Sunday, December 06, 2009

Dalibor Stevanovič for Vitesse (v AZ Alkmaar), 6 December 2009

Those of you who have read CUAS for a long while will know of my amusement at the continued managerial failures of ex-Holland international Ronald Koeman.

Today, entirely unsurprisingly, Koeman has been sacked by Dutch champions AZ Alkmaar after just sixteen matches of the 2009/10 season. Their 2-1 home defeat to Vitesse was the final straw and Koeman leaves the champions sixteen points behind league leaders FC Twente (eleven straight league wins for Steve McLaren's side, by the way).

After his disastrous spell at Valencia and a less than brilliant previous career surely no-one will employ him now. Will they?

(this is my third "Koeman is s**t" post, by the way. I fear there will be more....)

Saturday, December 05, 2009

David Beckham for Los Angeles Galaxy (v Toronto FC), 20 September 2009

During the run-up to the World Cup draw yesterday, Mark Lawrenson was talking about what David Beckham brings to the England team. He was babbling on about his confidence and coolness in TV interviews.

"These days", said the pundit, "what happens off-field at the World Cup is important as what happens on it."

That's not *strictly* true, is it, Lawro?

Thursday, December 03, 2009

Robbie Keane for Republic of Ireland (v France), 18 November 2009

True story.

At the rehearsal for the World Cup draw yesterday, Charlize Theron pulled out the ball for "France" and said "Ireland".

Heh heh heh.

Thursday, November 19, 2009

Friday, November 13, 2009

Bixente Lizarazu for France (v Saudi Arabia), 19 June 1998

Bixente Lizarazu. 97 Caps for France, one World Cup winners medal, one European Championships medal, one Champions League winners medal and six Bundesliga titles.

Did you know that he is also the current European jiu-jitsu champion in the under 76kg category for blue belts aged 35-40?

Thursday, November 05, 2009

Dimitar Berbatov for Manchester Utd (vs Blackburn Rovers), 31st October 2009

[this is a cross-post from here, but it's making me really angry and it seems relevant to include it here too....apologies]

There's a bit in Joseph Heller's "Catch-22" where Captain Black runs something he calls the "Glorious Loyalty Oath Campaign", where everyone in the squadron finds themselves forced to sign oaths pledging their loyalty in order to get absolutely anything or everything:

"Almost overnight the Glorious Loyalty Oath Crusade was in full flower, and Captain Black was enraptured to discover himself spearheading it. He had really hit on something. All the enlisted men and officers on combat duty had to sign a loyalty oath to get their map cases from the intelligence tent, a second loyalty oath to receive their flak suits and parachutes from the parachute tent, a third loyalty oath for Lieutenant Balkington, the motor vehicle officer, to be allowed to ride from the squadron to the airfield in one of the trucks. Every time they turned around there was another loyalty oath to be signed. They signed a loyalty oath to get their pay from the finance officer, to obtain their PX supplies, to have their hair cut by the Italian barbers. To Captain Black, every officer who supported his Glorious Loyalty Oath Crusade was a competitor, and he planned and plotted twenty-four hours a day to keep one step ahead. He would stand second to none in his devotion to country. When other officers had followed his urging and introduced loyalty oaths of their own, he went them one better by making every son of a bitch who came to his intelligence tent sign two loyalty oaths, then three, then four; then he introduced the pledge of allegiance, and after that "The Star-Spangled Banner," one chorus, two choruses, three choruses, four choruses. Each time Captain Black forged ahead of his competitors, he swung upon them scornfully for their failure to follow his example. Each time they followed his example, he retreated with concern and racked his brain for some new stratagem that would enable him to turn upon them scornfully again"

Of course, anyone refusing to sign one of these oaths is immediately branded as somehow being disloyal to their country, to their flag and to their cause:

"Without realizing how it had come about, the combat men in the squadron discovered themselves dominated by the administrators appointed to serve them. They were bullied, insulted, harassed and shoved about all day long by one after the other. When they voiced objection, Captain Black replied that people who were loyal would not mind signing all the loyalty oaths they had to. To anyone who questioned the effectiveness of the loyalty oaths, he replied that people who really did owe allegiance to their country would be proud to pledge it as often as he forced them to.

Captain Black's rival, Major Major, is actively prevented from signing any of these oaths, even if he wanted to:

"What makes you so sure Major Major is a Communist?"

"You never heard him denying it until we began accusing him, did you? And you don't see him signing any of our loyalty oaths."

"You aren't letting him sign any."

"Of course not," Captain Black explained. "That would defeat the whole purpose of our crusade".

Thus does Joseph Heller neatly skewer empty patriotism.

I was reminded of this when reading about the Daily Mail's latest campaign to try and get every Premier League football club to display a poppy on their matchday shirts during November.

As a result of their bullying, there are now only three of the twenty clubs holding out: Liverpool, Manchester United and Bolton Wanderers. As a spokesman for Manchester Utd not unreasonably said:

"We don’t think it’s particularly necessary. We sell poppies around the ground and all our officials wear them and we work with Armed Forces charities in a lot of other ways throughout the year."

Not good enough, apparently, and the Mail is continuing to try to bully them into changing their minds. Obviously, their readers are full of considered opinions on the subject. Here's lazzruss:

"Yes Yes Yes!!! It is beyond my capacity to put into words how this 'government' has ruined our once Great Britain by sytematically [sic] attacking our spiritual and historical heritage and culture and we have had enough! Banning poppies is the final insult to our nation as this shows a complete disregard and contempt for our Glorious Dead who gave everything including their very lives for the sake of the future of our Nation and every football team owes them their success and privileges - to display a simple poppy proudly on their shirts should be a moral imperative for anyone who loves our Country and what we (not the inept and shameful Labour Government) stand for."

Let's leave aside the fact that the majority of the players in the Premier League aren't even English, eh? Why let that get in the way of a good rant about WHAT'S WRONG WITH THIS COUNTRY?

Um, perhaps it's a statement of the obvious, but if you try to force people to wear a poppy, aren't you restricting our freedom to choose not to wear one? Isn't that the same freedom that "our Glorious Dead' fought for? Like it or not, that's the same freedom that allows a student to get so paralytically drunk that he urinated on a war memorial in Sheffield. Not very nice, for sure, but surely more a story about binge drinking than it is about any calculated disrespect for the dead, whatever the Daily Mail try to make of the story (flogging too good for him, naturally).

This "Poppy fascism" seems to be everywhere at the moment. Apparently the BBC are under pressure because the dancers on "Strictly..." weren't wearing poppies last week. All of the judges were, but none of the dancers. Not good enough, apparently, as everyone on the X-Factor was wearing one.... The BBC initially (and not very bravely) hid behind "Health & Safety issues" as the reason why the dancers weren't wearing poppies, but have now apparently changed their minds in the face of all this public outrage.

Where does this oneupmanship and assumed moral authority stop? Why are we only displaying our poppies for a couple of weeks of November? Does that mean we're being disrespectful and unpatriotic for the other 50 weeks of the year? Should we all be dyeing our hair red and tattooing poppies onto our cheeks so we can be displaying our gratitude and support for the sacrifices made on our behalf every single day of the year?

Of course, you can trust the good old Guardian for an alternative view, and Marina Hyde today has a good rant about this "phony poppy apoplexy":

"So on Saturday, know that every late challenge, every sending-off, will be in the memory of those who fell in battle. Then accept the fact that media campaigns to foreground the poppies that are not being worn, as opposed to the ones that are, serve not as a memorial to the sacrifices made on our behalf, but as a reminder of our hard-wired one‑upmanship and infinite capacity to find ways to divide ourselves."

The commentators are even more strident:

"Forced wearing of the poppy to commemorate a fight against tyranny? Britain seems to get sillier and sillier, and more and more irrelevant every week."

One takes the trouble to remind everyone of the Daily Mail's support of the Nazis in the 1930s, when they praised Oswald Mosley ("Hurrah for the Blackshirts") for his "sound, commonsense, Conservative doctrine", and the proprietor of the paper, the Viscount Rothermere, visited and corresponded with Hitler, culminating, on 1 October 1938, when Rothermere sent Hitler a telegram in support of Germany's invasion of the Sudetenland, and expressing the hope that 'Adolf the Great' would become a popular figure in Britain.

They don't talk about that so much, do they? Why am I now uncomfortably reminded of people being forced to wear pink triangles and yellow stars?

It seems that the spirit of Captain Black is alive and well and still busily hunting out people who won't sign his loyalty oaths.

"You never heard him denying it until we began accusing him, did you?"

Is that the Daily Mail's motto?

Monday, October 26, 2009

John Goossens for NEC Nijmegen (v ADO Den Haag), 17 October 2009

101 Great Goals #34 - John Goossens

It's not very often that my adopted Dutch club, NEC Nijmegen, appear above the radar. They are the very definition of 'mid table mediocrity' - sitting in the middle of the Eredivisie every single year, doing absolutely nothing whatsoever.

To include a goal that earned them a 1-1 home draw against ADO Den Haag also sounds like the dullest thing in the world, but this particular piece of brilliance from ex-Ajax kid John Goossens deserves to shine a light on the club...if only very briefly.

Wednesday, October 21, 2009

Cesar Delgado for Lyon (v Liverpool), 20 October 2009

I can't believe the reaction to Rubin Kazan beating Barcelona in the Champions League. Rubin are the strongest side in a very tough and high quality Russian league and, as Zenit have shown in recent seasons, Russian club sides should be a force to be reckoned with in European football.

It's not as if the team that finished third in the weak French league went to a multiple European champions and won, is it?



Tuesday, October 20, 2009

Darren Bent for Sunderland (v Liverpool), 17 October 2009

Cheer Up Alan Shearer's Top 10 TV Football Moments

1. Goooooooooooooooooolllllllllllllllllll

It would be fair to say that Kelvin Koogan's 'love it!' rant on Sky was our nailed on Number One clip when we sat down to formulate this list. That was, however, until I was sent this cfootage.

It's impossible for me to add any insightful commentary or analysis to this clip. It is just one of those glorious, perfectly bizarre things that happens on a football pitch sometimes.

We hope you've enjoyed our countdown as much as we enjoyed compiling it, and we'll leave you with a goal of the most sparkling quality....from the most unlikely of sources.

Monday, October 12, 2009

Keith Gillespie for Newcastle United (v Leeds United), 29 April 1996

Cheer Up Alan Shearer's Top 10 TV Football Moments

2. "You Can Tell Him Now - He'll Be Watching It....."

I doubt there's anyone outside the Newcastle United community who would deny that this now infamous television interview deserves its place in the annals of TV footballing folklore. It's football at its rawest - the very public display of a man fraying at the seams under the most intense pressure.

Lest we forget, the story goes back to the title run-in in 1996 when Sir Alex Ferguson accused Leeds United of 'helping' Newcastle to the title by not trying during their league game. Ferguson believed that teams tried harder against his United side than they did against Keegan's Geordies.

When interviewed for Monday Night Football directly after a 1-0 victory at Elland Road, Keegan seemed desperate to control his emotions before instead melting down in one of the most celebrated moments of the Premiership age. When Richard Keys asked if Ferguson's comments were 'part and parcel of the psychological battle' his response was, well - you know what his response was, right?

Oh, and Newcastle drew their next two matches and Manchester United won the title. If you needed reminding....

Wednesday, October 07, 2009

Jairzinho for Brazil (v Zaire), 22 June 1974

Cheer Up Alan Shearer's Top 10 TV Football Moments

3. Ilunga Mwepu

No disrespect to the intelligent, knowledgeable CUAS readership here, but I bet there's hardly any of you who know who Ilunga Mwepu is.

In the 1970s he played his club football for TP Mazembe and he now lives in Malta, where he is an assistant coach in the Adelaide Cini Championship with Girgenti Athletic.

Still no idea?

Right. Well, the clip we've chosen was selected at #17 in a Channel Four poll of the "All Time Best World Cup Moments" (quite how it was so lowly when it's our favourite World Cup moment, I am not sure).

If I were to say that he played right-back for Zaire in the 1974 World Cup, would that make things clearer?

Yes, he's that fella.

Brazil were awarded a free-kick about thirty yards from goal in their 1974 World Cup group match. Having ordered the defensive wall, the referee blew the whistle so the Brazilians could take the kick, but on hearing the whistle Ilunga came steaming out of the wall and lashed the ball down the other end of the field. To say it was a rather basic ignorance of the law would be an understatement, and his bemusement at receiving a yellow card only underlined how little he must have known about the rules.

Brazil went on to win the match 3-0, but Ilunga's genius will live forever.

I *love* this clip.

Tuesday, September 29, 2009

Ashley Cole for Chelsea (v Tottenham Hotspur), 20 September 2009

Cheer Up Alan Shearer's Top 10 TV Football Moments

4. All The Waaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaay

John Motson is 64, you know. If you'd ask me, mind, I'd have said that due to his increasingly inconsistent commentary he was nearer 75. We love a bit of Motty, but he's been gradually losing the plot as he has aged, and his increasingly hyperbolic commentary has led me to race into my living room at many a time only for someone to have won a boring corner.

Still, the man is a living football legend and my favourite piece of commentary from the overcoat-wearing loon happened a mere couple of weeks ago in the Chelsea v Spurs Premier League clash.

You have to fast forward this clip to 1 min 22 seconds in, and apologies for the Match of the Day 2 chortling in the background. Chiles may have it right, though - I do think Motty got his tackle caught in his Y-fronts as Aaron Lennon is bearing down on the Chelsea goal, here.

This has not yet failed to make me laugh out loud, this clip. God love you, Motty.

Thursday, September 24, 2009

Chris Brass for Darlington (v Bury), 22 April 2006

Cheer Up Alan Shearer's Top 10 TV Football Moments

6. Broken Nose

The football video industry has been a rich source of income over the years as "celebrities" from Nick Hancock to Gary Lineker host their stocking-filleresque "Football Gaffe" DVDs. These variations on a theme generally feature utterly hilarious moments of people standing on the ball and scoring own goals. And the odd fight from a South American league match.

Hilarious. £15.99 to you, guv.

However, we at CUAS had to include this clip in our top Ten list as it never, ever fails to make me smile whenever I see it. Chris Brass, Bury FC's assistant manager, don't you know, attempts an overhead clearance against Darlington and breaks his own nose as he spectacularly fails to clear his defences. The fact the ball ends up in the back of his own net is a priceless bonus to what is already a brilliant clip.

Chris, we salute you. We're not laughing at you - as hapless amateur footballers ourselves, we're laughing with you.

Sunday, September 20, 2009

Jeremie Aliadiere for Middlesbrough (v Sheffield Wednesday), 15 September 2009

Cheer Up Alan Shearer's Top 10 TV Football Moments

6. "They've Never Heard Chris Rea."

I can almost see the pitch at Sky Sports HQ now.

"Yes, I know we haven't got any live football that we can show on Saturday afternoon. But, what we can do is ask four ex-professional footballers to watch the games for us, and explain to us what's happening. Yes, someone like Charlie Nicholas. Well, I appreciate that it's a bit like you reading a classic work of literature and giving me one sentence per chapter about what's going on, but I think it can work. Jeff Stelling. Yeah, you know who I mean. Off of the darts. And a videprinter with all the latest scores...."

Oddly, it works. And it has made Soccer Saturday a sporting institution in this country, and a star of its charismatic host, Jeff Stelling. There are numerous Stelling clips we could have chosen, but this particular homage to the fine Teeside city of Middlesbrough is possibly his finest hour, if just for the part of his defence of the city that "Journey South come from there...."

Thursday, September 17, 2009

Lee Sharpe for England (v Germany), 3 May 2006

Cheer Up Alan Shearer's Top 10 TV Footballing Moments

7. "I was going for the ball with my head, which I understand is a legitimate move in soccer."

Rewind to May 2006 and a balmy night at the Madjeski Stadium. Two teams of ex-footballers, celebrities and other stars had turned out for a light-hearted charity match to raise money for the Bobby Moore Fund bowel cancer charity and the Red Cross. Celebrities including Richard Ashcroft, Alec Stewart, Nigel Benn and Sean Bean all represented England in an entertaining 4-2 win for Germany.

The highlight of the evening for everyone (bar ex-German star Maurizio Gardino) was a ten minute cameo for London mayor Boris Johnson who took his position on the left side of midfield. His one and only contribution to the game was one of the most hilariously crude challenges the footballing world has ever seen. In a move that makes Harald Schumacher look 'a bit milky' England's number 10 utterly cleans out the German midfielder leading to some calming words from Ray Wilkins (who never tackled anyone, of course) and some reaction from the German bench.

Defending his, er, 'tackle', Bozza said, "I'm a rugby player really and I knew I was going to get to him and when he was about two yards away I just put my head down. There was no malice in my actions. I was going for the ball with my head, which I understand is a legitimate move in soccer."


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Monday, September 14, 2009

Shane Cansdell-Sheriff for Macclesfield Town (v Shrewsbury Town), 1 March 2009

Cheer Up Alan Shearer's Top 10 TV Football Moments

8. "A Match Already Being Described As 'On This Sunday'"

It would be fair to say that Sky Sports are prone to a little bit of over-enthusiasm about their range of live football. Their 'Grand Slam Sunday' was my particular favourite, considering football doesn't have a 'grand slam' and that whoever triumphed in such an event would have to presumably win four matches in different parts of the world at different times of the year.

Anyway, this hyperbole didn't escape the comic genius of Robert Webb and David Mitchell whose Sky Sports parody is not only funny but also alarmingly closely echoes the satellite broadcaster's output.

Saturday, September 12, 2009

Blaise N'Kufo for FC Twente (v RKC Waalwijk), 23 August 2009

Cheer Up Alan Shearer's Top 10 Football Moments

9. Schteeeeeeve McLaren talks jibberish

No-one really blamed Steve McLaren for moving abroad after the wally-brolly failure of England to qualify for Euro 2008. In a path trodden by his one of his predecessors, Bobby Robson, the ex-England boss ran to the relative safety of the Eredivisie after his international experiences to take charge of little known FC Twente.

He didn't half pick up the lingo quickly, mind. Or, some would say, "not at all". My dad, when he lived in Spain, believed that all he had to do to get himself understood was to add an 'a' to the end of every English word. Schteeeeeve's language coach when he moved to the Netherlands appears to have been the Swedish Chef as this amazingly odd lilting Dutch pisstake shows.

"We're not what you call "underdogs", he says. Now then. No, Schteeve, you're what we call 'underdogs', surely. The Dutch presumably call it something else. In Dutch, perhaps.

Wednesday, September 09, 2009

Robbie Fowler for Manchester City (v Norwich City), 28 February 2005

Right, it's time to start making this place fun and interesting again *cough*. So, without further ado, a brand new CUAS series....

Cheer Up Alan Shearer's Top 10 TV Football Moments

10. Delia Has Too Many Gins

Ah, Delia Smith. She's the UK's best selling cookery author, you know, having shifted a whopping eighteen million units. Talking of eighteen million units, that was also her vodka intake before the half-time break in a home match against Manchester City in 2005.

Somewhat the worse for a few shandies, the Canaries chairman decided to rouse the home support in a rather un-Delia-esque way. She grabbed the microphone from the club announcer and began pleading with the Carrow Road faithful to show a bit of support for their team....

The resulting footage is absolutely brilliant, and also gave rise to one of the best away chants I have heard in recent years. When the Chelsea faithful arrived later that same season they compared their respective chairmen thus:

"We've got Abramovich, you've got a drunken bitch...."


It hasn't stopped the posh cook getting an OBE and a CBE though. Heigh-ho. Anyway, enjoy. I particularly like the bit when her drunken stupor makes her pronounce football in a rather Germanic way....

Tuesday, September 01, 2009

Robert Earnshaw for Nottingham Forest (vs Southampton), 3rd May 2009

Robert Earnshaw: in need of a trim, if not a new car

When it comes to haircuts, nature has long since ensured that I need opt for nothing more expensive than a trip to the local barber for a simple buzz job. A trip to Tony & Guy would be not only a needless extravagance, but also a complete waste of time. No, for my "number 1 all over", I merely have to pop round the corner to a barber on the Melton Road for a no-nonsense clipper job that costs me the princely sum of £4.

I'm not usually one for gossiping with my hairdresser - I'm hardly in there long enough - but this Friday, in the course of a conversation about Brian Clough, "The Damned Utd" and Nottingham Forest in general, my "stylist" told me the following anecdote:

Apparently, earlier that day, a young lad had come into the shop for a haircut. Upon being asked what he did, this young lad said that he was student at Nottingham Trent University. Oh yes, when do you start back for the new term then? Not until the middle of October, he replied. The barber said he thought that this was a bit late for term to be starting, but he didn't think anything more of it, finished the haircut and charged the young man £3.60 for a standard haircut minus the 10% student discount. The young man paid up, walked out of the shop and climbed straight into a brand spanking new, top-of-the-line Range Rover and drove off.

"You do know who that was, don't you?" Asked the barber's colleague.
"Robert Earnshaw"

Now, my immediate reaction upon hearing this story was to marvel at the fact that an international footballer was down to earth enough to have a £4 haircut. This was pretty quickly overtaken by a feeling of astonishment that a footballer, the subject of several multi-million pound transfer deals and the likely recipient of a salary in excess of £10,000 per week had saved himself 40p on a haircut by pretending to be a student. If he's on £10k a week, that's about 15 seconds work.

"And what's more, he didn't leave a tip either" marvelled my barber, ruefully. "Next time he comes in, I'm charging him £70 and telling him there's been a price rise".

What's the world coming to, eh?

I can take a hint though, so I paid for my haircut with a fiver and told him to keep the change.

Thursday, August 27, 2009

Michael Owen for Manchester Utd (v Wigan Athletic), 22 August 2009

The 2009/20 Cheer Up Alan Shearer Predictions League

Hello all.... it is back. Stick a finger in the air and generate random numbers until summer 2010!

This year's CUAS predictions will generally be run on a monthly basis (so as to be as inclusive as possible) with the top three each month scoring one, two or three points towards the running season-long total.

Each week's predictions score the same as ever - three points for the correct score and one for the correct outcome. We'll use a 6/5/4/3/2/1 scoring system every week for the top six best scores.

Clear? Good. Here we go, then.

Blackburn 2-1 West Ham
Bolton 0-2 Liverpool
Chelsea 2-0 Burnley
Man Utd 1-2 Arsenal
Stoke 1-0 Sunderland
Tottenham 3-1 Birmingham
Wolverhampton 1-0 Hull
Aston Villa 2-0 Fulham
Everton 2-0 Wigan
Portsmouth 1-1 Man City

and wildcards from the opening week in La Liga:

Real Madrid 2-1 Deportivo La Coruna
Valencia 2-1 Sevilla
Barcelona 3-0 Sporting Gijon

Monday, August 24, 2009

Joleon Lescott for Everton (vs Liverpool), 25 January 2009

After one of the more acrimonious transfer sagas of the year, it finally looks as though Everton centre-half, Joleon Lescott is going to be allowed to move to Manchester City for something like £22m.

I'm not an oil-rich billionaire, it's true, but £24m for a 27 year old defender seems like an awful lot of money to me.

Yes, Ronaldo might have gone for €94m and Kaka for €68m, but they're not exactly your archetypal, common or garden clogger, are they? This is a market where Arsenal signed Thomas Vermaelen for £10m, Birmingham signed Roger Johnson from Cardiff for £5m, Chelsea signed Yuri Zhirkov for £18m, and even Liverpool only paid a mere £18m when they signed Glenn Johnson from Portsmouth. Manchester City themselves signed Kolo Toure for a bargain £16m. In the context of those transfers, £24m is surely an exorbitant price for any defender bar one of the very highest quality. Is he worth £8m more than the 28-year old Toure? I don't think so.

Which brings us to Joleon Lescott. I'm a Wolves fan, so I'm well aware of what a decent player he is. Lescott made his debut for Wolves in August 2000 at the age of 17 years old, and he played a total of 212 games for us before his move up to the Premier League. Sadly, he was injured throughout our last sojourn in the Premier League, but he was one of those players who gave the club such excellent service that you don't begrudge them their move when the time comes. Besides, with an immediate payment of £2 million, followed by a further £2 million paid in installments and a final £1 million contingent on appearances, it's hard to say that we didn't get a good deal.

So has Lescott gone from being a £5m player to a £24m player in the space of barely three years? Alright, he's accumulated 7 England caps, but he remains well back in the queue for his position behind the likes of John Terry, Rio Ferdinand , Matthew Upson and even his Everton Clubmate, Phil Jagielka. There are other, younger, English defenders around too: Gary Cahill, the Bolton Wanderers centre-half is only 23 years old and has already been called up by Fabio Capello into the England squad this year as cover for Ferdinand. Looking back at the Wolves squad, what of Michael Mancienne, a 21 year old who has also caught Capello's eye in the same position? Chelsea are unlikely to want to sell, but it shows that there is other, younger talent around.... none of it much further than Lescott from the England side.

Yup, when you add it all together, £24m sounds like an awful lot of money to pay for a player like Joleon Lescott. It's an awful lot to pay for a defender full-stop, isn't it? Yes, it's true that Rio Ferdinand cost £30m back in 2002, but he was 24 years old then and had already been an England International for 5 years; I don't think anyone is seriously suggesting that Lescott - who was only capped by England after his move to Everton - has that kind of potential. Are they?

I know Manchester City have got a lot of money, but does this transfer make sense on any level?

Still, as a Wolves fan, what should I care? Learning from the mistakes we made with Robbie Keane, Lescott had a 15% sell on clause as part of the deal that saw him move from Wolves to Everton. This is a nice piece of business that could see Wolves net something like £3.5m from his move to Manchester City. Not to be sniffed at.

We might be able to buy a new centre-half with that.

Not bad.

Friday, August 21, 2009

Robbie Blake for Burnley (v Manchester United), 19 August 2009

The Predictions League will be up and running NEXT weekend.

We're just trying to come up with a format by which you aren't penalised for the whole season if you miss a week or two. Something to do with running the points on a monthly basis and resetting them every month, or something. Allows newbies and others to drop in and out, innit.


Man United for the title, anyone? *eek*

Friday, August 14, 2009

Cody McDonald for Norwich (vs Colchester), 8 August 2009 Shall we start this year's predictions league next week then?

Yeah. Let's do that.


Wednesday, August 12, 2009

Wade Elliot for Burnley (vs Sheffield United), 25 May 2009

Let's get this annual shambles out of the way then.

ST's CUAS Predictions for the 2009/10 Premier League Season

1. Liverpool

I can't believe I've done this. Do I really think that Liverpool are going to finally win the title this year? Maybe I do. Before last year, it looked as though Rafa's priorities lay elsewhere, but they came desperately close last season and Fernando Torres proved what a wonderful player he is. If Gerrard and Benitez spend more time on the pitch this year than they did last year, then perhaps this isn't such a ridiculous prediction. Their first XI is arguably the strongest in the league already - they just need to back up their excellent results against the best teams in the division by making sure that they don't continue to drop points against the weakest. It's those unglamorously ground out wins at places like the Britannia Stadium that won the title for United last season, and Liverpool are going to need to knuckle down and do the same if they're to have a chance this year.

One to Watch: Glenn Johnson. I'm not convinced he's that good a defender or that he's worth £18m, but he's gormless and has a propensity to sport some ludicrous haircuts

Fantasy League Pick: The defence will be solid, no doubt, but if they stay fit, then Torres and Gerrard will take some beating.

If they were a drink, they'd be......A cellared red wine. If kept under the right conditions, then there's no finer drink. All too often prone to sediment, corking and sourness. At it's best, pretty much untouchable.

2. Chelsea

Last year was a transitional time for Chelsea, as has every season since Mourinho last won them the title in 2006. Guus Hiddink brought some much needed stability, but he's gone now, and it remains to be seen if Carlo Ancelotti has got what it takes to make it in England. He's got track record though, both as a player and as a manager at AC Milan, and Chelsea could prosper under a regime that introduces some of the Italian side's muscular football into the Premier League. It shouldn't be too much of a stretch for Chelsea, and players like Terry, Essien, Ballack, Lampard and Drogba should take to that like ducks to water. Expect a tighter defence this year too. I expect them to finish above Manchester United this year, and if the new manager settles down quickly, then they could have a good shout at the title. The owner, I think, would prefer to see his team prosper in Europe....

One to Watch: Ancelotti. Has the pedigree to do a great job, but the Special One has proven a tough act to follow.

Fantasy League Pick: Another solid defence - especially with an Italian manager - but Anelka could be in for a great season if he's played alongside Drogba instead of hidden on a wing.

If they were a drink, they'd be......Kalashnikov vodka (the one that comes in a bottle shaped like an AK-47 machine gun). Showy, expensive, graspingly aspirational and not actually very nice at all.

3. Manchester Utd

This could go either way: on the one hand, the departure of Christino Ronaldo to Spain could leave an unfillable hole at the heart of Utd team. On the other hand, the gap left by the preening portuguese could just set free other attacking players like Rooney and Berbatov. Wayne Rooney in particular could benefit from not being someone else's water-carrier and spending more of his time facing goal than covering his left-back. The defence should be sound again, but they start the season without Van de Saar, Vidic and Gary Neville and with Rio Ferdinand carrying a persistent back injury. I wouldn't be surprised if they ship more goals this year, and that may lead to more dropped points. The fire is still burning brightly for Sir Alex Ferguson, but notables like Paul Scholes and Ryan Giggs are reaching the end of the line, and it still remains to be seen if the likes of Anderson, Nani and Park Ji-Sung are any more than adequate replacements. Interesting times at Old Trafford, although it will be interesting to see how Michael Owen shapes up. On the one hand it was a shock signing, but on the other hand no one seems to be much surprised that he's lining up with Rooney and not with the likes of Kevin Davies at Bolton or Jason Scotland at Wigan. Are there still goals in his boots? Time will tell.

One to Watch: Antonio Valencia. It will be interesting to see how an orthodox winger gets on at United this year. If it works, then Rooney, Berbatov and Owen should prosper.

Fantasy League Pick: Still has to be a defender. My picks would be Vidic (when fit) or Evra. Owen will be interesting to watch, if he gets enough game time.

If they were a drink, they'd be......Lagavulin. A very fine scotch malt whisky. Salty, peaty and almost medicinal. Classy and Very, very effective but not to everyone's taste. Very popular in Asia. Liable to give you a beetroot red face, if you drink enough of it.

4. Arsenal

I don't know: Arsenal keep selling their best players and Wenger seems to keep on refusing to splash out the cash on replacements. Adebayor and Toure have both left for Manchester City and does Wenger really think that Robin van Persie and William Gallas are going to be able to cover for their absence? I'm not sure, but of all the managers in the Premier League bar none, Wenger is the one that I would be most likely to put my faith in. He's stubbornly welded to his belief in trusting to youth and to playing with style, and I'm not ready to write Arsenal out of the top 4 just yet. Theo Walcott is still one of the most exciting young talents in England, with Jack Wilshere coming up hard on his heels. Watch out too for Andre Arshavin to make a real impression on the league this season. Top 4 again. Just.

One to Watch: Wenger. I can't shake the feeling that he's going to do a Keegan at some point and walk out of the club that has been his life for the last ten years. Jack Wilshere should also play this year, and he's touted as the most exciting young talent in English football since Wayne Rooney....

Fantasy League Pick: Arshavin. If he's fit, he can be devastating.

If they were a drink, they'd be......Krug champagne. Classy, French and expensive: a drink to be admired and to fit to be savoured by the real connoisseur. Sadly most often purchased by the vulgar and sprayed around wastefully.

5. Manchester City

Can money really buy you happiness? Jack Walker has long since proved that you can buy your way to the Premier League title, but is it simply too soon for Manchester City? Is Mark Hughes really the man to take his team to the very top? Their motives for signing for a club that isn't in the Champions League seem questionable, but you can't argue with the quality of the likes of Gareth Barry, Kolo Toure, Emmanuel Adebayor, Shay Given, Roque Santa Cruz, Carlos Tevez and Robinho. My gut feeling is that it's too soon for them to make the big breakthrough this season, especially given City's genetic predisposition for disaster. You never know though. With those players, they should challenge the very best. What they really need is stability though. If the owners have decided that Mark Hughes is the man, then they need to stick with him all season. Changing now (or after a handful of games) is unlikely to achieve anything but introduce uncertainty. Whatever else it is, it should be interesting. Let's see if Carlos Tevez can score the winner at Old Trafford. That should put the cat amongst the pigeons....

One to Watch: Sheikh Mansour. How long has Mark Hughes really got, do you think?

Fantasy League Pick: Hmm. Tough one this. Surely not any defenders and which of the strikers is going to play on a regular basis? Adebayor will get goals, but I'd be tempted to plump for someone like Gareth Barry or Stephen Ireland.

If they were a drink, they'd be......a colourful cocktail with an umbrella in it. Flash, expensive with the whole somehow tasting less impressive than its constituent ingredients. Entirely naff.

6. Aston Villa

It must be a little frustrating for Martin O'Neill. On the one hand, his project at Aston Villa has been coming along nicely, and he's been improving the team steadily now for a few years. On the other hand though, that final step into the top 4 has proved elusive, and now they have started leaking key players (Barry) to clubs that are looking to come past them (City). They were fantastic for much of last season, but they stalled in the last few months and finished 6th for the second season running. It feels to me that it is more likely that they will be overtaken by clubs behind them than they will catch the clubs ahead of them. Still, if they get it right, they should be a handful for almost anyone

One to Watch: Stewart Downing. He's been angling for a move to a "Big Club" for a couple of years now, and he's ended up here. Is he going to be competing with Ashley Young for a position on the wing, or has Martin O'Neill got a Gareth Barry-like role in mind for him. Either way, we should get a chance to see if he's actually any good this year.

Fantasy League Pick: Ashley Young. He dried up after Christmas last season, but before that he was an absolute steal.

If they were a drink, they'd be......A Vodka Red Bull. Chippy, pushy and hyperactive - very much like Martin O'Neill and most of his younger players. Not likely to be drunk in high society.

7. Everton

David Moyes has been quietly demonstrating that he's one of the best manager's in the league for some time now. Everton don't have the kind of money to compete with some of their rivals, but they seem to consistently punch above their weight, albeit without really threatening the top four. It looks as though Jolean Lescott will (reluctantly) be staying, and they should be solid at the back again this season with the likes of Yakubu, Jo, Cahill and Saha providing a not inconsiderable goal threat. Another club threatened by a likely surge from Manchester City. Everton should remain comfortably about the mediocrity of the bottom half of the table, but they aren't likely to push much further upwards.

One to Watch: Lescott. Will he keep his cool now that his transfer request has been rejected

Fantasy League Pick: After a shaky start, it was the defence that proved the stars last year with clean sheets galore. Jagielka looked especially good and will be hoping for more international chances. Cahill is always good (when fit, which is increasingly rare these days), but I'll probably be going for the muscular, goalscoring genius of Fellaini. Great hair too.

If they were a drink, they'd be......Sherry. Tipple favoured by old ladies but all too often in the shadow of other, more fashionable aperitifs.

8. Fulham

After Tony Pulis, was Roy Hodgson the best manager in the Premier League last season? In 2007/8, Fulham barely escaped relegation after the mess Laurie Sancez had made, but less than 12 months later and they were basking in a Euro Vase finish. Hodgson will be doing well if he can manage to achieve as much again this season, and he may need to fight hard to hang onto key players like Hangeland, who Arsenal are reportedly sniffing around... but he seems to be doing well in moulding a group of individually unspectacular players into a cohesive and effective team. More power to him, I say.

One to Watch: Roy Hodgson. He's so undemonstrative it can be hard to tell, but Roy Hodgson must be doing something very right at Craven Cottage. A quality manager.

Fantasy League Pick: Danny Murphy. He's a quality player having a renewed lease of life at the tail end of his career. Likely to be at the hub of everything. Andy Johnson is likely to be good for goals again too.

If they were a drink, they'd be...... Pear Cider. An old favourite on the rise again after some years in the doldrums. Could turn out to be Babycham.

9. Tottenham Hotspur

Well, that was a real curate's egg of a season, wasn't it? Good in parts. It's never dull with Harry Redknapp, is it? There are always players coming and going (or coming and going and then coming back, in the case of Jermaine Defoe) and he's not exactly one to keep his own counsel. The defence might be a little suspect, with Dawson still inconsistent and Ledley King on his last legs, but they've got a mighty array of attacking talent in front of them, with the likes of Defoe, Keane, Modric, Crouch, Pavlyuchenko, Lennon, Bentley, Jenas. Dangerous, I would say, but likely to be inconsistent. Has Harry Redknapp ever produced a team with the consistency to really challenge in the league? Is he a sophisticated enough manager? Is he really the man to take this Spurs team forwards? I'm not sure. They should be safe, but I don't expect any kind of a serious challenge on the top 6.

One to Watch: Tom Huddlestone. Is he really a future international midfielder, or is he just a fat lump?

Fantasy League Pick: Robbie Keane. He didn't have the best of times at Liverpool, to say the least, but playing for Spurs really seems to bring the best out of him.

If they were a drink, they'd be......Sol. Expensive and once bafflingly fashionable and aspirational. Still hanging around, but does anyone really drink it anymore? Bottle tops can optionally be kept to be worn on your shoelaces....

10. West Ham

Gianfranco Zola and Steve Clark did a fantastic job last year in the most unpromising of circumstances. Money is scarce at Upton Park, but the pair of them managed to mould a team that played attacking, passing football and who clambered almost unnoticed up the Premier League table. Can they do the same again? Well, it will be difficult, with teams like Fulham, Spurs and Everton all looking to do the same thing, but they should be clear of the mediocrity below them. Can they improve on last term's finish? Hmmm. Doubtful. I think we're about to get a chance to see how good a manager Zola really is. Lovely fella, for sure, but does he have that ruthless edge? Will he have the funds to compete?

One to Watch: Gianfranco Zola. Hands up who thought he'd be too nice to be a football manager?

Fantasy League Pick: Mark Noble. Is he going to break into International football this year?

If they were a drink, they'd be......Gin. Often tarted up and served in posh cocktail bars, but when it comes down to it it's punchy, alcoholic and prone to making you feel depressed. Mother's ruin.

11. Sunderland

Steve Bruce is a brilliant signing for Sunderland, isn't he? He had a shaky start to his management career, but he did a stellar job at Wigan and getting his teeth into a big job like this in his native North-East must be something he's relishing. The side flirted with relegation last year, but Roy Keane is now taking Trigs for long walks in East Anglia and they should have a steadier hand at the rudder now. In the likes of Reid, Richardson and Malbranque, Sunderland should have the players to provide the bullets for Darren Bent, Kenwyne Jones and Frazier Campbell. If his work with Titus Bramble is anything to go by, Bruce should also be just the man to sort out the somewhat shaky defence. I expect a season of consolidation, but I imagine that most Sunderland fans would settle for that at the moment.

One to Watch: Frazier Campbell. He's very, very highly thought of by many people. He should get first team football under Steve Bruce, so it's time to see what he's made of.

Fantasy League Pick: Darren Bent. Someone has to score their goals, right? Bent had an oddly hard time at Spurs, and to my mind never really did anything much wrong and scored goals when he played. He's a proven premier league goalscorer, so....

If they were a drink, they'd be...... a pint of mild. Deceptively punchy and strong and in spite of being written off for years, simply will not go away.

12. Bolton

Even more so than the likes of Roy Hodgson and Tony Pulis, Gary Megson has been given scant recognition for the sterling work that he has done at Bolton. This was a team in deep trouble when he took them on, and now they are back to being pillars of the lower part of the middle-echelon of the Premier League table. They're not likely to challenge for honours, but they are bruisingly effective and will cause good teams lots of problems. 'Twas ever thus. 12th seems a little high up the table, but this is a very average looking Premier League and they may just prosper. Clubs like Wolves, Stoke and Burnley can only look upon their relative success in this division with envy. They all aspire to be this good.

One to Watch: Gary Cahill. Called up into the England squad to cover Rio Ferdinand last season, and not likely to stay here all that much longer.

Fantasy League Pick: Kevin Davies. He just won't go away. No one likes playing against him, and he doesn't seem to score many goals... but he's undeniably effective and is at the heart of most of Bolton's attacking play.

If they were a drink, they'd be......Aftershock. Puts hairs on your chest.

13. Blackburn Rovers

Sam Allardyce is probably the right man to be managing this lot. They may have lost Santa Cruz, but under Mark Hughes, this was a side reknowned and much criticised by the bigger clubs for their rather robust approach to the game. This is hardly likely to change under Allardyce. He may disagree, but surely this - rather than Newcastle - is the kind of club that he can really get his teeth into. Just like Sunderland and Bolton, they're not likely to trouble the top-end of the division, but should be too good for the bottom end and could finish anywhere in the 10-16th region. It's much of a muchness in mid-table this year, isn't it?

One to Watch: Paul Robinson. Do you think he wonders what happened to his career?

Fantasy League Pick: Benni McCarthy. Rather a lot depends upon Big Benni since Roque
Santa Cruz buggered off to Manchester City. If he's fit, then surely he'll score the bulk of any goals that Rovers get?

If they were a drink, they'd be......Meths. No nonsense head smasher.

14. Wigan

Steve Bruce is history and Roberto Martinez has a very, very big challenge to step up to the Premier League and to keep the upward curve of this side intact. It's a big ask, and I think he'll be doing well if he keeps the side clear of the relegation dogfight. Wigan are the kind of club who aspire to play proper football, but need to be careful that they don't lose that element of bloody-mindedness that will see them get results against "better" sides. If they lose that, then they're done for as they don't have the talent to play their way out of trouble.

One to Watch: Roberto Martinez. Another manager in the list of people to watch, but how can you not be interested to see how the Spaniard fares? It's not so much because he's spanish as the fact that the managers of Premier League Clubs are not often picked from the lower leagues, and simply because of that I wish him well. Steve Bruce has big boots to fill.

Fantasy League Pick: Jason Scotland. One of Martinez's favourite players and a real success in the lower leagues. How will he fare in the top division? Will Titus Bramble continue his remarkable good form from last year now that his mentor has gone?

If they were a drink, they'd be......Shandy. Watered down and not likely to get the job done.

15. Stoke City

Surely it's impossible for Stoke to have a season as good as last year? Probably, but Pulis is a wily old dog, and although this side may find it harder to prosper this year, they've come on a long way since their Championsip days and they're likely to be too good for many of the sides below them in the table and the promoted teams. Not pretty, but you simply have to take your hat off to their achievement. It's all relative in this division, and no one gave them a prayer last year. Let's see if they can confound us all again this time around.

One to Watch: Dean Whitehead. Always quietly influential at Sunderland, it will be interesting to see how he manages in his new(-ish) surroundings.

Fantasy League Pick: It has to be James Beattie, doesn't it? Either that or Rory Delap for his jet-propelled assists from the touchline.

If they were a drink, they'd be......White Lightning. Direct and to the point. Not very tasty, but astonishingly effective.

16. Wolverhampton Wanderers

I'm trying not to be too one-eyed in my assessment of my own team, and to be honest I'll be happy if we manage to stay clear of the bottom three... but I've just got a sniff that Wolves are far better prepared for the top division than we were when we last came up. We wobbled a bit last year, but ultimately ended up comfortable winners of the Championsip title. The average age of the first team was 23 years old, and players like Ebanks-Blake, Kightly and Jarvis, all signed by McCarthy from teams in the football league (or non-league, in the case of Kightly) are young, hungry and might just be good enough to make the step up. New signings have been solid, if unspectacular, and Wolves look like a well-run, well-managed club (McCarthy has done a fantastic job and feels he has unfinished business in this division after his experiences with Sunderland). The mediocrity of this half of the division is likely to help, but I really think we've got a chance to stay up this time around. Please.

One to Watch: It will be very interesting to see if Sylvain Ebanks-Blake and Michael Kightley can take the step up to the next level.

Fantasy League Pick: Nenad Miljas scored 22 times from the midfield for Red Star Belgrade last season. Then again, when Wolves were last in the top division, I picked Silas, so what do I know?

If they were a drink, they'd be......Sunny Delight. Luminous, hyperactive and not containing much goodness.

17. Birmingham

I thought Reading were probably the best team in the Championship last year, and they went to their last home game against Birmingham with their hopes of automatic promotion firmly within their own grasp. Birmingham took three points and the second automatic promotion slot into the Premier League. It was a result that symbolised how effective Alex McCleish's team had become. They don't score many goals and they aren't pretty, but they are certainly effective... very much in the mould of their manager. I have a feeling that they might struggle this year, but they will play with a spirit that may just win them crucial points in tight games, even if they are fundamentally lacking in quality and may be destabilised by the continuing talk of a change of ownership. Write them off at your peril.

One to Watch: Lee Bowyer. He's remembered more for other things, but don't forget that he was a fantastically talented player. Or maybe he'll just punch one of his own team mates. It'll also be interesting to see how Roger Johnson settles in after his move from Cardiff.

Fantasy League Pick: James McFadden. I'm not sure if he scores enough goals, but he certainly scores some crucial ones.

If they were a drink, they'd be......Buckfast Wine. Cheap and much enjoyed by Scottish tramps. Either that or Irn Bru.

18. Hull City

A great start to last season was followed by a dismal run of form that only saw Hull stay in the division because of results elsewhere. Which Hull will we see this year? Easy: I think they're going to struggle this year. No ill-adivsed karaoke for Phil Brown this year and a return to the Football League.

One to Watch: Geovanni. On his day, he's a great player, but he's rather prone to blowing up and I can't imagine he'll last the season without throwing his toys out of the pram at least once....

Fantasy League Pick: If he's fit... Jimmy Bullard.

If they were a drink, they'd be...... A Cement Mixer. An unpalatable cocktail of Baileys and Lime juice mixed. A terrible idea, hard to swallow, and sinks like a stone.

19. Portsmouth

Portsmouth have done brilliantly in the Premier League over the last few years, becoming a rather unlikely fixture in the division and even winning some silverware. They're in a terrible state though, with uncertain ownership, unstable finances and an inexorable stripping of their playing assets. Paul Hart is a capable manager, I think, but it will take a massive effort to stay out of trouble this year, and I don't think they've got the players or the fight to do it.

One to Watch: Another manager - Paul Hart. He's never really been given a fair crack of the whip in management, and Pompey is hardly the most stable club, but Hart has a real eye for young players and it will be interesting to see how he shapes Pompey's ageing team that is slowly being asset stripped. If you're a young player at Fratton Park this year, you may well get some unexpected first team action.

Fantasy League Pick: Bit of a struggle this..... Kranjcar scores some handy goals, I suppose.

If they were a drink, they'd be......Dark Rum. Cheap, nasty and often to be found in shacks near the sea.

20. Burnley

Burnley's promotion was an amazing story, but surely they haven't got the quality to compete? Their fans are likely to be loved by everyone as they sing their hearts out in the biggest stadiums in the country, but everyone loves a plucky loser, don't they? Let's just hope we don't see too much of professional Burnley fan Alastair Campbell on Match of the Day, eh?

One to Watch: Owen Coyle. It will be one hell of a story if he can keep this lot up.

Fantasy League Pick: Robbie Blake. Championship player of the year last season, in my opinion. If anyone is going to score points for Burnely, he will.

If they were a drink, they'd be......Advocaat. Unfashionable, rarely seen in polite society and probably finished at Christmas.


It's a very average looking division this year, and even though the top 4 is looking a little harder to pick than usual, the places from 7th down could be filled by almost anyone. It's very much a three tier division, I think. But we'll see. Here's to an exciting, action-packed season with Wolves staying up!


My Predictions:
LB's Predictions:
Manchester Utd
Manchester Utd
Manchester City
Manchester City
Aston Villa
Aston Villa
West Ham
West Ham
Bolton Wanderers
Bolton Wanderers

...Liverpool. As if!

Monday, August 10, 2009

Frank Lampard for Chelsea (vs Manchester Utd), 9th August 2009

I'm not sure if I love this part of the season or loathe it. Not a ball has been kicked in anger in the Premier League season and there's literally everything to play for. My team is even in the top division, for heaven's sake. And yet... there's something exhausting about seeing Sky trailing the new season before the old season has even really finished. The transfer pages in the papers remind me - if I ever really needed reminding - that most footballers are grasping idiots who really seem to believe they have a right to that extra £20,000 a week and a renegotiation on last year's five year contract. Football is a good game, but it's horribly bloated and flashy and so sure of its own importance. But at it's best, and for all of its many flaws, football remains a brilliant game.

So how about we look over last year's predictions, eh?

As always - something of a mixed bag.

The Review of ST's Reliably Appalling CUAS Predictions for the 2008/9 Premier League Season

1. Manchester Utd

They actually finished: 1st

Yay me.

I said: "It's a tough call this. I think Chelsea are likely to improve under Big Phil and they were close enough to Utd last year as it was.... but in the end I think that SAF is well set for another crack this seems unlikely that Ronaldo can possibly be as good (or perhaps as committed) as he was last time out, but if Ferguson manages to sign the striker he's been looking for, then I can't see past them for the title....I expect Utd to take their number of titles level with Liverpool's record this year."

Hm. Wrong, wrong, wrong about Big Phil, but basically right about the rest. Knowing what's still to come, I'm taking this one as a win

One to Watch: Ben Foster.

Hmm. He never did manage to displace 134 year old Edwin Van de Sar. (although I was right about picking from their defence for your fantasy team... just call me nostradamus on that one)

2. Chelsea

They actually finished 3rd.

An easy mistake to make. Who knew that Big Phil would be such a disaster or that Liverpool would actually improve in the league? The Dutchman nearly saved their season, but in the end they had to make do with the FA Cup.

I said: "You can't help but feel sorry for poor old Uncle Avram Grant, but the plain fact is that Phil Scolari looks better equipped to take Chelsea forward from the mire they seem to find themselves in with vastly overpriced, overpaid and underperforming superstars wallowing about as the owner and the chief executive work to undermine their own management."

Nice thought. Big Phil couldn't and Hiddinck nearly did.

One to Watch: Big Phil

No. and of the players, I picked Deco.....

Fantasy signing: You could take a punt on Anelka scoring a hatful if he's used properly, or fork out for Fat Frank filling his boots from midfield, but you probably won't go far wrong with one of the defenders. Bosingwa is practically a winger, so should be bonus assist points there. I've not picked any of the miserable, sulky gits.

Just about right there, I suppose.

3. Liverpool

They actually finished: 2nd

I said: "Great manager though he is in Europe, if I was a Liverpool fan, I'd be wondering how much Rafa Benitez really wants to win the league. It's not as though they've been showing any kind of improvement and finish miles off the pace. It's all well and good resting the likes of Torres at the start of the season, but when it costs you points you should be winning. .....Gerrard and Torres aside though, they may ultimately be lacking quality at the very highest level."

I'm happy with that, actually. Suddenly the league looks like everything to Rafa, and if he can keep Torres and Gerrard on the pitch, they might just have chances this year too.

One to Watch: Robbie Keane. Is he really £20m good? Crouchinho's got big boots to fill...


4. Arsenal

They actually finished: 4th

I said: "Arsene Wenger could really do with winning something this year. Anything. He apparently has about £70m to spend on new players, but seems oddly / admirably / stubbornly resistant to spending it, preferring instead to scour Europe for gems in need of a bit of polishing. As a result, this Arsenal side looks a bit callow and lacking in a certain je ne sais quoi....." Pretty good so far..... "They'll probably over-perform, but I think they need some players of stature or they may even be overtaken by Spurs and drop out of the top 4 entirely."

Spurs? Oh, that ruins it. Right idea, wrong team.

One to Watch: Theo Walcott.

Yes, when he was fit, and Denilson was marvellous as a bargain signing for my Fantasy Team too.

5. Spurs

They actually finished: 8th.

I said: "I'm wary of predicting a top 4 finish for Spurs this year. I did the same thing last year, and they had an appalling season. Still, one good thing to come out of that was the arrival of the Special Juan: Juande Ramos looks like he is on the way to shaping a half-decent side.....If they don't break in to the top 4, they should at least be capable of beating the sides above them."

Hmm. Sort of, although Junade Ramos was replaced by the archetypal English wheeler-dealer in Harry Redknapp who rescued their season. They actually finished further up the league than I remembered.

One to Watch: Luca Modric.
Fantasy signing: David Bentley

Um. No and No?

6. Aston Villa

They actually finished: 6th

I said: ''Martin O'Neill is a good manager and Villa have been making real progress since he arrived. For me, this was confirmed with his stance to Liverpool over Gareth Barry - a player Villa must surely want to keep if they seriously want to break into the top 4. He didn't make a huge fuss, he just highlighted to Liverpool that if they wanted the player, they would have to pay what he thought that player was worth. ....The whole saga highlights Villa's problem though: they are improving but are ultimately struggling to hold onto their best player. I think this could be a season of consilidation rather than real development, but for now, I expect that's enough."

Quite so. Barry has now gone, and for all their post-Christmas disappointments and their ambitions to crack the top 4, I imagine Villa will ultimately be happy with the same again this year.

One to Watch: Gareth Barry.
Fantasy signing: Ashley Young.

A qualified success. Barry was a bit disappointing for me, and Young's season was much like Villa's - good for the first half and then very disappointing.

7. Everton

They actually finished: 5th

I said: "David Moyes is clearly doing a great job at Everton. Compared to some, he doesn't have a great deal of money and is forced to pick up admirable players like Phil Jagielka and Joelan Lescott as well as the odd overlooked gem like Arteta rather than being able to compete at the top end of the market.'s a bit hard to get excited about them though, isn't it?"

Like lots of people, it seems I underestimated David Moyes and Everton. Again. They did a very effective job, even making do when Cahill was (predicatably) injured for long periods of the season. They'll do well to match this performance this season, but I wouldn't count against it.

One to Watch: David Moyes.
Fantasy signing: Yakubu will be good for goals and for local pie shops. Jolean Lescott should also be a good source of points, even if he surely can't score as many goals as he managed last time out.

Yes, No, Yes, No.

8. Portsmouth

They actually finished: 14th (and they were quite lucky to finish that high up_

I said: "Last season's FA cup winners will do well if they can have half as productive a season as they managed last year. It's rare indeed that one of the major trophies goes to a side like this, and although they only faced Cardiff in the final, they did have to beat some decent sides on the way through. Their success was largely founded on a tough defence and some incredibly strong and muscular players throughout the side. Jermain Defoe and Peter Crouch are both quite a long way from being muscular, but they should be capable of scoring more goals this time around. They're going to need to though: that defence isn't getting any younger."

I was right about the defence, but wrong about the goals. Portsmouth are in big trouble this year.

One to Watch: Glenn Johnson's hair. Absurd and getting absurder.
Fantasy signing: Defoe or Crouch.

Well, they certainly missed Defoe, anyway.

9. Manchester City

They actually finished: 10th

I said: "Mark Hughes looks like a good manager, but this looks increasingly like a thankless task....They started well last time out, but faded badly. A little bit of consistency this year will go a long way."

But the game at City totally changed with the arrival of Sheikh Mansour, didn't it? Suddenly they were signing players like Robinho and Shay Given and daring to dream about breaking into the top 4... leaving the previous owner as a distant memory.....

One to Watch: Thaksin Shinawatra. In what world is Trashcan Sinatra considered a fit and proper person to run a football club? Ah yes, the crazy world of the Premier League. He's rich and that's all that matters, right?

...although not as rich as some. I think Hughes did well to get this high, to be honest.

10. West Ham

They actually finished: 9th

I said: "I used to quite like West Ham, but for some reason I have lost a lot of the affection that I once had for them. Having players like Dyer, Bellamy, Neill, Carlton Cole and Lee Bowyer probably doesn't help, but they also seem to have stopped being those plucky underdogs with the nice style of play and became a bunch of big-time charlies with nothing much to talk about in the way of achievements.....Mid-table. Any worse than that and I fear for the manager."

Well, I was right to fear for the manager, but the arrival of Gianfranco Zola and the departure of many of those players has recovered West Ham's reputation in a single stroke. People said that Zola was too nice a guy to be a manager, but the feelgood factor saw the Hammers soaring up the table.

One to Watch: Curbishley.
Fantasy signing: Valon Behrami. The swiss David Beckham, you know.

So that's two nos then?

11. Blackburn

They actually finished: 15th

I said: "What does it say about Blackburn that they have lost the likes of Friedel, David Bentley and Mark Hughes? They probably over-achieved under Hughes, and I think that they may revert to the norm"

Yes, but they actually struggled far more than I had imagined.

One to Watch: Ince. He's genuinely the "guvnor" now and has built up a track-record of success in the lower leagues.... but all eyes will be on him now.

....I know the stakes in the Premier League are higher than ever, but surely Ince wasn't given a fair crack of the whip?

Fantasy signing: Roque Santa Cruz is the only real choice here really, isn't he? Even then, it's partly because he might have caught the eye of a bigger club....

Well, if you call City bigger. A disappointing second season for a somewhat distracted RSC.

12. Newcastle

They actually finished: 18th

I said: "Surely to goodness this season can't be as eventful as last year, can it? No offence to any fans reading this, but this is a real car crash of a club. For some reason, I find myself wishing Newcastle nothing but good things, but time and time again I see them ripping themselves apart and generally being their own worst enemies. "

As Shane said last year, everyone always thinks Newcastle are going to finish higher than they actually do. Perhaps we've all been taken in by the mass delusion of the Geordies and their hopelessly romantic view of their club and its chances. They were a car crash last season, and frankly they deserved nothing more than to go down. I don't fancy their chances in the Championship either, to be honest.

One to Watch: Keegan. He must be due an explosion soon if Mike Ashley keeps angling for a sale and if things don't go well on the pitch.

Yup. Not entirely unpredictable (although Dennis Wise, really?), but true nonetheless.

13. Sunderland

They actually finished: 16th

I said: "Always the pick of the promoted clubs last season, but it will be a real test of Roy Keane's management skills how they cope this season. Signing big name players seems to have been something of a struggle this year, but Keane has picked up one or two reasonable looking players (mostly from Tottenham) and will be hopeful that they can build on last year's performances."

Well, Keane didn't last too long, and the club were actually relieved to avoid relegation. A step backwards from a promising beginning under Keane. They'll be oping Steve Bruce can bring some stability and a surer hand on the wheel.

14. Bolton Wanderers

They actually finished: 13th

I said: "Say what you like about Megson, and plenty of people in Nottingham would be more than happy to do so, but he did an undeniably good job in keeping Bolton in the division last year. Sure, devaluing the UEFA cup in the way that he did was hardly edifying, but even the most romantic Bolton fan would surely understand where he was coming from. He also managed to cope well with the loss of his top scorer in January and still survive. No mean feat. If his track record is anything to go by, Megson will hit a brick wall before long and alienate both fans and board alike, but given the lack of quality in the division this year, I think they could do an awful lot better than some people are predicting. It won't be pretty, that's for sure."

Not a bad guess, though I say so myself. Not pretty, as ever, but certainly effective.

15. Middlesbrough

They actually finished: 19th

I said: "Gareth Southgate may well be the most promising young manager in the league... but he's dull, dull, dull and the team has been built in his image. They've got a few decent players, and they may well be able to cope with the loss of players like Boateng, Schwartzer and Cattermole, but.... well, they're a bit nothing much really, aren't they? I expect them to stay up, but that's about all I've got to say about them."

All true. Apart from the staying up bit, obviously.

16. Fulham

They actually finished: 7th

I said: "Roy Hodgson did an amazing job last season cleaning up the mess that Lawrie Sancez left behind him in his doomed attempt to recreate the Crazy Gang / Norn Iron down by the River Thames. A lot of the crap from last season has been flushed away, and with a proper manager at the helm, I think they should be a bit better this season. ....Nothing fancy this year, but progress would be good enough for now"

Roy Hodgson has clearly done a brilliant job at Fulham. He saved them in 2007/8, and this year he made a real step forward into the Euro Sherpa Van Trophy (or whatever it's called). If they make a similar improvement this year, then they'll be looking at finishing.... 7th. Seriously, that's how good a finish this was for the Cottagers.

Fantasy signing: Jimmy Bullard.

Nope. Injured and then injured at Wigan.

17. Wigan

They actually finished: 11th

I said: "Steve Bruce is another manager who came to a club late in the day and quietly went about his business saving them from the drop. In his case, he was also clearly delighted to have escaped the boardroom nonsense at Birmingham and go to a club that actually seemed to want him as a manager. In footballing terms, they're yet another one of those clubs in the division who probably aren't going to set the world alight and who would be happy finishing 17th."

Not bad - except that the mediocrity of the division saw Wigan finishing 11th in the end.

One to Watch: Emile Heskey. Coco the clown is always great value. He managed to break a bone tripping over his own feet last year.

Nevermind breaking a foot: the clown broke back into the England team. The real miss here was quite how good Titus Bramble was at the back. If you want an example of how good a manager Bruce is becoming, look at Brambles improvement from the accident-waiting-to-happen at Newcastle.

18. West Brom

They actually finished: 20th

I said: "Hailed as the "Manchester Utd" of the Championship, West Brom come back into the top division having (in the end) dominated last year on their way to promotion. It's not a great comparison though: they scored a lot of goals last year and played some free flowing football, but their defence was often appallingly slack and I imagine that unless that has been substantially improved this year, they are going to get some heavy beatings. "

In spite of being a Wolves fan, I actually would have been happy to see West Brom stay up as standard bearers for the Championship. It wasn't to be. They played some nice football, but they were always the division's whipping boys. Still, I imagine they'll do better in the Championship this year than Newcastle....

19. Hull

They actually finished: 17th

I said: "It's a fairy story, but although they undoubtedly deserved promotion in the end, I still can't quite believe how they got out of the Championship last year. I can't bring myself to believe that they're going to be able to step up another level, and it's hard to see how they're going to do anything but go straight back down again. I think their fans probably know this, so I expect they will be looking to make the absolute most of their season in the sun. Good luck to them. Shame they ditched that tiger skin away stip though - that was brilliant!"

Well, you have to take your hat off to them. In the end they only escaped relegation by the barest whisper, but their early season form was electric and in the end, on the strength of that, they probably deserved to stay up. It was a worrying post-Christmas slump though, and something will have to change if they're going to stay up this year. Mind you, not seeing an Orange Phil Brown doing karaoke in front of some rather bemused fans would probably be the best thing for all of us, eh?

One to Watch: Dean Windass.

Well, he's increasingly hard to miss, isn't he?

20. Stoke

They actually finished: 12th !

I said: "To be fair to them, the absolutely deserved automatic promotion last season.... but I think the best they can hope for is to beat Derby's points tally from last year. Enjoy your season in the sun boys, and I sincerely hope I'm wrong. In fact, if Hull, West Brom and Stoke were to finish above Boro, Sunderland and Bolton, I'd be one of the first to celebrate... but it seems unlikely. Sorry."

Well, what a season that was. Even in the most fevered dreams of the most fervent Stoke fan, they can't possibly have imagined that they were going to finish this high up the table. I'm pleased on two fronts: one because they are a case study for how a smaller club from the Championship can prosper in the top division, and two because their presence in the league, together with Hull, Birmingham and Burnley, gives me hope as a Wolves fan that we might just be able to surivive in a mediocre division.......

One to Watch: Tony Pulis. He took the team to the unbelievable heights of the Premier League and yet the fans still don't like him.... what more do they want?

Pulis should have been manager of the season, no questions asked. In fact, he was robbed.


So, to sum it all up then:

ST's Predictions:
LB's predictions:Actual League Table
Manchester Utd
ChelseaManchester Utd
Manchester Utd
Aston Villa
Aston Villa
Aston Villa
Manchester City
Manchester City
West Ham
West Ham
West Ham
Man City
West Brom
West Brom
BoltonWest Brom

Man, we're rubbish at this game.

Same again for this season?