Monday, July 30, 2007


Manager: David Moyes

Key Arrivals: Phil Jagielka, Steven Pienaar

Key Departures: Gary Naysmith

Key Returning Players: Anderson Silva, Victor Anichebe, Mikel Arteta, James Beattie, Tim Cahill, Lee Carsley, Tony Hibbert, Tim Howard, Andrew Johnson, Joleon Lescott, James McFadden, Phil Neville, Nuno Valente, Leon Osman, Alan Stubbs, James Vaughan, Joseph Yobo, Andy van der Meyde

Performance Last Season: The club from the blue half of Merseyside finished 6th on 58 points. They were 2 points ahead of Bolton and 2 points behind Tottenham, but had a vastly superior goal differential. In fact, only the big four had better ratios than Everton’s plus 16. They started out very well, particularly in their 3-0 victory over Liverpool in September, but battled inconsistency for the rest of the season. They were eliminated in the earlier stages of the Carling Cup, and at the first hurdle in the FA Cup, but this may have benefited them in the long run. Much like Tottenham in 2005-06, Everton was able to concentrate on the league without the fixture pile-up or injury woes of teams making long cup runs.

David Moyes was able to consistently use the same core players week after week in the league, as 8 Everton players made more than 34 starts, and a 9th had over 30 appearances in all. Unfortunately, one of the players that did not make 30 appearances, in Cahill, was one of the clubs most important. Much of the club’s poor form took place while Cahill was injured, and the team plays a much better brand of football when he is on the pitch. Everton was able to end on a highpoint, thumping Portsmouth 3-0 in their final appearance at Goodison, then drawing with Chelsea at Stamford Bridge. European football awaits for Moyes and his lads, and hopefully this trip will last a bit longer than two years ago.

Strengths: I would say that Everton’s strength lies in their central defence. Alan Stubbs still has bit of football left in him, but the young partnership of Yobo and Lescott performed admirably last season and they have a bright future in front of them. They are also well protected in the middle of the pitch by Lee Carsley, who started every match in all competitions for David Moyes last term and has made the Goodison faithful forget about Thomas Graveson. Jagielka’s arrival will only make this area of the pitch even stronger.

Weaknesses: Everton’s glaring weakness is the lack of a true winger. The only player on the squad that really fits the bill is Van der Meyde, and after four seasons of injury and indifferent form at Inter Milan them Everton, Moyes really can’t count on him to fill that roll. That means whoever mans the wings for Everton will be playing out of position. Whether it is Cahill, Arteta, Osman, or one of the young strikers (Anichebe or Vaughn), all will run their socks off for the cause, but Moyes really must get outside help for his squad. Several players are still being linked to Everton, and it looks as if Beattie will be moving on and bringing in some funds, so the problem could yet be solved before the August transfer window closes.

If all goes right: This club finished fourth and qualified for the Champions League a few seasons ago, and that will be the ideal finish as long as Moyes is in charge. More signings will have to made, injuries will have to be avoided, and some youngsters will have to grow up very fast. It is not likely, but two weeks before the season starts optimism reins supreme.

If all goes wrong: Several extremely versatile players (notably Neville and Jagielka) allow Moyes to cope well with the inevitable injuries a club encounters during the long league season. But it is unlikely that Everton could cope with another extended absence from Cahill, and losing Johnson for more than a match or two would be tragic. If this came to pass Everton could fall back into the bottom half of the table. Relegation seems unlikely, but Everton do have a habit of following up good seasons with bad.

My Prediction: There is an awful lot of pressure on to teenage strikers to partner Johnson up front, and it looks as though most of the goals will have to come from the midfield. This makes the attack a bit one-sided, although the solid defence should keep Everton in most matches. I think they overachieved last season and will fall back to earth a bit over the next 9 months. I predict they will finish 8th, a solid season, but just short of European football.

Sunday, July 29, 2007

Blackburn Rovers

Manager: Mark Hughes

Key Arrivals: Maceo Rigters, Roque Santa Cruz

Key Departures: Michael Gray, Andy Todd

Key Returning Players: David Bentley, Matt Derbyshire, David Dunn, Brett Emerton, Brad Friedel, Paul Gallagher, Stephane Henchoz, Zurab Khizanishvili, Benni McCarthy, Aaron Mokoena, Ryan Nelsen, Andre Ooijer, Morten Gamst Pedersen, Steven Reid, Jason Roberts, Christopher Samba, Robbie Savage, Tugay, Stephen Warnock

Performance Last Season: Blackburn finished 10th last season with 52 points. They were 2 points ahead of Villa and 2 points behind Portsmouth. They had a good FA Cup run, losing out to Chelsea in the semi-finals. They also found some joy in the UEFA Cup before Bayer Leverkusen knocked them out. Overall it was an inconsistent season though, one week the squad looked ready to challenge for a European spot, the next week they looked lucky not to be in a relegation battle.

Injuries certainly took their toll, and the first choice strike partnership of McCarthy and Roberts was seldom on the pitch together. Ryan Nelson, who had been a rock at the centre of the defence, only played in 12 league matches. Mark Hughes will certainly hope to keep the team healthier in the coming season. The club has shown continuous improvement under his leadership, and consistency will be his next goal.

Strengths: Although the squad is a little on the small side, Blackburn have quality from top to bottom. For me, their biggest strength is at keeper, where Brad Freidel has been one of the top keepers in all of Europe for several seasons now. The giant American does not seem to have any weaknesses himself, and this can be demonstrated by his fellow players confidence in his abilities.

Weaknesses: The midfield looks to be a big concern, particular if there are any injuries. Emerton looks to have settled in at right back, which leaves them with no cover for Bentley and Pedersen on the wings. Savage and Reid are coming off of injuries while David Dunn can hardly be counted on to make more than a handful of appearances. Tugay had another solid season, but at 36 one has to wonder how much longer he will be able to continue.

If all goes right: Things have started to go right early, as Rovers have managed to qualify for the 2nd round of the UEFA Cup through the Intertoto Cup. If there are no injuries and players such as Derbyshire and Bentley continue to develop Blackburn should be in the mix for a UEFA Cup spot.

If all goes wrong: As stated above, even one injury in the midfield could wreak havoc on Mark Hughes squad and leave them languishing in the bottom half of the table. Hughes saved them from relegation two seasons ago and has done a wonderful job cleaning up the mess that Souness left behind, so they are unlikely to be fighting for survival, barring an absolute disaster

My Prediction: Inconsistency will continue to be a problem, and another UEFA Cup run could stretch the small squad. I think they will finish 10th in a repeat of last season. This is a team that will beat Manchester United one week and lose to Derby the next. The supporters will be exasperated, but another cup run, maybe even a trophy, will have them happy when all is done and dusted.

Bolton Wanderers

Manager: Sammy Lee

Key Arrivals: Gavin McCann, Jlloyd Samuel, Mikel Alonso, Gerald Cid, Heidur Helguson, Christian Wilhelmsson, Danny Guthrie

Key Departures: Tal Ben Haim, Henrik Pedersen, Idan Tal

Key Returning Players: Nicolas Anelka, Ivan Campo, Kevin Davies, El-Hadji Diouf, Abdoulaye Faye, Ricardo Gardner, Stelios Giannakopoulos, Nicky Hunt, Jussi Jaaskelainen, Abdoulaye Meite, Lubomir Michalik, Kevin Nolan, Joey O'Brien, James Sinclair, Gary Speed, Andranik Teymourian, Ricardo Vaz Te

Performance Last Season: Bolton finished 7th last season on 56 points, 1 ahead of Reading and 2 behind Everton. They managed to make some progress in both domestic cups, but were never a serious threat to win either competition. Bolton started the season very strongly, and spent all of autumn 2006 in the top 5 of the league. Talk of qualifying for the Champions League was coming thick and fast until a 3-0 thumping at the hands of Liverpool started a horrible run of form. 17 point from the final 17 matches saw Bolton fall out of contention for the top 4 and very nearly lose their chance at UEFA Cup football. But in the end they did qualify for Europe, for the second time in three seasons, and finish in the top 8 for the 4th year on the trot, a phenomenal achievement for a club of this size.

The end of the season saw unrest at the club, as long time manager Sam Allardyce resigned with two matches remaining, throwing first team coach Sammy Lee straight into the fire with European qualification on the line. Lee immediately gave indications that Bolton supporters will see a very different style of football come next season. He immediately began to give youngsters who had come through the academy more time on the pitch and encouraged his players to spend more time playing the ball on the ground. While their run of top 8 finishes may be in jeopardy, the entertainment level at the Reebok Stadium will certainly increase in the coming season.

Strengths: This team’s strength lies in attack. Diouf and Anelka are both world class talents, while wingers such as new signing Christian Wilhelmsson will certainly get them the ball in dangerous positions. Iranian attacking midfielder Andranik also showed flashes of what he is capable of last season and, with a year in England under his belt, will be expected to contribute more goals, as well as create opportunities at the end of the pacey runs Ricardo Vaz Te will provide.

Weaknesses: The defense looks questionable for a squad that lived off its defensive prowess for so long. They allowed 34 goals in their final 17 matches last season, and had the worst goal difference amongst the top 12 teams in the league. Stalwarts such as Bruno N’Gotty and Tal Ben Haim have moved on, leaving a very different group in their place. Returnees Faye and Meite are prone to mistakes and inconsistency, while new-boy Cid may need time to adjust to life in England. Local lad Hunt is always an adventure at right back and an upgrade may be in the works, depending on how much cash the board will release for Sammy Lee to spend. This club will certainly score more goals than last season, but if they do not allow less, Sammy Lee may be in for some hard lessons as a new manager.

If all goes right: The new defenders will settle in quickly and the likes of Anelka and Diouf will show why millions in transfer fees have been spent on them. The Trotters could challenge for a Champions league spot, but most likely fifth place and a trophy (Carling Cup seems the most likely candidate) would be considered a dream season in Lancashire.

If all goes wrong: The youngsters don’t improve and the veterans show their age. The defence is a shambles and frustrated superstars Diouf, Anelka, and Jaaskelainen hand in transfer requests. The squad probably has too much talent to be drawn into a relegation battle, but they could fall into the bottom half of the table quite easily.

My Prediction: I think Bolton could get off to a slow start as Sammy Lee adjusts to life as a Premier League gaffer and the players get used to the new tactics he is employing. But a cup run and improves second half form will have them challenging for a UEFA Cup spot, as they have done for the past 4 seasons. I predict the club will finish 6th, which may be good enough for Europe, depending on who wins the domestic trophies.


Manager: Arsene Wenger

Key Arrivals: Bacary Sagna, Eduardo Da Silva, Lukasz, Fabianski

Key Departures: Thierry Henry, Julio Baptista, Jeremie Aliadiere, Freddie Ljungberg,

Key Returning Players: Jens Lehmann, Abou Diaby, Francesc Fabregas, Kolo Tour, Philippe Sendero, Tomas Rosick, William Galla, Robin Van Persie, Alexander Hleb, Denilson, Mathieu Flamini, Alexandre Song, Gilberto, Johan Djourou, Gael Clichy, Manuel Almunia, Emmanuel Adebayor,Nicklas Bendtner, Emmanuel Ebou, Justin Hoyte, Theo Walcott

Performance Last Season: Arsenal finished 4th last season on 68 points. This was well clear of 5th place Tottenham and even with 3rd place Liverpool, but miles behind the top 2. The club also advanced to the knock-out stages of the Champions League, the League Cup final, and deep into the FA Cup. Arsenal lost any chance of competing for the league title early in the season, when the adjustment to a new stadium saw them draw several times at home. Other factors, most notably the youth of the squad, also saw them lose away from home with alarming regularity in the first few months of the campaign.

Arsenal played 57 matches in all competitions, and this proved to be too much for experienced players such as Henry (27 appearances), Ljungberg (26), and Gallas (29). This forced Wenger to select what was essentially an under 23 side for many matches, with Lehman in goal and Gilberto in the midfield being the only notable exceptions. On a positive note, all of the experience gained by Arsenal’s absurdly talented youngsters will serve them well in the future. Scoring was down at the Emirates last season, but I suspect the Arsenal faithful will have much to look forward to in the future.

Strengths: This team’s strength does not lie in a particular part of the pitch, but in the raw talent that their squad possesses. Top to bottom of the roster I do not believe there is a more talented club than Arsenal in the entire world. Watching this team play football is a joy, as Wenger has them passing the ball around like no team since Brasil in the early 80’s. As the saying goes, this is a team I would pay to watch.

Weaknesses: Despite the phenomenal talent they possess, most people’s general impression of Arsenal is that a fair portion of the squad is not old enough to legally consume alcohol in the USA, never mind show the poise and experience necessary to compete at the top levels of international football. As is usually the case in English football, perception is taking years to catch up with reality. While there are several youngsters in the first team, such as Theo Wolcott, who is 18, Denilson, 19, Song (who was very impressive on loan at Charlton last season), only 19, Djourou, 20, and Diaby, 21, there is also a very experienced core, still in, or just entering their peaks. Fabregas is only 20, but one can hardly argue that he is a typical 20 year old. Beyond that, every significant returning player is older than Wayne Rooney or Christiano Ronaldo, who led Manchester United to the league title last season. Clichy is 22, Van Persie is 23, Adebayor is 23, Flamini is 23, Eboue is 24, Hleb is 26, Toure is 26, Rosicky is 26, Gallas will be 30 soon, and Gilberto is 30. If youth and a lack of experience is Arsenal’s only weakness, the rest of the league is in trouble, now, and for years to come.

If all goes right: Wenger’s lads will end their silverware drought with a league title, and perhaps even a double. All it will take is for a few young players to mature and the older players to stay injury free.

If all goes wrong: Injuries could ravage the squad, as they did last season, forcing Wenger to play reserves and youth team players who are just not ready for the top flight mentally, as well as put other players out of position. As great a player as he is, Gilberto just cannot play centre half at the Champions League level. Given the improvement of other sides in the top flight, another slow start and injury problems could see Arsenal fall out of the top 4, although this is unlikely in my opinion.

My Prediction: I think Arsenal will crash the Manchester United/Chelsea party and compete for the league title for most of the season, ultimately falling short at the end, especially if they have a cup run, or runs, distracting them. I think some of the youngsters will struggle at times, while others will become truly world class, and there will be just enough experience in the squad to help turn some of last year’s losses into draws, and draws into wins. In my opinion, Arsenal will finish 3rd, but will have at least one trophy to show for their troubles.

Saturday, July 28, 2007

Aston Villa

Manager: Martin O’Neill

Key Arrivals: Marlon Harewood, Nigel Reo-Coker

Key Departures: Juan Pablo Angel, Steven Davis, Aaron Hughes, Gavin McCann

Key Returning Players: Thomas Sorensen, Olof Mellberg, Martin Laursen, Gareth Barry, John Carew, Marlon Harewood, Stiliyan Petrov, Gabriel Agbonlahor, Wilfred Bouma, Ashley Young, Liam Ridgewell, Gary Cahill, Luke Moore, Patrik Berger, Shaun Maloney

Performance Last Season: Aston Villa was comfortably mid-table in the 2006-2007 season, finishing 11th on 50 points. They were 4 points ahead of Middlesborough, and their Goal Differential was better by 7. Despite a roaring start to the campaign under new manager Martin O’Neil, Villa was never a serious threat to push further up the table and contend for a UEFA Cup spot.

The new boss used the season, particularly the January transfer window, to re-construct the team after the disastrous tenure of David O’Leary. As the season went on, the side became something of draw specialists, sharing the points 17 times, easily the most in the top flight. This was no fault of Gabriel Agbonlahor, whose emergence showed O’Neill can still develop young players, despite his penchant for playing only seasoned veterans at Celtic. The youngster led the club in goals, and would have been a key performer for the England under 21’s this summer, had he not dropped his mobile in the bath, or some other such excuse that Martin was more than happy to hear. There is also no truth to the rumour that Psycho will be fitting the lad with a GPS tracker before the next international break.

At the end of the campaign, Villa supporters had a lot to look forward to. Martin O’Neil had made several good signings, and would have the summer transfer window to build the squad in his own image, wit the help of new owner Randy Lerner’s deep pockets.

Strengths: At this point it looks to be the attackers. Carew and Young were both good buys in January, and should be rearing to go after having a full pre-season to settle in. Maloney is less of a talent, but a nice player to have coming off the subs bench. I think they may have overpaid a bit for Harewood, as he has still never proven he can be a consistent threat in the top flight. Moore and Agbonlahor both have bright futures ahead of them, and it will be interesting to see how O’Neil gets all of his pacey youngsters on the pitch at the same time. Perhaps it will be Carew and Moore up front to start, with Young and Agbonlahor on the wing. However he does it, it should be a joy to watch, even from the Doug Ellis stand (Really, who names a stand after themselves?).

Weaknesses: Villa are still looking for a right back, Mark Delaney is injured, while Aaron Hughes has moved on and Phil Bardsley has gone back to Manchester United, but perhaps even more defensive cover than that is needed. They let in 41 goals last season, and only 5 clubs let in less, but Gavin McCann is no longer there to patrol the midfield and protect the back four. It is likely that Petrov will step back into the holding role, as Reo-Coker has always been more of an attacker. The Bulgarian started out well last season but was very inconsistent, putting in several poor performances. If he has not yet come to terms with the premiership, Villa’s defence could be quite vulnerable up the middle, particularly to attacking midfielders.

If all goes right: Aston Villa will challenge for a UEFA Cup spot. Reo-Coker returns to his form of two years ago, Barry and Agbonlahor continue their form from last season, and the Villans re-establish themselves as a top 6 side. Champions League qualification is a step too far, but with Lerner’s dollars and another year or two of smart buys from Martin O’Neill, the future could be very bright.

If all goes wrong: The club is still looking to make more signings, and they have over a month to do so, but right now the squad is very small. Injuries could leave the club very thin at the back and in central midfield. The young attackers could wilt under the pressure to score more goals and regress. Considering the talent on display, and O’Neill’s record of grinding out results when necessary, relegation seems unlikely, but a bottom 5 finish would be considered a step backwards by Villa supporters.

My Prediction: The defence will be a problem all season, and McCann will be sorely missed. But the attacking flare on display at Villa Park will be a pleasure to watch. The club will spend parts of the season amongst the UEFA Cup challengers, but fall short in the end. I think they will end up in 9th place, an improvement which should keep the supporters happy for one more season. Of course, if Mr. Lerner decides another mid-table finish is unacceptable, some big purchases in January could push the club into the top 6.

Friday, July 27, 2007

English Premier League Preview

Over the next few weeks I am going to be giving my thoughts and opinions on the upcoming season. I will be posting a preview for each team in the league. The goal is one or two clubs a day, as I hope to finish by the time the matches kick off on 11 August.


I have recently made some changes and (I hope) improvements to the blog. And if anybody has any comments, complaints, or suggestions, please let me know.

Friday, July 20, 2007

MLS All-stars 2 Glasgow Celtic 0

I thought this was entertaining match, even if the quality was not what one would hope for, especially from Celtic. The MLS looked good going forward, and, if nothing else, at least showed the eyes of the world that they have a fair amount of talented players.
I could have done without so many sideline shots of Beckham, but that is what we are going to get for the foreseeable future. Eddie Johnson looked good, and I think there is a decent chance he will go to Europe within the next month or so. The league should have sold him two years ago when Benfica was offering $5 million, as they will not get nearly as much for him now, and the likes of Derby are not as good a situation for the player, as far as development goes.
Should be an interesting weekend of matches as well. I think that is the best the MLS can hope for at this point, that fans like myself, who are mostly interested in the European leagues, find enough intrigue in MLS to watch some games, and at least keep tabs on what is happening in the league.

Thursday, July 19, 2007

A Triumphant (Although slightly late) Return

Well, I am finally back in Hawaii. My flight from Hartford, on United Airlines, was delayed for three days. Apparently lightning in Chicago was the main culprit. Luckily, I did get back in time to watch the Copa America final between Brasil and Argentina.
The game itself was a bit of a disappointment, as Brasil won rather easily. Argentina just seems to choke when they get to the knockout stages and have to face good teams. And it is not the players, it seems to be the tactics. Klinsman left Peckerman for dead at the World Cup last summer, and when Brasil set up defensively to contain Tevez and force Riquelme to drop deeper to get possession, the Argies never changed their tactics. No adjustment was made to attack what Brasil was doing! Make whatever excuses you want, their is no way a team with Argentina's talent should ever lose by 3 goals to anybody.

Wednesday, July 11, 2007

Llegada de Londres

I left my hostel in London at 9 AM, glad to have got breakfast, but not so happy with three hours of fitful sleep. The tube ride to Heathrow was devoid of problems. Then I realised I was not entering an airport but a maximum security prison.
I passed through three security checkpoints, had my passport checked five times, my boarding pass examined four times, and then had two bottles of water confiscated. All of this to get on an Air India flight to New York that was delayed an hour and half to wait for a team of one hundred twelve soccer players between the ages of ten and sixteen. Did I mention the kids had already been on a plane from Delhi for six hours? They were a mite stir-crazy.
So, some adventurous flights for me this summer. What more can happen?

Tuesday, July 10, 2007


July 2nd was my last day in San Sebastian. For lunch I went into the old town and had a few farewell pinchos (tapas), then headed to the coach station. It was an uneventful seventy-five minute ride to Bilbao. From Bilbao City Centre it is another thirty minutes to the airport. I checked in for my flight and all was well.
I had a snack and checked the departures board at about 8:30 PM. My flight had been scheduled to leave at 9:15, but the board said it was running about twenty-five minutes late. I thought that would be no big deal, flights to Stansted are often a little behind schedule. My flight to New York left from Heathrow the next day, and I was booked in a hostel in London for one night.
At about 9:30 the departure board changed and announced that my flight would be leaving at 11:40 PM, two and a half hours late. Now I was concerned, so I went online to check the news. Sure enough, a mysterious package had been found at Stansted, and the airport had been closed for several hours. I checked with the Easyjet service desk at about 10 PM. The airplane that I would be flying on had not yet left London. A good night's sleep was looking less and less likely.
The flight finally left Spain at 2 AM. It is only a two hour flight to London, so when I arrived it was "only" 3 AM.
Of course, Stansted Airport is nowhere near central London, so I had an 80 minute bus ride in front of me. It was sometime after 4 AM when I finally reached my hostel. Of course, it was a hostel, so I was in a room with twelve other people, all already asleep, many snoring. Not exactly fresh as a daisy, I had about 4 hours to sleep before braving the new security measures at Heathrow.