Monday, August 8, 2011

English Premier League Season Preview

If you want in-depth analysis, visit The Guardian. If it's startling stat-facts you're after, then it's OptaJoe you're looking for. Amusement? Try the Football Ramble. But here, after a summer in which an awful lot was made of ridiculously little, is Balanced Sports' Q & A preview to the English Premier League 2011-12.

Arsenal: Where's the love for Arsene Wenger?
The Arsenal faithful want to lynch someone - anyone - for their second-half fades in recent seasons. With Wenger's refusal to reinforce the Arsenal backline to the fans satisfaction, Cesc looking to leave and Nasri increasingly likely to follow, it's liable the Professor is the posse's first choice. Has anyone considered he may have a point? Injury has robbed him of a first-choice central defensive partnership of Vermaelen and Djourou, while Wojciech Szczęsny could have a Joe-Hart-at-Birmingham breakout.

Aston Villa: How much does it matter that McLeish is as popular as a dead polecat?
Due to the dour football his Birmingham City squads chundered out last year, popular opinion of McLeish in Birmingham is like Greece's economy: toxic. This staid mindset, plus Shay Given, may be just the thing Villa need to rectify ageing Central Defensive duo Collins & Dunne's 2011 propensity for mishap. They won't uproot the redwoods, but do look capable of counterpunching behind Charles N'Zogbia, Marc Albrighton and Darren Bent.

Blackburn: Do Venky's care about football?
In a word, no. Or if they do, they've got a weird way of showing it: sacking the effective-on-a-budget Sam Allardyce, commiting ₤5 million to a transfer fund which would take the team "into the Champions' League", frequently summoning manager Steve Kean to India and announcing their interest in every has-been on the planet. They should care though, because if this is the publicity grab it seems, they'll be aghast to see how much revenue (and support and merchandising and sponsorship and ... ) drops on relegation to the Championship with a threadbare squad.

Bolton: What did they do to anger the Gods of broken legs?
Who knows? With promising Chung-Yong Lee sporting a double leg break and attacking right-back Tyrone Mears suffering a similar injury, boss Owen Coyle must looking for a Harry Potter-style Time Turner to re-live the past two weeks. Creative US international Stuart Holden broke his leg had his leg broken in March and probably won't be back until the new year. Without these three cogs and looking short a striker, it's questionable they can create enough goals to capitalise on his preferred passing game.

Chelsea: How many times will we see André Villas-Boas referred to as the New Mourinho?
At a rough guess, 547 by Christmas and the under/over for the season is at 999.5. While he boasts lengthy connections to the Special One, AVB seems to be his own man and is charged with disarming and deconstructing the player cabal that runs the backroom at Chelsea - a unity engendered by Jose. He'll need specialised bomb defusal skills to do so as aggravating John Terry got first Jose and then Big Phil Scolari fired.

Everton: When will David Moyes' eyes finally pop out of his head for good?
It must be frustrating for the ginger man - to consistently assemble good players only to see them want to leave. And after ten years at Goodison Park, he's hardly a Bright Young Thing any more. He's happy in Liverpool, but for a man with tremendous competitive drive the sell-to-buy philosophy must be wearing. He'll probably stay with the Toffees for ages - because at this stage neither he, nor the club, can do better. It's a saddening state of affairs in Mersey's blue half.

Fulham: Where to now?
Fulham once again contest the Europa League after Roy Hodgson led them on a wild ride two seasons ago. Much as they loved that run, fans are already wondering if a second trip to watch their boys in the Ukraine is worth the outlay. The experienced Martin Jol has had success nearly everywhere he's been, however he must confront an ageing squad that takes longer to recover from Thursday night matches. Signing Palermo's teen Patjim Kasami should help, but other newbie John Arne Riise is already the wrong side of 30. Is two days' break enough?

Liverpool: Is King Kenny the Messiah?
The essence to success in video game Football Manager is simple: keep players happy. You do so by winning, praise and goals. While FM bears as much resemblance to the Real Thing as a smoked meat sandwich does to a hot dog, it does underline Kenny Dalglish's early "success" at Liverpool. He's played the kids, signed enough multi-skilled central midfielders to start his own cloning facility and given them targets to aim at in Luis Suarez, Andy Carroll and a reinvigorated Dirk Kuyt. To his credit, Kenny understands it's not rocket science but simple Human Resources.

Man. City: Is it finally my time?
Perhaps. As always the Citizens' fortunes rest on Carlos Tevez - only now, they don't depend on his on-pitch strut. A successful season behind Sergio Aguero, David Silva, Vincent Kompany and even Wesley Sneijder hangs on their ability to rid the dressing room of a malcontent and potential unsettling influence. If he stays, Tevez will contribute mightily but - because of his preference to work up front alone - perhaps at the cost of playing one of Aguero or Dzeko. If he leaves, he'll be replaced perhaps by that little-'n'-large show with Johnson & Silva out wide. It all sounds mouthwatering. Anything less than a Title challenge will disappoint.

Man. United: More important: Cleverley, Welbeck, Jones, Smalling, Gibson, Carrick or De Gea?
Surprisingly enough it's Tom Cleverley, who spent last season on loan at Wigan. Rewarded for an excellent Charity Shield with a call-up to the England squad, he - not Darron Gibson or Michael Carrick - is earmarked as Paul Scholes' successor. While David De Gea is young, he's also a work in progress and, as former coach Abel Resino says, will peak in a decade. He can't be expected to to be more than solid in his first year - especially as he doesn't speak English. Ferguson has invested for the far future between the sticks.

Part two will be published tomorrow.

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