Ozi Gooner's Season Preview Pt 4
Today I’ll be looking at three more northern clubs, two Manc’s and another bunch of scousers; two of our biggest competitors and the side who, I feel, have made the biggest improvement this silly season.
LIVERPOOL: Starting off this fourth part of the preview we have the red breed of scouser, who will be starting off the 07/08 season with a very different looking team to the one they started with last season, but then again Liverpool under Benitez have looked like a very different team every time they take the field. After reaching their second European final in three years we, the football supporting public, have had to endure a lot of press dedicated to Benitez’s tactical genius. I would like to set something straight from the start, although I found Benitez an exceptional manager in Spain and an acceptable manager in England, I would like to dispel a myth about his European pedigree. I fail to see how riding your luck for 180 minutes and winning every game in penalty shoot outs makes you an incredible tactician of Champions League football – it makes you lucky, there is a distinct difference between the two.
As far as transfer activity goes Liverpool have been busy both buying and selling players. Robbie Fowler, Jerzy Dudek and Bolo Zenden all leave for free, and with their best years well and truly behind them. Habitual trouble maker and golf club wielder, Craig Bellamy is off to the Arsenal retirement home of West Ham. Danny Guthrie, a youngster who is highly rated at Anfield but who I thought was made to look decidedly average in our 6-3 mauling of the Red’s last season on their sacred territory, leaves for Bolton on a season long loan. A few players who have skill in abundance but never quite made it on Merseyside, in the form of Luis Garcia, Florent Sinama-Pongole and Djibril Cisse, join them through the exit door. Not to many surprises there but I have to say I really did think Cisse, in particular, would have proved a big hit for Pool and had he not had such a horrid time with injuries who knows what he could of gone on to do – after all it did take Drogba till his 3rd year in England before he showed people what he was capable of.
The signing’s inward are more interesting. Torres, the former Atletico forward, was a man much sort after in Europe and it was no secret that Benitez was interested but a fee upward of 22 million seems a bit steep for a player whose goal return last season was 13 from around 40 odd games. It is an incredibly large gamble on Benitez’s part and one that will either prove to be a master stroke or the Spaniards undoing. I’m personally leaning toward the opinion that this could prove a big mistake – not suggesting that Torres will be another Morientes, just that it will take him a year or two to settle. Voronin and Babel are the other forwards coming in. Voronin’s signing was widely known about , if not confirmed by both clubs, before the season even ended so that was no shocker. He is a solid player but really was out shone in his time there by T*ttenham’s Bulgarian forward Dimitar Berbatov, and it is another signing which makes me question Benitez’s ambition, possibly another Bellamy or Pennant that really is not the quality a championship winning side should be buying (I mean Sp*rs have the better of the pair!). Babel is another strange one for me, as when we were linked with the Dutch winger/forward I thought he would be a very good signing – but that was for half the price Liverpool ended up paying for him. At 6 million he would’ve seemed very good value, but at 11.5 million he seems another big gamble and young pair of shoulders for Benitez to pin his hopes on. He will most likely become a very good player, but for Benitez it might not be quick enough. Yossi Benayoun is not much of a surprise as Benitez’s interest in him has been clear since January and like with Garcia’s transfer to Atletico post Torres, this one become obvious the second Bellamy was confirmed as a West Ham player. The Israeli international was, along with Carlos Tevez, one of the few exceptional players in the Hammers survival last season and it would appear he will be a direct replacement for Zenden as an attacking midfield utility. Lucas Leiva, the Brazilian U-20’s captain from Gremio, is yet another holding midfielder in an impressive and growing collection of players in that position, which Mascherano and Sissoko would appear to have the first and second option on. The difference between the new boy and the latter two is that he supposedly has a knack of popping up with goals, something that is lacking from both the older players games. When I heard this transfer announced I thought instantly that it had our capture of compatriot Denilson written all over it, and I feel Benitez may have been inspired by Wenger and our young Brazilian to make this signing. Two other interesting captures for the Red’s are that of young Hungarian strike duo Krisztian Nemeth and Andras Simon, two 17 year olds (I think) who both come from the Hungarian league with huge wraps and are both expected to become the new starts of Eastern Europe. So it would appear that Benitez has backed up his complaints about not having the funds to spend on youth after our meeting with the scouser’s in the Carling Cup last season with the new yankee owners, by paying extravagant fee’s for some semi-proven youngster and also signing some completely unknown teenagers in true Wenger fashion.
We all know about the current squad of Liverpool. Mascherano and Sissoko are both very capable defensive midfielders. Carragher is a solid defender and Agger appears to be getting better all the time, although Hyppia is long past his best. Both Fabio Aurellio and John Arne Risse are capable of moments of magic from left back or midfield but have weaknesses to the defensive sides of their game. Reina is a good penalty and shot stopper but often is troubled by crosses. Crouch to some is over rated, to others under rated, for me he is inconsistent and great at his best (like against us at Anfield in the league last season) and at his worst is like playing with ten men. Kuyt is useful but probably doesn't score enough goals. The right side of the field is Liverpool’s problem. Finnan and Aberloa are both average right backs and Pennant and Mark Gonzalez are both average right midfielders. This problem, plus the large supply of central players, often forced Benitez to play Gerard on the right last year both to accommodate Xabi Alonso and their weak right flank. A solution to this situation could be found this season if Torres lives up to the hype and Benitez is willing to play both Gerard and Alonso in the centre of a 4-5-1 with Kuyt on the right, Babel on the left and one of the three holding players anchoring the midfield. Torres and Crouch, both target men, could be rotated.
I still just don't see Liverpool pushing the top two with their seasons success dependant on so many ifs and buts. I see them finishing in fourth with a good run in Europe and the FA Cup. If Torres and Babel perform exceptionally from the very beginning that opinion may change but that is a lot to ask of a 19 and 24 year old. Benitez’s future at Anfield could hinge on how this season goes after such a large cash outlay, so based on my prediction of fourth I would not be surprised if he is one of the managerial casualties of this season depending on how far back they are come May.
MANCHESTER CITY: Manchester City look like a completely different side this season with a much more capable manager in charge (although some English fans may not agree with that description of the Swede) and a large turn over of their squad and, likely, also their first XI. It could be a much happier campaign this time around at the Eastlands and the less famed of the Manchester clubs have definitely brought in some quality players regardless of wether Sven has actually seen them play before in person. The thing that pisses me off about Man City though is, that their new owner and former Thai prime minister, Thaksin Shinawatra, passed the FA’s test of wether or not an individual is a acceptable owner of an English Club. Having just spent time in Thailand I can assure you he is not a liked man there and it seems obvious to everyone that he was very corrupt and that his fortune that is supporting the clubs summer spending spree has been embezzled from the Thai people who most of can hardly afford their money stolen. This is yet another in a long line of Football Association embarrassments and I wonder how they will defend their decision to let him purchase the club when formal charges and an extradition case is brought up against Shinawatra, as they inevitably will be.
That political rant over, now back to what this is all about and City’s new signings of which there are many. Firstly and, for me, most importantly the capture of Brazilian central midfielder Blumer Elano. This must be seen as a big coup for Sven by many people in the footballing world as I’m surprised he managed to convince such a talented player to the Eastlands, I spose it just goes to show what a big name manager can do for a club. Elano is a versatile midfielder capable of playing a standard attacking midfield role, similar to that of Hleb or Rosicky pre-Arsenal (and as he did versus Argentina at the grove where he stood out in an exceptional Brazil performance) or in the role that Pirlo has played so well for Italy and AC Milan over the years, creating from deep while anchoring the midfield. His addition to the squad will make it appear as if Joey Barton was never there (as he is twice the player that the hot-headed Englishmen is) and could be the key part to building a strong spine on which to base the new look City side. Bojinov and Bianchi, both bought in from Italy, are two talented strikers and along with Emile Mpenza, who appeared to be the first successful striker signing for the club in years, could make up a very handy front line. Martin Petrov will come in to start on the left wing instantly and, if he can remain injury free, the Bulgarian could be a frightening player for them as I liked him a lot at Atletico prior to his severe knee problem early last season that effectively ended a move to our rivals, Sp*rs. Gelson Fernandes is a highly regarded Swiss midfielder but I really know nothing of him other than he came from Sion and is the Swiss U-21 captain, a role formerly filled by our own Swiss Tony. Young defenders, 21 year-old Vedran Corluka (a Croatian international centre back from Dinamo Zagreb) and 22 year-old Javi Garrido (a left back from real Sociedad) both come in but how much of an impact they will play in their first season at the club is hard to judge (Garrido’s playing time in particular maybe affected depending on wether or not the signing of Chiellini is successful). Veteran Brazilian play maker Geovanni comes in from Cruzeiro and will have to improve on his performances at Barcelona and Benfica if he is ever to live up to the hype he received before his move to the Camp Nou, he is only 27 so at least he still has time on his side. Two other players, whose signings both appeared close but are now in doubt are worth a mention. Marc Bresciano (its not Marco) and Giorgio Chiellini, both from Italy, will be very useful signings if they are completed. Chiellini is a very exciting young left back (and the Italian U-21 captain) and Bresciano is a versatile Australian midfielder who can play on the right, left or in front of midfield, both players would be useful additions to any premier league club below the top four.
The only players worthy of mention from last seasons squad are the young Stephen Ireland and Micah Richards and Swedish No. 1, Andreas Issakson. Stephen Ireland impressed me every time I saw him play last year and if he can continue in that fashion he could be a very useful player for Sven’s side this year. We all know about Micah’s qualities and it goes without saying (but I’ll say it anyway) that he is an exceptional young player. Andreas Issakson was a very good keeper for Rennes and I was surprised that after joining last summer Nicky Weaver managed to keep him in a back-up role for so long although eventually better sense prevailed. Unfortunately for him and Man City he is injured and will miss the start of the campaign but expect him to make an impact on return.
It’s hard for me to predict where Man City will finish off this season, because although there squad is very short on quality in depth and they are probably a central defender or right back (depending on where Richards will be deployed) short of a full defence I like the direction they are showing with their signings and I think at club level Sven will again show why he was considered a world class manager during his time with Lazio. At the Italian club he used a similar tactic to what it appears he will impose at the Eastlands with a solid, if not flashy, back 5 players and a very individually brilliant front 5, which leads to clean sheets and games turning on a moment of brilliance rather than an attractive performance. I expect to see a result grinding machine in City’s light blue under Eriksson and expect a 5th or 6th place finish, although I’m sure many of you will think that is a bit optimistic for this season.
MANCHESTER UNITED: Old Red Nose’s boys surprised a lot of people by winning the league last time out and oh how different it would’ve been if Ronaldo and Ronney’s very public pre-season spat had of ended in the Portuguese winger and step-over extraordinaire joining Real Madrid. Looking at Ferguson last season some times you just have to wonder when his liver is going to fail and he is going to keel over.
Everyone is incredibly excited about Man USA’s signings this summer except me. Hargreaves will be good for them, and you sort of think he is really what Ferguson was looking for when he bought Carrick last summer, but neither of them are worth the 17-18 million (more than Henry!?!) Fergie paid for them. Tomasz Kuszczak is not as good a keeper as our new signing Fabianski according to the entire country of Poland. Nani and Anderson though are the two players everyone is wetting themselves over and although both look good players for the future and like they could be capable of replacing the duo of Giggs and Scholes in years to come, they do not look like the players that will retain the premiership trophy for Man United this season. They are Theo Walcott’s and Carlos Vela’s (albeit a year ahead in terms of development) not Ronaldinho’s and Ronaldo’s, and I wouldn't be surprised if injuries force them to play to large a part this season if they seriously struggle to influence games. Tevez is another seemingly inevitable signing that I really don't see being that useful to them in this following season. Yes he is a good player but, and it’s a big but, he is very similar to Ronaldo and Rooney and I think we all saw that what they needed was another Van Nistelrooy, another finisher and not another creator. He will help them when either Rooney or Ronaldo are not having a good day but most likely won’t finish off the moves that weren’t finished last season.
Vidic proved an excellent player last season and was probably, along with Woodgate and Primus, two of the defensive revelations of the year. Evra has come along since joining from Monaco but I still think our Gael Clichy is the better of the two. Giggs and Scholes both had outstanding years last season and were key to Man U’s success. I think it will be very hard for them to repeat that again this time, with their legs getting older injury could play a part. Carrick is capable of playing in Scholes role if needed and may prove better there with Hargreaves behind him, but he is still no Paul Scholes. Expect more from Rooney this year and less from Ronaldo.
Everyone seems to think the Manc’s will go on to win the premiership again this season except I’m not one of them. I’m going for Fergie’s boy to finish 2nd possibly third if we can solve our problems with finishing and conceding first and depending on the injuries to both our squads.