Sadly, I don't see 2 of the 5 teams above us falling away enough to give us a chance of a top-4 finish. We've got every chance of finishing above Arsenal, but Chelsea, IMHO, are too good to drop a 9-point advantage in 13 games and the way Villa are going at the moment, I don't see much hope of an 11-point swing in those 13 either.
Our early season form is coming back to haunt us now and I think we can be relatively certain that the Sky 4 won't be as poor next year. Whatever the reason for our summer's lack of dealings, it is a massive opportunity wasted and one that is unlikely to come back around in the near future. On top of that it appears to be an opportunity that Villa are going to take, instead of us. That's the most galling aspect...
I don't see the transfer situation changning in the summer. We may get one half-decent player in, for around £10M, but I would imagine we're in a sell-to-buy situation now.
In a couple of years, we'll no longer have Saha, Pip, Valente.... no great loss, some of you might say, but 3 players to replace nonetheless
Looking at 3 to 4 years from now, players like Yobo, Cahill, Ossie, even Hibbert, Pienaar, Arteta and Yakubu will be 31-32ish and past their prime.
So, from the 1st team we are looking at Fellaini, Baines, Jagielka, Lescott and probably Howard still being the right side of their best years. That leaves almost an entire midfield and strike-force to replace over the course of 4 years or so.
Now, I know that right now this seems overly negative, but if I'm reading the signs correctly, we don't have money to invest in the team to any great degree. OK, we have some decent young players coming along.... but how many will honestly make the grade and be good enough to replace the current 1st team?
All the hyperbole surrounding Gosling after his goal against Liverpool can't hide the fact that he's been largely average for the 1st team. I definitely rate Rodwell so far, he's looked assured and comfortable in the Premier League; while he's no match-winner, he looks like a good solid midfielder. I don't rate Anichebe, this season he has looked like a League 1 striker and he's had his chances. Vaughan is missing so much of his important formative years that he'll need massive character and effort to make it at the top level.
So if we take the players in 4 years that will still be in their prime and those youngsters who seem like they might realistically make it, we're left with this, as a 4-5-1 starting XI:-
Howard ??, Lescott, Jagielka, Baines Gosling, Rodwell, Fellaini, ??, ?? ??
Assuming a couple more youngsters come through and we hold on to a few of the older players as squad players, that still leaves us a long way short of a top-4 squad.
As I said, this is all assuming that I have read the signs correctly and that we have borrowed as much as we can, and now have to sell-to-buy. But worst-case scenario, we have no new or redeveloped stadium, we have no new investment and BK still unable to invest.... so we would no longer be able to bring in a transfer record signing each year.
I can only see us regressing as our players get older, unless one of the factors above changes. And this scenario also assumes our ability to hold on to our best players, despite the likelihood of not being able to improve the team.
While risking over-dramatics, I'd say enjoy each season where we're pushing for Europe, because they might not be around for long.
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