EPL buys haven't changed anything
A lot happened in between my preview of the two Manchester clubs in terms of transfers but I still do not see a major change in what I had written.
City’s purchase of Jack Rodwell is a fine bit of business as I do not think they can get Gareth Barry playing at full throttle for a whole season. Besides, the older England international is really not the athletic specimen that Rodwell is currently and getting better still.
Unlike many, I do not think Nigel de Jong is leaving; the Dutch international has a level of game intelligence that is of the highest quality in addition to his ability to win back possession. These are qualities that Roberto Mancini loves very much.
Man United’s purchase and ultimate capture of Robin van Persie is still a mystery to me. The former Arsenal captain had a fantastic season and his qualities have never been in doubt but in the grand scheme of things perhaps United would have been better off searching for the likes of M’Villa from Rennes or Sandro from Tottenham.
However, Sir Alex is nothing if not a clever manager and who knows he might have decided that this season Phil Jones will be tough tackling central midfielder and that Darren Fletcher is actually fit enough to play a whole season. If he has actually sorted that out behind the scenes then Van Persie’s acquisition might well turn out to be the game changer. The game is on.
ARSENAL : The “Only One” Jose Mourinho, during his time in England, once said that Arsene Wenger would have been sacked at football of their standing in another country.
Even before the departure of Robin van Persie, I have believed ever so strongly that Arsenal HAVE TO win the title this season. Going into the ninth season now since the Invincibles season of 2004, the North London club are in danger of dropping out of the list of big clubs with regards to titles and cups won.
That every other summer they seem to be losing an influential player is another indication that they might already be out of the “Big Clubs’ league/ladder”. Having prepared for van Persie’s departure; the club look stronger than this time last season with the acquisitions of Giroud from Montpellier, Lukas Podolski from Cologne and the surprise arrival of world and European Champion with Spain, Santi Carzola.
The Wenger template of eye pleasing passing football is there and in Arteta, Ramsey, Walcott, the precocious Oxlade-Chamberlain, Rosicky and the returning Wilshere, Arsenal really should be challenging for the title. They have to replace the goals of their departing skipper scored from last season and hope that the new forwards settle quickly. The Premier League is an unforgiving terrain for those trying to find their feet. Gervinho has had an extra season to settle.
The departure, or rumoured departure, of Alex Song to Barcelona will be as a big a blow as Van Persie’s departure. Like the Dutchman, Song has matured over the years and in the last three seasons he has shown how he is just as good as any holding midfielder in Europe.
He has also added to his repertoire match-changing passes and assists. He has always offered good protection to the back line and his match intelligence always meant that Arsenal kept possession and played on the front foot most of the time.
Arsenal fans and their manager cannot hide this season behind the banner of a lack of money and all that. This season they appear to have the depth of squad to mount a challenge. They have to. Arsene Wenger is in danger of having his great work over the years tarnished by this lack of silverware. This is the season to deliver.
Tottenham Hotspurs : I am a big fan of the new Spurs manager Andre Villas-Boas and I rate him very highly. I also think that Harry Redknapp, the former manager of Spurs, was totally inept as a football manager in relation to the massive good press he gets in England.
The squad that Daniel Levy was able to assemble last season should have been battling the two Manchester clubs at the top of the league rather than finishing fourth. Therefore this season, despite the departure of the talented Modric, I expect Spurs to do very well and possibly even better last season’s fourth place finish.
They have to get Adebayor in though for the rest of the season or place more confidence in Jermaine Defoe. In Bale and Lennon they have two wide men that ALL the full backs in England must dread playing against.
With Sandro, Sugurdsson, Livermore, Parker and Van der Vaart, Spurs have the energy, drive, determination and creativity to last the marathon race of the Premier League. Even with the retirement of skipper Ledley King, Spurs still have a defence deep enough to cope with the demands of being involved in title race.
Modric’s imminent departure means there will be a few new arrivals yet, so it has to be noted that Spurs will not be shifted easily. It is a shame that Harry’s handling of players has led to the departures of Krancjaer and Pavluchenko, two players whose talents deserved more game time than they ever got.
The most important ingredient for the Spurs faithful to hang on to is the desire of AvB to prove doubters wrong. For a start, he will not be inheriting a dressing room filled with egos and cliques as was at Chelsea and recent reports show that the Spurs players have taken to his early promptings. Also, the Spurs team have not won anything yet and so will be keen on new ideas as will be represented by the Portuguese coach.
Newcastle United: Alan Pardew performed miracles last season. Nobody gave him and his Geordie charges a prayer and yet they just missed out on the fourth place courtesy of a run of fixtures that saw title-chasing City come to them just a few days after Newcastle had played in London against Chelsea.
Papiss Cisse, Demba Ba, Johan Cabaye, Hatem Ben Arfa, Fabriccio Colocini, and co showed a consistency of performance all of last season that was totally unexpected but one filled with some fantastic football. The first part of the season Ba could not stop scoring. He went for the African Nations Cup and nothing.
However, Cisse arrives FROM the same African cup of Nations and just could not stop scoring. He alone scored so many great goals from January that it will be interesting to see if he can match or better it this season. Tactically, the manager is very meticulous in his setting out of his players depending on the match.
They have to do it again this season while combining it with the Europa Cup campaign. The team showed character and resilience last season and I expect them to continue in the same vein again this season. The Geordie nation have a new set of heroes and unlike the flaky lot that Kevin Keegan put together back in the early ‘90s this lot have very strong underbelly.
They will take some shifting from that position and teams will not see Newcastle as easy three points.
Chelsea. The European champions and FA Cup winners from last season. The team have gone out and paid a lot of money for Oscar of Brazil and Eden Hazard from Lille and a Belgian international. Marin has also arrived and all these indicate that this is a club that is determined to improve.
Despite those cup wins, Chelsea finished 22 points off the top two teams and in sixth place. They have lost Drogba, who has done his bit and moved to pastures anew while the stalwarts of Cole and Terry in defence and Lampard are going to be a year older.
They now have former Stamford Bridge favourite Roberto di Mateo as the full time manager and so should be good to go. Right? In my view, not so.
I do not think that Di Matteo is good enough to be a top Premier League manager. In his interim position last season he and the senior pros at the club decided to go for the Champions League knowing that they did not have the legs to go for the league in tandem with it and the owner’s desire for it.
They were a Messi penalty kick away from failing but their luck and determination held and Drogba’s coolness under pressure got them through. Fernando Torres does not have the shadow of Drogba again but he also has no backup central striker yet – with Lukaku sent away to sulk at West Brom. Hazard has no doubts about his talent, nor that of Mata and Ramires in those midfield positions. Oscar is surely for the future no matter how much was paid for him. Chelsea need to be re-jigged in terms of style to compensate for the departure of Drogba and incorporate the new players but, somehow, I do not think that the manager to do that is the one currently there.
It is a long journey back to the Premier League summit for Chelsea. This season will be the start only.
Liverpool: If Arsene Wenger at Arsenal needed any reminder of what can happen to a team that waits too long for their next title he just needs to go read Liverpool history.
It was in May ’90 that that club won their last league title – which was their 18th and long held national record. At the end of last season, I pointed out in one of my blogs that the club’s owners would not be pleased with Kenny Dalglish on the returns for the money spent.
Outlandish sums wasted on Andy Carroll, Jordan Henderson and Stewart Downing with nothing but a Carling cup win and an eighth place finish was certainly not good enough.
Mind you, spending more than £7m on Carroll is a sackable offence to me. Brendan Rodgers is strong. He will do Liverpool well. Liverpool fans have to be patient as Rodgers seeks to bridge the 13 point gap that separates their team from the fourth place Champions League spot.
It will be nigh on impossible to do it in one season. His progress will be followed with interest. It is a massive step up from Swansea but he seems a self-assured man.