By 1970’s Gooner
The bookies, as to be expected, have installed Man Utd as favourites to win the title again followed closely by Chelsea. Liverpool are priced at half of Arsenal’s odds and the rest, especially Spurs, are really nowhere. These are prices quoted at the time of writing this post.
Man Utd 11/8 Stan James
Chelsea 7/4 Sporting Odds
Liverpool 6/1 Betfred
Arsenal 12/1 Blue Square
For those interested Spurs are quoted at 100/1 by Stan James but Ladbrokes fancy them more at 66/1.
Most of the teams have not yet of course completed their annual summer retail therapy. But most of them, especially the top four, have made significant moves. More is still to come but the areas that teams need to strengthen are to me discernible enough.
In this four part series I try to analyse each of the top four’s strengths and weaknesses and based on the state of play so far try to come up with a reasonable prediction as to where they might end up by the end of next season.
Part I covered Arsenal
Liverpool. It’s getting serious.
Liverpool’s strengths during last season were concentrated more in the defensive rather than the creative areas of the team.
But a winning team needs balance. It needs to have enough strength in defence (and in the defensive midfield positions) and at the same time it needs flair, creativeness and at least one but usually two prolific goal scorers.
It was obvious that Liverpool was distinctly lacking in the creative parts of the field and as result faced two major weaknesses.
Not enough penetration from the wide midfield positions especially from left wing and a lack of a prolific goal scorer. There was also an evident lack of continuity, with the large squad being rotated too often.
Not enough penetration from the wide midfield positions
Pennant has improved a lot since joining although the quality of his crosses still needs to improve. But Liverpool’s major weakness in the wide midfield areas was in the left midfield position where Zenden, when fit, was the preferred choice.
In my posting prior to the Champions League Final I expressed major reservations when he was picked in front of Riise as he was not able to neither go past his man nor put decent crosses in ("Rafa’s line up and formation").
Ryan Babel and Benayoun are fine players and they can play on the wing but they are not really out and out wide players.
On the other hand Harry Kewell has only played 48 minutes for the whole of last season. It will take him a very long time to find his feet again and he is very injury prone.
Lack of a prolific goal scorer
Obviously the recruitment of Torres is intended to address the issue of goal scoring. But I am not convinced if Torres will be the only answer.
He is after all only 23 and he has had a relatively indifferent season in La Liga scoring 14 goals in 34 games (a goal scoring ratio at 0.41) which is not really top scoring form.
And having watched him during the World Cup I have to say he didn’t impress me greatly. And the World Cup is a stage where you would have expected him to shine.
In addition he will need to get used to the demands of the Premier League which means he will need time to produce. And, as we have seen last season, time is a very scarce commodity indeed in the Premiership. The merest of slips and you are playing catch up all the time.
Voronin, the other signing in attack, at 28 is more experienced but he has not been that prolific for Bayer Leverkusen scoring 10 goals in 30 games.
Lack of continuity
The constant rotation of the squad did no good in ensuring continuity in the performances of the team. Playing well in one game, scoring a couple of goals and then being dropped for the next one is the best way to demotivate a player.
More importantly the players need to play consecutive games together in order to learn each other’s way of playing and find the time to gel.
This issue doesn’t seem to bother Benitez as his recruitment activity has been as prolific as last season’s.
Just how he will keep all these players happy is beyond me.
What appears certain is that this “problem” will be even more evident this coming season. In fact it could be worse, as most of the recruits will also need time to get used to Premiership football.
But with Benitez’s rotation policy playing time will be at a premium.
So in conclusion if Liverpool recruit well for the left sided midfield position they would have gone a long way to correcting the apparent weaknesses of last season. But it doesn’t look like they will recruit anyone else. Nor would it be sensible to assume that Benitez will abandon his rotation policy.
Therefore, the degree to which they realistically challenge for the title will depend on how Torres not only succeeds in bedding in quickly but more importantly living up to the high expectations placed upon him.
Prediction : A very close fourth place
IN F Torres (A Madrid, £20.2m) L Leiva (Grêmio, £6m), N Mihaylov (Levski Sofia, undisclosed), A Kacaniklic (Helsingborg, undisc), K Nemeth, A Simon (MTK Hungaria, £100,000 each), D Pacheco (Barcelona, £350,000), M Purie (B Dortmund, undisc), M San José (A Bilbao, £270,000), A Voronin (B Leverkusen, free), M Alexandrov (CSKA Sofia, undisc), R Crowther, B Robinson (both Stockport County, undisc), Y Benayoun (West Ham, up to £5m)
OUT C Bellamy (West Ham United, £7.5m), F Sinama Pongolle (R Huelva, £2.7m), D Cissé (Marseilles, £8m), L GarcÍa (A Madrid, £2.7m), R Fowler (released), A Hammill (Southampton, loan), M Gonzalez (Real Betis), B. Zenden (Marseille), G. Antwi (Hartlepool)
Part I covered Arsenal
Ed: You can leave a comment on what you think and also vote on the poll we have set up "who will win the title?"