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Home|Football News|Columnists|Ranter|English Premier League Preview 2005-06



English Premier League - The Season Starts Here

The Ranter

The Premiership is soon to start and with just a little over 300 days until the World Cup begins in Germany it promises to be a season to remember.

The summer has hardly seen a slowdown in football gossip though; The Glazer takeover was done and dusted, Rafa began his Anfield revolution, Arsene has lost his captain and Jose couldn't buy a striker for love and definitely not money. It'll be good to get back to the actual football! The Ranter looks at the season ahead, assesses each team's chances and in a three part series makes some bold predictions…

Arsenal

Arsene Wenger chose the summer of 2005 to finally jettison his inspirational captain Patrick Vieira; although quite whether the France international jumped or was pushed is a moot point. Whoever made the decision, it will be one that defines a season for Arsenal.

Yet, for all his reputation Vieira has his least effective campaign to date in 2004-5 and there is a sound argument that the permanent introduction of Cesc Fabregas to the team will have a dynamic and beneficial effect on the North London outfit. Indeed, in hindsight perhaps Wenger should have accepted the £25m on offer from Real Madrid 12 months ago rather than half that from the Old Lady last month.

Arsenal still has the firepower to make a serious title challenge with the peerless Thierry Henry likely to score his predictable 30 Premiership goals. The question – the really big question – is can Arsenal's threadbare squad cope with injuries? Much will depend on whether Wenger can reinforce the central defensive area before the window closes on August 31st.

The major recruit of the summer, Aleksandr Hleb, is an excellent creative acquisition to a squad already brimming with firepower. It's stopping the goals that is going to be the Gunners problem.

Europe could again be Wenger's Achilles heel; somehow the balance between the over-caution displayed in the Champions League and the free-flowing goalscoring of his side's domestic game has never been struck. The suspicion is that Wenger doesn't know where the balance lies in his own mind. Arsenal are likely to go backwards not forwards this coming season.

Key Man: Who else, Thierry Henry
Premiership Prediction: 3rd
Europe Prediction: Champions League, Quarter Finals
Players In: Aleksandr Hleb, Stuttgart (Undisclosed)
Players Out: Sebastian Svard, Guimaraes (Nominal)
Patrick Vieira, Juventus (£13.75m)
Graham Stack, Reading (Loan)
Jeremie Aliadiere, Celtic (Loan)
Eduardo Cesar Edu, Valencia (Free)
Stuart Taylor, Aston Villa (Undisclosed)


Aston Villa

David O'Leary faces a make or break season in charge at Aston Villa. There's little money to spend but expectations as always are massively high at the second city's premier club. Villa's chronic lack of goals has become deeply ingrained and few but the myopic die-hards actually believe this situation will change with the current squad. Juan Pablo Angel has flattered to deceive for far too long. Kevin Philips has been signed but the former England forward has never revived the form of his Sunderland days. If only O'Leary could land Euro 2004 top scorer Milan Baros the situation could change.

The loss of Thomas Hitselberger will hit Villa too, although Patrick Berger will add creativity to the centre of the park. The manager may not have been fully convinced by the German hard-man but he gave bite to the Villa midfield that Manchester United reject Eric Djemba-Djemba has so far failed to provide.

Much will depend on the form of Thomas Sorensen in the Villa net. The Danish stopper had a poor season in 2004-5 but his talent is too great for a dip in form to become permanent. A top six finish would be a dream for O'Leary's squad, top ten more likely.

Key Man: Thomas Sorensen
Premiership Prediction: 9th
Europe Prediction: n/a
Players In: Patrik Berger, Portsmouth (Free)
Kevin Phillips, Southampton (£0.75m)
Stuart Taylor, Arsenal (Undisclosed)
Aaron Hughes, Newcastle (Free)
Players Out: Darius Vassell, Man City (£2m)
Stephen Cooke, Bournemouth (Free)
Thomas Hitzlsperger, VfB Stuttgart (Free)
Stefan Moore, QPR (Free)
Stephen Cooke, Bournemouth (Free)


Birmingham

Steve Bruce's Blues flattered to deceive in their second Premiership season and the former Manchester United defender will need his team to progress if a relegation battle is to be avoided. Pandiani and the returning Forsell, together with Emile Heskey, will form a potent strikeforce if the insipid Birmingham midfield can supply enough goalscoring opportunities. The real fear for Blues is that a dependable attacking midfielder is still lacking. David Dunn was sorely missed last season but Bruce cannot rely on the injury prone but talented midfielder in 2005-6.

Nicky Butt could be a canny acquisition from Newcastle on a season long loan if only he can keep himself fit; he'll use the ball sensibly and break up enough opposition attacks to give the back four some protection.

Birmingham has the personnel to improve on their 12th place last season but the variables need to come together right from the off. The temptation is to suggest an improvement is possible but not probable.

Key Man: Emile Heskey
Premiership Prediction: 13th
Europe Prediction: n/a
Players In: Nicky Butt, Newcastle (Loan)
Medhi Nafti, Racing Santander (Undisclosed)
Mikael Forssell, Chelsea (£3m)
Players Out: Robert Blake, Leeds (£0.8m)
Darren Carter, West Brom (£1.5m)
Ian Bennett Leeds (Free)


Blackburn Rovers

Mark Hughes' side battled their way to Premiership safety last season but much more will be expected this time out. With time to bed his side down, Blackburn fans will now look for their side to become more than the Premiership bully boys. Nobody expects Blackburn to be less competitive however; no Hughes side could be anything else.

Long gone are the days of Jack Walker, when the money flowed freely and the Premiership title came to Ewood Park. Hughes has spent just £5m this summer on bad-boy Craig Bellamy, a player he knows well from his time as the Welsh manager. The lightening quick Bellamy will certainly add some potency to Rover's forward line. Whether he brings any more goals is a moot point – finishing is not Bellamy's strong suit.

Once again Blackburn will look to Brad Friedel to maintain stability at the back. Rovers shipped the fewest goals of any team in the bottom half last season. More of the same will be needed if Bellamy fails to substantially improve on his goalscoring record. It could be another tough season ahead for the Lancashire club.

Key Man: Craig Bellamy
Premiership Prediction: 14th
Europe Prediction: n/a
Players In: Craig Bellamy, Newcastle (£5m)
Shefki Kuki, Ipswich (Free)
Players Out: Jon Stead, Sunderland (£1.8m)
Craig Short (Released)
Nils-Eric Johansson, (Released)


Bolton Wanderers

Sixth in 2004-5 was almost a dream come true for Bolton fans. The perennial underdogs now become one of the Premiership's big boys and with expectation comes pressure. There is no doubt that the added pressure will be something that Sam Allardyce relishes and will use as a motivational tool.

Bolton have recruited sensibly as always this summer; bringing in the talented but unpredictable Mexican Jared Borgetti for a small fee and experienced 'keeper Ian Walker. Borgetti is a wild card, but should he hit the ground running then Bolton have a real player on their hands. The permanent signing of Liverpool forward El Hadji Diouf will also be welcomed by the Reebok faithful as long as he can remain disciplined for once.

Few neutrals like Bolton's tactical system – using just one forward and packing the midfield – but there's no doubt that it works. Bolton remains the model almost all smaller clubs look to: consolidate in the Premiership at any cost and then grow from there.

It'll be almost impossible for Bolton to replicate last season's form but a top ten finish is a near certainty.
Key Man: Jussi Jaaskelainen
Premiership Prediction: 7th
Europe Prediction: Early casualties
Players In: Abdoulaye Diagne Faye, Lens (Loan)
Ian Walker, Leicester (Free)
El Hadji Diouf, Liverpool (Undisclosed)
Jared Borgetti, Pachuca (£1m)
Players Out: Vincent Candela Udinese (Free)
Florent Laville (Released)
Jason Talbot (Released)
Anthony Barness (Released)
Charlie Comyn-Platt (Released)
Julio Cesar (Released)
Fernando Hierro (Retired)

Charlton

The wheels very nearly came off the Charlton bandwagon last season and it would have been no surprise if manager Alan Curbishley had left for pastures new. He's stuck it out and made some significant changes to his squad over the summer. There's little or no chance that Charlton will go down next season but can they begin to progress again? It is, of course, harder than ever for small clubs such as Charlton to compete financially - they have only a small international marketing programme and gates are no more than Premiership average.

Jonathan Spector, Alexei Smertin, Darren Ambrose and Darren Bent ought to be excellent acquisitions. While Bent will look to step up a division he has the talent to be a real handful. At the other end of the pitch, Spector plays with a maturity well beyond his years and the season-long loan from Manchester United will help the player's personal development too.

However, it was midfield that Charlton really struggled last season. Jason Euell had a poor campaign and the loss of Scott Parker the season before really hurt South London's finest. Smertin should add some bite to the centre of the park but it will continue to be Danny Murphy whom the team is built around. Progression this year – yes – but only a modicum of it.

Key Man: Danny Murphy
Premiership Prediction: 12th
Europe Prediction: n/a
Players In: Alexei Smertin, Chelsea (Loan)
Gonzalo Sorondo, Internazionale (Loan)
Jonathan Spector Manchester United (Loan)
Chris Powell, West Ham (Free)
Darren Ambrose, Newcastle (Undisclosed)
Kelly Youga, Lyon (Free), Darren Bent
Ipswich (£2.5m)
Players Out: Paul Konchesky, West Ham (Undisclosed)
Mark Fish (Released)
Simon Royce, QPR (Free)
Neil McCafferty (Released)
Stacy Long (Released)

To Come

Chelsea, 1
Everton, 6
Fulham, 15
Liverpool, 4
Man City, 11
Man Utd, 2
Middlesbrough, 8
Newcastle, 10
Portsmouth, 16
Sunderland, 18
Tottenham, 5
West Brom, 19
West Ham, 20
Wigan, 16

1 | 2 | 3

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