Wednesday, August 08, 2007

EPL Preview 2007/2008 (Part 1 of 4)

Welcome back to the new season of the English Premier League as I will be doing a short write up of each team and give my prediction as to where each would end up at the end of the season.

Without further ado, let's go.

Arsenal - Arsene Wenger days are numbered and it's not because his job is on the line. Rather, by his actions and decisions over the past couple of seasons, I can tell that Wenger is ready to call it a day and move on. It could be upwards into higher management, a seat on the board perhaps? Or maybe promoted to Technical Director. Either that or leave London for newer pastures, managing another club or another country.

When we see Bergkamp, Ljunberg, Viera, Pires, Campbell and finally Henry leaving, you know that a new dawn has arrived. A new generation of Gunners is in the process of taking over but unfortunately, this has taken Wenger much longer than he has expected. Experiments with Antonio Reyes, Baptista and Jeffers have failed and Wenger is having a hard time building a good enough team before handing over to the next gaffer. Such is the epitome of professionalism

This season, we will be keeping an eye on Rosicky, Da Silva as well as the partnership of Van Persie & Adebayor. The latter pair will be the second generation of Bergkamp & Kanu.

Between the two, I like Adebayor but I can't say the same as much for the young Dutch striker as he pales in comparison with Bergkamp during the latter's heyday. For one, the young Van Persie lacks the masterclass of his predecessor. Alas Van Persie is still young and has a long way to go to curb his tendency to dive. His incessant whining has also got to stop.

Verdict: No way near the title challenge but nevertheless a Top 4 spot with Tottenham Hotspur hot on the tail.

Aston Villa - Gone are the days where Aston Villa were a force to be reckoned with in the European arena. Remember soccer greats like Peter Withe, Gordon Cowans, Andy Gray and David Platt?

Unfortunately, the current state of Aston Villa is in shambles after mismanagement by the likes of John Gregory and David O'Leary. The recent installation of Martin O'Neill was deemed as the coming of the savior but unfortunately, there is only so much you can do with the current mediocre state of the squad.

A piece of turd even under the most masterful of skill will still remain a piece of turd, albeit a nicer looking one.

Keep a lookout for the relegation-clause pair of Reo-Coker and Harewood from West Ham United. Hopefully, with their recent experience fighting relegation, they would be able to inject some freshness and urgency into a sluggish squad that has stayed in mid-table for far too long.

Angel was right in leaving the club or the disease of stagnation would infect him as well.

Verdict: Bottom half at best. If Aston Villa secures a European spot next season (not via the cup tournaments), it would be a miracle and I will have to call the gaffer St Martin from thereon.

Birmingham City - I don't think Steve Bruce will stay in the top flight very long as I see a squad that may be very good at League Championship level but certain far short of Premiership calibre.

I have never liked Steve Bruce even though he is an old boy of the Red Devil as I have yet to forgive him for the shabby treatment of Crystal Palace. The man has no honour and a mercenary at best.

The only name worth mentioning here would be that of Mikael Forssell but other than that, the team look like a sinker.

Verdict: Looks like Carson Yeung picked the wrong team to sink (no pun intended) his money. I do hope to see more Asian players in the EPL but I think the Chinese can start from the League Championship as I forsee the Brummies heading straight down at the end of the season.

Blackburn Rovers - Mark Hughes did good last season by finishing with 52 points and narrowly missing a place in the UEFA Cup at the final moments of the season. Still their chances to UEFA Cup still look pretty good by way of the Inter-Toto Cup as they just demolished Lithuanian side, FK Vetra by an impressive 6-0 aggregate over 2 legs. Granted that only get them to the second qualify round, I have every confidents in the Rovers to win that and advance to the first round proper of the UEFA Cup.

I expect Blackburn to continue to improve over last season but wondered if commitment to the European campaign would undermine their league efforts. Unlike the seasoned clubs like Liverpool, Arsenal and ManUtd, many clubs have faltered when the additional fixtures from the Euro competitions stretched their respective resources too thin.

Hughes will be looking ward to welcoming back Savage to provide support to McCarthy and Pedersen. As much as I disapprove of Savage's rough play which at times proved vindictive and risking injuring his fellow professionals, you have to give him credit for his spirit on the pitch. Something that Aston Villa seriously needs before they start decaying into relegation fighters.

Verdict: Easily a top-half finish and a shot again at the UEFA Cup spot. While I would be rooting for them to get within the top 6, I think this season will see them miss the UEFA Cup narrowly again.

Bolton Wanderers - Sam Allardyce and Sammy Lee are like Twiddle-Dee and Twiddle-Dum. Both Big Sam and Little Sam are spitting image of each other. Both are round in shape, sport suits and most uncannily, the mobile phone earpiece (with the microphone sticking forward) taped to the ear during games.

Things must have been bad for Allardyce to have quitted the team 2 games before the end of last season, instead of seeing the season out. I feel sorry for Lee as he just inherited a team with a UEFA Cup spot and no credible managerial experience. While he may be very competent in the backroom all thanks to his apprenticeship under Liverpool Souness, Evans, Houllier and Eriksson, his assistant mangerial appointment behind Allardyce at the Reebok Stadium as close as he got to the touch line.

Bolton's good showing of a 7th placing last season is going to be as good as Bolton will ever get, given their calibre and Lee is now taking over the reins of a team that has just peaked. The only way is down for Bolton and it looks like Lee is going to be the fall guy for the start of Bolton's decline. Expect Sammy Lee to be among the favourites as the first manager to be axed this season.

Nicolas Anelka is the only notable name here and in a way I am glad to see him matured into a stellar striker. This in comparison to the whiny prima donna brat day at Arsenal. Unfortunately for him, he has passed his prime by the time he realised his wayward behavior. I just wish a few more good years for him before he fades into oblivion. Such a pity considering that he could have evolved into a great player. No luck there.

Verdict: Bottom-half finish or a mid-table placing at best. Bolton's success is all attributed to the mangerial prowess of Sam Allardyce. Big Sam gone is like Harry Potter losing his wand. Hong kan liao.


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