley strikes me as a very weak character; placid, reserved and mild-mannered even when he tries to look angry, and the question that has to be asked is whether he has the wherewithal to manage a stropping Craig Bellamy. The best of Bellamy can take this team to its limit and certainly have them challenging for a Uefa Cup spot, the worst of him, could see a camp in turmoil fighting relegation again..

    Dean Ashton looks a classic withdrawn centre-forward who masquerades as a support striker in modern day football. He has very good feet, a powerful shot a good header on him and a more than decent reading of the game. It will be interesting to see what he can do with Bellamy ahead of him stretching the field vertically at every opportunity. The pairing certainly has the foundations of the classic big-small partnership and I think West Ham will struggle to keep the lad should he exact the potential he has.

    West Ham will certainly be an entertaining team to watch this season, whether they will be effective remains to be seen.

    Probable Line-up

    Ljunberg/Solano-----------Etherington/Boa Morte

    Key men:Neill, Parker, Noble, Ashton, Bellamy

    Final Standing 13th

    Wigan Athletic

    Wigan have had the most surreal transfers in this summer. Who on earth takes on Emile Heskey and Titus Bramble that wants to stay in the flight? It’s a question of degrees really. Titus is shocking for any side actually trying to challenge for something, but in a relegation battle amongst players of a similar level he isn’t that bad a pick up.

    Emile Heskey has unfairly been marked as a laughing stock for years now. He’s certainly not an upper echelon player, but he has the attributes and the unpredictability to do a job for someone in the top flight. There is no question at all that Heskey is one of the fastest and most physically intimidating strikers in the division, if not the world. He might not score many, but he enables several players around him to function to the best of their ability and when you’re in a dogfight, that’s an essential attribute to have. The question then becomes: can those around him score enough goals to keep Wigan in the top flight. Maybe just about.

    Wigan’s squad was quickly plundered of any talent last season and what has been left leaves a lot to be desired. Their squad has to be down there in the fourth tier with the three promoted teams being the only ones who look inferior and I would say the battle for the last relegation spot comes down to one from Wigan and Sunderland.

    They have bought in what they could and given their team an odiousness by signing Michael Brown. Jason Koumas was the most raved about player in the Championship last season and even won Player Of The Year. Why he chose to go to Wigan off the back of that is a mystery, but at least he is guaranteed games throughout the season… the same goes for Andreas Granqvist the highly touted young Swedish centre-back who will have the privilege of learning what not to do from Titus Bramble.

    Whilst their side is unspectacular, they are comfortably better than both Derby and Birmingham City not only in terms of quality but also top flight experience as well. Journeymen such as Kevin Kilbane, Mario Melchiot, Antoine Sibierski and Marcus Bent know what the Premiership is all about and although they aren’t good players by any stretch of the imagination, they are capable of more match-winning moments between them than either Derby or City can muster and I wouldn’t be surprised to see them push Sunderland to the wire in the battle for survival. I’d also say that because of their experience they will not be hammered by large score-lines as many times as a team like Sunderland will.

    There’s nothing outstanding to mention about Wigan. They aren’t a disastrous side like a Derby County, they’re just not blessed with many good players and as such, they will struggle.

    Probable line-up


    Key Men: Heskey, Granqvist, Brown, Melchiot, Landzaat

    Final Standing: 17th


    1. Chelsea
    2. Manchester United
    3. Liverpool
    4. Arsenal
    5. Everton
    6. Tottenham Hotspur
    7. Newcastle United
    8. Blackburn Rovers
    9. Manchester City
    10. Portsmouth
    11. Aston Villa
    12. Reading
    13. West Ham United
    14. Bolton Wanderers
    15. Middlesbrough
    16. Fulham
    17. Wigan Athletic
    18. Sunderland
    19. Birmingham City
    20. Derby County
  3. Dark Savante

    Dark Savante Member

    Apr 24, 2002
    Become the Tea Pot!!
    And remember, kids. the start of the season is like the foreplay before bed starts rocking... sure, it's nice... but a good perfomance is determined by how climatic the apex is...

  4. BusbyBabes

    BusbyBabes New Member

    Jun 30, 2007
    Up North
    Manchester United FC
    Nat'l Team:
    God how long did that take you:eek:?

    Very good though:)
  5. RealMadGunner

    RealMadGunner Member

    Jul 19, 2006
    Arsenal FC
    Nice post DS .. Been waiting for this for a while .. :eek: :D
  6. Charleysurf

    Charleysurf Member

    Jul 30, 2004
    Manchester United FC
    Good work. I think Villa and Blackburn will finish higher than predicted here though.
  7. United Forever

    Apr 16, 2004
    Manchester United FC
    Nat'l Team:
    Nice but I have to wonder on the opinions on Villa and on Emile Heskey...
  8. jeff070

    jeff070 Member+

    Dec 31, 2004
    Manchester United FC
    Nat'l Team:
    in the manchester united line up how did u put rooney on left i dont get it if u had put somebody out of the first starting line up u would put tevez ??? i think this year will be the year just because everybody is sayin that we cant do it and also we sold smith who had one goal last season , and rossi who didnt even play and ole who retired socred 11 and tevez will make up for that i dont see where the big problem is!!!
  9. Dark Savante

    Dark Savante Member

    Apr 24, 2002
    Become the Tea Pot!!
    Don't forget to make your own tables.

    Was interesting to see how right/wrong people got it last time.

    I hope I'm wrong about a few..
  10. BusbyBabes

    BusbyBabes New Member

    Jun 30, 2007
    Up North
    Manchester United FC
    Nat'l Team:
    1 Manchester united
    2 Liverpool
    3 Chelsea
    4 Arsenal
    5 Everton
    6 Portsmouth
    7 Aston Villa
    8 Newcastle
    9 Tottenham
    10 Blackburn
    11 Manchester city
    12 reading
    13 Middlesborough
    14 West Ham
    15 Fulham
    16 Bolton
    17 wigan
    18 Birmingham
    19 Sunderland
    20 Derby
  11. foyez5

    foyez5 Member

    May 7, 2006
    1 Manchester United
    2 Chelsea
    3 Arsenal
    4 Liverpool
    5 Everton
    6 Newcastle
    7 Aston Villa
    8 Portsmouth
    9 Blackburn
    10 Tottenham
    11 Manchester city
    12 reading
    13 Middlesborough
    14 West Ham
    15 Sunderland
    16 Bolton
    17 Birmingham
    18 wigan
    19 Fulham
    20 Derby

    Brilliant analysis of the teams and thank you for a pleasurable read!
  12. Vermont Red

    Vermont Red Member

    Jun 10, 2003
    Manchester United FC
    Nat'l Team:
    United States
    1. Chelsea
    2. Manchester United
    3. Liverpool
    4. Arsenal
    5. Everton
    6. Newcastle
    7. Tottehham
    8. Blackburn
    9. Manchester City
    10. Portsmouth
    11. Reading
    12. Aston Villa
    13. West Ham United
    14. Bolton Wanderers
    15. Middlesbrough
    16. Fulham
    17. Wigan
    18. Sunderland
    19. Birmingham City
    20. Derby County
  13. schafer

    schafer Member+

    Mar 12, 2004
    I'm a little surprised you didn't make more mention of Villa signing Reo-Coker. I was under the impression you rated him quite highly.
  14. Vermont Red

    Vermont Red Member

    Jun 10, 2003
    Manchester United FC
    Nat'l Team:
    United States
    I'd be surprised if DS rates Reo-Coker highly as he's actually seen Reo-Coker play.
  15. schafer

    schafer Member+

    Mar 12, 2004
    He was pretty good for West Ham 2 seasons ago. Certainly lacking in some areas, but still a fairly decent player, IMO. I just brought it up because I seem to remember DS mentioning him as a preferable player to Hargreaves (given the relative price) when that discussion was taking place.
  16. Invincible

    Invincible Member+

    Mar 28, 2004
    1) Manchester United
    2) Arsenal
    3) Liverpool
    4) Chelsea
    5) Everton
    6) Tottenham
    7) Blackburn
    8) Newcastle
    9) Aston Villa
    11)Man City
    13)West Ham
    20)Derby County
  17. Stud83

    Stud83 Member+

    Jun 1, 2005
    1. Manchester United
    2. Chelsea
    3. Liverpool
    4. Arsenal
    5. Newcastle
    6. Everton
    7. Tottenham
    8. Manchester City
    9. Blackburn
    10. Aston Villa
    11. West Hame
    12. Sunderland
    13. Wigan
    14. Middlesbrough
    15. Bolton
    16. Fulham
    17. Portsmouth
    18. Reading
    19. Birmingham
    20. Derby
  18. benni...

    benni... BigSoccer Supporter

    Nov 23, 2004
    Chocolate City
    Still see Van Persie is going to have to serve someone.

    Good write up. Cant say I disagree'd with any of it.

    I think that Mascherano is going to be one of the players of the season.
  19. israbeckham

    israbeckham Member

    Jun 18, 2006
    Nat'l Team:
    Still not done reading but great post DS. If I knew how to give red I would:p

    1) Manchester United
    2) Chelsea
    3) Liverpool
    4) Arsenal
    5) Newcastle
    6) Tottenham
    7) Man City
    8) Everton
    9) Blackburn
    10)West Ham
    11)Aston Villa
    20)Derby County
  20. SirManchester

    SirManchester Member+

    Apr 14, 2004
    Nat'l Team:
    If the priorities of the big four managers are domestic, it will finish this way:

    1. Liverpool
    2. Manchester United
    3. Arsenal
    4. Chelsea

    5. Everton
    6. Tottenham
    7. Newcastle

    8. Manchester City
    9. Aston Villa
    10. Blackburn
    11. Portsmouth
    12. Wigan
    13. Middlesbrough
    14. Reading
    15. West Ham
    16. Fulham
    17. Bolton
    18. Sunderland
    19. Birmingham
    20. Derby County

    If the big four concentrate on Europe, (I think us and Liverpool will do so more than the other two) the top four will most likely look like this:

    1. Chelsea
    2. Manchester United
    3. Arsenal
    4. Liverpool
  21. Mac_Howard

    Mac_Howard New Member

    Mar 5, 2002
    Mandurah, Perth, WA
    Great post, DS. If we had a "post of the season" then that would surely have wrapped it up for this season already. As I've said once before - you have far too much time on your hands :)

    Having limited knowledge of many of the Premiership teams I won't even attempt a full league prediction but restrict myself to a simple statement about the "big four". In my view any one of these four could win the Premiership this season and I could make out a good argument for any combination you care to come up of the final four positions. All have first choice teams that could win it but all have vulnerabilities to injury that could ruin their season. All have key players whose absence could take them out of contention. I wouldn't bet for or against any of them.

    Great post, DS. Repped!
  22. Sapphire

    Sapphire Moderator

    Jun 29, 2003
    Manchester United FC
    Nat'l Team:
    United States
    1. Manchester United
    2. Liverpool
    3. Chelsea
    4. Arsenal
    5. Everton
    6. Newcastle
    7. Manchester City
    8. Reading
    9. Tottenham
    10. Blackburn
    11. Portsmouth
    12. Aston Villa
    13. Bolton
    14. Middlesbrough
    15. Birmingham
    16. West Ham United
    17. Sunderland
    18. Fulham
    19. Wigan
    20. Derby
  23. Dark Savante

    Dark Savante Member

    Apr 24, 2002
    Become the Tea Pot!!
    I find the comments about Villa finishing higher interesting. I wouldn't mind hearing both your thoughts on why that will happen. I think they'll be fun to watch this season, but the team they have has no one to bail them out in games where they are struggling, whereas sides who I think will end up above them have players who will pull a moment of magic out of nowhere to take the three points where Villa will end up with a draw or loss.

    Rooney has the energy and strength to play LAM and he grew in the role toward the end of last season, with the interchange and the fact we never put crosses in from the first wave, it'll be more like whoever is there cutting inside and doing whatever they want anyway. He and Tevez/Giggs/Anderson (whoever is in the middle) will interchange all game anyway, so the nominal starting positions aren't that important nor are they set in stone. I expect the broadcasters will get out initial line-ups at kick off wrong time and again this season.

    Smith's hold-up ability and the fact the punt could be played off him allowed others to thrive. His goal-scoring wasn't the only important thing about having a CF up top. Ole scored 11. That's 11 goals towards our achievement and Rossi was due to be promoted to the 1st squad this season in parts. We've lost a lot up top if not by 1st team PT, then by removing options off the bench.

    Different time and different roles now. We've changed system a fair bit since then and would no longer look at a player like Reo-Coker even if he didn't have that dip last season.

    I don't think a player like him merits much mention in a set-up like Villa's. He'll do his job and work hard, just like everyone else. If he had an offensive punch or better technical ability, I would have written a paragraph for him. But he's not going to help Villa when they need that something extra, imo.

    I have to admit that I'll be surprised if there are four horses in the race past March. Too much is being made of the start to the season, imo. Ourselves and Chelsea are supposed to be 'doomed' and the other two have apparently announced their intentions for a whole season off the back of 4 or 5 games? It's silly and the fickleness of fans will mean it just ebbs and flows every couple of games. Liverpool will be 'out of it' if they lose two on the bounce, apparently, and we'll be back to favourites if we win our next two games, etc, etc.

    We needed all our special players to deliver to win the title and we've got far more special players than either side, when you compare that to the last time Arsenal won the league, when they had Henry, Vieira, Pires, Ljunberg, Bergkamp and Cole all in devestating form, I think it makes clear the amount of ability needed in a team and squad to win the league. Do you genuinely believe Arsenal or Liverpool have that right now?
  24. israbeckham

    israbeckham Member

    Jun 18, 2006
    Nat'l Team:
    I dont think Arsenal have that, but I think Liverpool do. I would rate their squad just as high as I would rate ours, and Chelsea. This has been said over and over but Arsenals squad will be there too, in a few years...
  25. Mac_Howard

    Mac_Howard New Member

    Mar 5, 2002
    Mandurah, Perth, WA
    I'm not suggesting that there'll necessarily be all four still fighting for the title by next March but just which team(s) will have fallen by the wayside is not something I'd like to stake my house on. I think injuries - and the way they fall (3 strikers usually much worse than a striker, a midfielder and a defender for example) - will be even more important than usual with three other teams able to take advantage of a temporary slip rather than just one. We've already seen how our ability to accumulate points has been hit by the unavailability of three attackers and each of the teams could suffer periods similar to this. And although we could normally take comfort from the fact that we're now only two points behind Chelsea despite our poor start - which would have been the important point last season - we're still effectively 5 (two and a match) behind Liverpool and Arsenal.

    I expect a much more complicated comparison of points accumulation this season.

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