And just like that it’s back, back and bigger and richer than ever before.
Just Thirty-five days ago I was writing my world cup final preview. Scary.
But isn’t that just the way of life? Times flies during the transfer window and nowadays it is the ultimate symposium for needy football fans. The transfer window foments an odd hysteria, as it offers the escapism via projection and the vicarious dreams of good days to come of others achieving, before, usually and cruelly, snatching it away. But for eight to ten weeks you dare to dream that your team will get the signings required to take the title. On the flip side it’s also where self-loathing can be gluttonous and masked as vanity, as it’s now viewed as common to be unrepentant in baying for the kind of Thatcheristic aspiration that sees the proliferation of wealth by the wealthy and wealthier. It’s a necessity you see, because we need a left back or a centre forward otherwise we’ll fail, our team will be shite, my dreams will be crushed and I won’t be able to lord it up on Twitter over fans from rival clubs. Either way by the time next season rolls around when you’ll forget all and any transgressions you’ve committed and you’ll do it all again.
So why do we do it? Because football can, at its best, be fun, and exciting. For most of us mired in the mediocrity of the working week, it offers a welcome reprieve, a sanctuary, even a release from being faced with our own futility. Some people choose music, some sex, some food, some drugs, some art, some self harm, some self help, some watch The Great British Bake Off and bore you to death by tweeting about it, some football, some all of the above.
And that’s okay, we’re as flawed as the things we choose to distract ourselves with. Why be a haughty cunt thinking your shit stinks better than others when it doesn’t?
Anyway enough of my shitty attempts at lofting thinking and prose, and onto the team by team review.
Not that any of my eight and a half readers will remember, but in my columns throughout last season, at the quarter, halfway and three-third way points, I tracked my revised predictions against my original pre-predictions, just to show how clueless and fickle I am and that you shouldn’t take anything I write here seriously, not that there’s any danger of that.
I’ll be doing the same thing again throughout the season. Why? There’s a rule I abide by – if you can’t laugh at yourself, don’t laugh at anybody else. Again, this should be fun, even if it’s at my expense.
Here’s a reminder at how disparate my preseason predictions for the final positions were when set against my predictions with a quarter of the season left, with the actual real table below for comparison.
Final Predicted Table:
2. Manchester City
6. Manchester United
7. Tottenham Hotspur
9. Newcastle United
10. Stoke City
11. Aston Villa
12. Hull City
13. West Ham United
14. Swansea City
15. Norwich City
16. West Bromwich Albion
17. Crystal Palace
20. Cardiff City
1. Manchester City
6. Tottenham Hotspur
7. Manchester United
9. Stoke City
10. Newcastle United
11. Crystal Palace
12. Swansea City
13. West Ham United
15. Aston Villa
16. Hull City
17. West Bromwich Albion
18. Norwich City
20. Cardiff City
Yeah, anyway, six out of twenty positions correctly predicted aint bad. Once again I’ll be splitting all these teams into a number of sections. The number of these sections is likely to shrink as the season progresses as each team’s narrative reveals itself.
Where they’re picked is where I think they’ll finish. I’ll also post last season’s final position of each team for no good reason I can think of.
Anyway, here goes, from worst to first:
The Riff Raff (The Relegation Candidates):
Last season’s finish: 2nd in the Championship (promoted automatically)
Pre-season prediction: 20th
First off I’ll freely admit that I have virtually no clue about any of the three promoted sides. I didn’t watch a single minute of Championship football and I’m proud of that fact. Once you reach a certain age you simply lose the will to watch football that dips below a certain standard. Between other interests and the choice of watching a better product of the same sport, why on earth would you watch something that’s inferior? The only reason is through loyalty to your club if they get demoted, and sociologically we’re getting increasingly fickle as time passes, so even that’s in doubt these days.
Looking at their squad list doesn’t lead me to change my perception that they’ll struggle to cope, a perception imbued by complete ignorance laced with a smidgeon of logic, as most promoted sides tend to struggle. The only player whose name I recognise, and can therefore recall playing, is Steven Reid, who spent a few years at Blackburn. I’ll refer to him in the most diplomatic way possible – a journeyman.
The other name is Danny Ings, who scored a bunch last season, and he’s been linked with a number of Premier League sides. Burnley will need his goals to translate, but I’m always sceptical of goalscorers from the lower levels cutting it in the big time. There are numerous barstools up and down the country, propping up the lamentations and sob stories of prolific lower league forwards who got their chance at the top level and made no impression whatsoever.
So I have nothing more to add here, other than their manager’s surname and gingerness makes me giggle, and if they stay up Alastair Campbell will be utterly insufferable on Twitter. Oh wait, he always is anyway.
The hope for one of the promoted sides is that the sustained trend of at least one of them surviving every season continues. The last time all three promoted sides from the Championship were relegated? 1997-98, when Bolton, Barnsley and Crystal Palace went straight back down.
But Burnley won’t be the ones to ensure this trend remains in tact.
Last season’s finish: 1st in the Championship (promoted automatically)
Pre-season prediction: 19th
I don’t think Leicester will continue the trend either. So the only question remains why am I picking Leicester to finish nineteenth and not Burnley? They won the Championship (and yes I hate that nonsensical delusional name too), but the Premier League is no respecter of inferior achievements, what you do when you arrive is what counts. There is a litany of examples of teams who ran rampant in the Championship, only to have their arses handed to them upon promotion; it has no bearing on how they’ll get on at the higher level.
Logic is as good a reason as any to pick them to finish above Burnley. Their squad does have more experience at the higher level, even if their cast-offs are of a more impressive genesis, like Burnley most of ‘em are journeymen sorts. Plus David Nugent is an arsehole. Gary Lineker will be rooting for them all season. Lineker doesn’t bother me particularly, but he winds some up no end, old ladies who see him masturbating on the balcony of a Southport hotel I can understand, everyone else, well, I dunno…so there’ll be plenty out there based on this alone who’ll be looking for them to struggle. Spite, bringing people together in commonality since Judas Iscariot did his thing.
We all know comparisons, while compelling, aren’t worth anything. But this team smells a bit similar to the Cardiff City side who stank the joint out last season, without the Vincent Tan megalomania, that is to say, a team with endeavour who’ll struggle to score goals.
And we all know what happens to promoted sides that don’t score enough goals.
Last season’s finish: 15th
Pre-season prediction: 18th
Wishful thinking maybe, but I just get the feeling it could be the season when all the recent years of negligence and the complete indifference of Randy Lerner, which is a large reason why the negligence occurred, finally makes them pay.
Villa have flirted with relegation for the last three years, but we’ve seen this story before with Everton – another traditional big name club who turned a mis-managed decline into becoming mired as a half drowned turd in the ditch of desperation for a period, but simply failed or refused to be flushed round the u-bend for one reason or another, and Everton got far closer to the drop twice than Villa have in the last three seasons.
Thing is, this Villa side is clearly on a downward trajectory. Their managers have gotten progressively worse, the squad has less talent with each passing year, and they continue to score less, concede more and win fewer games. Usually such a trend only ends with one outcome.
It says everything that Jack Grealish is being touted, by some, as the player to make the difference between Villa surviving or not. This may turn out to be the case, but what does it say about your club if, in pre-season, you’re looking to an eighteen year old with one first team start to his name to be one of your main men? Healthy clubs don’t place such demands on young players.
But there are obvious reasons why they would ask him to shoulder such responsibility. I don’t rate Ron Vlaar, and I don’t want to hear about his World Cup performance, which was artificially inculcated by the reductive tactics and hubris of the neo-egotist, but the ghastly truth is he’s Aston Villa’s best centre back, and there are reports he’s looking to get out. Christian Benteke is still there, but he’s out until October, and even with today’s medical treatments and rehabilitation, fully recovering from an Achilles injury is no sure thing.
All of this isn’t helping, but what really isn’t helping is that Paul Lambert, a woefully unimaginative person and barely competent manager, appropriately so, as it accurately mirrors his abilities as player, is still in charge, and the additions so far look like a cry for help; Joey ‘tabs’ Cole, Philippe Senderos and Kieron Richardson. Sadly for Villa this is 2014, not 2004, when Joe Cole would’ve made a real difference, then again he wouldn’t have gone near riff raff like Villa in 2004.
There is still time left in the window, and Villa need to use it. Take away Vlaar who was mediocre last season anyway, and you have a defence consisting of has beens and never weres, a set of midfielders, Fabian Delph aside (I like him, but c’mon now, if he’s your best player, you’re relegation material) that I couldn’t pick out of a police line-up, at gun-point, and a Benteke less attack that’s seen no additions, unless you count Darren Bent’s return from Fulham’s bench as one.
And there are other reasons to see them complete their long and painful journey into obscurity – their delusional fans. There are many, too many who still believe they’re a big club. It’s painful. They’re hilarious until they’re not, which is more often than not.
Another is Villa have been one of the ugliest teams to watch; no guile, no adventure, just anachronistic garbage played in straight lines. This is cowardly stuff; they rely heavily on the counter attack and are useless against well organised defences. This is a dirty team to boot – seventy-eight yellow cards received last year. People harp on about Stoke City or whichever team is managed by Tony Pulis (fairly), but this lot were clearly the worst last season, an affront to the aesthetic on all fronts.
Again this is partly wishful thinking on my part, they could easily, given the poverty of the other bottom feeders, just, just escape again, but I say enough is enough. Put them out of their and our misery. Get them tae fuck.
And if you believe Style Is The Answer, you’ll agree.
QUEENS PARK RANGERS
Last season’s finish: 4th in the Championship (promoted via playoffs, jammy as you fucking like)
Pre-season prediction: 17th
At some point in life you come to begrudgingly accept, unless you’re an insufferable bore like Richard Dawkins, that some things can’t be explained through logic, reason or with scientific facts.
The perception of ‘Arry Redknapp’s life and career is one of these things. He just seems to be one of those people who drifts through life with very little consequence or recourse, and more than that, we’re happy to let him. He’s helped bankrupt clubs, and has an innate sense of when to leave while the going’s still good, before they (almost) go to the wall and suffer relegation in the aftermath, and yet despite consistently leaving a trail of destruction in his wake he always procures another job. Steve Bruce must be so jealous, not only does ‘Arry do what he does, he does it with more panache and is celebrated for it. Then there was the court case relating to bungs involving an account he set up named after one of his dogs (honestly) – and he got off too (honestly), but it did give us this unforgettable gem:
Surely the artist was having a laugh here? Or he/she lost a bet and decided ‘fuck it, I’ll submit this and see if I can get away with it. If I get sacked I’ll just fuck off to Paris, and hang around the West Bank, which I’ve always wanted to do’.
Back to ‘Arry. Sure, he’s probably had his darker moments, where the diseased part of his soul transcends the barrier between his conscious and subconscious. He was never a transcendent figure, but many people consider him, when compared to themselves, as a success. And it’s true. When it comes to middle managers, ‘Arry’s the zenith of achievement; he has promotions, miraculous survivals from relegation and even silverware on his CV. Most managers don’t and never will achieve any of the three.
To be fair to ‘Arry he was never going to save QPR from relegation two years ago, the damage had already been done by Mark Hughes before he arrived. But at least he stuck around and got them promoted, even if it was in the jammiest circumstances imaginable. Now the worry for Tony Fernandez is that ‘Arry’s historical pattern will repeat itself.
As a neutral I couldn’t care less about the long term. Any empathy is reserved for human suffering, not fans of football clubs, and because ‘Arry’s back on prime time. And you know what that means – only eighteen days left until deadline day. Everyone knows the biggest trader in Landahn isn’t Del Boy, but ‘Arry. He just can’t help himself. It’s a guarantee that on deadline day he’ll be all up in it, even if he doesn’t need to be. Better yet he’ll be leaning out of the window of his Range Rover at the gate of QPR’s training ground, while one of the failed journalists that Sky employs as field reporters, probably him with the fucking shite Steptoe & Son teeth, who looks like a meth addict and or Leukaemia suffer in waiting, asks him daft questions which ‘Arry answers far too candidly, like this. This is a certainty we can be thankful for.
I’m picking them to survive based upon two factors, ‘Arry’s done this before, and they have more money to spend on wages and players than most of the other clubs in this section.
They also have far more Premier League calibre players in their squad than any of the other likely bottom feeders. They’ve got Brazil’s number one keeper, and a slew of current and former internationals. They’ve also bought well. Rio Ferdinand, when able to play, can still perform to a decent level. Steven Caulker isn’t good enough for a top six club, but for QPR he’s a solid addition. Jordan Mutch was one of Cardiff’s better players last season and Mauricio Isla has plenty of pedigree. Remy’s failed medical at Liverpool gives them the best centre forward of any bottom half side, provided he’s still there come the start of September.
There’s been talk of them getting Rafael Van Der Vaart in. Get that done and keep Remy and I’m pilling on them to stay up. Which should make QPR fans everywhere very fucking nervous. As with my World Cup predictions, my prediction for QPR to stay up only remains valid unless I bet on it, once I do the physical laws of universe are subverted and invalidated and the jinx, my jinx, comes into full effect.
And yes, Joey Barton and Adel Taarabt are back. Barton we all know and love, especially for this, and someone I know once described Taarabt, after yet another self regarding, selfish performance, as ‘a waste of skin’. It’s hard to disagree, but at least they’re both interesting, and so will watching and following this bunch all season. You can accuse ‘Arry of tactical naivety, being uncouth and a bit of a chancer, but dull he has never been.
WEST BROMWICH ALBION
Last season’s finish: 17th
Pre-season prediction: 16th
So then, what of Alan Irvine, erstwhile sidekick of David Moyes, and also like Moyes ex-Preston North End manager?
Looking at their squad list, well, emm…ugh, they appear to be dangerously short of numbers up front heading into the start of the season. And as we know teams who struggle to score are a relegation contender.
They need signings. Thankfully other pre-existing areas of this side Irvine will inherit are more solid. Chris Brunt, James Morrison and Stephane Sessegnon can all play. Jonas Olsson may be hilariously slow, but he’s also one of the most resourcefully snide players going, even if his behaviour is often condoned by the stupid male bravado that pervades football, that referees too often succumb to. The Claudio Yacob and Yusef Mulumbu central midfield partnership won’t create much, but it makes West Brom one of the more difficult sides to beat. No team drew more games last season (15) than the Baggies. Turn a few of those draws into wins and they survive comfortably.
These residual strengths are a good thing, because when you factor in a gaffer untested at this level, I’ve not been impressed by their transfer business so far. Morgan Amalfitano has gone back to Marseille. Joleon Lescott was always leaden footed, just because West Brom aren’t a top side this doesn’t make Lescott a better player, and he’s well past his ‘best’. And just what use are Chris Baird and Gary Gardner to any club, other than to make those of us who feel inadequate in some way a bit better about life when we watch them attempt to play football? They’ve brought in Andre Wisdom on loan from Liverpool, but he’s better in the middle than at right-back, where he’s likely to be used by West Brom. While he did well there at Derby last season, he’s far more likely to be exposed by the quick and nimble footed attackers that are far more abundant in the top division. I know nothing of Brown Ideye, a Nigerian international bought from Dynamo Kiev. But he cost £10m, that suggests they expect him to have an impact. Perhaps he’ll be the surprise signing of the season?
So why aren’t I picking them for the drop? Honestly? Only three teams can go down each season, so I have to pick some bad sides to survive. I don’t like that fact, but it is what it is, and I know more about West Brom than the newly promoted sides. And I’m going to assume that there will be a few more arrivals between now and September.
It’s a shame Pepe Mel wasn’t given more time, as West Brom played some decent football last season. It comes down to expectations, if you aren’t prepared to spend money on players, what right does the hierarchy of a club like West Brom have to expect anything more than survival? It’s hard to see Alan Irvine and this squad, as is, doing better.
Last season’s finish: 16th
Pre-season prediction: 15th
I’m going to do something completely vapid and self aggrandising, and why not? All the hypsters and cool kids are doing it with much less, that something being quoting myself:
Don’t let Steve Bruce’s comically disgusting appearance fool you, he’s a canny operator. He has a tendency to keep teams in the Premier League. Either that or he uses his innate capacity for ominous precognition. He always seems to correctly sense that the ship is sinking long before anyone else, and jumps before it goes under. That he’s largely responsible for it going south is completely beside the point. His perceived self sacrifice allows him to insulate himself from blame, and ultimately it will ensure he ensnares another unimaginative chairman into giving him another job on the managerial road to nowhere.
So now we’re in year two of the Fathead Formula, where things generally start to unravel, and The Thing plots his next dastardly move, tempting some gullible aspirationally Thatcheristic twat of a chairman into gainfully employing him to engender lofty expectations for the fans, then flee just as it becomes clear his mediocrity cannot consistently reach them.
Or will it be different this time? They’ll likely play with a back three again, which somehow befuddles many managers. And just look at the five sides below Hull in this section, can you see Hull, with a full season of Nikola Jelavic, plus the additions of Robert Snodgrass (slow, but oddly effective, bearded and Joker faced) and Thomas Ince, who’ll, if nothing else, add pace out wide, finishing below any of them?
It’s a nope from me. Hull City are shite, but as long as the Premier League remains at twenty teams, some shite will float.
As per usual cowardice has interjected and I’m amending my one of my long standing scepticisms – we’ll get the bonus of Brucie managing this lot all season, only for him to quit next summer, having taken Hull ‘as far as he could’. And why not? Hull stay up, and Bruce protects his reputation as king maker of Championship dirge with delusions of grandeur. Everybody wins. Which is just what the Premier League is about, even when you don’t win you do.
Okay, I’ll Admit It, I Have No Clue Where To Put Them:
Last season’s finish: 8th
Pre-season prediction: 14th
This is their summer activity to date:
Mauricio Pochettino (Manager, Tottenham Hotspur, remuneration ?), Pablo Osvaldo (Internazionale, Loan), Rickie Lambert (Liverpool, £4m), Adam Lallana (Liverpool, £23m), Dejan Lovren (Liverpool, £18m), Calum Chambers (Arsenal, £14m), Luke Shaw (Manchester United, £27m)
Ronald Koeman (Manager) Dusan Tadic (Twente, £10m), Graziano Pelle (Feyenoord, £8m), Saphier Tadier (Internazionale, Loan), Ryan Bertrand (Chelsea, Loan), Fraser Forster (Celtic, £10m), Shane Long (Hull City, £12.5m – WHAT THE ABSOLUTE FUCK!? £12.5m FOR SHANE FUCKING LONG?)
I’ll concede that all these fees are estimates, but even if you edge towards the lower end on each, something is still majorly amiss here.
And Morgan Schneiderlin and Nathan Clyne are being linked with moves away. Schneiderlin wants out with Arsenal and Spurs showing interest. By the time the window closes Southampton could’ve easily topped £120m in sales. Mental.
I’ll tread carefully here, because I have no clue, other than rumours, which you should never believe as a rule, that there are now issues, with an historical precedent to back up these concerns, with the owner and her ability and willingness to finance the club. Between the new TV deal, where Cardiff City earned more money for finishing bottom last season, than Manchester United did for winning the league the season before, and that Southampton have a relatively new stadium, selling at the quantity and volume they have done this summer seems like absolute bullshit. For example, having already sold Lovren, Shaw and Lallana for big fees did Calum Chambers really need to be sold? They were already short staffed in defence before his departure.
Fans tend not to trust owners, rightly, especially as Southampton fans will know only too well. Only once they move past the hatred and bitterness for rivals Portsmouth and the glee at their plight.
We’ve also seen owners of other clubs asset stripping aggressively, most infamously at Liverpool, and as well as the Glazers covertly, insidiously and slowly ciphering funds away at Manchester United. Is something similar happening here, or is it just a recalibration albeit on an extreme scale? That they’re bringing in players on loan makes me wonder.
The good news is that even if Schneiderlin and Clyne leave there is still talent here. While their academy and its products are overrated, especially by fans of other clubs, it keeps producing solid Premier League calibre players. But the squad is small and if it remains as it is they’ll be relying on this youth and most of it is unproven. Jay Rodriguez will return in the autumn, but in what state? Will he be as prolific in this new look side? While Tadic and Pelle have talent, their production in the Dutch league should be looked upon with some suspicion.
I’m being a massive pussy here but not putting them in among the relegation candidates, but there’s every chance I will by October. Just as there’s an equal chance that I’m putting them in the Europa League contenders, if Koeman knits this new side quickly and they make a few more additions before the window closes.
Just to repeat, I don’t know about all this. More to the point, do they?
Shite, But Staying Up:
Last season’s finish: 14th
Pre-season prediction: 13th
Even though he had little choice, and given some of the rubbish he had to work with, credit to Gus Poyet, he stuck to his beliefs even though Sunderland looked dead and buried with ten games to go. That is until Adam Johnson finally woke up and played his best football of the season, Sunderland started doing the basics right (in this case that means everybody actually trying, and in Wes Brown’s case not getting himself stupidly sent off and gifting the opposition chances), and Fabio Borini’s workrate and Conor Wickham’s strength combined to provide a reliable reference point in attack.
Worryingly there haven’t been many changes to the squad. I fully expected there to be a mini clearout, but it hasn’t materialised. Perhaps Ellis Short has had enough of throwing money down to the drain only to attain mediocre results year in, year out.
What money that has been spent looks questionable. At first glance paying £10m for Jack Rodwell, a twenty-three year old English international, doesn’t seem excessive, but Rodwell hasn’t been fit for nearly two years. And like many young English players the hyperbole was dished out before the results warranted it. How good is he? Provided he remains fit we’ll find out, because he’ll play, as Sunderland’s midfield was arguably, in my subjective opinion, the worst in the division last season.
The addition of Rodwell makes sense when you look at Sunderland’s squad, as it smacks of being a graveyard for failed prospects and squad players who were once at bigger clubs. That they’re seemingly prepared to spend £14m on Fabio Borini only cements that impression. Sunderland need to have more punch up front if they’re going to avoid another struggle, and while Borini works hard his goal record is middling, at best.
Much will depend on Wickham producing his form at the end of last season over a longer period, and there’s no evidence that he can do this. After that it’s Steven Fletcher (who’s never done it at this level) or Jozy Altidore, whose first touch and anaemia in front of goal would make Emile Heskey blush.
They’ll be poor again, for stretches, but once again they’ll survive. They’re yet another club who can thank the bloated size of the league as the primary reason for their continued place in it.
Last season’s finish: 11th
Pre-season prediction: 12th
Well, what reactions did you expect? We all get to suffer another season of the skip hat wearing, the barking (mad?), bunker football, mini-Mourinho myopia of ‘we played well’ when in reality you play shit on stick football and offered fuck all except playing for set pieces, that characterises Tony Pulis. And almost as bad, or is it worse, he’ll be celebrated for it. The Palace fans will put up with it because it keeps them up. If anything will drive me to start killing and torturing small animals it’ll be all of this.
They haven’t made many moves in the transfer market, just Brede Hangeland (who’s past it) and Frazier Campbell (who belongs in the Championship) on frees, and the perma crock that is Martin Kelly, so thankfully there’s not much more to discuss here. They’ll stay up, that Pulis succeeds with this garbage is just depressing, as I wrote here last season, so let’s just move on…
…but wait, there’s reports that Tony Pulis might leave the club on eve of the season. Which just goes to show that writing columns like this is for fools. Then again, if Pulis does leave, I’ll be extremely motivated to write the quarter way point update, just so I can dance on his grave and call him a quitter.
WEST HAM UNITED
Last season’s finish: 13th
Pre-season prediction: 11th
Andy Carroll’s out injured again. Even so West Ham needed another striker, as Carroll just isn’t that good. Peter Crouch makes too much sense here, so it won’t happen, or something.
There are stories, in fact we’ve probably all heard some version of them, of Andy’s deadbeat boozing behaviour while at Liverpool. Such as partying in Vegas during the summer break, which is fine, but then returning on an overnight Sunday night Monday morning flight, and turning up to the first day of pre-season training absolutely tanked and jetlagged. Another is brushing his teeth with Champagne.
Thankfully most footballers don’t behave like this, but why shouldn’t they mis-behave? When two clubs, to date, have been prepared to pay a combined £50m in transfer fees for Andy Carroll. The only wisdom to be gleaned from this? That there is no wisdom in football.
The good news is that Andy Carroll’s misdemeanours and general tragic existence will provide more material for the man behind this, easily the best account on Twitter.
As for West Ham I full expect them to be better than they were last season. Carl Jenkinson is a huge up grade at right back, until he got injured, again. Once again Allardyce shows the understanding of adding a bit of unpredictability to your side, and why not? There’s a reason he keeps teams in the division while the Jim Jefferies acolytes ‘fill my team with grafters, you need grafters to survive’ always get relegated emphatically. Mauro Zarate has talent, as we saw at Birmingham, but I suspect he’ll either offer fuck all and be fucked off quickly, or become West Ham’s talisman, with no in-between, and let’s face it West Ham just wouldn’t be West Ham without a crazy Latin attacker being involved. Bottom line, he cost little, as did Ravel Morrison, who didn’t work out, and so what if these kinds of signings don’t work? West Ham aren’t City or Chelsea. It’s easier to justify banishing a player who cost little, to both fans and ownership, than to grimly hold on for dear life to a £20m flop in the forlorn hope that he’ll come good. That’s how midtable sides get into trouble off the pitch and on it.
Which brings us back to Carroll, whose absence may benefit West Ham, as it means that their biggest signing of the summer, Ecuadorian striker Enner Valencia, at £12m, will probably start the season up front. Based on what I’ve seen, which is little outside two World Cup games this summer, both in which he scored, he’s nothing like Carroll. So West Ham will have to adopt slightly different tactics if he’s the focal point. At the very least with Valencia up front and Downing and Jarvis on the flanks, the Hammers will be quick on the counter attack. That isn’t the case when Carroll starts. Valencia can apparently play out wide, and the worry is if he struggles to score goals, that likely means that West Ham will too, and as a subsquence he’ll be shunted out wide when Carroll returns.
Either way Allardyce always finds a way to survive. It’s what he does best. While Allardyce will never be anything more than a middle manager, I’ve come to realise that mocking him for this is the wrong way to go about it. At the very least he isn’t afraid to try things, to take risks and to think differently. Why don’t more managers follow this lead? Because many are trained to believe that if they follow and mimic new tactical paradigms that they can achieve anything, they take their badges, and it stifles their ingenuity and breeds a sense of entitlement. And yet people wonder why the England national team have been so shite for so long.
Last season’s finish: 12th
Pre-season prediction: 10th
Last season was ugly, to say the least. And you have to start asking questions of Michael Laudrup’s credentials and credibility as a manager at this point. He never seems able to remain in charge at any club long enough to build anything sustainable.
Whether Swansea would’ve gone down had he remained, been better or just the same is irrelevant.
And perhaps we all got ahead of ourselves. Between the nice football, the seamless top to bottom ethos, and the prudency and common sense of chairman Huw Jenkins, it was easy to be seduced by the alternative that Swansea City represented when compared to choice most promoted clubs take, which is to fill their teams with uninspiring drab grafters and play the percentages, whatever that means.
Their summer business looks unconvincing in paper. Gary Monk has shed some skill in favour of pace. At the very least he’s been given a mandate to do things his way. Michu and Pablo (sadly) have both departed, but I liked the look of Jefferson Montero at the World Cup. He’s strong, quick and direct and he’ll make full backs miserable. That’s provided I’m not getting Ecuador mixed up with Colombia. It’s an easy mistake to make, apparently. Gylfi Sigurdsson is a deluded little twerp, he’s not top club material, that much we know, but he’ll be more reliable and consistent than Jonjo Shelvey in the number ten position. Ideally you’d get him playing off Wilfried Bony, with Montero and Dyer on the flanks, and have Shelvey driving forward into space from deeper. Sigurdsson is good enough to thrive in such a set-up as he did so during Swansea’s first season in the Premier League, and that side had inferior players.
Speaking of Bony, Swansea’s chances of avoiding a repeat of last season’s second half debacle, even though he scored a bunch in the league as this was happening, will be helped if he remains. Bafetimbi Gomis is no replacement. Quick tangent here, but on one of the football forums on which I used to post I once created a meme that ‘Djibril Cisse was the French Heskey’, and it started to be taken seriously only after Cisse arrived and looked a bit shit. I created it in reaction to the ridiculous hype that Cisse was receiving prior to his move to Liverpool from Auxerre. It’s understandable that all fans do this with new signings, especially if they perceive their side to be defective in some way, or a quality signing or two away from significantly improving their prospects. After all, pre-season should be like Christmas, a time for optimism, not scepticism. Sadly we live in a world where physical reality is the only determinable law, and in that reality, a bit of unbiased and dispassionate study revealed that Cisse was nothing like Thierry Henry, and that his game consisted of running quickly into dead ends, showing the touch of a baby elephant, and his technique for finishing was to put his head down and blast the ball as hard as possible. Anyway, what does this have to do with Gomis? Well, it turns out Cisse wasn’t really the French Heskey, he wasn’t quite that bad. Gomis, however, certainly is, and if I were Gary Monk and a Swansea fan I wouldn’t want to go through September to January, at the earliest, with Gomis as their main striker. Just imagine it in these terms – how would you feel if Emile Heskey was your main front man heading into the season?
That could happen as Wilfried Bony has been linked with moves away, to Liverpool, who need another striker for depth, and Spurs, who need a competent and engaged striker full stop. He also has a set release fee clause, which leaves Swansea susceptible to a last minute bid should Liverpool, Spurs, or anyone else get desperate, and with Michu also on loan that would leave Swansea precariously short up front.
Another reason for concern is in defence. Davies has gone to Spurs. Neil Taylor would be a fine replacement, and I think he’s a better player, if only he could stay fit. Another centre back is needed before the deadline, should that occur and Bony stays, that sees them easily ensconced in midtable. If Bony goes and there are no reinforcements, we could see a resumption of last year’s ugly run, which, while it’s unlikely to see them go down, brought them too close for comfort.
Last season’s finish: 9th
Pre-season prediction: 9th
If you’d told me five years ago that Bojan Krkic would be playing for Stoke City I’d have blown my brains out straight away, Cobain style. Because my assumption would’ve been that Tony Pulis had finally succeeded in gaming the matrix, to the point where we’d finally get to see Barcelona tested on a Champions League Tuesday night in early November, at a wet, windy and cold Britannia stadium.
Thankfully that isn’t the case. Stoke are still mediocre, and therefore so, sadly, is Bojan Krkic. Considering how good he was when he first broke through at Barcelona, and that he looks exactly the same, seeing him turn out for Stoke will be odd. What will be interesting is how Stoke use him. Apparently it’s been in a wide position during pre-season, and he’s done well and crucially scored goals which he’s failed to do enough of in all his numerous recent stops. Still, pre-season means nothing, and his recent track record, where he’s failed to impress in that role for Barcelona, Roma, AC Milan and last season Ajax, is why he’s at Stoke. Still, even if Krkic has failed to live up to his early promise, and that continues, he’s still better than Jonathan Walters. As a bonus not having Walters on the pitch prevents him from taking penalties.
Axing the immobile and just plain unfit (for this level) Charlie Adam will help Stoke keep possession. Adam isn’t a central midfielder, and he isn’t productive, mobile or fit enough to play as the number ten in the 4-4-1-1 Stoke will mostly use either. Steve Sidwell will replace him, and as such looks to be a canny signing. He’s the antithesis of Adam; he doesn’t play vanity cross field passes and he’ll still get the same number of goals due to his endeavour and fitness (despite being three years older), and he’ll make Stoke harder to play against, which is still their biggest strength, especially at home. Adam is reputed to take a good set piece, but this isn’t reflected in the stats, as he only gained four assists all of last season, and Sidwell managed to score only one goal fewer than Adam despite playing for the worst side in the league last season, without taking any set pieces nor attempting often idiotic (in Adam’s case) long range efforts when teammates are better positioned.
There’s talk of Peter Crouch going to West Ham which would leave a vacancy up front, but I’m not sure Bojan would be the one to fill it. Unless Mark Hughes is planning a significant shift in tactical ethos, Stoke are heavily reliant on a player who can hold the ball up back to goal when they’re sitting deep and soaking up pressure, can Mame Diouf do this? I’m not sure, the last time he was in the Premier League he looked sub-par, and that’s being kind. The other option is Cameron Jerome, who, appropriately, spent last season on loan at Crystal Palace. Hughes isn’t a fan, and he’s right not to be.
Perhaps I should be more generous to Mark Hughes than I have been, who is trying to add more flair to this team, but he’ll remain up against it while the rancid heart of the Pulis side; Shawcross, Huth, N’Zonzi and Whelan remains in situ. Old habits die hard, as psychologically Stoke’s main objective every season is survival, and the aforementioned four are rats, now programmed (or infected if you prefer) by the club’s zeitgeist to do whatever it takes to ensure it. Given Stoke are what they are, a smaller club, it’s hard for Hughes to justify banishing them all when they’ve played a significant part in keeping Stoke safe, and with ease for a good few years now. It’ll be the same again, sticking to what they do best, making every side that plays against them as miserable as possible; defend deep without the ball, persistent fouling, snide kicking and elbowing, and pressing the opposition, mainly the better sides high up the pitch when they look to play out from the back. There are also goals in this team, Bojan and Peter Odenwingie should approach or reach double figures and Marco Arnautovic offers unpredictability. They won’t lose enough games at home to be dragged into the relegation mix, and they’ll draw too many to finish any higher than midtable. Meanwhile I’ll be making sure I watch as little of them doing it as possible.
Wait, one more thing – they seem ripe to me for a deadline day offer to Manchester United for the services of Maruoane Fellaini. They have the cash, and I heard he’s available. It would be a marriage made in football hell.
Last season’s finish: 10th
Pre-season prediction: 8th
Say what you want about Newcastle being a complete basket case with delusions of grandeur, even though they haven’t won anything since the fifties, but at least they’re savvy in the transfer market, and they’ll need to be, with only the six years left on that contract.
Siem De Jong will reprise the role long vacated by Kevin Nolan, and he has more guile than Nolan or Moussa Sissoko to boot. Crucially he’ll score more. It wouldn’t surprise me if he was Newcastle’s top scorer next season. Whether this will turn out to be a good or a bad thing remains to be seen. Remy Cabella is a darling of the Twitterati, and going by his YouTube clips he seems to be able to dribble and create. Hopefully he’ll be more reliable than that waster Hatem Ben Arfa. Daryl Janmaat seems like the sort of player who they’ll sell in eighteen months to United or Chelsea for at least double what they paid for him, just as they’ve done this summer already.
Getting £10m for Mathieu Debuchy was impressive. He’s ordinary and struggles with the nuances of the offside rule, so he’ll fit right in at his new club.
But despite efficient and quiet work in the market the Toon are light up front, Loic Remy and Shola Ameobi are both gone, can Papis Cisse rediscover himself? He was woeful last season, albeit due to injuries and being used wide. I know nothing of Facundo Ferreyra or Emmanuel Riviere, and their goals records don’t suggest there’s much to be learned. Add a more proven quantity like Remy, and this starts to look like a side that could threaten a top six finish if everything breaks right. While Liverpool weren’t prepared and didn’t need to take the risk on his health, Newcastle had Remy last season and benefitted, so why not take the chance? Are they going to get anyone better for £11m?
It would be a shame if they didn’t. Along with the new signings they have a slew of players who wouldn’t look out of place in the squads of any of the top six clubs. Newcastle also have quite a sizable squad, can Pardew make sense of it and get the best out of it?
It’s Alan Pardew and Newcastle United. Do you really need an answer to that?
Europa League Contenders (Champions League Pretenders):
Last season’s finish: 5th
Pre-season prediction: 7th
Next up to suffer at the hands of the English media’s affliction of over-hyping a prospect – Ross Barkley. They just don’t learn, do they? The comparisons with Steven Gerrard, Bryan Robson and Paul Gascoigne have to stop.
And it’s a shame because he’s got some serious game. So why not let him develop without any undue pressure or proclamations when he’s achieved very little, understandably, due to his age. His development will be aided as Roberto Martinez will surely make him the hub of this Everton side, as his talent deserves. Lest we forget he wasn’t an automatic starter last season.
Even with Barkley’s continued improvement and Gareth Barry and Romelu Lukaku returning, repeating last years tilt at the top four will be difficult. The squad isn’t any deeper, or younger, and they’ll have to contend with the ghastly rigours of far flung trips to Eastern Europe for Thursday night games that the Europa League throws up.
I suspect I’ll regret putting them below Spurs. This team, at the least, has spine, and they play good football. I can rattle off their best eleven with ease: Howard, Coleman, Jagielka, Distin (though Stones will likely take his place soon), Baines, McCarthy, Barry, Barkley, Pienaar, Mirallas and Lukaku. You can’t say the same about Spurs, or even United. I’ll move on before I talk myself out of it…
Last season’s finish: 6th
Pre-season prediction: 6th
Lost in the struggles of Manchester United under David Moyes last season was the underrated and equally enjoyable exposure of the fallacious narrative that had been woven around Daniel Levy for too long. Finally he went from being verbally fellated as a master negotiating businessman to being seen as the utterly fucking rubbish chairman he is.
The truth is he’s both, until he isn’t.
As I pointed out here, his record of hiring and firing managers and directors of football speaks for itself. And that’s not a small sample size either. It’s ten plus years of futility. Now it’s Mauricio Pochettino’s turn. I hope your agent knows his onions and that the payoff in your contract is watertight Maury.
You can imagine Levy’s thought process this time round; ‘right last time we did too much, changed too much, so this time we’re going to be more circumspect, make a few signings, let a couple go and we’ll see what the new fella, who was able to get good results at a smaller club, can do with the squad. Sound.’
The approach is right even if the reasoning is completely flawed and reactionary, which characterises Levy’s chairmanship entirely. Like a little boy running a football club.
Anyway, enough talk about that fraudulent twat, fuck him. I’m eager to see what Pochettino can get out his countryman Erik Lamela. Much derided, and it has to be said unfairly. He was stupidly presented as Gareth Bale’s replacement. And isn’t that just typical Spurs? It’s the sort of platitude stupid dickheads are likely to buy, even though Bale had one of the best Premier League seasons ever by a winger not named Cristiano Ronaldo or Ryan Giggs. It didn’t help that Lamela spent most of last season out injured and apparently was reticent about joining in the first place. If Pochettino can get him anywhere close to replicating his Roma form then the ceiling of this Spurs side rises exponentially.
And the reason? This side could produce some very good football if Christian Eriksen, Lewis Holtby and Lamela can co-exist in some arrangement or other, even if all of them prefer and are best utilised in the number ten position. But there are other challenges here.
Getting more out of Roberto Soldado being one. Like Lamela this was a player moving to a new league and as it transpired into one of the worst situations a player like him could find. One of the many reasons Villas Boas lost his job, other than Levy, obviously, is he seemed to destroy Soldado’s confidence. You’re entitled to glean that Soldado wasn’t Villas Boas’s choice, but Villas Boas can’t be blamed entirely, the self-loathing culture that always simmers under the surface at Spurs played its role. Set daft expectations of players, as Spurs tend to do perpetually, and they won’t be met, but Soldado couldn’t even meet reasonable ones. The debate around him started, he had no goals to end it, and doubt started to fester in the player’s mind. A change of manager might be the release he needs. Another positive to changing manager? Emmanuel Adebayor needs to prove himself again.
And just what to do with that clusterfuck of central midfielders? All of whom vacillate between mediocre and decent, but who all seem to be overrated. Paulinho excepted, another disappointing by-product of Levy’s Gareth Bale windfall megalomania. He carried his utterly woeful form of last season into the World Cup. Reviving him seems beyond Pochettino, and given his other options is it worth his time? Morgan Schneiderlin, a player who he trusts, could be had for a decent fee. While Dembele, Schneidlin and Capoue won’t score or create much, they would provide a solid base that Pochettino used so well at Southampton.
Defensively there are questions. Too many to finish in the top four. Just how good is Ben Davies? Another way of looking at it is that he can’t be worse than Danny Rose or Kyle Naughton, neither of whom seemed to have much clue where they were or should be, or was this due to the Gilet killer’s ineptitude? If Kyle Walker wasn’t quick he’d be working in a call centre or behind the meat counter at Tesco. They have plenty of centre backs, but they’re a combination of overrated (Vertonghen), slow (Dawson), unproven (Chiriches) or injury prone (Kaboul).
Of course things are never as bad as they seem. This squad is far better than it showed last season, and there will be improvement, simply because they have a manager in charge who relies on logic, not emotion, and who has a plan that the players can follow. Perhaps Daniel Levy will learn from him?
And on that point, you know what, I nearly forgot about the Tim Sherwood experience, but in truth that was intentional. This is a selection consisting of a fine dystopian musing, here, delusional ramblings here and outright blagging here. He deserves a column all to himself. Will I write it? Absolutely not, because all I need to say on the matter is this: I’d pay £2000 to see him manage England.
Champions League Contenders (Title Pretenders):
Last season’s finish: 7th
Pre-season prediction: 5th
All of Ed Woodward’s bravado now looks a bit silly. No club without Champions League football spends £150m on players, and I don’t care how big their new kit sponsorship is. It would be fucking irresponsible, and the Glazers are cheapskate cunts of the highest order, so it was never happening.
And this United side doesn’t need to spend that level of cash to attain Champions League football, and thus placate their thieving bastard owners. They just need to be smart.
Plus there’s such a thing as regression to the mean. It cannot be relied upon of course, but United, badly, hilariously to most, unperformed last season. The question then becomes how much of this can be attributed to David Moyes? I would argue that they would’ve improved, their points total at least, had the Ginger Goblin © remained in charge.
Sensibly United bombed him out at the end of last season before he could do any more damage in his attempts to shamelessly Evertonise (Moyes version, not Martinez) them, even if the damage he caused was already significant.
Now we have Louis Van Gaal, which should be just as entertaining, for different reasons. You’ve heard all the stories, particularly of the one where he waved his junk in the face of a player in the dressing room, and you’ve seen how things tend to eventually disintegrate between him and his employers. However, in between he’s good at the results business and United need some of that.
Early results have been mixed. He’s already chided Luke Shaw for his conditioning, which seems odd, and Shaw’s now out for a month, perhaps from running him into the ground to get him in shape? This lad was relentless and tireless for Southampton last season in one of the most physically demanding positions on the pitch, and his season was extended by being involved with England at the World Cup, even if England weren’t there for long. He simply hasn’t had the time to get fat. He could’ve spent all summer eating at Nando’s, drinking ten pints of beer and had fry ups every morning and not managed to get to the point where he needs to train alone.
I don’t put much stock in pre-season results, but United have played much better football, so at the very least they won’t be as ghastly a watch as they were last season, unless you hate them of course, in which case you enjoyed it no end.
Now we get to the reasons why they’ll fall short of a top four finish;
I get the strong impression, and I don’t know why, that Van Gaal doesn’t like bureaucracy, especially when it influences any tactical decisions. And it’s quite clear that Ander Herrera and Luke Shaw were planned on being signed this summer before Van Gaal was offered the job. Clearly Herrera was earmarked by someone at United, as they tried to buy him at the end of last summer. Wayne Rooney, Juan Mata and Robin Van Persie need to play, but for financial reasons, not footballing ones. Keep an eye on this.
Tom Cleverley and Maruoane Fellaini are still around. While Ander Herrera has ability, he’s still an uncapped player heading into his mid twenties. Michael Carrick is somehow, terrifyingly, now thirty-three and who knows about Darren Fletcher’s health. At some point they’ll need the aforementioned two to contribute, unless they can be moved on and a replacement, or replacements, signed.
I can almost see Van Gaal putting up with Cleverley, he’s become an easy target to deride, but it’s gone too far. He’s average, not shite. People forget United won the league with him starting a good chunk of their league games. The same cannot be said of Fellaini, a back to goal anachronistic centre forward masquerading as a midfielder. Van Gall won’t put up with his slow feet and counter attack killing indecisiveness on the ball.
Up front this team will score goals. Providing Rooney and Van Persie play often enough, but will they? Danny Welbeck, who, if anything, is the new and slightly improved Emile Heskey, isn’t a reliable source of goals, and Javier Hernandez, who can be, is available for the right price.
Ashley Young’s pre-season ‘form’ should change nothing. He’s shite and should be ostracised accordingly. Will this happen? With Rafael out injured, choices are limited, so he gets yet another chance to fail.
These concerns become relatively minor when compared to the centre of the defence. Their current centre backs are Phil Jones, Jonny Evans and Chris Smalling. I rate Jones, but he simply hasn’t had the reps at the position since he signed for United, he’s mainly been used in midfield or at right back, and now he’s United’s best defender by default. Smalling’s feet are too slow, and he’ll slowly drive Van Gaal mad, perhaps he’ll get the junk in face treatment? Jonny Evans is Jonny Evans.
The likes of Mats Hummels are pipe dreams, and they’ve missed out on Thomas Vermaelen, who’s gone to Barcelona, but I suspect this may end up being a blessing in disguise. Daley Blind makes a lot of sense here, he can play at left back, left wing back, in central midfield, or as a left sided centre back in a back three. It brings us back to United being smart not sexy in the market.
Expect that to be the tenor of Van Gaal’s first season. Just like the tactics he used with the Dutch at this summer’s World Cup where he had less talent to work with, yet he found a system that masked the weaknesses of his worst players and emphasised the strengths of his best.
Doing this in a cup competition is easier and more forgiving than a league campaign in a highly competitive league. The reality is that this United side has simply too many weaknesses, questions, and a lack of pace and quality in too many areas for Van Gaal to overcome this soon.
This will take time, but the first steps have been taken; they have a better manager, and without Champions League football they’ll look to start gutting out a squad that has slowly accumulated too many overrated and or mediocre players on wages which they simply aren’t worth, that a club without European football simply has no use for.
Title Contenders (But I’m Not Convinced):
Last season’s finish: 4th
Pre-season prediction: 4th
I’ll always defend Arsene Wenger. And with good reason. With Alex Ferguson now gone he is the last vestige of an age, before the internet, when fans were forced into considered thought instead of being able to behave impulsively, and have their thoughts, which are always ridden with egocentric fickleness, validated by an audience as they often are today. Once he goes it’ll be the end of an era for football in this country.
Arsenal has won two trophies in the space of four months. Yes, yes I know, David Moyes won the Community Shield last year, and yes it’s just a glorified friendly. In this case what was different was the opponent, last season’s champions, and that Arsenal won handsomely, 3-0. While City had a makeshift backline, Arsenal exposed it, and did so clinically.
A large part of that was down to Alexis Sanchez’s pace and ability to carry the ball through zones at pace, something Arsenal badly missed after Theo Walcott’s injury just after the New Year. The other? Aaron Ramsey. Did you know that he has scored 25 goals in his last 36 games? Olivier Giroud would bang ten prozzies a week for a record like that.
He surely won’t keep up that strike rate, Ramsey, I mean, but if Arsenal can keep him fit they should challenge for the league until the end. Let’s cut the fucking shit here, their annual dip isn’t psychological as is so often and lazily suggested by hack pundits and the mind numbed dickheads who call 606. It always seems to coincide with two or three of their best players succumbing to injury at the same time. In recent seasons they simply haven’t had the depth to cope. And I have to acknowledge that this is Wenger’s fault for not having that depth, and therefore not being able to take the preventative measure of rotating enough.
Arsenal fans will ask why this year will be different, and from the outside looking in at their squad, as it stands, I’m sceptical it will be.
For a start the squad’s still imbalanced. They seem to have thirteen attacking midfielders, but very little depth in defence. And just how reliable are Olivier Giroud and Yaya Sanogo? Lukas Podolski and his fucking selfies can fuck off.
I’ve already mentioned Sanchez, the other signings; Calum Chambers and Mathieu Debuchy, are less inspiring. There’s some debate as what Chambers is exactly. Saints fans seem to believe he’s a midfielder, yet he was used as a right back last season and Arsenal used him at centre back last weekend. Of course this was because Mertesacker wasn’t available, but that just underlines why Arsenal will run into problems if no more signings are added. Another area where Arsenal is currently short is the holding midfield position. The only player accustomed to playing the role proficiently is Mikel Arteta, now thirty-two years of age. And yes he eventually broke down last season. There is nobody else remotely reliable, and the alternatives are using players out of position, like Jack Wilshire, whose defensive anticipation and tackling are non existent. Mathieu Flamini has effort and endeavour in spades, but the quality simply isn’t there.
That also leads to a dilemma Wenger will face – finding the optimal midfield configuration. He’ll need to if this team is to reach its potential. Ramsey is a given, and it would be better if he has the freedom to advance unimpeded that his talents merit, which surely means having two midfielders alongside or behind him. The problem? That likely permeates Mesut Ozil’s starting position. Perhaps Wenger will adopt a horses for courses selection policy from game to game, but surely Arsenal’s best team will feature Walcott up front, Sanchez on the right, with the license to inter change with Walcott, Ramsey making those runs from deep, and Ozil roaming and creating. The question is, how often will we see it?
Which brings us to – injuries. Walcott’s still out and Ramsey’s had his share. Jack Wilshire too. Arsenal has the depth in the attacking midfield positions to absorb injuries, but only in certain instances, as there’s no replacement for Ramsey’s goals.
Finally there’s the matter of that third round Champions League playoff. They should, should get past Besiktas, but at what cost? Both legs sandwich an away trip to Everton in the league, and is the club waiting to secure progress to the group stages, and the extra revenue it guarantees, to beef up the squad as it needs to?
If, if, the main men can all stay healthy for the majority of the season, and they bring in another central defender and holding midfielder before the deadline, this side can certainly win the league. Let’s not forget when they went to Anfield and got tonked 5-1 they were top of the league. They’ve proven they have to talent to get to the top, now they have to prove they can do that again and this time stay there. And that’s the bottom line, I need to see them prove it first.
Last season’s finish: 2nd
Pre-season prediction: 3rd
I might as well start with the departure of Luis Suarez. It’s a shame he’s gone, as it makes the Premier League far less exciting and compelling. He was also easily the best player in it, just watch and enjoy;
Which brings me to another point – you simply cannot call yourself the best league in the world with a straight face when as soon as your best talents produce transcendent campaigns they immediately flee to either Barcelona or Real Madrid. First it was Cristiano Ronaldo, then Gareth Bale and now Luis Suarez. The comments by the head of the grasping cunts league, Richard Scudamore, about being glad to see the back of Suarez just sums up the delusional arrogance of those who run it, that it’s the league, not the players, that make it what it is. Clearly the players disagree, they don’t see the Premier League as the pinnacle of domestic club football, so why do Sky and all the ‘English football is da best and dat’ sycophants of perpetuating self interest that pervade the television and print media continue to look like daft twats punting it as so?
The answer is obvious; in the Orwellian sense they’re selling it to even stupider people. I just wanted to pontificate on this issue a bit more in a twelve thousand word column, and yes I’m venting in frustration that Suarez has gone.
Even had Suarez remained, and unsuspended of course, it’s unlikely that Liverpool would’ve scored over a hundred goals in the league again. This simply doesn’t happen often.
It’s a shame they didn’t win the league given they were the most exciting team in the league last season, for good and bad reasons. That they rode City so close and finished above Chelsea, with Abramovich’s misappropriated billions and The Trophyless One ©, with a budget the fraction of the size of either, just showed what a bit of bravery and entrusting talent of any ages and calibrations, can do.
This brings us onto one of the most annoying, agonisingly stupid narratives of the summer: that Liverpool ‘are doing a Spurs’ by selling Luis Suarez and using the proceeds of his transfer fee to buy multiple inferior players. First let’s take the doing a Spurs part literally; Spurs finished a place lower the season after they sold Bale. They slipped from fifth to sixth. If Liverpool does that, they finish third.
Second, apart from Lionel Messi and Cristiano Ronaldo, all the other players on the planet are inferior to Suarez.
Third, Spurs didn’t qualify for the Champions League in Bale’s final season, they finished fifth. Liverpool finished second last year. Might that be because they had the second highest scorer in the league? And a slew of talented young players like Raheem Sterling (watch out for him this season), Phil Coutinho (ditto) and Jordan Henderson? Take Bale away from that Spurs team and they were shite, take Suarez away and Liverpool are still very good, as their record without him indicates – only one defeat in ten games.
Fourth, and most importantly, this team, now with Champions League football, had a squad that simply wasn’t equipped to cope with it. The squad they had last year really wasn’t equipped to cope with the league alone, as it showed late on in the season when they looked jaded over the final four games.
So, then, can the defensive improvements, and extra depth in midfield offset that likelihood that they’ll score less?
Despite all the reinforcements arriving, as it stands they’re at least one attacker short. If Daniel Sturridge misses a significant chunk of time, there’ll be no Suarez to lead the line. I like Rickie Lambert as a back-up, but as a starter on a title contender? C’mon now. They need to sign someone else, ideally two attackers. One will be enough provided the player in question is of a higher calibre; they should have the money remaining to get such a player.
If they do this prediction might change by the end of the transfer window, because everything else is now in place. They have the fastest team in the league, they have a coach who improves players, is adaptable and improvises tactically and they play exciting football. Like Arsenal, let’s hope they can they can infuse some romanticism back into a league obsessed with money and what it can buy, and overcome these two rich bitches…
Last season’s finish: 3rd
Pre-season prediction: 2nd
Make no mistake about it, Mourinho’s under pressure. Someone suggested that, considering all he’s achieved, perhaps he isn’t, but we all know better. He’s an egotist, so his self image probably means everything to him. He sees winning as a means to an end as it allows him to see himself as a one. When he doesn’t win that veneer of self belief will be eroded further after his failure to deliver a European Cup (which his successor did) and consistently overcome Barcelona at Real Madrid. You suspect that not being in charge when Chelsea won their first European Cup hurt him too, seeing as one of his great talents is being the centre of attention. Should he manage them to a second, the first will pale in comparison because he’s made himself a more memorable figure within the wider football culture than anyone else connected with Chelsea.
As per usual Chelsea have done their thing of buying players for the present and discarding any youth, or simply parking it in a reasonably sized town in the Netherlands that also happens to have a football club nobody pays any mind to. Kind of like having to find a place to put the decent caravan which you bought five years ago, so you can rent it out to some brain damaged eejit who’s also prepared to holiday in them, while you live it large in the newer better one with the latest gadgets. You’re barely any better, but you’re making money, or at the very least not losing it.
Last season their biggest issue was in attack, they’ve made a series of moves, but are they any better off? While they conceded the fewest goals of the top four they also scored the fewest. Samuel Eto’o, now released, was their highest scoring striker in the league. Romelu Lukaku, who scored fifteen for Everton, has finally, mercifully, for his sake, been sold, and yes the comical figure of Fernando Torres, on a not so comical £190k a week, remains, somehow. The only good reason to bring Didier Drogba back, at age thirty-six, is that it prevents Mourinho from utilising one of his favourite chasing-late-in-the-game manoeuvres – putting a centre back up front. Sadly Drogba’s fucked his ankle and is now out until November. I use ‘sadly’ disingenuously here. Personally I find it fucking hilarious.
So after all those moves Chelsea have Fernando Torres, broken in every sense, and Diego Costa, signed from Atletico Madrid in the summer, until Drogba returns. They could sign someone else, as they have the funds, but justifying that after making Costa the primary purchase in attack might be tricky. But they should, as Edinson Cavani is available, for example. I hold this position as my opinion of Diego Costa is jaundiced, I’m not convinced he belongs in the top echelon of strikers. He’s had one prolific season, plus he’s a weirdo and a headcase (hey, it’s a Mourinho team – if the glove fits). As with Suarez, I find these characters interesting, but most aren’t so forgiving. In the media glare, underpinned by a voracious self serving media in twenty-four hour news cycle mode, who’ll be looking for dirty villainous foreigner in the post Suarez vacuum, and a hypocritical, myopic and highly xenophobic FA, you can see his snide antics falling foul of both, and Chelsea will be the ones to suffer.
Despite all these questions and pitfalls, when he’s on the pitch he will get chances to score, and he will score fifteen given that the rest of this Chelsea team and squad looks the business. Cesc Fabregas never could find a niche at Barcelona, but things will be far more straightforward for him at Chelsea. He’ll partner Matic in midfield, with Hazard in front, or he’ll be the furthest forward of a midfield three. He’ll produce assists and he’ll get goals in either formation, as will Hazard, Willian, Schurrle and Oscar. There’s an abundance of creativity and goals there, it’s a shame they’re managed by Mourinho.
They’ll have the best defensive record in the league again, that’s what Mourinho does. So why not pick them to win the league? Because the next team has significantly more firepower…
Last season’s finish: 1st
Pre-season prediction: 1st
…and their squad is better than last year too.
Eliaquim Mangala and Fernando Reges, both signed from Porto, are essentially replacing the useless duo of Jack Rodwell and Javi Garcia, and, well, in Mangala’s case he’s replacing nothing, or to be more accurate, Joleon Lescott. It doesn’t hurt to get Bacari Sagna in, on a free, as a backup for Pablo Zabaleta either.
And Stevan Jovetic barely made an impression due to injury last season. He’s been fantastic in pre-season, which is just as well with Sergio Aguero injured. But as we saw last season, City were equipped, even without Jovetic too, to handle Aguero’s absence.
There are only two doubts I have with them, the first is in goal. The only thing Joe Hart’s even remotely reliable for these days is inducing laughs at his hair conditioner/shampoo commercials. It’s the predictable result of his manufactured hubris. Take his cult of one self confidence (which is admirable in a way) but then combine it with the usual hyperbole around English players in a sea of foreign superiority, and it transcends the reality of his abilities. Where it gets odd is that too many people, people who like most others detest being wrong, have invested too much in the deception to change tack. That he’s an average keeper who is now back-up to a mid-thirties Argentinean who has never been capped is irrelevant. Thankfully that isn’t the case with Pellegrini, one of the good guys, the anti-Mourinho in all the ways you’d want. There are sound reasons why Caballero is now seemingly the first choice.
But what if Willy Caballero flails and flops and they have to go back to Joe Hart?
This tweet sums up the dilemma perfectly:
Pellegrini must overcome every man’s dilemma: Hart or Willy?
— Garstonite (@bririley70) August 10, 2014
I hate clichés, and I don’t believe that teams demonstrably prioritise competitions when they’re still in contention for them all. But City clearly needs to make an impression in the Champions League. They finally made the knockout stages last year, but having won the league three times since Mansour bin Zayed and his hundred and fifty foot yacht made of solid gold pitched up, as well as both domestic cups, the European Cup is only thing they’ve yet to win, and to boot they haven’t even come close. Another failure will bring pressure on Txiki Begiristain and Pellegrini, whether it’s warranted or not, it will happen. They should make the quarter finals, but I think at the highest level, as configured, they’ll struggle to maintain possession against the likes of Barcelona and Bayern Munich. If only they could clone David Silva…wait, with all that money I better not give them any ideas.
Still, when it comes to the Premier League which is largely filled with dross, they have the team best equipped for the task of running roughshod over it, with two quality players for every outfield position. Their two best players are ready to roll again; Yaya Toure, who finally collected his toys back in his platinum and diamond pram and David Silva, who has signed a new deal. You’d be mad to bet against them over thirty-eight games. And I won’t be, but then I won’t be betting on anything.
I’ll be doing this all again in October when everything I’ve written will be rendered utterly useless. Actually, that will happen within forty-eight hours, when Manchester United play Swansea at Old Trafford on Saturday lunchtime. Who writes a twelve thousand column that goes off quicker than Sushi in the midday summer sun? Me. Who reads it? Nobody. Until next time, try to enjoy the rest of the summer and the start of the football season. Peace out.