Fasten your seatbelts…
The World Cup fizzles to an end and it feels like a betrayal to return to gritty, gruelling club football. Football fans, greedy for more, expect an equally exciting season. Yet, it often tends to be somewhat of a damp squib. However, this year will be different.
At the bottom of the table, you have Cardiff as favourites to go down. Sorry Warnock, but long balls and all out defence don’t get you far at this level. The other promoted teams, Fulham and Wolves, arguably, have the potential to contend for a top 10 finish. Esperíto Santo’s team are brimming with Portugese talent and flair. You have Moutinho and Patricio who are Euro winners and Ruben Neves has frightening potential. Likewise with Fulham, who’s squad contains copious amounts of quality for a side just emerging from the championship. Sessegnon and Cairney will be hungry to make their mark and Mitrovic is a proven goal scorer: he bagged 12 goals last season and also netted at the World Cup. What’s more, The bargain signing of Seri from Nice for €30 million will tighten up the midfield an allow the front 3 to express themselves.
Escape act Southampton have been dreadfully unlucky in recent seasons, their renowned academy having produced an array of talent in such a short space of time, only to have them poached by the heavyweights . Vestergaard, the new signing, impressed in Germany but he isn’t half the player Van Dijk was. The Saints will miss the Dutchman’s leadership and physical presence, but there is lots to be positive about. Elyounoussi is a pragmatic replacement for Tadic, his dribbling will cause problems for defenders, and Austin is a machine if he stays fit. Then you have Brighton, who did just what they were expected to do last season. Survive. To repeat this ,however, they must eradicate their horrendous away form. Easier said than done. What also caught the shrewd eye of Chris Hughton was The Seagull’s lack of squad depth. In an attempt to fix this they made 8 new signings, the highlight of which being Iranian left winger Jahanbakhsh. Finally, you have the Terriers, certain to finish rock bottom last season, but, resilient as ever, they hung on. With the competition this season though, 28 goals is inadequate to keep out the drop zone. What do they do? Brake their transfer record on a defender, and then sign another 4 defenders. Along with Cardiff, many anticipate a return to the Championship for Huddersfield, with the odds at Bet 365 at 11/10. The third place remains open. Burnley’s demanding Europa League campaign could drag them down into an unwanted battle, and a volatile relationship between fans, manager and the board at Newcastle may be dangerous. It will be a fascinating spectacle, teams pushed right to the wire, but i think Cardiff, Huddersfield and Brighton will return to the Championship.
Manchester City swept the floor in a record breaking 2017/18 season, significantly raising the bar. It somewhat changed English football permanently. A stark reminder of how when talent is nurtured properly, only then do you create World class. The way Guardiola seduces his players, the way that he has a lust for constant improvement in a quest for perfection, his ever calm demeanour and his obsession in being meticulous eludes to Man City dominating once again. His approach is reminiscent of his idol’s , Marcelo Bielsa. Their 2-0 community shield victory against Chelsea punctuated their blueprint. Although, it will not be as straightforward this year, the quality of the other competitors has risen. Even Guardiola admitted “it would be impossible to match what happened last year”.
170m spent this summer shows Liverpool’s ambitions. A new creative midfielder ? Naby Keita joins from RB Leipzig. A new Goalkeeper ? Alisson joins from Roma. These are highly pragmatic deals. The exact antithesis of the erratic “scattergun” transfer approach at Manchester United. Exemplary of the “Klopp Way”. Simple, but with intensity and integrity. A run to the Champions league final highlighted their potential, and the extra touch of quality brought in this summer will send shivers down the spines of their rivals.
There have been positives and negatives about this summer for Manchester United. Unfortunately, mainly negatives. 6 players advanced to the semi finals or higher in the World Cup. A marker of the potential in this United team. Yet Jose Mourinho, who has the tendency to be the master of his own downfall, continues to moan and groan. He realises, peeved, that £50m signing Fred and £19m signing Diego Dalot is not ample if they hope to close the 19 point gap between Man City. The lack of players on his USA pre season tour seemed to further aggrieve him. Is he really the special one ? If so, he needs to find a way to unite this disjointed Manchester United team.
The, undisputed, toughest league in the world is, surprisingly, the English second tier. The laborious 46 game season and the intense physicality of the matches means there is no respite. Yet the competition is just getting fiercer and fiercer.
Everyone who follows this blog knows about the revival at Nottingham Forest under Karanka so we won’t talk about Forest. A slow start, though, and the pressure is on for Karanka. Take a short trip down the A52 and you get to Derby, the bitter rivals, who like to think that this season is also the start of a new era for the Rams. Ex-Chelsea legend Frank Lampard will be eager to get of to a strong start into a supposed managerial career at Pride Park. Although the question remains as to whether his ambitious style of football is slightly far fetched for this Derby side. Curtis Davies and Richard Keogh were caught out multiple times against Reading when trying to play out from the back. After all, they aren’t John Terry and William Gallas. And David Nugent is no Didier Drogba. Derby have suffered in recent years, coming ever so close to making it out. If Frank Lampard can finally be the one to get the Rams over the line, then perhaps a managerial career does, in fact, await him.
“He’s the best coach in the world”.
“Marcelo Bielsa was an inspiration to me”. This is how Guardiola and Pochettino responded when asked about the Argentinian. These two coaches, now managing at the highest level, learned everything from Bielsa. A true football genius. For example, he used to indulge into 40 football magazines every week and his idea of comfort is going for 2am runs while listening to tapes of different formations and their uses. “El Loco” is how his colleagues described him. One of his first decisions when given the Leeds job was to order his players pick rubbish up for 3 hours. The equivalent of how much a ticket is to go and watch one of their matches. Although his well known idiosyncratic 3-3-3-1 formation was unused against Stoke, Leeds looked a completely different side when they dismantled promotion favourited Stoke City. Most football fans would love to see Leeds and Bielsa back in the Premier League.
One of the most difficult tasks in football is returning to the top tier at the first time of asking. This is the challenge that awaits Stoke, West Brom and Swansea. Although, out of the 3, the Potters look in best shape as, unprecedentedly, they have an even stronger squad than the year before. So far Gary Rowett has done some quiet but pragmatic transfer business. World Cup star Etebo will hope to strengthen up and provide energy to an ageing midfield while Everton-flop Ashley Williams will also be hungry to prove a point and his leadership qualities will be vital in the quest for promotion. Stoke do, however, carry the burden of promotion favourites.
With the importance of money in football these days, losing the most expensive match in football is bound to scar a club. Villa will look to rectify their errors though in another season under Steve Bruce. Although their squad remains unchanged while their rivals have improved and ,consequently, many wrote them off. But a convincing 3-1 win against Hull showed that they mean business.
A £50m investment on a new team last summer means that Middlesbrough will be scratching their heads as to why they are still in the Championship. Yet, despite the losses of key players with Traore leaving for Wolves and Ben Gibson departing for Burnley, Boro got of to an incredible start, battering a strong Sheffield United side.
Of course, there will always be a dark horse, a team that nobody expects to succeed, succeeding. Last season this was Cardiff, some deemed them to go down, but instead they went up. Preston North End have a knack for overachieving on limited resources, which is exactly the situation they are in this season. For a few seasons now they have been lurking in and around the playoffs and Ryan Ledson, the 20 year old from Oxford impressed in pre season. They then got off the mark with a 1-0 victory over QPR.
Both the Premier League and Championship 2018/19 season will be an exciting adventure, a clash of egos, a clash of world class players and a clash of pure skill in general. Fine margins have become finer. I recommend you follow it every step of the way.