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.