Wednesday, August 08, 2007

A look ahead to the new season

What a turnaround a couple of months makes. From early talk of season tickets not being renewed and the possibility of another dour season with a couple of Bosman reinforcements the only additions to a depleted squad comes a new season of hope and promise, with a brand new owner awash with bucketloads of cash (along with a questionable background) and a manager with a proven international and domestic pedigree who has already added some undoubted quality and potential to a squad that whilst depleted, was not without some quality.

For a long time over the summer months, it was still unsure whether the takeover would be completed, which left everyone in a state of limbo, but now Eriksson has quietly begun to assemble a squad which should be easily capable of challenging the top half of the table.

The losses of Barton and Distin were an undoubted blow, and whilst it was inevitable that Barton was allowed to leave I still have the sense of disappointment that Distin walked - and perhaps wished he had given another year to see the undoubted difference that will be made (on and off the pitch) this season but departures of largely squad players Weaver, Reyna, Beasley and Jordan will perhaps not be missed as much given the ability to recruit far more easily than under the Pearce regime.

Eriksson - without managing to land a true 'knock-out' signing, has added well with quality in Martin Petrov, Elano and Geovanni, and the captures of Rolando Bianchi, Valeri Bojinov and Gelson Fernandes augment well for the future. Undoubtedly Eriksson will continue to add further to the squad, and boding well for us is that he doesn't appear to be rushed into any panic buying as managers are sometimes wont given a narrowing transfer window and pots of cash at their disposal.

There have been plenty of backroom changes as well with Eriksson bringing trusted sidekick Tord Grip to the club in an 'overseer' role and the experienced Hans Backe as assistant manager. Gone are Steve Wigley and Greg Rioch (following on from late season departures Frank Bunn and Tim Flowers) but Kenny Jackett and Derek Fazackerley are holdovers from previous regimers.

Eriksson was much maligned in his time as England manager as being negative and too one-dimensional wit a reluctance to deviate from the 4-4-2 formation. But, perhaps he was largely hamstrung by trying to fit certain over-hyped players into a line-up but at City he will be able to add players he covets and appears to have a young an energetic squad at his disposal with the average age plummeting from last season.

Andreas Isaksson begins the season as number 1, albeit being sidelined for a short time with a hand injury. He has beaten off the challenge of Nicky Weaver who has moved onto Charlton but rumours persist that Eriksson is looking to add another 'keeper to challenge Isaksson. Kaspar Schmeichel's desire for first team football may see him leave to pastures new, leaving Joe Hart in possession of the number 2 spot.

Despite adding defensively recently, the loss of Sylvain Distin will undoubtedly be felt. Along with Richard Dunne he was undoubtedly the most consistent performer the past few seasons and their partnership was one of the leagues best. Nedum Onouha appears to have shaken off his injury troubles but Eriksson felt the need to go out and add Croatian defender Verdan Corluka.

Micah Richards is set to break out even more this season following off-season surgery, whilst Michael Ball will likely be beaten out by Spaniard Javier Garrido with Sun Jihai's versatility providing useful cover across the defence and midfield.

Danny Mills has been allowed to move on whilst it may not be long before Matt Mills could be headed to the exit.

Potentially, the midfield could see a whole new look this season with Eriksson bringing in a host of new faces. The relatively experienced trio of Petrov, Elano and Geovanni will be counted upon to make an immediate impact - with Petrov in particular impressing during pre-season. Fears that both Michael Johnson and Stephen Ireland may be frozen out appear to be unfounded as both have seen plenty of action under Eriksson so far along with fellow youngster Gelson Fernandes.

Despite his off-pitch misdemeanours, Barton was the key cog in midfield last season and was a much improved creative spark (and finished the season as top scorer) and his presence and energy in the middle will be sorely missed but if Mark Bresciano arrives from Palermo this will go some way to replacing him, however, veteran Didi Hamman may see much reduced time this time around, even given the possibility of Ousmane Dabo's departure.

A particular problem area last season, and another which has been overhauled this campaign. Both Giorgios Samaras and Bernard Corradi will be hoping for turnaround seasons after enduring poor seasons during 2006/07 and have had fairly bright pre-seasons - Corradi moreso.

Emile Mpenza weighed in with some important goals after he signed in January, but it remains to be seen what role he will have following the new arrivals Rolando Bianchi and Valeri Bojinov who have both arrived from Serie A and whilst still both young, they arrive with strong reputations and will expected to contribute immediately.

Youngsters Kelvin Etuhu and Daniel Sturridge may have both been pushed a little down the pecking order but are highly touted and will likely see some loan action elsewhere this season but I expect Paul Dickov time at the club to be all but over, assuming there are any takers for him.

Pundits have not tipped us to do well this season - either they are wary of all the changes and upheaval we have undergone or their is an underlying anti-City/Eriksson/Shinawatra agenda. There has been a sense of realism at the club though with people involved talking about this being a transition season and it is really the 2008/09 campaign where expectations on the pitch will have to begin to match the progress made off it.

Clearly we are not about to gatecrash the top four this season and there look to be (more settled) sides more capable of occupying the UEFA positions but I am yet to be convinced that the Premiership overall is getting better and better as the seasons go by.

Much of the new Premiership TV money is being spent by sides keen to improve yet none seem to have made significant strides over anyone else, with several players being recycled amongst mid-table sides.

I don't for one minute envisage we will come anywhere close to the threat of relegation seen last season and despite a toughish looking start on paper we will be more than good enough to always feature in the top-half of the Premiership.

With every preview that I have done on here I have stressed there is an opportunity to make an impact if we can get a strong start, or put consistent ten game spells together - yet this is something that we have always failed to do in recent times. It will take Eriksson time to shape the side into how we wants and there will be bumps along the way, but as much as anything else, fans will want to see performances this season which will generate excitement and hope - both of which have been sorely lacking in recent times.

Predicted league position - 9th

League Cup - 4th round

FA Cup - 6th round

Top scorer - Rolando Bianchi

Player of the season - Martin Petrov

vote it up!


Anonymous said...

Good article! I suspect we may struggle to get the team to gel at first, so I think a mid-table position may be more realistic. But next season! Come on - lets go!!

Simon-Peter Vickers-Buckley said...

From my many and varied travels most folks, as well as pundits and rags disguised as journos, are putting us between 8th and 14th with the big money going bang in the middle of the table, 10th.

I think this may be a season of two halves (oh dear).

Although we had a good defensive record last season, 44 goals, 7th, our scoring, 29 goals, joint worst with Watford! Pathetic. We should be looking for a plus 15 to plus 20 GD by seasons end.

Back to reality.

The rumours about Amelia are more than rumours.This is from an edit to Marco Amelia's entry that I made earlier today on wikipedia (with cites! to click on).

La Gazaetta della Sporto, 8th of August 2007, Livorno President Aldo Spinelli wants 7.5 millions Euros (5 million British Pounds), and a replacement, the first choice being unsettled AC Milan goalie Storari, whose 2 year loan to Real Betis fell through a few weeks ago. Negotiations with Manchester City have been formal since at least August 6th. The current manager of Livorno, Fernando Orsi used to work under current Manchester City manager Sven Goran Eriksson at Lazio. Spinellis willingness to let Amelia go was first aired in June 2007, and in January 2007, after the sacking of coach Danielle Aragoni he said of Amelia "I've tried to teach Amelia some manners but he can't hold his tongue, like all Romans", this in reponse to Amelia's post-Aragoni statement that Spinelli should himself resign "if he's got the balls to do it."[5] Amelia earns 700,000 British Pounds per year.[6][7][8]

We'll see!

Anonymous said...

Simon-Peter Vickers-Buckley

We've got a GD of 2 now! Isn't Sven our main man!?

Don't you love it when we fly?