Thursday, 16 August 2012

United will quell the Noisy Neighbours

I don't have to stick my head above the parapet and pick the deposed champions and second favourites in this season's title race. But I'm gonna.

There's a serene determination to Sir Alex Ferguson's preseason that other protagonists cannot reach.

He always looks the same in victory. This from 1993.
Setting the priority to winning the title was the canniest management the old hand could muster. Having lost it in dramatic last seconds, United's squad, weaker than previous incarnations and lighter in midfield, have been swiftly set the challenge of overturning the Noisy Neighbours.



No grand gestures about winning a fourth Champions League, no challenges on all domestic fronts, Fergie knows full well his squad will have to use every sinew of its dynamic and capability to go just for the big one.

And Robin van Persie's £24m arrival from Arsenal provides Manchester City with much food for thought. Not only did they lose out to United for last season's top scorer, but he preferred Old Trafford as a football destination.

United boast an enviable strike force as RVP links up with Rooney, Welbeck and Chicharito. There's goals there.

Compared to the volatility of the City regime, here's why Fergie's single focus is so clever.

City will want to retain the title and show significantly more Champions League mettle.

Fergie's calm in a confusing high-end world looks favourable to the regime of Roberto Mancini, who's rarely more than 90 minutes from the next crisis.

City were conspicuous by their absence in the transfer market as Brian Marwood failed in bids to sign anyone but Jack Rodwell. But now the Evertonian has a big stage to clear injury hurdles and realise his potential.
Last year's headline-makers.
People are talking up Chelsea's chances, but I think the best they can hope for down the King's Road is third. Hero Roberto Di Matteo who steered them to an unlikely cup double before taking the reins full time, has been asked to improve on their sixth placed finish, undoubtedly caused by the priorities of glory.

He'll jump that low hurdle with an array of expensive signings but whether the uncompromising impatience of Roman Abramovich will afford him a further season is open to question.

Andre Villas-Boas has struck career gold by joining Tottenham. His seven-month Stamford Bridge car-crash might've left his reputation in tatters, but Daniel Levy recognised he had an able young coach who scaled Mourinhoesque heights at Porto, and now he has a super-talented squad bequeathed to him by the vanquished Harry Redknapp

Arsenal have gone seven years without a trophy yet they're the nation's most consistent Champions League performers and title also-rans.

RVP's gone but Arsene Wenger's replaced him with world class talent in the form of Lukas Podolski and Olivier Giroud.

Remembering their disastrous start to last season but very strong finish to claim bronze, why can't the Gunners contemplate a title tilt?

There's nothing wrong with Wenger's stubborn resolve, most recently shown in holding out for big money from Fergie for his wantaway Dutch creation.

Newcastle United have come a very long way under Alan Pardew - and as long as Papiss Cisse and Demba Ba keep scoring, they can still dream of finishing high up, but any misfiring or injury layoff will see them fall behind. There's just not enough about Coloccini, Ben Arfa et al to sustain them in the higher echelons without the goals.

Can Everton break their usual routine of a slow start to rousing finish? If so, the Toffees could bid for the top four again. They've a settled squad and will do more than repel the losses of Cahill and Rodwell.

The two most improved teams in the league will be Aston Villa and Stoke City. Paul Lambert will galvanise a good squad and the returning Darren Bent will score when playing. Ron Vlaar and Matthew Lowton will be linchpins in a new look defence.

Tony Pulis just keeps doing things the right way. Stoke have been roundly criticised for uncompromising ugly football, but while they strengthen their squad with better players, confidence and quality will grow. Sometimes this season, they'll win games playing cutting edge football - habit forming. Etherington, Walters and Crouch give them a solid look.
If you photograph them from below, they look fierce.
The biggest managerial gamble in the Premier League belongs to Liverpool, who secured Brendan Rodgers from Swansea. Jose Mourinho gave him a glowing endorsement as a staffer at Chelsea, but spells at Watford and Reading proved less than stellar.

Swansea's football wasn't all his vision and though Steven Gerrard's praised him for his man management qualities, the Reds look shorter than ever in the big club stakes. Andy Carroll's not wanted, so what kind of message is that to send to your main man particularly after a good season-end and EURO 2012.
I'm one of the jurors who's out on Rodgers.

WBA may struggle in games under Steve Clarke. He may be found wanting as he steps up from coach to manager but he'll produce tough-to-beat teams. His attrtional football will keep them up.

Samneric
West Ham have arrived back in the big-time with one of the most-respected and experienced managers in the game. Sam Allardyce may be from another planet to the jellied eel culture of east London, but he'll make the Hammers competitive in the league.

Michael Laudrup is a gamble for Swansea, who might succumb to second season syndrome. He comes with a reputation for great football at a small club in Spain but that assumes an Iberian square peg fits a Welsh hole. At least, they continue to stay faithful to their reputation for playing football the right way.

Southampton and Reading should be content to stay up but one of them will return from whence they came.

The Premier League will continue to captivate us, provide headlines and gather momentum abroad even though the Olympics promises a wider sports agenda for the avid fan.
Underpinned by an even bigger pot of rights gold from next season, English football seems in rude health indeed.

MY FINAL TABLE:

1. Manchester United
2. Manchester City
3. Arsenal
4. Chelsea
5. Tottenham Hotspur
6. Everton
7. Newcastle United
8. Fulham
9. Stoke City
10. Aston Villa
11. Liverpool
12. Sunderland
13. West Ham United
14. WBA
15. Swansea City
16. Wigan Athletic
17. Queen's Park Rangers
18. Reading
19. Southampton
20. Norwich City