Well. It's opening day of the season, I'm trying to motivate the lads for a long season of lonely championship football. I'm supposed to be working on the VAT return, it's 5 days late.. but quite frankly, it can wait
Leicester City/Real Betis
Quite frankly, it’s time to stop pratting around in the lower divisions and join the party. Must get up, by hook or by crook. Medley must overhaul his aging defence or endure another summer where Buckley lays into Wayne Bridge more times than John Terry laid into his ex-missus. Jamie Carragher looks to have a bright future alongside Adrian Chiles looking dismayed at Roy Keane, but Mr Carragher’s days at the heart of the Foxes defence look severely numbered. Maicon’s imminent arrival at the Kingpower will surely make him the highest paid right-back in the country, quite why we need to be spending that sort of money on a RB in the Championship is anyone’s guess… but at least Alan Hutton can get back to his duties in the reserves where he belongs.
Title odds: 9/4
Must Step Up: Nikija Jelavic. Expect a big season from the Croat.
Whizz-Kid Watch: Wilfried Zaha. Apparently Dougie Freedman think’s £11m is cheap.
What’s he doing there?: Roger Johnson. Over-rated, over-paid, over-stayed his welcome. Has just bought a copy of “Carragher: My Time In The Media”.
Overhaul continues at pace in Seville. Which is where Real Betis are based for those of you that didn’t know. The Green and whites fans are excited beyond belief, as Medley seemingly either refuses to, or is unable to sign any sort of Centre half at all. Fans’ have noted their parent clubs’ leaky defense and are beginning to ask if Medley is in fact Florentino Perez in disguise. High-profile arrivals of Ribery and Krasic gives the midfield a more balanced look alongside Busquets. Much will again depend on Ganso, whilst Bojan is under pressure to maintain his scoring form of last year with the arguably more able Lissandro waiting in the wings for the little Spaniard to miss a few.
Title odds: 20/1
Must Step up: Franck Ribery. Time for the Frenchman to deliver consistently.
Whizz-kid watch: Endogan Adili. Turkish-Kosovan midfielder, youngest ever to score in the Swiss leage at 15yrs old. Now 18 and starting to make a permanent impression.
What’s he doing there?: Massimo Oddo. Oddly still there despite being given a free by Medley in the summer. Know we know what it’s like to be Fabio Aurelio.
Carlos Athetic look to have enough in their locker to do well in the debut season in the top flight. Manager Hurst has apparently appointed 10 on-field security staff to look after his talisman Tevez. Clubs in the Premiership will surely be queuing up their hatchet men at The Valley on a regular basis, adding new meaning to the term Argie-Bargee. Watford tried to park the bus with 2 AM’s last term, and for extra reassurance man-marked the diminutive target man with the game’s best defensive player in Vincent Kompany, and nearly pulled it off. ..limiting Carlos Athetic to 4 goals, although I believe some of those four came from a man in a luminous yellow jacket…Head of Security Rodallega. It’ll be interesting to see if Hurst continues with his policy of fining his security staff for touching the ball.
Title Odds: 10/1
Must Step up: Carlos Tevez. If he fires, the Premiership better come up with a plan… and fast.
Whizzkid watch: Raheem Sterling. Impressive at 17 yrs old. Still learning, but a super prospect.
What’s he doing there?: Guiseppe Rossi. Allegedly brought in by Hurst as a linguist and compatriot for the highly sort after Borini. Possibly the most highly paid comfort blanket since Micheal Boulding refused to sign for Bradford from Mansfield unless the Bantams also signed his brother Rory.
Nantes go into the French campaign on the back of an impressive debut season. Borrowing High-class players seemed to work a treat for Le Hurst, and may have prompted the loan market to become something of interest to all again. An assault on the French title is surely on the cards, but the big question on everyone’s lips is.. does anyone really care about France?. The Nantes board have succeeded in keeping any shady dealings under the radar, and rumours of members of Hurst’s family acting in agent’s roles have been quickly scotched.
Title odds: 6/4 Fav.
Must step up: Diego Forlan. One last hurrah for the Uruguayan would see Nantes hard to stop.
Whizz-kid Watch: Betinho. Portuguese whizz-kid with a wonderful scoring record at youth level.
Will being a Man Utd fan help or hinder the boss?. The Van Persie for Aguero swap will have football fans split on who got the better deal. The Birmingham fans though will wonder what Bale might have fetched on the open market. That said, as onlookers have often said, sometimes you have to pay over the odds to get your man from a club that doesn’t want to let him go. Rich Allen’s side look solid through the middle and exciting out wide, will the width be this terms focus?. With the likes of Cleverley, Fellaini, Parker and Fletcher it’ll be interesting to see how Allen intends to keep everyone happy. There’s no doubt the squad has talent, the big question is how fast they gel after the changes in personal.
Title Odds: 5/1
Must step up: Marouane Fellaini, a good season for him will mean a good season for The Blues.
Whizzkid Watch: Richard Allen has high hopes for James Wilson.
What’s he doing there?: John Mensah. Nobody with working opticals was quite able to work out how this man got in to the World Cup 2010 team of the tournament. Although whatever anyone says, we’re quite sure it wasn’t politics. Oh Captain of first African host nation…honest. Where’s Jack Warner gone? He was here a minute ago?. We tried contacting FIFA HQ but Mr Blatter was unavailable to comment.
The unknown quantity. Unknown as their press coverage is minimal and don’t often get talked about in the pub. The equivalent of St.Etienne, we all know they exist, we can all talk about them, but would take everyone a few searches of google and about 6 hours to find them on a map. A quiet assembly of some good youth product and second tier of some of europes more promising players have been assembled. Hard to know where to guage them.
Must step up: The Club’s PR Department.
Whizzkid Watch: Maicon Bittencourt. Hugely promising Brazilian winger who’ll be hoping to build on an impressive Under 20 World Cup.
After romping to promotion at the first time of asking, Chelsea will be looking for a consolidation season back in the top-flight. Much will depend on their home form against the sides expected to be in and around them. Their boss hasn’t been able to add anything significant to the ranks during the summer and the fans will no doubt be asking where the money has gone. However it’s refreshing to see a manager keep faith with the players that got him there and keep the understanding between the players at the top of his list. One or two major additions wouldn’t hurt though and we’re certain that Mr Ward will be ready to pounce should anything top quality become available as the season progresses.
Must Step Up: Ramires. Chelsea look a little short of numbers in Midfield and if Ramires were to have a shocker, it’s hard to see where the quality will come from, Suarez apart.
Whizz-kid Watch: Nathan Chalobah. Correctly identified by his boss as being one for the future. Wont break through this term, but will make progress.
What’s he doing there?: Yuri Zhirkov. Looks now to be past his best, and looks to have tested his bosses patience to breaking point. The writing appears to be on the wall and a career in the Russian Oil fields beckons.
Nobody ever knows what to expect from Phil Green and this season is set to be no exception. Already seemingly having Aguero & Bale in the bag, although the F.A. have yet to confirm the deal, the Gunners take on a fresh and youthful look, arguably even more fresh and youthful than the trail of women seen following Green around North London of a Friday evening. Experience abound down the centre gives Arsenal a spine to build around. And let’s face it, Green needs all the help he can get from his senior pros as he attempts to convince this year’s graduates from his youth academy that he isn’t in fact one of them. Essien’s capture from Plymouth raised eyebrows on the South coast and that looks sure to add some steel in the centre of the park. Giroud could also be a bargain if he can get a run in the side. Green is not a man for patience, just ask a chap called Robin.
Title Odds: 4/1
Must Step Up: Rafael Van Der Vaart. All the focus will be on Aguero, on his day the Dutchman can upstage anyone. Arsenal have two match winners, it’ll be interesting to see how often they both come to the party, or whether VDV will let Aguero steal the show.
Whizz-kid watch: Emmanuel Frimpong. Has all the ability in the world and the potential to cement a place in Arsenal’s midfield for a long time to come. Could be a make-or-break season for him.
What’s he doing there?: Stefan Savic, so hopelessly out of his depth in the premiership it’s embarrassing. The only player we’ve seen removed faster from a pitch was George Weah’s “brother”.
Jamie’s Tyler’s Watford all of a sudden look like they have as much if not more quality in depth than an awful lot of established Premier League side. The question will surely be how on earth Tyler’s Watford can produce enough in front of goal to keep their heads above water. Their defence is water-tight, certainly against Championship opposition, they were almost impenetrable. However this season they’ll be tested week in, week out by the very best… not by Harry Kewell and his sorry snag-loving ass. Tyler may have to find a way of keeping is side compact whilst allowing the likes of Dembele freedom to express himself. Kagawa is waiting in the wings at Ancona and looks certain to be called on if the first few weeks produce less in front of goal than Marco Boogers. Tyler is another one to have persisted with width despite being often frustrated at the lack of availability of high class wide men. With a number of sides dispensing with width altogether, you would imagine there’ll be some high profile exits from the bigger sides, purely through non-necessity of some of the country’s best touch-line huggers. What will Tyler do?. The jury is still out, but whatever he does, you’ll imagine it’ll feature the word ‘nil’ somewhere in it.
Title Odds: 18/1
Must Step Up: Emmauelle Adebayor. Goals are a must. Papiss Cisse and Demba Ba are a more than capable partnership. How long will the Togolese be given?
Whizz-kid Watch: Jake Livermore. Continues to impress, whether he can force his way in to Tyler’s thoughts is another matter, but huge potential.
What’s he doing there?: Johnathon Spector. How long can this boy cling on to top flight football despite having the natural footballing ability of a blind Robert Molenaar. Not long we think
Once described by Paul Heyman as ‘The Next Big Thing’ before Brock Lesnar showed up, this summer should have been a period of fine-tuning for the Cottagers boss Buckley who was mind-gaming his way to a valiant runners-up spot last time out. Instead, disquiet, discontent and uncertainty reign around the West London nearly men. Buckley was last seen out on the Craven Cottage pitch talking in depth to the grounds man about how wide to make the pitch. Head Grounds man Hemmings looked perplexed and gave an answer that only appears to have confused Buckley even further. Buckley looks set to continue with the set-up that served them so well last time, and the neutral will wish them nothing but luck. Unfortunately this column isn’t neutral and would allow a smirk to cross their face if Grounds man Hemmings continues to toy with Buckley’s plans for the next 23 weeks. Conjecture is still rife on the subjects of Arjen Robben and Antonio Valencia’s futures’ on the wings, and around James Milner’s future as a footballer.
Title Odds: 2/1
Must Step Up: Andy Carroll. Buckley has set up to pour fodder onto the head of the Geordie. Hopefully Andy’s hair won’t get in his eyes too often.
Whizz-kid watch: Andreas Weimann impressed many last term, may continue to push and may give his boss first team options later down the line.
What’s he doing there?: Pablo Zabaleta. Being given the nod in the middle of the park. Not doubting Zabaleta’s quality, but even he’ll be asking ‘what am I doing here?’.
Having assembled more young Dutch talent than Amsterdam’s red light zone, Buckley’s Feyenoord look set for a tilt at the title. Focus is arguably on producing a conveyor belt of talent to whizz across the pond rather than improving their own European standing, which could be argued is the perfect feeder club set-up. Christain Erikssen continues to attract much praise from around Europe and is probably on everyone’s hitlist.
Must step up: Nicola Gaitan continues to frustrate his boss by failing to secure a big money move to England, so you would imagine must produce the goods in the first team at Feyanoord to continue to remain in favour.
Whizz-kid watch: Take your pick. Ricky Van Wolfswinkel has been talked up by his boss for a long time.
At the start of the 2011/12 season, Plymouth were written off by most as having changed too much too fast. High profile stars came and went in a revolving door at Holme Park. Gerrard, Nasri, Vidic to name a few were castigated by their new boss and many wondered if he’d ever settle on a side. Ben Wilson delivered the title, and did a little ‘shush’ finger-to-lips style motion to his critics. It’s well documented in football that any title is harder to defend than it is to win so only time will tell if Argyle have the resilience to rebuff second-season-syndrome. A half season in persuit of Podolski eventually beared fruit, yet it’s still unclear to the observer where he fits in. Rooney will again pull the strings and the crowds, and will no doubt be wrapped in cotton wool by his boss. Owen Hargreaves continues to appear at Holme Park, one can only assume getting ready for Panto season.
Title odds: 5/4 Favs
Must step up: Wayne Rooney. Holds all the keys, the door, the walls and most of the house too.
Whizz-kid Watch: Keiran Gibbs. Hardly a whizz kid, but surely it’s time for him to come of age.
What’s he doing there?: Owen Hargreaves. Nuff said.
Tinker, tailer, soldier, spy. It’s all change at Newcastle who have embarked on the biggest overhaul of staff since Roman Abramovich arrived at Chelsea and systematically fired all waitresses that weren’t called Anastasia. Big names have departed and have been replaced by hard-working players that the boss believes will grind out results in true Geordie style. Ballotelli’s reluctance to go ‘skins’ in February appears to have cost him dearly, if you call a move to high flying Fulham a step-down that is. Replacement Dempsey has nothing like the swagger that comes with the wayward Italian, but brings a reliability to St James’. Vertonghan is an intelligent signing and we’re quite sure Mark isn’t done in the transfer market as yet.
Title odds. 12/1
Must step up: Nejmania Vidic. Despite rumours that his boss may be willing to cash in on his prize asset, the Toon need a big season from their Serbian.
Whizz-kid watch: Ross Barkley. Progress has been steady and has been well sheltered by his boss. This season may well see a first team opportunity or two.
What’s he doing there?: Blerim Dzezmeli. Am convinced this guy served me a kebab on Friday night?.
Real Madrid/Real Madrid B/Real Madrid C
Exactly how many high class first eleven’s can you fit into one Santiago Bernabeau?. We could spend hours mulling over Madrid’s best eleven and all come out with different answers. Eden Hazard finally makes the step up to contend for a place on the bench this term, which only goes some way to illustrate the enormity of the task that those in opposition face. Only Barcelona pose any threat, and even the much improving Betis will need a repeat of last year’s miracle to claim any points from Los Blancos.
Title odds: 5/6 Favs
Must step up: Barcelona
Whizz-kid watch: Alan Dzagoev. On the wish-list of every major European club, but still has lots to prove at Real.
What’s he doing there?: Yoann Gourcuff. Would walk into any other side in Europe, but plainly but not in the class of his counter-parts.
Will slug it out yet again for the bragging rights at the top of La Liga. Arguably even more forward in approach than Nancy Del’Orio. A wealth of talent all the way through the side and are more than a match for anyone. We make them slight second favourites behind Madrid, but quite literally only by a hair’s breadth. Matt will want to make a better fist of European competition and will have eyes on the big two competitions, and will no doubt see failure to win either competition as nothing short of disaster.
Title odds: 11/8
Must step up: Yaya Toure. A quiet year by all accounts but has the capacity to improve and make a difference to Barca this time around.
Whizz-kid watch: Crikey me, Juan Mata a whizz-kid…. My god.
What’s he doing there?: Bebe…. Is he still there or is that a typo?
Inter Milan/Boca Juniors
Robert Wilson abandons wingers shocker. Ribery has been shipped out to Betis and replaced by the exceptionally talented Nocerino. Nocerino has had two fantastic seasons on the bounce and arrives with nothing to prove in his homeland. A midfield comprising the age-less Pirlo with Nocerino and Hernanes looks good on paper, but nobody is entirely certain how Wilson will line up. Higuain is due some luck, although if he continues to miss-fire as for much of last season, Wilson’s arm waving on the touchline may well be replicated in the club car park.
Boca’s dominance of Argentina is set to continue unopposed, no matter how much their boss tells them complacency is their only enemy… in itself an irony
Title odds: (Inter) 10/11 (Boca) 8/11
Must Step Up: Steven Jovetic. Heralded as a potential world-beater by his boss.
Whizz-kid watch: Mattia Destro. Italy’s next big thing is set to take Serie A by storm.
What’s he (not) doing there?: Oscar out on loan?. Crikey.