Premier League Preview – 2011/2012 (Part Four)

12 08 2011

Swansea City

Brendan Rogers has been fairly busy strengthening his squad this summer and has spent £10.2million in a bid to survive in the top flight. Rogers has spent that money on players who are more familiar with the Championship than the Premier League, though. Danny Graham has been charged with the responsibility of scoring the goals needed to survive after his £3.4million move from Watford. Wayne Routledge joins Swansea, and club number nine in the process, for a fee of £2.8million, Leroy Lita cost £1.7million from Middlesbrough whilst goalkeepers Michel Vorm (£1.5million) and Jose Moreira (£750k) join from FC Utrecht and Benfica respectively.

Brendan Rogers likes his team to play attacking football and often deploys a 4-3-3 formation. This leads to obvious comparisons to Blackpool last season. I think Swansea will begin life in the Premier League in a similar fashion too. If we look at Hull City and Blackpool, the last two Championship play-off winners before Swansea, the ‘surprise factor’ was often mentioned as a reason for their good starts. Last season I was impressed with Swansea in an attacking sense and their defensive record was the best in the Championship at home which leads me to believe they will get off to a good start this season too. A strong start and getting points on the board early is crucial for newly promoted sides. Failure to do so can lead to a long and rather miserable season.

Key Player: Scott Sinclair

Net Spend: -£10.2million

Prediction: 17th

Tottenham Hotspur

Tottenham’s quiet summer so far makes it difficult to imagine them challenging for the Champions League places this season. Brad Friedel arrived from Aston Villa and the veteran American goalkeeper signed a two-year-deal at White Hart Lane. The highly-rated Souleymane Coulibaly signed from Siena for an undisclosed fee and Cristian Ceballos joined on a free transfer from Barcelona B. Two senior members of the Spurs squad have departed with the injury-plagued Jonathan Woodgate  joining Stoke City on a free transfer whilst Jamie O’Hara turned his loan move at Wolves into a permanent deal for £3.5million.

The Luka Modric ‘saga’ continues to unfold and Tottenham need that to be resolved one way or the other before the season kicks off. Modric is an outstanding player and would be a great addition to any team. If he doesn’t want to stay at Tottenham, though, it might be best if Harry Redknapp cashes in.

The biggest problem with the Spurs squad is the lack of a top class striker. They have talent in abundance in midfield with Aaron Lennon, Tom Huddlestone, Rafael Van Der Vaart (pictured), Gareth Bale and, of course, Luka Modric all excellent at

Rafael van der Vaart

Image via Wikipedia

fashioning out chances for strikers but there isn’t a striker at the club good enough to lead the line on his own and score goals on a regular basis. Jermain Defoe is still a top quality finisher but Harry Redknapp opted to play one up front for large periods of last season with Rafael Van Der Vaart deployed just behind the lone striker and Defoe isn’t equipped to play the lone role up front. Robbie Keane’s second spell at the club has been a complete disaster and he is coming ever closer to leaving the club. Peter Crouch showed signs last season that his days playing at the top level are coming to an end and Roman Pavlyuchenko has struggled to score regularly since signing from Spartak Moscow  in 2008. Pavlyuchenko’s record at Tottenham is 20 goals in 73 games; a ratio close to a goal every four games.

Tottenham have looked to ease their striker crisis on a number of occasions. Harry Redknapp lodged a bid for Andy Carroll in January before he moved to Liverpool and Fernando Llorente, Hulk and Giuseppe Rossi have all been linked with big-money moves to White Hart Lane this summer. Neither of those three are realistically likely to join Tottenham but there is someone who appears to be close to agreeing a season-long deal to return to north London. That man is Emmanuel Adebayor. Adebayor, whilst not a popular figure among the Tottenham faithful, is the type of player Tottenham need if they are to continue with a 4-2-3-1 formation. He is comfortable leading the line on his own and the service provided from a creative midfield should ensure that he is a success for Tottenham this season.

Tottenham’s rivals have spent considerable amounts of money this summer and unless they bring in reinforcements before the transfer window slams shut on the 1st September, it’s  hard to imagine they will keep up with the rest of the teams aiming to secure Champions League football.

Key Player: Rafael Van Der Vaart

Net Spend: +£3.5million

Prediction: 6th

West Bromwich Albion

Roy Hodgson has done a good job at West Brom since replacing Roberto Di Matteo as manager in February this year. He safely guided The Baggies to 11th place last season and will hope to build on that finish this season. He has added to his squad with the record signing of Shane Long for an initial fee of £4.4million and Ben Foster could turn out to be the bargain of the season after his switch from rivals Birmingham City for just £970k. Boaz Myhill joined Birmingham on loan as part of that deal. Zoltan Gera has returned to the club where he made his name in England, leaving Fulham on a free transfer.

West Brom have a decent squad and one which should have no problems in surviving in the Premier League again this season. There is a worry that West Brom’s defence remains somewhat suspect and there have not been any defensive reinforcements so far. However, the influential Chris Brunt has remained at the club and so have Youssouf Mulumbu, Graham Dorrans and Peter Odemwingie. The retention of these key players coupled with the additions of Foster and Long should inspire belief that West Brom can secure another mid-table finish this season.

Key Player: Chris Brunt

Net Spend: -£3.4million

Prediction: 13th

Wigan Athletic

Wigan Athletic continue to defy the odds by establishing themselves as a Premier League club, having remained in the top flight since promotion was won in 2005.  They narrowly escaped relegation last season but this summer’s transfer activity points to another season in a relegation battle. Ali Al-Habsi impressed enough on loan last season to earn a permanent deal and Oman’s number 1 joins The Latics for £3.7million. David Jones joins on a free transfer from Wolves and the pair are the only signings made by Roberto Martinez this summer.

Charles N’Zogbia is arguably the biggest reason Wigan are still a Premier League club. His goals and assists proved just enough to lead Wigan to safety and earned him a transfer to Aston Villa as a result. This season, there a two players who need to perform consistently if Wigan are to have any chance of surviving again. These are Hudo Rodallega and James McCarthy. Both have been linked with moves away from the club but as the beginning of the season edges ever closer, Wigan will do everything in their power to keep the two at the club. Without N’Zogbia, though, Wigan’s fight for survival has been made all the more difficult and this could be the season their Premier League journey comes to an end.

Key Player: Hugo Rodallega 

Net Spend: +£5.9million

Prediction: 18th

Wolverhampton Wanderers

Wolves begin their third successive season in the Premier League away to Blackburn Rovers and the moves made by manager Mick McCarthy in the transfer market this summer point to them surviving once more. The acquisition of Roger Johnson for £7million is very good business and Jamie O’Hara will add some much-needed creativity to Wolves’ midfield. O’Hara was on loan at Molineux last season and has made the move permanent for £3.5million. With no high-profile departures, Wolves are in good shape for the coming season.

The defence and midfield have been strengthened this summer so it is vital that key strikers Steven Fletcher and Kevin Doyle remain fit. Both are very good, underrated players and their goals will be key for Wolves this season. The two complement each other very well and should become a good partnership if McCarthy plays two strikers.

Wayne Hennessey has established himself as McCarthy’s number 1 goalkeeper which means there is a strong spine to the team in Hennessey, Johnson, O’Hara, Fletcher and Doyle. If all five remain fit and in form, Wolves should enjoy a successful season.

Key Player: Kevin Doyle

Net Spend: -£9.6million

Prediction: 15th

Predicted Table

1- Manchester United

2- Chelsea

3- Manchester City

4- Liverpool

5- Arsenal

6- Tottenham Hotspur

7- Aston Villa

8- Sunderland

9- Everton

10- Stoke City

11- Bolton Wanderers

12- Fulham

13- West Bromwich Albion

14- Newcastle United

15- Wolverhampton Wanderers

16- Blackburn Rovers

17- Swansea City

18-Wigan Athletic

19- Queens Park Rangers

20- Norwich City

All transfer fees correct according to the excellent TransferMarkt. Don’t believe the exaggerated fees you see in newspapers and on Sky Sports News!

Click here for Part One

Click here for Part Two

Click here for Part Three

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Van der Vaart Seals Spurs Switch

1 09 2010

Rafael Van der Vaart’s transfer to Tottenham Hotspur has been ratified by the Premier League.

It was believed that Spurs had missed the deadline to sign the Dutchman but Tottenham’s official website has confirmed the deal.

[picapp align=”left” wrap=”true” link=”term=rafael+van+der+vaart&iid=9517747″ src=”http://view4.picapp.com/pictures.photo/image/9517747/los-angeles-galaxy-real/los-angeles-galaxy-real.jpg?size=500&imageId=9517747″ width=”380″ height=”448″ /] The Tottenham website read: “We are delighted to announce that we have reached agreement with Real Madrid for the transfer of Rafael Van der Vaart”.

The Holland international came through the ranks at Ajax and won two league titles during 141 appearances with the Eredivisie side, scoring 60 goals before leaving for Hamburg in the summer of 2005.

The attacking midfielder, 27, was the Bundesliga side’s leading scorer in his first season in Germany and went on to captain the side before joining Real Madrid ahead of the 2007/08 campaign.

Rafael has been capped by Holland a total of 83 times, scoring 16 goals, since making his international debut against Andorra in 2001 at the age of 18.

He has since represented the Netherlands at two European Championships and two World Cups, including this summer’s tournament in South Africa where he featured five times in the side’s run to the Final”.

The transfer has also been confirmed by the Premier League. In a statement, they said: “The Premier League can confirm the transfer of Rafael van der Vaart’s registration from Real Madrid to Tottenham Hotspur.”

Real Madrid revealed that there was no interest from German giants Bayern Munich contrary to reports in the English media and by Tottenham themselves.

Madrid director Miguel Pardeza revealed: “Real Madrid met all the deadlines regarding the transfer of Van der Vaart”.

When questioned on the subject of Bayern Munich making an approach for the Holland star, Pardeza said:

“It is absolutely false that Real Madrid received a 21million euro offer from Bayern Munich for Van der Vaart.

“In fact, the German team never showed an interest to sign the player, so the allegations made in England have greatly surprised us.”

Mark Jepson





The Race for Fourth

24 03 2010

As the race for fourth place hots up, it is looking increasingly unlikely that Liverpool will finish in the coveted fourth Champions League qualifying spot. Currently lying in sixth place in the Premier League and having played one game more than fourth placed Tottenham and two games more than Manchester City and Aston Villa, it looks an increasingly uphill battle. That said, a look into the remaining fixtures perhaps suggests that Liverpool’s run-in is more favourable than that of our rivals.

The Champions League Trophy: The Race for Fourth.

Manchester City are for me favourites to clinch fourth place, largely due to them having nothing else to compete for and they have six of their remaining nine league games at home where they are yet to be beaten. They have two games in hand on Liverpool and one on Tottenham and despite the saying that you would rather have the points on the board, I fancy City to win their games in hand. This said, they still have to play Everton tonight, as well as their last five games being against Manchester United, Arsenal, Aston Villa, Tottenham and West Ham on the final day of the season, who themselves will be scrapping for their Premier League status. By no means are these easy games for City but if they have genuine aspirations of finishing fourth and even higher next season, these are the type of games they must find a way of winning.

Number One: Mancini's side are in pole position to challenge Europe's elite.

Moving on to Tottenham who have today announced the signing of Brazilian midfielder Sandro from Internacional. They face Fulham in the FA Cup replay at White Hart Lane tonight with the winner facing crisis-club Portsmouth in the semi final. Their Premier League race for fourth run-in is as difficult as Manchester City’s. Trips to Sunderland, Burnley and Manchester City, in what could essentially be a Champions League play-off, are tough enough yet they also have to face Chelsea, Manchester United and Arsenal in consecutive matches. Their record against the ‘big three’ is not too impressive and I struggle to see them picking up more than three points against the sides currently above them. When this is considered with their recent spell of injuries to key players such as Roman Pavlyuchenko, Jermain Defoe and Aaron Lennon, I think their most realistic chance of having a successful season is to win the FA Cup and qualify for the Europa League after a year without European football.

Defoe, with 17 Premier League goals, is out for three weeks.

This leads me on to Aston Villa who have already booked their place in the FA Cup semi final. I struggle to see them finishing fourth as for one reason, I don’t think their squad is big enough and they are suffering from a loss of form, particularly at home where they have won just once in their last six. Their squad is thin in the sense that when Gabriel Agbonlahor gets injured, they often resort to long balls for John Carew or Emile Heskey despite on their day playing attractive football. Their run-in is more favourable than Tottenham’s and Manchester City’s but they must still face City away, the only side yet to be beaten at home this season, as well as a trip to Chelsea and the Midlands derby with surprise package Birmingham City. Much like Liverpool last season, defeats haven’t been their downfall but they are picking up too many draws with the latest at home to local rivals Wolves proving this point. Villa have lost half as many games as Liverpool yet they have won two less. Their inability to turn these draws into wins could prove costly and I can only see them finishing seventh. The return of key players at Everton could even see them push for a top seven finish. As a result, like Tottenham, I see their best chance of having a successful season being an FA Cup win and Europa League football again next season.

The strain begins to show: O'Neill looks on as Villa drop two points against Wolves.

This leaves me with Liverpool. A season that offered so much hope after last season’s second place finish saw us crash out of the Champions League early and lose to Arsenal and Reading in the Carling and FA Cups respectively. The two-legged Europa League clash with Portuguese side Benfica is fast approaching and this is the last remaining trophy to aim for. However, given our current financial situation, a fourth placed finish would be received as warmly as a trophy itself. Our run-in is perhaps on paper the easiest out of the four sides battling for fourth with Chelsea the only side left to play above us. Yet our away form this season is woeful; we have only won four games away from Anfield so far. Four draws and eight defeats tells the rest of the story and proves this is where our weakness lies. Birmingham away will be a tough game after they came close to beating us at Anfield and will surely want revenge for David Ngog’s late dive that cost them all three points. However, the trip to St. Andrews aside, our only other two away games are Hull City and Burnley. No disrespect to either side but if we do not take six points from those two games then we simply do not deserve to finish fourth. Our remaining home games see us entertain Sunderland next before three visits from London sides Fulham, Chelsea and West Ham United. On paper, it looks like five or six wins from the final seven fixtures is not unrealistic. Football, as I’m sure you’re aware, is not played on paper.

The fitness of Gerrard and Torres is vital if Liverpool can maintain their push for fourth.

In a season of ups and (considerably more) downs and despite remaining optimistic it appears that the “Top Four’s” stranglehold over the Premier League is about to be broken for the first time since Everton finished fourth in the 2004-2005 season. The current squad have of course been there and done it before on club football’s biggest stage and this experience could prove vital. If we stay injury free and move on from “Rieragate” then who would bet against the masters of the comeback? Istanbul alone proves that anything in football is possible. I think it will almost likely go down to the wire but despite Rafa’s promise of a fourth placed finish; it is no longer in our hands.

Mark Jepson





So Long Rafa

15 01 2010

Thursday, 14 January 2010

Twelve points adrift in the Premier League, out of the Carling Cup, failure to progress in the Champions League and now out of the FA Cup at the first hurdle after an embarrassing defeat to Reading at Anfield. We should take nothing away from Reading as they deserved their win, but where does this leave us now? Shane Long’s extra time winner leaves us looking at the long road ahead.
 
In the space of nine months we have gone from title challengers, and almost winners, to scrapping for fourth place with Aston Villa, Manchester City and Tottenham Hostpur. Furthermore, Birmingham, Sunderland and Stoke are all cranking the pressure on us. In these nine months, not too much has changed. Alvaro Arbeloa and Xabi Alonso have left but they have been replaced by Glen Johnson and Alberto Aquilani. Whilst the off-field troubles are not helping, it’s Rafa Benitez’s tactics and team selection that are coming under scrutiny once again. His insistence on playing out of form players such as Emiliano Insua, Lucas Leiva and Dirk Kuyt week in, week out is not helping. Insua for one not only looks out of form, but looks rock bottom for confidence. In fact I would go as far as saying that Gordon Brown will be more confident of delivering Labour a fourth consecutive election win than Insua will be of delivering a good performance for Liverpool. His positional sense, heading ability and lack of pace all leave a lot to be desired but the squad is too thin for changes. Players are leaving so that the wage bill can be trimmed but replacements are not forth coming. Our owners insistence on selling players before we can buy is having a harmful effect on the club. In January Andrea Dossena has gone back to Italy for a small loss, and Andrey Voronin has also finally left for Dynamo with Ryan Babel and Philipp Degen also open to moves. Yet just Argentina winger Maxi Rodriguez looks like arriving in this window and after last nights toothless performance, he must be wondering what on Earth he has signed up for. An already thin squad is getting thinner. Take into account the injuries we’ve had and things do not look like getting any better. Once Fernando Torres gets injured, it’s left to David N’Gog or Dirk Kuyt to fill the void and provide the goals and quite frankly, they’re just not up to task. Performances like last nights will also leave Marouane Chamakh wondering whether a Bosman move to us is in the summer really is a good idea.
 
At least Rodriguez has signed to give us some much needed width as once again we are looking desperate in the wide areas. I don’t wish to keep singling out Kuyt as I think he is a good player, but creative right winger he is not. The same goes for wide left as Babel doesn’t look interested anymore and Riera keeps picking up injuries. Aside from Jose Reina, Gerrard and Torres we look distinctly average. Failure to qualify for next season’s Champions League means offers may have to be considered for our last remaining top players which is why qualification is imperative. Each loss that we suffer tightens the rope that is hanging around Rafa’s neck.
 
Yet as mentioned, the financial situation at the club means that sacking Rafa is almost impossible at this time as he has not long started a new five-year deal. As well as this, who could do a better job with the limited resources he would have? Whilst I am not suggesting that Rafa has not had money to spend, when you compare it to what our Champions League rivals are spending it looks an unenviable job guiding us to next season’s competition. Apart from Guus Hiddink, there isn’t really an abundance of managerial talent waiting for jobs although I assume Gary Megson is looking for an immediate return to management. He might be in our price range too. Although we all dream of the Jose Mourinho’s of this world managing our club it seems that managing Liverpool in this day and age is not as desireable as it once was. 
 
So after Shane Long’s winner last night, our FA Cup exit leaves me saying ‘So Long Rafa’, we will never forget Istanbul 2005 and Cardiff 2006 but perhaps you have taken us as far as you can.
 
Mark Jepson







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