English Premier League Preview pt.2
The days until the start of the new English Premier League are rapidly ticking down, so here’s Sports Pundit’s second part of the season preview starting with Everton and going through alphabetically via title candidates Liverpool, Manchester City and Manchester United all the way onto Portsmouth.
*Last season;’ 5th (17 wins, 12 draws, 9 losses)*Top scorer;’ Tim Cahill & Marouane Fellaini (8 goals)
Toffees boss David Moyes has endured yet another summer of transfer frustrations with his Everton squad barely boosted ahead of the new campaign. And the distraction of Joleon Lescott’s future makes it even more difficult. Nevertheless, Everton have thrived in the past on adversity and working with a small squad and after two successive 5th places league finishes, another isn’t out of the question.
Moyes has managed to extend Brazilian striker Jo’s loan deal at Goodison, while he will also greet back Mikel Arteta, Yakubu Aiyegbeni and Phil Jagielka after injury layoffs, although not immediately. The Toffees haven’t really lost any first-team regulars, so their squad will still be strong and Moyes reportedly has been offered £12m to spend on new players, although as mentioned earlier, he’s having a frustrating time in the market.
Along with a few transfer-related decisions, Moyes will also have to make some important first-team decisions when Arteta returns, to ascertain how to best utilize him aside Tim Cahill and Marouane Fellaini in midfield. But Everton’s seasoned squad should be up for another strong campaign and a decent run in the Europa League would be nice for the fans.
**Fantasy Gun; **Leon Osman
*Last season;’ 7th (14-11-13)*Top scorer;’ Andy Johnson & Clint Dempsey (7)
Roy Hodgson has turned things around at Craven Cottage in the last year or so and now the question is ‘can they keep getting better’? After a relegation scrap in 2008, last season’s 7th place was a surprise to many but Hodgson based their success on a solid defence which conceded the fourth fewest goals last campaign with stopper Mark Schwarzer and centre-half Brede Hangeland the key men.
Hangeland has been linked with a move across town to Arsenal and his future is important to the Cottagers’ hopes of pushing on. Ultimately though, Hodgson is a believer in a settled team and is happy to work with a relatively familiar squad, although he’s added a few players including Norwegian Bjorn Helge Riise to help with the increased workload the Europa League will bring.
But Hodgson won’t alter much at Fulham next season and with striker Andy Johnson promising a big season and American Clint Dempsey on the up, the Cottagers might get the goals they need to take them further up the table. A top-half spot is a realistic goal but another European spot would be great and isn’t too far out of reach.
Fantasy Gun; Mark Schwarzer
*Last season;’ 17th (8-11-19)*Top scorer;’ Geovanni (8)
Phil Brown’s Tigers somehow survived the drop from the top flight last season despite a ridiculous form slide after Christmas which saw his side win just once in the league after Santa’s visit. History tells that form bodes awfully for their new season and that fact seems to have scared off potential signings as Brown has battled to lure anybody up to Kingston-Upon-Hull in the summer.
Hull will obviously need someone to score goals next season (someone reaching double-figures would boost their survival hopes massively) but the likes of Michael Owen, Bobby Zamora, Marc-Antoine Fortune and Fraizer Campbell all ignored interest from the Tigers. Finally, Brown has landed US international Jozy Altidore, on a season-long loan from Villarreal, but his quality at this level is unproven and technically he doesn’t seem ready. Nevertheless, a lot of hope is lumped on him.
In saying that, Hull still possess creative midfielders like Geovanni and Nick Barmby as well as some decent defenders lead by outstanding centre-half Michael Turner, so there’s something to build on. And Brown had them performing brilliantly early last season before everything got confused. Despite his failings last term, Brown has plenty of qualities as a manager and if he can rediscover his touch and lose the ego, he might inspire Hull. But they are in for a huge fight to survive.
Fantasy Gun; Geovanni
*Last season;’ 2nd (25-11-2)*Top scorer;’ Steven Gerrard (16)
The 19-year drought remains at Anfield but Rafa Benitez’s Liverpool seem to be the closest they’ve been in years to breaking their duck. Armed with an attacking threat of Fernando Torres and Steven Gerrard along with stars like Dirk Kuyt and Yossi Benayoun, it is obvious why. In fact the Reds were last season’s top scoring Premier League team. And with Manchester United losing their gun player, surely this is Liverpool’s best chance in years to win the title, but can they do it?
Last season, Liverpool made up considerable ground by claiming 14 points off their top four rivals in those 6 matches, yet still couldn’t beat United to the post for the title. It was a remarkable season by Liverpool last term, but only good enough for runners-up. They’ll need to produce another big campaign to take the next step.
But the loss of vastly improved midfielder Xabi Alonso to Real Madrid, means Benitez has work to do. Alonso’s departure is obviously not ideal for Liverpool and it means Javier Mascherano will be asked to step up and cop the burden in the centre of the park. Benitez though, has moved to sign Alberto Aquilani from AS Roma as a direct replacement for Alonso, but how he adjusts to life in the Premier League remains to be seen. Also Alvaro Arbeloa has left for Real Madrid, but England international Glen Johnson has arrived to replace him and he represents a solid defender and a handy player going forward too.
But Liverpool’s campaign last term shouldn’t be underestimated. It was brilliant, having lost just 2 games all league campaign. Their Achilles Heel was home draws and they’ll need to remedy that and another star forward, such as David Villa would help that situation. But last term, Liverpool produced miracles (with plenty of dramatic last minute goals) and it’ll be a tough act to follow. Whether or not Liverpool have the brilliance to do it again and take the next step remains to be seen.
Fantasy Gun; Steven Gerrard
*Last season;’ 10th (15-5-18)*Top scorer;’ Robinho (14)
For once, the blue side of Manchester has been all the talk during the summer. Boss Mark Hughes has spent some £94m on new players including superstars like Roque Santa Cruz, Gareth Barry, Emmanuel Adebayor, Kolo Toure and, of course, Carlos Tevez. They’ve also chased England captain John Terry’s signature, albeit unsuccessfully. But a lot is happening at big-spending City and perhaps breaking into the top four is a possibility.
In saying that, after all of City’s unprecedented spending, a good point of reference for comparison is the Chelsea side from a few years back which couldn’t win the title under Claudio Ranieri despite Roman Abramovich’s cheque book lunacy. It took Jose Mourinho to get Chelsea cohesive and getting results and ultimately winning titles. Indeed, it won’t just happen for Hughes at City.
Also, it’s obvious the Sky Blues want to improve the quality of their defence, as they’ve admitted by their public pursuit of Terry and Everton centre-half Joleon Lescott. Richard Dunne, despite his admirable service at City, may not suffice for a top four challenge.
City will take some time to gel and get cohesive but with attacking outlets like Tevez, Santa Cruz, Robinho, Stephen Ireland, Shaun Wright-Phillips and Adebayor, they’ll trouble the majority of teams. Hughes has the job of making it happen regularly and that’s the challenge. But if Hughes can find some more quality in defence and get his team playing with plenty of possession, they must be fancied for a push for Champions League football in 2010.
Fantasy Gun; Stephen Ireland
*Last season;’ Champions (28-6-4)*Top scorer;’ Cristiano Ronaldo (18)
Sir Alex Ferguson’s Red Devils continue to amaze after yet another successful season. Even with superstar Cristiano Ronaldo below-par at times, United had what it took to claim the Premier League title. Ryan Giggs, Michael Carrick, Edwin van der Sar and Wayne Rooney all really stepped up last season and even with Ronaldo leaving for Real Madrid in the summer, it’s hard to argue the Red Devils don’t have what it takes to make it four in a row.
But Ronaldo departs alongside goal-getter Carlos Tevez, leaving United’s attacking threats rather diminished. Indeed, a lot of responsibility falls on the shoulders of Rooney along with Dimitar Berbatov. They both are exceptional players though and given the time and space which Ronaldo was afforded, they can both excel this season.
Ferguson has added to his squad by signing Michael Owen and Luis Antonio Valencia, with both doing well in pre-season. The latter looks a good addition on the right-wing, while Owen might be the new ‘Ole-Gunnar Solskjaer’ at Old Trafford. Also, as always, staying fit will be important but injuries have become increasingly frequent for United’s superb central defensive pairing of Rio Ferdinand and Nemanja Vidic, so they’ll need to stay out of trouble.
But if they do, United really remain a force to be reckoned with. And despite Ronaldo’s departure, Ferguson has successfully moved on from the loss of superstars like Eric Cantona, Ruud van Nistelrooy and David Beckham in the past. And it would be wrong to write United off. A lot of the attacking burden will fall on Rooney and Berbatov’s shoulders, so we’ll see if it’s there time to step up another notch. But there’s no doubt, Ferguson will have United challenging for the title.
Fantasy Gun; Patrice Evra
*Last season; *‘14th (10-11-17)**Top scorer; ‘Peter Crouch (11)
Pompey have fallen on tough times recently despite their FA Cup triumph in 2008. The club’s financial woes have been coupled by the departure of boss Harry Redknapp last season along with a long list of players who needed to be sold. It leaves Paul Hart’s side precariously placed and in all likelihood, readying themselves for a relegation scrap this season.
The latest departures at Fratton Park include Peter Crouch, Glen Johnson and Sean Davis while the futures of Sylvain Distin and David James aren’t totally certain. Hart, who has an ageing squad, has added veterans such as Steve Finnan, Aaron Mokoena and ex-Lyon striker Frederic Piquionne. The latter was lauded by the club as an important signing in the wake of Crouch’s departure, but perhaps that was to boost the fans’ hopes considering Piquionne’s hardly overwhelming recent form in France.
Hart, who played some dull, safety-first football to ensure his club’s safety towards the end of last season, may need to produce a few tricks if he is to see Portsmouth avoid of relegation fight. Portsmouth’s squad is severely weakened and it’s hard to see where the goals will come from this season. If you offered a Pompey fan survival before the season, I’m sure they’d take it. It could be a long campaign for the club from the south coast.
**Fantasy Gun; **Hayden Mullins
Related news & articles
Saturday August 15
Another term of English Premier League football kicks off over the weekend, so the final installment of Sports Pundit’s season preview is perfectly timed. More
Thursday August 6
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. More
Friday July 24
Bayer Leverkusen> *Last Season;’ 9th (14 wins, 7 draws, 13 losses)*Top Scorer;’ Patrick Helmes (21 goals) The youthful Leverkusen squad will be hoping to improve on last season’s midtable finish under their new experienced boss Jupp Heynckes. More
Friday July 24
SC Freiburg> *Last Season;’ 2. More