The Rambles of Neil Monnery is delighted to welcome a new writer to the team which kind of makes a mockery of the title but still. James Berry has been known to the management for over twenty years and was one of the reasons that kept the management sane when dragged to Hart Plain Church every Sunday morning for year after year. James will be blogging on football whenever he feels like it so if you are into football then read his pieces. I’ve always found them detailed and worthwhile hence why I’ve offered him the chance to blog here. I hope you enjoy.
The 2011-2012 Premier League season is nearly upon us so its time again for my pre-season predictions. I really think the title race will be close this season and could go down to the last day with a number of teams involved:
A strange season last year for United, no one thought this was anywhere near their best team in the premier league era but they still won the league by 9 points so they can’t be that bad. United’s title was definitely won at home, picking up an astounding 54 out of 57 points at Old Trafford but only 26 away. Hernandez was a star performer up front and the defence was the second best in the league. This summer, Fergie has lost stalwarts and undoubted United legends in Gary Neville, Paul Scholes and Edwin Van Der Saar. However, he has finally managed to prize some cash out of the Glazers, spending c£18million on David De Gea to replace Van Der Saar, c£18million on Phil Jones and another c£18million on Ashley Young. Only one of these is a direct replacement for the 3 legends and although they are excellent signings, its still feels as though they are one short. Last year I talked of Gibson, Carrick, Nani and Valencia needing to step up to provide more goals, a call which Nani answered (and Valencia was only denied due to injury) but it is surely midfield where United are at their weakest. They desperately need a world class central midfielder to replace Scholes and have been linked with Sneider and Modric but neither deal looks likely.
Having said all that, United are still the team to beat, they have the experience, the squad and most importantly of all Sir Alex Ferguson, the best manager of all time. It will be interesting to see how De Gea goes about his business and I wouldn’t be surprised if he is given time to ease into the team (he’s only 20!) but with Rooney back to his 2009/10 best, I can see United winning this again.
Started like a house on fire but then fell away. They suffered from loosing Lampard and Drogba for long periods and Ancelotti wasn’t able to dig them out of a mid-season blip quick enough to save their title hopes. The signings of David Luiz and Fernando Torres were real statements of intent from Abramovich and although Luiz started well, Torres looked like he was turning into Chris Sutton and Andre Schevchenko to name but 2 expensive Chelsea flops from the past.
Ancelotti paid with his job for last seasons failure and was amazingly replaced by the inexperienced Andre Villas Boas, a former Chelsea scout, for a fee believed to be around £13 million from Porto (although not the most expensive transfer for a manager – that record goes to Mourinho when he went to Madrid last year). Its a very brave move by Abramovich, the sheer size of the compensation paid for him suggests that he will be given time to rebuild the Chelsea squad. Its a quirk of Chelsea that although they have had so many managers in the Abramovich years, they have had a relatively stable squad, something that will not be possible to maintain for too much longer with the likes of Terry, Lampard, Cole, Drogba and Anelka being closer to the end of their careers than the beginning.
The signings this summer haven’t set the world on fire with only Oriol Romeu from Barcelona and Thibaut Courtois from Genk arriving. From the read ups, Romeu sounds like an excellent prospect and with Essien missing could go straight into the first team. However it looks as though, as with United, its central midfield where Chelsea wish to strengthen having bid twice (and been turned down twice) for Luka Modric. I can’t see Tottenham selling for anything less than £40million but I wouldn’t be surprised if Chelsea pay that (the only question mark over the deal being Chelsea’s concerns with complying with the new UEFA financial rules). Lukaku from Anderlect looks like he might be on the way, a player I am really looking forward to seeing play, and the rest of the team looks good as long as the spine of Cech, Terry, Cole, Lampard and Drogba stays fit. It will be interesting to see what happens with Torres but they have enough still to be there or thereabouts. However I think that ageing legs may catch up with them and the inexperience in the dugout may also be a problem. Torres has not been scoring and it maybe that again they fall just short again.
Last season I summarised their squad as follows:
“Two of the best keepers in the league, numerous options across the back 4, a ridiculous number of central midfielder’s, Milner, Wright-Phillips, Johnson and Silva to do the creative and strikers of the caliber of Santa Cruz, Adebayor,Balotelli, Tevez and Jo to call on. But despite that, I think they lack a real quality creative force from the centre of the pitch inthe mould of Lampard, Scholes, Fabregas, Xavi, Kaka, Gerrard or evena Modric or Arteta. Hopefully Silva will be that man but it is a lot asking him to do that straight away in the hurly burly of the Premier league.”
Since then, Given has left and the goalkeeping department is definitely weaker but they have added a proven premier league performer in Gael Clichy from Arsenal to strengthen the joint best defence in the league and have replaced Jo with Kun Aguero, a truly world class player on the level of Carlos Tevez. Silva did step up to become the creative force in the centre of the pitch and it is very difficult to see where City could improve their squad, never mind the first team. Despite this, Mancini still apparently want Sami Nasri from Arsenal, a central midfielder to replace the retired Patrick Viera and a winger.
To improve, and to win the title, they need more goals from players not called Carlos. Aguero will do that and I’m sure Silva and Toure (Yaya) will get more too. They also need to be more ruthless and aggressive but maybe that approach is more down to the manager than the players.
City will be very difficult to stop and I can see them winning the title this year. However, due to Uniteds superior know how in this area and especially that man Feguson, I think they will just pip City to it, but it will be close. Damn close
Its deja vu all over again:
“it is hard not to question why Wenger has not bought a top class goalkeeper, at least another centre half and possibly a central midfield enforcer. The argument apparently is that he doesn’t want to create a bottleneck for the youth players coming through but surely he has to win a trophy this year after 5 years without one”
Szczwsny looks like he could be the answer in goal (although he’s a year older than Dea Gea at United and has only played 15 games in the premiership) but he is liable to make mistakes (like the howler in the League Cup final). Central midfield doesn’t look like such a problem with the emergence of Wilshire but once again centre half is a real concern. Wenger has been heavily linked with Phil Jakiela and Gary Cahill but does not seem willing to stump up for either one of them. Whether this is the board playing hardball or a real unwillingness on Wengers behalf, failure to sign one or both of them would be folly. Either would make Arsenal better than they are now. United spent £18million on a 19 year old with 1 years premier league experience behind him. Why will Arsenal not pay a similar amount for one of Jakiela or Cahill?
As for the squad, Kieron Gibbs will presumably step in at left back to replace Clichy (good news for England) and Vermaelan will be like a new signing after missing most of last season. Gervinho has been added and has looked good in pre-season and as usual a lot will hang on what happens to Cesc Fabregas. Why Barcelona want him this year is beyond me but I wouldn’t be surprised if he goes on the 31st August (although not if he plays in Europe this month). Van Persie staying fit is vital, he was superb from January.
This season could be very difficult for Wenger and the Arsenal boys. The Emirates crowd is clearly growing impatient at the now 6 year trophy drought and a bad start or a poor patch of form in the season could really turn into a slump.
Arsenal still have enough to win the title but life would be a lot easier if Wenger brought in some experience. There’s still time, but I make my prediction on the squad as it is now.
Spurs had a great time in Europe but were 6 points off the champions league come the end of the season. If Harry had managed to buy the striker he wanted in January its entirely possible they could have made up those points but as it was they had to rely on Defoe, Crouch and Pavelechenko who did not deliver. They now have Robbie Keane back from West Ham. Goals scored were the difference.
There still seems to be a lot of deadwood in the squad that Harry will surely want to get rid of; Hutton, Bentley, Jenas, Palacios, the three strikers names above, dos Santos, Bassong, Kranjcar all look like players he might want to ship on and all that have decent sell on value.
I still have reservations about Spurs defence. Ledley King is superb but you can’t rely on him to play all the time and I don’t rate Assou-Akotto, he’s too inconsistent. If I was Harry I would sort those two problems out first. The midfield is fantastic, reading Bale, Modric, Huddlestone and Lennon but there needs to be some decent cover beyond those 4 and I don’t think Harry likes the backup he currently has. I would also like to see an upgrade on Huddlestone, a terrific player but I think they can do better. Diarra from Madrid would be my choice. Perhaps the most concerning area is up front. They can all deliver on their day but it rarely seems to be a Saturday. I’m surprised Harry hasn’t resurrected his interest in Rossi of Villareal (he’s clearly not going to Barcelona anytime soon) although I would suspect its more down to wages than anything else.
Spurs now have the Europa league to concern themselves with but I don’t think Harry likes that competition so I expect to see the squad used for those games. He will be more focused than ever on doing well in the league and I expect them to push for the champions league spot to the end. They could do it, but I think they will miss out on the last day.
A season of hope and optimism awaits the Kop faithful. Cash has been well and truly splashed since January with £35million on Andy Carroll, £20million on Luis Suarez, £16million on Jordan Henderson, £20 million on Stuart Downing and £8million on Charlie Adam. None of these signing can be faulted but it is the size of bill that surprises, especially for Jordan Henderson. Liverpool has also given the squad a british uplift which is refreshing to see and this knowledge of the premiership will surely help. Kuyt has been a revelation since King Kenny took over and they now look to have plenty of attacking intent.
The squad is still a bit short in some areas however. A left back is needed, Enrique of Newcastle has been strongly linked, and a right winger would also give them more balance unless Kuyt plays there. They may also want a back up striker although they could us Ngog or Kuyt. Maybe an extra centre back is needed too.
However I do slightly agree with Danny Murphy, Liverpool were under no pressure from January and now they are. It will be interesting to see how they do. Whatever happens, the club will be together and the fans will not turn on Dalglish like they did on Hodgson. Patient will be the watchword at Anfield this year, and although they may not win anything they will surely improve. The Champions League could be achieved this year but like Spurs I think they will just miss out towards the end despite pushing close.
I find it incredible that no multi-billionaire has pitched up at Goodison and got this club moving again. A lack of investment is the only thing stopping Everton challenging for the Champions League spots. Moyes is doing a fantastic job with little money although the squad has thinned out a bit with the loss of James Vaughn. I think in an ideal world Moyes would like to be rid of Joseph Yobo and Yakubu and maybe get his money back from a Russian club on Bilyaletdinov and get in a striker but I think with little interest in those three he may have to resort to selling Rodwell for £15-20 million and reinvesting the proceeds or getting in some loans. (Incidentally I would like to see Rodwell go to Arsenal or United as I think he’s standing still at Everton)
Moyes hasn’t signed anyone of note yet this summer but perhaps more importantly hasn’t lost anyone either, so I would say more of the same from a small but talented squad.
Is Mark Hughes the stupidest man in football? He had a great job at Fulham with a great squad and a chairman who always backs his managers yet quit for a job that doesn’t exist. Martin Jol comes in and it has to be said that Fulham again look in good hands. Since his huge mistake in appointing Laurie Sanchez, Al Fayed seems to make excellent choices in his managerial appointment.
As for the Fulham squad, as with Everton they are a small and talented team. The back 5 are very good (with an excellent addition in John Arne Riise) and the midfield is hard working and contributes the odd goal. Up front, Johnson, Dembele and Zamora will always cause trouble for whoever they play against. Jol’s remit from Al Fayed seems to be to reduce the age of one of the older premier league squads and surely a long term replacement for Danny Murphy would be one of the priorities.
However as they are Fulham have plenty going for them and will again be a handful for anyone they play. I can’t see them regressing.
The hardest thing for Randy Lerner this summer was what to do with the manager and eventually Houllier left to be replaced by Alex McLeish. Villa fans had already had a say on the managerial appointment, effectively vetoing Steve McLaren but Randy had his way with McLeish (nice sentence!) Villa fans are not happy at the appointment of a man who took their local rivals down twice in 3 years.
But looked at from another angle he is an excellent appointment. He has managed successfully one of the biggest clubs in the world (Glasgow Rangers) and at Birmingham did a great job, winning their first major trophy in years, only sullied by a dreadful end of season which sent them down.
As for the squad, they have lost 3 of their best players in Freidel, Downing and Young and these three will be missed. However they have done well in replacing 2 of them with the proven talent of Charles N’Zogbia and Shay Given. Nevertheless there are a few things that need addressing.
Central defenders Richard Dunne and James Collins went AWOL on and off the pitch last year and some competition is needed in that area. Pires and Reo-Coker have been released but neither will be missed much. However more is needed in midfield. Stephen Ireland will hopefully wake up after a 2 year slumber and Marc Albrighton is an exciting talent who could replace Ashley Young. Up front, Bent and Agbonglahor will always get goals but maybe some backup is needed.
A bit like Arsenal, I think their season will depend on the start. If they are poor, the fans will have little patient with McLeish and will turn on him quickly and a season of upheaval could ensue. Make no mistake, McLeish can do a good job but will the fans let him? I anticipate a slight regression on last year.
“Another summer of frenetic transfer activity at Sunderland, Steve Bruce must surely be getting close to the team he wants “
Clearly not. I wrote that last summer and this summer he’s bought in 9 players who will be in 1st team contention and sold or released 4. They lost Bent at Christmas but Asamoah Gyan is a terrific player who can more than adequately replace him. Of the players Bruce has bought this summer, highlights are O’Shea and Brown from United who will surely help to install a winning mentality at the Stadium of Light and it will be interesting to see how Conor Wickham develops. Craig Gardener, Seb Larsson and David Vaughn are also very good additions to the team and will surely add goals to the team.
However I still think Gyan needs more support up front and the midfield is very workman like but perhaps lacks a little quality. They don’t possess a Charlie Adam, a Danny Murphy or Mikel Arteta like the clubs they are fighting for league places with and this lack of creativity could hinder them. I would also anticipate another mid season slump again, just like the last two years.
Bruce needs to settle the squad down and develop some consistency. The clubs above them in the league have that and this is what Sunderland need.
West Bromwich Albion
Last year I couldn’t be bothered to write about them but they surprised everyone and survived comfortably. The goals of Peter Odemwingie were crucial to this and they look like they will be able to hold onto him. The defence must improve next year, they let in far too many and had hardly any clean sheets but Roy Hodgson will improve things in that department. Ben Foster is an upgrade on Scott Carson and thats a good bit of business. The midfield looks good, I really rate Chris Brunt and Tchoyi looks good as well. With further support from Thomas and Morrison, the middle of the park could do with a bit more bite. If Owen Hargreaves can stay fit then he would be a good signing for them. Need to score more and concede less but they’ll be alright.
Newcastle had a good season last year. With Kevin Nolan leading and the likes of Andy Carroll, Joey Barton, Cheike Tiote and Jonas Guitierez following, Newcastle survived comfortably and provided the most memorable game of the season, the amazing 4-4 against Arsenal.
But since then, Newcastle have lost the spine of that team in Nolan and Carroll and seem to be trying to rid themselves of Barton too. Not only are these good players, they were the leaders in the dressing room that really united the club and got them promoted in 09/10. They still have some decent players but the players they have added to to the squad are largley unproven in the english leagues, even Demba Ba has only had 6 months (although he did look useful). There seems to be no hint that Mike Ashley will release the £35 million banked for Carroll but I don’t blame him for that, he’s spend millions on the club and is entitled to take some back.
They still have a decent team though but I think they could do with a bit more experience, especially of English football, in their team. They should also do all they can to hold onto Joey Barton. There maybe periods that they struggle but I think they will stay up.
Cracking season in the Potteries with an FA Cup final appearance to boot. They play a very simple game, 2 great wingers in Pennant and Etherington feed crosses for the head of Jones, Fuller and Walters. In Huth and Shawcross they have two very good stoppers and have added real quality in Jonathan Woodgate, who but for injuries would surely still be at Spurs or even a bigger club. There’s still a lack of quality at Stoke and they are a bit agricultural in their approach. I would really like to see Pulis improve his central midfield so they can play a bit more football. Having said that they are very good at what they do and no-one likes going to Stoke on a cold Tuesday in November (not even Barcelona). It will be interesting to see how they get on with European football and whether the squad will be able to cope with it but I think they will step up and do well again.
They did ok last season and Daniel Sturridge was surely one of the (temporary) buys of the season last year. This summer they have lost him and Johan Elmander together with the one-man goal of the season machine Matty Taylor but have added Nigel Reo-Coker, Darren Pratley, Chris Eagles and Tyrone Mears. Whilst those 4 are decent, none of them would appear to be significant improvements on the players already at the club.
I think the most pressing part of the team for Owen Coyle is up front. Currently he is left with 2 senior strikers in Kevin Davis and Ivan Klasnic (and er Robbie Blake). Someone like Robbie Keane would be perfect for the Trotters. The return of Stuart Holden will be a welcome sight as he was one of the stars of the season with his all action style until his untimely injury.
Coyle clearly then will be making further moves in the market before September and don’t be surprised to see another young player from one of the big clubs following in the footsteps of Jack Wilshire and Daniel Sturridge and rocking up at the Reebok. Their season could depend on who arrives between now and then but I base my prediction on the squad today.
Last year I thought they would comfortably stay up but this year I am not so sure. To me, Blackburn have all the signs of a club going backwards. New owners purchase the club promising riches and world class players galore but then fail to splash a bean (see any of Pompey’s owners 2009/10, Birmingham 2010/11) and sack an experienced manager and replace him with an inexperienced one (Pompey, nearly, with Tony Adams 2008/09, Bolton with Sammy Lee, Southampton with Stuart Gray, Charlton when they went down)
Blackburn do however have a solid spine. Robinson, Samba, Nelson, N’Zonzi, Emerton, Pedersen, Jason Roberts will fight for every ball and also possess a bit of quality. But they lack goals and desperately need someone to score at least 10 goals, if not more, in a season. If they could find their own Odemwingie they would be in business but I fear that if they fail to take advantage of a relatively easy start they will struggle. The inexperience of Steve Keane will require the full patience of the Venkys board and I worry that they don’t know enough about football to know when to stick or twist.
I believe that Wigan were in the bottom 3 the whole of last season until the final day. They escaped the inevitable. A dire start against Blackpool who spanked them off the park set the scene for a year of struggle. But N’Zogbia and Rodellega’s 9 goals apeice saw them good .
This year, N’Zogbia hais gone to Villa and so far only Dave Jones and the permanent signing of Al Al Habsi have come in. Maruro Bosselli has come back from a decent spell on loan at Genoa and he must show why Martinez spent £6 million on him last year. Other than that, it looks as though Martinez will have to hope that the likes of James McCarthy and Victor Moses improve further and that Steve Ghouri, Alcaraz and Figeouroa can do enough to stop the flood of goals they always concede at the other end. I would anticipate some late transfer window arrivals which may help them on their way.
I think it will be a close run thing again for them but that they will stay up. Just.
I like Mick McCarthy’s no bullshit interviews after a match. He’s a bit like Gordon Strachan in that respect except not so much of a dick. And make no mistake, Mick deserves to be where he is. He’s put together a good team that for some reason struggled last season. Stephen Hunt, Stephen Fletcher, Matt Jarvis and Kevin Doyle are good premiership players and he’s added more of the same with Roger Johnson and Jamie O’Hara on a permanent basis.
They are probably a little lacking in qualify in central midfield and full back but I think they will do a lot better than last season with their high speed attacking football.
The Billionaires are back in town. The second richest club in Britain reached the promised land after more than a decade away in style with the league championship. Neil Warnock purchased astutely a number of players with good experience of the championship, the icing on the cake being the incredible talents of Adel Taarabt, the championship player of the season.
This summer, the purse strings have again remained tight and Warnock has signed up a few decent looking free agents, current England international Jay Boothroyd and former England international Kieron Dyer. £1.5 million went on DJ Campbell who did great at Blackpool last year.
In truth, as with the other promoted teams, I don’t really know enough about the players to make a proper judgment. I’m glad they have held onto Taarabt and I hope he can show his talent at the top level. They have some very solid citizens and they could stay up. But think they will fall just short.
Two promotions in two seasons is pretty good for any team but to get into the Premiership at the first attempt is a terrific achievement. Norwich had a great season and from the odd time I saw them play they were an exciting, attacking team.
The Premiership however is a different kettle of fish. Their squad doesn’t have much top level experience which could be good but could also be bad. I fear bad. Goals are hard to come by but keeping them out can be even harder and I’m not sure whether Norwich will be able to do it well enough at either end to stay up. A rapid rise and a rapid fall I think
The Barcelona of the Championship got themselves promoted and in doing so will become the first non-English team to play in the Premier league (well except the French Arsenal!) Swansea sparkled last year scoring bucketloads and have a reasonably tight defence. Again another team with little premiership experience and as with Norwich this could work either way.
However I am going to gamble on this prediction and state that I think Swansea will swagger like Blackpool did last year but stay up (it could just as easily be Norwich)
Unlike the league the cups are a complete lottery, it could be anyone. There has been a lot of fairytail stories in recent years with smaller clubs reaching the final (Southampton, Millwall, Portsmouth x2, Stoke, Manchester City(!)) but I think it will go back to normal this year with 2 top 6 clubs fighting it out. I have a sneaky feeling for…
Another lottery so another one out of the hat. I fancy a lower team to achieve in this competition which means someone like Fulham, Sunderland, Everton, West Brom, Wolves. Out of those I’ll pick…
I think we all pretty much know who will win but I don’t want to pick them as its too easy. Mourinho was close last year and could be again this year with a squad he’s had time to mould more in his image. I think the best chance for English clubs will come from Arsenal and Manchester United but I think both will fall short. I can’t see any other nation really having a club coming to the fore although Borrussia Dortmund are pretty exciting with a very young squad. So beyond the obvious, I’m going to plump for…
Thanks for reading. I’d love to hear your thoughts on my predictions.
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