English Premier League Preview pt.1
As the new English Premier League season fast approaches, with the opening day fixtures on August 14, the time is right to preview the new campaign. The title race seems wide open this year following some big-name departures at Manchester United, the improvement of Liverpool last season and the arrival of another new high-profile manager at Chelsea.
But for now, this preview is the first in a series of three, as we go through and address the chances of every Premier League club and also try to drop in some hints for your benefit with Sports Pundit’s Pan-European Fantasy League.
*Last season; *‘4th (20 wins, 12 draws, 6 losses) **Top scorer;’ Robin van Persie (11 goals)
Arsene Wenger’s Arsenal have gone four seasons now without a trophy and fans are beginning to wonder when this promising side will turn their potential into silverware. The Gunners though, seem to be slipping behind the rest of the big four and realistically securing Champions League football for 2010-2011 is the best they can hope for this season in the league, especially with emergence of the big-spending Manchester City.
The loss of African pair Kolo Toure and Emmanuel Adebayor to City, on paper, seems a blow but Wenger claims their departures were good business. Wenger, who hasn’t made any big signings during the summer, will be depending on the return from injury of guns like Tomas Rosicky and Eduardo. Also full seasons for Robin van Persie and Andrei Arshavin will help, but the Gunners seem to still have some worries with a suspect defence. Philippe Senderos could be a handy addition after a season out on loan at AC Milan, but he won’t make the difference.
Youngster Jack Wilshere is one who could be set for a big season, but Arsenal realistically still need a few readymade superstars to lift them into the title race as their pursuit of Bordeaux’s Marouane Chamakh shows. Wenger, armed with plenty of cash after the sale of Toure and Adebayor, seems still reluctant to splash the cash but you’d think he’ll spend wisely enough (perhaps on deadline day) to ensure Champions League football in 2010-2011.
Fantasy Gun; Robin van Persie
*Last season;’ 6th (17-11-10)*Top scorer;’ Gabriel Agbonlahor (12)
Aston Villa’s improbable push for a Champions League spot fell away disappointly towards the end of last campaign and it remains to be seen if Martin O’Neill can get the side to really recover for another tilt at the top four. The loss of experienced pair Gareth Barry and Martin Laursen in the summer too, makes it likely the Villains will be challenging for an Europa League place next season rather than a Champions League spot.
Along with Laursen, central defender Zat Knight has also departed the club, leaving O’Neill with plenty of work to do on his backline which is clearly short a few defenders. Of course, Villa have plenty of options in attack, with the power and pace of the likes of Ashley Young, Gabriel Agbonlahor and John Carew, but the worry is how they’ll go at the back. Villa’s only squad additions so far this summer, Fabian Delph and Stewart Downing, are midfielders who will struggle to make an immediate impact too, due to age and injury respectively.
Villa though, will be buoyed by no Intertoto Cup this season but it’s a big challenge to maintain their form of last season. Indeed, O’Neill needs to get active in the transfer market and bolster his squad with a few decent defenders. For Villa, a top-half finish is expected and a Europa League place is likely.
Fantasy Gun; Ashley Young
*Last season;’ Championship Runners-up (23-14-9)*Top scorer;’ Kevin Phillips (14)
Despite taking Birmingham City to promotion last season, manager Alex McLeish remains under plenty of pressure at St Andrews. And one wonders how long he’ll last in the job if Brum have a slow start to life in the top flight. McLeish though, who saw his promoted side score fewer goals in the second tier last season than relegated Norwich, has taken a big gamble by spending £7.7m on an unheralded Ecuador international who could be the key to Birmingham’s modest survival hopes.
Indeed, Birmingham managed just 54 goals in 46 Championship matches last season, so finding a few more avenues to goal is essential for them and that why’s the Ecuadorian Christian Benitez has been brought in. McLeish has also added some experienced midfielders like Barry Ferguson to his squad, whilst securing the services of impressive young English keeper Joe Hart which is a decent signing. But the big issue is who’ll score the goals for Brum.
Having been relegated from the Premier League in 2008, McLeish’s side are hovering around the level required to survive in the top flight but it doesn’t seem like they’ve got the quality to take the next step. Indeed, Birmingham will need a bit of luck this season and a few goals from their creative types like Benitez, James McFadden and Sebastian Larsson, otherwise an instant return to the second tier looms.
**Fantasy Gun; **Lee Carsley
*Last season;’ 15th (10-11-17)*Top scorer;’ Benni McCarthy (10)
Sam Allardyce did a pretty decent job in the second-half of last season by taking a struggling Blackburn side out of the drop zone and up to safety. The next task is for Big Sam to push on and return Rovers to the top-half of the table. But after a frustrating off-season with many summer targets not arriving at Ewood Park, Blackburn look like they’ll have another battle on their hands this term.
Allardyce’s Rovers finished last season playing central defender Christopher Samba up front and while that tactic was supposedly makeshift, the departure of striker Roque Santa Cruz to Manchester City and subsequent failure to secure any of Big Sam’s ideal targets leaves Blackburn short. Allardyce has recently moved to sign up Chelsea’s Franco Di Santo on loan, while Croatian hitman Nikola Kalinic is rumoured to be on his way, but their qualities are slightly unknown.
Rovers though, have done well to secure Gael Givet’s services permanently and he, along with Ryan Nelsen, Stephen Warnock, Paul Robinson and Samba, are the backbone to Blackburn’s stability and are good enough players to ensure Premier League survival. Whether that means finishing 17th or 7th probably depends on finding someone to regularly score goals.
Fantasy Gun; Keith Andrews
*Last season; *‘13th (11-8-19)**Top scorer;’ Kevin Davies (12)
Bolton’s much-maligned boss Gary Megson faces a difficult season winning over the fans at Reebok Stadium. Megson’s appointment a few years back was met with disappointment by Bolton fans who saw his arrival as a sign of a lack of ambition on behalf of the club. And after a few seasons of midtable finishes, challenging for European football is something many believe Megson must do.
But rather than ambitiously acquiring highly-rated players, Megson has decided to make some sensible signings by bringing in seasoned Premier League professionals players such as Paul Robinson, Sean Davis, Zat Knight and Sam Ricketts. Those players will bolster Bolton’s defensive stocks and with exceptional stopper Jussi Jaaskelainen in behind them, Wanderers will be solid enough to survive a relegation scrap.
But challenging for Europe depends on a major improvement in front of goal, especially from highly-rated Swedish hitman Johan Elmander, who managed just 5 strikes last term. Matthew Taylor chipped in with plenty of goals from midfield last campaign, but Bolton might not be so lucky this term without a fresh face up front or at least an improved Elmander. Another midtable finish is on the cards.
Fantasy Gun; Kevin Davies
*Last season; *‘5th in Championship (21-13-12), won promotion to EPL via playoffs**Top scorer; ‘Martin Paterson (13)
Newly-promoted Burnley have a big task ahead of themselves to survive their first season in England’s top flight for 33 years. Encouragingly, boss Owen Coyle turned down the chance to coach the club he supported as a child, Celtic, to continue his adventure at Burnley and his leadership is critical to their hopes of staying in the Premier League.
Coyle has added a number of players to the squad headed by Scottish international striker Steven Fletcher from Hibernian and he, or Martin Paterson, will need to hit double figures with their goal tally for the club to have any chance of surviving. Former Manchester United midfielder Chris Eagles may enjoy the step up to the top flight and this could be a big season for him.
Another encouraging fact for Burnley is that they knocked out the likes of Premiership clubs Fulham, Chelsea and Arsenal in last season’s brilliant Carling Cup which suggests they can mix it with the big boys. But ignoring isolated statistics or facts, Burnley really have alot to do (comparing their squad to others in this division) if they are to avoid the drop.
**Fantasy Gun; **Chris Eagles
*Last season;’ 3rd (25-8-5)*Top scorer; ‘Nicolas Anelka (19)
Another new season, another new foreign manager at Stamford Bridge. In 2009, it is ex-AC Milan boss Carlo Ancelotti taking over the reigns at Chelsea, after Guus Hiddink’s brilliant, yet brief, period in charge of the Blues. Worryingly though, Ancelotti, like Luiz Felipe Scolari back in 2008, hasn’t really got a firm grip of the English language and we all know what happened with the Brazilian last season.
But Ancelotti is a decorated manager who is vastly experienced at club level whereas Scolari was mainly a boss at international level. And the Italian manager started well in pre-season employing a new diamond midfield which has freed up gun Frank Lampard and he could be set for a huge season. New signing Yuri Zhirkov could be dangerous on the wing too, sending balls in for goal machine Nicolas Anelka.
And on the back of Hiddink’s successful reign (including the FA Cup victory) along with skipper John Terry’s recent show of loyalty, the Blues’ squad must be feeling good about themselves. And if Didier Drogba and Florent Malouda can play all season, the way they finished last campaign, then Chelsea could be hard to stop. Ancelotti will need to be shrewd to ensure his big squad stays focused on the task at hand, but Hiddink showed it could be done.
Fantasy Gun; Jose Bosingwa
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