Thursday, 30 August 2012

Norwich to keep their heads above water

Having lost their inspirational manager Paul Lambert to Aston Villa during the summer, the task of maintaining Norwich City's Premier League status has been handed to Chris Hughton. Apart from Lambert, there hasn't been any stand out exits at the club, meaning their squad is stronger then last year. Robert Snodgrass's addition has been a good one, with the former Leeds captain more the equipped to take on the Premier League.

Norwich along with Swansea took the Premier League by storm last year; however both have lost their manager and it's taken Norwich longer to adapt to life under a new regime. Just the solitary win from their opening eight games mean the Canaries perch just above the relegation zone; however I expect them to improve under the Hughton.

Whether Grant Holt can repeat his goal scoring form of last season is up for debate. 15 league goals was an exceptional return given the fact it was his debut season at the highest level, and even better considering he was a League Two player in 2009.  Hughton only brought in Harry Kane on loan from Spurs to bolster his attacking options, and already Norwich have had problems scoring goals.

Despite their struggles defensively, the additions of Sebastian Bassong and Michael Turner are solid and will improve Norwich's back line. Both of whom have Premier League experience and I was very surprised to see Sunderland let the latter go.

Key player - Bradley Johnson. Another former Leeds man at Norwich is key in the centre of the midfield. At 25 he's approaching the peak of his career and if Norwich are to survive then Johnson needs another good season. He, like so many Norwich players, had a good season last year; however for me Johnson will have to step up and be the main man in the centre of the park, which he is capable of.

Prediction - 16th. Having lost Lambert this year is all about consolidation, with survival the main goal in Hughton's first year. I like the transfers Norwich have made this transfer window and I think they'll just have enough to stay up.

View from a fan - Charlie Nicholson 

What would be a perfect season?
One position beneath Europa League qualification, I wouldn't want to risk relegation next year with the extra fixtures.

What would be a nightmare year?
Any relegation position.

Do you have the right man in charge?
Paul Lambert was the right man, but given that he has left, then Hughton was my choice, so yes!

If you could sign any Premier League player who would it be?
We need a pacey striker who'd fit in with the squad, so unrealistically Wayne Rooney, but maybe someone like Nathan Delfouneso whom has potential and would fit into the squad. I would like Jordan Rhodes too, but he's in the Championship.

Are you happy with the clubs transfers so far?
I'm really happy so far, more hungry British players who want to prove themselves and Steven Whittaker has European experience.

How key was it to keep ahold of Grant Holt?
Keeping Holt was key! How much would the club have spent in trying to replace a 15 goal a season man otherwise!

Saturday, 25 August 2012

Another good season for Pardew and Newcastle

Newcastle at times were superb last year and surprised many as they finished 5th in the Barclays Premier League. Alan Pardew defied his critics and despite the sales of previous key figures in Jose Enrique, Kevin Nolan and Joey Barton were well worth their high finish. Pardew has added in Ajax's Vurnon Anita and Gael Bigirimana from Coventry.

Papiss Cisse, an arrival from German side Freiburg in January, took the Premier League by storm as he completed an all Senegalese strike force with Demba Ba. Cisse scored an incredible array of goals, many worthy of challenging for the goal of the season crown, with his strike away to Chelsea in a 2-0 victory winning the said trophy. Whether Cisse can continue his form from last season is up in the air; however if his strike rate is half as impressive as his first 14 games, then he'll certainly be challenging for the top goalscorer.

For once Newcastle haven't sold during a Summer transfer window, keeping their midfield duo of Check Tiote and Yohann Cabaye despite rumoured interest from some of Europe's finest clubs. Their midfield ranks with the best in the Premier League; however they don't have as much depth as those who finished above them, meaning any injuries will hit Pardew's side hard.

Club captain Fabricio Coloccini was immense at the heart of Newcastle's defence, earning a place in the PFA Team of the year. The Argentine had many doubters following the clubs relegation in 2009, and despite interest from abroad stayed with the club during their season in the Championship, making him a fans favourite in the progress. With Steven Taylor's return to full fitness, Newcastle again have a solid partnership at the back.

Key player - Hatem Ben Arfa. Ben Arfa towards the back end of the season was one of the Premier League's best players, and with injury cutting short his previous two campaigns, this season is a big one for Ben Arfa. At times his attitude is questionable, having fall outs at both of his former clubs leading to his exit; however if he reaches his undoubted potential then Newcastle will do very well to keep him.

Prediction - 6th. I think Newcastle will just be short in their pursuit of a top four finish; however under Pardew the club have improved immensely and will finish in a Europa League spot. 

View from a fan - Scott Anthony Carr

What would be an ideal season?
A perfect season would be finishing fourth as well as a decent run in the Europa League

What would be a nightmare year?
My nightmare year would be finishing in the bottom half of the league because all of the momentum would be lost.

Do you have the right manager in charge?
I like Pardew, I was skeptical and annoyed when they first put him in charge because I thought Chris Hughton did a good job but he's been doing the business and with the set up of the club we need a manager who is happy not to have all the power such as a Ferguson or Moyes, with transfers etc, which he seems happy to do. 

Which Premier League player would you sign given the chance?
Realistically I'd like us to sign Michael Dawson after his move to QPR has hit the rocks. He's a great centre back and Steven Taylor has his injury problems and is shaky at times.

Can Papiss Cisse really keep up the form he shew in the back end of last season?
I think he'll still be a regular scorer, just not as frequent as last season. I still reckon he'll get 15+ goals for the season.

Is this Ben Arfa's big season?
Ben Arfa showed in the back end of last year what a quality player he is, and I think now he's in the side and the fans and the manager realise how much ability he has he's going to get more freedom and be a great player this season. I'm just worried one of the big club will come in for him!

Friday, 24 August 2012

United second again!

Having missed out on the title in such dramatic circumstances last year, Manchester United will be more determined than ever to win the Barclays Premier League. Summer additions of Nick Powell, Shinji Kagawa and Robin Van Persie mean that Sir Alex Ferguson’s side will be there or there abouts again.

The arrival of Van Persie is a gamble from Sir Alex. Despite topping the goal scoring charts last year, the Dutchman has a poor injury record, and a £24million price tag for a player who’ll turn 30 next year is a lot. United go into the season with five strikers who can realistically claim a stake for a regular starting spot, meaning goals shouldn’t be a problem.

The return of Paul Scholes last season was as brilliant as it was desperate. The real lack of a creative midfielder was evident against Everton in their opener as they failed to cut open Everton as often as they’d like. Kagawa looked sharp and was a rare positive in the defeat at Goodison; however whether he’ll play centre midfield is unknown.

Despite deploying Michael Carrick there, United don’t need another centre half, as not every week you’ll have four players missing in one position. Ironically the one centre back who wasn’t injured was Nemanja Vidic who missed the majority of last season with knee ligament damage. The Serbian’s return is huge, and if he can avoid injury this year then United won’t be too far away from the title. It’s safe to say if United had Vidic last season then they would’ve conceded fewer goals, and probably wouldn’t have let a two goal lead slip vs. Everton.

Key player- David De Gea. The first six months for De Gea in a United jersey wasn’t ideal, with his inability to deal with crosses and the rough and ready nature of the Premier League, targeted by Premier League clubs. His shot stopping ability is up there with the very best, and without him Everton probably would’ve scored more than the one they did, and surprisingly dealt well with the set pieces that he came for. De Gea appears to have a turned a corner and his confidence is back, and looks set to have a good year.

Prediction- 2nd A good Summer transfer window means United will certainly challenge for the title; however I feel they’ll just be edged out by their ‘noisy neighbours’ once again. 

View from a fan - Perry Blanchette

What would be an ideal season?
Winning the title back whilst improving heavily in Europe.

What would be a nightmare season?
Finishing third, something that hasn't happened often under Sir Alex, and a second successive season trophyless.

Do you have the right manager at the club?
Yes, Sir Alex is a legend at the club and when he goes he'll take some replacing.

Which Premier League player would you sign given the chance?
Joe Hart, he's a quality goal keeper with a number of great years ahead of him and he has more reliability then De Gea. Would also like Vincent Kompany.

Is it time United started to shift Rio Ferdinand out of the side?
No, Rio is still a quality defender with lots of experience. He still has two more years in him at the top level.

Would you rather win the Champions League or win back the Premier League?
Premier League title. I don't want City to win it again. 

Monday, 20 August 2012

City to retain the tite, just!

Despite a quiet transfer window for Roberto Mancini's men, for me they are still the favourites for the Barclays Premier League title. Having Carlos Tevez back for the last few games of the previous season was key as the former United man quickly rediscovered his best form, the highlight an incredible hat-trick away to Norwich. The prospect of an all Argentine strike force, this time for a full season, with Tevez teaming up with Sergio Aguero is a frightening.

During pre-season and the Charity Shield Roberto Mancini played three at the back, and it will be interesting to see if the Italian attempts this during the Premier League season. With Kolo Toure out of favour and Stefan Savic coming in for a heavy amount of criticism from City fans, there's a chance their new signing Jack Rodwell may have to slot in alongside Vincent Kompany and Joleon Lescott.

Will Rodwell play the libero for Mancini?

An incredible home form (that saw them only slip up once in 19 games) was the key behind their title run. It is unlikely that they'll be able to repeat such excellent form at the Ethiad, so Mancini will be looking for better away form from the Champions, after dropping 23 points on their travels last year.

Key player - Yaya Toure. City's penultimate game of the previous season was a tricky looking away fixture against Newcastle which they needed to win, and the Ivorian put in a performance that arguably ranked higher then any in the season. He's as good going forward as he is putting a shift in defensively, ensuring Toure is one of the first names on the team sheet. With another African Cup of Nations this Premier League season, City will need to cop without their inspirational midfielder.

Prediction 1st- Despite a quiet transfer window, I still expect City to regain their title. Going forward they are at times unplayable, whilst defensively they've improved. Having already hurdled the 'winning it for the first time' obstacle, it's going to be hard for United or anyone for that matter to capture the Premier League away from Mancini's men.

View from a fan - Reece Smith @RASmith28

What would be a perfect season?
Regaining the Premier League whilst winning the Champions League as well as a domestic cup

What would be a nightmare season?
Finishing outside the top four and not winning a trophy.

Do you have the right man in charge?
Yes I personally believe we do

Which Premier League player would you sign given the chance?
Steven Gerrard.

Would you rather regain the Premier League or win the Champions League?
Regain the Premier League

Sell Carlos Tevez or keep him?
Keep him, him and Sergio Aguero are going to have a sublime partnership this season, and will be the difference in tight games.

Tuesday, 14 August 2012

Liverpool just short of top four quality

The appointment of Brendan Rodgers is a bold yet positive one from Liverpool; however replacing 'King Kenny', despite an average Premier League campaign won't be easy for the former Swansea manager. His approach to the game earned Rodgers countless plaudits and Liverpool fans will be excited at the prospect of him replicating his 'Swansealona' style in front of the Kop.

Rodgers has brought in two of his former players in Fabio Borini and Joe Allen. Both players fit perfectly into the Rodgers mold; however questions over whether Borini has the goals in him to fire Liverpool to the top four and whether Allen's £15million transfer fee is too much are being asked. The returning Joe Cole is like a new transfer, and under Rodgers he could find the form that made him an England regular. Whether or not he'll fit into Rodgers preferred 4-3-3 formation is another thing, with Cole's favourite position in the hole of the striker.

Martin Skrtel and Daniel Agger are a solid centre back partnership, and Swansea under Rodgers didn't concede many goals at the Liberty Stadium meaning that Liverpool should be solid defensively. Lucas Leiva's return from an injury a huge boost to the club, as they heavily missed the Brazilian following his season ending injury in November.

Key player - Luis Suarez. Putting the controversy aside, Suarez is at times unplayable. Technically superb and his ball retention in close space is incredible (the assist for Dirk Kuyt vs Manchester United two seasons ago a perfect example of this). Liverpool's poor goal return was a reason why they were never really top four contenders, so Suarez will have to get closer to 20 goals this Premier League campaign if they are to be successful.

Prediction - 7th. Rodgers is a long term appointment and I do believe he'll get Liverpool back into the top four; however I don't think it'll be this season. They're miles behind both Manchester clubs, whilst they don't have the consistency to compete with the London trio of Arsenal, Chelsea and Spurs. Cup success however isn't out of the question.

View from a fan - Jack Watson @JackWatsonLFC

What would be a perfect season?
Ideally a long fight for fourth place and securing a Champions League; however will probably finish fifth.

What would be a nightmare season?
An awful season would be being knocked out of the cups with a whimper and a mid-table finish.

Do you have the right man in charge?
Yes, quite confident in Rodgers and what he's aiming to do. He has the right philosophy but it will take time to implement.

Which Premier League player would you sign given the chance?
Tough one to be honest. We're close to signing Joe Allen, so I'll go with him. A tidy midfielder who'll fit into the system. (Question asked before Allen was confirmed as a Liverpool player)

Will this be Jamie Carragher's last season?
I think it might be. I love what he's done at the club but he really shouldn't be anywhere near the first team now.

Would you prefer to regain the Carling Cup or break into the top four?
I'd prefer the top four finish. The money and attraction for players it brings is unrivaled. That's where we need to be.

Saturday, 11 August 2012

Middle of the pack for Jol and Fulham

Inconsistency was the real problem for Fulham last year, one week they were superb, whilst the next they were awful. With strength in depth in the attacking midfield department, when their flair players came to the party season, not many sides could contain the free flowing Fulham, especially at Craven Cottage. Despite alternating between a 4-4-2 and 4-2-3-1 formation last year, their real goal scoring threat came via the midfielder Clint Dempsey, who scored an impressive 17 Premier League goals.

Dempsey was Fulham's top scorer with 23 goals in all competitions.

Fulham will have a new look forward line about them this season, having lost three centre forwards in the space of six months, with Pavel Pogrebnyak's decision to join newly promoted Reading a real kick in the teeth for the Cottagers; however two freebie additions in Mladen Petric and Hugo Rodallega are more then capable replacements.

Both Dickson Etuhu and the inspirational Danny Murphy joined relegated Blackburn Rovers over the summer and despite the latter coming to the end of his career, it came as a surprise to see the former captain leave, given the fact he featured in 35 of the 38 league games last season. Mahamadou Diarra was a free transfer in the January transfer window last season, and the former Real Madrid man will have to go some way to fill the void left by Murphy.

Key player - Moussa Dembele. Since his arrival from AZ two summers ago, Dembele, when fit has been one of the first names of the Fulham team sheet. Whether playing off the striker or in the centre of midfield the Belgian international oozes quality and his form has attracted interest from the likes of Manchester United and Spurs. If Dempsey is too leave, then it'll be his biggest season in a Fulham shirt given the fact more onus will be placed on him to produce goals from midfield.

Prediction - 10th. Fulham will one again be in and around the middle of the table. Under Jol they'll always be entertaining and a Europa League push isn't outside their capabilities, even if Dempsey does complete his move to Liverpool.

View from a fan - Matt Baldwin @MattRhys63

What would be a perfect season?
Qualifying for Europe via any means necessary, though ideally via winning a cup. As well as remaining undefeated against QPR and Reading, although that's just a personal thing.

What would be a nightmare season?
Getting relegated, which is a distinct possibility if some of our best players are lost either in the Summer or January. A nightmare for all Fulham fans would also be QPR finishing above us.

Do you have the right manager?
Yes, Martin proved last season he knows what he wants and what he doesn't, which is why we shifted Zamora out in January. He didn't suit the formation, so Jol brought in players that did I.e Ruiz initially as well as Pogrebnyak for five months. He also managed to maintain discipline through out the team with very few suspensions which is key for a small squad.

What Premier League player would you sign given the choice?
Realistically I would go for a defensive midfielder to replace Danny Murphy. Of the players out there, though I don't really rate him, I would take Charlie Adam.

Do Petric and Rodallega have the goals in them to replace Zamora, Johnson and Pogrebnyak?
Yes, Petric has been banging them in during pre-season (only pre-season I know, but at least he knows where the net is), I can see him playing on the left side of our attack in a 4-2-3-1, which is where Dempsey played and got all his goals. I'm concerned that he's only here for a season but hopefully he can tutor some of the younger players in our squad. Rodallega will fit in well sitting as the main striker up top. He had a bad season last year, but I think this year he'll come good.

How key is it to keep ahold of Clint Dempsey?
I don't think it is all that important. If we sell him for £15million for example, we can use that to invest in our youth system, which is one of the best in the country, (Trotta, Kacaniklic and Frei are all examples and there are plenty more coming) as we are not a team that'll go and buy £20million players so we need to look to the future. I would much rather sell Dempsey now and get good money, then let him go next season for free.

Thursday, 9 August 2012

Europa League push at best for the Toffee's

It is no coincidence that Everton's best form of the previous season coincided with a brilliant January transfer window for the club. Nikica Jelavic proved to be a real bargain addition scoring nine goals in his first 13 matches; however the returning Steven Pienaar's form during his six month loan spell at the club was the real catalyst behind their end of season form. The South African international has since gone on to make his loan move permanent, ensuring his stay away from the club was a very brief one.

After being heavily linked with the then vacant managerial position at Spurs, David Moyes will be hoping his loyalty is rewarded in the form of money to spend and reassurances that his best players won't be sold. He has added shrewdly so far in the form of Pienaar and Steven Naismith, who will look to continue his centre forward partnership with Jelavic from their Rangers days.

In the last three Premier League seasons Everton have started incredibly slowly, relying on their turn of the year form to fire them up the league. Of their first 20 games the club lost half of them, meaning they were consistently in the lower regions of the table; however their last 18 matches saw the Toffee's only lose twice. During that run the club beat the likes of Manchester City, Chelsea and Spurs whilst coming from two goals down to rescue an unlikely point at Old Trafford.

Prior to the arrival of Jelavic the club really lacked firepower, and I worry where the goals will come from if the Croatian gets an injury next season. Aside from that the only other position I feel Everton lack strength in depth is the wide midfield areas. The controversial Royston Drenthe wasn't kept on, whilst the young Seamus Coleman and Magaye Gueye are talented however aren't ready to be consistent starters in a Moyes side.

Key player - Steven Pienaar. If there were a team for the best performing players in the second half of last season then Pienaar would be a shoe-in for the squad. It's fair to say Moyes brings out the best in Pienaar as the former Spurs man flourished in his free role last season, with his man of the match performance vs Chelsea in particular highlighting how technically brilliant he is. Given Tim Cahill's departure, there will be an added pressure on Pienaar to score more goals from midfield this campaign.

Prediction - 8th. If the likes of Leighton Baines and Marouane Fellaini are still at the club come September then I do feel they can really compete with the best; however it wouldn't be a Summer transfer window for Moyes if he didn't have to part way with a Goodison Park favourite. A decent start is a necessity this time around, as they won't always be so good after Christmas. I expect them to sit comfortably in the top ten though.

View from a fan - @keith1878

What would be an ideal season?
European qualification via the league whilst finishing about Liverpool coupled with some good cup form and even some silverware.

What would be a nightmare season?
Having to sell Baines or Fellaini to keep the bank happy, financial meltdown whilst not having our good post-season form.

Do you have the right manager?
Yes. He's had a lot to deal with during his 10 years, but normally gets the right players on the pitch and fighting for everything.

Which Premier League player would you sign given the chance?
Mikel Arteta or Wayne Rooney. Other than ex players it depends where the annual injury crisis is, I like Vincent Kompany and Sergio Aguero, they're both brilliant!

Should you cash in on Rodwell or keep him?
Need to keep him unless a big offer comes in, which is unlikely considering his injury record. This season is really make or break for him.

What players should we look out for this season?
Ross Barkley should get more chances this year following a season in the reserves. He was thrown in the deep end following the Arteta sale. Shane Duffy too, as well as Francisco Jr has had a decent pre season, few dodgy tackles but some decent skills, he could get a chance.