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?

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