Thursday, August 09, 2007

EPL Preview 2007/2008 (Part 2 of 4)

Chelsea - Chelsea's big money strategy has finally crumbled proving that you can't buy footballing success with money and money alone. Shevchenko and Ballack have both proven to be duds alone with a few other players that were bought but never did get to fully utilise. A big waste of transfer dollars, not that it matters to Abramovich anyway. Still it is the principle of the matter where you are supposed to get what you are paying for. Unfortunately, that hasn't been the case with the lone exception of Drogba.

The problem with Chelsea is that money drop from trees or so that's what all the players in the squad thinks. Some are genuinely interested in playing good football in a big club, the rest like Ashley Cole, Joe Cole, Carlton Cole, Damien Duff, Hernan Crespo, Geremi, SW-Phillips and Scott Parker, just to name a few(!), are just there to money grab. This season, let's add Tal Ben Haim and Sidwell to the list.

Then there is also the bickering between Mourinho and his Russian employer. Granted that saga had simmered down significantly, it is still far from being resolved, if at all possible. The way I see it, it is merely swept under the carpet, out of sight, out of mind, until it blows up one day in a mushroom cloud Hiroshima-style. Mark my words, it is a ticking time bomb waiting to go off any time, given the volatility of the "Special One". In short, while Mourinho almost quitted and the end of last season, I think his depature is just a season away should, the Blues fail to recapture the league title, if not earlier.

Drogba was their talisman from last season but given that the African Nations Cup is due in January 2008, Mourinho would no doubt have started preparations ahead the manpower shortage crunch, at a time where the club would begin their title assault having passed the season's midway point.

I don't expect Shevchenko and Ballack to show any improvement this year. Just look at ManUtd's Carrick who took half a season to assimilate which was already deemed unacceptable by his price tag. Fortunately, he redeemed himself with a stellar showing in the later half of last season. Players of their calibre will continue to be a flop if they are unable to sizzle after one whole season. Not saying that they are bad but merely unable to adapt to the English game.

Anyway, player to watch out for here is Malouda whom had made me sit up and taken a second look during the Community Shield match. This one's got potential for greatness.

Verdict: I think Chelsea's chances of winning the Premiership title this season is 1 to ManUtd's 3. Another year of playing the bridesmaid and quite possibly a new manager next season.

Derby County - We haven't seen The Rams since they went down in 2002. Anyone still remember the Fabrizio "La Silver Fox" Ravenelli?

Anyway, given that they have been promoted back to the top flight in very unconvincing fashion, I doubt if there are able to stay afloat at the end of the season. I think by Christmas time, they should be dead and buried.

Gaffer Billy Davies is not of Premiership calibre and neither is any of their players. Sure, they may scalp a few in the opening games of the season, that's only because none of the teams in the top flight has encountered them in the last 5 years. So a shock defeat by any of the big boys would be that of the element of surprise rather than due to technical inferiority. By mid-season, all the teams would have wisen up to Derby's little bag of limited tricks and you can be pretty safe to bet against The Rams in the 1x2 categories, albeit with close to pathetic odds. Still, it could serve as a good multiplier in parlays.

No particular player to look out for here but I do recommend that you watch the entire team as a whole for there aren't going to be around next season.

Verdict: Not only am I 100% sure that they will be relelgated, I foresee them occupying the cellar as well.

Everton - What Everton achieved last season is commendable as they have a UEFA Cup spot well earned. Problem with them is depth, or rather the lack of it. This as evident when they ended up in mid-table back in 2005/2006 season. The very same season that saw them compete in the ECL. A season later and they clinch the UEFA Cup spot with a solid consolidation of the 6th spot.

In a nutshell, it means that Everton does not have enough ammo to fuel both European and domestic competitions at the same time. It has to be one or the other. Moyes lack the resources to do both and it seems that his board of management has not learn the lesson from past seasons as new signings ahead of this season seemed pretty scarce for a team that is about to embark on a European campaign.

Moyes is right in releasing Beattie as the prolific ex-Sunderland striker has seen the last of his best days a long time ago. All eyes will be surprisingly on Arteta and not Andy Johnson, given the latter will be the one to provide all, if not most of the goals. So what is so special about Arteta? The reason is simple. Johnson cannot go the full nine yards alone. The support from Arteta will prove to be crucial for Johnson's success.

Verdict: Back to mid-table as the strain from European commitment will continue to sabotage their domestic efforts. Time to open up that cheque book and quick before the transfer window closes on 31 Aug 2007.

Fulham - Chris Coleman was shown the door last season and it wasn't because he was a bad manager. It is just that after so many seasons dating back from player to player-manager to manager, he simply ran out of ideas to take the team forward.

I don't think we would see him out of a job for long as I fancy him doing well in the League Championships and bringing the team up to the Premier League. Yeah, I think he'd be good at that.

New gaffer came highly recommended as the ex-Northern Ireland manager, Lawrie Sanchez quickly opened the cheque book to the sum of 20.5 million pounds Sterling and snap up 9 new players for the season. An interesting fact would be 4 of the 9 are Northern Ireland internationals which indicates to me that Sanchez here know what he is buying and quite an advantage here in the sense that he has been working with them collectively for quite some time before coming to Fulham. On the same token, theses guys have already played together for a while which means that they are able to hit the ground running. Certainly a wise shortcut in the process of assimilation and adaptation.

I will be watching Northern Ireland Captain Aaron Hughes whom I'd bet Sanchez will be relying on him pretty much to lead the band of Northern Irish brothers on the pitch. Don't be surprised that Hughes will start wearing the Fulham Skipper's armband pretty soon too.

Verdict: Definitely a much better showing than last season. While would probably still end up in the lower half but unlikely to have to battle against relegation this time round.

Liverpool - 43 million pounds Sterling were spent bringing in top-classed players and I am less worried for Liverpool for the manager is Benitez and not Houllier, whom the latter was famous for buying expensive garbage.

This summer also see a massive housekeeping job as we see the disposal of Bellamy, Garcia, Dudek, Cisse, Zenden, Fowler and Pongolle<--(FINALLY!!!). Benitez is a good manager but not without a flaw. His only weakness is his over-emphasis on the European campaign which has seen him won the Super Cup, the ECL as well as the UEFA Cup. However, had the UEFA not bend the rules at the last minute for the ECL winner to retain an automatic berth in next season's ECL, Liverpool would have been kicked to the UEFA Cup tournament in 2006, after Liverpool finished the 2004/2005 season in 5th spot, albeit winning the ECL for the 5th time. I have to give Benitez credit for doing much better in the European competitions than any of the English clubs. Yes, it is all good to be winning the top European honours and all but he has to understand that only a good domestic placing will secure a spot in the next season's ECL. It would be foolish to rely on winning the ECL everytime to get a spot in next season's tournament. Fortunately, with the strength and depth of the squad, I don't see them out of the top 4 this season. Problem is that Liverpool has yet to overcome the problem of taking points away from the top clubs and that alone is enough to strike Liverpool off the title challenge, behind Chelsea and ManUtd. All eyes will be on Torres but I would choose to keep my eye on Crouch and Kuyt instead. Torres has never been a proven scorer in La Liga. 19 was his best tally so far in the past 6 seasons and that came in 2003/2004. Between Kuyt and Crouch, I pick the latter to be the weaker of the 2 and should Torres proved to be a hit, Crouch will be looking to warm the bench for most of the season. Anyone in the transfer market for Crouch? Watch the classifieds in the coming Summer of 2008. Verdict: I think it will be a neck and neck race with Arsenal to the 3rd spot but I pip Liverpool to have the slight edge over the Gunners. Also, I foresee Liverpool picking up a trophy somewhere, be it the Carling Cup or FA Cup or the ECL (for the 6th time!). Just not the Premiership trophy.


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