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So, Who Are the Competition?

By Jay Harris :  03/07/2009 :  Comments (17) :
As an alternative to the Board bashing, transfer speculation, manageable or unmanageable debt questions... we might focus on the one positive aspect of our club right now and that is the on-field performance.

Despite the fact that Marshie, myself and others never appear to be satisfied with the club's situation, I don't think any of us could NOT be delighted with the achievement last season. It is a great credit to the manager and the team how consistently they have punched above their weight so they must have something more than team spirit and good leadership. However, as we enter 2009-10 season, we need to be more aware than ever about the competition.

Taking them in order of finishing position below us last season:

Aston Villa: They have lost Barry and Laursen, quite significant IMO because Villa had a very leaky defence (48 goals against) with their style of play and only managed to score 54). I see them drawing a lot more this season and forecast a worse season for them.

Fulham: The surprise package with a manager who pulled as many rabbits out of the hat as Moysey. However, with an aging squad, I can't see them improving this season.

Spurs: After a relegation performance first half of the season, 'Appy 'Arry did very well to get them to 8th and run Fulham very close. Already splashing out in the market and looking to unload some of the squad who did not put enough in, I see them as a real threat this coming season (I know, it's been said before... but they did finish 5th 2 seasons ago).

West Ham: Another surprise package given their off-the-field problems and a relative novice manager. However, Zola seems to have the dressing room following and, while I don't see them threatening 4th or 5th, I do see them having a better season than their finances justify.

Man City: And so to the enigma of the coming season. The world's richest club. Some of the best players in Europe but IMO with a manager who is more bluster than finesse and I therefore ask the question: Is he the right man to coordinate the Richman's assault on the establishment? I am totally unsure on this one so only time will tell.

In the bottom half of the table, I see only Portsmouth, Blackburn and Sunderland having a better season but with no real threat to the top 6.

And so to the so-called Sky 4.

Liverpool: I think we all hope that they will collapse in a financial mess but I can't see it happening. The brand is too strong for even Hicks, Gillette and Benitez to go tits up and with Man Utd considerably weakened I see them or the other Richman's Plaything, Chelsea taking over their crown.

Arsenal: Like with City I, think they could go one way or the other. Wenger's reign is starting to be questioned, the dressing room shows no togetherness, and they are definitely vulnerable. Against that, you have good financial backing and the best new stadium in Britain (outside of Wembley). While they are struggling to sell their Highbury apartments, they still have plenty of financial muscle for players and a strong brand.

Even though Moyes desperately wants to break into the top 4 this season, I feel with the strengthening of City and Spurs and the political distraction of Kirkby, we will do well to finish in the top 6 again.

All that is certain is NOTHING is certain.

Reader Comments

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Dave Wilson
1   Posted 04/07/2009 at 05:44:33

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Chelsea: too powerful for everyone. Champions

Man U: will chase Chelsea all the way; 2nd.

RS: despite being unable to beat the Blue boys — who now have their number — will accumulate sufficient points to finish 3rd.

Everton: Forget signing "big names" — it won't happen, but Moyes may well unearth another bargain basement gem. A Moyes team virtually guarantees 60 points, there will be no sluggish start this season, Arteta will be back, big Joey will prove a more than adequate stand-in for Jags and the Yak won't just be hungry, he’ll be starving. Driven on by the pain of just missing glory last season we’ll accumulate 70 points this time and finish 4th.

Arsenal: Wenger seems to have forgotten the "real" reason for playing football matches. He’s becoming increasingly obsessed with playing the beautiful game. Art for art's sake; 5th.

Spurs: the twitchy one will get them out of the traps much earlier this season and as usual will be given funds to strengthen even further if need be in January; 6th.

Villa: May have lost their playmaker, but Heskey and Carew will ensure they’ll still be a handful; 7th.

City: will delight at times, but they’ll provide us all with plenty of chuckles too; 8th.

West Ham: Charming manager, has a good team and wants to play "the right way" but too many sick-notes; 9th.

Fulham: Have a manager who's been around the block, uncompromising defence; 10th.
Marc Williams
2   Posted 04/07/2009 at 11:43:29

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In the Moyes era there have been some very distinct cycles to our fortunes. So, based on recent history, we won’t add enough depth or quality in the summer to push on, will start the season solidly enough but will run out of steam post Christmas. Physically & mentally on our ’last legs’ by May, we will probably be between 7th & 10th.
Mike Dillon
3   Posted 04/07/2009 at 13:07:42

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I’d take between 7th - 10th if we walk off with a decent trophy at the end of it!
Stewart Littler
4   Posted 04/07/2009 at 15:03:02

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An interesting, different and relevant piece. Have to agree with your assessments of Villa, Fulham and West Ham. In fact, I seriously see Villa struggling, especially if Ashley Young goes. Can’t see how there will be much improvement at Blackburn or Sunderland, and I personally think Pompey might go down. I see Chelsea, Utd and the Shite challenging for the title, and I’m afraid to admit that my head tells me it will be their year, although the rest of me hopes otherwise.

And so to the other 3 - Arsenal, Spurs and Shitty. Arsenal are a strange one - I think if we beat them on opening day, we have a very real chance of seriously challenging them for 4th. But if they get a good run going, they can prove difficult to beat. This new Belgian guy needs to be targetted - I can’t believe they have paid £10m for an unproven centre half who has come from the 4th best team in Holland, and some think we should take £15m for an England international, but that’s opinions for you.

Spurs will be slow off the blocks again — they always are. Lots of players to integrate, toughish start to the season, and I can only see them pushing for a European spot if it drops to 7th again.

And to Shitty. Some of the best players in Europe. Who? Gareth Barry would be around 15-30th on my list of best midfield players in Europe, and Santa Cruz wouldn’t even get that high. They have no defenders of any real worth, which leaves Robinho, Wright-Phillips and Ireland as their three best players IMO. 3 of these would get in our first team for talent, but only 2 for attitude. I think they will struggle to achieve their target of top 6, and I especially agree with your assessment of their manager.

As for us, we need to play as well as we have done for the last 2 seasons to stay where we are. We need to have more luck with injuries, as well as a few additions to do any better.

Surprise package for the season — Wolves — maybe do a Reading from a few seasons ago, and just might sneak Europe.

Richard Murray
5   Posted 04/07/2009 at 15:55:43

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Sorry to be pedantic but we finished fifth two seasons ago; not Spurs.

To be honest, although it may be realistic all this looking over our shoulders, ’I’d be happy to hang on to fifth’, ’happy with somewhere between seventh and tenth’, etc. really gets on my goat!

I won’t be happy with fifth or anything below it this season - regardless of who we, or other teams, sign.

Fran Mitchell
6   Posted 04/07/2009 at 16:01:44

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The title this season will be an interesting one, however, I still expect Man U to win it again, and expect one Wayne Rooney to have a fantastic season.

Liverpool will be interesting, the expected loss of Alonso will be a huge miss for them. He was essential for Torres and Gerrard to play their best, and the rumoured loss of Mascherano too. However, with a fully fit Torres and Gerrard, plus the signing of 1 or 2 quality players, they’ll be good for 2nd and a title push.

Chelsea — I think we will see a much weaker Chelsea team this season. Despite a lot of media talk, it doesn't seem that they’ll have too much to spend. Abramovich is not as rich as he used to be. Also, Terry is at the end of his career. Drogba is flash-in-the-plan, Ballack is getting old as is Fat Frank. Essien is the only world-class player on their books who may improve further. They’ll prob finish in top-4, but they are challengable.

Arsenal, either they will crumble or suprise everyone and have a strormer. A midfield of Nasri, Arshavin and Cesc is just magnificent, and could be so so effective. If Van Persie stays fit, and Walcott continues his development (and stays fit) then they have a lot to offer. A lot of pressure on the new Belgian defender; however, he won player of season in Holland and does look a beast. A team we will be battling with...

Man City, we all know our heart says they are doomed to fail. BUT, if they do sign Tevez and maybe Eto’o, then they will have a heck of team. Cruz, Tevez, Robinho and Eto’o guarantees goals and allows for one to be rested in the modern 4-3-3 formation. With Barry, Ireland and De Jong along with Wright-Phillips, Johnson, Fernandes, Elano, they have quality and balance in the middle. Their defence is a weak point, but expect signings to be made to rectify it. They will be up there, maybe the team will not gel and will be inconsistent. Or maybe they will be fantastic. They can finish anywhere between 7th and 1st.

Villa, were lucky last season, winning a lot of games without merit. They lack a goalscorer, and have lost Barry who was vital to the team. Young will improve further as will Agbonlahor. Defence is quite weak. Expect to fall, 8th or thereabouts next season.

Spurs, I don't see them improving much. Maybe finish 8th, 7th but nothing more. Defence is poor, and while they have a lot of talent in midfield, not much balance. Modric is a real talent, top-class, but they don't know where or how to play him. Defoe and Keane is an adequate strike force, but nothing special. Typical Spurs season expected.

West Ham, no money to invest in the team, a real lack in squad depth. A steady mid-table finish.

Fulham, a decent team, but others around will be better, a mid-table finish.

All others will be mid-table or lower.

Suprise of season... Wolves have some real talent, especially Kightly and Evans-Blake, mid-table finish,

Pompey to be relegated, along with Hull and Burnley.

EVERTON. I expect we will be in a battle for 4th place; however, it will be a battle between 3 clubs, City, us and Arsenal or Cheslea. With the Yak back, and Arteta, and hopefully 2-3 new signings, we can make a push for it. Fellaini could have a big big impact next season, with a pre-season and improved English. Also, Pienaar could have a massive season, if he can take his confidence from end of season and Confederations Cup and build on it. Arteta, Pienaar and Fellaini could provide one heck of a midfield. The Yak has something to prove, and the addition of a 20+ goal striker will make a big impact after last season top scorer had 10. Along with Saha and possibly Jo as well as the will-he-wont-he Vaughan, we have good depth up-front. Rodwell and Gosling will both develop further. My heart says 4th is in the bag, my head doesn’t have a clue... all I know is it could be a very exciting season.
Steve Edwards
7   Posted 04/07/2009 at 16:36:28

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I think all this speculation is a bit premature. The transfer window has only just opened and we need to give it another month before we can judge the opposition.

Stewart - as for City having no defenders of real worth, I hope you don’t come to eat those words with Joleon Lescott highly likely to end up there.

I personally see no reason why City can’t do a Chelsea. What did Chelsea have? A load of dosh. What do City have? Just as much, if not more dosh... so why dismiss them out of hand? I don’t understand that one. This game that we follow is not played on a level playing field. The rules are quite simple. Teams with the most money buy the best players. If you’ve got better players than the opposition then you are likely to win more games than the opposition, it's not rocket science. I know we have tended to buck the rule lately but everyone in football knows that we are punching above our weight. How long we can continue to do that without real investment is anyone’s guess.

I have a feeling that Manchester City have only just begun their summer spending spree and nobody is out of their price range. The one problem they do have is getting players to come while they are not in the Champions League. That is the one thing that may hold them back. If my memory serves me right, Chelsea had qualified for the Champions League when the Russian took over.
Ollie Taylor
8   Posted 04/07/2009 at 18:28:46

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Spurs will probably be the biggest challenge for 5th place. They don’t have the burden or the Europa league (which, if a team goes all the way, will entail 19 games) and Foreskin Face is starting to craft a balanced team and they have good depth.

Talk of us challenging Chelsea/Arsenal has so far been based on the assumption that they’re going to stand still. They’re not. To assume we can overtake them without new signings, let alone at all, is very hopeful.

It could happen, but it’ll because one of them drops a lot of points against mid table teams as opposed to us picking up +10 more over the course of the season.
Alan Kirwin
9   Posted 04/07/2009 at 18:42:42

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Good article Jay.

Nice to focus on something positive, or at least open to debate, than the droaning, moaning tedium that has strangled this site of late.

No real quibble with any of your team assessment. Looks insightful enough to me.

What’s occupying my mind is that, with the sole exception of the Cup Final, we showed second half of last season that even without 2 or 3 or 4 of our best players, and even without a single forward on occasions, we can either hold our own or win at a canter. All things considered, we over-achieved last season.

This shows the power of what we have, not only in the oft quoted "team spirit", but also no small amount of skill and increasingly adventurous and positive thought. I’ve learned not to be too distracted by who Spurs or Man City or Newcastle or whoever are buying. Football is a team game and teams are moulded by coaches.

Having Arteta back in the middle, alongside Pienaar’s re-discovered excellence, will be fabulous. Having young Rodwell in there with his control, power and calmness will be like a new signing. I expect Fellaini to be right in the zone this season. Fitter from our pre-season, more relaxed & confident. I’ve no doubt Screech will shine bright. Our midfield even without Arteta stepped up last season. With or without new faces, I confidently expect more next season.

If the rumours about Jo prove correct then I see nothing but good in a Jo-Yak partnership. I see JV easing back into full contention, although I’d still love to see this young man be loaned out to a French or Dutch club for a year to re-focus his energies and skills in a less hectic league.

Saha is a good impact player and there were signs last season that Victor had actually got the message. His derby performance was fantastic and he was starting to move, control and impose himself with increasing strength & confidence until he that excuse for a footballer (Nolan) almost ended his career.

Defence is the area that is now looking a threat. We’ve lost Jacobsen, we’ve lost Jags for a good while and we will lose Yobo for a month. if Lescott does take the City shilling (and I have yet to meet a single person who would refuse an extra £40,000 a week) then we could be in deep shit defensively. Man City’s obnoxious public musings on Lescott would appear to be based on some indications from the player. It would be sad, but shit happens and we can’t blame Lescott.

So, all of a sudden, what looked like our real strength has suddenly become a major potential weakness. If Lescott stays then it will be a big fillip to club & fans and we can build on that. So the Joleon Lescott situation might end up being the divining rod of our season... here’s hoping.

But, many times in recent years, a settled team with few, even zero, signings have done well. In fact in 1986 a team from Liverpool bought nobody and sold the man who scored 41 times for them the season before. And they didn’t just do well, they won the league. I recall Chelsea in Ranieri’s final season buying nobody and finishing 2nd in the league and CL SF.

Of course I want some fresh blood, but I won’t be throwing toys out of pram and hands up in the air if it doesn’t happen. If the players we want aren’t available at the price, and more importantly the terms, that we can afford, then we shouldn’t risk stability to get them. As ever, it will be a fascinating season and I am looking forward to it more than I have for some years.

Ian Tod
10   Posted 04/07/2009 at 19:26:03

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Alan, you are spot on, next season is shaping up to be a special one as long as we don’t lose any important players, ie, Pienaar, Arteta, Cahill.
Mark Scarratt
11   Posted 04/07/2009 at 22:54:11

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I hope Man City get relegated. What they are doing is obscene and makes me feel sick. Trying to sign Kaka and John Terry.

They aren’t even in Europe and finished 10th last year and last won a trophy in 1976, and have aboslutely no history whatsoever.Any player who wants to sign for them, and I include Lescott, must be bonkers.

We will finish 5th again.
Robert Elliott
12   Posted 05/07/2009 at 14:33:54

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Alan, not wishing to split hairs but I’m pretty sure we invested a sizeable chunk of the Lineker money to sign Dave Watson from Norwich.

Surely a man who went on to become arguably our most consistent player of the late 80s and early 90s would be considered a fairly important addition?

We also signed Wayne Clarke during the season and, although he had his limitations, he became an Alan Whittle-like figure as the season neared its end, scoring important goals at important times. Without those two, the championship would never have been won as we were crippled by injuries as the season went on.

Like you, I agree that we are better prepared than at this same time last year (let's face it, we were disgracefully under prepared for the start of last season) and with the improvement we can expect from the likes of Fellaini, Vaughan, Rodwell and Gosling, and surely we can’t be as unlucky again with serious injuries as we were last year. I think I’ll be less than impressed if we don’t add at least two, if not three new players to what we already have. Without that I’m not optimistic we can even stand still let alone move forward.

Man City are the biggest threat to our fifth place position purely because of the money they have. I agree with Jay with regard to Hughes, and as with Benitez, I’m more than happy to see him in the job there because, with a top notch manager, they could really do some damage. But even with Hughes, with the proven Premier League players they’ve signed and are likely to sign before the season starts, I can’t see them struggling like last year, and with a better manager they’d definitely be pushing the top four.

As for the rest, Cockney Harry can be relied upon to produce a much more competitive Spurs team than we’ve seen in years and anyone who doesn’t think O’Neill will come up with quality replacements for Laursen and Barry at Villa is kidding themselves.

I don’t consider Fulham, or anyone else for that matter to be a huge threat, but there is always one team who come from nowhere to challenge for a European place, as Fulham did last year and the likes of Wigan and Reading have done before, so I wouldn’t necessarily write them off completely.

I’m not being negative for the sake of it, and I do expect us to have a decent season again, but we can’t keep expecting Moyes and the players to produce near miracles when others around us are investing so much more year-in, year-out.

Dave Wilson
13   Posted 06/07/2009 at 10:09:01

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Fran Mitchell

Lol, I couldn't agree more about John Terry... Do you want to tell Man City or shall I?
Stewart Littler
14   Posted 07/07/2009 at 02:44:34

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Steve, I don’t know how people can state that it’s highly likely that Lescott will go to City. I’m not saying he won’t — anything is possible. But it’s not even been in the papers (and let’s face it, that’s where the rumours have come from) for a week or so, as they have now ’turned their attention to John Terry’. If he goes, so be it, we’ve lost better players before. If not, as I expect, then great.

As for Shitty, you made the point yourself. Chelsea had just finished 4th and qualified for the CL when the Russian came. Shitty have been shit as long as I’ve been a football fan (25 years). They barely beat us last season with a full strength squad after we’d played 210 minutes against 2 of the best 3 teams in the country in the previous 6 days with key players missing.

I don’t deny that they have the potential to go on and challenge in coming years, but I just don’t think it will happen right now. As for the signings they’ve made, neither of them would get into a top 4 first 11, and the ’expected arrival’ in the form of one of the ugliest players ever to play has just been replaced by Michael Owen. Nuff said.

Steve Edwards
15   Posted 07/07/2009 at 19:03:25

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Stewart — Not really. I think your in for a big surprise and you won’t be the only one. I’ll give you it may take them a bit more time but lets be honest, they didn’t finish that many points behind us last year.

Never mind Everton, if I were an Arsenal supporter it would be squeaky bum time unless they start shelling out some money. I see them as being under serious threat this season of their Champions League place. Still its all about opinions and only time will tell. Oh and Peter Beardsley wasn’t very pretty either.

Stewart Littler
16   Posted 10/07/2009 at 03:27:38

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Steve, the difference was 13 points and they lost twice as many as we did — I’d say that’s quite a few! As I said originally, if the Arabs stay around, they will inevitably get closer as the years pass, but they are no Chelski.

Agree with you on Arsenal and Beardsley!
Cian Long
17   Posted 16/07/2009 at 17:39:59

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I'm sick of hearing about the game between Everton and the Chile Everton that's not gonna happen. It's amazing 'cos, believe it or not, we actually have an Everton here in Cork — across the bloody water in the Munster senior league.

Formed in the 50s when Everton could field nearly 11 Irish players, the club was named after the ORIGINAL Irish club in Liverpool... so maybe in the future, Everton should stop ignoring its links to Ireland and bring over a team to play the Irish Everton, or maybe even accept its existence!!!

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